Syria is sinking deeper into civil war as the UN Security Council remains deadlocked. The death toll keeps rising, massacres and torture continue, all under the helpless eyes of the international organization that’s in charge of peacekeeping and human rights.
The inaction of the Security Council is largely due to the Russian veto, or threat of it, which is supported by China.
So why is Moscow giving Bashar Al Assad a free pass and refusing to cooperate with the West?
The reasons are endless: refusing international interference, protecting the sacrosanct principle of sovereignty, shielding its most valuable -- and really, its last -- ally in the Arab world, fear of losing strategic ground to the West, disdain for international opinion and human rights.
Russia appears to be following the Soviet Union’s legacy by refusing to play a leading role in protecting the rights of the people and presenting itself instead as a permanent obstacle in the Security Council.
Though Moscow is a difficult partner, it doesn’t always refuse cooperation -- the US is the country that has used its veto the most. It must also be said that twice Moscow’s efforts to cooperate with the Security Council didn’t pay off, and Russia felt betrayed both times.
The first one happened as the Soviet Union was living its last days. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev immediately supported the Security Council’s decision to adopt sanctions, including the threat of a military intervention against Saddam Hussein -- a Soviet ally -- if he refused to back out of Kuwait. For Gorbachev this was a unique opportunity to recreate international order along the line of the United Nations charter.
For the first time, a state attacking another was punished by international law. The UN was no longer blocked by the confrontation of two Superpowers. Though less stunning, this event was as important a marker of the end of the Cold War as the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Would-be new world order
In his book “Gorbachev, The Lost Bet,” Andrei Grachev explains that Gorbachev did not consider it a unilateral concession, but the embryo of a new world order that was no longer based on mutual fear but on interdependence. A reformed USSR would have become a real ally of the West.
The rest, as they say, is history. Following the Gulf war, George H.W. Bush hailed a “New World Order,” one where the US could exercise unilateralism. Then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand invited Gorbachev to the July 1991 G7 meeting, but the Russian leader didn’t get the economic aide he was seeking.
For the US, the Cold War could only end with the complete annihilation of one of its two players. Then came the failed putsch in August 1991, Boris Yeltsin, the end of the USSR, the Russian decline of the 1990’s and then the recovery and the hardening of Russia’s position under Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s nationalist turn is largely due to the demise and humiliation Russia faced in the 1990’s.
The second betrayal came two decades later. Resolution 1973, adopted in March 2011, implemented for the first time the concept of "responsibility to protect," as developed by Kofi Annan in 2005 following the Iraq war.
The goal was to find a way out of the deadlock between inaction and interference. The immediate objective was to stop Muammar Gaddafi from carrying out a massacre in Benghazi. After weeks of reluctance, Russia and China accepted to abstain during the vote on the resolution that gave the coming military intervention a legal framework.
But many believe, especially the Russians, that the other countries involved distorted the intervention. Instead of trying to prevent a massacre in Benghazi by setting up a no-fly zone, they pushed for a regime change to get rid of Gaddafi. The Russians and the Chinese, as well as other non-Western nations, feel they were betrayed. And it is above all this betrayal that explains why they refuse to back a new Security Council resolution.
This isn’t an attempt to exonerate Russia of its huge responsibility in the current Syrian tragedy. But if the West wants Russia to act as an ally in the future, it must think of all the times Moscow was ready to do so, and it was the Western countries that changed the cards on the table.
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Photo - FreedomHouse
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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