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Report of Uniting for Peace Annual Conference, "The New Cold War in Europe" - 25th October 2016, London

A report by Bernie Holland, Uniting for Peace

These notes were transcribed from video recorded evidence of the contributions offered to this debate by all members of the panel. This meeting was chaired and moderated by Rita Payne, President Emeritus of the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association.

Our host was The Rt. Hon. Lord McLennan of Rogart, of the Liberal Democratic Party of the United Kingdom, who opened the proceedings by expressing his hope that Britain’s exit from the European Union would not precipitate the collapse of the EU, particularly in regard of the fact that it has been a force for peaceful coexistence since its inception. He continued by further subscribing to the current mainstream narrative which presents Russian President Vladimir Putin as a person who harbours aggressive intentions towards NATO and the Western Powers and whose expansionist ambition should be either directly opposed or contained. This is a view which was to be questioned by some of the subsequent speakers, particularly in respect of the fact that Putin could be regarded as having good reason to view the recent overthrow of the governments of Iraq and Libya as prelude to the perpetration of American foreign policy in respect of its apparent desire to continue this trend in attempting to overthrow the Syrian Government under Bashar al Assad. In light of the actions of NATO and the West one can only imagine if further countries, such as Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and Iran should be next in line. The United States has clear reasons to pursue this policy of overthrowing these governments and replacing them with ‘client governments’ who would favour the interests of this hegemony, particularly in respect of the fact that there is two common factors here – one being that of a pool of rich natural resources, the other being the opportunities for reconstruction projects to be awarded to interests tied in with the plutocracy. It must be established here that the wealth accruing from these native resources should be directed towards the peace and prosperity of the peoples of these countries, rather than being exploited in the interests of the Federal Reserve or the World Bank.

The next speaker was the broadcaster and Senior BBC Staff Reporter, Humphrey Hawkesley who viewed the current Russian Administration as an authoritarian response to the widespread corruption that had developed under what he described as a ‘Mafia State’ where democracy had failed. Continuing the anti-Putin narrative he viewed this so-called “New Cold War” as a problem of authoritarianism coming into friction against Liberal Democracy.

In respect of the latter, Humphrey described this as ‘accountable government elected via due democratic process which engenders the creation of wealth that is shared fairly amongst the people. However, one could question how realistic is this view of democracy actually is when one examines current circumstances. To quote Humphrey here, his comment “We’ve had Ukraine and now have Russia snapping at our heels” fails to address the reality of situation which could be regarded as the exact opposite in terms of the behaviour of NATO and the Western Powers.
However, to give him due credit here, he does acknowledge that the USA and its coalition partners have violated International Law as set forth within the Charter of The United Nations – the central problem here being that the United Nation Charter appears, in certain respects, to have been abandoned when it comes to the question of the administration of the Rule of Law itself, NATO and the West appearing to be continually absolving themselves of any responsibility to adhere to these principles. Until the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council show the magnaminity to pay due respect to the interests of the other 188 countries within the U.N. then this imbalance will be perpetuated and the iniquity and injustice will continue. This underlying problem represents a violation of both the spirit and letter of the original Charter of Rights that was prefaced with those most important words “We The People. . .” Humphrey made reference to studies undertaken by the Rand Corporation, an American nonprofit global policy think tank originally formed by Douglas Aircraft Company to offer research and analysis to the United States Armed Forces, one of their studies pondering if the USA was to enter into a ‘reverse relationship’ with China and whether it would be an expedient to fight a war with China now, rather than wait another ten years, by which time China would have achieved parity with the USA in respect of its ‘capability’. Again, the danger of this mentality furthers the pressing need for change of thinking, and in particular a fundamental change in respect of the emotive and reckless language we are using in our assessment and discussion of these issues. Continuing in this tenor, prior to passing the debate over to the next speaker, Chairperson Rita Payne announced that Russia has now developed a thermo-nuclear device of such a scale as to have the power to destroy a country as big as France in one strike. However, no mention was made of the fact that Putin has been stating, and continually reiterating, in press conferences and elsewhere, that he has no desire whatsoever to engage in any hostility whatsoever, and further, that he is bemused and perplexed as to which this reckless and mischievous narrative continues to directed against his country.

The next speaker was Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and who was former special adviser to David Cameron on Central and Eastern Europe. For some observers in attendance here it must have been refreshing to hear him with open with this comment: “There is a breathtaking lack of knowledge about Russia in the House of Commons and the current debate is very superficial, blinkered and biased”.

As the first Polish born British Member of Parliament, and having left Warsaw in 1978 to escape communism, he had since returned to Poland on many occasions to visit his grandfather who had suffered great loss under the communist system. Daniel continued by asserting that there was no other British Member of Parliament who would have more reason to be anti-Russian than himself, and he implored us to consider the future for our children and for future generations, should we continue to inch our way towards a war with Russia and that it our duty to do everything we possibly can to ensure that there isn’t a confrontation, even suggesting that if this build up continues unabated then this could be the new “North and South Korea” of Europe – yet instead of trying to ease these tensions, all that Britain and America is doing is to make matters worse by ‘ratcheting up’ these tensions.

Daniel felt that Putin is currently being presented as some form of ‘pantomime villain’ in respect of the very bellicose comments being made by David Cameron, Michael Fallon, and the current ‘defence secretary’ Phillip Hammond and he expressed his hopes that Prime Minister Theresa May would show some real leadership here by adapting a more prudent and pragmatic approach to Mr Putin especially in light of the fact that there are a mere handful of MPs who actually pursue any form of détente, whilst the vast majority go along with the general flow of the narrative peddled by the media, in that Russia has malevolent intent and is embarking on expansionism in respect of its foreign policy. Daniel’s work on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee currently involves the preparation of a report on Anglo-Russian Affairs and he requested that if anyone is interested in finding out how these tensions could be relieved then they should follow the work of the Committee and get involved as support for this is needed in the interests of presenting a more balanced view than is the case at the present time.

During a recent visit to the Ukraine, Daniel and his colleagues had the advantage of listening to the views of the independent Organisation for Security & Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) who have been monitoring this situation. Their observations showed that there were an equal number of cease-fire violations committed between the Ukrainians and the Russians and that both sides were equally responsible for the violations of the Minsk Agreement designed to bring about a cessation of hostilities. Therefore, rather than castigating Russia and using derogatory language we should doing more as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to ease these tensions. Whilst both France and Germany have shown leadership regarding the Minsk II Agreement, it remains a regrettable fact that David Cameron didn’t involve the United Kingdom in this process. Regarding the attitude of the USA, there is somewhat of a paradox when one considers that trade between these two has never been higher, whilst this deplorable state of affairs continues. The impetus should come from the citizens of the United Kingdom who should demand that the Prime Minister show some real leadership in building a personal relationship with President Putin.

The Russian people have, over a long time, lived through the most appalling suffering imaginable and they are not likely to be bamboozled or intimidated to get round the negotiating table and it will take a painstaking amount of time and effort on the part of our Prime Minister to garner the trust required here to establish a platform of mutual understanding by means of which more friendly relations could be developed.

The next speaker was Dr Marcus Papadopoulos, Publisher/Editor at First Publishing Limited: Politics First, who continued in the vein of the previous speaker in displaying more empathy towards Russia in the face of the abuse it is withstanding at the present time. With respect to Russia when a great country is sidelined, has its views and concerns discarded, has its national security threatened, and has its allies in the world being undermined or militarily attacked, sooner or later it is going to respond – “action – reaction” being the key within which Marcus words were set. Having had its face slapped over and over again by Washington since the 1990s it is important to gain a better understanding of exactly how these people must be feeling about the way they are being treated.

Over a period of 300 years Russia had been invaded five times – all by foreign armies coming through Russia’s western borders. In 1605 the Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth invaded, then in 1708 by Sweden, in 1812 by France, in 1918 by Imperial Germany and then in 1941 by Nazi Germany which brought about a war of racial extermination resulting in the deaths of over 27 million people. All of this has exercised a profound effect on the Russian mind-set thus making them ever more sensitive and alert to any potential threat directed against them.

If we turn to 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we will see that Russia was in meltdown, politically, economically and militarily and the fabric of Russian society was torn to shreds. As Russia had gone from being a superpower to a country barely able to stand on its own two feet, the US, which is the leader of NATO saw a golden opportunity to take advantage of Russia’s decline in its interests to achieve global hegemony. It was for these reasons that the Americans began advancing NATO forces eastwards in 1999 and 2000, bringing their advance to the Russian doorstep. In fact this was the betrayal of a promise made by George H. Bush to Mikhael Gorbachev. The popular notion of NATO being a defensive organisation bears little resemblance to the realities that in 1994-1995 NATO attacked the Bosnian Serbs, Russia’s allies. In 1999 NATO bombed Serbia, in 2003 NATO spearheaded the invasion of Iraq, in 2011 NATO intervened in Libya, and from 2011 up until the present time the Western Alliance have been trying to overthrow yet another government, that of Syria.

In short, Moscow has every good reason to view NATO as an aggressive organisation and one that is continually used as a tool by Washington in the prevention of a rival power from moderating its global dominance. In 2001 the USA withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Agreement Treaty (ABMT) which was a treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union on the limitation of the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems used in defending areas against ballistic missile-delivered nuclear weapons. Under the terms of the treaty, each party was limited to two ABM complexes, each of which was to be limited to 100 anti-ballistic missiles. Signed in 1972, it was in force for the next 30 years. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in 1997 four former Soviet republics agreed with the United States to succeed the USSR's role in the treaty. However, in June 2002 the United States withdrew from the treaty, leading to its termination.

This goes some to explaining the development of the US Missile Defence Agency which in 2016 had activated a ‘missile-defence shield’ along the borders of Eastern Europe along with the training of pro-Western groups in former Soviet republics. This is part of the same strategy of the creation of ‘compliant client states’ by the USA, as has been attempted in Georgia and the Ukraine. From the Kremlin’s point of view, one after another of its allies have been targeted by the USA. However, under the leadership of President Putin over the last 16 years, the Russian Federation has been able to enjoy greater economic security, for the most part due to its cordial dealings with other less hostile countries, and it is unfortunate that President Putin is having his hands forced in such away as to rebuild its military power as a measure to counter this Western aggression which is primarily orchestrated from Washington.

Marcus rightly insisted that Russia has a right to its own national security, which is something that many western politicians would do well to reflect upon. Russia has an equal right to be heard on the international stage and not to be encircled – nd not to have a missile defence shield set along its borders. The UK and USA continue to claim that Russia is responsible for the tension in the world today, when they conveniently ignore the fact that it is they who are targeting Russia’s allies and interfering once again in regions far distant from home. All of this is purportedly being done in the interests of countering ‘terrorism’ however, they are ill prepared to admit to the very “shock and awe” they have employed regarding their policies towards Iraq and Libya which in both cases were military adventures based on false premise. In respect of Russia, Washington and its allies now need to examine their foreign policy and to consider what their response would be were the situation to be reversed.

The next speaker was The Rev. Brian Cooper (Uniting for Peace and Churches & Interfaith Secretary) who commenced by explaining how Putin’s attempts to achieve a cordial partnership with the West have been largly ignored. After the events of September 11th 2001, it was President Putin who first offered to support George W Bush and his offer was dismissed, furthermore it was the following year that the ABM Treaty, previously discussed, was terminated. In fact the USA has a track record of abandoning ‘pacific initiatives’ which now stretches back over almost a century. As had already mentioned by the previous speaker, Putin’s achievement in developing the Russian Federation must been seen in light of the hindrances brought him by both the internal conflicts fuelled by religious fundamentalism, and the external threats presented by hostile Western powers. In emphasising the humiliation Russia has suffered, Brian quoted from a book by Robert Gates “Should We Fear Russia” which echoed the accounts of the belittlement of Russia provided again by the previous speaker. Mikhael Gorbachev in his book “The New Russia” also attributes the current tensions to the way NATO has, and continues, to conduct itself by its obsession of interfering with the affairs of other countries who have the right to determine their own destiny, independent of the hegemony of the petro-dollar. None of this lends any credulity to claims that Putin is behaving in the way that is being presented by the Western media. To conclude, Brian suggested that with the possibility of a ‘Post-Brexit Age’, both Russia and the United Kingdom would be presented with a perfect opportunity to cooperate as trading partners.

The final speaker was Chairman and Founder of Uniting for Peace, Vijay Mehta, author of two books “The Economics of Killing” and “Peace Beyond Borders” both of which are remarkable examples of informed scholarship and are essential reading for any committed peace activist. Vijay more or less presented a resume of the facts of the matters as had been presented by some of the previous speakers, adding that the western borders of the nation states which had, from 1945 until 1989 been identified as the ‘Iron Curtain’, had now become the interface of two opposing ideological systems. However, in stating that each side planned to replace the other, this could beg the question as to whether this really is the intention of Putin, who is on record as having stated, over and over again that he really has no desire to create any further problems for the Western world.

Vijay continued by asserting that this so-called “New Cold War” is not about parity or ideological rivalry, but is more about international power and influence and is a struggle in which no ground rules have yet been established, thereby rendering it less predictable and more volatile. Whereas the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991, NATO remains firmly in situ to the present day. When further states were absorbed within NATO, Russia was kept out in the cold and considered NATO’s eastern expansion as a betrayal of promises made by the West. With the peddling of this narrative about a ‘New Cold war’ comes a stream of misinformation and propaganda and US complicity in Georgia and Ukraine played a major role in creating this atmosphere of tension and mistrust. NATO’s appetite for new member states could be viewed as yet another initiative on the part of the USA to create further ‘client states’ who function as proxy governments for Western interests, regardless of the historic traditions, cultural heritage and linguistic traditions which should continue to be shared with the Russian people. Finally, with regard to the potential for a creeping militarisation of the European Union, it is important that existing treaties and agreements must honoured in full by a renewal of the spirit in which these agreements were forged.

There followed what was supposed to be a ‘question and answer’ session, however in one instance this became a platform for further lengthy oratory. However, Uniting for Peace Member, Frank Jackson, called for the very notion of ‘security’ to be scrutinised, particularly in respect to the fact that the term ‘military security’, as has evolved in recent times, has gradually become little more than an oxymoron. With $4 billion spent each day by the military industrial complex, in reality this affords little real security to the citizens of our world who would benefit more if such immense financial investment were redirected towards human development, education, reconstruction, healthcare, maintenance of infrastructure (rather than its continued demolition) and all being done under an umbrella of international cooperation.

United for Peace, and SGI-UK Member, Bernie Holland commented very briefly on the role of the mass-media, and in particular that this power of communication currently lies in the hands of too few people who fail to represent that real interests of the people they are supposed to serve. This was the nub a speech given by President Kennedy, in 1963, three months before he was assassinated and highlights the way in which ordinary people are purposely confused and manipulated by those whose only desire is to protect their own narrow-minded interests. Bernie did offer some hope, in respect of the spread of digital communication such as social media and the internet in general, which allow the ‘common voice’ to be heard within a climate of forces that collude to silence anyone who is prepared to stand up and challenge the agendas they have often conceived in anonymity and secrecy.

All in all this conference was a clear indicator of the dichotomy of opinion that exists regarding the issue presented which centred upon the tendency in vogue right now, of indoctrinating the general public with anti-Russian propaganda, at a time when we should be questioning the assumptions we are being led to make.

To view the photos from the event, click here
To read Marcus Marcus Papadopoulos' speech, click here
To read Vijay Mehta's speech, click here