Watching the Shadows
headlines

Targeted disinformation neutralizes US left

Progressives in the United States show little awareness of the disinformation specially targeting them. Denialism about Russian interference in the US elections is now translating into denialism about how dangerous the Trump presidency is. In 2016, we saw Russian-promoted “left” sites and writers post memes and articles that trashed Hillary Clinton, equated Clinton and Trump, or even portrayed Clinton as the worse choice. They dominated “Leftbook” social media and helped depress the progressive vote—a decisive factor in Trump’s win. We are seeing a replay now. Biden and Harris are denounced far more than Trump on some “left” sites, while Trump’s incipient fascism is downplayed. This influence has also been felt in the appalling lack of protest against Trump. Through his round-ups of undocumented immigrants, his abandonment of climate and arms control treaties, the impeachment, progressives failed to fill the streets—until the Black Lives Matter uprising, bringing a new and different leadership to the fore. In a presentation for Women’s March Minnesota, longtime activist Terry Burke examines how the US left is in danger of being manipulated and neutralized by a sophisticated online propaganda campaign, facilitated by the Kremlin and its media arms and corporate enablers like Facebook. (Image: TerryBurke)

Syria
White Helmets

Russian-backed ‘crimes against humanity’ in Syria

Human Rights Watch condemned Russia and the Syrian government in a new report for launching at least 46 documented deadly attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria’s northern Idlib province. The report reveals that the Russian-backed offensive targeted hospitals, schools, markets, and other essential facilities for over 11 months from April 2019. HRW contends that these attacks violated international humanitarian law and may constitute crimes against humanity. These numbers represent only a fraction of the attacks occurring in the region. Witnesses and local authorities say the documented attacks killed at least 224 civilians and wounded 561 others. In addition to harming civilians directly, the attacks have also adversely impacted public health, education, and the standard of living in Idlib by restricting access to food, water, and housing. Both the Assad regime and Russia exacerbated this crisis by blocking humanitarian aid to the region. (Photo via EA Worldview)

Watching the Shadows
Xinjiang

China elected to UN rights council: Orwellian irony

In another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit, the UN General Assembly elected China to the Human Rights Council—despite the country holding some one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. The General Assembly also elected Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Pakistan—all similarly accused of human rights violations, if not quite such ambitious ones. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with “abhorrent human rights records.” A week before the General Assembly vote, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun read a statement before the body, denouncing the US for “systematic racial discrimination and violence,” which was endorsed by 25 other nations—including Russia, Iran and North Korea. Of course the perverse irony of this is that Pompeo and Zhang are both correct. And therefore neither has any moral credibility to criticize the other. (Photo: Xinjiang Judicial Administration via The Diplomat)

Central Asia
bishkek

Revolution in Kyrgyzstan: who is in control?

Protestors in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, occupied and set fire to the White House, the building that houses both the president’s office and parliamentary chamber. The headquarters of State Committee for National Security, which oversees the secret police, was also taken over. Opposition politicians imprisoned there were liberated—and one installed as prime minister, as contested election results were officially annulled. President Sooronbay Jeenbekov has gone into hiding, but released a statement from an undisclosed location claiming to be “in control.” Also released from secret police prison was his predecessor Almazbek Atambayev, who had tilted to Russia and booted the US from its airbase at Manas. Jeenbekov, in contrast, had been in a public spat with Vladimir Putin. With the current chaos in Washington, Moscow seems well-positioned to exploit the new upheaval in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo via Twitter)

The Caucasus
Nagorno-Karabakh

Campaign to recognize Republic of Artsakh

Amid renewed heavy fighting over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the enclave’s capital, Stepanakert, is coming under heavy shelling by Azerbaijan. The self-governing enclave within Azerbaijan has since 1994 been under the control of ethnic Armenians, who constitute the majority there, and have declared the de facto Republic of Artsakh. The National Assembly of Artsakh issued a statement accusing Azerbaijan of intentionally targeting civilians and using banned weaponry such as cluster munitions. The statement also accused Turkey of directing the offensive, and backing it up with mercenary fighters. The National Assembly called upon the international community to formally recognize the Republic of Artsakh as “the most effective way to put an end to the ongoing grave crimes against the peaceful population of Artsakh, and to protect their rights.” (Map: Wikipedia)

East Asia
Kamchatka

Mysterious ‘ecological catastrophe’ in Kamchatka

Fears are mounting over an environmental disaster of still unknown origin in Russia’s Far East after residents reported dozens of dead sea animals washed onto a beach from the Pacific. Greenpeace Russia said tests conducted on water samples taken from Khalaktyrsky beach in Kamchatka krai showed petroleum levels four times higher than usual, and phenol levels 2.5 times higher. “The scale of the contamination has not yet been determined, but the fact that dead animals are found all along the coast confirms the seriousness of the situation,” the organization said in a statement, warning of an “ecological catastrophe.” Residents who used local beaches also complained of vomiting, fever and rashes. Krai authorities have launched an investigation. Some scientists suggest that rocket fuel may have leaked into the sea from the military’s Radygino firing range, which is six miles from the seashore and was used for missile tests as recently as August. (Photo: Einar Fredriksen via WikiTravel)

Syria
Daraa

Armed struggle re-emerges in regime-controlled Syria

Bashar Assad’s Russian-backed reconquest of most of Syria over the past two years is beginning to look like a Pyrrhic victory, as protest and even armed resistance re-emerge in regime-controlled territory. Insurgency is especially mounting in southern Daraa province—where the revolution first began in 2011. Brig. Gen. Talal Qassem of the army’s 5th Division was shot dead this week by gunmen on a motorcycle in the northeast of Daraa. He was the second regime general slain in the province since Assadist forces retook southern Syria in July 2018. They were among more than 200 regime soldiers and officials slain in attacks over this period, and the pace of the attacks is fast escalating. Among regime figures slain in the past month are the mayor of the town of Lajat, a military intelligence officer, and a member of the “reconciliation committees” attempting to rebuild regime support. (Photo: EA Worldview)

North Africa
Libya Refinery

Russian mercenaries occupy Libyan oil terminals

Libya’s eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, his long siege of Tripoli broken by the city’s defenders in June, continues to hold the country’s principal oil terminals, and has established effective control over the Petroleum Facilities Guard. The UN this week brokered a ceasefire between Haftar and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, seeking to re-open exports from the terminals. Haftar agreed to the ceasefire after the US threatened sanctions against him. Russia, in turn, is apparently backing Haftar, sending arms and mercenaries to help his forces secure the terminals. Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group is especially said to be present at Es-Sider terminal, outside the port city of Ras Lanuf. (Photo via Libyan Express)

Syria
Tal Al-Zahab

Syria: US troops clash with Assad regime forces

US troops clashed with an Assad regime unit in northeast Syria, an incident that illustrates the uneasy patchwork of power in the region. One regime soldier was reportedly killed and two wounded. Both Pentagon and Damascus accounts agreed the confrontation began when a joint convoy of US and Kurdish forces encountered a regime roadblock, but differed on which side fired first. The regime also claimed a US warplane fired on the roadblock, contrary to the Pentagon account. US-backed Kurdish forces have controlled much of the northeast since driving out the Islamic State last year. However, the regime, supported by Russia, also occupied part of the area as ISIS was defeated. (Photo: QalaatM via Twitter)

Europe
Minsk protest

Net silence as Belarus explodes into protest

Long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko cut off internet across most of Belarus as the country explodes into angry protests in the wake of contested presidential elections. Riot police are unleashing harsh repression, using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and water hoses against demonstrators. One person has been reported killed and many more wounded, including several police officers. According to preliminary results, Lukashenko won an unlikely 80% of the vote, with the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya taking only 10%. Tikhanovskaya was a surprise replacement for her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who was arrested after he attempted to launch his candidacy. She held large rallies in Minsk and other cities, riding a groundswell of discontent with Lukashenko. (Photo: Meduza)

Afghanistan
Afghanistan

Is Russia really backing the Taliban?

The kneejerk squawking of “McCarthyism” any time new revelations of Moscow misdeeds emerge is tiresome and dangerous. But there is reason for skepticism about the claims that Russia is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan, and offering them a bounty to kill US troops. This makes little sense in terms of the regional alliances: US ally Pakistan has been the traditional patron of the Taliban, while Russia’s closest ally in the region is Iran, which opposes the Taliban on sectarian grounds. The notion that Moscow would do anything to strengthen the hand of Sunni extremism in a country where it faced its own counterinsurgency quagmire in the ’80s, and which still borders its “near abroad,” stretches credulity. (Photo of abandoned Soviet tank in Afghanistan via Wikimedia Commons)

Syria
syria refugees

Syria: controlled elections amid deepening crisis

To nobody’s surprise, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s bloc won a majority of seats in the country’s parliamentary election, dismissed as a farce by the exiled opposition. As in the presidential elections that confirmed Assad’s hold on the presidency in 1994, millions displaced by the war were not able to vote. The elections were held amid a deepening economic crisis, with the UN noting a 200% food price hike in under a year and warning of widespread hunger. Russia and China meanwhile continue to use their veto on the Security Council to block aid deliveries to opposition-held areas. (Photo: UNICEF via UN News)