Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Russia, Ebola, Nato and propaganda

Jackson Diehl is deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post and writes foreign affairs' pieces, so his opinions get around a bit. Four days after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech to the Valdai International Discussion Club on October 24 (in which Putin said he would like the United States to "stay out of our affairs and to stop pretending they rule the world"), Diehl declared that Putin had delivered "a poisonous mix of lies, conspiracy theories and anti-US vitriol".

Diehl's pronouncement followed a report in the Washington Post on October 25 that was presumably not intended to be venomous or contributive to conspiracy theories. It was about the allegedly sinister role of Russian research laboratories in the Ebola epidemic and informed us excitedly that:


É at a time when the world is grappling with an unprecedented Ebola crisis, the wall of secrecy surrounding the Russian laboratories looms still larger, arms-control experts say, feeding conspiracy theories and raising suspicions.


This was an interesting allegation that was ironically supportive of Putin's contention that: "Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms. At the same time, total control of the global mass media has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white."

His observation is given substance and credibility by recent Western media statements concerning Russian military aircraft operations around Russia's borders.

Western news headlines on October 30-31 were bizarre and included "Russian Military Flights Increasingly VIOLATING [emphasis added] European Airspace." Violating" European airspace? Absurd: these aircraft were flying in international airspace. Not one of them infringed for a moment on the sovereignty of one single European country. But the headlines were vivid to the point of fantasy, with one melodramatic offering being "Over a dozen Russian aircraft were caught flying outside the country's airspace in three different parts of Europe this week, prompting fears of an impending World War 3."

The fact that US and British intelligence-gathering aircraft fly along Russia's borders daily, trailing their coats and sending out signals to encourage the engagement and thus detection of Russia's protective devices is neither here not there, of course. (And China has an even greater problem with US spook aircraft movements close to its shores.)

The Western media, fed by countless anonymous "official sources", mainly in Washington and London, have enthusiastically seized on the US-led anti-Russia campaign to explore attractive avenues for Russia bashing. Washington's offensive against Russia was defined by the US president's antagonistic speech at the UN General Assembly, in which he was uncompromisingly hostile and gave Russia the flat message that there can be no meeting of minds, no negotiations, no discussion of any sort concerning acceptance of Russia as an important nation.

At the end of the Cold War in 1991, most countries in the world, and especially the new Russia, which was struggling to survive economically and socially, imagined that the West - defined as the US, Canada, Britain and much of western Europe - would relax their military posture, which Russia certainly did, cutting its armed forces to a small fraction of their former Soviet size.

But the West had no intention of reducing its military posture. Although there was no threat whatsoever from Russia, which was concentrating on creating and expanding trade and general commercial links with its neighbors, it was decided by the US and its followers to expand the entirely military-oriented North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 16 to 28 countries.

Russia had no intention of threatening its neighbors, with which it established and continues major trade links, but in 1999 NATO brought in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to the entirely military alliance. Then in 2004 - again without any indication whatever of the slightest Russian threat - NATO expanded even more dramatically, with the addition of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, none of which countries 90% of Americans (or Brits or anyone else) could even point to on a map. They brought in Albania and Croatia in 2009, and sought to include Georgia and Ukraine in order to have NATO forces menace Russia along its entire western border.


It's worth while reflecting on what NATO is supposed to be about. All NATO countries:

É undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.


Which makes one wonder why so many of them, led by the United States, are squaring up to Russia and threatening force over a matter that has nothing whatever to do with them: the shambles in Ukraine.

The United States considers Russia an enemy, and there is no mystery about why its malicious anti-Russia campaign is being waged. It's because Russia is becoming an even more influential nation. The US considers it important - perhaps vital - that it be prevented from developing as a nation and thus that it must subjected to whatever intrigues can be dreamed up to portray it as an enemy of the free world.

As we have seen from the balanced and entirely truthful columns of the Washington Post, one of the latest maneuvers was an attempt to link Russia with the spread of Ebola, the virus that might become a global epidemic.

On October 24, Russian news agencies reported that "Russia has launched the production of a trial batch of the Ebola vaccine Triazavirin that will be sent to Africa in the coming days for efficiency tests. The vaccine was created by the Ural Biopharmaceutical Technology Center. Tests have shown the vaccine's high efficiency (70-90%) against various kinds of hemorrhagic fevers, including Marburg fever, which has a close relation to Ebola."

There we have straight factual reporting of Russia's contribution to the international effort to counter a horrible disease. (If there were any reports of this in the Western media they were very well hidden. It did appear on one Asian news site.)

But the October 25 Western take on Russia and Ebola by the Washington Post was somewhat different. The WP starts off breathlessly, dramatically informing us that in Russia in 1996 an unidentified woman "was an ordinary lab technician with an uncommonly dangerous assignment: drawing blood from Ebola-infected animals in a secret military laboratory". But tragically (not that the word was used by the WP), she cut herself and died from possible Ebola infection. The report continues that she "was buried, according to one account, in a 'sack filled with calcium hypochlorite', or powdered bleach". A tale with much detail - but no precision.

The story, by a Joby Warrick, then informs us that "the incident occurred inside a restricted Russian military lab that was once part of the Soviet Union's biological weapons program. Years ago, the same facility in the Moscow suburb of Sergiev Posad cultivated microbes for use as tools of war. Today, much of what goes on in the lab remains unknown."

Certainly it does: just as what goes on in research laboratories all over the world "remains unknown". How many US military research laboratories are open to outside inspection? Or even domestic inspection?

Nevertheless, the Post is politically calcified and industriously indefatigable. "Now," it declares, "at a time when the world is grappling with an unprecedented Ebola crisis, the wall of secrecy surrounding the [Russian] labs looms still larger, arms-control experts say, feeding conspiracy theories and raising suspicions."

But who is "feeding conspiracy theories and raising suspicion"?

Surely the Washington Post would not do anything so shabby and disgraceful as insinuating that Russia is in some fashion responsible for the spread of the Ebola virus by recording that: "The fatal lab accident, and a similar one in 2004, offer a rare glimpse into a 35-year history of Soviet and Russian interest in the Ebola virus." This is considered sinister because, "Ebola research continued in Ministry of Defense laboratories where it remains largely invisible, despite years of appeals by US officials to allow greater transparency."

Who were these "US officials"? And what appeals did they make over so many years?

There is littler wonder that President Putin notes:

Today, we are seeing new efforts to fragment the world, [to] draw new dividing lines, [to] put together "coalitions" not built for something but directed against someone, anyone É The situation was presented this way during the Cold War. We all understand this and know this ... But these attempts are increasingly divorced from reality and are in contradiction with the world's diversity. Steps of this kind inevitably create confrontation and countermeasures and have the opposite effect to the hoped-for goals.

NATO's 28 nations are desperate for a reason to maintain and expand their obsolete alliance, and now that they have been defeated by a bunch of raggy-baggy guerrillas in Afghanistan and have had to leave that chaotic country in an even worse shambles than it was before they arrived, it is essential they find another cause for meddling.

They are ganging up against Russia in the prostituted cause of freedom, and in some weird fashion imagine that their antics are consistent with the NATO Charter "to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

Like the Washington Post and its spiteful anti-Russia Ebola smear-job, NATO's nations, in the words of Putin, are "increasingly divorced from reality."

Postscript: The New York Times has joined in the trivial pursuit of Russia-bashing with a November 2 Page One "Special Report" headlined as "Putin's friend profits in purge of schoolbooks".

This objective piece informs us that "By the start of the school year, the number of approved textbooks for Russia's 14 million schoolchildren had been slashed by more than half, threatening the livelihoods of many publishers. But one with close ties to President Vladimir V Putin profited handsomely." What a tawdry front page revelation for what used to be one of the most important newspapers in the world.

What a pity he didn't try to spread Ebola, too.

Brian Cloughley is a former soldier who writes on military and political affairs.

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