Russia

Afghan women advocates wary of 'peace' talks

Direct talks between US officials and the Taliban are advancing in Qatar, aimed at ending the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for the first time met the US special representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, on March 4. (Al Jazeera)  In a parallel process being brokered by Russia, Taliban representatives and Afghan politicians opposed to President Ashraf Ghani met in Moscow last month. The Taliban refuse to recognize Ghani's government, calling it a "puppet" of the US. (Al Jazeera) But advocates for Afghan women view both these sets of talks with increasing skepticism, voicing their concern that hard-won rights could be bargained away.

Palestinians reject Warsaw Conference

The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference that opens today in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: "Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project." (Ma'an) The meeting was first announced last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his anti-Iran speech in Cairo, and is widely perceived as an effort to rally world powers behind Washington's drive against Tehran. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is to be among the speakers. Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting, underscoring its commitment to the nuclear deal that the US has now disavowed. But as Warsaw's former ambassador to Afghanistan Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al Jazeera: "[Poland] has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia." The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian ski resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani, officiallty to discuss the situation in Syria and the pending withdrawal of US troops there. (EuroNews)

Podcast: from Crimea to Venezuela

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.

Ukrainian anarchists targeted by security police

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.

Crimean Tatar imprisoned as alleged militant

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)

Russia dispatches Cossacks to Venezuela?

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." 

Forgotten voices in Venezuela crisis

Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.

Idlib still threatened as Assad escalates genocide

Assad regime artillery struck areas of Syria's opposition-held Idlib province Jan. 12 after militants allegedly tried to infiltrate regime-held areas, according to state news agency SANA. The shelling was reportedly focused on the town of Tamanaa near Maaret al-Numan, which was seized from Turkish-backed rebels by jihadist forces earlier in the week. The was apparently part of a ceasefire agreement ending an internal conflict between rival opposition forces in Idlib. Much of the governorate's territory was reportedly turned over to the so-called "Salvation Government"—administrative arm of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor organization to disbanded al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. Constituent militias of the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front have reportedly retreated to the Turkish-held enclave of Afrin across the border in Aleppo governorate.  (Rudaw, AFP) These ominous developments may spell an end to Idlib's reprieve from the threatened Assad offensiive on the province since establishment of a joint Turkish-Russian buffer zone there.

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