Rock bottom

29 10 2016

Thailand’s military junta is composed of royalist rightists who have faithfully imbibed palace propaganda for years. In more recent times, as the military supported and egged on anti-democrat and royalist protesters, these military rightists have accepted a nastier propaganda that combines extreme right and extreme left elements, cobbled together with conspiracy theory.

The result is bizarre yellow-shirted views that the U.S., long a supporter of palace and military in Thailand, had somehow become a tool of Thaksin Shinawatra. Crudely concocted networks were constructed to “demonstrate” the takeover of U.S. foreign policy by Thaksin and his lawyers and lobbyists. For the dullards in the military, this seemed to explain why the U.S. administration wasn’t keen on giving 110% support to a military dictatorship in Thailand. After all, it had supported dictators in Thailand “before,” so why not now? Conspiracies provided the answer.

As if to announce just how official this mad rightist conspiratorial line has become, Thailand’s official propaganda agency is now citing the a yellow-shirted conspiracy theorist writing for one of Russia’s propaganda outfit, the New Eastern Outlook, which provides links to a range of alternative media sites, some of them anti-Semitic, others climate change deniers and many libertarian. Some of the co-authors have links to the extreme right in the U.S., including Lyndon LeRouche.

We’ve written before on the author of the article who portrays himself as a leftist but who has connections to Alex Jones and alt-right. It was this writer, who has links with the Democrat Party, who recently called for a campaign to oust a BBC reporter from Thailand through harassment by ultra-royalists.

An online magazine, New Eastern Outlook (NEO), published an article depicting the importance of the constitutional monarchy in Thailand and how it fosters national unity.

The article entitled ‘Why is the Passing of Thailand’s King a Big Deal? was written by Tony Cartalucci, who is an American geopolitical analyst [sic.] and a writer for NEO.

He said the Thai constitutional monarchy helps strengthen and stabilizes the nation by serving as a unifying force. In his article, he also claimed that there had been attempts by some powerful nations to destabilize Thailand through their media reports which painted the current situation in the country in a negative way.

They, however; only received negative responses in return from Thai people after their news stories were published. Cartalucci also wrote that one foreign journalist was called back by his news agency for reporting wrong information about political conflicts in 2010 [sic.]. His report had triggered aggressive opposition that led to his departure from Thailand.

The Thai political world is becoming weirder than it ever has been before.





Russia and the junta

21 05 2016

The Dictator has been in Russia. He was there for the ASEAN-Russia Summit (19-20 May) and like all of the other ASEAN leaders, he met another authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

Putin_PrayuthIn a pretty standard announcement from the Kremlin, some of the early talk between the two is reproduced.

Putin said it was a “great pleasure to meet you [The Dictator] personally.” He noted that Prayuth had met with Russia’s prime minister and “signed a number of important agreements.”

Thailand’s big boss responded,  making a big deal of the upcoming 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, as if nothing had changed in the intervening years. He then said: “We want to thank Russia for the support that has helped us to maintain our independence.”

If anyone has any idea what this means, let us know.

He went on to state that this visit was the most significant of his time as prime minister-dictator:

I have eight ministers with me on this visit. This is the biggest delegation yet on my foreign visits. I also sent two deputy prime ministers in advance of my trip to prepare for this visit in order to make it a success.

We signed 14 agreements yesterday: 9 state agreements and 5 private ones. We will implement these agreements and achieve concrete results.

Yesterday, my ministers had the chance to meet personally with their counterparts here. We discussed ways to increase our trade turnover five-fold over the next five years. I think that we can achieve even greater results over this time.

It seems that Russia is moving center stage for the military dictatorship. This certainly reflects its failures with the USA and EU and also indicates that the hype about China has been, well, hype. That said, just as China trails Japan by a country mile in terms of investment, Russia isn’t even in sight.

With the dictatorship looking like it will stay on for years, the relationships with other authoritarian regimes will be important. (We’d hope that the Thai people prevent the junta from fulfilling its authoritarian plans.)





Getting tanked

9 02 2016

Exactly a month ago, PPT asked: What happened to those “cheap” tanks the Thai generals ordered from the Ukraine?

We can guess where the “commissions” went, but why are the current crop of generals now looking for tanks from other places?

Initially, the whole idea was poo-pooed by the junta’s spokesmen. No, they said, no Russian tanks. But that story has changed. (In other words, they were telling untruths last month.)

Today, the Bangkok Post states the “army changed stories … admitting it plans to buy new tanks, saying it is in the process of setting up a procurement committee.” Yep, they certainly were lying last time. One of those lying was Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan.

2006 coup

2006 coup, with US tanks used

Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree continued the lies, saying “the army’s procurement panel will consider all possible options before making a decision based on cost-effectiveness and transparency.” He meant to say that the decision will be made on who is going to take the “commissions” and allocate them to loyalists. (It seems like the lucky moneybags will be General Prawit.)

The Army has had to admit that it is considering “purchasing Russian-made tanks” because Prawit is off to Russia soon and “reportedly plans to inspect this model of tank.” He’s taking Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak with him. Of course, Somkid is the main finance and economics cabinet member, so his acquiescence will smooth the money flows. The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is also scheduled to visit Russia in May.

As PPT posted earlier, “Prawit and army chief Gen Thirachai Nakwanich are proceeding carefully with the tank procurement plan following the delayed delivery of T-84 Oplot tanks from Ukraine…”. The generals blame “internal political turmoil as the reason for the hold-up.” That is, in the Ukraine, not Thailand.

Tanks are seldom used in Thailand, and sometimes roll out for a coup.

Only 10 of the ordered 50 T-84 Oplot tanks have been delivered. We can only wonder what deal is being done on this. Is money lost? Will “commissions” need to be repaid? Perhpas a new Chinese or Russian deal for their versions of the T-90 tank will square things up and be cause for celebration. Vodka is good when wanting to get tanked.





Updated: Arms trading and the royals

20 08 2010

Update: Fascinatingly, the New York Times story now posted has removed all of the references to royal advisers…. Of course, there could be several reasons for this change. Because of the change, we include all of the original article below our original post.

***

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a really interesting account of the court appearance of alleged Russian arms trader Viktor Bout. He notes that a Thai court has ordered Bout’s extradition to the United States as he is “suspected of running a large-scale arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.”

Then it begins to get interesting. Fuller says that “Russia, which had been seeking to prevent Mr. Bout from being placed in the American legal system, reacted angrily to the ruling.” Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister,said: “Based on the information we have at our disposal, the decision was made under very strong outside pressure. This is lamentable.” Obviously some of that outside pressure has to do with the US.

It has never been clear why Bout was in Thailand. Fuller sheds some light on this matter, drawing on the court case. He says:

One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court, but Captain Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, Mr. Bout’s lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout indeed traveled to Thailand to take part in a project tied to the royal family, his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

Speculation about the navy being in search of a submarine has been about for several years. However, submarines for the navy were one project sunk under the Thaksin Shinawatra government. Following the 2006 coup, discussion of navy subs re-emerged. In November 2007, the navy said getting a submarine was its top priority. Indeed, for some time, the king was said to be opposed to the navy having a submarine but seemed to change his mind following the coup. In his 2007 birthday speech, the king is cited on Russian subs: “A Russian one may cost just half the price of a German-made or a US-made one, but if we bought one from Russia, the US, for instance, might be upset. However, Russian submarines are very good.”

Earlier, in 2005, the king had appointed Admiral Chumpon Pajjasanon, a former Navy commander-in-chief, to the privy council. Before being “named Navy commander-in-chief in October 2003, he had served as commander of the RNV Tong Pliu, RNV Phra Thong and RNV Tapi, chief of combat operations, deputy chief of staff for submarines, commander of Coastal Defence District 3 and Navy chief of staff.”

PPT wonders if there is something in the NYT story? If so, extraditing Bout to the US for trial could result in some embarrassing revelations.

The original NYT story:

BANGKOK – A Thai court on Friday ordered the extradition to the United States of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman suspected of running a massive arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.

The decision, which overturns a lower court’s ruling in August 2009, is a victory for the Obama administration, which this week summoned the Thai ambassador in Washington to the State Department to “emphasize that this is of the highest priority to the United States,” a spokesman said.

U.S. prosecutors say Mr. Bout, 43, commanded a fleet of aircraft to send weapons to rebel groups and warring countries around the world. He was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation two years ago.

Mr. Bout stood after the ruling was announced and embraced his wife and daughter, who wept. He said nothing to reporters in the courtroom as he was being led out in leg irons and an orange prison uniform. The court ordered his extradition within three months.

Mr. Bout’s lawyers had argued that the request to extradite Mr. Bout was part of a pattern of the United States reaching beyond its borders to punish its enemies. Chamroen Panompakakorn, Mr. Bout’s principal lawyer, alluded to the rendition of suspected terrorists by the U.S. government and argued that the overall credibility of the United States government had been tarnished following the failed search for weapons of mass destruction Iraq.

A panel of judges in August 2009 sided with the defense and wrote in their decision that Mr. Bout’s “guilt cannot be determined in Thailand.”

The court on Friday did not contradict this but said there was enough evidence to extradite Mr. Bout to the United States.

“This case has to be further pursued in a court in the United States that has jurisdiction,” said Siripan Kobkaew, one of three judges who read parts of the decision on Friday.

Mr. Bout’s notoriety helped spawn the 2005 film, “Lord of War,” and his arms dealings are detailed in “Merchant of Death,” a book by two American journalists who describe Mr. Bout’s dealings as falling into a “legal gray area that global jurisprudence has simply failed to proscribe.” Mr. Bout has delivered weapons into Africa and Afghanistan, among other places, but has also flown missions for the U.S. Pentagon in Iraq and the United Nations. Sometimes Mr. Bout was hired to fly in arms to a particular group, the authors note, and then was paid by the U.N. to deliver humanitarian aid to the same area.

Mr. Bout was arrested in March 2008 at a hotel in Bangkok after agreeing to sell millions of dollars worth of arms to undercover agents for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

It remains unclear why Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand. One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court but Capt. Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand to take part in a royal-related project his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

The case has put Thailand in the awkward position of referee between Russia and the United States. Thailand is one of the United States’ closest allies in Asia but Bangkok’s relations with Russia have warmed considerably since the end of the Cold War. The country’s beach resorts have become a major draw for Russian tourists looking to escape the long winters.

The case has offered a window into the scale of arms trafficking. During the meeting in March 2008, Mr. Bout told the undercover U.S. agents that he could deliver 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 assault weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, land mines, C-4 explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the U.S. indictment.

United States prosecutors filed fresh charges against Mr. Bout in February alleging that he and his former business associate, Richard Chichakli, sought to purchase two aircraft from U.S. companies in 2007 using front companies. The sale was in violation of U.S. and United Nations sanctions and was blocked.