More ill-informed Russia bashing by Hartcher in the SMH

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Demonising of Putin: Newsweek has been one of the most virulent Putin-bashers (Image: via http://softpanorama.biz/Skeptics)

Russia bashing has become a favourite mainstream media sport, bolstered by Russia's entry in the Syrian conflict. Brisbane barrister, James O'Neill, has been doing some fact-checking of recent stories by the Sydney Morning Herald's international editor.

PETER HARTCHER, the political and international editor of the Sydney Morning Herald again writes about Russia’s alleged misdeeds in the world. Yet again, as with his previous piece on the same theme, ideology trumps evidence.

In lieu of an earlier desire to impose communism upon the world, that Hartcher tells us was the objective of the Soviet Union, we now have 'coercive nationalism.'

How does this alleged phenomenon manifest itself? First, we are told that Russia is financing extremist political parties in several western European nations 'in a bid to undermine the European Union'.

And the evidence for this claim? Actually, none is offered, although the claim does echo similar claims made by the right wing UK media such as the Daily Telegraph, itself echoing claims made by CIA director James Clapper.

Even if the allegations were true, and it is frankly difficult to see how such activity would serve Russian national interests, Hartcher totally overlooks decades of interference in European domestic affairs by the USA. One will never see Hartcher refer to colour revolutions or Operation Gladio as well documented instances of just such interference.

We are then told that Russian jets are deliberately striking Syrian civilians. The reason for this alleged war crime is to turn them into refugees, who in turn will 'flood' into Europe and thereby 'divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project'.  

The source for this completely fact free claim is none other than John McCain, whose exploits include being photographed with ISIS terrorists. The overwhelming bulk of these refugees were in fact created years before the Russian intervention in September 2015. They were expelled from Turkey as part of a Turkish strategy aimed at blackmailing Europe over Turkey’s application for EU membership.

These issues have been widely discussed in the literature which one would have expected Hartcher, as an “international editor” to be familiar with.

Hartcher then claims that NATO is 'bulking up' their arms in the 'frontier states' between Europe and Russia. These frontier states are said to fear this “coercive nationalism” that Hartcher says constitutes Russian foreign policy.

The “frontier states” Hartcher refers to are for the most part previously members of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet led alliance formed as a counterpoint to NATO and its frequently declared hostility to the Soviet Union.

Hartcher either does not know, or prefers to forget, that U.S. President George Bush Senior promised Russian President Gorbachev that in exchange for Russia not resisting German reunification and the breakup of the old Soviet Union NATO would not advance 'as much as a thumb’s width' to the East.

That promise was immediately broken by Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, and today NATO has multiple bases and nuclear weapons in those former Warsaw Pact nations. Yet Hartcher has the gall to suggest that Russia is the aggressor. In keeping with the tenor of the rest of the article he even suggests, quoting cold war warrior Paul Dibb that Russia’s military doctrine says that it can use nuclear weapons against opposing conventional forces.

Western Russia-bashing is not new, though it has never been so counter-productive. Published 4 Nov 2014.
Amy Woolf comprehensively demolished this untrue claim in a detailed research paper published in February last year for the Congressional Research Service. If Hartcher, or Dibb for that matter, actually acquainted themselves with the relevant literature they would know the absurdity of their claims. That would not fit the editorial objective however, of demonizing Russia and Mr Putin at every opportunity, regardless of the facts.

Hartcher’s appalling piece of pseudo journalism concludes by quoting Dibb on Syria:

 'Look at the way Putin leapt to take advantage of the situation in Syria. Russia now has to be consulted in any settlement.'

The assumptions built into that single quote are worthy of separate examination in their own right. Suffice to say only at this point that Russia, unlike the U.S., France, UK and Australia, came to the assistance of the sovereign Syrian government at the latter’s invitation.

Russia’s military presence in Syria is in accordance with international law, which is more than can be said of the U.S., Australia and others. But international law is not the Australian government’s strong suit, as may be seen in a host of areas.

Julie Bishop, the foreign minister, is currently in Beijing telling the Chinese what they can and cannot do in the South China Sea. Her pronouncements on Australia’s legal basis for being in Syria is manifestly wrong. Just as interesting is her studied silence on the illegality of Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen and threatened attack on Syria, the latter being in addition to the Saudi’s material and other support for ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq.

Hartcher would do the SMH readers a similar favour if he ceased writing about matters for which he is singularly ill equipped and dangerously ill informed.

James O'Neill is a former academic, and has practiced as a barrister since 1984. He writes on geo-political issues, with a special emphasis on international law and human rights.

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