Bringing this back because…you know
— Gautama Buddha
THE CRISIS in Ukraine, as Russian troops apparently occupy Crimea and threaten its borders with the rest of the country, has sent strong tremors through the international diplomatic community. Both Barack Obama and Angela Merkel have made lengthy phone calls to Vladimir Putin to urge restraint, and to make him aware of “consequences” if Ukraine’s sovereignty isn’t respected.
As to what consequences Russia’s military incursion into Crimea may have, we cannot yet be sure. There is talk of boycotting the G8 meeting in Sochi later this year; there is also talk of expelling Russia from the G8 altogether in favour of a G7. Meanwhile, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, is heading to Ukraine this week. EU sanctions are being discussed, and the IMF will visit Kiev to discuss a financial aid package to the interim government.
But what of the United Nations? What action can the UN take to help defuse the situation? To get a sense of whether or not the UN can achieve anything, we only have to look to Syria – where, after three years, a nightmarish conflict still rages at a cost of more than 140,000 people killed, millions exiled, and millions more internally displaced.
There are numerous other examples of conflicts shaped by the military interventions of the US or Russia: Iraq, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Chile, Iran, Vietnam and Kosovo, to name a few. The UN has been spectacularly unable to deal with those as well. At the heart of its failing are the organisation’s power structure, and the problem of enforcing member states’ accountability to international law – and the institutional failings of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
The UNSC is one of the principal organs of the UN, whose powers exercised through its Resolutions are legally binding among all UN members. It is also dominated by the Big Five permanent members: the US, the UK, France, Russia and China. Any of these can veto a resolution tabled in UNSC, and the council’s ability to maintain peace and security therefore depends upon their interests – and not necessarily the concerns of those directly affected by conflicts and wars.
So the US continues to veto any resolution that condemns Israel’s actions in Palestine, while Russia similarly vetoes any resolution that involves intervening in Syria against its client Bashar al-Assad.
The UN was established in 1945 to prevent a third world war, and in this at least it has been successful. But in recent years, it has been unable to prevent a number of major conflicts and millions of casualties. Many of these conflicts have involved members of the UNSC – in the case of Iraq, for example, the US and Britain. The UN could not block that intervention, and it would probably have been bypassed had the UK parliament voted for military intervention in Syria. The fact is, irrespective of the nature and scale of conflict, the power structure of the UN prevents joint decisions on the most pressing and immediate issues if the interests of any Big Five clash.
Bypasses and violations
Another problem with the UN is the ratification of subsidiary bodies such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which has ramifications for the legal accountability of member states. Chapter XIV of the UN Charter authorises the UNSC to enforce ICJ rulings, but this is still subject to the veto power of the five permanent members of the Council. Which means we are back where we started if any of the Big 5 is involved. When you add US’s refusal to recognise the ICJ or the ICC, this renders those bodies meaningless.
Despite this, the US has recently criticised Russia’s moves in Ukraine for being in breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine.
The UN’s inability to reach a solution for peace in Syria and also the entire Middle East peace process is widely exposed. The ascendancy of Palestine as an “observer state” after getting overwhelming support in the General Assembly of the UN has already shown the existing differences in the institution at large. Immediately after UNESCO recognised Palestine as its newest member, the US stopped its funding to the organisation – but it still has only haltingly reassessed its aid to Egypt after the military coup there. Any resolutions to bring Israel to the ICC for war crimes committed in Gaza, or to stop it from building more settlements on Palestinian land, are blocked by the US on a regular basis.
Thorough reforms of the UN, especially the UNSC, could work towards better international governance and maintenance of peace and security in the world, but they can only work if the Big Five are ready to give up their veto and engage in more democratic power-sharing. Timid reforms, such as including more non-permanent members in the UN for two year periods, are not going to help in the long run: countries elected as non-permanent members to the UNSC can vote on a resolution, but the permanent members can still veto it. And while other subsidiary bodies of the UN continue to work and engage in development work around the world, these have acted as a veil to hide the ineffectiveness of the UN in the areas of global governance.
The world needs a truly legitimate international organisation that serves the needs of those affected by conflicts directly, and not the interests of the power-hungry nations who run the show. This can only be achieved when there are serious diplomatic efforts to make the UNSC a truly “one member, one vote” system, serving the interests of all nations.
— ― Andy Rooney
The European Union is proposing to provide Ukraine an 11 billion euros ($15 billion) aid package in loans and grants over the coming years, the head of the bloc’s executive arm said Wednesday.
The package will include 1.6 billion euros in loans and 1.4 billion euros in grants from the EU budget and up to 8 billion euros fresh credit from the EU’s financial institutions, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In addition, another 3.5 billion euros could “potentially” come from the bloc’s assistance to neighboring countries through 2020, the European Commission said.
The package is “designed to assist a committed, inclusive and reforms oriented Government in rebuilding a stable and prosperous future for Ukraine,” Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
The United States announced a $1 billion aid package in energy subsidies Tuesday. Kiev estimates it needs $35 billion in international rescue loans over the next two years. The International Monetary Fund is expected to play a key role in providing those bailout loans.
The EU package also foresees helping to modernize the country’s gas transit system and providing technical assistance ranging from judicial reform to assistance in preparing elections, the Commission said. The package also calls for steps to accelerate achieving visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the 28-nation bloc.
That measure, if approved, would go down particularly badly in Moscow, since Russia has sought visa-free travel to Europe for its citizen for years. Suspending discussions on that project are among the punitive measures against Russia over its move against Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, which are being weighed by EU leaders at an emergency meeting Thursday.
Coincidentally, the headline figure of $15 billion for the EU’s assistance package is the same amount that Russia was prepared to grant Ukraine in loans until the government of President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted last month.
Yanukovich took the Russian loans instead of a wide-ranging trade and economic agreement with the EU, which fuelled the protests that eventually led to his ouster.
Barroso insisted that agreement was still on the table, and the EU is prepared to provisionally grant Ukraine the benefits deriving from it before a full ratification.
The timeline over which the EU funds and loans would be disbursed varied from a few hundred million euros this year to multi-billions between now and 2020. But the details were left vague because the situation in Ukraine is still uncertain and negotiations between Kiev and the IMF are ongoing, EU officials said.
Most disbursements will likely hinge on the formation of a new government in Ukraine after the May elections and an agreement on wide-ranging economic reforms with the IMF. The fund will likely insist, among other things, on a currency devaluation and a sharp rise of natural gas prices, which Ukraine subsidizes heavily.
10 Nazi female concentration camp guards are hung.
— Bob Marley (via purplebuddhaproject)
A leaked phone call between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet has revealed that the two discussed a conspiracy theory that blamed the killing of civilian protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the opposition rather than the ousted government.
The 11-minute conversation was posted on YouTube – it is the second time in a month that telephone calls between western diplomats discussing Ukraine have been bugged.
In the call, Paet said he had been told snipers responsible for killing police and civilians in Kiev last month were protest movement provocateurs rather than supporters of then-president Viktor Yanukovych. Ashton responds: “I didn’t know … Gosh.”
The leak came a day after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said the snipers may have been opposition provocateurs. The Kremlin-funded Russia Today first carried the leaked call online.
The Estonian foreign ministry confirmed the leaked conversation was accurate. It said: “Foreign minister Paet was giving an overview of what he had heard in Kiev and expressed concern over the situation on the ground. We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence.” Ashton’s office said it did not comment on leaks.
During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.
"What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides," Paet said.
"So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened."
"So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition," Paet says.
Ashton replies: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh,” Ashton says.
Russia Today, reporting the call, said: “The snipers who shot at protesters and police in Kiev were allegedly hired by Maidan leaders, according to a leaked phone conversation between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign affairs minister, which has emerged online.”
Last month, a recording was leaked in which US state department official Victoria Nuland was heard venting the White House’s frustrations atEurope's hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests. Speaking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland was heard to say “fuck the EU.”
Asked about the emergence of a second embarrassing phonecall, a spokesperson for the US state department said: “As I said around the last unfortunate case, this is just another example of the kind of Russian tradecraft that we have concerns about.”
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected attempts by towns in Texas and Pennsylvania to revive local laws that cracked down on illegal immigration.
The high court has held since 2012 that immigration issues are largely a matter for federal agencies, not local governments, to regulate.
In doing so, the court left intact the appeals court rulings challenged by the towns of Farmers Branch, Texas, and Hazleton, Pennsylvania and avoided wading into the divisive issue of immigration at a time in which reform efforts have stalled in the U.S. Congress.
(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Obama tired to jump start the stalled Middle East peace process at a meeting Monday with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but instead got schooled by Bibi on the unyielding roadblocks to a deal.
At the Oval Office meeting, Obama prodded Netanyahu to more quickly make the “tough decisions” needed for an agreement before the US-imposed April deadline.
But Netanyahu wouldn’t be hurried.
“The people of Israel expect me … to stand strong against criticism, against pressure, stand strong … to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state,” he said at a press appearance before the closed-door meeting.
It’s the first time Obama personally intervened in the failing peace process. He’ll meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House later this month.
“It is still possible to create two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine, with people living side by side in peace and security,” Obama asserted. “But it’s difficult. It requires compromise on all sides.”
Netanyahu wouldn’t budge from the key demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state — a demand Palestinians flatly refuse.
“The Palestinians expect us to recognize a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people,” he said. “I think it’s about time they recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. We’ve only been there for 4,000 years.”
For Palestinians, a major sticking point is the demand for a return to the 1967 border that existed before Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu has refused that demand. He has signaled a willingness to give up some territory, but wants to keep strategic outposts and large blocs of settlements. At the White House, Netanyahu outlined Israel’s concessions during 20 years of negotiations, including giving up occupied territories and settlements.
“When you look at what we got in return, it’s been scores of suicide bombings, thousands of rockets on our cities fired from the areas we vacated, and just incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel. Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t,” he said. “We just cannot be brought back again to the brink of destruction,” he told Obama. “And I … will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu also threatened that Israel will act if Obama’s diplomatic effort doesn’t stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
— James Baldwin (via knowyourprivileges)