By Khatuna Mshvidobadze
Copyright © 2012 Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
As a dwindling crowd of Julian Assange supporters stood “vigil,” as the Wikileaks leader puts it, August 25 outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Margarita Simonian, Editor-in-Chief of RT, slipped into the building. RT, formerly Russia Today, is a television network that broadcasts in English, Spanish and Arabic for, according to its website, “viewers wishing to question more.” RT is owned by RIA/Novosti, the Russian government’s information and news service. A quick glance at RT’s website affords a pretty full picture of what it is.
On RT’s welcome page is a banner promoting the Julian Assange Show, one of the station’s marquis programs. A zippy 30-second mostly anti-American collage opens each episode. To grasp the show’s tenor, try episode 1, an interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, or episode 8, a discussion of the “militarization” of personal communications. RT broadcast 12 episodes last spring.
After visiting Assange, Simonian assured the program’s fans, “We concluded that when all that is over, and I hope it ends soon, we will certainly resume cooperation with Assange.” By “all that,” Simonian meant that Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy, surrounded by British police intent on extraditing him to Sweden on suspicion of rape.
Significant as it was, Simonian’s announcement was overshadowed by the lingering effect of Assange’s August 19 embassy balcony speech. Assange asked if the United States will “return to and reaffirm the values it was founded upon? Or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world?”
He thanked Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa for granting him political asylum and a host of Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, for their support. And he thanked people in the US, UK, Sweden and Australia for supporting him despite the positions of their governments.
What is really going on? On the surface, Assange seems a bright fellow who wraps his Internet pranks in vaguely leftist, anarchist and globalist rhetoric. Even supporters who have grown weary of Assange’s personal shortcomings still exalt Wikileaks in terms such as a “stateless news organization…worth defending.” Without all that, Assange would have been on a flight to Stockholm long ago. However, peel away another layer of this onion.
Political asylum from Ecuador? Correa is not known for press freedom or human rights, but he is known as the latest Latin American leader to vie for the mantle of the aged Fidel Castro and the ailing Hugo Chavez. Indeed, a number of Ecuadorian journalists have sought political asylum in other countries. In Ecuador, Correa will run for re-election in February. At home and abroad, picking a (long distance) anti-imperialist fight with Britain is a good move.
And RT was there for Correa too. RT interviewer: “By standing up for Julian Assange, the country is exposing itself to risk…What consequences might Ecuador face after granting asylum to Julian Assange?” Correa: “Normally, such a decision shouldn’t have any consequences, that is, if all countries respect international law…But unfortunately, in this particular case, we see that some countries are displaying their colonial and imperial ambitions, their ethnocentricity.” Correa: “Have you felt like there was censorship [in Ecuador]? RT: “Of course, not.”
Peeling back another onion layer, this story turns to serious geopolitics. “Documents obtained by the Sunday Telegraph in Quito,” writes Philip Sherwell, “reveal that detailed plans have been drawn up to establish substantial banking mechanisms between [Ecuador and Iran]” Why? “To dodge the Western-backed sanctions” on Iran.
“Correa wants to position himself as representative of the radical left on the global stage,” Ecuadorian opposition leader Cesar Montufar told the Telegraph. “The Assange case fits with that strategy. And so does his approach to Iran.”
And Russia maintains extensive and important ties to Iran, parrying Western measures against the Islamic Republic at every opportunity.
The connections are, to say the least, troubling.