Category Archives: Russia

Putin Trump Summit (2)

What does the Putin-Trump summit come down to? Trump’s pro-Israeli policy is essential to the domestic survival in US politics of a politician with a multitude of enemies, not least within the ranks of his own security bureaucracy. At a time when Israel and Iran are facing off in South-West Syria, his anti-Iranian rhetoric is a vital part of this (singularly narrow) survival strategy. What Trump has to trade with Putin are the new type of sanctions on Russia oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska in particular, concocted by US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

Trump is meeting Putin to ask him to push Iran out of Syria, in exchange for which he will relax sanctions against Deripaska. As an aside, despite the fact that Trump will want to make this trade anyway, it looks like the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in their stunning stupidity, seem to want to give Trump generous (and unnecessary) inducements to make this anti-Iranian policy happen.

Putin’s desperation to rescue Deripaska, on the other hand, is absolutely clear. Despite the latter’s catastrophic mismanagement of the Russian aluminium industry so far, Putin seems willing to endanger the ecology of Lake Baikal (above), the largest freshwater lake on the planet, to save Rusal (the aluminium company). Nationalization is not an option due to the dependence of the Russian state, and Putin’s personal power, on the web that the oligarchs have created between the homeland and their offshore colony, woven as it is into the economies of the colonial powers – US, UK, and France.

So far Russia has succeeded in imposing its will on South-Eastern Syria on behalf of Assad, but severing Iran’s establishment of its strategic base in South-West Syria, territorially contiguous with Southern Lebanon and the territory of (Nasrallah’s) Hezbollah, is quite another matter. Russia’s leverage on Iran does not quite go that far.

However, could Russia solve this by getting Trump to give Turkey a waiver on trading with Iran? On the one hand, a reduction in the presence of Iranian military hardware in South Syria wouldn’t be that problematic for an Iranian régime that has already “demographically reconfigured” Damascus and its suburbs with new loyal (paramilitary) populations ready to do Iranian bidding at any time in the future, should the need for a military build-up arise. On the other hand, ensuring a continuing trade with Turkey is vital for Iran. Although this is in Turkish interests as well, nevertheless, at a time when Turkish bankers are paying a heavy price in US courts for breaking previous US sanctions on Iran, Iran cannot absolutely guarantee this lifeline without Russian pressure on Trump.

Neither would Russia mind consolidating control over Assad, whose régime they helped Iran rescue from annihilation, by fielding a greater Russian military police presence in the Damascus area, and ensuring no further chemical attacks that Russia would then have to spend time and effort spinning as fake news/red flags in the media. In fact, Russia would consolidate its role by acting as a policeman to keep Israel and Iran “apart” in Syria, and give Israel the guarantees it needs. If Russia removes Iran from the Syrian theatre entirely, it would undermine its own status and power in that respect.

Looking generally at the Syrian situation, it then becomes clear that the trumpeted resurgence of Assad and the idea of a unified Syria under his rule is a total mirage. For a start, Trump is concerned only with South-West Syria and Israel. He won’t withdraw US troops from North-East Syria. Despite his statements to that effect, he doesn’t have the power to convince the Pentagon and the CIA to make any move in that regard.

The US security state clearly failed to dislodge Erdoğan in the July 2016 attempted coup, and it watches with dismay as the Turkish military establishment built links with Russia by buying the S-400 air defense systems. So, it will continue to want a permanent point of pressure on Turkey in Syrian Kurdistan to guarantee that its interests in general, and the facilities open to it on Turkish soil (at İncirlik [airbase near Adana] and Kürecik [X-band early warning radar near Malatya]) in particular, are maintained. The Turks are obdurate, and US forces have already previously experienced periods of expulsion (as after the Cyprus invasion), despite Turkish membership of NATO.

The deal with Turkey that Russia will, therefore, broker after this summit, would also consolidate the Turkish position in Idlib, which the Turks are adamant to defend against any incursion by Assad anyway, to prevent a further displacement of refugees towards its borders. Syria, despite the rhetoric, will remain divided. On the house of cards that have been stacked up in the benighted country by foreign powers, today’s geopolitics depend.

Putin Trump Summit (1)

Moscow-based commentator John Helmer compares the probable agenda of the Putin-Trump summit to the sale of Alaska to the US at the end of the last century. He draws a picture where geopolitical concerns are interwoven with the financial interests of élites, while the outsized class of Russian oligarchs, when not murdering and suing each other, cut deals variously with US, UK and French politicians, to enable them to rule Russia from their mansions in the West. Putin himself walks a fine line between the opposing interests of the military-industrial complex, which he helped rebuild, and represented by its power centre (the “Stavka“), on the one hand, and of the neoliberal élite led primarily by Dmitry Medvedev and Alexei Kudrin, who defend the interests of the oligarchs in mother Russia itself, on the other.

Most startling has been Putin’s reappointment, after his recent re-election as president, of Medvedev and Kudrin to some of the most important posts in his government. It is significant that he did this after US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin’s announced his intention to sanction Oleg Deripaska, the most important link between Putin and the class of oligarchs. The reappointments of the neoliberal politicians tests Putin’s credibility with the population of Russia at large, who elected him, to say the least. Not, therefore, being Putin’s first choice of cabinet, he clearly appears to need the help of these Kremlin-entrenched Western allies in the difficult negotiations ahead with Mnuchin and his boss Trump. Trump, for his part, is in no better domestic position himself, and Russiagate is the least of his problems. A March 2018 Congressional Report, puts him at the centre of the Russian international oligarchic system, by pointing out the ‘… credible allegations as to the use of Trump properties to launder money by Russian oligarchs, criminals, and regime cronies’. The two presidents thus have a lot to talk about, or so it seems.

So in the run-up to the Helsinki summit, Helmer writes: ‘When cynical and unscrupulous men are desperate, they become as predictable as if they were principled. The difference between such men is hard to tell.

Not since the Alaska Purchase of 1867 have the rulers of Moscow and Washington been as desperate to sell something to each other for a price the press and public opinion on both sides are unprepared to calculate or accept.  When President Vladimir Putin (lead image, left) and President Donald Trump (right) meet in a fortnight, this price will be a secret both of them will agree to keep to protect themselves from adversaries at home more powerful than they are themselves.

With two weeks still to go for preparations, so far only the terms the US side intends to table are in the public domain. No Russian government official, think-tank expert, or reporter has published an account of what the Russian terms will be.

During the Kremlin meeting last week between Putin and Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, one clue was visible. This was the appearance of the Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on the Russian side of table, alongside the president’s foreign affairs advisor Yury Ushakov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Shoigu wasn’t matched by a military officer or Pentagon counterpart on the American side of the table. So Shoigu wasn’t present to speak. He was there to listen, and to report to the General Staff what the US side is proposing – and no less significant, what Putin had to say. Shoigu’s presence was a signal that on the Russian side, the military do not quite trust the president — their own, not the other one.

Tsar Alexander II’s decision to sell the Alaskan colony to the US started with the military defeat the Russians suffered during the Crimean War, which ended in 1856. The military weren’t to recover against the Ottoman Turks for another twenty years. In the interval, the tsar had debts to cover from his Crimean losses, as well as from the indemnity Alexander paid to Russian landowners for their loss of serfs in the emancipation of 1861.

Developers of eastern Siberia believed that if Alaska were sold, they could divert its state cashflow into investment schemes in the Amur territory. Also, the imperial treasury could ill afford the subsidies required for the Russian American Company, which had failed to turn otters, seals and whales into profit-making for Alaska. So the assessment in St. Petersburg was that if gold were to be discovered in Alaska, as it had been already in California, the American rush would overwhelm the Russian defences and the territory would be lost. Selling before the forfeit seemed prudent at the time.

A decade was required to raise the price from $5 million the Americans offered to $7.2  million, the figure which the Russians accepted; about $110 million in current money. In the process, the Russian Ambassador in Washington arranged bribes for US officials and journalists, as well as kickbacks for himself, and so encouraged a policy of a sale at any price; US Secretary of State William Seward was also on the give and take. As was the Russian custom then and now, the proceeds of the Alaska deal were shared among those closest to the sell-out.

For the Putin-Trump meeting the only non-negotiable point on the Russian side is Crimea; its status as a Russian territory will not be discussed. Concessions are negotiable on the other warfronts.

The Kremlin’s position on the war in the Donbass is to play for time enough to gauge what Petro Poroshenko’s successor (Yulia Timoshenko) as Ukrainian president will settle for after the election next March. If the US does not back an escalation of operations by the Ukrainian military, including  the use of the newly supplied US Javelin anti-tank missile, then the Russian offer will be to secure the Novorussian forces in place and exchange non-offensive undertakings.

On the Syrian front, Putin has already demonstrated his readiness to withdraw Russian air and ground forces – before the US and its allies have made a reciprocal move.

“Comrades,” Putin told a Kremlin ceremony for graduating cadets last week “over the past years a great deal has been done to develop the Russian Armed Forces. The Russian Army demonstrated its increased potential and coordination when it fought terrorists in Syria. It is now up to you and your comrades-in-arms to make full use of this operation in your military training. As you know, we started the withdrawal of our forces during my visit to Khmeimim. The withdrawal carries on as we speak: 13 aircraft, 14 helicopters, and 1,140 personnel were withdrawn over the past few days. All these people were tested in combat. You and your comrades-in-arms will have to make full use of this experience…”

The problem for the Russian military is that they believe US military undertakings at the field  level, and at the political level, cannot be trusted. Consequently, they doubt Trump or his White House staff can command,  even if they wish to control, the operations in Syria of the CIA  or the Israelis. In such a situation, Shoigu’s post at the meeting with Bolton was to ensure that Putin left no opening for a US offer that may lead to Russian casualties in the field.

Bolton himself conceded after the meeting that in Syria the US is looking to reduction of Russian support for Iranian operations, not Syrian ones. “There are possibilities,” Bolton claimed on television on Sunday, “for doing a larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria and back into Iran which would be a significant step forward… I don’t think Assad is the strategic issue. I think Iran is the strategic issue. It’s not just their continuing nuclear weapons program, it’s  their massive support for international terrorism and their conventional forces in the Middle East and I would say there – this is something that the two presidents will want to discuss at length because I think President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the misbegotten Iran nuclear deal, reimpose our sanctions begin to put much more pressure on Iran is having an effect on their decision making.”

Denuclearisation of the Middle East is an impossibility. Although Putin has committed Russia to continuing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA) for cutting Iran’s capacity to defend  itself with nuclear weapons,  there is no Russian commitment to denuclearising Israel, or restricting US nuclear-armed operations from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, targeted at Iran and Syria. What is left for Putin to negotiate are short-term expedients to limit the likelihood of US-backed Israeli, Saudi or other attacks on Iranian territory. Again, the problem for the Stavka – as the Russian military command is known – is that political undertakings by the US and its allies are consistently proved to be worthless. Political concessions by Putin are therefore regarded as letting down Russia’s guard, with the risk of escalating adversary operations and Russian losses, tactically now,  strategically for the future. From the point of view of the Stavka, deterring the Americans with ready military force is the only effective position from which Putin can negotiate.

“It is important”, a Kremlin-financed think-tank, the Valdai Discussion Club,  cautioned last week, “that the decisions taken at the summit are to be exercised, not sabotaged, as the American side has done a number of times. This is the only way to lay the foundation for future Russian-American relations, where not only Washington, but also Moscow will benefit.”

Disengagement of forces to reduce the likelihood of accidental clashes and fatalities is easier to announce than to implement if there continues to be a steady advance of US naval missile and ground-based Aegis missile batteries in the Black Sea and the Baltic. What then can be negotiated between Trump and Putin on this; on NATO readiness exercises and forward force deployments; and on the eroding limits of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) for the positions of the two side?

Naturally, it’s not for the Stavka to discuss in public the price they are planning to inflict on the Americans and their allies if they keep moving forward. Instead, military and security analysts in Moscow were asked what terms of a military or security type, in any operational theatre around the world, they think Putin can offer the Americans at the summit. They were also asked to say what they believe are the priorities Putin will want to negotiate in exchange with Trump. If they know, they won’t answer.  One source went so far as to say he isn’t going to make any comments at the moment — and requested this be off the record.

The Trump attack on NATO allies for failing to spend more of their domestic budgets on military undertakings is read in Moscow as an opening to less costly escalation by the European powers, especially Germany and France. Relegating the British is also a tactical objective on the Russian side; Moscow sources believe this is best left to the British themselves to accomplish as they have been doing. Undermining Germany’s control of the European Union is a tactical objective on the American side. Moscow sources think Trump is too incompetent to match Putin on this score; the smaller European powers are all moving in a less Russia- threatening direction, they note.  Those which remain hostile are within a stone’s throw of Russian forces – much too close to survive an engagement if they push too provocatively.

The conclusion, according to the state news agency Tass reporting an editorial of Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “Moscow and Washington won’t be able to resolve their key military differences on Syria and Europe in the near future. The forthcoming meeting between Putin and Trump will be apparently devoted to searching for some insignificant compromises and concessions…”

Popular support for Putin is sustainable so long as the military confrontation with the US is acute. For Trump, it’s the reverse – if he appears to be reducing the risks of war with Russia, China, or North Korea, his domestic support rises. Putin’s domestic support evaporates on the widespread voter perception that he and the officials he appoints run the economy for the benefit of the oligarchs, and are rewarded corruptly for this policy.

It is also the near-universal Russian conviction that there is no policy which the government has decided which is not pursued for corrupt reasons. This is what has made the recently announced decisions to increase value-added tax from 18% to 20%, and to extend the retirement age from 60 to 65 (for women from 55 to 63)  bellwether issues for the president and the voters. For Putin’s support among voters is the default position — if not Putin, the alternative would be worse — except in the war conditions which the Americans have created.

There is now no Russian business source in Moscow, London, Geneva or Berlin who doesn’t understand this, along with their western lawyers, bankers, insurers, and wealth managers. “So long as the oil price stays up and Trump makes enemies of the Germans and the Chinese,” a veteran international banker to Russian corporations acknowledges, “Putin has a margin for manoeuvre. His reappointments of exactly the same men as he’s trusted for years to govern the country show he doesn’t trust anyone else in Russia for the future. In the medium term this means sclerosis. But right now Putin must keep happy the two powers which, if they get angry, threaten him – the military and the oligarchs. It takes American and British stupidity, and of course their media, not to see this.”

Russian businessmen advertise in the press; their foreign advisors don’t talk publicly at all.  What they agree among themselves is that they are expecting  Putin to look for a way he and Trump can agree on a return to the business as usual in which they used to be comfortable.  Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed on June 29 in an interview with a London television channel: “I have mentioned sanctions only in the context of the deterioration of relations. We are not pleading to remove them. It is not our business, it is for those, who introduced sanctions, to decide whether they want to continue or whether common sense would prevail.”

Lavrov also conceded: “we would not mind them lifted.”

Since the Kremlin assessment is that Trump is too weak politically to attempt this, and Putin is hard-pressed by the oligarchs to save their businesses in Russia and their fortunes abroad, the question that is being considered for a private exchange between Putin and Trump is a modern-day version of the Alaska Purchase. Today, the offshore Russian colony is of vastly greater wealth than Alaska ever was to the imperial tsar. Alaska fetched a small fraction of the value of Russia’s national income in 1867. The offshore Russian colony today is almost equal in value to the national income.  This is how it looks on the map:

GROWTH OF THE RUSSIAN COLONY OF EL DORADO, 2000-2015
Types of Russian private wealth as a percentage of national income

Figure 4:  Novokmet, Filip, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman.2017. From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016.

How this capital in cash, real estate, shareholdings, and other assets  was first generated at the start of the Yeltsin administration, and then transferred offshore during the Putin administration, can be followed here:

RUSSIAN TAKE-OFF FOR THE TOP 10% INCOME-EARNERS, 1990-2015  

Figure 11a: Novokmet, Filip, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman.2017. From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016.

Today’s offshore colony isn’t for sale to the Americans, for it’s already been bought and sold – not only to the US, but to the UK and the other capital havens of Europe and the Caribbean.

The US economic war against Russian finance and against the oligarchs and their interests is severing the flow of cash between the homeland and this colony, and between the colony and its host, the international capital market. This is not yet total war. The British have attacked Roman Abramovich’s residency permit for London, but welcomed the Otkritie Bank fraudsters Vadim Belyaev and Boris Mints.  The US has barred Oleg Deripaska and Victor Vekselberg from their homes in New York, Washington, and Connecticut, but left Abramovich undisturbed at his addresses in Manhattan and Aspen.  Last week the French abandoned all effort to prosecute Russians for money-laundering and released Suleiman Kerimov to move between Moscow and Cap D’Antibes as he pleases, along with his partner, German Gref, the chief executive of Sberbank.

“We would not mind,” says Lavrov, who has been particularly close in the past to Deripaska, and at present to Alexander Vinokurov, “to build up our own capacity in key sectors of economy, security and other areas on which an independent state depends. In the recent years, we have learned a lot, including the fact that in these issues you cannot rely on the West. You cannot rely on Western technologies, because they can be abruptly stopped at any moment. You cannot rely on the items, which are essential for the day-to-day living of the population, coming from the West, because this could also be stopped.”

An obvious option, the nationalization of these key sectors is not the Kremlin’s policy, not even when the banks have been looted and the manufacturers have lost their export markets. Also, despite repeated public commitments to deoffshorization,  recovering Russia’s offshore wealth is not Putin’s policy.

How far Trump will withdraw on the economic warfare front [which was launched in retaliation for the Stavka’s March announcement of new weaponry. -ed.] and support Putin with the oligarchs on these points is certain to be tested, oligarch sources believe. They expect Putin to ask Trump what  shareholding for Deripaska’s companies will satisfy him for the April 6 sanctions to be modified,  and at least part of their business returned to normal. Trump’s conversation with Putin on the Deripaska sanctions will be kept secret at least until the US Treasury has agreed to rule on Deripaska’s application for sanctions relief in August for some of his companies, in October for others. In the interval, the market value of such inside information may be more difficult to keep secret in Moscow.

When cynical and unscrupulous men are desperate, they become as predictable as if they were principled. The difference between such men is hard to tell.’

Read Helmer’s original article here.

 

Russia continues to spin Assad’s way out of blame for chemical attacks

Further evidence of Russia’s continued cover-up of Assad’s atrocities emerges as France’s broadcasting regulator warns the French arm of Russia Today (RT) over a news report that dubbed over the voices of Syrian civilians with words they had not said. It noted that the testimony of a Syrian witness had been dubbed with a voice saying “words that bore no resemblance with what he had said”.

The CSA added that another witness had been dubbed with a voiceover saying that local residents had been ordered by militant group Jaysh al-Islam to simulate the effects of a chemical attack, “but the testimony did not mention any particular group”. France’s Audiovisual Council (CSA) accused the state-backed broadcaster with “failures of honesty, rigour of information and diversity of viewpoints”.

The news report, aired on 13 April, “contested the reality of chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian region of Eastern Ghouta.” The CSA further said the report demonstrated “an imbalance in analysis” of the situation in Syria and that “on a subject this sensitive, the different points of view should have been expressed”.

This is not a staged performance. But it shouldn’t be an excuse to pander to the interests of the Western military-industrial complex

I agree with the Democracy Now! discussion between Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman that Assad is responsible for the Douma attack. Whilst many on the hard left/pro-Russia will cry false flag!, I have always thought that Assad was a ruthless liar and cheat, and I had written a lot about his dark history and that of his father on this site. It was pretty clear that Khan Sheikun was an Assad atrocity.

Was the destruction of the Assad chemical weapons stockpile with Russia’s intermediation, a ploy by Assad to start a new chemical weapons campaign under the cover that all such events could then be claimed to be CIA/MI6 false flags? Assad and his henchmen are capable of anything, and I believe that, indeed, this is the case.

Was that Russia’s intention also? I don’t think so – but by legalising its navy and airforce bases in Syria on the basis of an agreement with the so-called “legitimate” government of Syria, Russia has become hostage to Assad’s viciousness, and it is forced to use its vast media outlets to defend Assad at all cost. Assad knows this and believes he is inviolable.

On the other hand, in the Skripal case, the UK government seems to equally be hostage to its military-industrial complex (deep state) and thus behaves as shockingly as the Russians. The Russians are justified that this event is a blatant provocation by the UK, probably originally on instructions from the US (the deep state as opposed to the embattled Trump), who followed up the Skripal case immediately with swingeing  pre-prepared sanctions, and unprecedented massive expulsions of diplomats.

The latest round of US sanctions are harsh and are a reminder of the UK’s sanctions against Japan in the late 1930s, except that they are unlikely to hurt modern day Russia as they did Japan back then (whatever the UK Daily Mail’s jubilant editorials say), given that the country is not indebted by the standards of many modern states and that its trade with China is unaffected.

 

Russian presidential elections: March 2024

In this election, in March 2018, Putin is standing as an independent candidate allied to the so-called All-Russia People’s Front (ONF),  a coalition between the ruling party and numerous nongovernmental organizations. He will win this election: in Russia all the bargaining and power plays take place before the elections.

But what is ex-talk show host Ksenia Sobchak doing in the race? She is standing in her capacity as leader of the Civic Initiative party, and will not win in this election. However, the real purpose behind her participation is to give her the exposure to do better next time. She is also in the process of trying to get better exposure in the US, airing views that are unpopular in Russia, on Crimea and gay rights, for instance, to build a reputation as a liberal. Her views on these matters have cost her dearly, as polls show that with a bit more than 1% ready to vote for her, 80% of the electorate say they would never vote for her, making her the most unpopular of all the candidates in the race.  But clearly Sobchak and her advisers hold the view that it is better to be hated than to be unknown, and to alter her policies as she gains prominence.

In the presidential debates (in the video above), she added drama to the usually prosaic debating process by standing up to the heckling of the nationalist party candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who for decades has monopolised the dramatic limelight, storming off in tears at the end when the TV mediator wouldn’t give her extra time.

So it is quite probable that she will do well in the Duma elections in 2021, and in the presidential elections in 2024. In view of the close relationship between her family and Putin, changes in her policies over time may mean that she eventually stands as an independent candidate allied to the groups in the ONF, to become Putin’s successor. She will be 43 and Putin at 72 will become kingmaker in the establishment background. It is significant that Putin admitted in his state of the nation speech that he was now mainly concerned about reform and the future succession. The video display of new weaponry at the end of the speech was a statement, really, of what he has been doing up to now.

No candidate other than Sobchak – with her obvious standing in the Russian élite – can be the right “compromise candidate” for the warring factions in the next pre-election standoffs in Russia. The Western media’s focus on Alexei Navalny and his inability to stand in the elections, on the other hand, fails to address the main point that he is simply not trusted not to give the keys of the kingdom to foreign powers in the vein of Yeltsin and to some extent Medvedev. The reform problem in Russia is one of encouraging the development of a political class that serves Russia, hopefully the Russian people, without liquidating and absconding with the country’s resources abroad.

No new figure can emerge in such a relatively short space of time that the system will be able to digest. As for supporting the idea that Russia might give up Crimea and gay rights, this policy makes her noticed on the domestic scene and makes her look good in the West, giving her the international status her establishment backers will want.  Many observers see these policies, especially Sobchak’s policy on Crimea, as perhaps helping to frame a “second referendum” on the independence of the peninsula. Anyway, eventually backtracking on policy proposals is what every politician ends up doing.

Update 19th March on 2018 elections: Sobchak is a credible (in the Russian system) fourth out of eight candidates with a tiny 1.67% of the national vote.

Vladimir Putin:76.66%; Pavel Grudinin:11.80%; Vladimir Zhirinovsky: 5.66%; Ksenia Sobchak:1.67%; Grigory Yavlinsky:1.04%; Boris Titov: 0.76%; Maxim Suraykin: 0.68%;
Sergey Baburin: 0.65%

 

 

Its time Russia came down hard on Assad

Assad killed over eighty-nine people, including 33 children and 18 women and maimed many others in the most horrible way in a gas attack. The Russian excuse that the Syrian air force mistakenly bombed a rebel chemical stockpile is not credible. This was an air launched chlorine gas attack in which Sarin gas was also present. Sarin is a deadly nerve agent which Assad has used before.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon, director of Doctors Under Fire and former commanding officer of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment, said “I think this [claim] is pretty fanciful…Axiomatically, if you blow up Sarin, you destroy it”.

Come on Russia, Assad shouldn’t have been breaking the ceasefire anyway. Come down on him before Trump does, or you will lose Turkey. The Astana process involving you, Turkey and Iran is worth saving isn’t it?

Russian presence helps in the recapture of Libyan oil ports

Unsurprisingly, since Russia sent its special forces to the Eastern Libyan desert, the troops led by Khalifa Haftar and representing the interests of the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk, which defies the mandate of the UN-backed government in Tripoli, announced the recapture yesterday 14th March, of the two key oil installations Ras Lanuf and Es Sidr, recently overrun by the Tripoli-backed Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB).

Russia is picking up all the scattered chess pieces in Middle East

In true capitalist fashion Russia is multiplying the numbers of private contractors being used across the Middle East. Giving backing to ex-CIA asset renegade general Khalifa Hiftar in Libya is just one of the many loose ends left by the Obama administration Putin looks to tie up. Also backing junta leader Sisi in Egypt, and PYD Kurdish leader Salih Muslim in Northeastern for instance allows these US creations the latitude to look gift horses in the mouth, making US foreign policy in the Middle East much harder and less predictable, while reinforcing the dominance Russia has gained from its bases in Syria.

The news coming in from Libya is that the Benghazi Defense Brigade (BDB) took over the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sidr with their refineries from Hiftar’s forces in a stealth attack this last weekend on 5th March. Apparently, they have handed the ports over to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The balance of power in Libya will now shift in the GNA’s favour away from the House of Representatives (HoR) ensconced in Tobruk (which had hired Hiftar to do its heavy lifting), and this will strengthen the position of beleaguered UN-approved prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj. After these events, Russia now appears to see the need to back its contractors in Libya by sending in élite special forces.

Another wall in the Middle East

The Turkish-Syrian border: another wall in the Middle East

Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow has clarified the status of Russo-Turkish relations. Russia does not want to open up a “front” with the US in Syria, by opposing the new Syria Kurdish US-sponsored government (PYD) . Therefore, despite the Turkish president’s pleas, the PYD office in Moscow will remain open, and cooperation between Russia and the Syrian Kurds continue. This cooperation came to light when evidence was uncovered that the YPG, the armed militia of the PYD, was using Russian satellite imagery to plan its military campaigns.

Turkish-Russian relations, on the other, have actually blossomed, and have reached the point that Erdoğan is even considering buying S-400 systems for Turkish air defence. The core of the two countries’ fast growing commercial relations centers on the building of the Turkstream pipeline through Turkey to Europe for Gazprom to avoid using Ukraine to transit its gas. However, when the Turkish army set about organising to assert its claim over the town of Manbij, where the YPG is ensconced, thus broadening its ‘safe’ region in Syria , Russia forestalled the move. It quickly brokered an agreement between the Syrian régime and the PYD to install régime forces in the path of Turkey forces, across the villages on Manbij’s western front.

It thus becomes clear that the region now dominated by Turkey and its rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), from A’zaz to el-Bab and across to Jarablus, is considered by Russia to be a sufficient concession to Turkish demands to secure its borders with Syria. Russia, on the other hand, seems to be happy with Turkey’s relationship with the Ukrainian government in Kiev, recently consolidated by a visa-free travel agreement between the two Black Sea neighbours, despite Russia’s problems with Kiev.

Meanwhile, Turkey is building a massive wall along its southeastern border to separate it from the new Syrian Kurdish cantons. Turkey is nevertheless allied with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Mahmoud Barzani and the Rojava Peshmerga forces, which are the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish National Council (ENKS). The ENKS is the umbrella group for Kurdish political parties in north Syria, excepting for the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Despite the visit of  an ENKS delegation to Washington, which aimed at highlighting the PYD administration’s oppression of other Kurdish political groups in northern Syria, the Pentagon seems to be firmly wedded to the PYD for its Northern Syrian strategy.

The risk of Russia-US nuclear confrontation

listen to Gilbert Doctorow on the Scott Horton Show

The neocons – Nuland, Kagan, Kristol have all gone over to Clinton and the Democrats with their war of words against Russia, and the US is deploying nuclear missiles all along the East European border. Putin has promised a nuclear attack if there are any untoward moves. Trump is vague on foreign policy, but one thing he has said is that there is no reason why the US can’t be friends with Russia.