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Western hypocrisy in Ukraine
Publication Date : 18-03-2014
Double standards are on display as Western leaders attack Russia for its stance on and "actions" in Ukraine, while they themselves endorse or commit worse aggression on other countries.
The world's attention has been focused on Ukraine. Russian official media said Sunday's Crimea referendum has polled an overwhelming majority of approval for "reunification" with Russia, while Western powers and the new Kiev government denounce the referendum as illegal. US President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Crimea's vote "would never be recognised" by the US. The US and EU were expected to announce sanctions against Russia on Monday.
Events shifted to Crimea after Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych was ousted and a new government formed, with accusations that the Russian military had taken over the region. Yanukovych, resurfacing in a Russian town, said he left because his life was in danger. He also said the new regime is illegitimate and he is still the president.
Western leaders have attacked Putin for his alleged invasion of Crimea. The Russian argument is that it has not invaded Crimea, it has a legitimate interest in the region because of historical links and the ethnic Russians (a significant part of the Crimean population) who live there sought protection against the new and illegitimate Kiev regime.
Countries where separatist forces are active may choose a prudent stance to prevent misuse of "self-determination" from leading to domino effect.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean the Western powers are the messengers of international justice. The rhetoric of some Western leaders is aggressive. They accuse Russia of violating sovereignty and international law, among other things. The United States plans to ban visas for selected Russian officials, followed by sanctions on Russian banks, freezing assets of its companies and possibly trade measures. Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry have accused Putin of using false claims (that Crimea is in danger) for "invading" the region.
Listening to the American leaders lecturing Russia in their self-righteous tone, one is struck by the double standard and hypocrisy involved. They don't seem to realise how they have violated the same principles and behaviour they demand of Russia.
It was after all the US that invaded Iraq in 2003, massively bombing its territory and killing hundreds of thousands, on the grounds that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had amassed weapons of mass destruction. No weapons of mass destruction were found, and many experts consider the war against Iraq a violation of international law, a view also expressed in an interview by the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
The US has also waged war in Afghanistan that has caused thousands of deaths. In Libya, the US and its allies carried out massive bombing, which aided opposition forces and led to the killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Even now there are sanctions on and the threat of military action against Iran because the West suspects Teheran wants to develop nuclear weapons. In contrast, the US turns a blind eye to Israel's possible ownership of nuclear weapons. Also, when Israel launched blanket bombing on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip that caused thousands of deaths, the US did not condemn it and even blocked the UN Security Council from taking action.
The US has come under attack also from human rights groups for its use of drones against suspected terrorists which has also killed many civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Just days ago the UN Human Rights Council published a Special Rapporteur's report detailing the deaths of civilians caused by US drone attacks, and raised many questions of possible violations of international human rights law.
All these actions were carried out in the 21st century, in addition to many other actions in the 20th century. It's thus remarkable that Obama and Kerry could, with a straight face, accuse Russia of not acting in a manner befitting the 21st century and being on the wrong side of history.
There appears to be one law for still the most powerful country, and another for others. The former can invade and kill, while lecturing self-righteously to others.
Whatever one thinks of Russia's action in Crimea, it has not resulted in any death, at least not yet. Compare it with the hundreds of thousands or millions, who have died and suffered from past and present wars of the US and other Western countries.
Though much of the mainstream media also takes the establishment view, some Western journalists have pointed out their leaders' hypocrisy.
In an article, "America's staggering hypocrisy in Ukraine," well-known American journalist Robert Parry remarked: "Since World War II, the United States has invaded or otherwise intervened in so many countries that it would be challenging to compile a complete list ... So, what is one to make of Secretary of State John Kerry's pronouncement that Russia's military intervention in the Crimea section of Ukraine-at the behest of the country's deposed president-is a violation of international law that the United States would never countenance?
"Are Kerry and pretty much everyone else in Official Washington so lacking in self-awareness that they don't realise that they are condemning actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin that are far less egregious than what they themselves have done?"
The answer to Parry's question is clear. The Western powers really need to behave themselves before slashing Putin.
The author is executive director of South Centre, a think tank of developing countries, based in Geneva.