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Fighting in Donbass, coal blockade, and infighting in Kiev, as Ukraine’s crisis deepens

Crisis deepens in Ukraine as far right militants seize and are then driven out of water filtration plant and mount coal blockade threatening country with energy emergency.

Alexander Mercouris

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The last few weeks have witnessed an acceleration of Ukraine’s downward slide.

Following the bitter fighting in and around Avdeevka and the angry telephone exchange between Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Merkel, an attempt was made to bring the fighting in the area around Avdeevka to an end and to arrange for a mutual pullback of forces to the starting lines.

As always the Ukrainians proved unwilling to comply with their commitments to do so, and yesterday the whole process was thrown into chaos when militants from the far right Azov Brigade stormed and took over a water filtration plant from the local Ukrainian authorities, seeking to cut off the water supply to Donetsk without apparently realising that large areas of Ukrainian controlled territory also depend for their water on the plant.

Latest reports say that they have been forced to withdraw from the plant, but the episode once again shows how little control the Ukrainian authorities have over those who are supposedly their most fervid supporters.

If the situation on the front line in the Donbass remains catastrophic, elsewhere in Ukraine it is becoming disastrous.

Far right groups and people who the Ukrainian and Western media euphemistically call “activists” have initiated a blockade of coal imports from the Donbass, claiming that such imports are “treasonous”.  Since the Ukrainian energy system depends heavily on Donbass coal the result is to cause an energy emergency in Ukraine, risking another downward spiral in Ukraine’s economy.  The government however appears too weak to do anything about it.

Meanwhile fresh from her meeting with Donald Trump in Washington, Ukraine’s perennial political challenger Yulia Tymoshenko sought to present to the Ukrainian parliament a no confidence vote against the Ukrainian government.  The government however used procedural methods to prevent the motion from being debated, whilst Ukraine’s Prime Minister, President Poroshenko’s long serving henchman Volodymyr Groysman, let rip at Tymoshenko at a cabinet meeting, reportedly calling her

The mother of Ukrainian economic weakness, destruction of Ukrainian independence, corruption, populism and inefficiency…

Ukraine was handed an unexpected and undeserved gift in 2014.  This was not the Minsk Protocol of 5th September 2014, which briefly ended the fighting that year, but rather the collapse in oil prices which took place in the second half of the year.  This was by far the single most important factor in my opinion in averting the Ukrainian economy’s total collapse, and gave the Ukrainian economy a further lease of life.

The Ukrainian government has however failed to use effectively the brief time window the oil price fall afforded it, and given the paralysis of Ukraine’s riven and corrupt political system it is impossible to see how it could have done.

In passing, my view is that the “help” Ukraine has received from the IMF since 2014 has made the underlying condition of its economy not better but worse, just as IMF “help” to Russia in the 1990s also only made the condition of Russia’s economy at that time not better but instead much worse.  The IMF has little understanding of either the Russian or the Ukrainian economies, and the various prescriptions it has handed out to them (in both cases taken from its standard handbook) were not only wrong ones but in my opinion actually worsened their problems.  As for the sums of money the IMF from time to time doles out to Ukraine, these in my opinion simply prolong and deepen the agony, ensuring that the underlying situation goes on getting worse for much longer.

Certainly IMF “help” to Ukraine has come nowhere close to compensating Ukraine for the loss of its long established trade links with Russia.

With oil prices now possibly creeping up again, and with the positive effect of 2014’s oil price fall anyway running out, it is likely Ukraine will face renewed economic pressure this year.  If so the political system is in no condition to deal with it.

Ukraine’s tragedy is that after repeated political crises its governmental system lacks legitimacy or authority.

The Maidan coup was the third in a succession of three unconstitutional overthrows of the government which have taken place in Ukraine since independence (the others took place in 2004 and 2007).  Independence itself seems to have been only genuinely wanted by a probably quite small minority of Ukrainians.  Moreover the form of the 2014 Maidan coup – with a constitutionally elected President violently removed from office midway through his term, and with a wholesale purge of the police and the bureaucracy happening thereafter – has demoralised further what was an already demoralised and inefficient police force and bureaucracy.

To compound the trouble the war in the Donbass has burdened Ukraine with a bloated and angry military it cannot afford, whilst adding to the already dangerously large number of violent men in Ukraine with guns.  Not only do many of these hold openly Nazi views but as the episode at the filtration plant shows they are difficult to control if only because they feel the war has given them licence to behave as they please.  As the coal blockade shows, the government seems to lack both the will and the means to control them.

There are some people in Ukraine who occasionally show some glimmers of understanding of the dead-end into which the country now finds itself.

A Ukrainian politician, Andrii Artemenko, recently tried to interest the Trump administration in a plan for ending the Ukrainian conflict through a lease by Ukraine of Crimea to Russia.  The Russians immediately rejected a plan which is completely unacceptable to them.

Though his plan was completely unrealistic and even fantastic, Artemenko was – however incompetently and even stupidly – at least trying to find some way out of Ukraine’s crisis, which is more than anyone else in Ukraine is doing.  His reward is that he now faces treason charges.

Possibly a more convincing though surprising figure who also appears to be acting as if she was looking to find some way out of Ukraine’s crisis (though she has yet to come up with any plan) is Nadiya Savchenko, the former Ukrainian pilot convicted by a Russian court of killing Russian journalists, who was then exchanged by the Russians for two of their own men.

To everyone’s surprise Savchenko – once lionised by the Ukrainian and Western media as a Ukrainian “Joan of Arc” – has metamorphosed since her return to Ukraine into a peace campaigner.  She has recently visited Donetsk where she met with Ukrainian prisoners and where she undoubtedly had at least some contacts with the militia.  Savchenko however is not a politician and even if her ‘conversion’ from warrior to peace campaigner is genuine (which many doubt) she seems altogether too marginal a figure to lead Ukraine or have impact there.

That leaves Tymoshenko who is simply too compromised to convince many people.

In 1943 the writer Gerald Brenan wrote The Spanish Labyrinth, a book about Spain’s social and political crisis which led to the civil war.  For the moment, as its crisis deepens, Ukraine’s remains trapped in its own labyrinth, and there is no visible sign of an exit.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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ABC’s Ted Koppel admits mainstream media bias against Trump [Video]

The mainstream news media has traded informing the public for indoctrinating them, but the change got called out by an “old-school” journo.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News reported on March 19th that one of America’s most well-known TV news anchors, Ted Koppel, noted that the once-great media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, have indeed traded journalistic excellence for hit pieces for political purposes. While political opinions in the mainstream press are certainly within the purview of any publication, this sort of writing can hardly be classified as “news” but as “Opinion” or more widely known, “Op-Ed.”

We have two videos on this. The first is the original clip showing the full statement that Mr. Koppel gave. It is illuminating, to say the least:

Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume, a former colleague of Mr. Koppel, added their comments on this admission in this second short video piece, shown here.

There are probably a number of people who have watched this two-year onslaught of slander and wondered why there cannot be a law preventing this sort of misleading reporting. Well, Russia passed a law to stop it, hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook. It is a smart law because it does not advocate imprisonment for bad actors in the media, but it does fine them.

Going to prison for reporting “the truth” looks very noble. Having to pay out of pocket for it is not so exciting.

Newsmax and Louder with Crowder both reported on this as well.

This situation of dishonest media has led to an astonishing 77% distrust rating among Americans of their news media, this statistic being reported by Politico in 2018. This represents a nearly diametric reversal in trust from the 72% trust rating the country’s news viewers gave their news outlets in 1972. These statistics come from Gallup polls taken through the years.

 

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