political geography

Ukrainian anti-fascist sentenced to prison in Russia

An appeals court in Moscow on Aug. 22 upheld the 13-year sentence imposed on Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych, in what Amnesty International called "a grave miscarriage of justice." Butkevych had been convicted in a "sham trial" by a de facto court in the Russian-occupied "Luhansk People's Republic" in Ukraine, which Moscow has unilaterally declared annexed territory. A platoon leader in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Butkevych was taken captive in March and charged with war crimes. Amnesty dismisses the case as "a reprisal by Russia for his civic activism and his prominent human rights work." Before the invasion, Butkevych led a Ukrainian NGO helping refugees find asylum in the country, and had long been a frontline opponent of the militant right in both Ukraine and Russia.

Podcast: Himalayan fault lines in BRICS

In Episode 189 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes that despite all the tankie pseudo-left enthusiasm for the BRICS summit in South Africa, the notion of a unified bloc against Western hegemony is illusory. The Johannesburg confab was immediately followed by a diplomatic spat between China and India, sparked by Beijing's release of an official map of the territory of the People's Republic—showing two Himalayan enclaves claimed by India as Chinese territory: Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, which have both been the scene of border skirmishes in recent years. The map also shows an island in the Amur River, by mutual agreement half controlled by Russia, as entirely Chinese. Moscow, depending on China's acquiescence in the Ukraine war, has lodged no protest over this. But the border disputes between nuclear-armed India and China have the potential to escalate to the unthinkable. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.

Ukraine: 'forced citizenship' in Russian-held territory

Russia has launched a systematic effort to force residents of occupied areas of Ukraine to accept Russian citizenship as part of its program of consolidating authority, according to a new report. Residents of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya oblasts are subjected to threats, intimidation, restrictions on humanitarian aid and basic necessities, and possible detention or deportation—all designed to force them to become Russian citizens. These efforts parallel the "passportization" campaign that Russia has executed in Crimea and areas of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014. Based on a comprehensive review of open source material, Yale Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) has identified the laws and tactics used to make it impossible for residents to survive in their homes unless they accept Russian citizenship. These laws and tactics violate international law, including the prohibition on discrimination against people living under occupation based on nationality, and forcing people to declare allegiance to an occupying power, both illegal under the Hague Convention and the Geneva Conventions. (Conflict Observatory)

Abraham Accords' betrayal of Sahrawi consolidated

Israel announced July 17 that it has formally recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The US in 2021 became the first nation to recognize Morocco's claim to the territory—an open quid pro quo for Moroccan recognition of Israel as a part of the so-called Abraham Accords. Israeli recognition of Morocco's claim was promised at that time. However, much of the territory is controlled by the Polisario Front, independence movement of the Sahrawi Arab people. Some 45 countries around the world recognize Polisario's declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR); the US and Israel are alone in recognizing Rabat's rule over the territory.

Podcast: geopolitics of the Barbie affair

In Episode 181 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the strange reality that the Barbie move has been banned in Vietnam over a brief image of a world map appearing to show the "nine-dash line" demarcating China's unilaterally claimed territory in the South China Sea. While US-China brinkmanship over Taiwan has won headlines recently, Beijing's maritime dispute with Hanoi holds unsettling potential for escalation. In a nearly surreal paradox (for those who remember their history) Vietnam has actually been tilting to the US in the new cold war with China. It has also been increasingly resorting to internal police-state measures to protect the interests of foreign capital in the country. All of this constitutes a rebuke both to the neoliberals, who cling to the discredited dogma that "free markets" inevitably lead to peace and democracy, and to the tankies, who rally around both the regimes in Beijing and Hanoi, in defiance of political reality. 

Russia opens criminal trial of Azov Battalion troops

A Russian court has begun hearing the case against 24 Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov Battalion, seized in May 2022 during the battle for the city of Mariupol. The battalion members—including eight women—face charges of involvement with a "terrorist organization," and participating in activities to "overthrow" Russian authorities. The Russian Supreme Court designated Azov a "terrorist organization" in August 2022. Photographs captured by the Associated Press show soldiers from the Azov Battalion at a military court in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. In the photographs, the captured soliders sit with shaved heads behind a glass panel, separating them from others present in court. Russian prosecutors first filed the charges against the Azov fighters this May, according to state news agency TASS.

Protest paramilitary attacks on Zapatistas

An international mobilization was held June 8, with small protests in cities across the world, in response to a call for support by the Zapatista rebel movement in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas. According to the statement, issued a week earlier, the Zapatista base community of Moisés Gandhi is coming under renewed attack by the local paramilitary group ORCAO. In a May 22 armed incursion at the community, Moisés Gandhi resident Jorge López Santíz was struck by a bullet and gravely injured. Several families were displaced as ORCAO gunmen briefly occupied parts of the community. The statement charges: "Chiapas is on the verge of civil war, with paramilitaries and hired killers from various cartels fighting for the plaza [zone of territorial control]...with the active or passive complicity of the governments of [Chiapas governor] Rutilio Escandón Cadenas and [Mexican president] Andrés Manuel López Obrador." (El País, Spain; National Indigenous Congress, Mexico)

Russia liquidates country's oldest opposition party

The Supreme Court of Russia on May 25 ordered the liquidation of the People's Freedom Party (PARNAS) at the request of the country's justice ministry, according to state news agency TASS. The Ministry of Justice contended that the number of the party's regional offices dropped by seven, from 47 to 40, and law requires parties to have representative offices in half of the regions of the Russian Federation. According to the independent Mediazona, whose reporters were in the courtroom, PARNAS leaders responded that the party still had 44 offices, and was only considered out of compliance with the law because the court counted Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine as Russian administrative regions.

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