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The Ukraine Safari

I don’t usually write about cultural products from my own country, but I must make an exception for Slovenian filmmaker Miran Zupanič’s new documentary Sarajevo Safari, which details one of the most

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Ukraine: Scapegoat of NATO expansion

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19 mins read

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.

Putin’s Exit

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.

Warnings Ignored

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.

This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord.

The West sees Iran in a new way

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5 mins read

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.”

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.” 

Russia and Pakistan Energy Diplomacy

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3 mins read

 The economy of Pakistan is under pressure, and several important economic indicators specify a dire scenario. The decision-makers must have a real debate about how they intend to take genuine action to address the difficulties ahead as the problems with oil, gas, and power worsen for the general public and the government. Unfortunately, we are mired in a political drama that never seems to let up.

The first shipment of crude oil and petroleum products is anticipated to enter Pakistan in late March after the completion of a definitive agreement between Pakistan and Russia. In Pakistan, to negotiate the contract, Russian Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov said that we have already resolved to prepare an agreement to address all of the concerns that we have with respect to volume, payments, insurance, and transportation.

Even though certain important elements still need to be worked out, the agreement would greatly impact Pakistan’s economy and relations with the rest of the world if it were to go through. It is the first significant step that Pakistan and Russia have taken toward developing their bilateral cooperation in oil and gas trading. In the past, discussions in this respect remained at the level of first expressions of interest. Pakistan now intends to meet 35% of its whole crude oil need from Russia and start imports in a few months. If all goes according to plan, the trade may significantly alter the bilateral relationship, enabling both nations to better organize their interactions.

The possibility of importing gas and oil from Russia also gives Pakistan another outlet to acquire oil at a lower cost. This is crucial since Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves are adequate to pay for three weeks’ worth of oil imports, putting the country in a similar scenario to the default. Most of Pakistan’s imports are made up of energy, and the country would benefit from cheaper oil from Russia by being able to control its growing trade imbalance and balance-of-payments issue. To pay for Russian oil, Pakistan is anticipated to utilize the Chinese yuan. The joint declaration states that the oil and gas trade transactions would be set up such that both nations profit after an agreement on the technical specification has been reached. This may lessen some of the strain on Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves.

The outcome is also a significant diplomatic victory for Pakistan. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems that Pakistan has discovered a means to evade the sanctions imposed by the West. Pakistan might not have gone this far in talks with Russia if it had been concerned that the agreement would upset the United States and its allies. This is especially significant since Pakistan is now in negotiations for another review to allow the release of significant money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The speed at which Pakistan and Russia are closing a deal suggests that the United States may not oppose the two nations doing commerce. It’s also probable that Pakistan accepted American advice while deciding to acquire Russian oil. The United States and Pakistan’s usual Gulf energy suppliers have not yet made any public declarations objecting to Islamabad’s continuing talks with Moscow.

The U.S. seems ready to ignore the agreement. Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said that “the U.S. was sensitive to the difficulty of stabilizing Pakistan’s economy. I know Pakistan’s collaboration with the IMF and other global financial organizations. We want Pakistan to be in a situation where its economy is stable”. According to reports, Washington has increased financial involvement with the present Pakistani administration. A team of top U.S. Department of Treasury officials is scheduled to visit Pakistan shortly to address various areas of financial assistance for Pakistan. In addition, the American embassy in Islamabad plans a seminar on energy security challenges for Pakistan in March.

For Pakistan, everything seems to be going well. It is encountering little opposition in its efforts to reach an agreement with Moscow. Now, Islamabad should concentrate on fulfilling all technical requirements to guarantee that Russian supplies reach Pakistan’s ports as soon as possible. Thus, the IGC session is crucial and significant. The general diplomacy in the Asian area around energy and gas has also caught Pakistan off guard. A power struggle between the two giants has developed out of what started as China’s economic sway over the ASEAN area. It is now being fueled by Russia’s attempts to advance east. India’s oil consumption appeared to have no boundaries as it devoured roughly 60 million barrels of Russian oil in 2022. Is India only trying to restock its oil supplies, or is it attempting to sway regional oil diplomacy on the Quad’s behalf? With the best U.S. oil refineries awaiting Russian oil supply, which has been speculated as another reason for the increased Indian oil supply, a ban on Russia from Europe does not have a significant impact on its oil and gas supply. The officials’ nerves will be tested as they attempt to clinch a successful deal, particularly with the IMF watching their every move intently.

Pakistan’s greatest failure has been the inability to recognize the actual problems that we are currently facing and the propensity of moving funds from one area to another over the last 75 years without truly paying our bills and commitments. The most recent Geneva Convention is a prime example of this pattern when Pakistan obtained bank and soft loans totaling more than $ 9 billion to avoid the looming economic crisis. The facilitators of Pakistani government machinery need to reevaluate several things, including their upcoming diplomatic commitments and agreements as well as our internal competence.

Future of People’s Resistance in Kashmir

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Introduction:

Kashmir is a region in northern India that has long been at the focus of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. Since 1947, when India achieved independence from Britain and was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan, the region has been under Indian authority. Since then, the Kashmiris have fought for their rights, especially the right to self-determination and independence from Indian rule.

The Kashmir conflict has its origins in the region’s historical and political environment. Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan as a result of India’s split in 1947. This partition, however, was not peaceful, and the two countries have been at conflict for regional authority ever since. The conflict has resulted in three wars and skirmishes, the most recent being the ongoing conflict over the Indian government’s revocation of Article 35A and 370 in Indian-occupied Kashmir, which has been marked by human rights violations, state-sponsored violence, and the suppression of civil liberties.

Kashmir’s quest for self-determination and freedom has lasted decades. Kashmiris have been in the vanguard of this battle, advocating for their rights and opposing Indian authority via peaceful protests and acts of resistance. Despite the difficulties they have experienced, the Kashmiri people have stayed persistent in their quest of independence and justice.

The Kashmiri people’s resistance to Indian domination demonstrates their tenacity, power, and resolve. Despite the obstacles, they continue to struggle for their rights, demonstrating that they are unwilling to give up their liberties or their right to self-determination. They have demonstrated via their resistance that they are the guardians of their land and the protectors of their rights.

The Kashmiri People’s Resistance:

Kashmiris have been fighting Indian authority in a variety of ways, including peaceful marches, civil disobedience, and armed resistance. Peaceful protests have been a regular form of resistance, with Kashmiris going to the streets to oppose the Indian government’s policies and breaches of human rights in the area. Armed resistance was also part of the resistance movement, with certain organisations urging the use of force to fight Indian authority.

Civil society and human rights groups have played an important part in the Kashmir resistance movement. These groups have been critical in recording human rights violations, campaigning for Kashmiri people’s rights, and offering support and help to individuals impacted by the war.

In their battle against Indian domination, the Kashmiri people have faced several hurdles. To crush the resistance movement, the Indian government has utilised military force, limited civil freedoms, and enforced mobility restrictions. Furthermore, the Kashmiri people have endured economic and social difficulties, such as unemployment, poverty, and a lack of access to fundamental amenities including as healthcare and education. Despite these obstacles, the Kashmiri people have maintained their resistance to Indian rule, exhibiting their enduring spirit and desire to protect their land and rights.

The Impact of Indian Occupation on Kashmir:

Indian soldiers have perpetrated several human rights abuses and crimes in Kashmir throughout their rule. Extrajudicial deaths, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and incarceration, and widespread use of torture have all occurred. Furthermore, the Indian government has enforced curfews and mobility restrictions, restricting the Kashmiri people’s capacity to freely express themselves and engage in political activities.

The Indian occupation of Kashmir has had a significant influence on Kashmiri socioeconomic and cultural life. The battle has resulted in massive devastation and displacement, as well as pervasive poverty and unemployment. The actions of the Indian government have also led in a reduction in the region’s level of living, with restricted access to essential amenities like as healthcare and education. In addition, the Indian government has enforced cultural restrictions, restricting the Kashmiri people’s capacity to retain and express their cultural history and identity.

The international community must play a critical role in resolving the situation in Kashmir. The international community must hold the Indian government accountable for its actions and campaign for the Kashmiri people’s rights and freedoms. Furthermore, the international community can have a role in resolving the issue and supporting attempts to find a peaceful conclusion. Nonetheless, despite demands from the Kashmiri people and human rights organisations, the international community has mostly failed to take effective action to improve the situation in Kashmir.

Conclusion:

The Kashmiri people’s unwavering passion and desire to protect their land and rights is exemplified by their resistance against Indian domination. Despite multiple difficulties and breaches of their human rights, they have maintained a peaceful and nonviolent resistance to claim their right to self-determination. This resistance is vital not only for the people of Kashmir, but also for the broader context of the fight for freedom and justice.

The international community must demonstrate sympathy and support for the Kashmiri people in their struggle against Indian occupation. This may take numerous forms, from increasing awareness about the situation in Kashmir to lobbying for Kashmiri people’s rights on a worldwide scale. The Kashmiri people can only expect to accomplish their aim of independence and self-determination via collective action.

Myanmar’s audacious military coup: Two Years On

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Today is 1st February 2023. The daring military takeover in Myanmar two years ago on February 1 will be remembered as the start of the most oppressive administration in recent memory on February 1, 2023. The situation in Myanmar has deteriorated drastically since February 2021, and a civil war between the military and the pro-democracy front is still raging. The years 2021 and 2022 were sad for the state of human rights as the military, often known as the Tatmadaw, used excessive violence to put an end to the call for democracy.

A resolution was vetoed in the UN Security Council because to Chinese and Russian support for the Tatmadaw, therefore it might be said that the situation has reached this point as a result of the lackluster response and insufficient strict steps of the international community.

Unprecedented agony and hardship for the people of Myanmar resulted from the military’s unrelenting violence and repression in 2022.

Aung San Suu Kyi was one of the prominent leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who was detained by the Tatmadaw two years ago after they attempted a coup and made the absurd claim that elections had been rigged. Despite the fact that the NLD won the election with an overwhelming majority of seats and 83 percent of the vote overall, Tatmadaw, the “King Maker,” rejected the outcome out of concern for its continued control over Myanmar politics. The general populace of Myanmar protested against the coup and denounced it. The demonstration quickly evolved into the civil disobedience movement (CDM), in which professionals from all fields refused to report to work and sought the return of democracy.

The Tatmadaw’s choice to satiate the demand with bullets covered Myanmar’s streets in blood. According to the Thailand-based human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the Tatmadaw has killed roughly 1,500 people and detained up to 9,000 others in the past year (Burma). Additionally, the Tatmadaw employed stringent monitoring techniques to stifle protestors’ voices. 120 journalists have been detained under the recently implemented harsh provision, Section 505A of the penal code, of whom 15 have been found guilty and 50 are still awaiting trial. Seven media outlets’ licenses as well as those for satellite television have been revoked.

After the People’s Defence Force (PDF) was established as the political branch of the National Unity Government in the midst of the bloody crackdown, the CDM changed into an armed resistance group (NUG). Even though NUG has the least power over the force, former NLD officials and pro-democracy fronts founded NUG and PDF as their armed wings. PDF and NUG gradually became one of the main political groups in Myanmar. To combat PDF, Tatmadaw has increased its level of aggression, whereas PDF prefers guerrilla warfare. According to UN estimates, at least 406,000 people have been displaced due to the increasing civil war.

Myanmar’s economy has also been destroyed by political unrest. Foreign companies’ withdrawal and currency depreciation have stifled the nation’s economic expansion.

Even while previous military coups encountered the least resistance and protest, this one resulted in a hitherto unheard-of movement against the dictatorship. The youth of the nation have demonstrated a strong belief in democracy and have remained in the forefront of the protest. The “Five Twos,” often referred to as Myanmar’s “Generation Z,” have taken the Tatmadaw and the rest of the world by surprise. Their political awareness is commendable, and they exhibit an unwavering spirit of resistance.

The Tatmadaw started to experience an image crisis after the youth rebellion was violently put down, and they now worry about maintaining power in the face of unabated popular hatred. Outside of Myanmar, the Tatmadaw has substantial backing from mighty nations like China and Russia.

On the other hand, the people of Myanmar rely on the international world to change things and bring back democracy. With the military’s withdrawal from power, it is clear that the situation will change for the better, necessitating the major engagement of the international community. Ironically, there has been no progress toward resolving this political problem by the international community, which is still bitterly split.

The lives of Myanmar’s residents and ethnic communities are wretched and perpetually unstable due to the lackluster responses of the international community, the geopolitical alignment of major countries, the lengthy history of military rule, and the Tatmadaw’s counter-insurgency operations. Torture, famine, and displacement are the three main pillars of modern-day Myanmar society.

The Tatmadaw has not been significantly impacted by major corporations leaving the country in protest of violations of human rights, such as Chevron and Total. The causes of humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing are not what drive the global world; rather, it is geopolitical interests. Although many people believed NUG would have international assistance to drive the Tatmadaw out, in reality, it has not succeeded in securing the backing of significant international players beyond mere lip service.

Situations like these, ranging from the Rohingya catastrophe to the Middle East conflict, have demonstrated how keenly global powers have focused on securing their own interests through strategic realignments and readjustments. Bangladesh is affected by the military takeover in Myanmar and the subsequent political developments in that country since the repatriation of 1.1 million Rohingyas from Bangladesh has been put on hold.

The Tatmadaw’s violence, repression, and civil war in Myanmar have left people living in perpetual fear and uncertainty. The international community must restore democracy to Myanmar’s youth and give displaced people like the Rohingyas new hope. Before it’s too late, the international community must respond in a concerted and strict manner. The Tatmadaw would gain strength as a result of the great nations failing to act, prolonging the agony and vulnerability of the people of Myanmar in 2023 and beyond.

We honor the lives lost over the previous year, especially those of women, children, humanitarian workers, human rights advocates, and nonviolent protestors, on this second anniversary of the coup. We vehemently condemn the country’s widespread human rights abuses and breaches committed by the military dictatorship, especially those committed against Rohingya and other racial and religious minorities. We express our deep concern about the verifiable reports of sexual and gender-based violence as well as torture. We are really concerned about the additional more than 400,000 people who have fled their homes since the coup. We further express our serious concern for the worsening humanitarian situation throughout the nation and call on the military regime to grant immediate, complete, and unrestricted access to vulnerable communities for humanitarian purposes, including COVID-19 immunization.

We express our severe concern with the enormous number of people who have been jailed without warrants as well as the sentencing of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

All members of the international community are urged to support initiatives aimed at promoting justice for the people of Myanmar, to hold those accountable for abuses and violations of human rights accountable, to stop providing the military and its representatives with arms, equipment, and technical assistance, and to continue assisting them in meeting immediate humanitarian needs.

We want to be clear that we support the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus and the Special Envoy of ASEAN in his efforts to promote a peaceful resolution that serves the needs of the people of Myanmar. In order to ensure that the ASEAN Special Envoy has access to all stakeholders in Myanmar, including pro-democracy organizations, we urge the military administration to actively participate in ASEAN’s efforts to achieve complete and urgent implementation of the Five-Point Consensus. We also applaud the work of the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar and call on the military government to cooperate constructively with her.

Russia’s gas union eyes Pakistan, India

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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 productsNezavisimaya Gazeta, Jan. 16, 2023Exports 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. 

Vietnam Syndrome and 50 years of Paris Peace Accords

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Friday, January 27th, marks 50 years since the signing of the Paris Peace Accords by representatives from the United States, North and South Vietnam effectively ending American participation in the Vietnamese civil conflict. What the Georgetown University international relations scholar Charles Kuphan calls an “isolationist impulse” made a “significant comeback in response to the Vietnam War, which severely strained the liberal internationalist consensus.”

As the Cold War historian John Lamberton Harper points out, President Jimmy Carter’s hawkish Polish-born national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski scorned his intra-administration rival, the cautious, gentlemanly secretary of state Cyrus Vance as “a nice man but burned by Vietnam.” Indeed, Vance and a number of his generation carried with them a profound disillusionment in the aftermath of Vietnam which shaped their approach to the world. And for a short time, the “Vietnam Syndrome,” (shorthand for a wariness and suspicion of unnecessary and unsupportable foreign interventions) occasionally informed policy at the highest levels and manifested itself in the promulgations of the Wienberger and Powell Doctrines which, in theory anyway, were set up as a kind of break on unnecessary military adventures.

But only hours after the successful conclusion of the First Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

And kick it Bush did: In the decades following his 1991 pronouncement, the United States has been at war in one form or another (either as a belligerent or unofficial co-belligerent as is the case with our involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and in Ukraine) for all but 2 of the 32 years that have followed.

The political-media atmosphere that now prevails in Washington makes it exceedingly difficult to believe such a thing as a ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ ever existed. Indeed, President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Ukraine has been met with rapturous approval from the Washington media establishment, winning plaudits from all the usual suspects.

But what kind of success is it really, when the entire thing might have been avoided by judicious diplomatic engagement? Are we really to believe that a war resulting, so far, in 200,000 dead and 8 million displaced, has been worth an empty promise of NATO membership?

While the war has currently ground to a stalemate, the legacy media and various and sundry think-tank-talking-heads issue regular assurances of steady progress in the field and victory soon to come.

  • Writing in the Journal of Democracy this past September, political scientist and author of the End of History and The Last Man Francis Fukuyama exulted: “Ukraine will win. Slava Ukraini!”
  • Washington Post reporter Liz Sly told readers in early January 2023 that “If 2023 continues as it began, there is a good chance Ukraine will be able to fulfill President Volodymyr Zelensky’s New Year’s pledge to retake all of Ukraine by the end of the year — or at least enough territory to definitively end Russia’s threat, Western officials and analysts say.”
  • Newsweek, reporting in October 2022, informed readers by way of activist Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of the Russian parliament, that “Russia is not yet on the brink of revolution…but is not far off.”
  • Rutgers University professor Alexander J. Motyl agrees. In a January 2023 article for Foreign Policy magazine titled ‘It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse’ Motyl decried as “stunning” what he believes is a “near-total absence of any discussion among politicians, policymakers, analysts, and journalists of the consequences of defeat for Russia. … considering the potential for Russia’s collapse and disintegration.”
  • Also in early January, the former head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Lt. General Ben Hodges told the Euromaidan Press that, “The decisive phase of the campaign…will be the liberation of Crimea. Ukrainian forces are going to spend a lot of time knocking out or disrupting the logistical networks that are important for Crimea…That is going to be a critical part that leads or sets the conditions for the liberation of Crimea, which I expect will be finished by the end of August.”

As Gore Vidal once quipped, “There is little respite for a people so routinely—so fiercely—disinformed.”

Conspicuous by its absence in what passes for foreign policy discourse in the American capital is the question of American interests: How does the allocation of vast sums to a wondrously corrupt regime in Kiev in any way materially benefit everyday Americans? Is the imposition of a narrow, sectarian Galician nationalism over the whole of Ukraine truly a core American interest? Does the prolongation of a proxy war between NATO and Russia further European and American security interests?

In truth, the lessons of Vietnam were forgotten long ago. The generation that now largely populates the ranks of the Washington media and political establishment came of age when Vietnam was already in the rearview. Today, the unabashed liberal interventionists who staff the Biden administration came up in the 1990s when it was commonly thought the United States didn’t do enough, notably in Bosnia and in Rwanda. As such, and almost without exception, they have supported every American mis-adventure abroad since 9/11.

The caution which, albeit all-too-temporarily, stemmed from the “Vietnam Syndrome” is today utterly absent in the corridors of power in Joe Biden’s Washington. The Vietnam Syndrome is indeed kicked: Dead and buried.

But we may soon regret its passing.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Shroud of Terror

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On January 19, 2023, three Police constables were killed in a suicide attack at the Takhta Beg Police checkpost in Jamrud tehsil (revenue unit) of Khyber District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Police said terrorists armed with hand grenades, entered the premises and opened fire using a sub-machine gun. After the firing, a suicide bomber blew himself up. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.

On January 18, 2023, a teenager, Raheedullah, was found beheaded in a remote area of Bargai village in Lakki Marwat District. The Ittehadul Mujahideen-i-Khurasan left a dagger and a hand written chit in Pashto near the body, with the message that Raheedullah was found guilty of spying for the Army and the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).

On January 14, 2023, three Policemen, including Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Badaber Sardar Hussain and his two Police guards, Irshad and Jehanzeb, were killed in a terrorist attack on the Sarband Police Station in Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. KP Inspector General of Police (IGP) Moazzam Jah Ansari said that sniper rifles were used by the terrorists in the incident, for the first time in Peshawar. TTP claimed responsibility for the attack. The CTD killed the two terrorists who were involved in the attack, Gul Hayyee and Hazrat Umar, residents of the Bara area of Khyber District and Mohmand Hal Yeka Tut in Peshawar, while two to three other terrorists managed to escape.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), KP has recorded 33 terrorism-related fatalities, including 23 terrorists, eight Security Force (SF) personnel and two civilians, so far, in the current year (data till January 22, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, the province had recorded 19 such fatalities including 11 terrorists, five SF personnel and three civilians.

KP recorded a total of 527 fatalities (119 civilians, 173 SF personnel and 235 terrorists) in 184 incidents of killing in 2022, as against 300 such fatalities (71 civilians, 108 SF personnel, and 121 terrorists) in 129 such incidents in 2021, registering an increase of 75.66 per cent in overall fatalities. Overall fatalities, on year-on-year basis, have been on a continuous rise since 2020, when fatalities stood at 216 (61 civilians, 57 SF personnel, and 98 terrorists) in comparison to 130 (30 civilians, 69 SF personnel, and 31 terrorists) in 2019.

Significantly, overall fatalities in 2022 are the highest in a year since 2014, when there were 697 fatalities. In terms of SF fatalities, the 2022 tally is the highest since 2013, when there were 181 fatalities. Terrorist fatalities in 2022 were the highest since 2011, when there were 372 such fatalities. The number of civilians killed in a year touched three digits after a gap of five years, with 122 civilians killed in 2016.

Other parameters of violence also indicated a worsening security situation in the province. Total terrorism-linked incidents jumped sharply from 168 in 2021 to 225 in 2022, the highest since 2015, when there were 278 incidents. The number of major incidents (each involving three or more killings) increased from 41 in 2021 to 56 in 2022, the highest since 2013, when there were 72 such incidents. The resultant fatalities in such attacks also increased from 186 in 2021 to 337 in 2022. Similarly, KP accounted for an increased number of explosions, from 32 in 2021 to 45 in 2022 (the highest since 2015, when there were 50 such incidents), and the resulting fatalities spiked from 52 to 129. The province recorded eight suicide attacks in 2022 (the highest since 2017, when there were also eight such attacks) as against two in 2021. In the worst attack, on March 4, at least 63 worshippers lost their lives and 194 others were injured when a suicide attacker detonated himself inside a Shia Mosque in the Koocha Risaldar area of Peshawar.

Of 38 Districts in KP, 16 recorded terrorism-related violence, according to the SATP database. The most violent District in 2022 was, again, North Waziristan District, which accounted for 177 deaths, followed by Peshawar (87 fatalities), Bannu (60 fatalities) and Dera Ismail Khan (43 fatalities). In 2021 as well, North Waziristan recorded the maximum of 106 killings, followed by South Waziristan (51 fatalities), Peshawar (25 fatalities) and Bajaur (22 fatalities). Of 38 Districts, 21 Districts registered terrorism-related incidents in 2021. 2020 saw terrorism-related incidents in 19 Districts, of which North Waziristan had the highest number of fatalities (110), followed by Peshawar (27) and South Waziristan (21).

In 2019, violence in KP had fallen to its second lowest level, in terms of fatalities, as terrorists had started to escape to Afghanistan due to continuous SF operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan. With the Taliban starting to strengthen their position in Afghanistan in 2020, the TTP terrorists who had escaped to Afghanistan started receiving increasing support inside Afghanistan, which helped them in their efforts to revive their campaigns in Pakistan. The process gained momentum with the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.

Though an attempt to start a direct dialogue between the TTP and the Pakistan Government was initiated soon after the Taliban seized Kabul, it finally succeeded in May 2022. After a fractious six months, it came to an end in November 2022. During this entire period, there was not a single phase of peace on the ground.

On the contrary, an October 12, 2022, report suggested that the TTP had re-emerged violently in the restive areas of Swat, as militants detained Police personnel and an Army officer after enforcement officials launched an operation to capture TTP militants. Earlier, an August 12, 2022, report noted that TTP militants had established a check-post at Balasoor Top, besides roaming about freely in other areas of the Matta tehsil of Swat. The areas included Bar Shor, Koz Shor, Namal, Gat Peuchar and among others. Significantly, the Geo News correspondent in Swat, Mehboob Ali, claimed that at least 200-250 TTP terrorists were present and operating in the area.

On December 23, 2022, after analysing the overall law and order situation in KP, the Police department declared South and North Waziristan, Lakki Marwat and Bannu Districts, terrorist ‘trouble spots’. Additional Inspector General of Police (ADGP), Operations, Mohammad Ali Babakhel declared, “Southern districts, including North and South Waziristan [from among the newly-merged tribal districts] as well as Lakki Marwat and Bannu districts [from settled areas], are trouble spots.”

Indeed, on December 27, 2022, Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah disclosed that there were around 7,000 to 10,000 TTP fighters in the region, and they were accompanied by 25,000 members of their families. He added that some of the terrorists, who had previously laid down arms, had secretly resumed activities, and alleged, “The biggest reason for this is the failure of [the] Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and Counter Terrorism Department… It is their job to stop it.”

Meanwhile, a report presented to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif during the national security review meeting in December 2022, warned that, because of an acute shortage of staff and resources, the KP CTD would not be able to prevent or stop terrorist attacks in the province, and lacked the capacity to fight terrorism.

Significantly, in a daring incident on December 18, 2022, a detained terrorist overpowered a constable at the CTD Complex in Bannu Cantonment (Bannu District) and, after snatching the constable’s weapon, freed 34 other detained terrorists. As soon as they came out of the lockup, the terrorists took possession of more weapons and started firing. One CTD constable was killed, while another was injured, and died later. Meanwhile, SFs cordoned off the area and launched an operation. Immediately after the seizure of the complex by the terrorists on December 18, two terrorists were killed, three were arrested, and two security forces personnel were injured in the exchange of fire. Efforts to induce the terrorists to surrender unconditionally continued for the next two days. On December 20, the SFs took initiated an operation against the terrorists who refused to surrender. During the resulting and fierce exchange of fire between terrorists and security forces, 25 terrorists were killed. Three terrorists were arrested and the remaining seven surrendered. Three SF personnel were killed in the operation, while another 10, including two officers, were injured. The TTP claimed responsibility for the incident.

As ‘official’ talks between the TTP and the Government collapsed with the TTPs declaration of an end to the ceasefire on November 28, 2022, an escalation of violence within KP, and the possibilities of its fanning out into other areas of Pakistan, have increased dramatically. The risk of Pakistan’s tribal areas once again becoming the “most dangerous place on earth” is real.

The Myanmar Tragedy

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When Burmawas ruled by a monarchyin the pre-colonial era, its Army was given the name of ‘Tatmadaw’.In the Burmese language Tatmadaw means Royal Armed Forces.Today the Tatmadaw has lost all its popularity and public support because of its action of deposing the elected government on 1st February 2021. One could understand the public reaction against the Tatmadaw by going through an article of Desmond published in the ‘Irrawaddy’ on 25th May 2022. The writer is of the opinion that the name Tatmadaw must not be used for the present day Myanmar Military because it is not ‘Royal’. “The word is too good for Min Aung Hlaing’s army, which is just a group of armed men killing their own people. There is nothing ‘royal’ about the actions of the present-day Myanmar military. Instead of the term ‘Myanmar Military, the most suitable term would be ‘murderous military’, which captures the true nature of Min Aung Hlaing’s army.” According to the Wikipedia, ‘ Min Aung Hlaing is a Burmese politician and army general who has ruled Myanmar as the chairman of the State Administration Council since seizing power in the February 2021 coup d’état. He took the nominally civilian role of prime minister of Myanmar in August 2021 upon the formation of the Provisional Government.’

On 2nd February 2022, the BBC said in a report on Myanmar Army, “Since it overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in a coup one year ago, Myanmar’s military – known as the Tatmadaw – has gone on to shock the world by killing hundreds of its own civilians, including dozens of children, in a brutal crackdown on protesters.” The report further narrated, “For Myanmar’s citizens, it has been a year of indiscriminate street killings and bloody village raids. In December 2021, a BBC investigation report discovered the Tatmadaw carried out a series of attacks that involved the torture and mass murder of opponents.More than 1,500 people have been killed by security forces since the coup in February 2021.”

Myanmar’s Nobel Peace laureate,Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had been thecivilian leader of Myanmar since her party won election in 2015 but during all that period the Tatmadaw always remained more powerful and authoritative than the civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It retained control over the armed forces by appointingkey cabinet ministers and its own commander in-chief.Moreover after the National League for Democracy’s landslide in November 2020, Tatmadaw generals refused to accept the outcome, arguing that the results were fraudulent. This stubborn attitude of the Tatmadaw was widely condemned and criticized internationally. Unfortunately, keeping aside all international disliking and criticism, India the ‘biggest democracy’ in the region, gave a warm welcome to the anti-democratic forces in Myanmar.

Between India and the current Myanmar regime,the warm relationship started soon after the coup in February 2021. While the regime was being internationally condemned for its coup, India was careful not to make any direct reference to the military takeover or to condemn it in its statements. Since coup there have been multiple engagements between India and Myanmar Military rulers. At the time when world was distancing itself from Military Junta of Myanmar, India extended invitation to Commander-In-Chief (Navy) Admiral Moe Aung of Myanmar to attend the third edition of Goa Maritime Conclave 2021 in Goa from 7th to 9th November. The Goa Maritime Conclave is hosted by Indian Navy once after every two years. During the visit the Commander-in-Chief had separate one to one meetings with India’s National Security Advisor, Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of the Naval Staff. The Commander-in-Chief participated in discussions on topics like active cooperation between Indian Navy and Tatmadaw maritime security and non-traditional security threats in Indian Ocean.On 22ndDecember 2021, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a two-day official visit to Myanmar. That was country’s first official outreach to the military Junta that seized power in February 2021.

Ignoring all its claims of being caretaker of basic human rights, Indiahas been tryingits best not to antagonize the Junta which has killed more than 2,000 people for rejecting military rule. Despite international condemnation on the regime, India has been openly cooperating with the military Junta, extending diplomatic support and even assistance in organizing a general election that Min Aung Hlaing plans to hold this year. When world talks about isolating Myanmar military regime, discussion of its few allies tends to focus on Russia and China’s engagement with the Junta and support for it on UN Security Council. One country that has been strangely absent from this conversation, however, is India.

India’s support to the Military rule in Myanmar is in fact an effort of giving tough time to Chinese interests in Myanmar. The Aljazeera pointed out in an analysis that the growing conflict in Myanmar is undermining the investment environment for China. According to an analysis paper by the Institute for Strategy and Policy Myanmar, Chinese investments are facing growing risks as the anti-coup conflicts escalate across the country.“Of more than 7,800 clashes recorded nationwide since the coup in February 2021, at least 300 have taken place in areas where major Chinese projects are located or near potential project sites for Chinese investments.” says Aljazeera. By providing support to Myanmar’s military rulers, India is simply discouraging China’s presence in the country.In spite of the fact thatIndia is the major supporter of Myanmar Military regime, the international media remains silent on this pro-dictatorship approach of India. Myanmar is no doubt facing worst situation of human rights violation leading to a very agonizingpolitical chaos. Certainly this is the worst phase of Myanmar’s history, and this all is happening particularly in an era when so-called super powers ever seem determined to discourage all anti-democracy movements.But in case of Myanmar, the world’s self-claimed ‘biggest democracy’ ispatronizing the human rights exploiters.

The U.S. Blockade of Cuba Hurts Medical Patients in Both Countries

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Scientists in Cuba believe that the breakthroughs they have made in the health care and technology sectors should be used to save and improve lives beyond the country’s borders. This is why the island nation has developed important scientific and medical partnerships with organizations and governments across the globe, including with those in MexicoPalestineAngolaColombiaIran, and Brazil. However, such collaborations are difficult due to the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States, which has now been in place for the last six decades.

In a conference, “Building Our Future,” held in Havana in November 2022, which brought together youth from Cuba and the United States, scientists at the Cuban Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) stated during a presentation that the blockade hurts the people of the United States, too. By lifting the sanctions against Cuba, the scientists argued, the people of the United States could have access to life-saving treatments being developed in Cuba, especially against diseases such as diabetes, which ravage working-class communities each year.

A Cure for Diabetes

Cuban scientists have developed both a lung cancer vaccine and a groundbreaking diabetes treatment. The new diabetes treatment, Heberprot-P, developed by the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), can reduce leg amputations of people with diabetic foot ulcers by more than four times. The medication contains a recombinant human epidermal growth factor that, when injected into a foot ulcer, accelerates its healing process, thereby, reducing diabetes-related amputations. And yet, despite the fact that the medication has been registered in Cuba since 2006, and has been registered in several other countries since, people in the United States are unable to get access to Heberprot-P.

Diabetes was the eighth leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, killing more than 100,000 patients in that year. “Foot ulcers are among the most common complications of patients who have diabetes,” which can escalate into lower limb amputations, according to a report in the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Each year, around 73,000 “non-traumatic lower extremity amputations” are performed on people who have diabetes in the U.S. These amputations occur at a disproportionate rate depending on the race of a patient, being far more prevalent among Black and Brown people suffering from diabetes. Many point to racial economic disparities and systemic medical racism as the reason for this.

“If you go into low-income African American neighborhoods, it is a war zone… You see people wheeling themselves around in wheelchairs,” Dr. Dean Schillinger, a medical professor at the University of California-San Francisco, told KHN. According to the KHN article, “Amputations are considered a ‘mega-disparity’ and dwarf nearly every other health disparity by race and ethnicity.”

The life expectancy of a patient with post-diabetic lower limb amputation is significantly reduced, according to various reports. “[P]atients with diabetes-related amputations have a high risk of mortality, with a five-year survival rate of 40–48 percent regardless of the etiology of the amputation.” Heberprot-P could help tens of thousands of patients avoid such amputations, however, due to the blockade, U.S. patients cannot access this treatment. People in the U.S. have a vested interest in dismantling the U.S. blockade of Cuba.

“So after five years [post-amputation], that’s the most you can live, and we are preventing that from happening,” said Rydell Alvarez Arzola, a researcher at CIM, in a presentation given to the U.S. and Cuban youth during the conference in Havana. “And that also is something that could bring both of our peoples [in Cuba and the U.S.] together to fight… to eliminate [the blockade].”

Cuban Health Care Under Blockade

Perhaps one of Cuba’s proudest achievements is a world-renowned health care system that has thrived despite economic devastation and a 60-year-long blockade.

After the fall of Cuba’s primary trading partner, the Soviet Union, in 1991, the island saw a GDP decrease of 35 percent over three years, blackouts, and a nosedive in caloric intake. Yet, despite these overwhelming challenges, Cuba never wavered in its commitment to providing universal health care. Universal health care, or access to free and quality health care for all, is a long-standing demand of people’s movements in the United States that has never been implemented largely due to the for-profit model of the health care industry and enormous corporate interests in the sector.

As other nations were enacting neoliberal austerity measures, which drastically cut social services in the 1980s and 1990s, Cuba’s public health care spending increased by 13 percent from 1990 to 1994. Cuba successfully raised its doctor-to-patient ratio to one doctor for every 202 Cubans in the mid-1990s, a far better statistic than the United States’ ratio of one doctor for every 300 people, according to a 2004 census.

As the blockade begins its seventh decade, Cuba is not only upholding universal health care but also continues to be at the forefront of scientific developments globally.

This was evident during the COVID-19 crisis. Cuba, faced with the inability to purchase vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical companies due to the U.S. blockade, developed five vaccines. The nation not only achieved its goal of creating one of the most effective COVID-19 vaccines but also launched the first mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign for children from two to 18 years old in September 2021.

To Share Knowledge Without Restrictions

Despite its achievements, Cuban health care still faces serious, life-threatening limitations due to the economic blockade. CIM, for example, has struggled to find international companies willing to carry out vital services for them. Claudia Plasencia, a CIM researcher, explained during the conference that CIM had signed a contract with a German gene synthesis company which later backed out because it had signed a new contract with a U.S. company. “They could not keep processing our samples, they could not keep doing business with Cuba,” Plasencia said.

Arzola explained how it is virtually impossible to purchase top-of-the-line equipment due to trade restrictions. “A flow cytometer is a machine that costs a quarter-million dollars… even if my lab has the money, I cannot buy the best machine in the world, which is from the U.S., everyone knows that,” he said. Even if CIM were to buy such a machine from a third party, it cannot utilize the repair services from the United States. “I cannot buy these machines even if I have the money, because I would not be able to fix them. You cannot spend a quarter-million dollars every six months [buying a new machine]… even though you know that this [machine] is the best for your patients.”

I spoke to Marianniz Diaz, a young woman scientist at CIM. When asked what we in the U.S. could do to help CIM’s scientists, her answer was straightforward: “The principal thing you can do is eliminate the blockade.”

“I would like us to have an interaction without restrictions, so we [Cuba and the U.S.] can share our science, our products, [and] our knowledge,” she said.

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