Saudi Arabia

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Lord Evgeny Lebedev Joins Enterprise Run by Saudi Ruler Accused of Approving Killing of Journalist Khashoggi

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/07/2022 - 12:44am in

The owner of the Evening Standard and Independent has reinforced his ties to the authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reveals Sam Bright

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The UK-Russian newspaper proprietor Lord Evgeny Lebedev has joined the board of a non-profit enterprise created by the Saudi Government, holding his position alongside Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who, according to US intelligence services, personally approved the capturing and killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The enterprise is called Hevolution – founded to research the science of anti-ageing, which is a preoccupation of many wealthy ‘philanthropists’.

“It’s time to focus science and business on ageing as a treatable process, not just on its terminal symptoms,” its website states.

Funded by the Saudi state, Hevolution reportedly has an annual $1 billion budget to fund the science of increasing the healthy human lifespan.

The head of the Hevolution board of trustees is Crown Prince bin Salman, the authoritarian ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The board also includes Abdullah bin Bandar Al Saud (Minister of the Saudi National Guard), Yasir Al-Rumayyan (Governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund), Fahad Toonsi (advisor to the Saudi Royal Court) – and, of course, Evgeny Lebedev.

Screenshot: Hevolution website

Lebedev, born in Moscow but now a British citizen, is the proprietor of the Evening Standard and the Independent, after Lebedev Holdings – funded by his father, Alexander Lebedev – purchased the titles in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Alexander Lebedev was a director of Lebedev Holdings from 2008 to 2016.

Evgeny Lebedev became a member of the House of Lords in July 2020 after being nominated by Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister reportedly pressured the UK security services to reverse their assessment of the appointment, with the initial intelligence advice being that “there could be a threat to national security”.

According to reporting by The Times, Johnson “took a personal interest in the case” after meeting with Lebedev in March 2020 – following an initial rejection of the peerage. “A former advisor said [that Johnson] refused to accept the verdict of the security services and would not drop the issue,” The Times has reported.

The minutes of this discussion between Johnson and Lebedev were not recorded. The Prime Minister denies that he overruled security advice but has said that “it’s very, very, very important that we get the message over that we’re not anti-Russian”.

Despite this, the Government has so far refused to release information about the decision to make Evgeny Lebedev a peer, having been instructed to produce this evidence by Parliament.

Alexander Lebedev, Evgeny’s father and the source of the family’s wealth, was a KGB officer in London from 1988 to 1992.

Moving into the financial sector, Lebedev senior amassed vast personal wealth – listed as the 39th richest Russian by Forbes in 2008, with an estimated wealth of $3.1 billion, which diminished after one of his Russian newspapers published an exposé about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his alleged affair with a famed gymnast.

Evgeny Lebedev is a renowned figure in London high society and has seemingly been a close acquaintance of Crown Prince bin Salman for some time. Indeed, Evgeny hosted a dinner with him in 2018, during the latter’s state visit to the UK. They were joined by Virgin co-founder Richard Branson, whose spokesperson confirmed bin Salman’s attendance.

Moreover, Lebedev Holdings – which in turn owns the Evening Standard and Independent – has been accused by the UK Government of being part-owned by the Saudi state, due to a series of “unconventional, complex and clandestine” deals involving a Saudi businessman that resulted in a 30% acquisition of the firm.

The Government initially sought to investigate the deal, suggesting that the Saudi Government could now potentially exert editorial influence over the publications. However, a tribunal ruled in 2019 that the Government had missed the deadline to force a full investigation into the investments.

“Editorial independence and freedom of expression have always been, and continue to be, critical to our publications,” a spokesperson for the media outlets said after the ruling.

Yet, there are reasons to doubt this statement. As revealed by Byline Times last year, the two publications accepted an undisclosed sum of money from Saudi Arabia to publish dozens of positive environmental stories about the country before, during, and after the COP26 UN climate change summit in Glasgow.

Special Relationships

These links are particularly concerning given the Saudi Government’s repression of freedom of speech and the press. Most grotesquely, former Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.

Khashoggi was a critic of Crown Prince bin Salman’s regime, having previously been an advisor to the Saudi Government. He fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017.

American intelligence agencies concluded that Crown Prince bin Salman “approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi” – a conclusion backed-up by UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who accused the Saudi state of the “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Khashoggi.

Crown Prince bin Salman has denied any role in the murder and has said that the US intelligence report is “negative, false and unacceptable”.

However, reports of Saudi human rights abuses are widespread. The Kingdom reportedly executed 81 people just days before Boris Johnson’s recent trip to Riyadh, and three on the day he arrived.

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“Saudi authorities in 2021 routinely repressed dissidents, human rights activists and independent clerics,” according to the monitoring organisation Human Rights Watch. “Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest.”

Human Rights Watch has also highlighted the country’s prolonged war in Yemen, which it has waged for the best part of the last decade – claiming 377,000 lives, according to the UN, by the end of 2021.

The UK has approved £11 billion in military exports to Saudi Arabia since 2010 – comfortably the largest total exported to any country in the world – despite the country featuring on the UK’s human rights watchlist. Of the licenses granted, £6.2 billion was for ‘aircraft, helicopters, drones’ and £4.3 billion was for ‘grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures’.

Boris Johnson has been courting the Saudis in recent months, encouraging the Gulf state to invest heavily in the UK as part of his Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. He used his recent trip to Riyadh to push the Saudis to increase their energy output, in order to compensate for declining imports from Russia.

Asked about criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record during the trip, the Prime Minister said: “I’ve raised all those issues many, many times over the past... and I’ll raise them all again today. But we have long, long standing relationships with this part of the world and we need to recognise the very important relationship that we have... and not just in hydrocarbons.”

Johnson also has a special relationship with Evgeny Lebedev, having regularly visited the Lebedev family home in Perugia, Italy, during his time as London Mayor and Foreign Secretary – including two days after a high-level NATO summit April 2018 focused on the West’s response to the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury.

Johnson seemingly abandoned his security team for this trip – a breach of government protocol – and was pictured at San Francesco d’Assisi airport looking dishevelled, clutching a book about war strategy. Alexander Lebedev attended this party and reportedly offered to mediate between Johnson – at the time the UK's Foreign Secretary – and Vladimir Putin.

Johnson also celebrated his landslide victory in the 2019 General Election by attending Alexander Lebedev’s 60th birthday party; while Byline Times has revealed how Evgeny Lebedev attempted to lobby Johnson, while he was London Mayor, to support his pet projects – including a Russian Arts Festival in the capital.

Minutes from the meeting show that the festival was aimed at “transforming global perceptions” of Russia and that Lebedev boasted of his links to the Kremlin as a means of obtaining funding. Ultimately, Johnson provided no support and the event didn’t materialise.

Alexander Lebedev has recently been sanctioned by Canada, for being among those who had “directly enabled Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine”. These sanctions haven’t been matched by the UK. Lebedev senior severed his links with the Independent the day after he was hit with the sanctions.

“Lord Lebedev was nominated for a peerage in recognition of his contribution to the UK, including his charitable endeavours,” a Government spokesperson said. “All peerages are vetted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the process was followed correctly in the case of this nomination. The then Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Bew, has since made clear that no pressure was exerted on the Commission on this matter”.

Neither Hevolution, the Independent, nor the Evening Standard responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.

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Britain’s Other Oligarchs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 27/06/2022 - 7:28pm in

The Byline Intelligence Team explores how Russian roubles are not the only currency cleaned at London’s laundromat

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Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year sparked a long overdue moral outrage over the dirty money that floods into Britain. For decades, the UK has rolled out the red carpet for oligarchs, but welcoming Russian kleptocrats with open-arms has now become rather unfashionable. So frowned upon in fact, that even Boris Johnson – who has partied with Putin’s cronies and accepted their generous political donations – was forced to publicly declare: “We must go after the oligarchs”. 

Policies have also been promised: Downing Street is considering allowing the UK homes and hotels of sanctioned Russian oligarchs to be used to house Ukrainian refugees, and a beneficial register showing the true ownership of all UK property, even those held through complex offshore structures, has been promised.

For the most part, this newly-invigorated critique has been focused on Russian oligarchs, but the capital’s well-deserved titles of ‘Londongrad’ and ‘Moscow-on-Thames’ only paint part of the picture: the dirty money capital of the world has not built its reputation on roubles alone.

Kleptocrats – members of a powerful elite who derive their wealth from appropriated public resources – are not a purely Russian export: funds from ex-Soviet states, the Middle East and Africa are also washed at London’s laundromat. And, like their Russian counterparts, these oligarchs flock to the ever-obliging UK.

“Britain is like a butler,” Oliver Bullough writes in his new book, Butler to the World. “If someone’s rich, whether they’re Chinese or Russian or whatever, and they need something done, or something hidden, or something bought, then Britain sorts that out for them.”

The white stucco houses in Belgravia’s Eaton Square – nicknamed ‘Red Square’ after its numerous Russian residents – may attract Kremlin-linked oligarchs, but more than £5 billion worth of UK property has been bought with questionable funds from other kleptocracies since 2016. 

“Abuse of the property market often works like this,” explains Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, chair of the Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax All-Party Parliamentary Group. “You set up an anonymous shell company in a secret offshore jurisdiction such as the British Virgin Islands. You transfer your money (which may have been stolen from your fellow countrymen and women) into that shell company.”

Writing in the Guardian, she continues: “The company then buys a property in the UK. You then have a luxury home in the UK. Or you sell the company to a UK citizen who pays you with legitimate money. You have then successfully laundered your money into a trusted jurisdiction.”

A Country For Sale

Due to the opaque nature of these financial arrangements, it is difficult to track the cash – or to prove wrongdoing on the part of particular individuals.

We do know, however, that the UK – and in particular its property market – has provided a safe haven for foreign figures with troublesome pasts.

Nigeria’s former oil minister has been marred with numerous corruption scandals and, while in office, was unable to account for £15 billion of disappearing oil money – although she denies any wrongdoing. Despite her less than squeaky clean background, she was able to buy five luxury properties in the UK, including a nine-bedroom £5.8 million London mansion. Three out of five of the properties were frozen in 2017 at the request of Nigerian authorities. 

One of these mansions is a stone’s throw from 7 Winnington Close – a once grand, now derelict building, previously owned by Colonel Gaddafi’s son. The former Libyan dictator secretly amassed a £1 billion property empire in the UK.

Headed by Azerbaijani President Iham Aliyev, who has governed the country for almost two decades under authoritarian rule, his family and close associates also own more than £500 million worth of UK property.

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Philanthropy is likewise used to enhance the standing of oligarchs. Qatar’s former Prime Minister was recently found to have donated €3 million – €1 million of which was allegedly stuffed into Fortnum & Mason carrier bags – to the Prince's Foundation; Prince Charles’s charity. Meanwhile, the former Kuwaiti Prime Minister donated £2.5 million to Durham University. He later stepped down following corruption charges.

This reputation can also be laundered down the generations. According to Transparency International’s Robert Barrington, an elite British education “launders the family’s reputation and gives the next generation an entry card into the global elite.”

In Putin’s People, Catherine Belton claims that Putin wanted to buy Chelsea Football Club, via Roman Abramovich, to “increase his influence and raise Russia’s profile, not only with the elite but with ordinary British people” – a claim that Abramovich denies.

However, regardless of the the intentions of Putin or Abramovich, when Chelsea fans supportively chanted “Roman Abramovich” following the Ukrainian invasion, it certainly seemed that the Russian leader had scored a PR victory.

Perhaps the House of Saud has took page out of Putin’s playbook when it recently became the majority shareholder of Newcastle United via its sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF). By buying into British society’s greatest love, football, the kleptocratic Saudi dynasty may be hoping to gain acceptance and even influence in British society.

The Saudi Crown Prince and chair of the PIF, Mohammed bin Salman, authorised the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to US intelligence agencies.

Yet, this process of reputation laundering is being actively encouraged by Boris Johnson’s Government.

A Byline Intelligence Team investigation unearthed official Department for International Trade documents revealing the Government’s desire to encourage Saudi firms to invest in its flagship ‘levelling up’ agenda. Qatar, meanwhile, has already pledged its support – with the hereditary monarchy committing £10 billion in investment to the UK over the next five years.

The Saudi regime is responsible for a catalogue of human rights abuses, including war crimes in Yemen and a crackdown on Government dissidents, while Qatar is accused of widespread workers' rights abuses. More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country since it won the right to host the football World Cup 10 years ago.

Despite Johnson’s promises that engagement with the Gulf states will encourage a commitment to human rights, the Government has dropped “human rights” and the “rule of law” from its list of objectives in negotiating a trade deal with the six-nation bloc.

Huge investments from companies owned by kleptocratic states are a form of diplomatic reputation laundering – a mechanism for these countries to avoid international condemnation for their authoritarian abuses. The day after the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the hereditary President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Boris Johnson announced that he would be flying to the country to “pay his respects” and “reinforce the close bond between the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates”.

Investments from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE – archetypal oligarchies, where power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few ruling families and their associates – should ring alarm bells. We have to question what these countries seek in return for their investment, and whether their money is a form of economic and diplomatic kompromat.

Britain is still a butler to the world – even if its services are increasingly closed to Putin’s mobsters.

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From Mercenaries to Trade Envoys: What is Britain’s Modern Military Role?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 7:09pm in

Pursuing its goal of ‘Global Britain’, the UK uses its military as imprecise weapon of influence, attracting human rights abusers the world over to furnish their reputations, explains Murray Jones

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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace recently announced that the British military will help to police the football World Cup in Qatar this winter. 

“Making sure citizens from across the world can enjoy attending the World Cup, Britain and Qatar will join forces to provide air policing in the skies above the tournament,” he said, with the two nations’ Joint Typhoon Squadron to be deployed alongside the Royal Navy to coordinate the event’s security operation. 

It can be safely assumed that this ‘policing’ effort won’t involve investigating those responsible for the deaths of more than 6,500 migrant workers in the decade since Qatar won the right to host the prestigious tournament.

This is not surprising.

To challenge Qatar on its human rights record would be politically inconvenient for the UK Prime Minister, particularly as its Emirr, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, announced £10 billion of investment in the UK economy during a visit to Downing Street in May.

The exchange – cash for legitimacy on the world stage that an association with the UK can provide – is one the Emir has lifelong familiarity with. He attended the private Sherborne school in Dorset (with an alumni that includes the Prime Minister’s father Stanley Johnson) and Sandhurst, the British military academy. 

Every year, Gulf states send young men to the officer training school in Berkshire. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the research charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) showed that Qatar sent the most foreign students to Sandhurst (50) before Bahrain (41) and United Arab Emirates (26) from January 2019 to December 2020. 

Over three years, the school collected nearly £18 million in international fees from 54 countries, including Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Palestine and Uganda.

Anecdotally, these attendees regularly perform below average, but are given an easy ride to avoid diplomatic embarrassment.

Qatar appears to be following the example of Saudi Arabia – that has for years received geopolitical immunity in exchange for money.

UK ministers avoid directly criticising the Saudi’s relentless bombing campaign in Yemen that has killed or injured at least 11,000 civilians. How could they, when UK arms manufacturers have sold £17 billion of weaponry to the regime?

The lines between global military trade and the role the British state are blurred, as an online job listing, since removed, for a civilian role within the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Projects (MODSAP) admits: “MODSAP is in a unique position where it operates across the fringes and boundaries of public and private sector”.

“Our strategy is to capitalise upon the significant future opportunities within the defence and security relationship of both countries”, it adds.

Scrutiny of the Government’s position is often provided by the various relevant House of Commons committees. One can only speculate if this was a factor in the Saudi Foreign Ministry’s decision in September 2019 to pay £7,500 for three Conservative MPs – Tobias Ellwood (Defence Committee chair), Marcus Fysh (then member of the Committee on Arms Export Control) and Royston Smith (a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee) – to visit for a three-day trip. 

Over six weeks in 2021, Ellwood was also treated to more than £20,000 of flights, accommodation and food for trips to Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. He is no stranger to criticising the Government, yet on the issue of the UK’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia, he is a clear-eyed defender

Silent Soldiers

Ultimately, deepening defence relationships without any serious condemnation of human rights abuses risks emboldening autocracies across the world.

The UK Foreign Office lists Saudi Arabia as one of its 31 human rights ‘priority countries’, citing concerns over women’s rights and clampdowns on political dissent.

But, as was revealed last year, five countries from that list (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) are also identified by the Department for International Trade (DIT) as key export markets for British arms makers. In fact, 80% of the countries under DIT trade restrictions had arms sales approved between 2015 and 2020.

As well as its weapons, Britain is far from selective when it comes to where it sends its so-called ‘Defence People’. A series of FOIs have shown that around 200 UK loan service personnel (LSP) have been provided to 20 foreign militaries over the past decade. 

Consistently, the greatest number (between 65 and 85) work for the Omani military, but Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Brunei all have received 30-plus LSPs annually. Other notable postings include Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Ethiopia and South Africa.

Since they take their commands from foreign militaries, very little is known about what LSPs are instructed to do. In Oman, they must wear the uniform of the Sultan’s Armed Forces. The UK military rulebook for LSPs bars LGBT and unmarried personnel from serving in certain countries, though the MoD refuses to name them. 

The numbers in each country may seem small, but the MoD puts a lot of stock in their deployment, describing it as “an extremely important mechanism in which the Ministry of Defence provides military assistance to foreign governments”, adding that it “plays a key part in realising the MoD’s International Defence Engagement Strategy and security policy, including Her Majesty’s Government’s wider foreign policy objectives and the promotion of defence sales where this is appropriate”.

But loan service personnel pale in comparison to the global spread of Britain’s army of military diplomats: defence attachés.

As of January this year, there were defence attachés posted in 87 countries with another 80 countries covered by non-resident attachés. This represents a 25% growth in the past decade, with Belarus, Mali, Sri Lanka and Albania being among the most recent to have a permanent attaché established. 

The attachés role in Belarus was short lived after they were expelled in November 2020 for observing street protests following President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.

Known as the ‘Ferrero Rocher’ club, due to its reputation for senior officers with large salaries and expense accounts, attachés cost the MoD in excess of £8 million last year, with expenses exceeding £6 million in 2019/20. 

Attachés in India claimed the greatest amount in expenses (£275,000) but those in China (£224,000) and Kazakhstan (£144,000) also claimed large sums. 

Their continental responsibilities contribute to the MoD’s global footprint. An FOI request by AOAV found that MoD personnel took 153,262 commercial flights to 156 countries in just one year (2019/20).

As with the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, the role of state representative and arms salesperson blurs. 

In 2013, the Government produced a ‘market brief’ for Serbia, encouraging UK traders to enter the Balkan nation’s arms market.

The defence attaché, based in Belgrade, is offered as a point of contact – as a means of establishing contacts, hosting product presentations at the embassy or their residence, or arranging business receptions with Serbian officials.

Despite their ramping up, current political leadership may consider attachés a relic – they were not mentioned once in last year’s Integrated Review, that defined the UK’s military and foreign policy. 

Or, perhaps, the attaché’s role in enabling defence sales is not the kind of purpose that typically gets mentioned in these grandiose mission statements.

Imperial Nostalgia

The establishment of the ‘Ranger Regiment’ is another way that Britain is seeking to expand the influence of its shrinking military.

The Rangers will provide training to foreign special forces, focusing on Africa, leaving special forces to focus on covert operations, domestic counter-terrorism and further training. 

General Mark Carleton-Smith said the Rangers, “give us the capacity for raising, training, mentoring, advising and accompanying local surrogates in high-threat and hostile environments, a role that was previously almost the exclusive preserve of our tier one special forces, but we now need within the conventional force as well.”

He added that such operations were a form of “proxy management” – a “specialist sport” that the UK and US had developed into a “house style” from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The regiment’s first two deployments, in February, were to Ukraine and Ghana

There have been calls for the UK military to be more selective in the training it provides, after it was revealed by Campaign Against Arms Trade that it had trained the armies of two-thirds of the world from 2018 to 2020, including 18 of the countries on its human rights priority list. 

Training was provided to Chinese officers, despite the “systemic challenge that China poses to our security, prosperity and values” described in the Integrated Review. 

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AOAV revealed that exports of nautical radar equipment worth more than £20 million were approved to China between 2015 and 2018. 

And last October, an expert, who was principal scientist at the MoD-controlled security company Qinetiq for 18 years, gave a lecture at a conference that was attended by leading figures in China’s weapons industry. The event was focused around “a new chapter in the development of artillery, shells and missiles”. 

A Government source told The Times: “It’s insane that we are doing nothing to stop the ludicrous practice of letting hostile nations get hold of our best tech.”

A few weeks later, the head of MI6 warned against China’s “large-scale espionage operations against us, targeting those in research of particular interest to the Chinese state.”

If Britain is serious about the threat China poses, it surely seems counterproductive to train their officers, equip their navy and lecture their missile experts. 

Mercenaries?

Those within the UK military like to laud its world-leading reputation. Undoubtedly, the various specialist British regiments will be able to impart useful knowledge to comparatively smaller fledgling forces like Moldova, North Macedonia and Mali. 

But it should remember that its failures don’t just make domestic headlines. From security breaches at bus stops and online, to billions wasted on the Ajax tank programme, to the callous valuation of Afghan life, both during the conflict and the evacuation, and buried evidence of alleged executions by special forces, the British military’s recent record is far from gleaming. 

And leaders must constantly ask themselves: what is the purpose of this endless mission creep? Is it growth for growth’s sake? Goodwill and soft power have their merits, but what is the expected return? Is it primarily to increase the likelihood of an arms contract from those forces we’ve trained, loaned troops or schmoozed? 

And, ultimately, since it has so recently been shown in Afghanistan that the UK is willing to publicly abandon its partners, our leaders must examine what the military’s commitment to these nations truly is. If it is purely transactional, perhaps we should start calling them mercenaries. 

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Russia’s Deadly War on Journalists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/05/2022 - 8:55pm in

The horrifying reports of journalists being deliberately targeted by Russian forces in Ukraine form part of Putin and his allies' long war against the press, Sian Norris reports

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Russia has killed at least 32 journalists since it invaded Ukraine, with a further nine journalists injured and 15 missing.

The latest casualty was a French journalist reporting on evacuation efforts in Luhansk. Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff suffered a "fatal wound to the neck" when shrapnel pierced an armed vehicle. 

Eight of the 32 deaths recorded by the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Ukrainian media advocacy NGO, involved journalists who were killed while carrying out their professional duties. Of those, three journalists were Ukrainians and five were foreign citizens. A further 22 journalists have been killed as combatants or as a result of Russian shelling. 

The first journalist to be killed while doing his job was Yevhen Sakun, a LIVE channel cameraman who died on 1 March in a Russian missile strike on a TV tower in Kyiv. 

His death was followed by the killings of Brent Renaud, Pierre Zakrzewski, Oleksandra Kuvshynova, Oksana Baulina, Maxim Levin, and Mantas Kvedaravicius.

The IMI has also recorded nine incidents of journalists being kidnapped. One, known as ‘Nikita’, alleges that he was also tortured with electric shocks. Other journalists have been threatened with torture and the IMI has collected evidence of multiple online threats made against media workers, including 50 death threats. 

These threats, as well as the impact of strikes targeting media infrastructure, have led to the closure of 113 regional Ukrainian media outlets. They include newspapers in Donetsk, Zakarpattia, Luhansk, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Poltava, Kherson, Kharkiv, Khmelnytsky, Chernihiv, Chernivtsi, Zaporizhzhia region and Kropyvnytsky city. 

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The Disinformation War

Targeting journalists and shutting down media outlets form part of a wider disinformation war being waged by Vladimir Putin’s regime as his invasion of Ukraine continues. 

Dismantling trusted news sources and undermining the free press with threats an​​d violence allows disinformation to flourish and democratic norms to break down. Intimidation also creates a chilling effect that makes it harder for journalists to report the facts and hold power to account. 

But this is nothing new to the Russian President and his allies.

Since Putin first became President in 2000, 25 journalists have been murdered in Russia, according to data collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Independent broadcasters such as Rain have been forced to close. Journalists covering pro-opposition demos have been subjected to what Reporters Without Borders called “preventive visits” as well as searches of their homes.

One such visit to the home of Sergie Smirnov – editor of Mediazona, a leading online source of reporting on police and judicial abuses – led to his hard drive being confiscated by police.

At least four more journalists have been charged with “violating public health norms” and accused of urging Russians to participate in pro-opposition demonstrations. They include Mediazona publisher Piotr Verzilov; sports presenter Nikita Belogolovtsev; and Tatiana Felgengauer, a reporter for independent radio station Echo of Moscow.

In contrast, state-supporting TV channels such as RT and Russia-One repeat regime propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine – spreading disinformation about Russia’s actions, motivations and the conflict.

Social media has also played a disturbing role in spreading disinformation. Byline Times revealed how Facebook continues to allow the man known as ‘Putin’s Rasputin’, Alexandr Dugin, to post conspiracist content on the social network. Meanwhile, DW.com uncovered how a website called 'War On Fake', as well as its associated Telegram page, was spreading fake news about Ukraine. 

A Global Assault

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many world leaders who have expressed support for Putin or who have at least failed to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine, are in the business of silencing the free press. 

The most notorious journalist assassinations of recent years were the killings of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik in Baba Amr, Syria, in February 2012. The deaths were no accident. Putin is one of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad's closest allies.

In a civil case in the US, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court in Washington D.C. found that Colvin had been "deliberately targeted because of her profession, for the purpose of silencing those reporting on the growing opposition movement in the country”.

The Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is Putin’s key ally in Europe and has imprisoned at least 31 journalists, including those who covered pro-democracy protests following the 2020 election. They include Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova who were sentenced for two years after publishing a live broadcast of clashes between police and mourners of a killed protestor. 

Turkey has the highest numbers of journalists behind bars – 293 in 2021. The mass incarceration of journalists was precipitated by the 2016 failed coup, which gave the authoritarian leader President Tayyip Erdoğan an excuse to jail media workers, academics and intellectuals who he deemed was a threat to his regime. 

Erdoğan treads a fine line in his support for both Putin and Ukraine, but moved to block attempts by Finland and Sweden to join NATO – a position shared by Russia. 

Saudi Arabia’s repression of free speech is well-documented, as is its support for Putin’s Russia – the two countries partner on Opec+, a multinational effort of oil-rich countries to better coordinate oil production and stabilise global prices.

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, journalist, columnist for The Washington Post, former editor of Al-Watan and former general manager and editor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Channel, was assassinated by agents of the Saudi Government in 2018. The number of imprisoned journalists and bloggers in Saudi Arabia has tripled since 2017 and now stands at 28 journalists. 

Another increasingly authoritarian leader with pro-Putin leanings is India’s President Narendra Modi. The leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has overseen an assault on press freedom, despite him saying in 2014 that he was committed to freedom of speech. A total of 67 journalists were arrested in 2020, while hundreds more were attacked. Seven are currently in prison.

Women who are critical of the Government face fierce online trolling and threats. These include Delhi-based freelance journalist Neha Dixit who says she has been "stalked, openly threatened with rape and murder, viciously trolled". The freelance journalist Rohini Singh has reported receiving rape and death threats. Rana Ayyub, an investigative journalist who has been critical of Modi’s Government, was barred from leaving India earlier this year and has long been the subject of threats and intimidation.

Modi has been criticised for his support of Putin.

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Controversial Firm Linked to Rishi Sunak Among Those Allowed to Set ‘Global Anti-Corruption Agenda’ by World Economic Forum

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 6:45pm in

Dimitris Dimitriadis digs into the scandals linked to a number of firms participating in a flagship global anti-corruption initiative

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a shadow over this year’s G20 summit – with delegates staging walk-outs in protest at Russia’s participation – a group of companies with controversial track-records are being allowed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to “set the global anti-corruption agenda” and possibly influence global discussions from the sidelines.

The WEF’s Partnership Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) describes itself as the “leading business voice on anti-corruption and transparency” and brings together some 90 companies that “actively shape the B20 policy agenda”. The B20 is a select group of businesses that delivers proposals to the G20, the world’s 20 richest countries.  

However, several members of PACI – the same initiative that touts its role in promoting efforts to tackle global corruption – have faced scandals and significant public scrutiny, while others are controlled by states with poor human rights records. 

Saudi Basic Industries Corporation and Saudi Telecom Group are both majority owned by the Saudi state, which recently executed 81 people in one day. But they both get a seat at the table of PACI – the “principal CEO-led platform in the global anti-corruption arena” and one of the WEF’s “strongest cross-industry collaborative efforts” – a boon to their reputations and credentials. 

Also among PACI’s signatories is Infosys, an Indian multinational IT company which is backed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, and which was shamed by Western media into pulling out of Russia after the invasion. In response to the scrutiny, Infosys, which reportedly has strong historical ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, said that it was “urgently closing its Russia operations”. 

Commodity trading and mining giant Glencore, whose UK subsidiary was recently charged by the Serious Fraud Office with seven counts of bribery in connection with its oil operations, is also listed as a PACI member. While the company has condemned the invasion of Ukraine, it continues to hold substantive interests in Russia including a stake in aluminium and hydropower group EN+ from which it concluded “there is no realistic way to exit” at the moment. In its latest annual report, Glencore says “we actively participate in PACI”, adding that it has incorporated its guidelines into its business. 

Oil major TotalEnergies, another PACI member, was recently criticised by climate activists for being too slow to announce that it would phase-out of Russia, lagging behind its rivals, and for its refusal to stop purchasing Russian gas. The company has denied any accusations of complicity in the conflict, adding that it has condemned the invasion and that it will “ensure strict compliance with current and future European sanctions”, as it gradually suspends its activities in Russia. 

A recent sustainability report from TotalEnergies states that it is “exposed to corruption risks due to its presence in certain countries that have a high perceived level of corruption according to the index drawn up by Transparency International” and that it applies a principle of zero tolerance of corruption for all its employees and suppliers, while also encouraging a culture of speaking up among its workforce. 

TotalEnergies has also faced scrutiny from green groups and a probe over an alleged conflict of interest involving its chief executive, Patrick Pouyanné, and Ecole Polytechnique. This came after the prestigious university voted to allow TotalEnergies to build a research and innovation centre on its Saclay campus – a decision that complainants including the French arm of Greenpeace, anti-corruption group ANTICOR, and La Sphinx alleged was unduly influenced by Patrick Pouyanné, France's TotalEnergies CEO, who is also on the university board. 

Pouyanné has denied the allegations, saying that the launch of the research centre pre-dates his position as a member of the university board and that there had been no “crossover” between his two roles. 

Gatekeepers

Yara International, a state-backed Norwegian fertiliser producer, was caught up in one of the country’s highest-profile corruption scandals after it acknowledged in 2014 that it had paid bribes to officials in India and Libya and was fined $36 million by Norwegian authorities.

Prosecutors originally accused four of its former top executives, including its CEO, of paying the bribes, but only its former chief legal officer was convicted and received a seven-year sentence by an appeals court. The others were acquitted. In addition to being a PACI signatory, Yara International is a WEF strategic partner

A spokesperson for the company said that the case referred to is more than a decade old and does not reflect the firm and what it stands for today, adding that since the scandal Yara has worked on “strengthening knowledge, attitudes and systems (routines and regulations) to prevent the recurrence of such an event”. 

PACI says that it is driven by the “needs” and “interests” of member companies. 

Other signatories include Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), a state-run oil Brazilian oil major which in 2018 agreed to pay the US Department of Justice, Securities Exchange Commission and Brazilian authorities a total of $853.2 million to end a long-running corruption probe following which the company “successfully rejoined PACI”.

Since then, the company says it has “finally turned the page” and has a “robust control system and anti-corruption measures that go beyond those required by law”. 

In 2019, Standard Chartered, another PACI member, was ordered to pay US and UK authorities £842 million to settle allegations that it had breached sanctions against several countries including Iran. The bank, which is listed as a ‘gatekeeper’ – a special subgroup of PACI signatories that are “strategically positioned to prevent or interrupt illicit financial flows” – was also fined more than £21 million in 2020 separately for allegedly breaching sanctions against Russia. 

The WEF initiative states on its website that members gather at “bi/annual meetings to discuss business integrity while looking at progress in terms of implementation of collective action on anti-corruption.” It also boasts that PACI gets to “actively shape the B20 policy agenda”. 

According to its website, PACI last year “co-chaired the taskforce under the Italian presidency, representing the business voice on anti-corruption towards the G20”. It also “continues to act as a networking partner of the B20 for the 2021-2022 term under the Indonesian presidency” which refers to this year’s G20 summit. 

Meanwhile, the summit, which is still in progress, has seen finance ministers from various countries including the US walk out of a closed-door session when a Russian official began delivering his remarks – a move that was made in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Tolerating Intolerance: UK Military Failing its LGBTQ Personnel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Murray Jones reports on the Government’s failure to offer information on its acquiescence to the repressive rules of foreign militaries

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD) allows gay and unmarried personnel to be barred from serving in foreign militaries, but refuses to reveal which ones, an investigation by the charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) for the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Every year some 200 British troops serve abroad as ‘loan service personnel’ (LSP), often under the command of a foreign military. Around a-third of these are stationed in Oman, even wearing the Gulf nation’s uniform.

The Government claims that they are used for training other nations’ forces, but very little is known about their role. Host nations for British military personnel in the past 10 years include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brunei, Nigeria and Kenya. 

However, a recent series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests has found that British military personnel who are considering to apply for Loan Service are told: 

“Applicants are to note that due to cultural and religious differences, a number of host nations will not accept single personnel, married unaccompanied personnel, personnel with same-sex partners or personnel with children from previous marriages with surnames that are different to that of the head of the family.”

A further FOI request asking for the names of these host nations was refused, as were other requests regarding the role, conduct, disciplinary action and uniform protocol of Loan Service personnel. They were rejected on the grounds that it would “adversely affect relations with our allies”.

An MoD spokesperson said: “The MoD is committed to being an inclusive employer and is proud to encourage diversity in the Armed Forces. However, where MoD personnel are deployed on Loan Service to support the UK’s operational objectives, they must adhere to the entry requirements and laws of the host nation. 

“Personnel who volunteer for a Loan Service tour may be subject to the laws of the host nation when not on duty and are required to consider the implications on them and their families.”

A Shortlist of Repression

Despite the MoD’s refusal to declare the names of host nations that restrict the backgrounds of foreign military personnel, likely candidates emerge when the strict anti-LGBT laws in a number of the applicable countries are considered.

In Oman – the largest destination for Loan Service personnel, with 65 personnel stationed there in July 2021 – consensual sex between two men is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, although it is thought that prosecutions will only come from incidents that create a ‘public scandal’. 

In 2018, four men were arrested for posting a video of two of them cross-dressing. The two men in the video were sentenced to four years in prison, while the pair that had filmed and posted it online received a three-year sentence. 

Some consider Oman to be one of the more LGBT-friendly Gulf states, but when an Omani newspaper made this suggestion it was censored, forced to apologise and the editor was barred from leaving the country.

The UK has close ties to Oman. There is a permanent British naval base in Duqm, which is currently being tripled in size, as well as nearly 100 British military personnel typically loaned to the small Gulf state. 

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Oman’s police are trained and armed by the UK; exports of £17.9 million worth of tear and pyrotechnic ammunition were received by the autocratic state in the past five years. In May last year, Omani police used British-made tear gas to repress peaceful protests. 

The UK’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia also has long been questioned due to the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record, particularly its bombing of Yemen. When it comes to LGBT rights, this is no different. Same-sex sexual activity, as with all sex outside marriage, is outlawed with a maximum sentence of death. Last year, 35 British loan service personnel were based in Saudi Arabia. 

Kenya similarly has very close ties with the UK military.

The British Army Training Unit Kenya hosts thousands of UK troops every year for large exercises in extreme weather conditions. Last year, it received a £70 million refurbishment. 

According to the Human Dignity Trust, same-sex sexual activity in Kenya is prohibited under the Penal Code 1930, which criminalises acts of ‘gross indecency’ and ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Only men are criminalised under this law.

The small Gulf state of Kuwait also hosts a deployment of 35 Loan Service personnel.

Homosexual activity is punishable in the state by up to seven years in prison. A court ruling in February overturned a law against ‘imitation of the opposite sex’ that was being used to prosecute transgender people. The appeal was sparked after Maha al-Mutairi, a transgender woman, was arrested after she posted videos online accusing police officers of raping and beating her during a seven-month period of detention in a men’s prison in 2019, after she was convicted under the discriminatory law. 

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people can seek asylum in the UK if they face persecution in their home country due to their sexual orientation. Between 2015 and 2020, there were more than 10,000 such applications. 2,956 were initially granted, with a further 1,875 allowed after appeal. In other words, there was a 47% success rate for these applications. 

After Pakistan and Bangladesh, Nigeria was the most common nationality of lesbian, gay and bisexual people seeking asylum during this period, with 898 applicants from the west African nation. Some 189 lesbian, gay and bisexual people also sought asylum from Kenya. 

In Nigeria, the maximum penalty for same sex sexual activity is 14 years’ imprisonment. The country’s laws criminalising ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’ were inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Nigeria.

Nigeria retained these provisions after independence, and further criminalised LGBT people through additional legislation.

British loan service personnel have maintained a consistent presence in Nigeria for more than a decade. 

The UK has been criticised for its stance towards repressive regimes – with Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently travelling to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to boost energy exports amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Responding to a question about the execution of three people by the Saudi state as he arrived in the Kingdom, Johnson said: “In spite of that news you’ve referred to today, things are changing in Saudi Arabia. We want to see them continue to change and that’s why we see value in engaging with Saudi Arabia and why we see value in the partnership.”

Despite the Prime Minister's rhetoric, circumstances do not seem to be changing quickly in the Kingdom, with its rulers continuing the brutality that led to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

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UK Officials Rub Shoulders with Sanctioned Russian Arms Firms at World Defence Show

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 9:00pm in

Experts cast doubt on the logic and morality of the Government’s decision to attend a Saudi arms fair alongside firms held responsible for the devastation in Ukraine

In early March, as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine entered its second week, senior British officials attended a Saudi arms fair during which state-owned Russian firms flogged its weapons – the very weapons that were killing and maiming Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.

This week, Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin attempted to excuse the UK’s attendance at the World Defence Show, claiming that the Government officials’ visit to the arms fair was vital to dissuade buyers from purchasing weapons from Russian firms. 

In response to a parliamentary question by Labour MP Sam Terry, Quin said: “We believe that a senior UK presence at such events is important to impress upon potential purchasers that alternatives may exist to acquiring Russian weapons. In doing so we hope to deter support for the Russian arms industry, economy, and potentially armed forces.”

But arms trade experts have found Quin’s justification “hard to credit”. 

Kirsten Bayes, spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), told Byline Times: “The UK minister was trying to say a variant of, ‘if we don't illegally sell them weapons, the Russians will’, as if the morality or legality of the UK’s foreign policy should be set by how low the Russian regime is willing to stoop.”

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the parliamentary committee on arms export controls, was also unconvinced by Quin’s justification for attending the Saudi World Defence Show. He said: "I’d be interested to know how the minister actually deterred others from purchasing Russia goods at the show. Did he have UK officials physically placed at their stall?”

Russell-Moyle suggested that the Government should have instead used its close links to Saudi Arabia to persuade organisers to block Russian firms from exhibiting at the arms fair. 

Agents of War

Four of the six Russian exhibitors at the arms fair were companies, or subsidiaries of companies, that have been sanctioned by the UK Government following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. 

But the UK’s “toughest sanctions regime against Russia” – as promised by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – was not tough enough to deter Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials from attending the same three-day event as the blacklisted firms. 

One of the sanctioned Russian exhibitors was Rostec, the Russian-state owned defence and technology conglomerate. According to official Government documents, Rostec faced sanctions in the UK because the firm is a “major supplier of the Russian military”, and provides financial support that “could contribute to destabilising Ukraine”. 

Fellow exhibitor, Almaz-Antey, is also currently sanctioned by the UK Government because the Russian-state controlled firm “contributes to the destabilisation of Ukraine” by supplying weapons to the Russian army and separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

As the arms fair prepared to open, a 40-mile-long Russian military convoy advanced towards Kyiv. The tanks in that convoy are likely to have been produced by UralVagonZavod – another World Defence Show exhibitor sanctioned by the UK – making the firm a key player in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The state-owned company is one of the largest tank manufacturers in the world and has “contributed towards threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”, according to the UK Government

A Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government has introduced some of the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, including sanctioning key defence sector organisations and banning the export of critical technologies. We continue to push the international community to act robustly.

“Events such as the World Defence Show provide important platforms for engaging international partners and senior UK representation is vital to pursue a range of Government objectives.”

Arming Riyadh

The Saudi regime’s military abuses in Yemen has led arms experts to raise concerns over the Government officials’ presence at the World Defence Show, hosted in its capital, Riyadh.

The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, now in its seventh year, has resulted in “human rights abuses and laws-of-war violations”, according to Human Rights Watch

UN figures revealed that 377,000 people had been killed in the civil war by the end of 2021. More than 150,000 of these deaths were the direct result of the armed conflict, while a greater proportion have died due to hunger and disease as a result of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

Labelling the UK’s attendance “a disgrace”, CAAT’s Kirsten Bayes said that the UK’s participation in the arms fair was not intended to dissuade buyers from purchasing Russian weapons but to continue the Britain’s lucrative relationship with Saudi – the regime is the UK’s largest market for defence exports.

“It is clearly about keeping the arms sales flowing,” she said. “It is high time the UK stopped flooding the Middle East with weapons.”

£11 billion in export licences for military goods has been approved to Saudi Arabia since 2010 – comfortably the largest total of any country in the world – despite an attempt by the British courts to pause sales because of the regime’s crimes in Yemen. 

The Government is indeed keen to sustain this military relationship – according to a Government briefing document obtained by the Byline Intelligence Team under Freedom of Information – and even seeks to extend the influence of the Kingdom into other areas of the British economy.

Although Jeremy Quin claimed that the UK's presence at the World Defence Show was necessary to punish questionable regimes, in practice, MoD officials’ participation may in fact do the very opposite.

By rubbing shoulders with sanctioned Russian companies responsible for the devastation in Ukraine at an arms fair hosted by a state responsible for war crimes, Boris Johnson is effectively giving a green light to tyrants.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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With Hadi’s Ouster, Saudi Arabia’s True Ambitions in Yemen Come to the Fore

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 2:32am in

SANA’A, YEMEN – In perhaps the most significant political shake-up since 2015, Saudi Arabia and its Western allies have finally abandoned and ousted Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. On April 7, Hadi used his presidential authority to sign power over to an eight-man body known officially as the Presidential Command Council (PCC). The Saudi-led Coalition launched its brutal military campaign in Yemen in 2015 to restore Hadi to power following his ouster on the heels of Yemen’s Arab Spring popular protests.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto ruler of the Kingdom, has long been seen as the true power behind Hadi, who has been forced to rule Yemen in absentia from Riyadh for eight years. Bin Salman made a very public spectacle of Hadi’s ouster, as Hadi dismissed his vice president, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and then himself, handing over all his powers to the new presidential council. The choreography was similar to that presented by former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri when he was forced to resign in November 2017 in a statement broadcast by a Saudi-owned TV channel. “I irreversibly delegate to this presidential leadership council my full powers,” Hadi said as he read a written statement in a televised speech.

MintPress News asked Yemeni citizens and decision-makers to react to the news that “the top of Yemen’s internationally recognized government” was no longer in power and what it could mean for the future of the war-torn country.

Fadl Abass, a Yemeni researcher who lost his son in the war, said of the news:

Getting rid of Hadi proved to us that the president’s value as president was solely to provide cover as he destroyed his [own] country for Saudi-led Coalition interests. And when the Saudis had enough of Hadi, they simply replaced him, regardless of the legality.”

In fact, a majority of Yemenis throughout the country celebrated the removal of Hadi, who was widely mocked as a Saudi puppet and yes-man. In Sana’a and across the northern stretches of the country controlled by the Ansar Allah coalition, people celebrated the news as a victory for Yemen’s Ansar Allah-led resistance movement.

Ansar Allah’s backers not only see Hadi as a traitor who supported the invasion of his own country and caused its destruction, but also believe that his end was spurred by recent Ansar Allah-led attacks on Saudi oil facilities. Some believe that the timing of Hadi’s ouster could be a sign that the Kingdom is growing frustrated as it fails to show any real return on its massive investment in Yemeni proxy groups that have failed not only to secure ground in Yemen but even to prevent costly attacks on the Kingdom itself.

Even those who supported Hadi and voted for him in 2012, and still consider themselves allies to Saudi Arabia, applauded Hadi’s dismissal. They see the move as a step to rearrange and organize the ranks of anti-Ansar Allah forces and, as one put it, “the most serious attempt in years to resolve the internal and external sources of division that have crippled the government’s policies and performance.” In the early days of the war, Saudi Arabia was able to attribute its military and political failure to Hadi. They openly blamed him for the victories of the “Houthis” and the sharp divisions within the ranks of his hodgepodge of mercenary groups. Now, they hope that the new Presidential Council can change the balance of power on the ground in the Kingdom’s favor.

Still, others have condemned the Saudi government for forcing Hadi to give up his office, especially members of the UAE-backed Islah Party, the Yemen-based branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islah member Tawakkol Karman, a well-known Yemeni activist and Nobel Prize winner, said that the legitimacy of the Saudi war ended with Hadi’s dismissal. Islah was not only denied a seat on the Presidential Command Council but lost an important ally in Vice President al-Ahmer.

If there is one aspect of Hadi’s humiliating ouster that all of Yemen’s myriad political interests seem to agree on, it’s that Hadi, as a Yemeni citizen, should never have been subjected to the sort of public humiliation he faced at the hands of the Saudi monarchy.

In quintessential Saudi fashion, Hadi’s removal came with an influx of cash. Namely, $3 billion to support “Yemen’s war-ravaged” economy – $2 billion of which will come from Riyadh and $1 billion from the UAE. According to Saudi sources, the money is aimed at “unifying the army, modernizing the doctrine of combat, ending divisions within the forces, combating terrorism and ratifying agreements without the approval of the House of Representatives.” In plain terms, the cash represents an attempt to offset any loss of influence posed by Hadi’s removal by assuring that any opposition to Ansar Allah remains well-funded and viable, a last-ditch hedge against the unfettered growth of the Kingdom’s enemies in Yemen.

 

The latest puppet

Chosen to head the Presidential Command Council, Rashad al-Alimi, Hadi’s de facto replacement, is seen by most as yet another satellite of the Saudi regime. A former interior minister, al-Alimi has cultivated a close working relationship with both the Saudi and U.S. governments and has flirted with normalizing ties with Israel, a move vociferously opposed by the vast majority of Yemeni citizens. During 2014 UN-brokered peace talks, al-Alimi was the lone voice in Yemen’s delegation to agree to a proposal legalizing the U.S. military presence in Yemen.

The other seven members of the Council represent varied interests in Yemen’s anti-Ansar Allah alliance, including Saudi-allied militia leaders and provincial heads like Marib Governor Sultan al-Aradah and Giants Brigades Commander Abdelrahman Abou Zaraa.

Rashad al-Alimi

Rashad al-Alimi talks during a press conference in Sana’a, Yemen, Jan. 7, 2010. Nasser Nasser | AP

Ansar Allah has made it clear that they reject the legitimacy of the Council, saying that its formation in Riyadh is illegal and a violation of the Yemeni constitution. Mohammed Abdulsalam, Ansar Allah’s chief negotiator, told MintPress:

These measures taken by the coalition of aggression have nothing to do with Yemen, or the country’s reconciliation, and have nothing to do with peace. Rather, it pushes towards escalation through regrouping scattered conflicting militias into one framework that serves the interests of the outside and the countries of aggression.”

When pressed on the legality of Council’s formation, Abdulsalam added:

Its procedures have no legitimacy and are issued by an illegitimate party and do not have any authority, neither constitutional nor legal, not even popular. They were issued outside Yemen in form and content. The Yemeni people are not concerned with what the outside decides in their internal affairs.”

 

Shaking up Team Saudi

The major political shake-up comes amid a fragile and oft-violated two-month truce and is ostensibly geared towards rapprochement with Ansar Allah as the group gains ground, and on the heels of a campaign to inflict economic pain on the Kingdom through the strategic targeting of its oil reserves.

According to Hadi, “the council will be tasked with negotiating with the Houthi [Ansar Allah] rebels for a permanent ceasefire.” Many in Yemen see the statement as little more than an about-face, viewing the fact that the Presidential Council was formed in Saudi Arabia under the supervision of the United States as indicative of an ulterior motive and likely an effort to reorganize the myriad parties that form the opposition to Ansar Allah. Those parties have been in disarray as the war drags into its seventh year, with each pursuing its own often divergent goals.

Ansar Allah points to the designation of al-Alimi as head of the Council as evidence of its true aims. A former interior minister, al-Alimi is known as a security and military expert and has an intimate knowledge of the security and military sites that fell into Ansar Allah’s hands after Hadi’s 2015 ouster. Ansar Allah has accused al-Alimi of providing the Saudis with coordinates for these sites since the onset of the war.

Moreover, observers note that because the Council is composed of rival warlords holding often-opposing political objectives, it likely has little staying power. In fact, Aidarous al-Zubaydi, one of the eight members of the Council, is a staunch advocate of the secession of southern Yemen and labels himself as the president of an independent southern state.

Zubaydi

A fighter mans an anti-aircraft gun emblazoned with a portrait al-Zubaydi in Aden in 2019. Photo | AFP

Indications on the ground suggest that, far from brokering peace, the Council’s first act is likely to be an escalation of violence. On Wednesday, the Council announced it was mobilizing fighters in a number of military sites that are under the control of the Saudi-led Coalition in southern Yemen. The efforts coincide with the launching of U.S. Naval patrols in the nearby Red Sea.

For its part, Ansar Allah considers the mobilization evidence that the Council was never interested in peace. “The American move in the Red Sea, in light of a humanitarian and military truce in Yemen, contradicts Washington’s claim that it supports the truce. It seeks to perpetuate the state of aggression and siege on Yemen,” Mohammed AbdulSalam, the official spokesman for Ansar Allah and the head Yemeni negotiator, wrote on Twitter.

 

Wasn’t propping up Hadi the war’s justification?

The coup against Hadi – long described by Riyadh and Western leaders as the only “legitimate” president of Yemen – and the creation of a ruling council by a foreign country not only violate democratic ideals and Yemen’s national sovereignty and dignity, they are also direct violations of Yemen’s constitution.

Yemeni legal experts told MintPress that, constitutionally, Hadi was supposed to submit his resignation to the House of Representatives. After its acceptance, his resignation would be considered valid, and therefore a new president would be chosen by Parliament in the case that elections could not be held because of the war.

If championing democracy were the true aim, the United States and its allies should have responded to the millions of demonstrators that took to the streets to demand the dismissal and trial of Hadi before the country devolved into war and thousands of innocent lives were lost, just as they did in Ukraine in 2014 and in many other countries that saw popular uprisings during the Arab Spring.

Many Yemenis who spoke to MintPress expressed disdain towards Western leaders and governments for turning a blind eye to Saudi policies and called out what they see as U.S hypocrisy for backing the undemocratic formation of the unelected Presidential Command Council, which they point out does not represent large segments of Yemen’s population.

Others voiced disdain towards Western nations for prolonging the war by arming the Saudi-led Coalition and failing to diplomatically hold it to account for its numerous human rights violations. The millions of tons of munitions that have been dropped on Yemen under the pretext of restoring Hadi’s legitimacy have taken the country back a hundred years and caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.

The quiet end of Hadi’s reign after a decade of serving U.S and Saudi interests not only nullifies the legal justification of the war under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, but also reinforces the long-held belief among many in the Middle East that Western powers were never interested in democracy. Instead, they fuel war, use heads of state as casus belli, and then abandon them when they are no longer of use. Political analysts who spoke to MintPress, including Yemeni journalist Ahmed Al-Qantas, warned that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should pay heed to Hadi’s fate.

 

Perpetuating a troubled history

Hadi was brought to power on February 12, 2012, in a referendum in which he was the only candidate. The move, which came as part of the aptly-named “Gulf Initiative,” was not intended to bring Hadi to the fore as a legitimate candidate per se, but rather as a useful stand-in to quell the popular Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 that called for an end to foreign tutelage. During the 2011 protests, the Saudi kingdom not only found itself at a deadlock when searching for solutions and alternatives to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule but also found itself facing the rise of various grassroots resistance movements – particularly Ansar Allah.

Prior to his ascension, Hadi was well-known by Saudi Arabia as a yes-man and politically weak in his own right, tasked only with following protocol and far less charismatic than Saleh, with a rich history of working against his country’s interests. Moreover, close to the foreign ambassadors and intelligence agencies, he served as the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces in Southern Yemen during the outbreak of civil war in 1986. In the wake of defeat in the internecine fighting, South Yemen’s then-President Ali Nasser Mohammed escaped to Sana’a with thousands of loyalists, including Hadi.

Hadi Yemen

Hadi sites beneath a portrait of President Saleh during a 2011 meeting in Sanaa, Yemen. Photo | AP

In the civil war in May 1994, most of the region’s effective political and military leaders in the south were eliminated and power was secured by the Sana’a government. Saleh relied on numerous holdovers defeated in the 1986 civil war, including Hadi, to secure power over restive groups. In October 1994, Hadi was named vice president, seen as posing little threat to the absolute power of the president and a useful means to assure that the restive southern elites felt represented. He remained serving silently in the shadows for 18 years as Saleh’s vice president before being shoved into the limelight by the Saudi regime.

The Presidential Command Council is ostensibly playing the same role, unable or unwilling to learn from Hadi’s political faux pas. In their short time in power, they have not only empowered Saudi Arabia in its efforts to secure political control over Yemen, but are similarly opportunistic, without remorse or the desire to place their country’s interests first – falling headfirst, it seems, into the cursed history of Yemeni politics.

Feature photo | MintPress News | Associated Press

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post With Hadi’s Ouster, Saudi Arabia’s True Ambitions in Yemen Come to the Fore appeared first on MintPress News.

How Johnson’s Government is Using Oligarchs in its Attempt to Rebuild the ‘Red Wall’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 9:11pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin explore how the Government is inviting questionable regimes into Britain’s former industrial heartlands

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If the second half of the 20th Century and the first 10 years of the 21st represented the age of affluence in Britain and America, the period since the financial crisis of 2008 has been marked by stagnation and inequality.

In the UK, real wages have flatlined while state spending has been retrenched. Unlike the post-war period, when economic growth heralded an era of mass prosperity – a period of enduring abundance – the rising tide of GDP no longer lifts all boats.

With prosperity now in shorter supply, people pay closer attention to the concentration and imbalances of wealth – both in terms of social class and region. This was exposed through the Brexit referendum, with people in ‘left-behind’ areas of the country protesting against their relative deprivation – in terms of education, infrastructure and industry – compared to the UK’s thriving metropolitan hubs.

The architects of Brexit were scorned for predicting that the ‘dividends’ of the project would not be seen for decades, but there is a reason these gloomy forecasts didn’t repel voters in the 'Red Wall': people thought that short-term pain was necessary, in order to re-orientate an economy that didn’t serve their interests.

Since the era of deindustrialisation, the status quo has delivered the slow breakdown of pride and prosperity in these places. In their view, at least Brexit promised some light at the end of the long tunnel.

And, if Brexit has shown that raw economic growth is only valuable if it’s accompanied by certain terms and conditions, so has the war in Ukraine. The UK is now desperately attempting to decouple itself from the Russian economy, after the years it spent awarding ‘golden visas’ to Russian oligarchs and allowing Vladimir Putin’s men to exploit our courts.

As Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee said in its 2019 report on Russian interference in British politics:

“Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth. This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”

In other words, even after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, the UK was both directly and indirectly fuelling Putin’s war effort. Short-term economic self-interest trumped human rights and geopolitical concerns – the consequences of which are now being felt by Ukrainians suffering and fleeing from genocide, and in higher energy prices on the home front.

However, it appears as though the UK Government is set to repeat its mistakes.

While the assets of foreign oligarchs – including and especially those from Russia – have been used to swell our all-consuming capital, these sources of morally dubious finance are now being channelled north.

Indeed, in a briefing paper obtained by the Byline Intelligence Team, relating to an October 2020 meeting between the Saudi Minister of Commerce, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and the UK’s Minister for Investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone, officials emphasised the commercial opportunities for Saudi firms looking to invest in the UK.

This was portrayed, by the UK officials, as a means of fulfilling the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

One of the top objectives of the meeting was to “promote the levelling-up agenda and the opportunities in the regions, including for the top Saudi companies their Government wants to see go global as part of their National Companies Promotion Programme”, the briefing paper states.

“There are significant opportunities, including as part of the levelling-up agenda, for star names like Saudi Aramco, SABIC, Saudi Telecoms, ACWA Power and others to come and invest in and grow their global shares/R&D potential in the UK,” it goes on to say – noting that a positive outcome would be to secure a “regional investment visit” from the Saudi administration “in support of the levelling up agenda”.

In mid-March, it was revealed that the Saudi firm Alfanar Group would be investing £1 billion into Teesside to produce sustainable aviation fuel. This followed the announcement in October that Saudi chemical company SABIC would be injecting £850 million into a Teeside chemical plant.

This policy was taken up by the Government’s long-awaited levelling up white paper – setting out the scope of its regional investment project – released in February, which emphasised the merits of foreign direct investment (FDI) into left-behind areas.

“The UK Government’s goal is to maximise the opportunities of its independent trade agenda for UK business,” it said. “Internationally mobile companies are among the most productive, innovative and high investing firms in the UK: UK businesses with inward FDI links were two-thirds more productive than businesses without an FDI link in 2018. However, over half of the UK’s inward investment stock is in London and the south-east.”

The logic behind this was epitomised by former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, who told BBC Newsnight: “The key to unlocking levelling up is to bring foreign direct investment into the north of England, so taxpayers in the garden of England or anywhere else in this country do not have to pay for all of it.”

Department for International Trade (DIT) records show that the Government has been holding a series of meetings in recent months with sovereign wealth funds and foreign investment companies, about directing their resources to the UK.

DIT records for the final quarter of 2021, for example, show that ministers met with the Saudi National Bank, the Kuwait Investment Authority and the Qatar Investment Authority to discuss ‘investment opportunities’ in the UK. All of these institutions are majority owned by their respective governments.

In March 2021, the UK’s Office for Investment and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company – owned by the Gulf state – also signed the UAE-UK Sovereign Investment Partnership (SIP), with the UAE pledging to invest £10 billion in technology, infrastructure, healthcare, life sciences, and renewable energy in the UK.

Mubadala invested £1.1 billion between March and September 2021, while holding a series of meetings with UK ministers, seven in total, over a six month period from February 2021. 

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Economic Kompromat

FDI is clearly important to the economic growth of a country. It is a dangerous myth – one perpetuated by Donald Trump in the US and some Brexiters in the UK – that a nation is able to be prosperous and entirely self-sufficient.

However, Putin’s war in Ukraine has shown the need to more closely align our economic and geopolitical interests – not allowing our commercial centres to be bought and compromised by the actors of hostile states.

The UK’s recent economic reliance on autocracies has been justified, politically, under the notion that liberal capitalism will calm the worst excesses of these regimes. However, in practice, integration has not led to moderation.

While Foreign Secretary in 2017, Boris Johnson said “we want to encourage Saudi Arabia down the path of reform and modernisation”. Yet this did not stop the Kingdom from murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul less than a year later – at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Just a few days before Johnson visited Riyadh in March this year, the Saudi regime executed more than 80 people, confirming the concerns of Amnesty International late last year, that accused the Saudi Government of launching a “relentless crackdown” on dissidents.

Saudi authorities “have brazenly intensified the persecution of human rights defenders and [have] stepped up executions over the past six months,” Amnesty said.

Qatar and Kuwait don’t have a clean slate, either, in terms of human rights abuses. More than 24,000 workers have suffered from human rights abuses on the projects devoted to the football world cup set to be held in Qatar later this year, while the Guardian reported last year that 6,500 migrant workers had died during the course of construction.

Human Rights Watch said in its 2022 report on Kuwait that authorities continue to restrict free speech and prosecute dissidents – including criminalising speech deemed insulting to the emir, its ruling monarch.

These are archetypal oligarchies, with state power and wealth amassed among a narrow band of influential families. The ruling Al Sabah family of Kuwait is estimated to be worth $360 billion, the House of Saud $1.4 trillion, and the House of Thani in Qatar some $335 billion.

Inviting investment from bodies attached to these families is therefore fundamentally different to encouraging the construction of a new factory by a Japanese car company or a German pharmaceutical giant. Unlike the German and Japanese firms, the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have political interests as well as economic ones.

The question is therefore whether we want our infrastructure and our economy to be reliant on countries that do not share our core values – states that are perpetuating abuses in the present day, regardless of the crimes that they may commit in the future.

This is an issue agitating the Conservative Party – but largely focused on the case of China.

There was a Conservative rebellion after the Government decided to allow a role for the Chinese tech company Huawei in the construction of the UK’s 5G network – a backlash that forced a Government U-turn. This is an ongoing concern, continuing this week with the takeover of Newport Wafer Fab – a semi-conductor supplier – by Nexperia, a company with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

“We are, seemingly, handing over critical security infrastructure to overseas companies with well-documented links to the Chinese state,” Conservative chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has said in response – with his colleague Iain Duncan Smith calling the sale “ridiculous”.

However, perhaps due to financial self-interest – the Conservative Party has raised substantial amounts of cash from foreign oligarchs in recent years – it hasn’t lifted its gaze beyond the corrupting influence of investment linked to the Chinese state.

As a result, the Government is actively incubating new versions of Londongrad – creating silos of foreign states in the former industrial midlands and north. Following the lead of the capital, these areas are becoming safe havens for the wealth of oligarchs and an insurance policy for foreign governments seeking geopolitical leverage against Britain and the West as a whole.

Boris Johnson recently spoke of the “freedom” sought by Brexit voters – in comparison to the convictions of those repelling Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. It seems unlikely that these voters had foreign economic dependence in mind, when they plumped for Johnson’s project.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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On Its Seventh Anniversary, Yemen Seeks to End a War the World Has Forgotten

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 2:50am in

SANA’A, YEMEN -– Seven years have passed since the brutal war against Yemen, a ship-shaped country located on the southern Arabian Peninsula, began in March 2015. The war has been acknowledged as one the bloodiest in modern history and called the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster” by human rights groups. Yet, rather than breaking Yemeni resolve, the Saudi-led war backed by the collective military might of the world’s most powerful nations has only strengthened the poorest country in the Middle East; and Ansar Allah, its underdog combatant, is now stronger and more united than it has ever been.

On the seventh anniversary of the war, MintPress News spoke with survivors, relatives of victims, and refugees of the conflict, who recount their stories and explore the current state of the conflict as evidence suggests that the Saudi-led Coalition’s grip on Yemen may be loosening.

”I remember when a huge explosion rocked my home, then I went up on the roof. There were fires like a volcano.” Mourad Yahya told MintPress, referring to Saudi airstrikes that killed an entire family in Bani Hawat shortly after Saudi Arabia announced operation “Decisive Storm.” Yahya, a father in his sixties who was displaced from his home, now lives in a makeshift refugee camp in the Dhahban Center for the Displaced in northern Sana’a. Despite the short supply and high prices of goods, which have been aggravated by the war in Ukraine, Yahya says he has become more determined to persevere. “Today, I see the same fires not here but in Saudi [Arabia]” he said, referring to the images of huge fires that were plastered across international media last week after Ansar Allah struck a Saudi state-run oil facility in Jeddah.

Dhahban Center for Displaced

Displaced children in the Dhahban Center for Displaced in Sana’a, March 27, 2022. Taha Shurgbi | MintPress News

 

Hitting Saudi oil, power and water

The attack, which came amid international concerns about the future of energy in light of the Russian-Ukrainian war, was intended to send a message to Riyadh and its allies alike, particularly to the Biden administration, that Yemenis are not only still steadfast and stronger than before, but are resolved to break the stifling blockade on their country that has been imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition since 2015.

It is part of a renewed effort by Ansar Allah’s air force to impose a costly penalty on Gulf nations and their backers for their war on Yemen, which has sparked massive fuel shortages, water shortages, and famine on a near-Biblical scale in the world’s poorest nation. Dubbed Operation Breaking the Siege III, the large-scale offensive against high-value facilities inside of Saudi Arabia will likely bear the hallmark of Ansar Allah: ballistic and winged missiles and drone attacks against sensitive targets across the Saudi Kingdom.

Attacks have already struck targets in the Saudi capital Riyadh, and the southern cities of Dhahran al-Janub, Abha, and Khamis Mushait were pounded by dozens of missiles and drones.  Energy facilities in the strategic regions of Jizan and Najran and in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah were also struck, along with the oil refineries in Ras Tanura and Rabigh, and a power station in Samtah, according to Ansar Allah officials.

Saudi Arabia Houthis

Smoke rises from an oil depot after an attack by Ansar Allah ahead of a Formula One race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, March 25, 2022. Hassan Ammar | AP

The offensive represents the fiercest operation by Ansar Allah against Saudi Arabia to date. It dwarfs the September 2019 attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, which led to a suspension of about 50% of the Arab kingdom’s crude and gas production.

It took over 50 firefighting teams more than 24 hours to extinguish the massive blaze from last week’s attack on the Saudi oil facilities in Jeddah. Even then, massive plumes of smoke covered the coastal city, causing an unprecedented state of panic. Saudi state-owned media broadcasted every aspect of the attack live in an attempt to either gain international sympathy or alarm the international community. In the wake of the attacks, crude oil prices surged and broke $120 per barrel.

In a first, Ansar Allah Yemen also targeted a Saudi water desalination plant in Jizan and a power station in Samdah in an effort to force Riyadh and its allies, particularly Washington, to lift their deadly blockade on more than 25 million Yemenis – a siege that has made life in the war-torn country deadly for millions of civilians unable to secure electricity, clean water or basic services.

While attacks on Saudi state-run oil refineries or gas plants affect the financial returns of the Kingdom’s royal family, Ansar Allah hopes that targeting critical infrastructure like the desalination plant — the main source of water for more than 25 million Saudis – will bring the war to every home in the Kingdom and pose a real threat to the legitimacy of the Saudi regime, forcing it to end the war and lift the siege.

 

A dubious “truce”

MintPress spoke to Yemenis who lost loved ones and were forced to flee their homes, now living in makeshift refugee camps in Sana’a. They see the burning fields of neighboring Saudi Arabia as their last hope to deter the oil-rich Kingdom from igniting its own fires on their war-torn homeland.

There may be some merit to their assertion. In the wake of recent attacks, a two-month truce has been announced by the United Nations. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, announced the truce as a move aimed at providing an environment conducive to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The deal stipulates a halting of offensive military operations, including cross-border attacks, and allowing fuel ships to enter Yemen’s Hodeidah port as well as the resumption of commercial flights in and out of the Sana’a International Airport “to predetermined destinations in the region.”

The truce, which went into effect on Saturday at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) and was ostensibly welcomed by both Saudi Arabia and Yemen, has raised the hope of many around the world that an end to this war is possible, but few Yemenis are sold.

”We don’t buy it,” Ibrahim Abdulkareem told MintPress. “In 2015, an American bomb was dropped on my home in Sana’a by a Saudi warplane, killing my brother’s daughter.” A photo of Ibrahim hugging the body of his deceased daughter went viral and became a symbol of the brutal war. Ibrahim still suffers and his disabled wife is unable to travel abroad for treatment because of the Saudi blockade.

Yemen

Yemeni police inspect a site of Saudi airstrikes homes in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ibrahim’s fears are not unfounded. At least three people were killed when Saudi border forces launched a barrage of rockets and artillery rounds at a residential area in the Sheda region in the northwestern province of Saada just hours after Saudi Arabia agreed to the recent truce. Moreover, Saudi forces have breached the truce in Hodeida 81 times in the 24 hours preceding the writing of this article.

According to Ansar Allah’s Liaison and Coordination Officers Operations Room, other recent violations of the truce include multiple Saudi spy flights, 25 episodes of artillery shelling, and 66 shooting incidents.

The UN-brokered deal came in the wake of a three-day truce announced by Mahdi al-Mashat, head of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council on March 26. The voluntary three-day pause in attacks against Saudi Arabia was intended to allow the Kingdom to quietly exit Yemen amid the world’s preoccupation with the Ukrainian war, according to sources close to the president. The truce also encompassed all the internal battlefields, including the prized oil-rich Marib front, as well as the release of all Saudi prisoners of war in exchange for Yemeni prisoners. Yet, as with previous ceasefires, Saudi warplanes simply continued their years-long blitzkrieg in Yemen, killing dozens of civilians in Sana’a, Hodeidah, and other cities.

A high-ranking Ansar Allah military official, who spoke to MintPress on the condition of anonymity, warned that Yemen would not hesitate to “launch a period of great pain if the UN’s truce is ignored.” He went on to say that preparations have already been made to destroy Saudi oil refineries in Ras Tanura and Abqaiq, as well as water and electric stations.

 

Going all-in to end a war the world forgot

Efforts to lift the siege at any cost have been gaining widespread political and social support in Yemen. This was the sentiment expressed at recent demonstrations and rallies commemorating the seventh anniversary of the war on March 26, now marked as the National Day of Steadfastness.

In Sana’a, where the largest demonstrations took place, Ali Gueish donned traditional Yemeni attire and carried a striped red-white-black national flag as he shouted chants of support for Ansar Allah’s drone and missile forces. Despite being in his eighties, Gueish has not missed a National Day of Steadfastness protest since he lost two of his sons in a Saudi attack.

 
A resident of Rawdah, Gueish joined the huge gathering in Bab al-Yemen district along with hundreds of thousands of residents from the suburbs of Sana’a and its neighboring provinces. In Hodeidah, thousands took to the streets to denounce the war and blockade. There were similar mass demonstrations in 30 provinces and cities, including Saada, Hajjah, al-Jawf, al-Beyda, Taize, Amran, Ibb, Dhamar, al-Mahwit, Raymah, al Dhale’, and the Marib.

Protesters carried Yemeni flags, Kalashnikov rifles, posters of Ansar Allah leaders, and banners lauding recent attacks against Saudi Arabia. The protests, organized by Ansar Allah, were not only to commemorate the day the war on Yemen first began in 2015, but also to pledge full liberation from the blockade. “Mohammed Bin Salman must end the blockade, not bring in a deceptive truce, if he wishes to escape from his difficult situation,” Gueish told MintPress. “If the world only cares about Ukraine and ignores our suffering, [at least] it will care about the oil when it is bombed.”

Many Yemenis feel that the war on their country has been forgotten despite its significantly higher death toll and the fact that it is marked by much more blatant violations of human rights. In fact, the violence, starvation and disease that have been meted out to Yemen unhindered for the past seven years are being made acutely worse by the war in Ukraine, which has caused the price of food and fuel in Yemen to skyrocket.

About 80% of Yemen’s 30 million people need humanitarian assistance. Moreover, 360 000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished. By the end of 2022, the number of people experiencing catastrophic hunger is expected to rise fivefold from 31,000 to 161,000, bringing the total number of people in need to 7.3 million.

It is undeniable that the crisis in Ukraine is appalling. Yet the terror and misery in Yemen cannot be paralleled. Since 2015, when the Saudi-led Coalition began its bombing campaign in Yemen, thousands of homes have burned to the ground, often with whole families inside; and schools, factories, hospitals, mosques, and markets are rendered piles of soot and ash following massive infernos sparked by near-constant Saudi airstrikes. Yet, unlike the attacks on Ukraine, rarely do attacks on Yemen’s civilians garner media coverage or condemnation, and never have they triggered the punitive measures, sanctions, and rightful condemnation of the aggressor. Desperate Yemenis see the attacks against Saudi oil installations as a chance to leverage the attention on Ukraine to end their own suffering.

Feature photo | A doll is seen at a site of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting two homesin Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 26, 2022. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post On Its Seventh Anniversary, Yemen Seeks to End a War the World Has Forgotten appeared first on MintPress News.

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