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.

Rejecting the Deal of the Century

Jared Kushner’s idea that bribing Gazans with jobs in industrial sites built in North Sinai with finance coerced out of the Saudis by the Trump administration, in order for them to agree to a peace deal which will lose them Jerusalem and all Palestinians the right of return, faces Palestinian ire at both the popular and governmental level – in fact- across the board.

The fifteenth week of the Great March of Return culminates today, Friday, with “Down with the Deal of Century” day to express the disdain of Palestinians for the proffered bribe. It is hard to see how this coiled Trumpist monstrosity can succeed if the Palestinians don’t sign on the dotted line. It is also hard to see Egyptian tyrant Sisi accepting the project.

As much as Sisi wants Israeli support for his bloody rule, the proposals will have implications he won’t exactly relish. A new destabilising factor would come wrapped in the proposed new industrial sites that are nothing other than an extension of the penal colony that is Gaza into Egypt, for which Egypt would be totally responsible. If the project goes through, the Gazans and their leaders (Hamas) will be able to avail themselves of a new influence on different levels of the Egyptian state.

Furthermore, Sisi’s sale of the Islands of Tiran and Sanafir, two small desert islands, to Saudi Arabia, lost him a good deal of support amongst his base. Besides the problem of having to take responsibility for an effective expansion of Gaza into North Sinai, therefore, the Tiran and Sanafir precedent, was a warning to Sisi from such supporters as he still has in Egypt, which he looks like he is taking on board. He seems to be quietly encouraging the Palestinian rejection of the plan to bail him out of having to do the bidding of Trump, Kushner, and Netanhayu.

 

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.

 

We hear you! Bizarre US-Israeli strategy for régime change in Iran

It is clear that military action against Iran is out of the question for the US-Israeli axis, and that  harsh sanctions imposed against Iran and imposed with brute force against US allies around the world is the route that Trump and Pompeo are following. The idea is to destroy Iran’s economy and directly foment unrest to topple the Shia régime.

It is not a hidden secret that the U.S. and Israel have been supporting anti-régime protesters for at least a decade. Clandestine networks in Iran have been created by the US to provide Western media outlets with news stories about disruptions in Iran. This has involved smuggling satellite dishes into the country to receive radio and television broadcasts, while in Washington a coordination government office has been set up called Radio-TV Farda/Tomorrow.

Radio Free Europe, another U.S. radio-TV network serving the US security state, reports that more than 70 percent of Iranians use the satellite dishes. The dishes are illegal in Iran and are consistently been taken down by police. Encouraging youth in Iran to rebel against the system is relatively easy for Western intelligence services, given the repressive laws in the country and the thuggish methods of the Basij  (paramilitary volunteer militia) who impose them.

While the covert support for Iran unrest has been going on for years, Obama had subtly refused to support publicly the protests in Iran. But there is a bizarre twist in Netanhayu and  Pompeo, in their deluded arrogance and crass stupidity, regularly shouting their – “We hear you!” – support for demonstrators, calling out good wishes and issuing professions of concern. These efforts at destabilisation are clearly no longer covert, thus fatally undermining the legitimacy of the protesting groups.

These protesters have recently focused on closing down the iconic Grand Bazaar, which played a pivotal role in the 1979 Iranian revolution. However, although bazaaris are clearly unhappy about the state of the Iranian Rial, they are not the ones to initiate the closures, lending an artificial flavour to the events. Furthermore, the absence of the female chador in the new protests and their obvious narrow demographic character (youthful, male, urban), is an indication that things are not the same as in 1979. Iranian society has changed dramatically since the revolution.

In Rouhani’s call to allow the protests to take place, and in the ability of Iranian institutions to absorb them, we see a maturing of the Iranian state. There is also considerable awareness within Iran of the realities of politics in the West. No scales on Iranian eyes! Moreover, the open support in the US and Israel for the protests needs no interpretation. It is having the reverse effect of throwing the vast majority of the population behind the state, which we see in the vast pro-government demonstrations that follow any protest. All that Trump, Pompeo and Netanhayu are achieving here is the destruction of the ability of Europe and Japan to trade with Iran, disadvantaging them economically even as US tariffs are being imposed on European and Japanese goods, while NATO is being sidelined, and NATO members vilified for not spending enough on arms.

The result of all this is that Europe and Japan will suffer economically while Iranian trade with China, Russia, Turkey and the UAE (as principals and as middlemen) will boom.

Russia continues to spin Assad’s way out of any 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”.

Why we shouldn’t ask Muslims to condemn terrorism

All of us should condemn terrorism–whether the perpetrators are Muslim extremists, white supremacists, Marxist revolutionaries, or our own government. But it’s time for us to stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism under the assumption they are guilty of harboring terrorist sympathies or promoting violence until they prove otherwise. Renowned expert on Islamophobia Todd Green shows us how this line of questioning is riddled with false assumptions that say much more about “us” than “them.”Green offers three compelling reasons why we should stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism:
1) The question wrongly assumes Islam is the driving force behind terrorism
2) The question ignores the many ways Muslims already condemn terrorism.
3) The question diverts attention from unjust Western violence

The Turkish democratic space and the future of the Middle East

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his re-election on the basis of unofficial results after winning 52.5 percent of the national vote for the presidency, as the first executive president on the terms of the April 2017 Constitutional Referendum. The presidency had also previously shifted from being determined by parliamentary vote to a direct plebiscite in 2014. Now that virtually all the 180,996 ballot boxes have been opened, the Turkish Election Board, confirms the result. This is Erdoğan’s thirteenth election win since his days as Istanbul mayor.

However, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) only winning 42.5% of the vote in the accompanying elections for the expanded parliament of 600 seats, clearly missed its target of a majority win. The popular vote it acquires translates into 292 seats. Nevertheless, the new government’s ease of manoeuvre in parliament, for legislative purposes, will be made possible through the continuation the AKP’s alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and Erdoğan’s alliance with its leader, Devlet Bahçeli.

Erdoğan’s main rival, Muharrem İnce, the presidential candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 30.8 percent of the votes at the time of Erdoğan’s announcement. The CHP accused the Anadolu Agency of “manipulating” the vote count in its broadcasts in order to confuse matters, in a desperate manoeuvre to buy time as the CHP vote looked to be sharply down from its 25 % performance in the last (November 2015) elections. This is standard practice on the part of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who always cries foul as a habit, irrespective of the circumstances . His suspicion of ballot tampering was not based on any evidence, but on the mere fact of a turnaround in votes, which simply didn’t meet his expectations or predictions. İnce, however, performed much better in the presidential race than Kılıçdaroğlu did in the parliamentary race, and he conceded gracefully, pointing out that the massive lead Erdoğan enjoyed put the result beyond question.

Meral Akşener, leader of the newly founded right-wing İYİ (Good) Party, with a 7.4% result, failed to live up to the promise of her expected performance in the presidential race, where some polls had put her popularity at 20%. Furthermore her party only managed to scrape through into parliament due to her alliance with Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP.

The Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) succeeded in getting 11.2 percent of the national vote, helped especially by support from non-HDP voters, principally Turkey’s ultra-left voters, who deserted the CHP with negative consequences for the party. Compared with that, therefore, the HDP’s jailed presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş won a disproportionate 8.2 percent support, given that the support from the left was only directed at the party and not its leader.

These June 2018 elections mark the beginning of a new era in Turkey’s administrative system, and is an endorsement of the results of the 2017 Constitutional Referendum. Erdoğan’s tactic of allying with Bahçeli paid off. Erdoğan’s political successes have historically been predicated on carefully judged alliances both within and outside the AKP, although the alliance in the early days with the Fethullah Gülen cultic movement soured spectacularly as it began to plan an unconstitutional take-over through a widespread parallel (deep) state apparatus. This process culminated in the attempted coup in July 2016, and led to the current judicial process of the expurgation of the deep state, with the imposition of a state of emergency, yet to be lifted.

Now, Erdoğan’s AK Parti will clearly have to continue to work with the MHP as a coalition partner in parliament, to pass the legislation that will be needed to put flesh on the bones of the presidential system. Although the MHP is regularly tarred with the brush of “fascism” by ultra-left commentators, it is clear that it has nevertheless left behind the negative image it had in 1990s, when its youth movement fostered the violence of the “grey wolves”. The ultra-left’s continuation of the “fascist” meme in its current discourse about the MHP displays a nostalgia for the street battles and the ideological conflicts of the depressed 1990’s.

Indeed Bahçeli seems to have become a mainstay of the Turkish constitutional system. His wily political nous has positioned him as the “kingmaker” of Turkish politics ever since his call for a snap election back in 2002. He has predictably proved Akşener and the pundits wrong by garnering close to 12% of the parliamentary vote for the MHP. The MHP’s resilience seemed to surprise many among the commentariat as it now becomes a key player in parliament. The members of Akşener’s İYİ (Good) Party will find it hard to watch Bahçeli’s success, having defected from the MHP, and are likely to be attracted back into its fold as Akşener – unable to sit in parliament because she ran as presidential candidate – just watches.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s tactic to lend 15 CHP deputies to the İYİ (Good) Party, to help Akşener run as a presidential candidate and later ally with İYİ Party, was an act of self-immolation and sabotaged the CHP’s own chances, as Akşener attracted more votes from the CHP than from the AKP, and much less than was hoped from the MHP, which had been her main aim.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s tactic to put his party rival, Muharrem İnce, in as the presidential candidate, rather than run himself, allowed İnce to demonstrate an unexpected charisma and popularity, which helped him to win 30% of the national vote, or 7.3% more than the disappointing 22.7% achieved by the CHP. The CHP lost votes not only to the İYİ Party but also to the HDP, as a result of the ultra-left’s desertion of the CHP in its mission to drive the HDP over the 10 percent national threshold, and reduce the AKP’s lead in parliament. There will be considerable infighting in the CHP, which might consider an emergency congress to elect İnce as party chair ahead of the March 2019 municipal elections.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s various tactics, thus shorn of any long-term vision or programme competing with the AKP, is a complete failure. To the sense of catastrophe surrounding Kılıçdaroğlu, the bitter irony must added that the CHP’s lowest showing in the national vote since 2011 was  buoyed by the votes of an Islamic constituency. The CHP appropriated 671,000 votes from the Felicity (Saadet) Party, which had joined CHP’s “Nation Alliance”, but which had failed to pass the 10% threshold required to enter parliament. This failure thus adds 3 deputies to the CHP’s tally of 144 seats, an outcome which will haunt the remainder of Temel Karamollaoğlu’s political future, such as is it. His inability to attract voters away from the AKP for the Felicity Party will surely have drawn it to a close.

The HDP’s success is down to the ultra-left voters, but it gives the chance for the party now to draw a clear line between itself and the terror acts of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), despite sharing the same grassroots. This is a possibility since its leader, Demirtaş, serving a jail sentence for aiding and abetting terrorist violence, has recent admitted the error of the party’s previous support for the PKK as inconsistent with democratic participation. Furthermore, the presence of the HDP in parliament now gives the Turkish establishment a formal interlocutor for the Kurdish people and is thus a positive development. This is especially important in the light of the fact that Erdoğan’s alliance with Bahçeli will undoubtedly mean a ramping up of military action in Iraq and Syria against the PKK.

This particular outcome is significant. The HDP presence in parliament is a sweetener for Kurds, balancing out the harsh military action against the PKK. The Kurds might finally insist on full participation in the civil community represented by the Turkish democratic space, in which they have been offered full equality. The PKK umbrella group – the KCK – had rejected this in July 2015 in favour of war and the prospect of Kurdish national independence (Rojava), based on political opportunities afforded by Assad’s policies in Syria, on US logistical and weapons support from the US, and on financial support from the UAE/Saudi Arabia. The choice remains and is stark: the HDP will have more seats in parliament (67) as the MHP (50), and thus the wherewithal to negotiate with Erdoğan if it commits to a democratic agenda rather than blindly following the PKK’s programme of violence. A note of caution: the KCK’s hold on HDP deputies is, however, strong and not many share Demirtaş’ strength of mind.

As Erdoğan recently stated, the Kurds have a nation wherein the Kurdish language, Kurdish media, and Kurdish aspirations will flourish: it is called Turkey, the geographical designation. Bringing the enmity of Turks and Kurds to an end by sidelining the PKK’s divisiveness will also help stabilise both Iraq and Syria. While Syria has a long way to go yet to reach a political solution to its devastating crisis, Iraq’s political scene is developing apace. The acceptance by the Barzani clan of the lack of wisdom in the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) independence referendum, and of a renewed commitment to the Iraqi constitution – under pressure from Turkey, Iran and (from within) from the Talabani clan – was an important recent step towards Iraqi stability. But most important was the fact that the elections were a breakthrough in the process of overcoming the narrow Maliki-type of sectarian governance, while the post-election visit of Qasim Suleimani to Baghdad led to a shift in Sadr’s proposed alliance with Hadi al-Amiri, to one with al-Abadi, more conducive to political stability. This is surprising in that al-Amiri is much closer to Iran than Abadi.

In regards to Turkey itself, the electoral catastrophe suffered by Erdoğan’s opponents on June 24 is only partly due to Kılıçdaroğlu’s astonishing lack of political skills, and to Akşener’s delusions about her popularity among Turkish nationalists. It is also partly a result of the credit due to Erdoğan for his total transformation of the Turkish economy since the depressed 1990’s, and the quintupling of Turkish per capita incomes since. Above all, however, it is due mainly to the relentless attacks by the Western media on Erdoğan over the years, and the support – entirely transparent to the Turkish public – of its masters in the Western security state, of the Gülen movement  (aka FETÖ) and the PKK as Western proxies.

Erdoğan’s electoral success is thus mainly due to the continued perceived threat of interference by foreign powers in Turkey’s affairs by the people. Such interference, in their minds, promises only the same kind of devastation that is plainly evident in Turkey’s neighbourhood, and which is viscerally felt by Turks first-hand, from their need to support 4 million desperate refugees in their homeland. The reaction of the new middle classes who have risen during the Erdogan boom in this electoral cycle has thus, quite naturally, focused on defending the country’s integrity and sovereignty, reliving in this new chaotic era Mustafa Kemal’s rescue of the nation from dismemberment by foreign powers in 1919-23.

Kim and Trump: It Finally all Makes Sense

Trump cancels US participation in the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), against international law. This leads now to the (legal under the terms of the multilateral agreement) increase by the Iranian government (under pressure from the right-wing “Principalists” in its parliament) in the number of centrifuges it is deploying to enrich uranium. It is thus shortening the breakout time for acquiring a nuclear device.

Trump then makes a wild and vague deal with a like-minded dictator (Kim), which although historic and signed, is a threadbare rehash of previous agreements signed with North Korea in the 1994 and 2005.

So is the problem that North Korea actually has nukes and Iran doesn’t (yet)? Is the lesson that to impress the Americans you have to have nukes? Iran is going to attacked because it doesn’t have a deterrent? Maybe, but this is isn’t the essence of the problem. There is no plan to take on Iran militarily and actually never has been. Gareth Porter in Manufactured Crisis has shown that even Netanhayu was always bluffing about attacking Iran (it was all about bluff and counter-bluff on both sides), and Trump is certainly not going to want to put troops on the ground to fight Iran.

Both he and the Pentagon (although perhaps not his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser) understand the failure in Iraq, while Iran, on the other hand, has always been a much bigger fish.  Paul Jay sets out the case for “Trump the Peacemaker” being cover for preparing  war against Iran. Given Trump’s disconnected and impetuous policy-making this seems unlikely. One has to note that Iran is much more powerful (and its national security establishment – the IRGC- much more experienced) even than it was in 2003, while the US is beset with problems with all its allies across the world: problems of Trump’s own making. This is hardly an environment in which the US could plan a major military offensive against such an asymmetrically powerful nation.

Using its vast conventional missile capability Iran could easily destroy the Saudi Arabian Gawar oilfield (the planet’s largest single field), as well as Tel Aviv (either from Lebanon or even from Iran), irrespective of US patriot missiles protecting them (Russia has shown the limited capability of this kind of defence to concerted attacks). It could also block the Persian Gulf for traffic, especially the Straights of Hormuz, by sinking the US 6th Fleet, deploying and using SS-N-27A “Sizzler” missiles (ground to sea missiles that accelerate to twice the speed of sound, 2 km before their target, flying only feet above sea level). The US admits it has no defence for this capability. Iran acquired the technology from China, and all of China, Russia and India, as well as Iran possess them.

Such missiles are almost as strategically important as nuclear weapons, when a narrow objective like the straights of Hormuz is to be destroyed/blocked, while sizzler missiles are much more likely to be used in conflict than nuclear weapons, even if you possessed the latter.

In addition, as far as Trump’s own attitude to the region is concerned, we have to take into account the fact that he is pressuring the Pentagon on pulling out of Syria (which is why the Turks are now getting their way about the alliance between the US and the Kurds in Northern Syria, against the objections of CENTOM Chief Gen. Vogel). This goes against the views of his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser, whom Trump only hired in order to get a massive (2020) campaign donation from Rebecca Mercer. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo follows the President’s line and doesn’t deviate, taking on the Pentagon’s middle management, especially Joseph Votel on this matter. Votel doesn’t want to cooperate with the Turks after Erdoğan’s ejection of his allies and contacts within the Turkish army after the failure of their attempted coup in 2016.

Trump has no policy other than self-aggrandisement and getting re-elected. His Jerusalem move and cynical stroking of the Wailing Wall is all about campaign contributions and domestic political support. He did a lot for his base of religious nuts already with the Jerusalem decision, he doesn’t have to do more, no-one in the US political scene can now outflank him on the Zionist front. He isn’t going to risk all that by going to war in the exceptionally dangerous and ropey situation the US is in right now, against Iran.

So, on a lighter note, is the nub of the matter as to why cancel the JCPOA and then do a deal with Kim simply that he is an unaccountable dictator, whereas Iran is a complicated polity, with a parliament and an ideology that makes no sense to someone like him? Yes, but you have to understand the detail. A Tweet by Trump suddenly revealed all according to the BuzzFeed UK editor:

As Trump said in his Singapore press conference, these guys (meaning Kim and Co.) own all the real estate between China and South Korea – … can’t be bad, can it? If he had one iota of strategic sense though, he would have realised that in signing such a vague deal without easing sanctions, which was Kim’s main aim in the whole peace process, he has opened up the golden opportunity for China to do just that, and for Kim to launch (largely with Chinese and South Korean help) his own personal chain of hotels along the country’s beaches. Eat your heart out Donald…

Oil Kingdom In Crisis: Saudi Royal Family Rift Turns Violent

Saudi Arabia has plunged its immediate region into major strategic uncertainty. What can only be described as a serious outbreak of shooting in the Royal Palace in Riyadh on April 21, 2018, was the catalyst for events which could determine the fate of the Crown, the Kingdom, and the regional competition, particularly with Iran, for influence.

By June 1, 2018, however, the crisis seemed to be subsiding.

The delicacy of the situation posed serious questions for Russia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the US, in particular, in shaping their strategies, given that it raised serious questions over energy supply, the war in Yemen, control of the Red Sea, and the Eurasia-Africa links in the PRC’s Silk Route network. It is clear that the Saudi Government, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, itself was, even by early June 2018, uncertain how the situation would evolve.

Gregory Copley of Defense and Foreign Affairs noted recently: “Saudi Arabia now appears to have moved beyond the point of recovery, and could collapse at any time into internal conflict or fracturing.” On October 8, 2015, he had previously noted: “Concerns are growing within Saudi Arabia that the Kingdom is facing systemic challenges which could see its break-up within a decade or two.”

Matters came to a head on the evening of April 21, 2018, when heavy automatic weapons fire was heard over a fairly long timespan, coming from the compound of the Al-Khazami Palace in the neighborhood of Khuzama, in Riyadh. Government officials issued a report that the shooting was by Palace guards, firing at a civilian “toy” drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) which had strayed into forbidden airspace over the Palace. However, it was clear that some of the firing occurred within the Palace itself.

There were a significant number of casualties, and Riyadh had some discreet but clearly high-level funerals in the days which followed, although no announcements were subsequently made (even by early June 2018) of the deaths of any senior officials. It was understood that some visiting and very senior princes and officials were in the Palace with their armed bodyguards at the time of the incident.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was reported to have been struck by at least two rounds. The Government had said that King Salman bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud was not in the Palace at the time of the “drone incident”, and that he was at a family/military compound in the north-west of the Kingdom.

Other, private reports said that the King was in Riyadh at the time, and was quickly moved to a safe haven. The incident showed the extent of the anger felt by a significant number of family members of the House of Sa’ud toward Crown Prince Mohammed’s policies and methods.

Neither the King nor the Crown Prince appeared in open public situations from the time of the incident until early June 2018, although, on May 31, 2018, the Government released video footage of Crown Prince Mohammed meeting that day in Jeddah with Abd al-Rab Mansour al-Hadi, the Saudi-supported President of Yemen. What was significant about the video and still imagery released on May 31, 2018, was that one shot showed the Crown Prince standing and shaking hands with the President. King Salman met in Jeddah with the President the day before.

What is significant is that this was the first occasion in which Crown Prince Mohammed was shown standing since the April 21 shooting incident; all other imagery — and there was very little of that — only showed him seated. Clearly, however, if the Crown Prince was injured in the incident, then the wounds were not life-threatening, even though they were sufficient to ensure that he could not be presented to the public in a way which would allay rumors.

It has been confirmed that Crown Prince Mohammed was in a position to meet and conduct significant business with visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on May 18, 2018, just 27 days after the shooting incident, although no imagery exists of their meetings during the official visit of Dr Abiy (May 18-20, 2018). This was a significant visit, not only due to some tensions between the Kingdom and Ethiopia, but because Crown Prince Mohammed was attempting to act as an intermediary between Ethiopia and Eritrea, healing several decades of tensions and, for Saudi Arabia, to ensure that the influence of Iran and Qatar in both countries was minimized.

[The Crown Prince also agreed to release 1,000 Ethiopians imprisoned for minor offences in the Kingdom, a move seen as positive in Ethiopia, but Prince Mohammed’s attempts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the Kingdom — which is under severe economic constraints — in 2017 saw 14,000 Ethiopians forcibly deported, and 70,000 voluntary returnees. Overall, the Kingdom wants to deport 500,000 Ethiopian workers, of whom some 160,000 have already left.]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Kingdom on April 28, 2018, a week after the shooting, and met with King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, but not with the Crown Prince.

Iraqi cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the key victor of the May 12, 2018, Iraq parliamentary elections, had requested to visit the Kingdom, to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed, after his visit to Kuwait on May 30, 2018. The Shi’a cleric had visited the Kingdom in 2017, and had been warmly received, because of his independence from Iran, a position which only became more valuable following his recent election win. But the Saudi Government asked him to delay his visit to the Kingdom, a sign that there were still difficulties in the country.

But what was also significant was that Crown Prince Mohammed and King Salman had apparently spent much of the five weeks after the incident ensconced in the Rabigh Palace — a military compound with its own port — in Makkah (Mecca) Province, on the Red Sea. There was some speculation that the choice of this compound gave the option of rapid departure from the Kingdom if medical conditions demanded a move, or if the internal situation worsened. Read original article