Friday 28 July 2017

Post-Maidan Ukrainian Anti-Semitism: Another tragic blowback from U.S. interventionist foreign policy?

(PHOTO: Alamy)

The foreign policy of the United States in the post-Cold War era, driven by a doctrine of Exceptionalism and managed by a neoconservative strategy, has been responsible for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Nato’s war on Libya in 2011 and the covert war waged in Syria using Islamist proxies. It was also at the root of its involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Ukraine in 2014. But the geopolitical advantage intended in each enterprise has brought the proverbial blowback.

The results are plain to see. Libya is now certifiably a failed state. Accompanying the destruction of the country’s infrastructure during the war to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was the loss of life which included the targeting by rebel factions of black African migrants and black Libyan citizens. The aftermath of Gaddafi’s fall, which is dominated by enduring battles between rival militias in different regions of the country has seen the rise of Islamist power including offshoots associated with the so-called Islamic State who have been responsible for the beheadings of Christian Ethiopian migrant workers. Migrants intending to reach European shores have lost their lives while embarking on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea and there are even reports of West African migrants being bought and sold openly in modern-day slave markets.

Iraq is now a fractured state where many lives have been lost in a continuing cycle of violence. Added to the casualties of the battles during the invasion were those lost through a campaign to put down a Sunni insurgency which had been taking a toll on American soldiers. The war crimes associated with brutal battles in the city of Fallujah were repeated through a counterinsurgency strategy of U.S.-organised Shia death squads. Iraqi lives have continued to be lost in the ongoing war to liberate those parts of the country which were overrun by the Islamic State.

The Syrian War has cost approaching half a million lives and has led to the internal and external displacement of millions of its citizens. In both Syria and Iraq, Christians have faced violent persecution with those who fled from Iraq to Syria hoping for safety only to find their existence along with that of their Syrian coreligionists imperiled by the rise of jihadist groups.

Now in Ukraine where a war has raged between the Ukrainian army and the separatist armies of the eastern Donbass region, the country’s Jewish community is facing a rise in anti-Semitism due to a resurgent nationalism; a phenomenon which can arguably be directly attributed to the forces unleashed by the U.S.-sponsored coup d’etat of February 2014.

The narrative of the Western mainstream media in regard to the fall of the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovytch still holds that it was as a result of a popular uprising of the masses symbolised by gatherings at Maidan Square in the city of Kiev. The truth is much different.

Serious questions need to be asked in several quarters about how the phenomenon of rising levels of anti-Semitism has been stimulated.

Firstly, what level of forethought was given by the responsible planning officials in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and Nato intelligence as to the range of potential side-effects when making the decision to utilise the services of ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi elements in the endeavour of so-called ‘regime change’?

Secondly, which agency within the government of Israel made the decision to send five Ukrainian Jewish emigres who were former Israeli Defence Force soldiers to lead a group of 40 street thugs in battles against the security forces of the Yanukovych-led government at Maidan? Did it have anything to do with a pledge made in the later part of 2013 by the head of the extremist Svoboda party to the Israeli ambassador that his party was no longer anti-Semitic? Similar assurances were given in February 2014 by the neo-Nazi Pravy Sektor group to the ambassador when its leader claimed that it had rejected xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

Thirdly, why were important figures in Ukraine’s Jewish community quick to dismiss Russian president Vladimir Putin’s condemnation of the role of anti-Semitic groups in the Maidan coup as a cynical ploy aimed at dividing Ukraine’s Jewish community? In March of 2014, 21 leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish community signed an open letter addressed to Putin criticising him while confidently insisting that even the most marginal of Ukrainian nationalist groups did not demonstrate anti-Semitism or other forms of xenophobia.

Part of the letter read: “And we know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government -which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.” Putin’s purported objectives were at the time claimed to have been unsuccessful and according to Timothy Snyder, an American academic, the Jews in Ukraine had become “Ukrainian Jews”.

It is of course possible that the authors of the letter felt compelled to write what they did because they calculated that refusal to do so might have prompted unwanted scrutiny of the loyalties of Ukrainian Jews and even reprisals. Nonetheless, it is clear that several of its contents were manifestly untrue given, for instance, the decision of the post-Yanukovytch parliament to issue an edict abolishing a law which allowed the country’s regions to make Russian a second official language.

The Maidan coup was overseen by Victoria Nuland, then the U.S. Under-Secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, who was captured handpicking the future government of Ukraine in a tape of an intercepted conversation she had with the American ambassador to Ukraine.

Nuland, herself Jewish, had been photographed with Oleh Tyahnybok the leader of Svoboda who in 2004 had spoken about the need to fight the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” controlling Ukraine. The following year, Tyahnybok signed an open letter to then-President Viktor Yushchenko which called for the government to halt the “criminal activities” of “organised Jewry”.

In the coming years, the dismantling of the Yanukovytch government will come to be seen less as a popular uprising than as a foreign-sponsored intelligence operation along the lines of Operation Ajax, the CIA’s overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mohamed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953.

The CIA had bribed key officials and public figures into denouncing the policies of Mossadegh. It also rented the services of mobs composed of Right-wing activists and members of the underworld to manoeuvre the protests into the direction of violence. In a similar vein, Pravy Sektor and other extremist paramilitary organisations played a key role in the violence in Maidan Square. These bodies are composed of the worshippers and political descendants of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist leader.

Bandera’s image was on prominent display at Maidan and in a sense he served as a kind of spiritus rector for the enterprise. Bandera was a Nazi collaborator who was instrumental in forming the Roland and Nachtigall Battalions, both of which supported the Wehrmacht during the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R. in 1941. The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (Ist Galician), also composed of Ukrainian volunteers, would later materialise as a fighting force on the German eastern front.

Anti-Semitism is embedded in the history of Ukraine. Ukraine composed a large geographical segment of the Pale of Settlement where Jews were largely restricted at the time of the Russian empire. Babi Yar, the ravine site of an infamous massacre of almost 34,000 Jews in 1941 is situated in Kiev.

Prior to the emergence of modern Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, each of the two previous independent Ukrainian states to have emerged during the course of the 20th century which were headed by the nationalist figures Symon Petliura and Stepan Bandera were linked to the commission of anti-Jewish pogroms.

Tyahnybok’s “Muscovite-Jewish” reference reflects the prevailing view propagated by nationalists who blame the historic misfortunes of the Ukrainian people on Russia and the Jews. This interpretation of history holds that the great famine of the 1930s, known in Ukraine as the Holodomor, was instigated by the ethnic Russian and Jewish Bolshevik leadership in the Kremlin, with the Jewish Lazar Kaganovich playing a key role in the tragedy in which millions of Ukrainians starved to death.

So poisonous is the legacy of anti-semitism in Ukraine that Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the lawyer and economist who became the first prime minister of Ukraine after overthrow of the Yanukovytch government, denied being Jewish in the face of contrary evidence. It is a stance which prompted the followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to publish a lengthy open letter condemning Yatsenyuk for denying his Jewishness. In the same vein, nationalists frequently cast aspersions on the Ukrainian heritage of President Petro Poroshenko and opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko by referring to the supposedly Jewish surnames that feature among the antecedents of both.

The ascendance of several Jewish figures such as Yatsenyuk to political power including the installation soon after the Maidan coup of the Jewish oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky as governor of Dnipropetrovsk, a part of the eastern region, is taken by ultra-nationalists as confirmation of a disproportionate level of Jewish power and influence in Ukraine.

The country is mired in an endemic culture of corruption and a patriarchal system which is proving difficult to reform. Poroshenko’s initiative to enable foreigners to be appointed to top positions in government through a special law which fast-tracked those earmarked via a presidential decree was seen as evidence of Ukraine’s dire economic circumstances. It also did not meet with the approval of Ukrainian nationalists many of whom voiced concerns about the implication that Ukrainians lacked the talent and expertise to transform their own fortunes as a nation.

Economic stagnation, if not regression, along with an intermittent but vicious civil war with Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern Donbass region render Ukraine as species of a failed state. And it is in circumstances of economic difficulties that anti-Semitism has often reared its head.

There have been recent publicised instances of Ukrainian public figures making blatantly anti-Jewish remarks. For instance, in March Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian army pilot turned politician, claimed that while she did not consider herself anti-semitic, she did not like Jews because although constituting “two per cent” of the population, they “occupy 80 per cent of power.”

In May, Vasily Vovk, a retired general with connections to the country’s security service, called for the destruction of the Jewish community. Vovk asserted that he was “completely against Jews” and that they were not Ukrainians. “I will destroy you along with Rabinovich. I’m telling you one more time - go to hell, zhidi (kikes), the Ukrainian people have it here with you”. “Rabinovich” is believed to refer to Jewish Ukrainian oligarch and politician, Vadim Rabinovich.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global organisation which monitors anti-Semitism,  has highlighted concerns expressed by the Jewish community of a rise in bigotry and violence. If Ukraine is drifting slowly but inexorably into a new dark era of naked anti-Semitism, it is clear that the United States which backed the xenophobic Banderovsti at Maidan must reflect on the costs of its actions one of which has been the increase in Jewish insecurity and even flight from from the country.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde

Thursday 20 July 2017

Visit to the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand in August 2015

Bust of Colonel Count von Stauffenberg

The German Resistance Memorial Center (Gedenkstatte Deutscher Widerstand) is a memorial and museum in Berlin. It was opened in 1980 in part of the Bendlerblock, a complex of offices in Stauffenbergstrausse (formerly Bendlerstrasse) in the Tiergarten district. The Bendlerblock served as headquarters for many of the highest command institutions of the German armed forces including the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and the Abwehr. It was centre of activity during Unternehmen Walkure, the failed putsch of 20th July after Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg returned from the Wolf’s Lair (Wolfsschanze) where he had planted the bomb which he had hoped had killed Adolf Hitler. Stauffenberg and other plotters were executed in the Bendlerblock’s courtyard after the building was retaken by forces loyal to the Hitler regime.

 Here in the former Supreme Headquarters of the Army, Germans organized the attempt of 20 July 1944 to end the Nazi rule of injustice. For this, they sacrificed their lives.

The Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Berlin created this new memorial place in the year 1980

  Here died

on 20 July 1944

Colonel General Ludwig Beck
General of Infantry Friedrich Olbricht
Colonel Claus Graf Schenk Von Stauffenberg
Colonel Albrecht Ritter Mertz Von Quirnheim
Lieutenant Werner Von Haeften

 Bronze statue of a bound man in the centre of the courtyard believed to represent Colonel Stauffenberg. Designed by Professor Richard Scheibe.
 Ihr trugt die Schande nicht.

Ihr wehrtet euch.
Ihr gabt das große ewig wache Zeichen der Umkehr,
opfernd Euer heißes Leben für Freiheit, Recht, und Ehre

You did not bear the shame.
You resisted.
You bestowed the eternally vigilant symbol of change by sacrificing your impassioned lives for freedom, justice and honour

 Die militarische Situation im Juli 1944

 Colonels Claus Von Stauffenberg (L) and Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim pictured at the Fuhrer Headquarters in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, 1942

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

A Piecemeal Concession: The Ending of the CIA's Covert Operation in Syria will not bring the Syrian Tragedy to an end

US President Donald Trump and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Reports by major Western news outlets such as the Washington Post regarding US President Donald Trump’s undertaking to end the covert CIA operation to arm rebels in Syria are essentially misleading. It assumes that there is truth to the official sanitized narrative of a bona fide faction of insurgents who could be classified as ‘moderate rebels’. This was of course publicly discredited by the revelation that a 500 million-dollar investment aimed at creating a viable rebel force yielded a grand total of five guerrillas.

The whole point about the anti-Assad insurgency was to introduce fanatical Islamic warriors to destabilise and then balkanise Syria.

General Wesley Clark, the retired former supreme commander of Nato, once said during a CNN interview words to the effect that you don’t put up recruitment posters in the Middle East exhorting the masses to volunteer for a militia in order to make the world a better place. In other words a conventional idealist is not the sort of person who in Clark’s words “will fight to the death against Hezbollah.”

The so-called Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, the former a renegade group metastasized from al-Qaeda and the latter, an al-Qaeda affiliate, are precisely the sort of militias that have benefitted from a covert operation which has been overseen by the state and military intelligence agencies of the United States.

The unvarnished truth is that the United States, alongside its regional allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has overseen the recruitment, training and financing of Syrian and foreign jihadis. The state of Israel has also provided jihadis operating near the Golan Heights with medical, financial and logistical support.

There have been episodes where the United States-led West has provided overt support for jihadis. For instance, the United States clearly sought to help al Nusra during the siege of Aleppo through a combination of disinformation and military intervention. The former relates to the role of the Western media in propagating the narrative of a Russian-induced humanitarian calamity, while the latter consisted of at least one significant military act of intervention: the supposedly ‘accidental’ killing of dozens of Syrian Army personnel in Deir al-Zour.

With the defeat of the Islamic State nearing, Trump’s undertaking to President Vladimir Putin amounts to a piecemeal concession. The defeat of Islamic State and others by a coalition of the Syrian military, Russia, Hezbollah and Iran -effectively a defeat for the United States- will not put out the fires in Syria.

This is because the United States will continue striving to ensure that Syria is balkanised. The instrument through which it will work towards achieving this end is through its support for Kurdish militias. The attack using Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase which was ordered by Trump himself despite the lack of evidence that the Syrian military used chemical weapons, was designed to aid Kurdish rebels.

Israel, which for all of its existence has been committed to the balkanization of the Arab world, also supports the creation of a Kurdish state. While the secular government of President Bashar al-Assad has not been overthrown, it will take comfort from weakening of a neighbouring nationalist Arab state. The dismantling of Syria would, the Israelis hope, nullify or at least make more difficult any future claims by a successor state to the Golan Heights which Israel illegally annexed in 1981.

Trump’s undertaking does not mean that after being displaced from the territories of which they took control, the Islamic State and al-Nusra will not continue to receive funding in order to operate underground as saboteurs and assassins much as the Muslim Brotherhood once functioned with Western support against the governments of Egypt and Syria. Turkey will oppose any efforts to create a Kurdish state and Israel will continue in its efforts to weaken the Assad government.

Thus with the future involvement of the United States, Turkey and Israel in Syrian affairs a guaranteed matter, Donald Trump’s apparent concession is unlikely to bring an end to the tragedy of Syria.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based law lecturer with an interest in intelligence and security matters. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde

Ich hatt' einen Kameraden

Cover of an edition of ‘Der Landser’ entitled ‘Jagdkommando Ris TA’

The song Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden is the traditional lament played at the funeral of fallen members of the German armed forces.

Written in 1809 by the poet Ludwig Uhland, it does not carry the connotation of Nazism in the manner of the Horst Wessel Song. It did form part of the musical ceremonies for the funerals of figures who served the Third Reich. Ranging from those whose legacies are now shrouded in revulsion such as Reinhard Heydrich to those who are viewed in a favourable light like Erwin Rommel, it is characterised as non-sectarian and non-ideological.

The Bundeswehr has kept up the tradition and on anniversaries of the 20th of July anti-Hitler plot, it is played in tribute to General Ludwig Beck, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Lieutenant Werner Haeften and other officers who lost their lives and were not accorded the rites of a Christian burial and the honour of a military funeral.

Sixteen years after Uhland’s text, the composer Friedrich Silcher set it to music which was based on the tune of a Swiss folk song.

German Lyrics

Ich hatt’ einen Kamaraden,
Einen bessern findst di nicht.
Die Trommel schlug zum Streite,
Er ging an meiner Seite
|: In gleichem Schritt und Tritt. :|

Eine Kugel kam geflogen:
Gilt sie mir oder gilt sie dir?
Ihn hat es weggerissen,
Er liegt vor meinen Fussen
|: Als war’s ein Stuck von mir:|

Will mir die Hand noch reichen,
Derweil ich eben lad’.
“Kann dir die Hand nicht geben,
Bleib du im ew’gen Leben
|: Mein guter Kamerad!” :|

English Translation

In battle he was my comrade
None better I have had.
The drum called us to fight,
He walked on my side,
|: In step, through good and bad. :|

A bullet flew towards us,
For him or meant for me?
His life from mine it tore,
At my feet a piece of gore,
|: As if a part of me. :|

His hand reached up to hold mine.
I must re-load my gun.
“My friend, I cannot ease your pain,
In the eternal life we’ll meet again,
|: And walk once more as one. “:|

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

About Martin Landau

Martin Landau as ‘Leonard’ in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North By Northwest’

The actor Martin Landau passed away a few days ago.

For me Space 1999 filled the void left by the cancellation of the original Star Trek television series and Gerry Anderson’s UFO. Ironically, he famously turned down the role of ‘Mr. Spock’ in Star Trek. He was a memorable if understated acting presence, although back in the 1970s I’m not sure that I immediately recalled him as one of the team from Mission Impossible. Maybe his disguises as ‘Rollin Hand’ confused my young mind!

I have to say however that he starred in one of my all-time favourite movies: North By Northwest. There is an interesting anecdote from the making of that movie which involved Landau. Director Alfred Hitchcock wanted Landau’s character ‘Leonard’ to be even better dressed than Cary Grant’s ‘Roger Thornhill’ character. So he took Landau to Quintino’s of Beverly Hills, a tailoring outfit that made Grant’s suits.

Later on the crowded set, Landau received a tap on the shoulder. It was Cary Grant’s valet asking him where he got the suit. Irritated, Landau attempted to give the messenger the cold treatment. His “excuse me?” retort was to no avail. The man insisted to Landau that “only two people in the world made a suit like that”: one in Beverly Hills and the other in Hong Kong. Landau then coolly told the man to take up the matter with Hitchcock.

Landau was the personification of the serious and erudite actor. The high point of his career was his sweep of Academy Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe for his 1994 performance as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Martin Landau was born on June 20th 1928 in Brooklyn and died on July 15th 2017 in Los Angeles.

© Adeyinka Makinde 2017

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Forthcoming Interview on 'The Mind Renewed'

I will be making another appearance on 'The Mind Renewed' next month.

It is hosted by Julian Charles who has in the past interviewed the likes of Dr. Paul Craig Roberts,  the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy during US President Ronald Reagan's first term in office who is a major voice in the 'alternative media' as a critic of US foreign and economic policy, and Dr. Daniele Ganser, an academic who wrote a book about Nato's secret armies; that is, the anti-Warsaw Pact stay-behind cells which later morphed into something very sinister during the Cold War years.

TMR Schedule Page on Adeyinka Makinde

We shall be joined, for a second time, by the lawyer and university lecturer Adeyinka Makinde. Our previous conversation centred on his academic paper, “Can the British state convict itself?, which led us to discuss Tony Blair, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland and the “extraordinary renditions” of the so-called War on Terror.

This time we shall discuss issues raised in his recent article, “The Pan-Islamic Option: The West’s Part in the Creation and Sustaining of Islamist Terror”.

Adeyinka Makinde trained for the law as a barrister. He lectures in criminal law and public law at a university in London, and has an academic research interest in intelligence & security matters. He is a contributor to a number of websites for which he has written essays and commentaries on international relations, politics and military history. He has served as a programme consultant and provided expert commentary for BBC World Service Radio, China Radio International and the Voice of Russia.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Monday 17 July 2017

Benjamin Stimson and the Politics of the UK Terrorism Act

Map of the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as the Donbass region

The recent conviction of Benjamin Stimson, a British citizen, for breaching anti-terror laws on the grounds that he aided terrorism by joining a Russian-speaking separatist militia in the Donbass region of the Eastern Ukraine raises a few troubling issues. While on the surface it appears to reinforce the impression that the Terrorism Act of 2006 is of universal application and is not solely applied to members of the Muslim community, the Stimson case appears to be one in which the British state clearly set out to punish a citizen less for the harm caused by his conduct but more out of an affirmation of the dubious geo-strategic policy that is the obligation of member states of the Nato alliance.

In prosecuting and handing down a particularly harsh sentence to a non-combatant and vulnerable man who had sought to escape the daily drudgery of his economic circumstances, the message conveyed during and after the trial was that the government in Kiev is a legitimate one and that the conduct of the Russian Federation in relation to the Ukrainian state is one based on aggression. This is a distortion which has been propagated by the Western mainstream media since the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych in February of 2014.

The default position is that under British law, fighting in a foreign war does not automatically amount to an offence. It depends on the circumstances. This factor, along with the fluctuating nature of official guidelines directed at citizens thinking of becoming foreign fighters means that using the Terrorism Act as the sole mechanism for controlling this phenomena will in the long run prove difficult and impractical. It is clear that the British government needs to reassess the laws dealing with those British citizens who take up arms for a cause in foreign conflicts.

Aside from the difficulties associated with determining where the law should be applicable, the finding of guilt in the Stimson case arguably makes a mockery of the application of the rule of law given the evidence that the British state has itself facilitated terrorism not only in backing a government which has been responsible for many punitive actions affecting Russian-speaking civilians in eastern Ukraine, but also by giving aid and assistance to Islamist rebels who have sought to violently overthrow the governments of Libya and Syria.

Benjamin Stimson today sits in a prison cell after having received a prison sentence of five years and four months for “assisting others in committing acts of terrorism.” While Stimson had posted pictures on social media of himself holding an AK-47 machine gun while attired in paramilitary uniform, the four months spent in the eastern Ukraine during the latter part of 2015 was intended to focus on humanitarian acts such as driving ambulances. His family were under the impression that he had gone there to do farming work. Both scenarios present a far cry from Stimson’s braggadocious social media commentary of “vodka, women and guns”.

The sentence handed down struck the Stimson family as being particularly severe. Stimson had not engaged in acts of violence and his guilty plea was accompanied by a well-thought out plea of mitigating circumstances which noted a history of psychological problems. Further, Stimson, as the prosecuting lawyers and the judge admitted, was not on his return to Britain a danger to the community as would be the case with a returning jihadist who would have undergone a process of radicalisation and indoctrination. His admission of guilt appears to have been a capitulation to the state which had set out from the outset to make an example of him.

Stimson must have been fully aware that any resistance on his part would have given the prosecution cause to proceed with a further charge which has not put to the court, namely that concerned with “Engaging in conduct in preparation for terrorism”. Conviction of this indictable offence, which in American jurisdictional parlance is a felony, carries a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The threat of even greater criminal sanction must have put paid to any idea of contesting any of the charges put against him.

Yet, the decision to charge Stimson, one which remained at the discretion of the authorities, is one which in the circumstances is open to criticism. And for all the risk attendant to entering a not guilty plea, a contested trial before a jury could arguably have subjected the government’s case to an embarrassing degree of scrutiny which conceivably could have ended in a not guilty verdict. This is because the English legal system provides the jury with absolute autonomy as arbiters of fact in a case such that they have the ability to reach a verdict which is contrary to the evidence. It is a principle which prevails in situations where the trial judge directs the jury to convict a defendant.

This is precisely what occurred in the 1985 case of the crown against Clive Ponting. Ponting was a high level civil servant of the Ministry of Defence whose leaking of official information to a Member of Parliament led to the government prosecuting him under the then governing Official Secrets Act of 1911. Section 2 of the Act, known as the “catch all section”, covered the “giving and receiving” of any form of government information without lawful authority. It meant that governments of all political stripes were disposed to using the Act as a mechanism for punishing those who embarrassed them. In Ponting’s case, he had disclosed information related to the sinking by the Royal Navy of the Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano, in circumstances which contradicted the official position of the government of Margaret Thatcher. The discrediting of the law which followed Ponting’s acquittal led to its replacement.

It is arguable that an alternate, albeit risky strategy for Stimson would have been to counter the charges laid against him by striving to exploit any weaknesses among the myriad of conditionalities attached to determining whether the activities of a volunteer fighter in a foreign conflict may be judged to be illegal. Further, the official policy of considering the government of the Ukraine as “legitimate” and the Russian-speaking rebels as “terrorists” could have been vigorously challenged. Finally, an argument that the British state has itself been involved in giving aid and assistance to terror organisations could have been utilised as a means of discrediting the decision to prosecute Stimson.

The first bone of contention Stimson’s defence team might have addressed concerns the manifold difficulties associated with determining the legality of a British fighter’s involvement in an overseas conflict. For instance, it is often dependent on the current allegiances of the British state and whether the person is joining or associating with a group that has been proscribed by the British government.

David Anderson QC, who served as the independent reviewer of legislation on terrorism who issued a report in July of 2014, told The Guardian newspaper the following year that “There is a real debate to be had about how the law should treat foreign fighters”.

This is not an issue peculiar only to the present day. The Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 provided that it was illegal for Britons to join the ranks of any foreign army at war with a state that was at peace with Britain. This act proved to be largely ineffective among a people who have a tradition of volunteering to fight in foreign wars. The novelist George Orwell was among the approximately 2500 British who in the later part of the 1930s enlisted in the International Brigades to fight for the Republican government in Spain against the Nationalist rebels who were led by General Francisco Franco.

Today British citizens may travel to a range of conflict zones which include Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Israel, where around a hundred people without dual British and Israeli nationality are enlisted with the Israeli Defence Force.

The guidance offered by the state has not been consistent. For instance, in November of 2014, a spokesperson for the British Crown Prosecution Service said there was no guidance. “It’s really up to the police if they want to refer the case to us, and it’s about looking at the individual facts.” Around the same time, the British Home Office offered the following advice:

UK law makes provisions to deal with different conflicts in different ways - fighting in a foreign war is not automatically an offence but will depend on the nature of the conflict and the individual’s own activities.

In recent times however, it appears to have changed its tune while specifically emphasising the the Syrian and Iraqi theatre of conflict in regard to which the Home Office advice appears now to be that those who travel to fight for any side in that conflict “may be committing  criminal or terrorism offences and could face prosecution when they return to the UK.”

Putting aside the issue of the danger posed by returnees who have left the United Kingdom to fight for Islamist groups such as the so-called Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda affiliates, there remains a huge question regarding the aptness of prosecuting those who have travelled to fight against Jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.

The argument that they would be unlikely to pose any danger on their return has received support from many quarters including the former prime minister David Cameron who while in office argued that there is a “fundamental difference” between fighting for Kurdish groups and Jihadist militias. In Stimson’s case, the sentencing judge acknowledged that Stimson did not hold “extremist views” and would pose no danger to the community on his return.

A second point of argument which could have been used by Stimson was to have challenged the respective designations of the Ukrainian government as being a legitimate one and the Donbass separatist militias as terrorist organisations. The statements of the prosecuting barrister, Barnaby Jameson, provided the official viewpoint of Nato which posits the Russian Federation as the instigators of the Ukrainian conflict.

According to Jameson: “From the perspective of the Putin government, the conflict was about creating ‘Novorussia’, or New Russia - and expanding Russian territory to include the entire Ukraine.”

A defending barrister, in the first instance, could under the circumstances of a full trial have introduced evidence demonstrating the fact that the existing government in Ukraine came to power by means of a coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovytch.

The crisis in Ukraine essentially stems from the hubristic urge of the EU and Nato to keep on expanding, in the case of Nato, a violation of the agreement reached between American and Soviet leaders that in return for allowing German reunification, Nato was obligated to refrain from seeking to extend its sphere of influence into eastern Europe.

Overseen in February 2014 by Victoria Nuland, the then serving US Under Secretary of State of European and Eurasian Affairs, the change was facilitated by the involvement of ultranationalist and neo-Nazi groups such as Pravy Sektor.

One of the first edicts issued by the post-coup Parliament which was hijacked by ultra-nationalists was the abolition of a law which allowed the country’s regions to make Russian a second official language. This decision along with other measures taken by politically far Right xenophobic forces unsurprisingly caused deep concern among Russian-speaking populations of the east.

It could have been argued in court that far from being terrorists, the rebel militias which developed in the Donbass area had no other option than to resort to armed warfare in order to preserve their lives, their language and their culture from a newly installed regime which had been brought to power by the political descendants of Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the Nazi invaders of the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

Benjamin Stimson therefore was arguably not assisting a group of people who had resorted to violence to influence a government or people for an ideological cause, since the Donbass separatists were acting in self-preservation and exercising a right to self-determination as accorded by customary international law and enshrined in a range of treaties.

The development of the secessionist movements was based on the fears unleashed by atrocities perpetrated on Russian-speaking populations such as the massacre of almost 50 persons after the burning of Trade Unions House in Odessa. This served as a pivotal moment in convincing many among the Russian-speaking population of the Donbass region to remove themselves from Ukraine.  

The use of the Azov Battalion, initially a volunteer unit and later upgraded to that of a regiment within the Ukrainian National Guard, provides evidence of the existence within the Ukrainian state of soldiers who openly profess a neo-Nazi ideology.

Stimson’s argument could thus have been that he could not be guilty of an offence of aiding terrorism when he was in fact intending to provide assistance to a people threatened not merely by a government embarked on making them second class citizens but even with the aim of ethnically cleansing them from their homeland.

The claims made by the prosecution that the Russian Federation is intent on creating Novorussia conveniently ignores a number of key issues. First relates to the expressions during the early period of the Ukrainian crisis of many Russian-speakers in the Donbass that they did not want to be absorbed in Russia as Crimea was, but that they wished to remain in a decentralised Ukrainian state.

One other factor which rebuts the thesis of the conflict serving as a prelude to a project for Novorussia is the fact that the Russian armed forces could have invaded and conquered the whole of Ukraine within a matter of a few days if it had been resolved to do so. It also ignores the fact that Russian ultra-nationalists accused President Vladimir Putin of weakness for not invading the eastern part of Ukraine and annexing it with a natural border being provided by the River Dnieper.

A peek behind the veil of the propaganda perpetuated by the mainstream Western media reveals that a great deal of Russian policy has been reactive rather than proactive. The reference by the prosecutor to Russian annexation of Crimea was done in the context of framing it as an act of empire-building imperialism. Crimea, which had been Russian territory from the time of Catherine the Great until it was appended to Ukraine by the Soviet government in the 1950s, is of course majority Russian-speaking and opted to join Russia by an overwhelming majority after the holding of a plebiscite.

It was wholly predictable that following the installation of a russophobic regime in Kiev that Vladimir Putin, on the advice of his national security council, would take steps to protect the vital national interests of his country by securing Russia’s access to the Mediterranean Sea which is guaranteed by its Baltic Fleet stationed in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula.

The respective crisis occurring in Ukraine and earlier in 2008 in Georgia, bear this out as indeed does the situation related to the deployment of nuclear weapons. In 2002, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and adopted a missile shields policy.

The third point of argument would have been for Stimson’s team to have pointed out that finding the defendant guilty would be a travesty of logic as well as an abrogation of the rule of law given the British state’s documented facilitation of terrorism. A clear example of this was the collapse in 2015 of a trial of Bherlin Gildo, a Swedish national, on charges of terrorism. The Old Bailey was informed that the case, which centred on Gildo’s activities in Syria, had to be discontinued because an open trial would have caused deep embarrassment to Britain’s intelligence services because of their covert support for militias seeking to overthrow the legal government of Syria.

More recently, were the revelations of the support given by the Security Service to UK-based Libyan Islamists who were had control orders lifted and allowed to travel unhindered so long as they pledged to join in the effort to overthrow the Libyan government.

The Libyan uprising was of course facilitated by Nato with British Special Forces soldiers playing a key role in training and directing operations of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The same bargain has been offered to Islamists in regard to the Western-instigated efforts to overthrow the Syrian government by the use of Islamist proxies. The Syrian War is a conflict which was prepared years in advance by Western countries according to Roland Dumas, the former French foreign minister, who revealed in 2013 that he had been approached to help in these efforts by officials of state while on a visit to Britain.

The comments of the head of the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit indicate that the state intends to pursue all who participate in foreign conflicts. “He (Stimson) has been jailed for the role he played in a violent conflict and I hope his conviction will send a message to all those who are even considering joining conflicts,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson.

There is of course a logic to a policy designed to discourage any form of participation by British citizens in any form of conflict around the globe. Most of them will not have had prior military experience and if sent into an area of actual fighting, they face capture, injury or death. They will likely not operate within a regular command structure, and this lack of supervision may create a whole range of issues which could negatively impact on them.

On their return there are dangers related to how they can readjust into society due to mental health conditions much in the manner of those faced by returning veterans who have served in the country’s regular armed forces. Many of those who returned from service in the Spanish Civil War generations ago were surprised not have received hero’s welcome and instead faced suspicion from employers and the authorities. Indeed, many were not allowed to serve during the Second World War.

There have been prosecutions involving British citizens attempting to join the anti-ISIS efforts of Kurdish militias such as PKK or Kurdish Workers Party. If the British government wishes to adopt a blanket ban approach to foreign fighters, that is, an across the spectrum prohibition from joining foreign armies and militias regardless of their status and allegiances as is the case with countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Australia, it should change the law to reflect this.

The supreme irony in this whole scenario is that as part of its alliances with Nato and the EU, the British state has been intimately involved in fomenting each of the major conflicts in which it is now trying to prevent its citizens from involving themselves.

It is the reason why, as Benjamin Stimson contemplates serving his sentence, the “real debate” about how the law should treat foreign fighters suggested by David Anderson is long overdue.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde