President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were both born under the sign of Libra. The zodiac directs them, on the positive side, to be cooperative and diplomatic; on the negative side, to be indecisive and vacillating. For likes, Librans click most on harmony and balance.
October 21 was Netanyahu’s birthday, and for the fourth time in five years Putin (born October 7) telephoned to wish him well. More than that, as Netanyahu was struggling – failing, in fact – to assemble a parliamentary coalition with enough votes to keep him in office, Putin declared: “You are by rights highly respected by your compatriots and by people outside Israel. We in Russia know you as a firm proponent of strengthening friendly ties between our countries and respect you for making a huge personal contribution to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in a variety of fields. I highly value our constructive and business-like relations. I hope to be able to continue our substantive dialogue and fruitful joint efforts in the interests of Russian and Israeli people, as well as regional security and stability.”
This is a very odd choice of exaggerations and misrepresentations for the Russian head of government to pass to another head of government – especially one who has just lost a national election; faces indictment for corruption; and directs a policy of warmaking against two of Russia’s battlefield allies, Syria and Iran, not to mention allowing his air force to shoot Russian airmen out of the sky to their deaths.
When Putin told the Arab media last week that his principle is “Russia will never be friends with one country against another”, he was making an exception for Israel. But why of all the Israelis who celebrate birthdays does Putin pick on Netanyahu? (more…)
When I was optimistic, I used to mark the passing summers by the hit songs that were playing on the radio as I sweated away at jobs that paid me the money I badly needed.
“She loves you” was the summer of 1964 for me; “Summer in the City” was 1966. “Nutbush City Limits” was 1973. Ten years later, in the summer of 1983, “Nutbush” was the backing theme for radio programmes I produced for Claudia Wright in Melbourne – the last time she was allowed to broadcast on an Australian radio station. In 1995, though it seems to have been earlier, there was “If God was one of us”.
In this wartime the lyrics can’t mean what they used to. Now it’s not a good idea to be sentimental when the job is to scribble until Labor Day.
The President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (lead image), was toppled from power in Colombo and forced to flee the country on July 13, leaving behind a prime minister he had appointed to succeed him, assuring his immunity from prosecution and delaying national elections for two years. A week earlier, on July 6, Rajapaksa telephoned President Vladimir Putin and requested emergency shipments of Russian fuel to the country on credit because Sri Lanka had run out of fuel and also the money to pay for it.
The last Russian shipment, 90,000 tonnes of Russian crude oil to restart Sri Lanka’s sole but bankrupt refinery, had been ordered from intermediary traders and then delivered to port in May. However, the oil could not be unloaded until the government produced the cash to pay for it. Rajapaksa followed in the last days of June by sending two officials to Moscow to ask for direct government-to-government oil deliveries without cash. There was no Russian agreement.
Rajapaksa’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had announced to the press that if the US or its allies in the Middle East wouldn’t agree to deliver fresh crude oil or gasoline, he and Rajapaksa would go to Moscow. “If we can get [it] from any other sources, we will get [it] from there. Otherwise [we] may have to go to Russia again,” the prime minister said.
Behind the scenes Rajapaksa had been trying to get Putin on the telephone for weeks, announcing publicly in Colombo he was ready to fly to Moscow. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded publicly that no face-to-face meeting was possible. On July 6, the Kremlin agreed to take the Sri Lankan call.
Rajapaksa was desperate; Putin non-committal. “Had a very productive telecon with the #Russia President, Vladimir Putin,” Rajapaksa tweeted. “While thanking him for all the support extended by his gvt to overcome the challenges of the past, I requested an offer of credit support to import fuel to #lka [Sri Lanka] in defeating the current econ challenges. Further, I humbly made A request to restart @AeroflotWorld operations in #lka. We unanimously agreed that strengthening bilateral relations in sectors such as tourism, trade & culture was paramount in reinforcing the friendship our two nations share.”
“The presidents,” reads the Kremlin communiqué, “discussed current matters of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, in particular, in energy, agriculture and transport… It was agreed to continue contacts at various levels.”
In Moscow the Russians interpreted Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa to be making a public show of asking for Russian help in order to persuade Washington to rescue them instead.
The Kremlin was convinced the Sri Lankans were scheming and bluffing. The reason was that on June 2, at Colombo’s airport, an Aeroflot Airbus Flight SU-288, with more than two hundred Russians returning to Moscow from holiday in the country, had been prevented from departing; the aircraft had been stopped by an order from a judge of the Commercial High Court. Ostensibly, the court was acting on a lawsuit filed against Aeroflot by an Irish aircraft leasing company called Celestial Aviation Trading 10 Limited.
In fact, that entity was a front for AerCap, the dominant global aviation leasing corporation in the world, controlled by General Electric of the US; Celestial Aviation is an AerCap special purpose vehicle; its claim against the Aeroflot aircraft in Sri Lanka was part of Washington’s sanctions war — and Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe were immediately told so by Russian officials. They claimed the court order was a “commercial dispute” with “no involvement of the state”; the Russians didn’t believe them.
The aircraft was released on June 6 and a court official charged with corruption. But a month later, by the time Rajapaksa was appealing to Putin, Aeroflot had not restarted its flights. There would also be no Russian oil nor credit to save Rajapaksa.
In Moscow, Rajakpaksa’s downfall and his replacement by Wickremesinghe are not viewed as regime change – not yet. Russian officials are not saying whether they believe there is a continuing US plot in the country. Neither are the government officials who know best what has occurred already, and what is likely to happen next – they are the Indian government. The silence from Moscow and Delhi is telling.
Never mind the bang and whimper with which the pietistical Anglo-American Harvard alumnus and Tory snob Tom Eliot ended his 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men”. Whatever he could have known and didn’t then, can’t answer the question now: How will this war in Europe end?
Last week the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov answered by drawing a geographic line three hundred kilometres westward and southwestward from the Russian border, including Donetsk, Lugansk, Sevastopol, Kaliningrad, Brest and Hrodna (Belarus). That is, the direct line of fire by the artillery, rocket, or missile batteries which the US and the NATO allies are installing.
“Now the geography is different,” Lavrov said. “It is more than the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic], the LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic], but also the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions and a number of other areas. This process continues, consistently and persistently. It will continue as long as the West, in its impotent rage, desperate to aggravate the situation as much as possible, continues to flood Ukraine with more and more long-range weapons. Take the HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System]. Defence Minister Alexey Reznikov [Kiev] boasts that they have already received 300-kilometre ammunition. This means our geographic objectives will move even further from the current line. We cannot allow the part of Ukraine that Vladimir Zelensky, or whoever replaces him, will control to have weapons that pose a direct threat to our territory or to the republics that have declared their independence and want to determine their own future.”
Will this line extend to Lvov in western Ukraine, or somewhere between Dniepropetrovsk, Kiev, and the Polish border, Lavrov was asked. The answer will not be given by diplomatic negotiations, he replied. “There is a solution to this problem. The military know this.”
What the deuce? Gorilla Radio’s Chris Cook asks the question and Gorilla Radio broadcasts the answers.
The British government’s scheme of secrecy surrounding the public inquiry into the alleged Novichok attacks against Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Dawn Sturgess in 2018 has been opposed by the BBC and the London Times.
“A requirement for confidentiality undertakings”, a BBC lawyer wrote to the inquiry chairman, Lord Anthony Hughes, in a document released by Hughes’ spokesman last Friday, “is itself an impediment to transparency… as well as general, healthy discourse among legal and editorial colleagues.” David Attfield is the head of the BBC’s programme legal advice department which signed the document. But the name on the signature line has been blacked out. “The media should be trusted to act responsibly,” the BBC told Hughes.
In a letter dated July 1, Brid Jordan, deputy head of the legal department of Times Newspapers Ltd. (TNL), told the Hughes Inquiry her media group “opposes the blanket anonymization of categories of individuals. TNL is particularly concerned that the restrictions are requested to be indefinite with no periodic review of necessity or appropriateness. The restrictions sought have the potential to stifle reporting of a significant inquiry and, as proposed, represent a disproportionate restriction on the fundamental principle of open justice.”
At the close of the letter, Jordan’s name has been kept secret by the Inquiry; the evidence of this is not quite erased.
The state media corporation and the London press group owned by Rupert Murdoch have led the British government’s efforts to accuse the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, and President Vladimir Putin personally, of launching the Novichok chemical warfare weapon against British targets.
The BBC’s dramatized retelling of the Russian cause of Sturgess’s death, titled “The Salisbury Poisonings” was broadcast in June 2020. This followed fabrication of evidence in interviews and a book released by a BBC correspondent and MI6 informant, Mark Urban.
The BBC and the Murdoch media have refused to interview the Skripals for their account of what allegedly happened to them in Salisbury on March 4, 2018. They have also failed to report or investigate the announcement, which Dawn Sturgess’s family made public through their lawyer on July 15, that they suspect British officials, prosecutors, and police of fabricating the Novichok story.
It’s unlikely that when they were alive, Sergei Skripal (lead image, left) and his daughter Yulia Skripal (right) read Enid Blyton.
The paratroop and military intelligence training which Sergei Skripal received prepared him for Afghanistan, Malta, and Spain. By the time he reached England in 2010, he wasn’t undercover, and didn’t need to pretend to having read the Blyton books as a boy. By then too Blyton had been dead for more than forty years, and her books condemned in fashionable English circles as sexist, racist, paedophilic, and sadistic; although Blyton’s prejudice against foreigners has returned to fashion recently. Her taste for playing tennis in the nude did not suit the Skripals or the retired policemen neighbours in their Salisbury block.
Blyton’s books weren’t translated and published in Russian until after Boris Yeltsin became president. The first of her Secret Seven series didn’t appear in Russian until 2015. By then Sergei was 64 years of age; Yulia was 31.
In March of this year, the first of the seven Skripal secrets began to slip into the public prints when Adam Chapman (lead image, centre), a lawyer who was on sabbatical from his London office at the time, was appointed by the British government to represent the two Skripals as their legal representative. The official announcement of his appointment appeared on April 4. For the first time since March 4, 2018, when the front door-handle of their cottage was attacked, and Skripal and his daughter collapsed in the middle of Salisbury town four hours later, it appeared they had recovered their voice and their freewill.
Except that Chapman refuses to speak for the Skripals; to acknowledge that he has been instructed by them to be their lawyer and that he has seen for himself that they are alive.
On July 15, in Chapman’s first public appearance in a London courtroom on behalf of the Skripals, he was asked a question by Lord Anthony Hughes, the judge chairing the public inquiry into the alleged Novichok attacks by Skripal’s former military service. Did he have anything to say to the court for Sergei and Yulia Skripal, Chapman was asked. “Nothing”, Chapman replied, shrugging his head. That was the second of the seven Skripal secrets to slip out.
On Friday, July 15, in London, a session took place of the British government’s public inquiry into the story of the Novichok attacks of 2018. This followed the first public session on March 25 and a closed-door session on April 4.
However, the sound and video recording system failed. The presiding chairman, former judge Lord Anthony Hughes, had no microphone and was both inaudible and invisible to the camera for more than two hours of the proceedings. Microphones at the tables of the lawyers in the courtroom, including those of the inquiry itself, the government, and the police, did not work. A single microphone had to be moved by a court clerk between speakers, but this failed to catch everything that was said. The stenographer contracted to transcribe the session was not in the courtroom; dependent on the audio and video feed, she was unable to transcribe what was said.
A spokesman for Hughes told the press “the stenographer was listening remotely and this has resulted in a delay with the transcript. I hope it will be published early next week.” Following the failure of the transcript to appear this week, the spokesman conceded “we are hoping to publish the transcript as soon as possible.” She was requested to say when the transcript and the texts of the presentations the lawyers had prepared in advance would appear. She replied: “we are aiming to publish the transcript and submissions together as soon as possible.”
The result is that the two most important revelations in what was said in court have not been recorded officially. They have also not been reported by the handful of media reporters who listed themselves at the hearing; the BBC and Salisbury Journal reports omitted them. The two dramatic disclosures were however recorded by hand, by me.
In the first, Michael Mansfield QC, said that a “jigsaw of intelligence” had been the evidence when British government officials announced the Novichok story and then charged Russian agents with the Novichok attacks. If the evidence had been good enough for public statements by Prime Minister Theresa May, her Cabinet Secretary and security advisor Sir Mark Sedwill, and then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, then what explained the delay in releasing the evidence to his clients, the family and partner of Dawn Sturgess, the lawyer asked. “Unless it’s an empty barrel”, Mansfield added.
In the second disclosure, Georgina Wolfe, junior counsel for the Home Office, was speaking in court for the government, including the prime ministry and the two security services, MI6 and MI5. She explained there was an ongoing threat to British lives of Russian attack. Her evidence for this, she added, included “the Danish investigation of the MH17 attack”. Wolfe was referring to the Dutch investigation and the ongoing court trial in The Netherlands of the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the Ukraine in July 2014.
The truth of what caused the death of Dawn Sturgess and of the Novichok story is not what Mansfield’s and Wolfe’s statements in court last Friday meant. Mansfield wants a multi-million pound payment for his clients and himself, and is prepared to accuse the government of lying. Wolfe wants the government to get away with the lying under cover of secrecy, backed by something misbegotten in the kingdom of Denmark.
Without an official record of what was said, the lawyers and the judge can pretend Mansfield’s and Wolfe’s revelations didn’t happen.
The public inquiry by Lord Anthony Hughes into the British government’s narrative of Russian chemical warfare in the UK and the alleged Novichok death of Dawn Sturgess on July 8, 2018, collapsed into secrecy, mishap, and farce in a London courtroom on Friday.
The sound system failed, leaving only one microphone to be moved from one speaker to another. The judge was invisible off camera and inaudible for the entire proceeding. A court official told the press “I personally apologies [sic] for the ongoing technical issues…The Cloud video platform equipment was tested beforehand and all was thought to be well. However there have been ongoing issues with equipment today.”
A government lawyer acknowledged that the “preliminary” security check of documents in the case is requiring reviews and approvals by five unnamed government agencies, and taking five months before the documents can be released to Hughes and to the lawyers in the case. Police and intelligence service applications to the judge to keep evidence and witness identities secret will be heard in secret. A closed-door hearing for this was expected to follow the public one on Friday, but the timing of this is a state secret the judge has not revealed.
Michael Mansfield QC, a lawyer representing the Sturgess family, said in court that four years ago, a “jigsaw of intelligence” was already available when British government officials announced the Novichok story and then charged Russian agents with the Novichok attacks. Mansfield said the delays for secrecy reviews had left the Sturgess family’s “patience [wearing] extremely thin.” He hinted that if the evidence for the Russian Novichok attack had been solid enough for public statements by Prime Minister Theresa May, her Cabinet Secretary and security advisor Sir Mark Sedwill, and then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, followed by announcement of criminal charges, the Sturgess family was exasperated by four years of postponement in releasing the evidence to the public inquiry.
“Unless it’s an empty barrel”, Mansfield added. This is the first suggestion the Sturgess family has made publicly that they suspect government officials may have been lying.
When I was ten years old, I was tall for my age and had an unusually powerful first serve for a boy.
After observing me hit a few practice balls, a famous international tennis star turned coach told my mother that if she handed me over to him every day after school for three hours a day, every day for the next ten years, along with a cheque almost as tall as I was, he was sure he could turn me into the world champion he had been. She refused.
It wasn’t that my mother was sceptical of the promise, or of my juvenile talent at the game, or even of the price she had to pay. Her reason, she told me later, was she thought there was more to life than tennis, and that in my after-school hours I would be better occupied doing my school homework. At the time that wasn’t my choice to make. Later, when I went in for politics instead of tennis, she thought there was more to life than that too. Still, she went to Wimbledon when she could. She also kept up her own tennis game. I haven’t done either.
That is until last Sunday, when for the first time in the history of tennis, the politics met the tennis game on the centre court, and Novak Djokovic, the Serbian champion, won both. The Australian government’s abuse of emergency powers to keep Djokovic out of the country last January – quashed by one federal court judge, allowed by a panel of three – had been defeated in four sets. Nick Kyrgios served 30 aces to Djokovic’s 15, but Djokovic won 132 points to 112. Had Kyrgios won, the Australian press, which had supported its government’s attack on Djokovic in January and Kyrgios in his Wimbledon challenge, would have claimed the double victory. Djokovic kept his eloquent silence.
This coming Sunday, July 17, will be the eighth anniversary of the downing over eastern Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in which 298 crew and passengers on board were killed; most of them were Dutch; some Australian, Malaysian and other nationalities. The Dutch, Australian and Ukrainian governments combined at the time to plan a NATO military intervention; to tamper with the bodies and the crash evidence; and for the past two years to run a show trial, in order to make their political case that Russia was guilty in the crime. The verdict is proven; the crime is not. That’s a double-fault.
In wars like the present one, politics on the home front cannot be permitted to give aid and comfort to the enemy. In the US and NATO campaign, the Russian oligarchs and their businesses are targets and also weapons of the plan for regime change in the Kremlin. What role they will play personally in the future of the Russian war economy, and how their assets, cashflows, profits and investments will be managed, are bound to be closely held secrets.
So when the aluminium oligarch Oleg Deripaska (lead images, left left, right left) and the nickel oligarch Vladimir Potanin (left right, right left) appeared to agree to announce publicly on July 4 that they are negotiating a merger of their companies Rusal and Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) into a single national mining and metals champion, they may be telling the truth; or they may be running a disinformation operation against each other; or they may be flying a trial balloon over the Kremlin to see what President Vladimir Putin will decide.
Potanin spoke first; he has detested Deripaska in the past. For the time being Deripaska has said nothing. The spokesmen for their companies are saying nothing on the record.
Potanin may have intended to sandbag Deripaska before the latter expected it. Last Monday they both knew that what Potanin said would immediately boost Rusal’s share price and damage Norilsk Nickel’s, and that is what happened, making the merger proposal appear to be Deripaska’s initiative, not Potanin’s.
The last three times Deripaska tried a hostile takeover against Potanin – in 2008, 2010, and 2015 — Putin refused to allow it. That the president is the one to decide again is too obvious to be a state secret now. That the Rusal-Nornickel merger is a much greater test of the war economy plan than the Central Bank’s rouble and interest rate policies, or the government’s capital export controls is also no secret. Whether Putin has made up his mind this time, and what he will decide remain secret. So is the fight to persuade him to say yes or no.
Next year it will be four hundred years since the Amboyna Massacre of March 9, 1623. The British won’t be memorializing their countrymen’s killings by the Dutch, nor the Dutch celebrating one of the last gasps of their Asian empire. They are now allies in the fabrication of reasons for killing Russians.
Remember the Amboyna Massacre! That was fighting talk in London during a decade of litigation in The Netherlands, and leading to the first Anglo-Dutch War of 1652-54. The British won that one – and also the second war of 1655-57, and the third war of 1672-74.
In the Amboyna massacre the Dutch water-boarded and then executed a group of ten British merchants on the trumped-up charge of plotting to seize the Dutch fortress on the island of Ambon, now part of Indonesia, where today it is called Maluku. They were beheaded, along with nine Japanese mercenaries and a Portuguese they had employed. The head of the senior English officer, Gabriel Towerson, was put on a pike for display by the Dutch . On the fiftieth anniversary, John Dryden gave Towerson the leading role in a play he put on the London stage entitled, “Amboyna, or the Cruelties of the Dutch to the English Merchants, A Tragedy”. That was the time when British political propaganda was written by men of talent.
The real reason for the massacre was that the Dutch were trying to keep their monopoly of the nutmeg harvest on the island, making sure the British didn’t undercut their prices or their influence with the local sultans who controlled the indigenous nutmeg plantations. In those days, nutmeg was more than the sweet spice it’s thought of today. It was a strategic commodity – and a matter of national security in Europe. That was because it was believed to be able to ward off the Black Plague.
Also, the British and Dutch were fighting for sea routes and colonial assets capable of producing much more than nutmeg. Along the way, the Dutch lost New Amsterdam (aka New York) and much more besides. The Amboyna massacre had another unintended outcome – having lost the heads of several of its best men, the British merchant holding, the East India Company, decided to exit Indonesia, and entrench themselves in India instead. India was good for cotton textiles, chintzes, and the blue dye known as indigo. Nutmeg stayed with the Dutch, but the British stole the Ambon nutmeg tree and replanted it in other parts of their empire.
At the litigation stage, before the warring started, the British position was that the Dutch had no jurisdiction to put the Amboyna victims on trial for treason, let alone torture them and cut their heads off. That was judicial murder according to the British reading of the applicable Dutch and English laws and case precedents. The Dutch insisted that on their territory they had the jurisdiction to do what they did. By the time the litigation was over with acquittals of the Dutch judges who had issued the guilty verdicts and the death sentences, it didn’t matter. War did.
Fast forward to March 9, 2020. Dutch jurisdiction was decided by the US and the NATO allies for prosecuting the allegation against retired Russian army officer Oleg Pulatov of murdering the 298 passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by shooting the aircraft down in the Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The trial which began two years and four months ago has hidden the identities and proceedings of the judges investigating the evidence behind the court room. The Dutch state prosecutors have accepted the trumped-up evidence of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). The promised smoking-gun evidence of US satellite photographs never materialized. In anticipation, the guilty verdict has been as obvious as Towerson’s head on the Dutch pike.