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Mark Almond

Know your Ally


Know Your Enemy” is a standard invocation in wartime. But, if clear-eyed appreciation of an opponent and his intentions is obviously necessary, shouldn’t “Know Your Ally” be equally imperative?

Even when war has become a spectator sport for Westerners, rejoicing in killing Putin with their mouths in cyberspace and joyously kicking Russian cripples out of the paralympics, there is a real conflict going on which is horrendous for Ukrainians, which also has serious implications even for us off-shore islanders, as well as Europe as a whole.

Romanticising our chosen side and vilifying their foes are natural reactions, but fairy-tale versions of conflict often disguise the flaws of the allies even if they pale by comparison with the vices of the invader.

Think how in 1914 “Plucky Little Belgium” was portrayed as a damsel in distress about to be raped by a literally monstrous Hun. But until August, 1914, Belgium’s place on the scale of victimhood was decidedly at the perpetrator end. The horrific exploitation of the Belgian Congo’s population as slaves to King Leopold’s greed — fictionalised by Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” — had been exposed by Sir Roger Casement and E.D. Morel, who both rejected the defence of Belgium.
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Israel, Armenia and the Death of Middle East Christianity


An ancient pre-Islamic nation suddenly overwhelmed on its ancestral lands during Yom Kippur by an oil-rich Muslim regime deploying state-of-the-art technology sounds like the stuff of Israeli nightmares. Combine the kamikaze drones with swarms of jihadi fundamentalist warriors scrawling swastikas on the abandoned vehicles of their defeated enemies while graffitiing the names of past pogroms on the burnt out ruins of the defeated people’s buildings as they liberate the “occupied territories” and it looks like a Zionist Armageddon. 

What sounds like a prequel for a future apocalypse of the Jewish state is in fact what has just happened to the three million Armenians of the Caucasus at the hands of much bigger, richer and better armed Azerbaijan.

But Israelis ought to have qualms about what has just happened over the last six weeks in the Caucasus mountains between Mount Ararat and Iran. This is not so much because of the obvious analogies between Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and the Syrian Golan Heights and the Christian Armenians’ position in the mountainous Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, nor because of the possibility that despite President Trump’s much-trumpeted peace deals between Israel and certain oil-rich Arab states could yet dissolve if the military balance between Jews and Muslims was shifted as suddenly and decisively as between Christians and Muslims in the Caucasus when oil wealth bought the Azeris’ attack-drones and skilled advisers to render obsolete overnight the much-vaunted Armenian military advantage.
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We left Libya in ruins. Now, it's a crucible of terror that has come back to haunt us


The CIA calls it ‘blowback’, when the unintended consequences of what seemed like a good policy at the time come back to bite you.

The classic example is Western sponsorship of radical Islamist fighters against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

That covert war against the Kremlin was a significant factor in crippling Communism in Russia which was a good thing, surely? It certainly seemed cost-free for America — until that bright morning of September 11, 2001, when Afghan-based terrorism struck New York and Washington on a grand scale.

Today our own nation is reeling from yet another savage consequence of our own ‘blowback’, after three people were randomly and fatally stabbed and three others wounded, as they sat enjoying a warm evening in a local park.
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Bulgaria & Moldova Switch from Hillary's Euro-Atlantic Column


November 13th was as unlucky for stalwart backers of the foreign policy-line embodied by Hillary Clinton just as 8th November was for her domestic supporters. In both Bulgaria and Moldova, the voters rejected candidates for president who had been openly endorsed by Washington and Brussels. Having witnessed how small states with tiny electorates but vital Electoral College votes dealt body-blows to Hillary Clinton's hopes of winning the US Presidency, it would be short-sighted and arrogant - as the Euro-Atlantic establishment has so often been - to dismiss voters in small East European states as irrelevant.

Having presumed that Bulgaria was irretrievably anchored in the Euro-Atlantic power-structure by its accession to both NATO and the EU, the choice of an openly pro-Russian candidate for president of the country is a wake-up call to Brussels and Washington. Similarly, the Moldovan elite had seemed locked into an "irreversible" course as its premier put it to integration - better said subordination - to the Euro-Atlantic model. In both cases, the majority of citizens thought different. 

Until the implosion of the neo-con regime-change foreign policy embodied by Hillary Clinton and her attack-dog for Eastern Europe, Victoria Neuland, we could have been confident that the heavy-hands of Washington and Brussels would have pressured both Bulgaria and Moldova to reverse such results. Yet even cash inducements like the IMF's sudden dole of US$36 million to the Moldovan regime just six days before the poll could not buy enough support . Even more striking was the Bulgarian public's rejection of the pro-EU candidate who had boasted about how much EU aid to the poverty- stricken Balkan EU member was at stake.
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Strange Silence of Neo-Con Trolls as Mikheil Saakashvili Stabs His Patron Poroshenko in the Back


The sudden resignation of Mikheil Saakashvili as Governor of Odessa and his accompanying tirade of accusations of corruption and treason against the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko and his coterie in Kiev came as a bombshell for the Western media on 7th November. But it was a strangely bland bombshell.

Yes, the voices of the West - the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – mentioned that the former Georgian President, who had been brought in to combat corruption in Ukraine’s key port and one of its major Russian-speaking cities, had resigned, even that he criticised his patron and old university chum, Poroshenko, for being on the take. But the reportage has been strangely opaque.

Remember both Saakashvili and Poroshenko had been routinely characterised as the epitome of anti-corruption campaigners by Western neo-con voices whose echo-chamber is the supposedly liberal media, CNN, NBC in the USA and BBC and Channel Four News in the UK. No mention of Poroshenko’s past service to the “notoriously corrupt” regimes in Ukraine before 2014 is permitted, nor reference to his alleged business dealings with pariahs like Iran before he came on board for the regime-change of the decade in February, 2014. As for the reality that to most Georgians their ex-president, President, Mikheil Saakashvili, was the personification of a brutal, loud-mouthed demagogue that too was passed over in silence by those who boast that “they tell truth to power” from the editorial suites of Western newsrooms and newspapers.
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Erdogan's Victory is a Threat to Turkish Stability


Doesn’t the decisive victory of Turkey’s ruling J U.S.tice and Development Party (AKP) in Sunday’s elections put an end to concerns about the country’s stability? Hasn’t calm returned to Nato’s strategically vital bulwark on the edge of the Middle East after five months of political impasse and growing sectarian violence?

Sadly not. By handing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan such a strong mandate, Turkey’s voters have swung behind a leader whose hallmarks have become capitalising on tension and fear. In the run up to the polls, the president was acc U.S.ed of threatening to come after critical newspaper editors once the elections were over. Given the scale of Mr Erdogan’s triumph, and his past form, expecting generosity from him now seems naïve. More of the same is a perverse form of stability.

But clamping down on a divided and demoralised domestic opposition will probably concern Turkey’s Nato allies less than whether Mr Erdogan sticks to his policy towards his neighbours to the south. President Erdogan definitely shares Washington’s desire to see the back of Bashar al-Assad. But what he would like to see replace him in Damasc U.S. is very different from Obama’s, admittedly over-optimistic, vision of a secular liberal democracy.
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EU-Backed Libyan Government Bombs EU Citizens But No New No Fly Zone in Sight


Responsibility for the killing of at least two EU citizens in an air raid on the port of Derna on 5th January has been admitted by the EU-backed Libyan government based in the eastern Libyan port of Tobruk.[1] The bombing is the latest sign that violence in Libya is spiralling out of control. With two rival governments and at least 30 local militias fighting for control over the country’s energy resources and lucrative people smuggling rackets, the European Union is paralysed by the legacy of its backing for the NATO intervention against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. Apart from the French President, the other EU leaders have hidden their heads in the sand and refused to comment. President Hollande, however, popped up only to insist France will not re-intervene in Libya.

Between 2004 and 2010, relations between the West and Gaddafi’s Libya had improved after years of sanctions following the downing of the Pan-Am 747 over Lockerbie in December, 1988. Gaddafi supplied oil and gas to the EU, not least the old colonial power, Italy, and his regime also cracked down on people smuggling which had imposed a huge burden on Italy in particular as the nearest EU destination for thousands of African migrants.

But the so-called Arab Spring chilled EU-Libyan relations dramatically. Within days of protests beginning, the EU governments which had previously courted the Colonel reverted to denouncing him as a terrorist and genocidal killer.
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Blowback on the Saudi Border – Senior General Killed


Anyone reading the New York Times report of a minor skirmish on the Saudi-Iraqi border on 5th January, 2015, would probably have shrugged and moved on. What with ISIS controlling roughly one third of Iraq and Syria and Shiite Houthi rebels overrunning about 70% of Yemen, Middle East watchers surely had more pressing violence to concern them than “a confrontation that left three guards and all the assailants dead”? [1] But then reports leaked out of the Kingdom that put the border clash in a very different light.[2]

Contrary to the New York Times which relied on the official spokesman of the Saudi Interior Ministry, not only had two of the assailants escaped, their Saudi victims included the general commanding the country’s northern zone. Brigadier-General Oud Alad al Balawi was not normally posted at the border crossing nor would chance infiltrators have had reason to expect to find such a senior officer there. Why were armed men with suicide vests able to get close to the Saudi general?
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Not Talking to Vladimir Putin Signals Impotence, Not Strength

Understandable outrage at the terrible fate of the 298 innocent passengers on flight MH17 has led Western leaders to reach for their favourite way of coercing rogue states into better behaviour. Sanctions have been ramped up on Russia, targeting key personnel around President Vladimir Putin and cutting specific sectors of the Russian economy off from fruitful business with US and EU partners.

Russia now joins countries ranging from Belarus to Zimbabwe on the US Treasury’s list of states, groups and individuals that fall into the 27 broad headings for its sanctions. The EU’s members have almost as extensive an itinerary of blacklists.
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Forgetting His Own History: William Hague Once Understood a Black Sea Crisis


The current imbroglio over Crimea may be America’s first crisis with Russia in the Black Sea, but it is not Britain’s. Even the Crimean War (1854-56) was not Britain’s first face-off with Russia. More than two hundred years ago as the French Revolution convulsed Western Europe (rather as the Arab Spring has sent shock waves across the Mediterranean), Catherine the Great expanded her hold on the Black Sea coast by seizing Ochakov, not far from the new city of Odessa.

Under the supervision of the exiled French Duc de Richelieu who acted as governor, the Tsarina’s architects would soon erect as a naval base to match Sebastopol across the Black Sea in the Crimea which she had already annexed in 1783.

With her major rival, France, apparently rendered impotent by revolution since 1789, William Pitt’s Britain seemed the only superpower – at least to itself.  Whitehall was as convinced in 1791 as the White House seems to be today that a combination of global reach via the Royal Navy with the City of London’s financial hegemony would both cause the Tsarina to back off and the other European states to fall into line behind Britain’s demand that Russia retreat from its southern Ukrainian conquests from the waning Ottoman Empire.
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