Analysis: Schrödinger’s Brexit

With only weeks to go to Brexit’s target date, there is deadlock in the British parliament, recriminations on both sides, and, writes Russell Merryman, a growing realisation that what was promised might be impossible to deliver.

Anti-Brexit sentiment is growing as the deadline for Article 50 approaches [MERRYMAN]

We’ve all heard of the thought experiment involving a cat and a piece of radioactive material locked together in a box, the decaying material could, at any moment, give off an atomic particle which would kill the cat.

With the box closed, nobody knows if the cat is alive or dead, and so it simultaneously exists in two states at once.

As it is with quantum mechanics, so it is with Brexit. With only a few weeks to go before the self-imposed target of 11:00pm GMT on March 29th, 2019, British politicians are fighting it out in parliament and in the media trying to figure out a way to ensure that the country does not accidentally walk off the edge of an economic cliff at that date and time, ending up with No Deal.

If that happens, all bets are off.

The UK is in uncharted territory, Terra Incognita.

All EU laws, agreements and licences, including free-trade agreements with more than 60 other countries outside the EU, would cease to apply, literally, overnight, leaving the UK in a situation where planes might not be able to fly, because they currently do so under EU Safety licences; lorries queueing for miles at British and European ports for tariff and border checks, and thousands of businesses which currently rely on just-in-time supply chains grinding to a halt, including the automotive and aerospace industries.

The UK Government is stockpiling food and medicines to mitigate such effects on the public, and they have warned businesses to do the same, although without providing specific information, an approach which has angered business leaders and company owners across the country.

Some multi-nationals have already voted with their feet, moving their European headquarters onto mainland Europe to maintain their presence in the world’s largest trading bloc, while others say they may do the same with their factories, threatening thousands of jobs in the UK.

Deadlines and Deadlocks

Meanwhile as the clock ticks, the politicians are deadlocked. The Withdrawal Agreement that was negotiated by Theresa May’s team was thrown out by MPs who inflicted one of the biggest ever defeats on a sitting government. With the only plan on the table now in tatters, the Government is desperately trying to find a way forward, knowing that the European Union will not renegotiate the current agreement, and that there is no appetite in parliament for the economic disaster of No Deal.

The problem with the current deal is that for those MPs who support Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement did not go far enough; it would leave the UK having follow the EU rules on customs and the single market during the transition period, without having any say in how those rules were shaped.

This was BRINO, said the Leavers: “Brexit in name only”, which left Britain as a “rule taker” or a “vassal state”. Meanwhile for MPs who support staying in the EU, the agreement went too far, so Mrs May faced an unholy alliance of leavers and remainers who inflicted a 230-vote defeat on her precious deal.

The other major problem with deal is the issue of the Irish border. When they agreed to implement the so-called “will of the people”, the Government promised there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – potentially the only land border between the UK and the EU after Brexit.

This promise immediately made the Government negotiators hostage to fortune, as there is currently no way of carrying out the necessary checks on goods and people at that border without having a physical presence, as required by all international trade, including the WTO. Kites have been flown about “technological solutions” for a “frictionless border” but there is still no sign of these.

The open border is also enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, an internationally recognised treaty which brought peace to the island of Ireland in 1997, and which is sacrosanct to politicians on both sides of the frontier, all of whom have criticised some of the Brexit ultras who seem content to throw the hard-earned peace under the bus to achieve their dreams.

“Once and for all?”

Opinion polls show growing support for Remain (58-42% in some cases) and campaigns like #RemainerNow where Leave voters admit they were wrong and say they would now vote to stay [MERRYMAN]

The problems with Brexit began well before the referendum result was announced. David Cameron had promised a “once in a lifetime vote” to “settle the issue once and for all”, a decision taken purely to end the civil war within his own party over Europe and see off the threat from the far right UK Independence Party which had been growing over the previous decade. After his surprising win in the 2015 general election, there were demands for Cameron to make good on his promise, so a Bill for an EU Referendum was drawn up.

The Act that was passed almost completely guaranteed chaos whatever the outcome. The vote was only advisory, which meant there was no threshold set which would have made it constitutionally binding, such as a 75 per cent turnout; while millions of voters, including EU nationals living in the UK and UK ex-pats living abroad, were not given a vote.

This also meant the referendum was not subject to the Venice convention which would have made it void if there was evidence of campaign overspending, which, it transpired, there was.

The campaign itself was divisive and in future there will be whole books and Ph.D theses written on the way the Leavers built a campaign on emotion-tugging exaggerations, outright lies and propaganda while simultaneously dismissing the facts and evidence of the Remain side as “Project Fear”.

The result was a wafer thin 51.9 per cent Leave to 48.1 per cent Remain on a 72 per cent turnout. Two countries in the union, Scotland and Northern Ireland, along with Gibraltar, voted to stay, England and Wales did not.

A sensible government would have reacted with caution to this split decision, but the recklessness of the Tories continued. After Cameron ran away from the result, the new leadership doubled down, claiming “Brexit means Brexit”, mis-represented the advisory vote as a mandate and promised to deliver the so-called “will of the people” despite plenty of constitutional experts and mathematicians pointing out that while 52% was a majority, on a 72% turnout, only 37% of the electorate actually supported Brexit.

Although she had campaigned to Remain, Theresa May, like most MPs, had been spooked by the result; many Remain-supporting MPs suddenly found themselves representing constituencies which voted to leave, and the mob scented blood. The Leave campaigners pushed home the advantage, even though they had no majority in Parliament and no single party with a mandate to deliver on their promises; they knew they had to get a largely Remain-supporting Parliament to start delivering the referendum result, before reality set in and people realised that what they were promised was impossible.

They wanted Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, the agreed two-year process by which a member could leave the bloc, to be triggered immediately. Legal action was taken to ensure that the decision to trigger Article 50 was taken by Parliament, not the government alone; in the end it was.

Then, having set the clock ticking Theresa May dithered some more, called a General Election to try and strengthen her mandate, which failed and left her without the majority that the Tories had won in 2015.

Impossible incompetence or incompetent impossibility

The whole negotiation process was incompetent; the UK set out red lines which most sensible people knew were impossible to deliver on, including the “frictionless movement” across the Irish border, then tried to argue about the rules, which the EU stuck to rigidly and consistently, as any neutral observer knew they absolutely would do.

The Withdrawal Agreement, when it came, included a transition period where the UK would remain aligned to the EU, and an insurance policy, or backstop, which ensured that there would be a hard border in Ireland if the other solutions that had been promised did not deliver.

The terms of the transition were the tipping point for the Brexit ultras, who condemned the deal and said they would vote against it.

More political games ensued, the ultras tried to oust Theresa May in a Tory leadership vote in December 2018, which they lost, then the government delayed the vote on the deal until January 2019 in a bid to try and convince the ultras to support it. They didn’t.

Now we have a deal that has little support in Parliament, but is the only agreement in town according to the EU; a government that cannot command a majority for the deal, but can just scrape enough support to survive a vote of no confidence, and an Opposition party which is on the fence over Brexit, still scared of their Leave-voting constituencies, but who know that Brexit is a time bomb that they don’t want to be left holding when the music stops.

So they call for a General Election, which they know they can’t get because their motion of no confidence in the government failed.

Now the talk is of cross-party agreements to try and get around the parliamentary impasse, which the right-wing press and the Brexit ultras ironically complain is a “plot is steal Brexit from the people”. The government has to get Parliamentary approval for a deal, while MPs are trying to ensure the country does not crash out of the EU without one. Almost all reputable economists agree that would be a disaster for the country, which could cut the UK economy by 8%, putting 2.8 million people out of work. This represents an unprecedented blow compared to the 2.5% drop suffered in the 2008 financial crash.

None of the Brexit options are painless for the UK economy [UK Government]

Parliamentarians also know that time is running out on the other aspects of the Brexit preparations. According to some political reporters, there are still nine Parliamentary Bills to pass and around 600 other pieces of existing legislation which have to be amended to ensure a smooth transition; it would be difficult to do that in such a small amount of time even if everyone was in agreement, but given the current divisions among MPs the prospects of that happening between now and March 29th are nigh on impossible.

The EU Referendum Bill alone took six months and still managed to be a complete mess. One of the outstanding bills, the Trade Bill, was considered close to completion, but was recently shelved by the House of Lords because it lacked detail. And all of that before the politicians have realised that they still have to tackle the impossibility of the Irish border.

A second referendum

So, now the imperative is to avoid No Deal. There are options, and it has to be remembered that this whole sorry state of affairs has been entirely self-inflicted, but this also means that it is in the gift of the UK Parliament to end the misery at any time before March 29th by revoking Article 50. While it may be a hard sell to the Brexit ultras, the right-wing press and the people who voted for Leave, it would prevent more serious and immediate damage to the country’s economy and does not preclude the UK trying again in the future.

There is growing pressure for a second referendum, to put it back to the people.

Those supporting Remain are in favour of a fresh chance to put their case, and they claim that an electorate ratifying their own decision, now that they know more about the issues and their complexities, is the only democratic thing to do. Brexiters meanwhile cry foul, saying it would be a “betrayal” and that the original result must be honoured, despite its problems.

They also know that for the floating voters, their false promises and outright propaganda probably won’t work a second time, while the opinion polls show growing support for Remain (58-42% in some cases) and campaigns like #RemainerNow where Leave voters admit they were wrong and say they would now vote to stay. The country, like parliament seems deadlocked.

Outside observers have been more forthright, especially in Ireland, the EU country which has the closest relationship with the UK and therefore has the most to lose if there is no deal. Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times and Tony Connelly of the state broadcaster RTÉ have long pointed out the paradoxes at the heart of what the Leave campaign promised, and the fact that they did so and then thrust the implementation of a poorly-run referendum on an unwilling Parliament.

O’Toole has been especially scathing, writing in The Guardian that the possibility of Brexit disappeared almost as soon as it touched reality, when the result was announced, and that the Leave campaign was an impossible dream, compounded by an incompetent government and negotiators who thought they could work around the implacable and united EU team, who knew their position had been clearly laid out by all 27 members, including Ireland.

As a result, Ireland was able to punch way above its own weight, knowing the EU had its back. They wanted to avoid a hard border, to protect the Good Friday Agreement, and to preserve the rights of everyone on the island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, to continuing Irish citizenship. Supported by the rest of the EU they got exactly that in the Withdrawal Agreement, much to the dismay of the Brexit ultras, who, rather than reflecting on their own lack of clear objectives and skills, added the Irish Government to their list of people to blame.

And this underpins the whole failure of Brexit. When the clock was started nobody really knew what Brexit meant beyond the overhyped, delusional rhetoric of the Leave campaign. “Brexit means Brexit” came the monotone reply from May and her cabinet. Experts, MPs, journalists and the right-wing press have spent much of the last two years arguing about it, with all kinds of options put on the table, including European Free Trade Association membership, Norway-Plus, Norway-Plus-Plus, Canada-Plus, Canada-Plus-Plus-Plus, Single Market and Customs Union Associate membership and World Trade Organisation-only – almost fifty shades of Brexit.

Meanwhile the public is sick of it, and most just want it to end. More than 700 thousand people marched through London in October 2018 calling for an end to Brexit, hundreds more protested outside Parliament on the evening of the Withdrawal Bill vote; social media is awash with competing memes and articles, while fake news about made-up versions of existing treaties and opinion continue to swirl around, adding to the febrile environment. The potential failure of Brexit has also led to an upsurge in populism, with the French “gilet jeaunes” campaign being hi-jacked by Brexit ultra campaigners (most of them aligned with the far right) who have harassed and abused politicians and journalists who disagree with them.

Meanwhile the media is entrenched with newspapers fighting their original corners, and broadcasters like the BBC, who have been bullied by successive governments for years, supinely trying to present both sides, even though the learning process of the last two years has left us knowing that there is only false balance, which means that every expert voice from business or parliament stating facts and evidence is countered with the fact-free, original mantras of the Leave campaign from a Brexit ultra.

The Leave supporters always knew this would be case; they never needed facts and evidence, they only needed feelings, emotions, which made for a good campaign, but it never stood up to scrutiny in the cold light of day.

The Leave campaign may have commanded an absence of facts, the reality however, is that policies, plans, negotiations and treaties about real things like trade, logistics and people absolutely rely on them; you cannot build a stable economic future on a foundation of feelings and false promises.

Now, with the deadline approaching, no sign of a way forward in Parliament, and the blame game in full swing, the next few weeks will prove crucial and will determine the state of the British economy and the country’s position and relevance on the world stage for generations to come.

The question now though, is whether the Government (or indeed, the Opposition) is brave enough to open the box and find out whether Schrödinger’s Brexit is alive, or dead. The UK cannot go on with them believing it is both for much longer.

China: US ‘shooting itself in the foot’

Chinese President Xi Jinping maintains a good relationship with Trump, but Chinese media has called the US a trade bully

 

US President Donald Trump has warned of imposing tariffs on as much as $500 billion in Chinese exports if Beijing retaliates against his administration’s $34 billion levies which went into effect July 6.

While this would be a massive escalation of what is clearly becoming a trade war, it didn’t appear to faze China. On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said that Chinese tariffs on $34 billion worth of US products have indeed gone into effect.

These include soybeans (half of all US soybean production is exported to China), crude oil and auto parts, among nearly 600 other items.

It said the US had started the biggest trade war in economic history.

During his talk with journalists on his way to a Montana rally, Trump explained that while tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods goes into effect today, another $16 billion will be applied in two weeks.

“As you know we have 200 billion in abeyance and then after the 200 billion we have 300 billion in abeyance. OK? So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300,” he said, before adding that this only applied to China.

China, meanwhile, accuses the US of violating World Trade Organization guidelines, and while global trade and markets will suffer, it is also the American consumer and industry which will pay the price.

Chinese media have called the US a trade bully and said it is shooting itself in the foot.

Lu said that “the series of unilateral acts and trade and investment protectionism measures adopted by the US government have caused widespread concern around the world for some time”.

He predicted that the number of retaliatory measures even from US allies will grow in time.

Right now, the US is engaged in open trade conflict with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Japan.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Trump jeopardizes global diplomacy

Much has been said about US President Donald Trump leaving the Iran deal: that this is in blatant disregard of basic rules of the international law on treaties and that this is the behavior of the bully, profoundly disrespectful towards the other partners in the treaty – France, Great-Britain, Russia, China and Germany.

And last, but not least, that this comes down to a declaration of war against Iran.

In many ways this is indeed a historical setback.

The consequences of Trump’s decision will be felt for decades to come.

When the most powerful country on earth breaks its own treaty commitments without any decent argument, it will jeopardize future attempts at settling conflicts by diplomacy.

To start with North Korea, the message there is loud and clear: “Give up your nuclear weapons and we promise to let you live in peace”. NOT.

The European Union has openly criticized his decision and even vows to protect EU-businesses against US-sanctions.

President Trump’s rudeness and total ignorance of world affairs are indeed baffling. The last president as ignorant as Trump was Ronald Reagan, but that man was happy enough to read the cue cards that his advisors prepared for him.

Not Trump, he does not follow advice, he ‘listens’ to sycophants.

Planning US dominance?

Yet, as all his predecessors since WWII, he has no doubts about the grand plan for US world dominance, the heart of all US policy since 1945.

Whether presidents personally take seriously their own lofty words of US exceptionalism, bringing freedom and democracy to the world, is not relevant, what counts are the actual policies and their concrete consequences.

This president is no different in that respect, what makes him so exceptional is that he is so openly crass and rude about it. In a perverse way, this president is surprisingly honest about his intentions and promises, in the same way that a neigbourhood bully promises to wreck your store if you disobey – or worse.

Disobedience is the real key word here. The real reason why Iran is targeted is its disobedience to the master. Iran is a ‘destabilizing’ factor in the Middle East, ‘stability’ being ‘anything or anyone who interferes with our control over the Middle East’.

Trumps behavior has already had some unexpected consequences. A few weeks ago Trumps war mongering by tweets has lead South and North Korea to unprecedented peace talks.

Trump can indeed take credit for this inter-Korean détente, not because he promoted it, quite the contrary, but because both Koreas and most of world opinion outside the US started panicking about mushroom clouds.

Maybe with Iran some similar unforeseen initiative from the EU will emerge in the coming weeks, who knows.

If not, a new war looms on the horizon in the Middle East, with a possible new refugee crisis for Europe (not for the US).

War cannot be ruled out

War against Iran is not as likely as against Libya and Syria, but not impossible with this man in the White House and John Bolton and other fanatics around him.

Iran is not a military powerhouse and 80 million Iranians may profoundly dislike their cleric regime, but they do most certainly not see the US as an honest peace broker.

A war against Iran might go the same way as in Syria: not as planned. Iranians do remember that it was the US that installed the torture regime of the shah.

They will definitely resist; a war might even give the present rulers new popularity.

Much will depend on what happens next in the US itself. Not all American business sectors are Trump followers – many fear the backlash of his crude protectionism.

Like with the blockade on Cuba, many sectors are in favour of keeping the Iran deal intact, not out of moral principles, but purely for commercial reasons.

How far will the EU really go, will it stick to empty stale words of condemnation as so many times before or will there be real decisions this time, real measures?

Because, at the end of the day, it is not the paper treaties are written on that matter, but the power and determination behind them. European companies are already withdrawing from Iran to preempt US sanctions.

So for the moment this does not forebode well. And I have not even mentioned Russia and China in all this.

No, this is definitely not good, not for the Iranian people, not for the Middle East, not for the EU, not even for the average American, not for the world.

The future remains unpredictable. Everything is still possible. With previous US presidents, that was a comforting thought. Not with this one.

Learn from Iraq, Libya Lavrov warns US

Russian FM Serge Lavrov does not want Syria to go the way of Iraq and Libya [PPIO]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has once again pointed to the US debacle in Iraq and Libya as likely fallout if Washington repeats its former foreign policies in Syria.

“God forbid anything adventurous will be done in Syria following the Libyan and Iraqi experience,” Lavrov told a press conference on Friday.

Russia has previously pointed to these two Middle Eastern and North African states as the aftermath of US interventionism in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as his Turkish counterpart, has blamed the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East on the wars there supported by France, the UK and the US.

The three Western allies are currently consulting on what military measures they should take against the Syrian government in Damascus for its alleged involvement in a chemical weapons attack in the besieged city of Douma.

In February, Lavrov said that US actions in Syria could lead to the country’s disintegration.

Four years ago, Lavrov accused the US and its invasion of Iraq of plunging the entire Middle East into chaos.

“We warned long ago that the adventurism the Americans and the British started there would not end well,” he said at the time.

Now, the Russian foreign minister is accusing the Americans of using the Kurds to partition Syria, which would be tantamount to playing with fire.

He said that he feared that Washington was not looking at the long-term effects of their meddling in Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In 2017, the US maintained its influence on the Al-Tanf region which borders Jordan and Iraq currently houses a large refugee camp, but Russian officials have charged that some hostile factions, such as the terrorist Al Nusra Front, slip in and out of the area.

Lavrov has called on the US to “shut down” this area.

He also warned Israel and Iran not to use Syria for their proxy conflict saying that a de-escalation zone in the southwest was being violated.

He called on both Israel and Iran to back down from their increased war footing in the area.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Will China host Kim-Trump Summit?

File photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un [Xinhua]

US President Donald Trump thanked China for its pressure on North Korea as both Pyongyang and Washington confirmed that preparations were being made for a face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un.

Trump has for several months reiterated that he would talk with adversaries and, in North Korea’s case, persuade them to denuclearize.

While Trump’s accepting Kim Jong-un’s invitation surprised many political pundits in Washington, it has been welcomed with a sigh relief around the world, chiefly in Asia.

South Korea’s Moon Jae-in said the anticipated meeting is “miraculous”.

Perhaps. But if Trump does meet with Kim Jong-un it will be the first time a sitting US President has met a North Korean head of state.

Former President Jimmy Carter has met with senior North Korean officials at least three times since 1994; former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright met with Kim Jong-un’s father during the second Clinton administration in 2000.

But in the past 18 years, the standoff between Pyongyang and Washington has grown much more complicated as the North Koreans appear to have significantly enhanced the ballistic missile technology and tested a number of nuclear detonations.

According to news reports, North Korea is willing to discuss denuclearization. But US Vice-President Mike Pence said that the US has made and will make no concessions to North Korea.

Some American legislators say the White House should up the ante on sanctions, putting to the North Korean invitation to talk as a sign Trump’s foreign policy is working.

Nonetheless, the Chinese Foreign Ministry welcomed Trump’s announcement and appreciated his efforts to deescalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

It said bold political decisions and restraint were need from both sides to ensure the success of the talks, but that the face-to-face meeting was only a first step.

“China will continue to make unremitting efforts toward this outcome,” the ministry said.

On Friday, Trump called Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the anticipated talks with Kim Jong-un.

Xi told Trump that he appreciated Trump’s resolve to find a peaceful resolution to tensions with North Korea.

“I believe that as long as all parties adhere to the general direction of political and diplomatic settlement, we will surely push forward the Korean Peninsula issue in the direction that the international community has been looking forward to,” Xi said.

China has in recent months pressured both North Korea and the US to tone down the war rhetoric, which reached its apex at the end of 2017.

Venue: China?

The quick pace of diplomatic back-and-forth came as a thaw between the two Koreas during the Winter Olympics led to direct talks between the North and the South.

During the Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, the North not only sent an athletic delegation which participated as a united Korean team, but also halted all missile tests.

In return, South Korea and the US postponed their routine military drills – which has always drawn the North’s ire – till April.

The two Korean leaders will meet some time in April along the demilitarized zone.

However, a Kim-Trump meeting is more complicated. The US is likely to want to hold the meeting either in South Korea or Swizterland.

The North Koreans are likely to insist on Pyongyang as the host city for the meeting, particularly since Kim Jong-un rarely leaves his country.

The Americans are likely to nix that idea.

And this is where China’s central mediation comes through. Both the US and North Korea would find a Chinese venue as opportune, with Beijing reaping all the diplomatic accolades.

By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

UNSC agrees to Syria Resolution

Although passed unanimously, the UNSC Resolution was not without its usual diatribes between Russia and the US.

The resolution, tabled by Sweden and Kuwait, passed 15-0 after three days of wrangling over wording [Xinhua]

After three days of delays over wording of the document, the United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed Resolution 2401 which called for all parties in the Syrian conflict to an immediate ceasefire which would last for at 30 consecutive days.

The Resolution called on all parties to “facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their equipment, transport and supplies … to all people in need consistent with international humanitarian law”.

It also said that medical facilities and schools should be demilitarized.

Resolution 2401 also called on the Syrian army to lift its sieges of Eastern Ghouta (suburb of Damascus), Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya and demanded of all warring parties to allow the rapid humanitarian aid deliveries and medical assistance without hindrance.

But the meeting of the 15 Security Council members was not without its Cold War-era jabs.

US Ambassador to the UN accused Russia of delay tactics and obstruction for a text that could have passed days earlier and prevented further loss of life.

“Every minute this council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew,” she said right after the unanimous vote was taken.

The UN estimates that over 400 people have been killed and thousands wounded in just one week of fighting. The US and its allies blame the government of Bashar Al Assad for the fighting and what they call indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.

She also said she was very skeptical that the Syrian government would comply with the resolution.

“And after all of this time, hardly anything has changed in the resolution except a few words and some commas.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta was “dire” and insisted that hospitals and schools be demilitarized, indicating that Islamist rebels were using them to hide and store weapons.

But he said that the US was operating like an occupying power with territorial ambitions in Syria, and blamed the US and foreign supported Islamist militias, such Al Nusra, the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda of the carnage and humanitarian crisis in Syria.

He said a ceasefire would not work in the long run unless concrete agreements are secured between the warring parties.

He also reminded the Security Council that the Resolution did not preclude operations against Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra, some of whom are holed up in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria.

Two other factions also dominate Eastern Ghouta – Jaysh Al Islam and Ahrar Al Sham.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

UN to vote on urgent help for Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Russia has vetoed several draft resolutions on Syria which it says are unfair and biased, often following “fabricated” evidence [Xinhua]

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a new resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, following reports of heavy fighting and mass casualties near the capital Damascus.

Russia had called for the Security Council to meet to discuss the resolution, while Kuwait and Sweden called for a vote.

A draft of the resolution says the UN is outraged at the “unacceptable levels of violence” seen in the past few days in the Ghouta district of Damascus and Idlib province.

The UN says at least 340 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta since February 4.

The expected vote on the resolution comes a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate cessation of hostilities in these areas.

“I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population in Eastern Ghouta, 400,000 people that live in hell on earth,” Guterres told the Security Council.

He called on humanitarian aid to be delivered to the needy and for all parties to the conflict to allow the evacuation of an estimated 700 people that need urgent medical treatment.

“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes,” said Guterres.

Meanwhile, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that a 30-day ceasefire is unrealistic and difficult to enforce.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday said that efforts to broker a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta have failed because the Islamist anti-government factions there are digging in and refusing to surrender their weapons.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blamed them for the continuing fighting.

The Ministry’s spokesman Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko also said the humanitarian situation there was getting critical.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikii Haley has said that “it’s time to take immediate action” to save civilians who are under attack from the Syrian army.

“Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” she said.

Russia blocks UN draft on Syria, cites ‘Western bias’

Russia has vetoes 11 draft resolutions on Syria which it says are unfair and biased, often following “fabricated” evidence [Xinhua]

Russia has for the second time this week vetoed a draft resolution in the Security Council aimed at renewing the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which investigates chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The vetoed drafted presented by Japan to the Security Council on Saturday was designed to give JIM a temporary extension to continue its work.

It was a compromise draft that was meant to bridge differences between Russia and the US after Moscow vetoed a resolution on JIM on Friday.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily A. Nebenzia said that Moscow could not support extending JIM’s mandate because it had been biased and largely implementing an anti-Syria agenda imposed by Western countries.

“There can be no other way after the JIM’s [the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism] leadership disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation into the sarin use incident in Khan Shaykhun and signed off on baseless accusations against Syria,” he said.

In a September (and again in October) report, JIM had accused Syria and Russia of using chemical weapons against civilian centers in the city of Khan Shaykun last April.

Moscow had then accused the group of fabricating events; both Damascus and Moscow denied being involved in a chemical weapons attack and instead blamed Islamist extremist rebel groups for storing such armaments in civilian areas.

But JIM has generally blamed both sides for the use of illicit weapons during the seven-year Syrian civil war.

Bolivia also voted against the Japanese draft resolution, while China abstained.

The Russian veto sparked criticism from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley: “In a world in which the council’s time and attention could be productively devoted to 100 different things, Russia is wasting our time,” Ambassador Nikki R. Haley of the United States said after Russia’s latest veto was cast.”

“Russia can obstruct this council but it can’t obstruct the truth.”

Yet Russian officials maintain that JIM has been plagued with “systemic deficiences” and that it’s methods of operations and gathering evidence are flawed.

It warned that the mechanism needed significant and comprehensive overhaul in order to be a legitimate UN apparatus for fact-finding.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies