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Vijay Prashad on the War in Ukraine & the West’s “Open, Rank Hypocrisy” in Condemning War Crimes

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As the Russian invasion in Ukraine enters its 50th day, we look at the war’s impact around the world with Vijay Prashad, author and director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. “When food prices go up, the political crisis is almost immediate,” says Prashad, who calls the U.S. pressure on Global South countries to cut off essential imports from Russia after a 30-year globalization campaign a double standard. He says if the U.S. encourages greater global division in order to isolate Russia and China, they will implicitly plunge developing countries “into even greater catastrophe.” He also says the West — led by the Biden administration — is pursuing a “casual weaponization of human rights and the word genocide.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The head of the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, warned Thursday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will lead to more hunger and social unrest across the globe. The IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva spoke in Washington.

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: In the past seven weeks, the world has experienced a second major crisis: a war on top of a pandemic. This risks eroding much of the progress we have made over the past two years climbing back from COVID. Add to this the growing threat of fragmentation into geopolitical and economic blocs. In a world where war in Europe creates hunger in Africa, where a pandemic can circle the globe in days and reverberate for years, where emissions anywhere means rising sea levels everywhere, the threat to our collective prosperity from a breakdown in global cooperation cannot be overstated. … The root cause of what we face today is the war. And it is the war that must end.

AMY GOODMAN: IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva speaking Thursday.

To talk more about how the war in Ukraine is reverberating around the world, we’re joined by Vijay Prashad, director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and chief correspondent of Globetrotters. He’s the author of many books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South and Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations. Vijay Prashad is joining us from Santiago, Chile.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Vijay, if you can talk about how Russia’s war on Ukraine is reverberating across the globe?

VIJAY PRASHAD: First, Amy, Happy New Year! It’s Happy New Year in my birth area of Bengal today. It’s an interesting period to commemorate the end of a year, which one part would bring us, as the head of the IMF said, out of the pandemic, and instead, of course, it’s brought us into war and sanctions.

I want to remind people that a decade ago, when there was a drought in Ukraine and in Russia, where about 25% of the world’s wheat is exported into, when there was that drought in 2010, there was a major uprising, not only in the Arab world, which we call the Arab Spring, but across the African continent, now long forgotten, I think. It’s important to remember that when there is a crisis in food and when food prices go up, the political crisis is almost immediate. There’s already been an economic crisis in Sri Lanka that’s metastasized into a political crisis. We’ve seen the government fall in Pakistan. Around the world we see food price inflation creates serious problems for governments. Before this war and the sanctions against Russia, 2.7 billion people struggled with hunger. It’s likely that we’ll go above 3 billion before the month is over. We’re also going to see, I think, catastrophic problems with disruptions in fuel distribution.

But I want to say one thing about this, Amy, that, you know, it’s not a — it looks — when you watch the news, perhaps, in the West, it looks like a world of certainty. Everybody seems clear about what’s happening. In the rest of the world, I think people are really trying to breathe in the contradictions. They understand that this is a ghastly war, but there have seen ghastly wars before this. I think there’s some perplexity about why this war is treated as so different than other wars. I think, in the contradictions, countries are not willing to break ties with Russia or to cut the import of grain and fuel from places like Russia. They have their own populations to take care of, and they have to consider their needs and their desires.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Vijay, I wanted to ask you — it’s not only the governments of many of these countries that are not buying into the call for sanctions on Russia, but some of the public opinion polling has shown that in many countries — in Indonesia, in Brazil, in South Africa, in many countries in the Global South — the public has a different opinion about this war, as well.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, there’s no question that this is a terrible war. I mean, like all wars, this is brutal, this is nasty, and so on. But let’s take an example. There was an appalling bombing of the maternity hospital in Mariupol. You know, immediately thereafter, the U.S. government talked about war crimes. The International Criminal Court was suborned to say that this is going to have a file open, you know, for war crimes personally against Mr. Putin and so on. But have we forgotten the Amiriyah shelter, 1,500 civilians killed in 1991 when the United States bombed a shelter, knowing full well there were civilians there? No question of any interrogation of war crimes. The language of war crimes was not used in Libya after NATO quite ruthlessly bombed that country. Peter Olson of NATO, the lead attorney, said openly, “Look, NATO can’t commit war crimes. War crimes are committed by other people, not by NATO.” I mean, just this recent month, there were Israeli airstrikes which struck the Rimal medical center, two doctors killed. Do we know their names? Ayman Abu al-Auf and Moeen al-Aloul. I mean, they were killed in the middle of all this, but there was no question of calling the Israeli strikes war crimes.

So, this kind of open, rank hypocrisy, I think, is what is striking lots of people around the world. I have to say, Juan, that, you know, I made a speech in Glasgow where I questioned the colonial mentality of the West regarding climate policy. That speech has been viewed by hundreds of millions of people on WhatsApp groups all around the world, including by right-wing WhatsApp groups in India. People are frustrated with the kind of colonial way in which the Western powers and the Western media reports things. The very fact that you know the flag coloring of Ukraine but have no idea what the flag of Yemen looks like, what the flag of Palestine looks like, what the flag of the Congo looks like, and, needless to say, what the flag of Iraq looks like, I mean, that has frustrated a lot of people and is driving public opinion.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s your reaction to President Biden’s recent meeting with President Modi on Monday?

VIJAY PRASHAD: It’s very interesting. You know, it’s not just Biden. The U.S. State Department sent a high official. The British Foreign Ministry sent their leading cabinet minister, the foreign secretary, Liz Truss. They all went to India to say, “Look, how is it possible that India, governed by a right-wing country, led by Narendra Modi, a subordinate ally of the United States, a member of the Quad — how is it that India is not willing to come out there and attack the Russian war in Ukraine? How is it that India is not willing to condemn Vladimir Putin and so on?” This is a full-court press.

And inside India, there’s been a great deal of frustration. There’s questions raised about the so-called finger wagging at India for India’s policy. I think that what people need to understand, this is not just India. I mean, India has been, I suppose, the most forthright in refusing to come out there and condemn this war. It’s not just India. Look at Germany. Germany continues to buy energy from Russia. The German chancellor directly told Mr. Biden that, “Look, if Germany breaks ties with Russia, bans natural gas imports, Germany will plunge into a terrible recession.” The Japanese prime minister has also told the United States and told the Russians directly, “Look, we’re quite happy to sign on to the G7 statement condemning Russia and its war, but we’re not going to cut ties. We’re not going to stop importing liquefied natural gas from Sakhalin-2. We’re not going to stop importing crude oil.” And furthermore, Japan is one of the major investors in Sakhalin-2 and Sakhalin-1. These are very large and important energy projects of the Russian people, the Russian government but also private sector. And it’s the Japanese state that has invested in them. It’s not willing to cut all that.

So, the United States, I think, is coming to realize — or I hope it comes to realize — that many countries, not only so-called adversarial countries but also countries that are closely allied, like Germany, Japan, India and so on, are just not willing to break ties.

And just let me say one thing about that. You know, for 30-plus years, the U.S. government pushed a globalization agenda, which integrated countries with each other. Russia was at the core of that integration, not only for the export of fuel but also for the export of the wealth stolen from the state of the USSR after it collapsed. All that money taken by billionaires was invested in international financial markets. And having integrated the world, now suddenly, as the head of the IMF pointed out, suddenly two major shocks take place: the pandemic and then the war and the sanctions. And these two shocks have not been shocks merely to people’s household [inaudible] and so on, but they’ve been shocks to the level of integration of the world economy. And it’s very hard for countries to disentangle on a dime just because the U.S. White House says, “Break ties.” It’s not easy to break ties. It’s not a question of political connections. This is a question of deep, structural economic relations which cannot be broken. If they break, it would plunge these countries into even greater catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: During a news conference Monday, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar pointed out Europe buys far more Russian oil and gas than India. This is what he said.

SUBRAHMANYAM JAISHANKAR: If you are looking at energy purchases from Russia, I would suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe, which probably — we do buy some energy, which is necessary for our energy security. But I suspect, looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon. So, you might want to think about it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Vijay Prashad, you can comment on that, but also, as you talk about the rank hypocrisy, I mean, you have not only the United States but Europe talking about Putin’s war crimes. Where would he be tried? A logical forum would be the International Criminal Court. Neither the United States nor Russia — nor Ukraine, for that matter — has fully signed on to the international court. As the, it is pointed out over and over again, anti-personnel landmines, just brutal, focused on killing people, that Russia is using in Ukraine, the U.S. hasn’t signed on to the anti-landmine treaty, that, for example, Princess Di had so campaigned for. So you have all these international treaties that the United States has not respected, and yet at this point is really invoking the foundation of them to hold Putin accountable. So, talking about — as you talk about the rank hypocrisy, do you also criticize, though, Putin for invading Ukraine?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Of course. Of course I criticize Putin for invading Ukraine, Amy. That goes without saying, because he has violated the U.N. Charter. It is a brutal war, as I said when I first started speaking. But I think that’s hardly the question, whether I condemn Mr. Putin or not. The issue is that we’re living in a world where, for a lot of people, it looks like it’s an upside-down world.

It’s not just the question of the treaties you mentioned. The United States government has not signed the international laws of the seas, and yet it prosecutes so-called freedom of navigation missions against not only China in the South China Sea, using this U.N. Charter, which it’s not a signatory of, but it has been provoking clashes with Russia in the Black Sea, in the Baltic Sea and in the Arctic Sea, again, using these so-called freedom of navigation missions.

Let’s take the question of the International Criminal Court. When special prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a file to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan — and, by the way, she was really clear: She said war crimes conducted by everybody — by the Taliban, by the Afghan National Army, by the United States, by other NATO countries, and so on. When she did that, the United States government threatened her, told her that neither she nor her family would ever get a visa to come to the United States, and so on. The U.S. put enormous pressure on the International Criminal Court to shut down that investigation. That’s incredible. This is an investigation of war crimes which are detailed in the U.S. government’s own documents, which have been released by the WikiLeaks foundation, whose founder, Julian Assange, is sitting in Belmarsh prison, is being treated as a criminal, whereas the war criminals in Afghanistan are going free and threatening, with Mafia-like tactics, the special prosecutor at the ICC.

Meanwhile, again, in an afternoon — to quote the Indian high official, in an afternoon, the United States is able to get these bodies, established by international law, which the United States is not a signatory to — the U.S., in an afternoon, is able to get them to open a file and start talking about war crimes. Over a million people killed in Iraq, and no investigation of war crimes. None. Over a million people. Half a million children killed in Iraq during the 1990s sanctions regime, not even the word “genocide.” The West is walking all over the word “genocide,” is reducing the power of an important category of an important convention, the 1951 Convention Against Genocide. This extraordinary, casual weaponization of human rights and the word “genocide” by the West is going to be something that we are going to face in the times ahead, when other countries are going to say, “Well, we can do anything if we are backed by Washington, D.C.” This is extraordinarily perilous.

And I hope people open their eyes to the very cynical way in which Washington, D.C., is approaching this terrible war taking place in Ukraine, a war that has to end with a ceasefire and negotiations. And you’re not going to easily get a ceasefire and negotiations if you’re going to loosely, as Mr. Biden did in Poland at Warsaw castle, loosely call for regime change in Russia. That is not going to help you bring people to the table, whether it’s in Belarus or it’s in Antalya, Turkey. It’s not going to bring Ukraine and Russia to the table. It’s not going to stop Russia’s war. If the Russians think that the United States has a total agenda to annihilate the Russian government, I’m afraid they are not going to get a ceasefire. You’re going to just get more atrocities in Ukraine. And that’s something that the people of the world should not stand for.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Vijay, I wanted to ask you — while this is continuing to play out, this war in Europe, the role of China – and, of course, as you mentioned earlier, the United States has identified China as its long-term strategic foe. Could you talk about what this means about the relationship of these empires and what is — and China’s role in the world?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, let’s be frank, Juan. In 2018, the Trump administration announced that the war on terror was over and that the full force of the United States government was now going to be to prevent Russia and China — they actually mentioned both countries, Russia and China, what then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called near-peer competitors — these near-peer competitors had to be prevented from rising. That was the U.S. doctrine, has not pulled back by the Biden administration.

That very year, the United States government unilaterally walked out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF Treaty. Mr. Putin and the Chinese government have said that they fear the placement of mid-level — these intermediate nuclear missiles near the Russian and Chinese border. This meant that they feared that there would be these missiles placed in Ukraine or in Taiwan and so on. You’ve got to see it a little bit from their point of view. So, they see this as extremely threatening to their existence. And they will do anything to prevent the placement of these kind of weapons near their territories. I think this is how the Chinese are seeing it.

As far as I have been able to see, the Chinese have neither condemned the war nor applauded it. They would like this war to end. As I said earlier, China’s economy is fundamentally integrated into the world economy. The last thing they want to see — and I actually agree on this point — the last thing we would like to see is a divided world, an Iron Curtain fall around Eurasia. Nobody should be actually pleased about that prospect. We want to see a more integrated world, a world of, let’s say — you know, where there’s a future before us, where we can tackle questions of climate change, we can tackle questions of social toxicity, we can tackle questions of militarism. These things cannot be dealt with if we have an Iron Curtain fall from the South China Sea to the Baltic Sea. That would be a nightmare for the planet, particularly now, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has sounded the red alert regarding the climate catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Vijay, on Thursday, the CIA Director William Burns spoke at Georgia Tech, publicly discussed fears Russia could turn to using nuclear weapons out of desperation.

WILLIAM BURNS: Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons. We don’t — while we’ve seen some rhetorical posturing on the part of the Kremlin about moving to higher nuclear alert levels, so far we haven’t seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or, you know, military dispositions that would reinforce that concern.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, William Burns is an interesting figure, the CIA director, because he’s the one who has warned for years, among many others, including progressive peace activists, against NATO moving eastward, saying it will provoke Russia. If you can end by talking about this becoming this kind of conflagration, a nuclear conflagration, and what you see is the outline of a ceasefire could be?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, Amy, the first thing I’d say is the question of NATO moving eastward is not the primary issue, because, after all, in 2004, Sergey Lavrov, who continues to be the foreign minister, and Mr. Putin, who was even then the president, welcomed the Baltic states and other countries joining NATO. They joined NATO in 2004. The question is not NATO by itself. The question is a sense of security.

I mean, what Mr. Burns could have said is that the United States pledges to return to arms control talks. I mean, having gutted the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 unilaterally — that was the Bush administration — and then, in 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally walking out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, why doesn’t the United States come to the table, as the Russians have been asking since 2018, and open a new arms control conversation? That seems to be a mature issue.

Look, frankly, this ceasefire that takes place in Ukraine could take place in Ukraine in an afternoon, I think. The issue isn’t Ukraine alone. It’s the question of the U.S., the question of China, Russia. All of them need to be — they need to come to a table. They need to discuss a new arms control regime. We don’t have one. The world right now has nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alerts without a proper arms control regime. That, to me, Amy, is terrifying. That needs to be on the table. To talk about a ceasefire in Ukraine, of course, that’s got to be there, just as we talk about justice for the Palestinians and so on. But we’ve also got to recognize we are living right now without an arms control regime, without deterrence. And that really is terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Vijay Prashad, we want to thank you for being with us. We’ll link to your articles, director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Coming up, Mother Jones editor Mark Follman. He’s author of the new book, Trigger Points: Inside the Mission to Stop Mass Shootings in America. Back in 30 seconds.

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