Best Friends Forever: Turkey Removes ‘al-Qaeda in Syria’ From Terror List

Always a loyal friend, Turkey has decided to remove al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, from its list of terrorist organizations. Al-Nusra remained on the list for a staggering two weeks before Ankara remedied this horrible injustice:

The group was listed by Turkey as a ‘terrorist organisation’ only about 2 weeks before the removal decision. The decision, which was taken during a ministerial cabinet meeting on Monday, was announced in the Official Gazette on Wednesday.

Turkey has openly admitted to aiding al-Qaeda in Syria, and recent evidence presented by Russia suggests that Ankara is arming and equipping a wide range of extremist groups in the region.

Are we finally allowed to acknowledge that NATO is funneling weapons to terrorist groups in Syria via Turkey? Or is that still “speculation”?

 

Austrian business leader suggests free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok

Leitl intends to use a trip to Russia to discuss with President Vladimir Putin a free trade area across the continent from Lisbon to Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East.


Italy and Hungary against automatic renewal of anti-Russian sanctions

He suggests negotiations would take at least two or three years, and sanctions regime could change during the time, as quoted by Wirtschaftsblatt.

Leitl said Russia with its raw materials and Europe with its expertise would complement each other perfectly. A common economic space would strengthen Europe’s position, he said.

The business leader added that Moscow has played a constructive role in the negotiations with Iran, and its actions in Syria have been positive. That’s why it’s a pity that some in Europe still believe in a threatening policy, he said.

Leitl is going to visit Russia this week with Austrian President Heinz Fischer.

At the moment, there’s no unity among the European Union concerning the automatic prolongation of economic sanctions against Russia that expire on July 31 this year.

While Italy and Hungary have said that things can’t be taken for granted at this stage, some EU member states, such as Britain, the Baltic republics and Poland demand that sanctions should continue as a response to what they describe as expansionist Russia.

Don’t Conflate Pentagon With State Dept., CIA. US Military Is Serious About Fighting ISIS

This Friday the US military announced it is training “dozens” of Syrian “opposition fighters”. Pentagon insists these fighters would battle the Islamic State and are specifically trained to act as spotters for US strike aircraft:

The U.S. military said on Friday it has started training dozens of Syrian opposition fighters to battle the militant group Islamic State as part of a revamped program that aims to avoid mistakes that doomed its first training effort in Turkey last year.

Training for the first group of recruits includes how to identify targets for U.S.-led coalition airstrikes to allow coalition aircraft to better strike Islamic State from the air.

One reaction to this announcement has been to dismiss it out of hand. Speaking to Sputnik Marcus Papadopoulos of UK-based Politics First magazine commented that Pentagon was actually training Islamist terrorist:

The people who the Americans have been training for the last five years in Syria are not freedom fighters, they are not rebels. They are militants. They are Islamist militants. They are terrorists. These are the people who have been carrying out some of the most heinous crimes imaginable not just against Sunnis in Syria but also against Shia, Alawites, Jews and Christians.

This is an understandable sentiment but is not accurate or informed. 

It is true that the US has sponsored tens of thousands of Islamist jihadis in Syria but it does not follow from there that the current Pentagon training effort is training up such forces.

In fact there are many reasons to believe that Pentagon is training exactly who it is claiming – anti-ISIS fighters.

The first reason is that US military is clearly invested in the war against ISIS. 

It has escalated its effort against ISIS in Iraq to the point where it now has 4,500 troops there along with 7,000 contractors which include 1,100 Americans.

It has no fewer than 21 generals in Iraq directing these forces.

Furthermore, the US has officially 50 special forces troops embedded with the SDF/YPG forces in northeastern Syria.

Moreover, the Pentagon has been pushing for that force to be expanded many times over.

Also while it has been said that the recent Syrian-Russian victory in expelling ISIS from Palmyra has been its biggest defeat to date that that isn’t really true. 

Its biggest defeat was delivered in February 2016 when the Iraqi army, Shia militas and US special forces and strike aircraft expelled ISIS from Ramadi in Iraq.

The biggest ISIS defeat in Syria was the Siege of Kobani where the Kurdish YPG, PKK and Peshmerga backed by US aircraft by March 2015 repelled a six-month-long ISIS onslaught on the city.

The second reason is that Pentagon’s record on not enabling Syria jihadism is far better than appreciated.

As said tens of thousands of Islamist militants were indeed effectively sponsored by the US but that was the work of the CIA which the Pentagon stayed clear of.

Pentagon ran a wholly separate train-and-equip program which failed to have any effect on the ground precisely because the US generals would not collaborate with jihadis.

In 2015 Pentagon allocated $500 million to train end equip 5,400 Syrian rebels in Turkey. It was a source of great amusement to all when in the end only 180-200 fighters were enlisted in the program.

However, what was not really understood is that at least 1,100 Syrian fighters had sought to join the program but the US trainers turned the majority away after a vetting process designed to root out sympathizers of ISIS and Al Nusra.

Also, Pentagon was once more ridiculed when the 75-strong second class of their graduates upon crossing over into Syria promplty gave up its equipment to Al Nusra and subordinated itself to its command.

What was less understood was that the group was informed by the experience of the 54-strong first graduate class who upon entering Syria were decimated by Al Nusra.

More importantly, after this fiasco Pentagon promptly canceled the program and itself proclaimed it a dismal failure.

Actually the generals were never enthusiastic about toppling Assad but kept their eyes primarily on ISIS.

The US Joint Chief of Staff general Martin Dempsey ignored the White House and passed on information to Israel, Germany and Russia to be passed on to Assad that would help him against ISIS.

The ex-chief of military intelligence Michael Flynn publicly critiqued the Obama administration for making a “willful decision” to see the rise of ISIS.

The US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – a civilian who was very close to the military  bumped heads with the anti-Assad hawks, warned taking out Assad wouldn’t “put IS back in the box”, and since having been forced out of the Obama administration clearly articulated it’s ISIS, not Assad, that is the real threat to the United States. 

Third reason is it only makes sense.

The new Pentagon Syria training program was announced in Baghdad by the spokesman for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.

That means the US military conceives of it as part of its “Operation Inherent Resolve” which corresponds to its war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Also the Pentagon is clear that identifying targets for US strike aircraft is a key part of the training.

In Syria the US military has only ever bombed ISIS, and in a few instances the Al Nusra Front – it has never struck the Syrian army or loyalist forces.

Unless Pentagon is lying about this part of the training it is clear that US military expects its trainees will come up against ISIS.

Will it make a difference?

Pentagon’s original Syria training program was an utter failure.

However, the new scheme as described by US military sounds a lot more realistic and sensible.

Instead of trying to form up entire units in Turkey to be sent across the border where they are promptly lost, the Pentagon is now scooping up individual fighters from units that already exist and are able to maintain themselves in the field.

These will then be sent back to share their knowledge with their squads and to serve as spotters for US strike craft.

Question is which formations are being boosted in this way?

Since the Syrian-Russian relief of Aleppo the only “opposition fighters” in contact with ISIS are the Kurdish YPG, the Arab-elements of the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the rebels in Azaz pocket.

The fact the training is taking place in Turkey precludes the US from training YPG fighters. Ankara would never allow it. 

Turkey would be happy to see FSA elements in the Azaz pocket – which have indeed clashed with ISIS – be boosted by the US. However these forces are primarily interested in fighting Assad and are, since the Syrian-Russian advance in northern Aleppo, isolated and militarily insignificant.

The fact YPG is not being trained already means Pentagon’s training program isn’t a “game changer” that would keep ISIS up at night.

If the FSA is being trained then the program is completely and utterly insignificant.

However, if the Kurd’s Arab allies in the SDF are being trained as is likely then the program can have some tactical significance and may yet help YPG/SDF on its anticipated advance towards ISIS-held Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in the east of the country.

Child survivors of Nepal earthquake sold to rich British families

The paper says boys and girls as young as 10 are being sold for £5,250 ($7,468) in India’s Punjab province, near the Nepalese border.


Magnitude 7.3 deadly earthquake strikes Nepal close to Everest

Last April, a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed almost 9,000 people, and sent thousands of Nepalese families across the border to India seeking safety.

The Sun reports that black market gangs are targeting Nepalese refugee children as well as kids from poor Indian families by approaching their relatives to “do a deal.”

According to the paper, a slave driver, named as Makkan Singh, lined up kids for the paper’s undercover reporter, who was posing as a rich Sikh living in the UK, to choose from.

“We have supplied lads who have gone on to the UK,” Singh said.

“Most of the ones who are taken to England are Nepalese.”

Singh explained that most families keep the children locked up in India for several years while arranging travel documents.

“Take a Nepalese to England. They are good people. They are good at doing all the housework and they’re very good cooks. No-one is going to come after you,” he said.

“India is flooded with boys. Nepal has been destroyed and all the Nepalese are here.

“You do the deal, pay me the money and you’re away free. You buy the kids and off you go.”

The damning revelations prompted a swift response from UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who called on the National Crime Agency (NCA) to launch an investigation into the Sun’s claims.

“No child, anywhere in the world, should be taken away from their home and forced to work in slavery,” she said.

“That is why we introduced the landmark Modern Slavery Act last year, which included enhanced protections for potential child victims of slavery and sentences up to life imprisonment for those found guilty.

“We encourage the Sun to share its disturbing findings with the Police and National Crime Agency so that appropriate action can be taken against the vile criminals who profit from this trade.”

READ MORE: Nepal rebuilds with quake-proof Japanese designs

Speaking to Sky News, an NCA spokesperson said: “The NCA works with partners in the UK and internationally to identify and pursue criminals and to safeguard both child and adult victims.

“The hidden nature of human trafficking means that it often goes unreported. Anyone who suspects it should report their concerns to law enforcement.”

A 1954 Look at Iconic GUM Mall on Red Square (Video)

Subtitle by Julia Rakhmetova


If you have ever been to Moscow, you couldn’t have missed it: the State Department Store, or GUM. Designed by great Russian architects in the 1800s and situated right across the Red Square from the Kremlin wall, it is THE Russian Store, a cult place for locals and natives.

Watch this nostalgic video from 1954: it will you give you an idea of how it worked then – not just what it sold but how the whole infrastructure was organized with kilometers of underground supply chains and dozens of elevators.

In those days, the re-opening of GUM in all its splendor was a sign of post-war recovery. Later it became symbolize of Soviet life: better supplied than ordinary shops, it was criss-crossed by lines at every counter.

Now it has lost that democratic flavor and showcases eхpensive boutiques.

Tehran ups oil exports ahead of production freeze talks

Exports rose by 250,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to the minister who earlier said that Tehran intends to boost production to the pre-sanctions level of four million bpd.


Iran’s oil ‘catch-22’

Last week Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Riyadh would agree to freeze crude oil production only if Iran follows.

Meanwhile, OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem el-Badri earlier said that the production freeze talks may be successful even without Iran’s participation.

The world’s leading oil producers, including non-OPEC members, are meeting on April 17 in Doha, Qatar to discuss the output freeze.

After oil prices hit 12-year lows of $27 per barrel in January, the world’s two biggest oil producers – Russia and Saudi Arabia as well as OPEC members Qatar and Venezuela agreed on an oil production freeze at January levels.

Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak has suggested producers of three-quarters of the world’s oil were ready to join the deal.

READ MORE: Oil production freeze talks may go ahead without Iran

Oil prices have risen since then, climbing over $40 a barrel in recent weeks. They fell again after the statements by the Saudi prince on Friday.

Brent crude was trading at $38.41 per barrel on Monday, while US WTI was at $36.42 per barrel.

Myanmar and China on the Path to New Relations

3453453444Six months ago, in November 2015, Myanmar held a landmark parliamentary election for the first time in a quarter of a century. The iconic leader of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, globally renowned for her struggle for democratic changes in the country, won the election. Many assessed this event as a turning point in the history of Myanmar and expected it to impact the country’s domestic and foreign policy. The wave of subsequent changes has, most likely, affected the China-Myanmar relations.

Myanmar had had rocky relations with the western countries for a long time and had been in a long-standing diplomatic isolation. This contributed to Myanmar’s heavy dependence on the People’s Republic of China that was one of its major economic partners throughout those years. Myanmar is viewed by China as a strategic partner as well. The country is extremely rich in natural gas, which made it to the list of essential export goods after the development of offshore gas fields in the Andaman Sea was launched. But what is even more important, gas and oil delivered to Myanmar’s ports from the Middle East and Africa flow to China through pipelines installed in the territory of Myanmar. This source of energy supply is extremely important for China: it fears that in case of a conflict, the US and its allies might cut the supply of oil and NLG coming through the primary channel in the Strait of Malacca. This fear is well grounded. There has been an escalation in the territorial dispute over the South-China Sea between China and its neighbors. To guarantee its energy security, China is maintaining efforts to strengthen its influence on Myanmar. It also actively participates in the development of Myanmar’s oil and gas infrastructure.

In 2009-2010, the China National Petroleum Corporation and Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise launched the joint construction of a new thousand-kilometer-long network of pipelines for the delivery of oil and liquefied gas from Myanmar ports to the Chinese Yunnan province. A pipeline carrying gas from a Myanmar gas field in the Bay of Bengal was commissioned in 2013. The operation of a parallel oil pipeline was launched in February 2015. Citizens of Myanmar, who lost their plots of land because of the construction project and could no longer fish in the areas adjacent to the port as well as those worried about the possible environmental impact of the pipelines, protested the commissioning of the NLG pipeline network.

The number of protesters was significant enough to make the Chinese party nervous. The Chinese leadership was mostly concerned with the prospects of anti-Chinese forces taking office in Myanmar in the wake of the 2015 election. Had that happened, they could have provoked an exacerbation of the negative sentiment among the Myanmar population associated with the network’s construction. However strange it might sound, the then-ruling military party—the Union Solidarity and Development Party that had been running the country since 1988—turned out to be such a force. Initially, this regime promoted amicable relations with China because of heavy sanctions imposed on it by the western world. However, recently, the military wing of the Union Solidarity and Development Party reconsidered its relations with China fearing its continuously expanding influence. Apparently, the party has softened its US policy, which resulted in the lifting of some US sanctions in the few past years. The party has put on hold several important for China projects, which in its opinion led to excessive dependence on China. These projects were designed to amplify the economic influence of China in the adjacent Myanmar regions known for their separatist sentiment. The construction of a hydro-electric power plant in the state of Kachin is one of the suspended projects. Since the middle of the 20th century, waves of revolts and armed rebellions have swept across the state more than once. Inhabitants of the state were demanding independence.

As some sources believe, it was in China’s interests for the NLD to win the election. Though Aung San Suu Kyi is known as an advocate of convergence with the West, the Chinese leadership did not express discontent with her victory. As for the Chinese press, it reported her victory with enthusiasm. One of the reasons the military party lost was the refusal of some separatist groups from the regions of Myanmar bordering on China to sign a nationwide ceasefire. Signing of the agreement could have significantly enhanced the military party’s rating among the Myanmar citizens and increased its chances of winning in the November election. Some Myanmar politicians explicitly accused China of derailing the negotiations.

If analysts can be believed, Myanmar will be pursuing a two-way policy of strengthening the ties with China, while improving its relations with the West, where Aung San Suu Kyi is seen as a zealous democrat and human rights activist. The visit of Aung San Suu Kyi to China in June 2015 ingrained hope into many Chinese politicians that the suspended investment projects would be continued and new agreements would be signed. During her visit, Aung San Suu Kyi had a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The content of their dialog remains undisclosed, but the Chinese press has softened its rhetoric when reporting on the NLD and its leader. It was also underscored that the Chinese party was not seeking to meddle in the development of the US-Myanmar relations or pursue the interests of its state. There are no doubts that China will be keeping close watch on the development of the US-Myanmar relations to assure they are in line with its own interests. Besides, China still has a lever of influence in case its relations with the new Myanmar government go downhill. This lever is the military party that, despite losing the election, has not disappeared from the country’s political landscape. Now that they have lost ground, they will have no other options but to seek the support of the Chinese leadership. Despite their attempts to make deals with the West, the US prefers to build relations with the new democratic leader, a Nobel Prize Winner.

Myanmar’s new leadership has to proceed with caution when developing its policy to gain benefit from the cooperation with both competing camps: the western countries and China assuring there is no tilt to either side. Let us hope that Aung San Suu Kyi has the wisdom to strike a balance between the two geopolitical powers and create favorable conditions for making a great leap forward in the country’s development in the near future.

Sophia Pale, PhD, Research Fellow of the Center for South-East Asia, Australia and Oceania of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

The CIA Just Backstabbed Obama

The Syrian “civil war” was supposed to create another Libya: A destabilized, lawless nation that could be used as a safe haven for terrorists, arms smugglers and human traffickers — another ripe target for endless US military intervention. (And, according to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, a destroyed Syria was in the “interests” of Israel.) But things didn’t go quite according to plan.

Because Obama stopped short of direct military intervention, much of Washington’s strategy in Syria was carried out covertly by the CIA. And now that the plan has (largely) failed, the CIA has decided to throw Obama under the bus:

The CIA in 2012 proposed a detailed covert action plan designed to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, but President Obama declined to approve it, current and former U.S. officials tell NBC News.

According to a former CIA operative, the CIA had a plan to “peacefully resolve” the conflict in Syria, but Obama “declined” to implement it:

Elements under discussion at the time included not only bolstering Syrian rebels, but pressuring and paying senior members of Assad’s regime to push him out, the former officials said. The idea was that the Syrian civil war could then have been peacefully resolved–a huge uncertainty.

[The CIA operated who proposed the plan] ultimately resigned in frustration — over that and other issues — after it became clear the Obama administration would not move forward.

In plain English: According to the CIA, Obama only wanted to arm and train rebels, and refused to bribe members of Assad’s government. This, according to the CIA, is the reason why Syria is now such a mess.

What a load of utter garbage. Using its client states as a front, the US paid Syrian government officials to defect. The CIA’s plan was fully implemented. As the National Interest wrote in February:

It is no secret that the Saudis and Qataris, with full U.S. support, have tried to bribe some of Assad’s innermost circles to defect. The all-important professional military cadre of the Syrian Arab Army, however, has remained thoroughly loyal.

The US did everything it could to oust Assad, short of an actual land invasion. The idea that the CIA’s strategy in Syria failed because Obama didn’t let the Agency bribe government officials is absurd. Bribes were offered, but it had almost no impact.

What we’re witnessing is a coordinated campaign by the CIA to distance itself from its own disastrous plan in Syria.

Thanks to the CIA-controlled stenographers in the US media, Americans are now supposed to believe that the CIA had to work in Syria with one arm tied behind its back. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The CIA failed in Syria. And now the Agency is backstabbing Obama.

We recommend staying away from grassy knolls, Mr. President.

‘Paltry bone-throwing’: UN insider blasts Britain’s Libya aid efforts

Speaking to the Observer, the unnamed insider said the UK’s proposed 2016 contribution of just £50,000 (US$ 71,150) in aid paled in significance when compared to the £320 million spent on Britain’s 2011 bombing campaign.

The North Africa-based source said the sum amounted to “paltry bone-throwing from a European country whose bombers reaped so much destruction in Libya just five years ago.

Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Stephen Gethins, who sits who the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, also criticized the Department for International Development’s (DFID) proposed £50,000 contribution, reportedly used to employ a consultant to advise on medicine and food shortages.

Gethins told the Observer the government’s intention “to spend just £50,000 [for an adviser] on humanitarian aid following their bombing campaign of £320 million is unbelievable.

He said UK policy in Libya had been “nothing short of disastrous,” that the military assault lacked planning and that local people are “paying a heavy price.

He said Prime Minister David Cameron’s role in the war had been “widely condemned for helping create yet another failed state.

A disaster is unfolding in Libya, not least due to the UK’s actions,” Gethins argued.

The UK must now step up and provide adequate humanitarian assistance to a country which desperately needs it.

In March, US President Barack Obama said Cameron, who alongside France’s then-President Nicholas Sarkozy lobbied hard for the bombing, was easily “distracted” during the war. Obama is reported to privately refer to the Libya debacle as Cameron’s “shit-show.

The Guardian reported on Monday that Cameron is yet to respond to an invitation from Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Crispin Blunt to appear before the influential panel’s inquiry into the war.

The committee carried out its own fact-finding mission in North Africa in March and is anxious to examine rumors that up to 1,000 UK troops may be attached to an Italian-led EU military brigade touted for deployment to Libya.

Has Trying to Balkanize Syria Boomeranged on the West?

34534534534222“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”   -Woody Allen

This week brought some reflection on how, at the beginning of the ceasefire, John Kerry tried to rain on the outcome by threatening that if it was not successful the US would have to consider reverting to its plan B fallback position, a code phrase for the Balkanization of Syria.

Another way to describe that is “divide and conquer by other means”. But we know that had always been the plan. So I wanted to use this article to show that it was the US coalition that actually got Balkanized by its failed policy, and that we all had a front row seat to watch it happen.

The fall of Palmyra has generated the expected “turning point” media articles, but the first turning point came about a year ago, after the first wave of Syrian army defections to the opposition. Next came the subsequent assassinations and bombings targeting the remaining military and Intelligence leadership to “encourage” them to remove Assad with a coup and save themselves. They said “No thank you… we’ll fight”.

The second turning point of the revolution came when the US-NATO-Gulf State coalition decided to turn the war into a large scale terror operation — I assume to intimidate future targets about what would happen to them if they refused to bow down to the Neo-colonial steamroller.

We had sources inside Jordan FSA training program tell us they knew a lot of their trainees were ending up fighting with the jihadis. That had our own military supporting a proxy terrorist flanking attack against Damascus in conjunction with US coalition members Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey in the north.

I won’t focus on the CIA, because it has been using terrorism for destabilization for so long that it doesn’t even raise attention any more. Whether Bush (43) or Obama was at the helm, the CIA and the State Department have engaged in using proxy terrorism when and wherever it suited them.

This multi-front terror war with its initial Free Syrian Army cover devastated much of Syria. It was as much a war against the Syrian people as against the Assad regime, and analogous to the Saudis attacking the people of Yemen, which is being called a war crime.

Iran came in with its advisors and helped Syria quickly build a national guard which took over local security so Syrian army units could concentrate more on protecting the threatened population centers. Hezbollah sent its well-trained units to support key battles. The Syrian army did not implode as expected. That was a third turning point that helped give the advantage to Assad.

Then the chemical weapon false flag attack was deployed with the big Sarin gas attack and blamed on Assad, as it was intended to be the red-line crossing that would allow the US to launch a massive bombing campaign to crush the Syrian army and make it easy pickings for the jihadis. But many of us could not believe Assad would hand his head over on a silver platter by doing a totally unnecessary gas attack like this. Those chemical stockpiles had been created to use against an Israeli invasion.

Patriotic elements of the US and intelligence communities compiled evidence that the cel phone intercepts by the two Syrian officers alleged to have discussed ordering the move of the Sarin gas for its use, was a classic Cold War-style, staged communication. They knew it would be intercepted by the NSA and used to trigger the red line retaliation. Veterans Today played a role in seeing that all that information got right to the President’s desk, and fortunately he ordered the bombing stand down with a mere hour to go before the planes were launched. That was the fourth and most significant turning point of the war.

We fast forward to the emergence of ISIL and its entry into the war, its brutality and success at drawing manpower from the other opposition factions to feed its ranks, as did al-Nusra. Some of their recruits came from those trained by the US military in Jordan. That culminated in congressional testimony about the huge scandal of a $500 million annual program in Turkey for “5000 carefully recruited” FSA trainees who would even be afforded US air support. The initial groups that crossed into Syrian melted away, donating their equipment to the jihadis in return for their lives, or joining them. That utter policy defeat was the fifth turning point.

But the well-armed and financed opposition and terrorist brigades were able to continue grinding the Syrian army down to where it was in danger of collapsing. The Western coalition was beginning to think the end could be near in months, not years. The Russians had initial Syrian units in training for combined operations using the newest Russian equipment, but they did not have enough time to train enough units.

So the sixth turning point, which caught almost everybody off guard, was the Russians committing to a major air campaign to help stabilize and turn the momentum around, flying out of one small airbase. Veterans Today had a small team in Damascus for briefings just a few weeks before it started. We could sense there was a change in the wind, but felt that it would be a big infusion of new equipment with Russian operators, counter battery artillery, lots of drones, etc.

When the air campaign cranked up and the results began to sink in, the ”Night of the Kalibrs” was a new turning point, with four Russian destroyers firing 26 long range cruise missiles onto 11 targets. That was followed soon after by some submarine-launched missiles from the Mediterranean.

Then Moscow deployed all three of its heavy bombers to strike suitable larger targets, continuing its demonstration of the support firepower it could bring to bear on the anti-terror war in Syria. We began to see that Moscow was displaying how effective its military could be with modern combined operations, and the Syrian opposition groups and the jihadis felt the burn.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia began hinting of a possible combined anti-terrorism ground operation, code for invading northern Syria to save their terror proxies. The Saudis even staged the highly-inflated 350,000-man coalition exercise, where we never got to see anything of that scale in the photos or video. The ceasefire began with many from real opposition groups signing onto it, and several thousand Syrian army deserters took advantage of Assad’s amnesty offer.

This month, Moscow threw another curve ball by pulling out a large part of its air wing, which undercut the accusations that it was pushing for a military solution. Turkey continued its border provocations, but neither Russia nor Syria took the bait by retaliating.

The military focus became a somewhat holding action in the north, with a major push to secure the central areas and eastern areas, clearing Palmyra, then Deir-Essor and Raqqa. This would eliminate any major bases for the Saudis to reinforce, and it will put the Syrian army back in control of its eastern border crossings to cut off jihadi supplies flowing either way. The remaining ISIL units would find themselves Balkanized into doomed unsupported units. Some are surrounded as I type.

Turkey has brought a terror war upon itself after bringing it to neighbors. The US just took a major step back from its NATO ally by removing all US military dependents from Southern Turkey over concerns of terrorism. This could also be a message to Erdogan that continuing to supplying the Jihadis inside Syria during the ceasefire would have relationship consequences.

The Kurds want the UN to consider war crime charges against the Erdogan government. NATO comments in support of Turkish actions have dried up.

Assad has rejected any discussions on federalization, a code word for Balkanization. He and his army, plus the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah did not fight all this time to throw it all away at the end, merely to see Syria turn into another Libya. And this week, the Pentagon has admitted that Russia has made some positive contributions to the ceasefire and anti-terrorism effort.

The EU is reeling from the Brussels terror attacks and the subsequent revelations that its security services have long been overwhelmed with trying to keep up with all the suspected jihadis. The German interior ministry shockingly admitted that not only was Europe going to have a long terror war, but he rattled off a list of cities that would be attacked like Brussels, and admitted that even Germany was not prepared.

The Russians were right all along — that the Western game of “good terrorists and bad terrorists” was a fool’s game. Hotels in Paris and Brussels are now empty. All it takes is one disposable jihadi team to repeat this effect in other major cities with these homemade nail bombs. Nobody seemed to care much when Syrians were dying. So I ask you all, who has Balkanized whom?

Jim W. Dean, managing editor for Veterans Today, producer/host of Heritage TV Atlanta, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Super Important Article in Bloomberg – How Hackers Manipulate Campaigns and Elections

For eight years, Sepúlveda, now 31, says he traveled the continent rigging major political campaigns. With a budget of $600,000, the Peña Nieto job was by far his most complex. He led a team of hackers that stole campaign strategies, manipulated social media to create false waves of enthusiasm and derision, and installed spyware in opposition offices, all to help Peña Nieto, a right-of-center candidate, eke out a victory. On that July night, he cracked bottle after bottle of Colón Negra beer in celebration. As usual on election night, he was alone.

current_500pxwide_int.jpg

His teams worked on presidential elections in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela. Campaigns mentioned in this story were contacted through former and current spokespeople; none but Mexico’s PRI and the campaign of Guatemala’s National Advancement Party would comment.

Usually, he says, he was on the payroll of Juan José Rendón, a Miami-based political consultant who’s been called the Karl Rove of Latin America. Rendón denies using Sepúlveda for anything illegal, and categorically disputes the account Sepúlveda gave Bloomberg Businessweek of their relationship, but admits knowing him and using him to do website design. “If I talked to him maybe once or twice, it was in a group session about that, about the Web,” he says. “I don’t do illegal stuff at all. There is negative campaigning. They don’t like it—OK. But if it’s legal, I’m gonna do it. I’m not a saint, but I’m not a criminal.” While Sepúlveda’s policy was to destroy all data at the completion of a job, he left some documents with members of his hacking teams and other trusted third parties as a secret “insurance policy.”

Sepúlveda provided Bloomberg Businessweek with what he says are e-mails showing conversations between him, Rendón, and Rendón’s consulting firm concerning hacking and the progress of campaign-related cyber attacks. Rendón says the e-mails are fake. An analysis by an independent computer security firm said a sample of the e-mails they examined appeared authentic. Some of Sepúlveda’s descriptions of his actions match published accounts of events during various election campaigns, but other details couldn’t be independently verified. One person working on the campaign in Mexico, who asked not to be identified out of fear for his safety, substantially confirmed Sepúlveda’s accounts of his and Rendón’s roles in that election.

Sepúlveda says he was offered several political jobs in Spain, which he says he turned down because he was too busy. On the question of whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with, he is unequivocal. “I’m 100 percent sure it is,” he says.

Rendón, says Sepúlveda, saw that hackers could be completely integrated into a modern political operation, running attack ads, researching the opposition, and finding ways to suppress a foe’s turnout. As for Sepúlveda, his insight was to understand that voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers. He knew that accounts could be faked and social media trends fabricated, all relatively cheaply. He wrote a software program, now called Social Media Predator, to manage and direct a virtual army of fake Twitter accounts. The software let him quickly change names, profile pictures, and biographies to fit any need. Eventually, he discovered, he could manipulate the public debate as easily as moving pieces on a chessboard—or, as he puts it, “When I realized that people believe what the Internet says more than reality,I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything.”

For most jobs, Sepúlveda assembled a crew and operated out of rental homes and apartments in Bogotá. He had a rotating group of 7 to 15 hackers brought in from across Latin America, drawing on the various regions’ specialties. Brazilians, in his view, develop the best malware. Venezuelans and Ecuadoreans are superb at scanning systems and software for vulnerabilities. Argentines are mobile intercept artists. Mexicans are masterly hackers in general but talk too much. Sepúlveda used them only in emergencies.

Chávez won but died five months later of cancer, triggering an emergency election, won by Nicolás Maduro. The day before Maduro claimed victory, Sepúlveda hacked his Twitter account and posted allegations of election fraud. Blaming “conspiracy hackings from abroad,” the government of Venezuela disabled the Internet across the entire country for 20 minutes.

Sepúlveda didn’t like the idea of working in Mexico, a dangerous country for involvement in public life. But Rendón persuaded him to travel there for short trips, starting in 2008, often flying him in on his private jet. Working at one point in Tabasco, on the sweltering Gulf of Mexico, Sepúlveda hacked a political boss who turned out to have connections to a drug cartel. After Rendón’s security team learned of a plan to kill Sepúlveda, he spent a night in an armored Chevy Suburban before returning to Mexico City.

Early polls showed Peña Nieto 20 points ahead, but his supporters weren’t taking chances. Sepúlveda’s team installed malware in routers in the headquarters of the PRD candidate, which let him tap the phones and computers of anyone using the network, including the candidate. He took similar steps against PAN’s Vázquez Mota. When the candidates’ teams prepared policy speeches, Sepúlveda had the details as soon as a speechwriter’s fingers hit the keyboard. Sepúlveda saw the opponents’ upcoming meetings and campaign schedules before their own teams did.

Money was no problem. At one point, Sepúlveda spent $50,000 on high-end Russian software that made quick work of tapping Apple, BlackBerry, and Android phones. He also splurged on the very best fake Twitter profiles; they’d been maintained for at least a year, giving them a patina of believability.

Just about anything the digital dark arts could offer to Peña Nieto’s campaign or important local allies, Sepúlveda and his team provided.On election night, he had computers call tens of thousands of voters with prerecorded phone messages at 3 a.m. in the critical swing state of Jalisco. The calls appeared to come from the campaign of popular left-wing gubernatorial candidate Enrique Alfaro Ramírez. That angered voters—that was the point—and Alfaro lost by a slim margin. In another governor’s race, in Tabasco, Sepúlveda set up fake Facebook accounts of gay men claiming to back a conservative Catholic candidate representing the PAN, a stunt designed to alienate his base. “I always suspected something was off,” the candidate, Gerardo Priego, said recently when told how Sepúlveda’s team manipulated social media in the campaign.

In 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe’s successor, unexpectedly restarted peace talks with the FARC, hoping to end a 50-year war. Furious, Uribe, whose father was killed by FARC guerrillas, created a party and backed an alternative candidate, Oscar Iván Zuluaga, who opposed the talks.

Rendón, who was working for Santos, wanted Sepúlveda to join his team, but Sepúlveda turned him down. He considered Rendón’s willingness to work for a candidate supporting peace with the FARC a betrayal and suspected the consultant was going soft, choosing money over principles. Sepúlveda says he was motivated by ideology first and money second, and that if he wanted to get rich he could have made a lot more hacking financial systems than elections. For the first time, he decided to oppose his mentor.

Sepúlveda went to work for the opposition, reporting directly to Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos. (Zuluaga denies any knowledge of hacking; Hoyos couldn’t be reached for comment.) Together, Sepúlveda says, they came up with a plan to discredit the president by showing that the guerrillas continued to traffic in drugs and violence even as they talked about peace. Within months, Sepúlveda hacked the phones and e-mail accounts of more than 100 militants, including the FARC’s leader, Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timochenko. After assembling a thick file on the FARC, including evidence of the group’s suppression of peasant votes in the countryside, Sepúlveda agreed to accompany Hoyos to the offices of a Bogotá TV news program and present the evidence.

It may not have been wise to work so doggedly and publicly against a party in power. A month later, Sepúlveda was smoking on the terrace of his Bogotá office when he saw a caravan of police vehicles pull up. Forty black-clad commandos raided the office to arrest him. Sepúlveda blamed his carelessness at the TV station for the arrest. He believes someone there turned him in. In court, he wore a bulletproof vest and sat surrounded by guards with bomb shields. In the back of the courtroom, men held up pictures of his family, making a slashing gesture across their throats or holding a hand over their mouths—stay silent or else. Abandoned by former allies, he eventually pleaded guilty to espionage, hacking, and other crimes in exchange for a 10-year sentence.

Three days after arriving at Bogotá’s La Picota prison, he went to the dentist and was ambushed by men with knives and razors, but was saved by guards. A week later, guards woke him and rushed him from his cell, saying they had heard about a plot to shoot him with a silenced pistol as he slept. After national police intercepted phone calls revealing yet another plot, he’s now in solitary confinement at a maximum-security facility in a rundown area of central Bogotá. He sleeps with a bulletproof blanket and vest at his bedside, behind bombproof doors. Guards check on him every hour. As part of his plea deal, he says, he’s turned government witness, helping investigators assess possible cases against the former candidate, Zuluaga, and his strategist, Hoyos. Authorities issued an indictment for the arrest of Hoyts  but according to Colombian press reports he’s fled to Miami.

In July 2015, Sepúlveda sat in the small courtyard of the Bunker, poured himself a cup of coffee from a thermos, and took out a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. He says he wants to tell his story because the public doesn’t grasp the power hackers exert over modern elections or the specialized skills needed to stop them. “I worked with presidents, public figures with great power, and did many things with absolutely no regrets because I did it with full conviction and under a clear objective, to end dictatorship and socialist governments in Latin America,” he says. “I have always said that there are two types of politics—what people see and what really makes things happen. I worked in politics that are not seen.”

Last year, based on anonymous sources, the Colombian media reported that Rendón was working for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Rendón calls the reports untrue. The campaign did approach him, he says, but he turned them down because he dislikes Trump. “To my knowledge we are not familiar with this individual,” says Trump’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks. “I have never heard of him, and the same goes for other senior staff members.” But Rendón says he’s in talks with another leading U.S. presidential campaign—he wouldn’t say which—to begin working for it once the primaries wrap up and the general election begins.

Now I wonder…who might that be?

No compromise with US over fate of Syria President Assad

We will never agree with our colleagues in Washington, as well as in a number of other capitals, who maintain that the whole task should be tuned by the well-known phrase reading ‘Assad must leave’,” Sergey Ryabkov said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

READ MORE: Top Russian diplomat blasts US politicians for using anti-Moscow rhetoric to boost ratings

He went on to explain that in Moscow’s view such an approach contradicts not only the Russian foreign policy doctrine, which does not accept any attempts to change political regimes in sovereign countries from abroad (so-called ‘color revolutions’), but also due to the fact that such demands deprive the political process of any prospects for success.

According to Ryabkov, at the present time Syrian opposition movements and Western nations that back these movements are all so sure of their cause that they simply cannot agree to the fact that Assad would remain in the center of the Syrian political process for some unspecified period of time.

What conclusion can we draw from the current situation if we have no intention to disrupt the talks and the normalization process? The conclusion is that we should put this problem aside and let the Syrian sides in the conflict to determine when and on which basis this problem will appear again,” he told reporters.

Ryabkov’s comment came shortly after Assad gave an extensive interview to the Russian news agency Sputnik, in which he said that the most important lesson Syria had learned from its five-year civil war is that the Western nations cannot be trusted.

The Syrian leader added that the policies of the US and EU were far removed from the principles of international law and the United Nations and because of that it was impossible to rely upon the West to solve any issue.

In such conditions, every leader “should be able to choose friendly states that will stand by him during crises,” Assad said, hinting at the support his country received from Russia.

READ MORE: West is ‘dishonest,’ pursues policy detached from intl law – Assad

A ceasefire was announced in Syria in late February after a five-month long operation of the Russian Air Force helped the Syrian military to liberate some parts of the country occupied by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. The next round of intra-Syrian talks between the government and opposition is scheduled to take place in Geneva, Switzerland on April 9.

Hillary as President would be Catastrophic for the US and the World

43534534534Beholden to special interests; complicit in US war crimes across the globe; held top secret information on an unsecured home server; incessantly lies (like most politicians); and is married to a man who has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault: the fact that Hillary Clinton is even remotely capable of becoming President of the US is symptomatic of how corrupt and screwed up the US political system actually is.

Puppet on a String

Clinton is the walking, talking definition of a political prostitute, completely controlled by special interests, Israel and the shadow establishment. Since the beginning of 2013, Clinton has received at least $21.7 million for 92 speeches she has given to private organizations and groups. This includes $225,000 from Morgan Stanley; $225,000 from Deutsche Bank; $225,000 from Bank of America; and $675,000 from the Goldman Sachs Group (for three separate speeches). George Soros, the investor, billionaire and regime change extraordinaire, has also put millions into Clinton’s campaign. 

Hillary is controlled by the parallel US government, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). In 2009, she revealed her relationship with the CFR when she addressed the council at their newly opened outpost in Washington D.C.:

“I have been often to the mother ship in New York City, but it’s good to have an outpost of the council right here down the street from the State Department. We get a lot of advice from the council, so this will mean I won’t have as far to go to be told what we should be doing and how we should think about the future.” 

A look at the corporate membership of the council reveals the level of power vested in such a small amount of hands, with approximately 200 of the most influential corporate players belonging to the group, including: Exxon Mobil Corporation; Goldman Sachs Group; JPMorgan Chase; BP plc; Barclays; IBM; Google Inc; Facebook; Lockheed Martin; Raytheon; Pfizer; Merck Co; Deutsche Bank AG; Shell Oil Company; and Soros Fund Management.

War Criminal in Chief

Hillary is complicit in numerous crimes and atrocities perpetuated by the US when she was Secretary of State from January, 2009 to February, 2013. One of the most notable examples of this was the belligerent war in Libya in 2011. Clinton played a pivotal role in the NATO intervention which led to the toppling of the Libyan leader, Muammar al- Qaddafi, the destabilization of the country and the exacerbation of “humanitarian suffering.”  

As Alan J. Kuperman, an Associate Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, wrote in his 2013 policy brief for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, titled:Lessons from Libya: How not to Intervene:

“NATO’s action magnified the conflict’s duration about sixfold, and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbors. If Libya was a ‘model intervention,’ then it was a model of failure.” 

NATO has been repeatedly accused of committing war crimes in Libya, but as we know, there is no accountability for Western imperialism. Many have accused NATO of deliberately bombing civilian targets, including Libya’s water infrastructure. To Hillary (the war hawk) Clinton however, the intervention in Libya was a triumph. She famously remarked that “we came, we saw, he died” (before demonically laughing). 

Arming Al-Qaeda

Clinton was also the Secretary of State during the 2012 Benghazi attack, when militants attacked a US compound in Benghazi, Libya, and a CIA facility nearby, killing four US personnel, including US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. The failure to protect the compound has been widely written about, but the real story is what the compound was actually involved in. Numerous journalists – including Seymour Hersh – have reported that the compound was a key outpost for a covert operation that involved shipping weapons from Libya to the Syrian rebels who were fighting against Bashar al-Assad. Many reports have accused the US and their allies of covertly sending heavy weapons from the North African country to Syria.

A formerly classified document released by Judicial Watch from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reveals that the White House was at least aware of arms shipments from Libya to Syria, although the document does not disclose who was shipping the weapons (parts of the document are redacted however):

“Weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the Port of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The weapons shipped during late-August 2012 were Sniper rifles, RPG’s, and 125 mm and 155mm howitzers missiles… The numbers for each weapon were estimated to be: 500 Sniper rifles, 100 RPG launchers with 300 total rounds, and approximately 400 howitzers missiles [200 ea – 125mm and 200ea – 155 mm]” (DIA Doc).

Clinton was a strong supporter of the ludicrous and nefarious strategy of arming the Syrian rebels, even though USmilitary intelligence was reporting in August 2012 that: “The Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [(al-Qaeda in Iraq)], are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” In 2015, Clinton also called for the creation of a no-fly zone in Syria, which as we saw in Libya, would result in the US bombing the Syrian army in a bid to oust al-Assad.

It’s impossible to document Hillary’s crimes without briefly discussing the allegations made against her husband, Bill Clinton. It’s highly ironic that Hillary’s platform for President is largely based on her (supposed) support for women’s rights, yet her husband has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault – Capitol Hill Blue documented some of these allegations. In 1998, Bill even paid Paula Jones $850,000 in an out-of-court settlement to drop a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill of raping her in 1978, also accused Hillary of threatening her if she spoke out.

It’s hard to think of any political figure that has been plagued by so many scandals in recent years. If Hillary is installed as President by the shadow elite, it will not just be catastrophic for the US, but for the entire globe as well.

Steven MacMillan is an independent writer, researcher, geopolitical analyst and editor of  The Analyst Report, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

The Infowar Raging Around the Dutch-Ukraine Referendum – Dueling Videos

With all the discussion about how hackers and trolls are manipulating public opinion around elections, we have a very graphic example from Holland, which is holding a referendum on Wednesday about the Ukraine.

An explosive investigative piece recently appeared on Bloomberg about how hackers are wreaking havoc on elections.  It is must read information.

Take a look at these two videos.  The first is very slick and PRish, coming from the Ukrainian government (i.e. US intelligence agencies).  It throws out one blatant lie after another, that nice democratic citizens in Ukraine were cheated by their ex president, so they went out into the streets to protest, and then mean Mr. Putin invaded their country, seized their Crimea, and then had the nerve to even invade Syria!  

Bizarrely, it is headlined by the same young woman whose previous video which was very influential on EU public opinion during the 2014 revolution, was exposed as a US intelligence agency production.

 

This video prompted a response from American independent journalist Alexander Chopov, who has been making some excellent documentary films exposing the massive lying about what really happened in Ukraine that is common in the mainstream media.

See if you can separate the truth from the lies.

 

Waterboarding is legal in right hands? Hayden says ‘CIA rules’ whitewash enhanced interrogation

The waterboarding interrogation technique, which consists of a series of “near drownings” that left terror suspects “completely unresponsive” was not  torture, former CIA Director Michael Hayden told Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan in a recent interview. He cited the conclusion of three attorneys general.

Hayden said, though, that the “current president of the United States” believes waterboarding is torture.

As for himself, Hayden said he “has not been forced to take this decision.”

“What I have done is reflect the legal opinion that was extant at the time these decisions were made,” the former CIA head said, noting he has been asked about his opinion on torture countless times.


Former CIA directors defend waterboarding, rectal rehydration

Pressed by the interviewer, Michael Hayden said that should, for instance, President Bashar Assad use waterboarding on Syrian rebels, it would be a “completely different” story, since the CIA did waterboarding with medical personnel present and counted the “pours sessions.”

“If President Assad did it according to the rules the CIA used, if President Assad did it with medical personnel present… this is the CIA way,” Hayden told Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan.

The American nation felt itself “under very serious threat” when CIA agents were prying vital information out of three prisoners, he insisted.

“I’m not saying it’s torture. You’re not going to get me to say it’s torture,” Hayden concluded.

An executive summary of a 6,700-page US Senate Intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques under the George W. Bush administration made public last year exposed brutality the US authorities were probably unaware of, sparking outrage in the US and around the world.

US federal judges are now in the process of making a decision on whether to declassify the report in full, which would reveal whether the CIA abused its authority while interrogating suspects.

China-Hong Kong trade down 10.5% in first two months

Hong Kong accounted for 50.8 per cent of total overseas investment in the Chinese mainland as of the end of February [Xinhua]

Hong Kong accounted for 50.8 per cent of total overseas investment in the Chinese mainland as of the end of February [Xinhua]

Trade between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong amounted to $39.3 billion in the first two months of this year, down 10.5 per cent year on year.

Hong Kong has long served as the bridge between China and the world, conveying trade and investment flows both ways.

Statistics from China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOC) showed that China-Hong Kong trade during the period accounted for 7.7 per cent of the mainland’s total overseas trade volume.

The figures revealed that while mainland China’s exports to Hong Kong have decreased by 13.1 per cent, its imports from Hong Kong surged by 78 per cent on a year-on-year basis.

The number of projects the Chinese mainland has approved for investment from Hong Kong as well as the actual use of Hong Kong investment also declined by more than 20 per cent.

In terms of actual use of investment, Hong Kong accounted for 50.8 per cent of total overseas investment in the Chinese mainland as of the end of February, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Hong Kong’s retail sales in February plunged the most since 1999 as fewer Chinese tourists visited the city during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Retail sales dropped 21 per cent in February to HK$37 billion ($4.8 billion) year on year. Combining January and February, sales fell 14 per cent.

 

Source: Agencies

The Cloak and Dagger Inside the Kerry Briefcase

45345434On March 24th US Secretary of State John Kerry stepped off a plane at Moscow’s Airport carrying a valise in his right hand. Arriving for negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the familiar tall statesman looked a bit out of character carrying such a large briefcase, but few took notice. On sitting down across a table from the Russian president though, it soon became clear at least one Russian was paying attention. The scene, with Putin seemingly poking fun at the American dignitary, it became the newsreel of the day. Speculation still reverberates on what was in that briefcase, but the real signs point to one big win for Putin, and a last ditch battle over Europe for the Americans.

“Today, when I saw you coming down from the plane and carrying your effects, I got a little upset. On the one hand, it is very democratic; on the other, I think: things are really bad in the U.S., there is no one even to help the secretary of state carry his briefcase.” – President Vladimir Putin

Thinking like a true Russian, at least doing my best impression of one, I can decipher what Vladimir Putin conveyed in those few seconds we all saw via RT. First of all, he was delighted. Seldom has the Russian president seen in such a jovial mode of late, so whatever he and Kerry were really meeting about was a very positively charged subject, the meet-up was on the subject of another win for Putin, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Compromise from the United States of America was the sparkle in Vladimir’s eye, and in Sergey Lavrov’s honest grin as he sat next to his boss. Even Kerry seemed to have lost a monkey off his square shoulders, all this was so readily apparent. So what was the big secret, what kind of state treasure could have been carried in that satchel? We saw it lying open and empty later on, via a press photo…

“I think you’ll be surprised, pleasantly,” Kerry said. Here’s what I believe was in the briefcase. A big fat dossier that was too sensitive to be sent digitally, too important for anybody but Kerry to touch, too valuable for anything but a hand-to-hand pass-off, between America and Russia.

Fast forward 5 days to March 29th, 2016. The United States State Department and the Pentagon announced the withdrawal of virtually all family members of U.S. troops and diplomats from its installations in Turkey. This is a NATO nation, if I may remind.

On the same day Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service) announced via RIA Novosti, the arrest of 18 Uzbekistan nationals as suspected terrorists, who were carrying fake Turkish passports.

March 29th, in a move out of propagandist character, The New York Times runs an article titled, “Turkey Has Been Reckless, Repressive, and Unreliable. The newspaper more anti-Russian than most ousted Russian oligarchs questions whether or not Turkey even belongs in NATO. Turkish President Recep Erdogan is in Washington, and is not even acquitted an audience with Obama. Instead, Vice President Joe Biden gives Erdogan his marching orders (I believe). Sold out Brit news source, BBC mirrors the new divide on the same day.

March 30th, a three-person Russian military delegation met Turkish counterpart at the Marine Amphibious Brigade Command in Foça, İzmir.

On Thursday, March 31st, the Turkish ultranationalist Alparslan Celik, who bragged about killing the pilot of a Russian Su-24 bomber downed by the Turkish Air Force, was detained by Turkish authorities. The same day, Turkey’s PM told reporters the EU-Turkey refugee deal will go into effect.

April 1st, Fox News attempts to play the unbiased voice of the people again, bringing out into the open the powerful cleric exiled to America, Fethullah Gulen. At the same moment Turkey is on the hot seat, Fox sets up Recep Erdogan at this crisis point – pay attention to Gulen’s name in the months to come in headlines.

Today a vote in Holland and NATO news of tanks, tanks, and more tanks in Europe tell us Putin and Russia won Syria and the Middle East mess, and that the hegemony Obama has led has one last stronghold – the battleground in Eastern Europe. There can be little doubt Kerry discussed with Putin and Lavrov the situation in Ukraine, and the Dutch vote for ratifying the referendum on the Ukraine–EU Association Agreement is scheduled for April 6. The mixed signals, the reversals of opinion, the saber rattling from NATO commanders over increased deployments to “counter” some invisible Russian threat, the western leadership is in disarray apparently.

Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of Netherlands now says Ukraine should never be part of the EU. Meanwhile the vote outcome is predicted in between a “too close to call” (if you live in Kiev) and a resolute “NO” if you live in Holland. Outsiders almost all question how Turkey and a regime that supports terrorism can be out of EU membership contention now, with another US proxy war state, one everyone knows for harboring fascists and Nazis, is still being considered? One plausible explanation for the seeming détente meltdown is a forced march in retreat to fort Europa by former Obama allies.

As Syrian President Assad’s forces run ISIL to ground with the help of Russia’s military prowess, American President Barack Obama seems to be in some kind of hiding until his term ends. The political swamp European legislators are sucked down into, it only gets muddier as time goes by. The situation in Europe is a bit like a runaway wagon with no driver. The Pentagon is laying out plans for vastly increased capability in Eastern Europe, and the Russians are forced to counter, world diplomacy is in the biggest mess in decades. Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko told Rossiya 24 TV on Wednesday:

“We are not passive observers, we consistently take all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence that is not justified by anything. Certainly, we’ll respond totally asymmetrically.”

Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal terms the new arms buildup a “robust” US military presence, citing news from the Pentagon that those war hawks have run up plans to position American troops, tanks and other armored vehicles full time along NATO’s eastern borders, to ostensibly deter Russian aggression.” Meanwhile, The New Yorker Magazine desperately tries to portray Barack Obama as some kind of El Libertado, for the same Cuban people who considered him a fiendish joke In Havana. While the worst failure of an American leader in history does a curtain call vacation tour, Europe is ripped asunder by the aftermath of proxy wars and CIA insurgencies. And in Argentina, the soon to be private citizen tangoed with a former Playboy bunny, Mora Godoy. I include these tidbits to cement the obviously paranoiac situation we face. America is about to elect one psychopath or the other, to replace the current craziness, Merkel is targeted by ISIL, and French President Francois Hollande can only scheme to make terrorists anything but French. Europe is in tatters, this is the point.

Inside the mysterious satchel John Kerry hand delivered to Putin, were files relating to Turkey operatives and leadership involved in the regional terror. More specifically, the case probably contained the names, missions, and locations of the terrorists in Moscow, and who is ultimately behind ISIL. While no one but Putin and Kerry, plus the few close aides present can truly know the contents of the brown briefcase, it’s safe to conclude a picture of Recep Erdogan being thrown under a bus may have been included. Turkey is in full stop, U-turn mode. Erdogan has no moves left, if he wants to survive that is.

So, if Erdogan is NATO’s sacrificial lamb, it’s only of his own doing. The “win” for Putin does not mean the new Cold War is over, not by any means. TIME Magazine and the other corporate owned media are still in anti-Putin mode. The briefcase simply contained the winner’s trophy for a failed American bid for Syria and the Middle East. Europe is, after all, a more pivotal Cold War II chip. And for those disbelieving, read the news that the Vladivostok to Lisbon imperative is alive and well. The war now is almost totally about Europe, the ally Washington and London cannot afford to lose. The question is, can anyone really save the EU from disintegration? It’s certain Petro Poroshenko and the Kiev junta won’t help the situation. Ukraine really should pay attention though, lest John Kerry deliver another briefcase with Poroshenko/oligarch files in it.

Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Mr. Bellingcat to Face Public in Washington DC on Tuesday. Break Out the Popcorn

On Tuesday April 5 the pro-NATO think tank Atlantic Council is hosting a panel featuring Eliot Higgins, a controversial blogger and self-described open source researcher from Leicester, United Kingdom. In the description of the event titled “Distract, Deceive and Destroy: Putin at War in Syria”, the Atlantic Council says, in describing the Russian air campaign in Syria, “Russia almost exclusively targeted non-ISIS targets” in the country.

Coming days after a Russian soldier died while directing some of the hundreds of Russian air strikes that aided the Syrian Arab Army in liberating the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra, this claim should be challenged by those attending the event as dishonest.

Higgins history is well known to many, but remains obscure to the general public. A stay at home father and former office worker, Higgins admitted he had no qualifications whatsoever in weapons or military affairs when he first began covering the Syrian civil war at his previous ‘Brown Moses’ blog in 2011. When chemical weapons were used against civilians in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus in August 2013, Higgins became the point man for the George Soros-funded NGO Human Rights Watch claims, heavily cited by the State Department, that only pro-Assad forces could have committed the atrocity. Subsequent allegations by legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and Turkish oppositionists that Syrian jihadists could have or did obtain chemical weapons ingredients from Turkey have been dismissed by Higgins. However, President Barack Obama’s recently released interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine (“The Obama Doctrine”), in which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted to the President that there was no ‘slam dunk’ intelligence proving Assad’s guilt in the East Ghouta chemical atrocity, vindicates Hersh and other Brown Moses/Eliot Higgins skeptics.

The entire East Ghouta episode as well as Higgins and his Bellingcat team of amateur bloggers becoming the Anglo-American media’s ‘go to guys’ for ‘proof’ whenever Russia or a Russian ally is said to have done something horrible illustrates a troubling trend: the amateur-ization or some would say ‘neocon’-ization of U.S. intelligence presentation, and the outsourcing of Washington’s arguments for major policies including war and peace to think tanks, bloggers and yes, foreign governments. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Colin Powell, but he personally presented what we now know was flawed intelligence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and later accepted blame when this proved wrong. Unfortunately for the American people, Powell’s successor John Kerry and fellow diplomats such as UN Ambassador Samantha Power are unwilling to present the satellite pictures or other U.S. intelligence they insist Dutch investigators into the MH17 shoot down have seen in secret. Instead, despite the tens of billions Washington spends on intelligence annually, the specifics of key incidents — whether in Syria or Ukraine — keep getting outsourced to hawkish groups like the Atlantic Council or ambitious amateurs like Eliot Higgins.

It should be noted by all attending the Atlantic Council event presenting a point of view sympathetic to the anti-Assad rebels supported by Turkey that multiple Turkish energy corporations as well as Turkey’s Army College were listed as donors to the Atlantic Council in 2013, when then U.S. Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel had to disclose this information prior to the U.S Senate approving his nomination. Also disclosed in the February 2013 report for U.S. Senators was the fact that the Sunni-sectarian and oppressive governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have donated to the Atlantic Council within the last five years. The question of how far Saudi money goes in Washington and especially in support of those advocating ‘regime change’ in Syria at any cost, was also highlighted this week by a Bloomberg report on a $1 million donation from the Saudis to Senator John McCain’s foundation in Arizona. In light of the thuggish behavior exhibited by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail against pro-Kurdish protesters and journalists alike outside the Brookings Institute on March 31, the question of whether a pro-NATO think tank like the Atlantic Council can be objective when discussing Turkish smuggling oil stolen by the Islamic State or Ankara’s not so covert arming Al-Qaeda aligned Jabhat-al-Nusra terrorists fighting alongside the U.S. supported ‘Free Syrian Army’ must be asked. Just as Brookings should be asked whether the millions it has accepted from the Qatari government for its ‘Doha Center’ haven’t influenced its positions on the ‘moderate’ Syria rebels and hosting Qatar’s ally Erdogan.

Mr. Higgins has repeatedly shrugged off, and his mainstream media promoters ranging from Newsweek to The Washington Post have ignored, incidents where experts ranging from MIT professor Ted Postol to FotoForensics.com founder Dr. Neal Krawetz, have dismissed Higgins as ‘not knowing what he’s talking about’ or an ‘idiot’, whether Higgins’ subject has been Syrian army free flight rockets or forensic analysis of Russian Defense Ministry satellite photos. Unfortunately many journalists, themselves unqualified in the same fields of expertise that Mr. Higgins lacks, seldom challenge Higgins to substantiate his assertions or authenticate his ‘open source’ material that in many cases, comes from Ukrainian security service assets or Syrian rebels with their own agendas. This is because Mr. Higgins and Bellingcat’s visual ‘evidence’, however challenged by other bloggers as dubious or manipulated via Photoshop (see for example, the notorious funhouse mirror distorted ‘Paris Match photo’ of a BUK missile launcher), matches up with the positions of the U.S. and UK governments. With the honorable exception of the Associated Press’ Matthew Lee, most journalists in the U.S. and Europe refuse to ask why Washington prefers to cite open source ‘social media’ over releasing satellite imagery or other crucial intelligence regarding MH17.

Perhaps it’s time Eliot Higgins faced the tough questions the mainstream media won’t ask, and on camera. To that end, we call on any and all individuals who are able to attend the Atlantic Council event — show up at 1030 15th St. NW at 2:30 p.m. Be respectful, but do the job mainstream media won’t do. Ask Eliot Higgins the tough questions, and bring your camera phones to record the answers.

 

‘Trained to shoot’: 3k armed marshals in civilian clothing to patrol French trains

“These agents will be trained how to shoot,” SNCF chief Guillaume Pépy said Sunday. The marshals will supplement security teams who patrol in uniform on certain lines, particularly on suburban trains around Paris.

The idea is similar to air marshals: armed plain-clothes officers which are often present on flights.


‘AK47-armed’ man opens fire on Amsterdam to Paris train, gets overpowered by passengers

The move is made possible by a boost to the rail service’s security budget, which will increase by 50 percent to around €400 million (US$455 million).

“SNCF is changing,” said Pépy, as quoted by the Local. “We won’t take the train in the same way anymore.”

In addition to the armed marshals, a team of profilers will survey some of the 40,000 train station cameras for suspicious behavior, according to the AP. Security portals in some stations will add arms and explosives detection, while more metal detectors will also be placed on platforms.

SNCF guards will also be able to search passengers’ luggage when they arrive at stations, and around 30 additional sniffer dogs will be deployed.

However, the changes have faced criticism from those who claim the moves are useless since such security measures aren’t being implemented at stations in Amsterdam, Brussels, or Cologne – cities which connect to Paris by train. However, Pépy has insisted that talks with foreign governments are underway.

The measures come after France moved to arm more local police and gave off-duty officers the right to carry arms. The government is also considering allowing private security guards to carry weapons.

The boosted security measures come less than two weeks after terror attacks in Brussels killed 32 people and injured over 300 others. In November, attacks in Paris left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

China box office revenue up 51% in 1st quarter

A man walks past a poster of the Monster Hunt (R) at a cinema in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province [Xinhua]

A man walks past a poster of the “Monster Hunt” (R) at a cinema in Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning Province [Xinhua]

China’s box office revenues grew 51 per cent in the first quarter of this year, China National radio said on Sunday.

The state-run CNR data said ticket sales in the first three months of 2016 amounted to 14.5 billion yuan (1.57 billion pounds).

China boasts of about 31630 movie screens. The country added 8035 new screens in 2015.

Chinese films accounted for almost three-quarters of the country’s box office in the first quarter.

Box-office revenue of Chinese cinemas reached 6.9 billion yuan in February surpassing that of North American cinemas, adding to speculation that China’s annual box office could soon surpass North America.

In 2015, China’s box office revenues reached a record 44 billion yuan ($6.8 billion).

The country’s box office sales are growing an average of 34 per cent a year.

But a ticketing fraud has negatively impacted the Chinese film industry.

Earlier last month, China’s film market watchdog suspended the distribution license of a distributor that committed fraud to jack up the box office figures for martial arts film “Ip Man 3.”

“These kinds of issues could be considered inevitable in a young industry, but box office fraud has become so serious that it is already harming Chinese cinema,” said Zhang Hongsen, head of China’s state-run film bureau.

Meanwhile, as the US film market stagnates, China has been a focus for Hollywood studios.

Hollywood studios including Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. have struck partnerships with Chinese film and media companies to gain bigger audiences at more venues.

China limits foreign movie imports to 34 annually.

 

TBP and Agencies