Street art in in La Perla, Puerto Rico,
by Belgian artist ROA.
Photo by JustKids.
Street art in in La Perla, Puerto Rico,
by Belgian artist ROA.
Photo by JustKids.
“Burn all of them down, but first nail the doors and windows shut.”
”If you want to achieve the full effect, wait until the house is full of people.”
These are just two examples of the several thousand remarks left by Sweden Democrats’ online following the most recent case of arson; an incident that left a home sheltering 14 refugees destroyed. One Internet thread detailed the various recipes and necessary ingredients to make napalm.
The formerly obscure and enfeebled Sweden Democrats (SD) – a far right, anti-immigrant, nationalist party whose roots are in neo-Nazism – has been transformed into one of the most potent political forces in Sweden. By transmogrifying immigrants into villains – enemies of both the welfare state and Swedish values – the party has gleaned over 25 percent of the popular vote.
The most recent refugee-home torching came after SD political leaders announced that the immigrant issue should be taken to the streets, outside the ambit of parliament. The intentional ambiguity of the statement galvanized more than a few zealous of their supporters to action, resulting in a spike of refugee-home burnings, a trend that was only recently – after the 17th fire – condemned by SD officials.
While the world might have united for a few ephemeral seconds around the image of Aylan – the Syrian boy who drowned alongside his brother in the Mediterranean – in the end the refugee crisis only seems to have bolstered the xenophobia, nationalism, and violence sweeping across Europe. In Germany alone, there have been over 505 attacks against refugees and refugee-homes this year. It is a trend that seems, at first glance, to challenge our approximation to what Jeremy Rifkin coined The Empathetic Civilization.
And though all this might come as a surprise, there is nothing surprising about prejudice and intolerance in Europe. What is surprising, is how the current right-wing political trend as well as the refugee crisis find their origins in the same systemic illness.
While you might think that the experiences of World War II and the Bosnian War would be sufficient deterrents against pursuing anything remotely nationalistic or ethnically intolerant, history invariably reveals our collective short-term memory. The current anti-immigrant demagoguery and the consequent resurgence of nationalist parties across Europe, many of whom have their origins in neo-Nazism, seems to testify to this.
Kenan Malik reminds us in a recent article that Europe has never been a homogenous place – even when its citizens shared the same skin color and religion – and that intolerance has always had its place in European society. The former urban and rural poor were often treated and referred to as “inferior savage races”.
Sweden’s history is no different. Its romance with Nazism precedes World War II, and while it might have dematerialized for a little bit, this uncompromising current never altogether vanished.
The country’s economic crisis in the 1990s, coupled with an immigration policy that provided asylum for around 85,000 war refugees from the former Yugoslavia, led to emergence of various neo-Nazi movements. As immigration slowed so did these sentiments. However once again, the kind of cultural prejudice and intolerance that wouldn’t have been out of place in 18th century France, Victorian England, Nazi Germany, or 1990s Sweden is on the rise.
The spate of burnings represents a recent and more outwardly aggressive trend against immigrants. It has been fueled in part by Europe’s latest generation of nationalist demagogues, whose irresponsible rhetoric – and subtle complicity, at least in Sweden, by not denouncing these burnings until recently – is partially responsible for the proliferation of this violence.
While it is hard to imagine Europe becoming as politically intransigent as the US, its ultra-right parties are well on their way to sounding as fear-mongering as American Republicans. Jimmie Åkesson, the current leader of SD, ran his last, and very successful, campaign on a platform of fear-inducing casuistry, proclaiming: “The election is a choice between mass immigration and welfare. You choose.”
Nothing is that cut and dry in Sweden or Europe. These are parliaments with an array of eclectic political parties; negotiations, pacts, and compromise are an immutable part of the political machine. Furthermore there isn’t any reliable evidence demonstrating the incompatibility of immigration and a healthy welfare state; as we will see, studies show just the opposite.
But by drawing such a stark line – rendering immigration and the welfare state seemingly irreconcilable – Mr. Åkesson, just like other right-wing politicians in Europe, has polarized the argument. He has pitted immigration directly against the welfare state – a sacrosanct entity in Sweden and Europe.
You almost begin to wonder if Europe’s ultra-right are emulating the rhetorical stratagems of Bush and Rumsfeldt. Mr. Åkesson’s ultimatum had a similar ring to the infamous, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Fear corrodes rationality and reason, and such polarizing and fear-mongering rhetoric in the post-9/11 era allowed Bush and Co. to manipulate the American public with the precision of Butcher Ding. In this post-Paris epoch such tactics will be especially potent.
Indulging the particular fears of Swedes, whose long history with the welfare state is an indelible part of the national ethos, is a particularly effective way of gaining support, especially from a demographic whose tenuous position in society renders them especially susceptible to such sophistry.
There are few general demographic features that are characteristic of not only SD supporters, but also ultra-right adherents across Europe. On the whole they are young, male, under-educated, and under-employed. In Sweden their main interests are cars, motorcycles, TV, video games, and sport fishing.
Though it would undoubtedly be much easier to just shake our fists and rebuke the throngs of right-wing voters as racists, Euro-trash, or bigoted nationalists, in the end we would only be playing the same superficial and spurious blame game as their demagogue leaders. Furthermore, this would only give us a very superficial understanding of a population that has been shaped by a much more complicated process.
Historically Sweden was one of the strongest and most equitable welfare states in the world. However, in the early ’90s Sweden endured a financial crisis and things began to change. As a stopgap measure to parry the crisis, and the resultant hyperinflation, Sweden instituted a series of austerity measures and reforms that cut social benefits, curtailed union power, reduced the size of the public sector, and initiated a process of privatization that continues today.
If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the same process that has been replicated almost universally since the 1980s around the world. From the US to Latin America, to Africa, to Asia, to Russia, and most recently Greece, IMF and World Bank economists as well as technocrats from these same regions, have been imposing this same package – often coercively or with the support of autocrats propped up by the West.
These reforms reflect a mode of economic thinking known as neoliberalism. Under neoliberalism the individual and the market are supreme entities to which modern nation-states genuflect, serve, and remain subservient. As Margaret Thatcher, one of neoliberalism’s greatest champions said: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women…People look to themselves first.”
Whereas it was previously the state’s responsibility to provide employment to its citizens, according to neoliberalism it is the individual’s responsibility. If you are unsuccessful, it isn’t the state, economy, or any of the distortions and inequalities therein entrenched that are accountable; it is your own failure as a human.
So how does this relate to ultra-right in Sweden and Europe, you might be asking. The shrinking of the public sector, and the curtailment of unions meant the weakening of union and labor power, and as a consequence, also a loss of solidarity and identity. The Swedish welfare state, which had previously unified different sectors of Swedish society through its collectivism, was slowly dismembered.
Moreover, by dissolving the public sector as well as union power, many Swedes were left without jobs or the social benefits that would’ve previously buffered the unemployed. With fewer jobs, a greater burden and pressure on the individual to find work – meaningful or not – and no social safeguards to mitigate the precariousness of being unemployment, many Swedes were left behind. One universal legacy of neoliberalism is inequality. Today, among all 34 OECD countries today, inequality is growing fastest in Sweden.
Rising levels of inequality, economic marginalization, and social isolation have limited participation in mainstream Swedish society and the economy. The result has been the disenfranchisement of many Swedes. Today, out of a population of 9 million, 618,000 Swedes are working temporary jobs with little security.
The economic vulnerability and peripheral social status of this vast population renders them susceptible to the populist rhetoric of right-wing politicians, who pander directly to their deepest fears and insecurities. Not only have these leaders created a tangible, albeit specious, enemy and source to their woes, immigrants, but they have also forged a collective sense of identity – through their struggle against both immigration and the neoliberal technocrats in the EU – under which they can unite.
The discourse around immigration has invariably been fueled by misperceptions and xenophobia. You don’t have to dig all that deeply to see the benefits of migration, something that has been for too long severely and irresponsibly misrepresented.
Immigrants are generally entrepreneurial, they fill various labor niches of the economy – especially in Europe where the aging population necessitates more working-age laborers – generally contribute more to the welfare state than they take in benefits, and are highly motivated to contribute and create a better society. Furthermore, over 50 percent of immigration to Europe in 2015 will come from Syria, a population whose highly-skilled workforce sets them apart from immigrants emanating from other countries.
Ironically and sadly, neoliberalism – and the associated economic and geopolitical machinations that have swept through the Middle East and Africa over the last 30 years – is also largely responsible for the current refugee crisis.
The imperative of neoliberalism is to open new markets through liberalization and increase global demand by creating new consumer bases. Where certain powers like the US, China, or the EU, see themselves as guardians of the market, and where they have certain market interests, such as mineral extraction in Africa and oil, there are inevitably transgressions, especially where regulations and law are ineffective and corruption is commonplace. Unfortunately this is ubiquitous in most of the developing world.
Neoliberalism might have opened the economies of Africa up for direct foreign investment, but the price has been the disruption and reshuffling of economies, labor markets, and public sectors, such as education, health care, and sanitation, according to Western paradigms and interests. There have been a few winners, but mostly there have been losers. Many immigrants are economic refugeeswhose livelihoods have been crushed by global capital, corporate interests, thecommodification of local agriculture, and the downsizing of the state.
Those refugees fleeing failed-states, where violence, human rights’ abuses, and insecurity prevail, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya, are the collateral damage of neoliberal geopolitics.
In these areas oil, finance, business, autocracy, democracy, and national economic interests all mix, mingle, and blur into something that may appear opaque but is pretty straightforward. Like an addict, neoliberalism depends on a constant and dependable source of cheap oil. Cheap oil means more pocket money for consumers, and generally, global economic growth. The neoliberal paradigm requires constant growth to continue functioning. Cheap oil is an expedient but very short-term and costly way of achieving this.
While we would all like to believe that the refugee crisis inspired the latest international interventions in Syria, it seems more likely that it is just one more geopolitical power play as Europe tries to wean itself from Russian gas, and Russia tries to protect the several billions it has already invested in oil investments in Syria. And let’s not forget that war has become an economy and market unto itself, with US defense firms making a killing on weapons sales to Iraq and Syria.
There are boons to crises. They bring us face to face with certain paradigmatic insufficiencies and by doing so they encourage us to engage in a kind of collective introspection. While “Generation Me” signals the fruition of Thatcher’s dream, we are beginning to see that a life of me is not only narcissistic and vacuous, but also noxious to the common good.
Neoliberalism, according to former Uruguayan president Jose Mujica, has created, “…a civilization against simplicity, against sobriety, against all natural cycles, and against the most important things: Adventure. Solidarity. Family. Friendship. Love.”
Ironically it isn’t “rational” self-interest, but giving, kindness, and cooperation that guarantee our own longevity and that of our species. If anything is going to change, it will require a collective effort of disengaging ourselves from the current mythology of individualism; of sublimating the self to the whole, taking to giving, and engaging not in the myopic trappings of the hedonic treadmill but in a politics of compassion and empathy.
In the end aren’t we all refugees – a great diaspora of randomness sheltered under the thin blue atmospheric line of the planet? By leaving the roots of neoliberalism in tact and unattended we are only stoking the existential and economic flames that will, at some point, engulf all of us.
Rory Smith is a freelance writer with a masters in International Development and Management and founder of Escalando Fronteras, a non-profit in Mexico that uses climbing as a way of getting at-risk youth away from gangs and organized crime in Monterrey.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who served as head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 2012 to 2014, has spoken out about how the Iraq War has led to the rise of the Islamic State terror group.
In an interview with the German Der Spiegel on Sunday, Flynn, who was in Afghanistan and Iraq as director of intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command from 2004 to 2007, was asked about how the U.S. arrested Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi back in February 2004 and released him, allowing him to go on and establish Islamic State.
When Der Spiegel asked Flynn why the militant was released, Flynn replied:
“We were too dumb. We didn’t understand who we had there at that moment. When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, ‘Where did those bastards come from? Let’s go kill them. Let’s go get them.’ Instead of asking why they attacked us, we asked where they came from. Then we strategically marched in the wrong direction.”
Below is a portion of the interview in which Flynn goes on to concede that the occupation of Iraq was a mistake:
Spiegel Online: The US invaded Iraq even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.
Flynn: First we went to Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was based. Then we went into Iraq. Instead of asking ourselves why the phenomenon of terror occurred, we were looking for locations. This is a major lesson we must learn in order not to make the same mistakes again.
Spiegel Online: The Islamic State wouldn’t be where it is now without the fall of Baghdad. Do you regret …
Flynn: … yes, absolutely …
Spiegel Online: … the Iraq war?
Flynn: It was a huge error. As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him. The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi and for Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq. History will not be and should not be kind with that decision.
Read more here.
About 500,000 deaths resulted from the near decade-long Iraq War. Researchers estimate that about 60 percent of the deaths were violent and have blamed poor health infrastructure for the remaining 40 percent, emphasizing the importance of providing sufficient health care after conflict.
—Posted by Roisin Davis
Street art in Dhaka (University), Bangladesh.
Photo by Alvi Navib Ornab.
Directed by Sarah Gavron; screenplay by Abi Morgan
British filmmaker Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette is a fictionalized account of the women’s voting rights movement in Britain in the pre-World War I period.
The so-called “suffragettes” were led by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. The struggle at times became fierce, involving conflicts with police and minor acts of terrorism. The women were often jailed and tortured during their incarceration. The right to vote for women was eventually won in the UK in 1928.
Gavron’s movie begins in 1912. Its protagonist, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), is a 24-year-old laundress, working and living in poverty-stricken and oppressed circumstances. Gavron uses the character to epitomize the growing social awareness of women and their involvement in the suffrage movement.
In Suffragette, Maud labors like a slave at work and goes home to minister to husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw), who also works at the industrial laundry, but for higher wages. She is a caring mother to her adored young son, Georgie. Marital relations are as good as can be expected for a couple living in abject poverty, even perhaps a little better, provided Maud does not deviate from what is expected of her.
At work, Maud is vigilant in regard to her employer, who, besides working people to their chemically scarred bones, sexually abuses young girls. Maud grew up in the laundry as the daughter of a laundress and sustained years of abuse herself.
An outspoken co-worker Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) makes an impression on Maud. The latter discovers that Violet is a member of the local underground suffragette chapter run by the militant Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter). Edith owns a pharmacy with her supportive husband—the only genuinely encouraging male in the movie—which is used as a front for the meetings of the group.
As Maud begins to express an interest in the fight, she almost immediately finds herself, unexpectedly (and somewhat implausibly), giving testimony at a hearing presided over by Chancellor of the Exchequer and future prime minister David Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller) on women’s right to vote, an event that does not shift the government. As Maud’s involvement with the suffragettes grows, so does her alienation from Sonny, who eventually locks her out of the house and, because he has exclusive parental rights over Georgie, bars her from their son—the most painful of all her sacrifices. Furthermore, she is hounded by the dogged Irish-born policeman Steed (Brendan Gleeson), who unsuccessfully tries to browbeat her into becoming an informer.
The women are inspired by and unswervingly loyal to their leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep in a cameo performance), who urges them to stand up to the determined efforts of the government to break their wills. The suffragettes are beaten and imprisoned. In jail, Maud and others go on hunger strike and are brutally force-fed. Even Steed is appalled by their “barbaric” treatment. The movie ends, essentially in mid-air, when one of the suffragettes, Emily Davison (Natalie Press), becomes a martyr for the cause in 1913.
Director Gavron has demonstrated a sensitivity and talent for filmmaking in her previous efforts, This Little Life (2003) about a child born prematurely, andBrick Lane (2007) concerning the Bangladeshi community in London. Unfortunately, the broader the panorama and scope of the subject matter, the weaker and more obviously limited in outlook and approach her work becomes.
Not helping matters, in her latest movie, she has teamed up with screenwriter Abi Morgan, responsible for the deplorable The Iron Lady (2011), a generally sympathetic portrait of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The chief difficulties with Suffragette arise from what is essentially an act of intellectual sleight of hand on the part of the filmmakers. In the end, the film plays fast and loose with history in the interests of pushing a contemporary political agenda.
Both the scenes of Maud toiling in the laundry and her struggling to make a decent life for her small family are moving. Mulligan, who has often seemed rather bland in the past, gives a restrained and convincing performance here as an oppressed woman whose passionate feelings and opinions only slowly rise to the surface.
However, to a considerable extent, Gavron’s scenes of the abominable laundry and London’s East End belong in a different film.
The WSPU, although it may have had support in certain areas from working class women, was a movement whose leadership and social outlook was overwhelmingly middle class. After all, 40 percent, the poorest layers, of the male population could not vote at the time (including Maud’s husband) and the WSPU advocated women having the right to vote on the same terms as men, i.e., they accepted wealth and property limits on the women who would be able to vote. The Independent Labour Party, which advocated universal suffrage, attacked the WSPU on these grounds.
In all likelihood, a woman like Maud Watts would not have gravitated toward the feminist movement as her consciousness awakened, but toward the socialist movement. The pre-World War I period witnessed an immense growth in the socialist parties internationally and the number of female supporters in particular. The number of women in the Social Democratic Party in Germany, for example, jumped from about 4,000 in 1905 to over 141,000 by 1913. One of its most remarkable leaders, of course, was Rosa Luxemburg.
Maud’s story, so to speak, belongs to a different social and intellectual trajectory than the one the filmmakers imagine for her. They clearly did not want to make a film about an aspiring parliamentarian, lawyer or pharmacist because it would not have had the same emotional or dramatic punch.
A more honest film would have shown women like Maud more attracted to the emerging social struggles of the working class as a whole (the British Labour Party, which also supported universal suffrage, was founded in 1906). A class divide separates the interests of Emmeline Pankhurst and those of Maud and Violet. As Pankhurst says in the movie: “We don’t want to be law breakers, we want to be law makers.” (The phrase actually comes from Anne Cobden Sanderson, another campaigner for votes for women.)
To their discredit, Gavron and Morgan are relying on the generally low level of historical knowledge in removing the socialist movement from the historical equation. Suffragette ’s circumscribed timeline is significant. Had it stretched out a few more years, the film’s creators would have had to show the irreconcilable split that occurred within the Pankhurst family itself.
With the outbreak of World War I, Emmeline and one of her daughters, Christabel, threw their full support behind British imperialism in its conflict with the “German Peril.” Within days of the declaration of war in August 1914, the British government agreed to release all WSPU prisoners and paid the organization £2,000 to organize a patriotic rally under the slogan “Men must fight and women must work.” Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst campaigned tirelessly for millions of young men to be sent into the slaughterhouse of the war. Later, a fervent anti-communist, Emmeline Pankhurst joined the Conservative Party and was chosen as one of its parliamentary candidates.
The film makes much of the WSPU slogan, “Deeds, not words.” There is nothing inherently radical or progressive about such a motto. The character of a movement is determined by its program and social orientation. Many ultra-right organizations would subscribe—and have subscribed—to “Deeds, not words.” In fact, it is worth pointing to the political evolution of Norah Dacre Fox, a leading member, and from 1913 the general secretary, of the WSPU. Fox was one of the organizers of the 1914 pro-war rally and a ferocious anti-German chauvinist. According to The Times in 1918, Mrs. Dacre Fox supported making “a clean sweep of all persons of German blood, without distinction of sex, birthplace, or nationality. … Any person in this country, no matter who he was or what his position, who was suspected of protecting German influence, should be tried as a traitor, and, if necessary, shot. There must be no compromise and no discrimination.” Norah Dacre Fox (later Norah Elam) went on to become a prominent figure in Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1930s.
For many of the upper-middle class women involved in the WSPU, as for many of their present-day counterparts, the “fight for women’s rights” boiled down to a fight for a bigger share of the professional, political and income pie. There is inevitably a sinister and reactionary logic to any movement based on ethnicity or gender. Many contemporary feminists support the imperialist war drive against Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria today—and tomorrow, Russia—on the spurious grounds of “women’s rights.”
By contrast, Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) led East End women in the direction of socialism. She broke from the WSPU in 1914, eventually launching the Workers’ Socialist Federation. She founded the newspaper, the Women’s Dreadnought, which later changed its name to the Workers’ Dreadnought. From her own experiences with women like Maud Watts, Sylvia came to the conclusion that the problem was capitalism.
Sylvia Pankhurst supported the Russian Revolution of 1917 and went to the Soviet Union in 1920-21 where she met Lenin and heard Trotsky speak. (While in London, she received a letter from Lenin in August 1919, urging no delay in “the formation of a big workers’ Communist Party in Britain.”). Coming into conflict with her mother, she agreed with Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote in 1914: “Bourgeois women’s rights activists want to acquire political rights, in order to participate in political life. The proletarian woman can only follow the path of workers’ struggle, which in the opposite way achieves every inch of actual power, and only in this way acquires statutory rights.”
No one on the official “left” today, utterly consumed by identity politics and issues of sex and gender, cares to remember the scorn that socialists like Luxemburg, Eleanor Marx, Luise Kautsky, Clara Zetkin and others heaped on the affluent “women rightsers” of their time.
In that period, it was elementary to view the issue in class not gender terms. Eleanor Marx, for example, wrote: “We are not women arrayed in struggle against men but workers who are in struggle against the exploiters.” And: “The real women’s party, the socialist party … has a basic understanding of the economic causes of the present adverse position of workingwomen and … calls on the workingwomen to wage a common fight hand-in-hand with the men of their class against the common enemy, viz. the men and women of the capitalist class.”
And it was Eleanor Marx who noted that “We see no more in common between a Mrs. Fawcett [the leading light of the women’s rights movement in the late 19th century] and a laundress than we see between [the banker] Rothschild and one of his employees. In short, for us there is only the working-class movement.”
Or Clara Zetkin: “For the proletarian woman, it is capital’s need for exploitation, its unceasing search for the cheapest labour power, that has created the women’s question …
“Consequently, the liberation struggle of the proletarian woman cannot be—as it is for the bourgeois woman—a struggle against the men of her own class … The end-goal of her struggle is not free competition with men but bringing about the political rule of the proletariat. Hand in hand with the men of her own class, the proletarian woman fights against capitalist society.”
It should be added that even though Suffragette does have a working class woman as its heroine, it tends to demonstrate contempt for the working class as a whole. The innumerable close-ups of Mulligan’s face speak to the deliberately narrow and confined focus. Virtually all the men in the film are monstrous. In addition, all of Maud’s co-workers, with the exception of Violet, as well as her female neighbors shun and blackguard her for taking up a fight. So while Maud is one of the deserving poor, the rest are portrayed as hopelessly backward and beholden to King and Country.
And what of the fruits of feminism? A study by a UK think tank in 2013 concluded that “fifty years of feminism” has seen the gap between the wages of the average man and woman narrow, while the differences between working class and upper class women “remain far greater than the differences between men and women.”
Morgan-Gavron’s Suffragette attempts to avoid and misrepresent the fact that working class women were thrown into the vortex of political life as part of a class and it was the inescapable logic of the movement of the whole class that imbued them with their “class-conscious defiance.” (Luxemburg)
Tensions between Russia and the United States continue to escalate, after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of handing Ankara details of the flight path of the Russian plane downed by Turkey in Syria on Tuesday. US President Barack Obama signed a defence bill handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to militias fighting Russian-backed forces in Ukraine and Syria.
The Russian Su-24 bomber was shot down by a Turkish fighter jet based on claims that it had entered Turkish airspace for around 17 seconds. One of the two pilots was killed by gunfire from Turkmen forces in Syria as he parachuted from the burning jet. The other was rescued by Russian and Syrian Special Forces, with the loss of one marine rescuer—prompting Putin to accuse Ankara of acting as “accomplices of terrorists.”
At a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande in the Kremlin, Putin accused the US of passing on to Turkey details of where Russian planes were flying. He said, “The American side, which leads the coalition that Turkey belongs to, knew about the location and time of our planes’ flights, and we were hit exactly there and at that time.”
Washington is responding to the shoot-down of the Russian jet by provocatively escalating its funding of proxy forces fighting Russia.
Yesterday, reports emerged that the $607 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes hundreds of millions of dollars to arm forces in Ukraine and Syria. It includes $300 million for the security forces of the Ukrainian regime, which has fought a bloody civil war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. There are also nearly $500 million to train “moderate rebels” fighting the Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Turkey’s response has been equally bellicose. Erdogan bluntly told Putin, “Shame on you. Those who claim we buy oil from Daesh [ISIS] are obliged to prove it. If not, you are a slanderer… I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us.”
“Those who carry out a military campaign with the pretext of fighting Daesh are targeting anti-regime opponents,” he said. “You say you are fighting Daesh. Excuse me, but you are not fighting Daesh. You are killing our Turkmen kinsmen.”
Erdogan said he might speak with Putin at a climate summit in Paris next week, but Putin has so far refused to contact him without receiving an apology, his aide Yuri Ushakov said Friday.
Previously, Erdogan had told France 24 television: “If we had known it was a Russian plane, maybe we would have warned it differently.”
The NATO powers’ bellicose response to the downing of the Su-24 bomber directly poses the danger that their conflicts with Russia will escalate into all-out war. They provoked an angry retort from Putin.
He dismissed the claim that the Turkish government would not have shot down the plane had it known it was Russian, as suggested by Erdogan on French television, as “rubbish.” It was “not possible” that the downed plane could not have been identified as a Russian jet. Russian planes, he said, “have identification signs and these are well visible.”
“If it was an American aircraft, would they have struck an American?” he asked. “What we hear instead is they have nothing to apologise for… One gets the impression that the Turkish government is consciously driving Russian-Turkish relations to a deadlock.”
Putin again asserted that Turkey was buying oil from Islamic State. There was “no doubt” that oil from “terrorist-controlled” territory in Syria was making its way into Turkey, he said. “We see from the sky where these vehicles are going. They are going to Turkey day and night.”
He accused Turkey of sponsoring terrorism: “These barrels are not only carrying oil but also the blood of our citizens because with this money terrorists buy weapons and ammunition and then organise bloody attacks.”
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the Russian military will send its S-400 missile system to Syria’s Latakia province, bordering Turkey, and is deploying the guided missile cruiser Moskva to the area. The S-400 system can hit targets 250 miles away.
Putin said of the decision, “We did not have those systems in Syria because we believed that our air force was working at an altitude which would not be reachable by terrorists… We didn’t even think that we could receive a strike from a party that we thought to be our partner… we thought Turkey to be a friendly country.”
Russia has been engaged in a bombardment of the border region occupied by Turkmen forces.
Major economic sanctions are being imposed by Russia against Turkey. Russia is Turkey’s second-largest trading partner, at $30 billion, while Turkey is one of the biggest foreign destinations for Russian tourists.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated Thursday that Moscow would be looking to cut economic ties with Turkey and scrap investment projects within two days in response to an “act of aggression against our country.”
Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said that sanctions would affect TurkStream, the proposed gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey announced by Putin last December, and the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Turkey’s first nuclear power plant that was to be built by Russia.
Russia’s Defence Ministry announced Thursday that it had suspended all “channels of interaction” with Turkey’s military, including a hotline set up to avoid clashes in Syrian airspace.
Russia’s tourist board has also suspended all tours to Turkey, which could cost the Turkish economy $10 billion. On Friday, there were calls to ban imports of all Turkish produce. The Russian media reported that trucks carrying Turkish goods were stranded at the border.
In the city of Krasnodar, dozens of Turkish workers were rounded up and arrested for supposed visa violations. In the southern Kuban region, Russia’s Migration Service said it had arrested and deported 39 Turkish businessmen attending an agricultural trade fair.
Street art in Playa del Carmen, México,
by Jesús Benitez.
Photo by AllCityCanvas.