TYMOSHENKO TRIAL

There has been a flood of commentary in the world media concerning the trial of the Ukrainian politician and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Though I have not followed the trial closely I do want to make a few points:

1. There seems to be a widespread assumption that Tymoshenko has been tried and convicted on the basis of some archaic Soviet law unknown to western jurisprudence.  Tymoshenko was in fact convicted on a charge of abuse of power.  Such a concept most certainly does exist in English law where it is called misfeasance of public office.  So far as I know it is a civil wrong rather than a criminal offence though there is no reason why it could not be a criminal offence subject to criminal sanctions in other jurisdictions.  English law is in fact quite capable of treating some political decisions as criminal acts.  One example is the case of Shirley Porter who abused her position as Mayor of Westminster in order to manipulate council house sales. 

2. The case against Tymoshenko was initiated in September 2009 by the previous Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko who was also the star prosecution witness at Tymoshenko’s trial.  The international media blames the Ukraine’s current President Viktor Yanukovitch for the trial.  In reality Yanukovitch inherited the case from his predecessor.  Yanukovitch could presumably have acted to bring the case to a stop but this would have amounted to precisely the sort of political interference in the judicial process that the west criticises.

3. The case against Tymoshenko is that she disregarded Yushchenko’s instructions when she made a gas agreement with Russia.  As Prime Minister Tymoshenko was Yushchenko’s subordinate and legally bound to carry out his instructions.  The charge against her is that she is ignored the instructions she was given and by making decisions independently of Yushchenko acted beyond her remit and broke the law.

4. The Ukrainian authorities have also brought various other charges against Tymoshenko.  One is that in breach of the Ukraine’s international agreements she misappropriated funds provided by international agencies and foreign governments to enable the Ukraine to reduce its carbon emissions in accordance with its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.  Tymoshenko has admitted this charge.  The money was used to pay pensions.  Tymoshenko claims this was done to protect pensioners from the impact of the economic crisis.  Her critics allege that it was done to secure for Tymoshenko the pensioners’ vote in the 2010 Presidential election.

5. Neither of these charges is outlandish.  In Britain if a subordinate minister disregards the instructions of the British Prime Minister and of the cabinet in negotiations with a foreign power and commits Britain to a treaty the minister has no power to agree such a minister is liable to severe sanctions and very possibly legal charges. In practice the professional diplomats and civil servants who always accompany British ministers to meetings with representatives of foreign powers would act to prevent such a thing from happening. Similarly if the British government uses money parliament in the budget has assigned for one purpose in order to carry out some entirely different purpose then the government is acting illegally and the ministers responsible may face charges of misappropriating funds and of stealing money.  Again in practice it is difficult to believe that the civil service would allow such a thing to happen.  However in 1986 officials of the US government who were found to have misappropriated funds obtained from illegal arms sales to Iran, which they then used to fund an undeclared war against Nicaragua, were charged and convicted of a variety of offences though in the event all were eventually pardoned.

6. I gather that the Ukrainian authorities are preparing to bring still more charges against Tymoshenko in connection with some of her business activities in the 1990s.  On this occasion she is apparently being accused of having stolen or misappropriated funds amounting to more than $400 million. 

7. In all the commentary concerning Tymoshenko’s trial it has been forgotten (or suppressed) that at the time of the Orange Revolution in 2004 Tymoshenko was already subject to criminal charges and that criminal proceedings against her were already pending in the Ukraine and Russia.  Indeed Tymoshenko could not travel to Russia at the time because she was subject to an outstanding arrest warrant.  In the event these charges were abandoned after the Orange Revolution succeeded.  As I remember some more cynical Russian commentators suggested at the time that the reason for Tymoshenko’s support for the Orange Revolution was precisely to get the charges against her dropped.

I have made these points, which no western newspaper or media agency has made, in an attempt to set the record straight.  There is nonetheless something extraordinary about Tymoshenko’s case.  Though her conduct when she was the Ukraine’s Prime Minister was hardly impeccable given the situation in the Ukraine at the time it is actually difficult to fault Tymoshenko for the actions she took and for which she has just been convicted.  The instructions Yushchenko gave her for the gas negotiations in Moscow were impossible and if followed would have prolonged the “gas war” that was at that time underway between Russia and the Ukraine, which had left the Ukraine and much of eastern Europe without gas.  Whether strictly legal or not it was an act of statesmanship on Tymoshenko’s part to disregard these instructions.  As for the misappropriation of the funds however cynical one may be about Tymoshenko’s motives given the disastrous economic situation in the Ukraine at the time use of the funds to pay pensions will have actually saved lives.

Western outrage at the treatment meted out to Tymoshenko would however be a great deal more convincing if it was consistent with western conduct towards the Ukraine when Tymoshenko and her erstwhile partner Viktor Yushchenko were in power.  It is particularly instructive to compare the western response to Tymoshenko’s trial with the way the west responded to the political crisis that struck the Ukraine in 2007 in which Tymoshenko played a major part.

The year 2007 began in the Ukraine with a decision by Viktor Yushchenko, who was then the Ukraine’s President, to order the dissolution of the Ukrainian Parliament.  The reason Yushchenko made this decision was because the majority in the Parliament supported his political rival Viktor Yanukovitch who was at this time the Prime Minister and the head of the Ukraine’s government.  Yushchenko wanted to dissolve the Parliament and force a new election, which he expected would be won by the coalition of Orange parties that supported him.  Tymoshenko, who was the leader of the biggest of these Orange parties and who expected to be made Prime Minister in the event that a new Orange government was formed, enthusiastically supported Yushchenko’s actions and his dissolution order.

Yushchenko’s dissolution order was however unconstitutional since the Ukrainian constitution gives the President the power to order the dissolution of parliament only where there is political deadlock with no party or coalition of parties having a majority and being able to form a government.  That was not the case when Yushchenko made his dissolution order.  Not only did the government have a clear majority in the parliament but the government was stable and appeared to be successfully performing its work.

Yanukovitch and his allies therefore challenged Yushchenko’s dissolution order by applying to the Ukraine’s Constitutional Court for its annulment. Yushchenko’s response when it became clear that the Constitutional Court was about to rule against him was to seek to dismiss its judges replacing them with his own placemen.  When this failed Yushchenko had the Constitutional Court’s surrounded by his Presidential Guard.  When this provoked protests Yushchenko moved troops to the capital and threatened to declare martial law.  In all these actions and during the entire crisis he had Tymoshenko’s enthusiastic support.   

That these actions of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko in 2007 amounted to a far grosser infringement of the rule of law than anything that has taken place during Tymoshenko’s trial hardly needs saying.  Tymoshenko has been convicted of real offences following a trial at which she was able to put her case.  In 2007 Yushchenko with Tymoshenko’s connivance infringed the constitution, interfered with a court process to the extent of trying to dismiss and intimidate judges who were about to rule against him and brought troops into his own capital in what amounted to a coup d’etat.

The west’s response was however very different in 2007 to what it is today.  The western media ignored the crisis.  Appeals by Yanukovitch and his supporters for action by the European Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe met no response.  The US ambassador publicly expressed his support for Yushchenko and the ambassadors of the NATO powers collectively issued a statement supporting Yushchenko’s demand for new elections.  Only when Yushchenko moved troops to the capital did the western media briefly take notice.  As soon as the crisis ended even this brief media interest ceased and the whole episode has now vanished into a memory hole. 

The sequel to these events is that as it became clear that Yushchenko and Tymoshenko had the support of the western powers Yanukovitch backed down,  the parliament was dissolved as Yushchenko and Tymoshenko wanted and new elections were called.  To their joint surprise and that of their western backers and in spite of the $250 million that was allegedly spent by them during the election campaign the Orange parties  nonetheless failed to win a clear majority.  The result led to recriminations between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko and a total falling out between the them, which eventually brought Yanukovitch back to power.

Independent (ie non western) reports of the popular response in the Ukraine to Tymoshenko’s trial suggest widespread indifference to her fate.  Her supporters have failed to mobilise the large demonstrations in support of her that some had expected.  There is also apparently a great deal of cynicism and some resentment in the Ukraine at the west’s criticisms.  This post may show some of the reasons why.

GREECE AND ARGENTINA

In all the flood of commentary about Greece there is one particular argument largely made by neo Keynesian economists that repeatedly raises its head.  This is that if Greece were to default on its debts and leave the euro then its economy having been liberated from the straitjacket of a fixed exchange rate and the weight of its debts could recover in the same way that Argentina did when Argentina found itself in a similiar position ten years ago.

This argument simply fails to take into account the totally different economies of Argentina and Greece.  Argentina is a resource rich country, self sufficient in food with a large trade surplus.  Greece is a resource poor country that imports most of its food and which has a large trade deficit.  Following its default Argentina could pay for such imports as it needed out of the profits of its exports.  Greece is not in a position to do this since it does not have the necessary exports.  Talk of the Greek economy recovering competitiveness is misplaced.  Unlike Argentina Greece is a minor agricultural producer, which cannot hope to match the economies of scale of other big Mediterranean agricultural producers such as Spain, Italy or Turkey.  Such industries as Greece once had have largely closed following Greece’s EU entry due to their inability to compete head on with the industries of Greece’s much larger and stronger EU partners.  This means that whilst Argentina still has a significant industrial base that was able to benefit from a currency devaluation to step up exports Greece does not.  Greece is a major tourist destination and tourism is Greece’s main foreign currency earner but it is difficult to see how this could be increased quickly enough or to a big enough extent to cover Greece’s deficit.  Nor in the case of a default and euro exit would Greece be in a position to do what the US and Britain do, which is pay for imports in its own currency.  Unlike the dollar and sterling confidence in any new drachma would be so low that it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to hold it. 

It is in fact difficult to see how in the event of a default and euro exit the Greek economy could continue to function without further loans from the EU.  Without such loans I for one cannot see how Greece would be able to pay even for essential imports.  In the absence of such loans there would it seems to me be a serious risk of an implosion of the sort experienced in the 1990s by Cuba and North Korea.  In order to avoid such a possibility such loans would presumably be made but if so this would merely emphasise the fact that unlike Argentina and despite what some neo Keynesians say Greece is simply not in a position to stand on its own feet.

LIAM FOX

I surely cannot be the only person who is wondering why Liam Fox is still a cabinet minister.

It has been disclosed that whilst performing his duties as Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox has been regularly accompanied to important meetings with leaders and officials of foreign powers by a personal friend who has no connection to the government and no right to attend such meetings and who has tried to use his visible closeness to Liam Fox for personal advantage.  When asked for an explanation Liam Fox has resorted to evasions expressed in convoluted language.  He has also criticised those who have asked questions by accusing them of homophobia of which I see no sign. For the record Liam Fox’s conduct would be every bit as questionable if the friend who had accompanied him to these meetings had been a woman or indeed his wife. 

If the executive of any private company or a civil servant were to attend business meetings in the company of a personal friend who had no right or reason to be there this would certainly be the subject of severe disciplinary action.  If done to the extent that it has been done by Liam Fox it would almost certainly be seen as gross misconduct justifying immediate dismissal. There is no reason why an exception should be made of Liam Fox or why his position as a cabinet minister or as a senior Conservative politician should give him some sort of immunity.  Indeed the fact that he is a cabinet minister and that the subject of the meetings he attends because of the nature of his job touch on questions of national security mean that he ought to be held to a higher standard not a lesser.  If he cannot see this for himself then the Prime Minister should not indulge him further but should dismiss him from the government.

SYRIA AND THE SECURITY COUNCIL

What happened in the Security Council on 4th October 2011 may serve as a case study for the way the big western powers now conduct their diplomacy and for the way in which questions of peace and war are now reported in the British and western press.

Contrary to what has been said in the western press all the members of the Security Council were agreed that the situation in Syria justified intervention by the Security Council.  Given that this was so agreeing the text of a Resolution that all Security Council members could support ought to have been straightforward.  That no Resolution was passed was as I shall attempt to show in this post due entirely to the actions of the western powers.  

Three months ago at the outset of the discussions in the Security Council the six powerful countries that make up the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) made clear that they would support a Resolution about Syria provided it did not place all the blame for the violence in Syria upon the Syrian government or threaten sanctions or the use of force.  This was based on an assessment that some at least of the violence in Syria was the work of the protesters and that the solution to the crisis lay in negotiations between the Syrian government and the protesters leading to a political solution to the crisis. 

The BRICS states sought a Resolution that would facilitate this process. As they repeatedly made clear they opposed regime change especially if externally imposed and opposed any Resolution intended to pave the way for regime change.  The western powers by contrast have placed all the blame for the violence in Syria upon the Syrian government.  They have also issued calls demanding that President Assad resign.  They have thereby made clear that they see the solution to the crisis in regime change

The proposed Resolution placed before the Security Council by the western powers reflects the western position.  It blames the Syrian government for the violence.  In its original form it apparently also specifically referred to sanctions against Syria if the Syrian government did not comply with its demands.  The text has not been published but summaries have been provided by the Russian and Chinese press and have appeared on the United Nations website. 

Western press reports over the last few days have suggested that to meet objections from the BRICS states the terms of the Resolution were watered down on no fewer than three occasions and all references to sanctions were removed.  The United Nations website shows that this was not so.  The final draft of the  Resolution put before the Security Council on 4th October 2011 continued to blame the Syrian government for the violence.  Whilst this draft apparently did not refer to sanctions as such, it threatened action under Article 41 of the United Nations Charter if the Syrian government failed to comply with its demands within 30 days. 

Article 41 is the article in the United Nations Charter that empowers the Security Council to impose sanctions.  These may include a land, sea and air blockade including a no fly zone.  Where action under Article 41 proves ineffective Article 42 gives the Security Council power to take further action including direct military action. 

In other words and contrary to western press reports, the changes made to the Resolution were purely cosmetic.  Its basic meaning and purpose were left unchanged. 

It takes no imagination to work out what would have happened if this Resolution had been passed.  The protesters would have been given a powerful incentive to intensify their protests in order to put further pressure on the Security Council when it reconvened after 30 days.  As a result the violence would surely have escalated or would have been reported by the western press to have escalated, which amounts to the same thing.  This would have provided the pretext the western powers would have needed to demand further action against Syria under Article 41 when the Security Council did reconvene.   Having conceded a Resolution that blamed the Syrian government for the violence the BRICS states would have found it difficult to resist such demands especially given the angry press campaign in the western press that would by then have been in full flood.  A further tougher Resolution doubtless including provision for a no fly zone (easily enforced from US bases in Turkey and Iraq) would in these conditions surely have been passed.  With the Syrian government by now under intense pressure and the protesters further emboldened the violence would have continued to escalate and the situation would have rapidly spiralled out of control.  This would of course have led to more demands for still more action and whether by means of a further Security Council Resolution or not such further action would surely have followed.  

It is difficult to see how this process could have ended in any way other than through western military intervention leading to regime change of the sort we have just witnessed in Libya and previously in Iraq.  Moreover that must have been the intention of the western powers from the start.  In the light of what happened in Libya earlier this year any other interpretation is naive.

In other words contrary to what western governments and the western and British press have been saying military action against Syria  is absolutely part of the agenda and a plan for military action against Syria most certainly exists.  If any further confirmation of this were needed then it has been provided by the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in comments, which have been widely reported in the Chinese and Russian press but which have been completely ignored in the west.  Medvedev has confirmed that in order to break the deadlock in the Security Council the BRICS states at one stage proposed that a paragraph be added to the Resolution ruling out any military action against Syria.  The western powers rejected this suggestion outright.  If they have no plans for military action against Syria why would they do so?

There is a further twist to this story.  Again completely unreported by the western press is the fact that shortly before the vote in the Security Council the BRICS states had proposed an alternative Resolution to the one proposed by the western powers.  Again the full text has not been published but I gather it called on both sides to abstain from further violence whilst proposing negotiations leading to a political settlement under the auspices of an impartial mediator appointed by the Security Council. 

I may be wrong but I think the reason the western powers put their Resolution to the vote when they did was because they did not want this alternative Resolution discussed.  Had this alternative Resolution gained the support of enough of the non permanent members of the Security Council the western powers would have faced the uncomfortable choice of either supporting this alternative Resolution or of vetoing it.  In order to avoid having to make this choice the western powers put their Resolution to the vote even though they must have known that because of the objections of the BRICS states it stood no prospect of being passed.  The vote together with the chorus of outraged comments from the western delegations and the ostentatious walkout of the US and British ambassadors effectively prevented discussion of the alternative Resolution by closing down the whole Syria debate. 

 If all this seems too cynical let me say that the comments made after the vote by the ambassadors of the BRICS states show that this is a cynicism which they share.  Every one of them expressed their disappointment that the vote had been forced prematurely whilst negotiations were still underway and before the alternative Resolution had been discussed.

Regardless of whether or not I am right about this the conduct of the western powers throughout the Syrian crisis has been disturbing to say the least.  Though claiming to want an end to the violence in Syria they have promoted a Resolution whose effect would have been to increase the violence in Syria. Though saying that they have no plans for military action against Syria all their actions lead to the inescapable conclusion that they do have such plans.  In pursuit of these plans, whose objective can only be regime change, they have sabotaged a Security Council Resolution that might have resulted in a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis.  In the meantime the western press has played its usual supporting role, reporting some facts selectively whilst making up, ignoring and misrepresenting others.  Western publics meanwhile are kept in the dark about what their leaders are doing as those same leaders gear up to lead them into yet another Middle East war.

Notwithstanding the defeat the western powers on this occasion suffered on the Security Council it would be naive to think that they have abandoned their plans.  In the days just before the vote the western press suddenly filled up with stories about how the protesters having supposedly despaired of peaceful protest were now turning to violent insurrection.  I take this as a clear sign that arms shipments to the protesters (or perhaps we should now call them rebels) are being stepped up.  There are stories of a rebel army being formed in Turkey and of a rebel Council obviously patterned on the Libyan Transitional Council being set up there.  Apparently the French government will be the first to recognise this Council just as it was the first to recognise the Libyan Council in the spring.  One way or the other the war clouds are gathering.

MURDER OF ANWAR AL AWLAKI

Following the murder of Anwar Al Awlaki in the Yemen I had intended to write a post on the way in which the US government in breach of the US Constitution has given itself the right to murder US citizens and is now doing so. However the following post by Paul Craig Roberts, Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, says everything that I wanted to say even if it is couched in more despairing language than I might use.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/04/the-day-america-died/