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Talk of war crimes prosecutions against Russia is empty bluster

Western threats to bring war crimes charges against Syria and Russia because of the bombing in Aleppo are neither factually founded nor legally possible because of fundamental jurisdictional issues.

Alexander Mercouris

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Amidst the din of the media campaign against Russian actions in Aleppo, one of the most specious and cynical threats made against the Russians and Syrians is that they might one day face prosecution on war crimes charges.

There is no legal basis for these threats, and the Western political leaders and media commentators who make them know this.

Firstly the Russian and Syrian bombing of eastern Aleppo is almost certainly not a war crime. 

Western claims that the Russians and the Syrians have been deliberately targeting civilians,  hospitals, other medical facilities, and schools, are fiercely disputed and are almost certainly untrue. 

President Assad in a recent interview with Associated Press pointed out that there is no conceivable political and military interest in them doing it, and that no one has ever provided one.  Here is what Assad had to say about it

“We don’t attack any hospital. Again, as I said, this is against our interests. If you put aside the morals, that we do not do it morally, if I put it aside, I am talking about now, let’s say, the ends justify the means, if I want to use it, we don’t have interest. This is how we can help the terrorists if we attack hospitals, schools, and things like this. Of course, whenever you have a war, the civilians and the innocents will pay the price. That’s in any war, any war is a bad war. There is no good war. In any war, people will pay the price, but I’m talking about the policy of the government, of the army; we don’t attack any hospital. We don’t have any interest in attacking hospitals.”

(bold italics added)

What Assad is saying is even if the Syrian military were conducting the war in a completely ruthless ‘end justifies the means’ way, there would be no conceivable reason to attack “hospitals, schools, and things like this” because the only ones who would benefit would be the Jihadis  

Assad is obviously right.  As he says, the only people who would benefit if the Syrian or the Russian militaries deliberately bombed “hospitals, schools, and things like this” would indeed be the Jihadis.  That makes it all but inconceivable the Syrian and the Russian militaries are doing it. 

Assad’s point is in fact so obviously right that as the transcript of the interview shows his interviewers from Associated Press had no rejoinder to it.  Instead they changed the subject to the White Helmets and whether Assad supported awarding them the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is overwhelmingly likely that the Syrian and Russian militaries in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, when they carry out bombing, are targeting the Jihadis they are fighting.  Any hospitals, schools or civilians in Aleppo or elsewhere that get bombed in the process are almost certainly bombed by mistake.  That is the only thing that makes sense.

If the bombing of hospitals and schools and the killing of civilians is a tragic but unintended by-product of a war fought against a savage and ruthless enemy – as Assad says – then no war crime has been committed, and the question of a war crimes prosecution does or should not arise.

Beyond this fundamental issue of fact, there is also a fundamental issue of jurisdiction. 

The International Criminal Court, the only international court with a broad international jurisdiction to try cases of war crimes, only has jurisdiction to try prosecutions of nationals of states which have either ratified the Rome Statute or been referred to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council. 

Neither Russia nor Syria have ratified the Rome Statute.  Nor is there any possibility that Russia would ever agree that the UN Security Council refer either Syrian citizens or its own citizens to the International Criminal Court.

That means that the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction to hear war crimes prosecutions against Russia or Syria either in connection to what is happening in Aleppo or anywhere else in Syria.  Any talk that it does is nonsense.

There have been some suggestions that prosecutions against Syrians or Russians for war crimes might be brought in the national courts of some Western states.  The problems with doing that are however practically insuperable.

The appropriate national courts to hear such prosecutions for war crimes committed on Syrian territory would in fact be those of Syria on whose territory the war is being fought.  That could of course only happen if the Syrian government were overthrown and replaced by a pro-Western one. 

Short of an all-out war between Russia, Syria and the Western powers, that no longer looks likely to happen.  If it did there would be far more serious things to worry about than war crimes trials.

Some Western commentators have pointed out that certain Western countries have claimed what are known as ‘universal jurisdictions’ for certain crimes, which means that they able to prosecute these crimes in their own courts even if they have taken place in some other country. 

This is a deeply contentious topic, with no full international consensus of which crimes can be prosecuted in this way.  By way of example, Germany permits prosecutions for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, by its courts wherever they are committed; France for torture, terrorism, nuclear smuggling, naval piracy and airplane hijacking; and Britain for sexual offences against children, certain crimes of fraud and dishonesty, terrorism and bribery. 

The United States, in keeping with its claim to be the ‘exceptional country’, is increasingly behaving as if its courts have universal jurisdiction over every crime in every country, though it has never gone quite so far as to say it.

There is however no realistic possibility of Syrian or Russian nationals being tried in this way.  The reasons for this are practical even more than legal.

In order to be tried on war crimes charges before the courts of some Western country, these Syrian and Russian nationals would first have to be arrested and brought to this country, either by being arrested whilst travelling in the country (as General Pinochet famously was when he was travelling in Britain) or because they had been arrested in some other country and extradited from it to the country, or (as Adolf Eichmann was) because they had been kidnapped and brought to the country by force.

These sort of things nowadays actually happen fairly regularly, including to Russian citizens.  However it beggars belief they would happen in this case because of the appallingly dangerous precedent it would set. 

The Western powers – notably the US, Britain, France and Israel – have been involved in far more wars than Syria or Russia.  If it became the practice to snatch Syrian or (especially) Russian citizens whilst they were travelling abroad to bring them before Western courts on war crimes charges, then the Russian before long would surely start to retaliate by doing the same thing to Western citizens. 

With far more Western citizens involved in foreign wars and travelling abroad than Russians, this would create a potential game of tit for tat the Western powers could never win.  That fact alone puts this whole idea of prosecuting Russians (and probably Syrians) in Western courts out of contention.

The simple fact is that short of achieving regime change in Moscow there is no way the Western powers could put their threats of war crimes prosecutions against the Syrians and Russians into effect.  Despite empty gestures like the recent vote by a bare majority of states in the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged war crimes in Aleppo, the Western powers of course know this.

Since the Western powers know that there is no possibility of Syrians or Russians being prosecuted for war crimes, why are they talking as if it might happen?  The short answer is because it forms part of their propaganda campaign against the military campaign the Syrians and the Russians are waging to crush the Jihadis in Aleppo. 

Whilst the Russians of course knows this and are not going to be deterred or impressed by it (Putin has called it “political rhetoric that does not have great significance”) the cynicism involved in pretending to threaten something which will never happen is still startling.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence.

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Authored by Tom Luongo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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