In Episode 26 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes contradictions and complexities in two world crises depicted in polarized terms by left, right and center alike. The indigenous Tatar people of Crimea, their autonomy and rights abrogated by the illegal Russian occupation, have been drawn into an alliance with Ukraine's ultra-nationalist Right Sector based on their mutual opposition to Putin's annexation of the peninsula. Ukrainian anarchists are meanwhile facing repression for their opposition to Right Sector. Putin, who is cracking down on Russian anarchists who oppose his own ultra-nationalist imperial agenda, has just sent a detachment of Cossack mercenaries to Venezuela to serve as a Praetorian Guard for the embattled Nicolás Maduro. In addition to being opposed by the right-wing pretender Juan Guaidó, Maduro faces a challenge from an independent left that rejects his undemocratic rule as well as US imperial designs on Venezuela. Indigenous peoples such as the Pemón of the Orinoco Basin are also mounting resistance to extractive designs on their territory—regardless of who holds power in Caracas. Can anarchists and the independent left in Ukraine, Russia and Venezuela unite with indigenous peoples such as the Tatars and Pemón to defend freedom and autonomy, and repudiate reactionaries and imperialists on all sides? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Ukraine Security Service (SBU) appears to be targeting the country's anarchist youth following an attack on a leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector last year. In December, SBU agents carried out searches at the homes of seven anarchists in the cities of Kiev, Brovary, Dnipro and Lviv. SBU officers reportedly forced two anarchists to sign a "cooperation agreement," and one of the activists had her passport confiscated. Those targeted were members of the groups Black Banner and Ecological Initiative. The searches were carried out as part of an investigation into an attack on Right Sector militant Dmytro "Verbych" Ivashchenko, a veteran of the war in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region.
Bahrain’s highest court on Jan. 28 upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with the then-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices."
A 24-year-old Crimean Tatar was sentenced Jan. 23 by a court in Russian-annexed Crimea to 10-and-a-half years' imprisonment for supposed involvement in a volunteer force patrolling the border of Crimea and mainland Ukraine to help enforce a blockade. Video evidence introduced in the trial only showed the suspect from behind. Nonetheless, Fevzi Sahandzhy was convicted of being a member of the Asker Battalion—also known as the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, in honor of the martyred president of the short-lived independent Crimean Republic of 1918. The Battalion began participating in the blockade of Crimea in 2015 to press demands for the release of political prisoners and the restoration of freedom of speech and assembly on the peninsula. (Human Rights in Ukraine, 112 UA, Kiev, Jan. 28)
An international space venture called Satellogic was just announced, with headquarters in Buenos Aires, to produce satellites for the China Great Wall Industry Corp at a new plant in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is slated to deliver its first 13 satellites this year, to be launched on China’s Long March 6 rocket. China Great Wall was established in 1980 under auspices of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, and operates the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, the principal space facility in the People's Republic (MercoPress, SpaceNews, NASA SpaceFlight) But the announcement comes amid growing concern within Argentina about activities at the Chinese-operated "spaceport" at Bajada del Agrio in Patagonia—and the apparent role of the People's Liberation Army in the facility.
Numerous media sources are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dispatched a team of private mercenaries to Venezuela to help back up the besieged government of President Nicolás Maduro. Reuters cites claims that some 400 military contractors from the Wagner group have arrived in Caracas. Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) is a Russian firm already contracted by Moscow's Defense Ministry to provide personnel for the wars in Ukraine and in Syria. Moscow Times quotes Yevgeny Shabayev, ataman (commander) of the Khovrino Cossack paramilitary group, as saying that the mercenaries were flown to Havana on two chartered aircraft, where they were transfered to commerical flights to Caracas. Shabayev said Cossacks had been recruited for the force to serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Maduro. "Our people are there directly for his protection," he said. The Russian news site Lenta.ru cited Shabayev saying a "military conspiracy had been discovered in Maduro's inner circle, and therefore it was necessary to replace his personal security with loyal people."
In an egregious and all too revealing faux pas, Amy Goodman appears to have put a mouthpiece of the German far right on Democracy Now as a "former UN expert" to discuss Venezuela. This is one Alfred de Zayas, who is given Goodman's typical sycophantic treatment—all softballs, no adversarial questions. We are treated to the accurate enough if not at all challenging or surprising line about how the US is attempting a coup with the complicity of the corporate media. Far more interesting than what he says is de Zayas himself. His Twitter page identifies him as a "Former @UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a #Democratic & Equitable #International Order," and this is confirmed by his bio page on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website. Further digging reveals that he is on the board of the Desiderius-Erasmus-Stiftung, a Berlin-based foundation established last year as the intellectual and policy arm of Alternative für Deutschland, the far-right party that has tapped anti-immigrant sentiment to win an alarming 94 seats in Germany's Bundestag.
Twin explosions have left at least 20 dead and some 80 wounded at the cathedral in Jolo, capital of Sulu province in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The first blast went off inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Sunday mass was about to start. This was followed a few seconds later by another blast in the cathedral's parking area. The attack came just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was approved by voters in the region, creating a new Muslim-led autonomous government, The new Bangsamoro autonomous region replaces the weaker Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). More than 1.5 million ARMM residents voted "yes" to BOL ratification, while some 199,000 voted "no." Of the five provinces in the autonomous region, the only one to reject the BOL was Sulu—by a vote of some 163,500 to 137,630.