Geopolitics

Why Geneva Deal On Ukraine Smells Like Munich 1938

Did you notice that the Geneva deal on Ukraine made no mention of Crimea? Actually it may have been an unspoken license for Russia to continue to pursue control of the rest of the country.

In Sloviansk, Ukraine, where three supporters of the Donetsk people's republic were shot dead on Sunday
In Sloviansk, Ukraine, where three supporters of the Donetsk people's republic were shot dead on Sunday
Waclaw Radziwinowicz

WARSAW — The conditional tense does not describe well the state of affairs — it is already quite obvious that Russia is baldly ignoring what it signed last week in Geneva.

Listening to the state-owned TV channel, Rossija, is enough to realize that. Russian media broadcasts are meant to scare the ethnic Russian separatists from Sloviansk, with reports that Kiev “is sending” a brigade of the Ukrainian National Guard, recruited among Nazis, Fascists and Banderites — followers of the controversial wartime nationalist, Stephan Bandera. They all are said to have bombs and plan terrorist attempts against the separatists.

Thus Moscow, despite having committed itself to disband all illegal armed groups across Ukraine, sends quite the opposite signals to the pro-Russian separatist. It says: “Do not give up, maintain your positions, the bloodthirsty Banderites are coming. There will be a slaughter.”

Obviously, Russian media points at “the junta from Kiev” as the party breaking the deal by not withdrawing its army from the Donetsk region and not liberating the public administration buildings.

In other words, Moscow calls an army of a sovereign country an illegal armed group, and questions the legitimacy of the Ukrainian state itself, thereby adding fuel to the fire.

Regarding Geneva, Russians do not feel bound to anything, because they have already achieved what they wanted most. Kiev's negotiators did not use the summit to claim Crimea back for Ukraine — at least not officially. Choosing silence, they have accepted the annexation of the peninsula in the hope of protecting eastern Ukraine. The spirit of the Munich Agreement, which untied Hitler’s hands, is clearly in the air.

The signing of the Munich Agreement on Sept. 29, 1938 — Source: German Federal Archives

If only John Kerry and Catherine Ashton had put more pressure on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and made him accept May 25 as the date of presidential elections in Ukraine ... But it was simply not discussed. The voting will then take place in the autumn, at the the earliest. As a consequence, Moscow will have plenty of time to hammer into the pro-Russian separatists' heads that the government from Kiev is an illegal junta, and the only legitimate Ukrainian president is Viktor Yanukovych.

Time is on Moscow's side

All that despite the fact that the latter, hidden in a shelter near the city of Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, has already turned himself from a tragic character into a clown; even Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev refers to him as "the rag."

Kerry and Ashton listened so attentively to what Lavrov had to tell them in Geneva that they apparently did not hear what Putin said about eastern and southern Ukraine during his annual call-in TV show last Thursday. He reminded viewers that Russia had a “historical right” to those regions, because during the “times of Czars,” they had been called “Little Russia” and had belonged to the crown. Moreover, the population is indeed still half Russian.

Does it mean that he plans on sending in his army at any moment? Probably not. There is no need, and no rush.

The government in Kiev, on the other hand, should do exactly that. It has to manage separatists from the east and persuade the protesters from Maidan to leave public buildings in the capital. Regardless of the ubiquitous chaos, presidential and parliamentary elections have to be called as soon as possible, and the country must be saved from bankruptcy.

Moscow will be happy to wait. It has all the instruments necessary to subvert its neighbor from the inside: media which embitter a part of the Ukrainian population against Kiev, and separatists with no plans to lay down their arms. Russia can also close its borders to Ukrainian products, paralyzing its neighbor’s industry. Furthermore, it can expel Ukrainian guest workers, and millions of Ukrainian families will subsequently plunge into poverty. Finally, it holds the gas tap.

Putin will not back down on Ukraine. The whole country — not only Crimea and "Little Russia" — is for him and his countrymen an important part of the historic Rus Empire. If swallowing Ukraine in one piece is not possible, Russia will dismember its neighbor and take what it can.

Putin has both the time and the political, military and economic instruments to reach his goals. He even has the tractability of others, called ironically in Moscow “our Western partners.”

In Geneva, Russia not only got license on Crimea, but maybe also on Donetsk, Kharkiv, Odessa and, finally, Transnistria. This autonomous region of the Republic of Moldavia asked to be integrated into the Russian Federation on the eve of the conference. Now we are beginning to see what Geneva has wrought.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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