Vitaly Churkin was one of the wisest voices in international diplomacy. His voice will no longer echo in the halls of the United Nations. Articulate, polite yet commanding, wise yet affable, he oversaw some of Russia’s and the world’s most important events in a position he occupied since 2006.
Churkin had to face a great deal of hostile criticism from both the Bush and Obama administrations during his time at the UN, but he always did so with grace. He never failed to explain the Russian position with the utmost clarity.
Standing next to some of his colleagues, he often looked like a titan in a room full of school children.
His death, a day before his 65th birthday, is a tragedy first and foremost for his family, friends and colleagues. It is also a deeply sad day for the cause of justice, international law and all of the principles of the UN Charter which Churkin admirably upheld in the face of great obstacles.
His death however raises many uncomfortable questions…
Here are 5 things that must be considered:
1. A Macabre Pattern Has Emerged
Beginning in 2015, there were several deaths within the Russian Diplomatic corps and a special Russian Presidential adviser.
First there was Russia’s RT founder and special adviser to President Putin, Mikhail Lesin. He died in November of 2015 in his hotel room. Reports said that he appeared discombobulated during his last sighting before he died. Later it emerged that he died of a blunt head trauma. Drinking was blamed, but many questions were left unanswered.
Earlier last month, Andrei Malanin, a Senior Russian Diplomat to Greece was found dead in his bathroom. The causes of death remain unknown.
Just last month, Russia’s Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, an always prestigious role, died of a heart attack, although no one was aware of any previous health issues.
In December of last year Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by a lone jihadi gunmen in an art gallery. There was no effective security as the killer simply walked up to Ambassador Andrei Karlov and shot him multiple times in the back.
Vitaly Chirkin is the highest profile member of Russia’s diplomatic corps to die in recent years.
2. A Motive For Foul Play?
Each of the recently deceased Russian Ambassadors were high profile targets for miscreants and criminals, whether state actors, mercenaries or fanatics.
Lesin was a instrumental in the creation of RT, a news outlet which has come under constant attack from the western establishment.
Malanin had overseen a period of warming fraternal relations between Greece and Russia at a time when Greece is feeling increasingly alienated from both the EU and NATO.
Karlov is said to be responsible for helping to facilitate the rapprochement between Presidents Erdogan and Putin.
Kadakin oversaw a period of renewed tensions between India and Pakistan at a time when Russia was trying to continue its good relations with India whilst building good relations with Pakistan.
On the 31st of December, 2016, Churkin’s resolution on a ceasefire in Syria passed in the UN Security Council after months of deadlock. The resolution is still in force.
Anyone who wanted to derail the diplomatic successes that the aforementioned men achieved for Russia would have a clear motive to extract vengeance.
3. Who Stands To Gain?
In the matter of Karlov, any derailment of restored Russo-Turkish relations would be good for those happy for Turkey to continue her support of jihadists in Syria rather than moving towards accepting a Russian and indeed Iranian brokered peace process which respects the sovereignty of Syria as Russia and Iran always have, but Turkey has not.
In the case of Lesin, anyone wanting ‘vengeance’ for RT’s popularity would be able to say that a kind of former media boss was taken down.
For Malanin, many fear that if ‘Grexit’ happens, Russia will become an increasingly important partner for Greece. The EU would not like one of its vassal states enjoying fruitful relations with Russia, a country still under sanctions from Brussels.
For Kadakin, it is a matter of interest for those wanting Pakistan to continue favouring western powers and not wanting Russia to be able to mediate in conflict resolutions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Churkin had come to dominate the UN in ways that his counterparts on the Security Council simply could not. No one really stood a chance in a debate with Churkin. His absence leaves open the possibility for a power vacuum that would makes other peoples’ jobs easier.
4. Where The Deaths Took Place
Each death took place on foreign soil. Mr. Karlov’s killing in particular, exposed the weakness of his security contingent. If security was that weak in a comparatively volatile place like Turkey, it goes without saying that security in states considered more politically stable would be even more lax.
Again it must be said that a non-biased detective might say that the only pattern which has emerged is that many people in the Russian diplomatic corps and related institutions have heart attacks. Maybe they eat fatty foods every day and drink and smoke too much. But if this was this case, why are the heart attacks all on foreign soil?
If all of the former Ambassadors except Karlov were really in bad health, is it really just a coincidence that none of these men had a health scare on Russian soil? Again, a pattern has emerged.
5. The Ethics of Speculation?
Many will say that it is too early to suspect foul play. Indeed, I must make it clear that this is simply speculation based on a pattern of tragic and at times unexplained events, combined with the objective reality that because of Russia’s recently elevated profile as a born-again geopolitical superpower, Russia is a bigger target for international criminals than it was in the broken 1990s or the more quiet early 2000s.
When such events happen, one’s duty is to speculate so that better health and safety precautions are taken to ensure the wellbeing of Russia’s important diplomats. Furthermore, if foul play is a factor, it means that such seemingly unrelated events must be investigated more thoroughly.
Russia has historically suffered from invasion, revolution and more recently from immense international pressure. The Russian people, like Russia’s ambassadors are entitled to the peace and long lives deserved by any member of a country that has suffered for too long.
Donald Trump’s now famous claim during his recent marathon press conference that his administration is a working like a “well-oiled machine” has provoked much ridicule.
In reality, as with so much else Donald Trump says, there is more truth to this comment than Trump’s critics allow.
The Trump administration’s problems over the first 30 days of its existence have been due less to the President’s working habits and more to the deliberate sabotage of his administration by his opponents.
Thus we have had the extraordinary delay in the Senate confirming the President’s cabinet picks, the all-too-obvious failure by the Justice Department under Sally Yates to provide proper guidance or even to defend his ‘travel ban’ Executive Order, and the political assassination of General Flynn, the President’s National Security Adviser, for having a totally innocuous telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.
All of this has been happening alongside relentless negative briefing against the President by our old friends the ‘anonymous officials’ of the US intelligence community (most of them seem in fact to belong to the CIA).
All this has in turn fed a media campaign against the President the like of which I have never seen – and which seems wholly disproportionate to anything he has so far done – which has in turn triggered a reciprocal campaign against the media by the President and his supporters.
The result is an atmosphere of rage, hysteria and panic, which is being blamed – wrongly in my opinion – on a supposedly dysfunctional White House.
Some of the sabotage is unquestionably the product of the anger and bafflement of the Democratic Party and its supporters that its anointed candidate – Hillary Clinton – lost the election to someone they mistakenly take for a clown.
However looming over everything is the collective horror of the US elite – not just the Democratic Party elite but also much of the Republican Party elite and of the foreign policy and defence establishment, the intelligence community and the news media – at the new President’s openly expressed desire for a rapprochement with Russia.
This is the thread which links together all the elements of the campaign against Donald Trump. All the most serious allegations made against him concern Russia. Moreover this has been true ever since he became a serious candidate for the Presidency roughly a year ago.
The story is in fact one of repeated attempts to bully and blackmail first Trump the candidate and now Trump the President into repudiating his policy of detente with Russia, and then bafflement and alarm – now bordering on panic – when he not only refuses to do so, but goes on to win even more support from his electoral base.
This bafflement is completely understandable. Russia has been so comprehensively demonised by the US elite and the US media for so long that many of its members have undoubtedly come to believe what they say and write about it. It is therefore scarcely believable to them, as well as being genuinely horrifying, that it turns out that there are tens of millions of Americans who do not think about Russia in the paranoid way that they do, and that it is even possible for someone to win the Presidency who takes the opposite view.
In the case of Donald Trump what must make it even more bewildering is that there is no discernible political benefit for him in his taking the line of wanting detente with Russia that he is taking. On the contrary it has brought him nothing but trouble.
This by the way was in my opinion even true of the fall out from the DNC and Podesta leaks affair.
Since the election a myth has grown up that it was the allegedly Russian inspired leaks of the Clinton and Podesta emails that brought about Hillary Clinton’s defeat. No polling evidence has ever been produced to prove this, almost certainly because none exists. For the record my impression during the election was that the revelations from the DNC and Podesta leaks barely damaged Hillary Clinton at all. That is not surprising since the media largely ignored their contents, focusing on the unproven claims of their Russian origin instead.
In my opinion whatever damage the leaks may have done to Hillary Clinton was far offset by the damage claims of a Russian connection did to Donald Trump, especially after the US intelligence community weighed in to support those claims a few weeks before the election. Though again I have seen no polling evidence, my opinion for what it’s worth is that the DNC and Podesta leaks affair in the end on balance did less electoral damage to Hillary Clinton than it did to Donald Trump.
In the light of this, it is completely understandable that the entirety of the US political elite – not just the US intelligence community – is baffled that Trump persists in advocating a policy of detente with Russia which is bringing him nothing but trouble. Moreover to add to the perplexity, it is clear that he is fully aware of the trouble it is causing him, since he himself pointed it out during his press conference
If we could get along with Russia, that’s a positive thing. We have a very talented man, Rex Tillerson, who’s going to be meeting with them shortly and I told him. I said “I know politically it’s probably not good for me.” The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say “oh, it’s so great.” That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia. Now, you’ve had a lot of presidents that haven’t taken that tack. Look where we are now. Look where we are now. So, if I can — now, I love to negotiate things, I do it really well, and all that stuff.
(bold italics added)
What for the US elite must make the President’s advocacy of his policy of detente with Russia even more perplexing is that no-one can say where he got the idea for it from.
Anyone who regularly reads US writing on international affairs questions knows that there is a current of thought in the US which has become increasingly worried by the hegemonic policy the neoliberal/neocon dominated foreign policy establishment has foisted on the US, and which is becoming worried at the damage this policy is doing to the US’s economic and social fabric. Many of those who think in this way are also becoming concerned that the drift of the policy is increasing the risk of it all ending in a shooting war with Russia.
It has always seemed to me that the people who hold these views are a marginal and even despised group within the US elite. There is no evidence Trump is close to any of them, or even knows about them, and he does not seem to have taken his ideas from them. Importantly, he has not asked any one of them to serve in his administration.
A better explanation for Trump’s unorthodox views on Russia is that – as has become increasingly clear since he became President – he is very close to the US uniformed military, and to the US oil industry, and that he has taken some of his ideas from them.
It is surely not a coincidence that Trump has gone against precedent by picking a soldier – General Mattis – for his Defence Secretary, and an oilman – Rex Tillerson – for his Secretary of State, and that despite the forced resignation of General Flynn and the refusal of Admiral Hayward to join his administration, it appears that he still wants a military officer to serve as his National Security Adviser.
Collectively the uniformed US military undoubtedly has a far better understanding of the immense dangers of a military confrontation with Russia than do the civilian neoliberal/neocon ideologues who up to now have been running US foreign policy. Many within the US military – including the families of US servicemen – must also be tired of having to fight the endless and fruitless wars the neoliberal/neocon foreign policy establishment has been forcing on them. The US military has its share of pathological anti-Russian neocons, such as the former NATO chief General Breedlove, but on balance it is probably better informed and more realistic about Russia than many in the civilian elite and in the media are.
As for the US oil industry, the notoriously unsentimental people who run the US oil industry probably see Russia less as a threat and more as a marvellous business opportunity. After all Russia is not only the world’s biggest energy producer, but is the country which (if one includes its shales) has the world’s biggest energy reserves.
If President Trump is not completely isolated in seeking detente with Russia, and if he has taken some of his ideas from people in the military and in the oil industry, the fact remains that his policy of seeking detente with Russia still appears to be very much his own, and that it remains heresy for most of the US elite.
For what it’s worth my guess is that Donald Trump thinks and acts the way he does about Russia not because he has borrowed ideas from the military or the oil industry but because he is not a politician. As a practical businessman rather than a politician it is obvious to him that it is in the US interest to get on with Russia – that after all is what he says all the time – and since he is not a politician schooled in the politician’s way of discretion he sees no reason not to say it. I would not be surprised if the benefits of the policy seem to him so obvious that he is as baffled by the fanatical opposition to it of his critics as they are by his advocacy of it.
It is not however surprising if the professional politicians who make up the US elite and the conspiratorially minded ideologues who populate the US intelligence community, the foreign policy think-tanks and the media, find it impossible to believe this, and have convinced themselves that the President is sticking to a policy which is damaging him so much politically and which appears to them so outrageous not because he genuinely believes in it and is unafraid to say so, but because he has some dark and ulterior reason for it.
This is what explains the rage and chaos in Washington, the sabotage of the President’s administration, and the talk of a dysfunctional White House.
The hysteria, the deliberate sabotage of the President’s policies, the frantic multiple investigations to find out what the “true” reason for the President’s policy towards Russia is; these are all the products of the President’s policy of wanting detente with Russia, and the US elite’s horror at the prospect, and its inability to believe that he means it sincerely.
This is why we have all the dark hints of the President and his associates having business links with Russia, of the President being blackmailed by Russia, of claims of secret contacts between the President’s campaign team and Russia, and of the President living in a world of ‘alternative facts’, which he has supposedly learnt from Russia, and which supposedly helped him win the election.
The multiple investigations launched into the President’s connections to Russia will come to nothing. Were there anything to find it would surely have been found by now. The fact that after a year of bitter electoral campaigning and of multiple investigations by the FBI, CIA, NSA, British intelligence, the US tax authorities, legions of private investigators, and the news media, nothing has been found – other than one obviously fake dossier – is a sure sign that nothing exists to be found.
That will not of course satisfy the President’s neoliberal/neocon critics. As the investigations repeatedly draw a blank, they will demand more and more investigations to find what doesn’t exist but what they are convinced is there. The risk they run is that over time the public will become bored with a never ending saga which is going nowhere, and they will lose its attention, but in the meantime their increasingly shrill demands for more and more investigations will add to the hysterical atmosphere.
In the meantime one senses that the US intelligence community – or to be more precise the CIA, which is the agency which is driving the campaign against the President – is becoming increasingly frustrated by the President’s refusal to be blackmailed into changing his policy, and by his repeated success in seeing off their challenges. This is leading some of them into more and more extreme actions, with the campaign to oust General Flynn tipping over into outright illegality.
Meanwhile the senior members of the President’s administration – Pence, Mattis, Haley and the rest – all of them, unlike the President, either professional politicians or experienced public servants – seem to be as baffled by the President’s policy as everyone else is, and seem uncertain what to do.
Donald Trump’s policy of seeking detente with Russia is for real. His press conference following the resignation of General Flynn puts that beyond doubt. Moreover the fact he is meeting so much resistance is a sure sign that this time – unlike in the time of Obama’s ‘reset’ – the change he wants in relations with Russia is for real. Given how difficult it is to shift gears in the runaway train that is what US foreign policy has become, the fact there are explosions in the engine room such as the resignation of General Flynn is no more that what in the circumstances one would expect, and is proof that the President is indeed trying to shift them. Whether he succeeds – or survives – in his attempt to do so is another matter.
In the meantime the hysteria and the chaos in Washington will continue until either the President prevails or backs down or is removed from office.
Donald Trump and his Zionist partners in crime
A new poll reveals that NATO’s controversial eastward expansion hasn’t really gone according to plan. Former Warsaw Pact member Bulgaria and former Yugoslav Republic Slovenia, which both joined NATO in 2004, say that they would feel safer being defended by the Russian military in the event of war than they would by NATO.
Perhaps more worryingly for NATO top brass are Turkey and Greece. Both joined the alliance in 1952 and have a history of being at odds with each other (to put it mildly) say that they too would feel safer being defended by Russia in the event of war.
If recent botched election forecasts from Brexit to Trump have taught us anything, it is that pollsters often manipulate questions to get the answers they want. Therefore, the results of this poll should be taken with the same pinch of salt as any other.
However, the poll does raise an important question. How united is NATO?
As President Trump continues to highlight, many NATO members are happy to receive the so-called benefits of NATO without paying their share of membership fees.
Currently, members of NATO are required to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense. Apart from the United States, only Greece, Britain, Estonia and Poland have met this target. The other 23 member states fall short.
The other reality the poll buttresses is that increasingly, Greece and Bulgaria are finding themselves looking more to Moscow than to Brussels or Washington. Greece has been economically decimated by Brussels and the typical response from America to Athens is ‘do as you’re told’.
Likewise, Bulgaria just elected Rumen Radev as president, a man who has made clear that he doesn’t follow the narrative that Russia is the enemy of all EU states and of Europe more generally.
Indeed, if not for Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Bulgaria would have likely waited decades longer to achieve independence from Ottoman Turkey.
Furthermore, Greece like Bulgaria is an Orthodox Christian country with historic fraternal relations with Russia.
Turkey’s position on this list, however, reveals that historical fraternity with Russia is not the only requirement for NATO skepticism. The same could be said of Slovenia, but the case of Turkey as a large state and long-time NATO member/historic Russian adversary, makes it a much more interesting study.
Turkey is one of Russia’s historical military foes, and under President Erdogan, things have been rocky, to say the least.
However, Turkey is becoming increasingly anti-America, anti-Europe and while not becoming a Russophillic power, Turkey is fast realizing that Russia is one of the only great powers that is willing to still deal pragmatically and respectfully with Ankara.
Obama’s failure to strongly condemn last summer’s failed coup Turkish attempt, America’s sheltering of wanted Turkish criminal Fethullah Gülen and Trump’s apparently less than impactful phone call with Erdogan, have been just some factors pushing Turkey towards Russia.
Furthermore, Turkey’s participation in the Astana Peace Conference has shown that it is the Russian-driven peace process for Syria which Turkey recognizes as an internationally prestigious forum.
The big stumbling block for better Turkish-Russian relations is not, however, Turkey’s continued membership (however, uneasy) of NATO. It is Turkey’s territorial and political ambitions for Syria, a Russian ally whose territorial integrity and political sovereignty, Russia has vowed to protect.
Even before one gets to Turkey’s continued illegal occupation of Cyprus and the sporadic threats against Greek islands from Turkish officials, including Erdogan, it is Syria where Russia is working hard to avoid a conflict between Syrian Arab Army forces and Turkish regulars as well as their go-to jihadists, the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’.
The fact that Turks see Russia as a better guarantor of safety than NATO demonstrates both a broad attitude of Turks being fed up with the west, but also a desire for Turkey not to waste time provoking Russia and her allies in Syria over Erdogan’s wounded pride.
The sooner Erdogan himself gets this message the better it will be for Turkey, Russia, Syria and the wider region.
NATO’s mission is increasingly out of date, ambiguous and at times downright non-existent. The alliance was formed as a united front to made war on the Soviet Union. So long as certain NATO members want to continue to fight a Cold War that has long frosted over, NATO will continue to be its own worst enemy.