Situation in the South China Sea and G7

345353444The momentum-gaining topic of escalation of the situation in the South China Sea will undoubtedly be one of the main items on the agenda of the regular G7 summit scheduled for the end of May 2016.

Ultimately, two circumstances can motivate the “Group of Seven” to consider this issue. First, this time the meeting will be held in Asia — the newly shaping center of gravity of the global politics.

Secondly, not only will it be held in Asia, but specifically in Japan — the country that sees the development of the situation in the South China Sea as strategically important. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the evolution of the situation in the South China Sea is turning to be a matter of life and death for Japan for the reasons discussed by NEO previously on a number of occasions.

That is why in the recent decades Tokyo has been focusing its political and economic activities on the countries of Southeast Asia situated along the coastline of the South China Sea. The prospects of Japan engaging its military machine to defend its interests in the South China Sea are as realistic as ever before.

All this explains why Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi appealed to Tokyo (represented by his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida) urging it to leave the issue concerning territorial disputes in the South China Sea out of the agenda of the forthcoming G7 summit.

And that is understandable. G7 is a high-profile international forum and China fears that discussion of an extremely sensitive for Beijing problem there, especially considering that there will be no official representatives of China present at the summit, might challenge China’s international reputation.

Meanwhile, the situation in the South China Sea has already been discussed in the course of pre-summit preparations, specifically at the meeting of G7 deputy foreign ministers held in Tokyo in February this year. In April, pre-summit consultations will be held at the ministerial level and if China wants to dispute the future agenda of G7, it should not procrastinate.

Beijing’s reasoning against the discussion of its territorial disputes with southern neighbors at the G7 forum is rather standard. It boils down to the argument that since none of the countries-participants of G7 represents the South China Sea region, they should not concern themselves with the problems of this subregion. Beijing has been talking about its intention to resolve the problem in a bilateral format, i.e. individually with each country of the South China Sea region.

Besides, China uses Tokyo’s predisposition to alleviate tensions in China-Japan relations as yet another argument in its attempt to influence Tokyo. A meeting of foreign ministers of the two countries scheduled for the coming April could be a perfect occasion for the Chinese party to achieve its goals.

But continuing incidents in the Senkaku islands region and ever greater involvement of Japan in the military aspects of the situation there render it unlikely for Wang Yi and Fumio Kishida to improve the bilateral relations, not even at the very least.

The fact that the Japanese navy will now participate in the annual US-Indian naval exercise Malabar on a regular basis cannot but make Beijing frown. The participation of the Japanese navy was approved at the Japan-India summit held in Delhi in December 2015.

This year the exercise will be conducted northeast of the Philippines. Beijing’s reaction to the joint, this time tripartite US-Indian-Japanese naval exercise, carried out in a close proximity to the South China Sea region, is quite predictable.

The prospects of a joint (American-Japanese) patrolling of the South China Sea might prove to be realistic as well. That can be concluded from the text of a Joint Statement summarizing the results of the last spring’s visit of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe to the US and his negotiations with President Barak Obama.

A new raft of defense laws that was approved in September 2015 and came into force on March 29 of this year supports the expansion of Japan’s military and political activities beyond the country’s borders.

Japanese government still has some minor internal issues to resolve before it can engage in military activities abroad, including in some countries of the South China Sea, like the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, which demonstrate (with a different degree of openness) a mutual interest in the development of bonds with Japan in the sphere of defense.

The Philippines strongly oppose territorial claims of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea and, being a military and political ally of the US, openly express their desire to establish similar relations with Japan.

Negotiations between Japanese PM Abe and President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III held in Manila in November 2015 during a regular session of APEC were an important stage in the development of an alliance. It was the second bilateral summit in 2015 (Tokyo hosted the first one earlier that year).

A summary of the meeting was published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. It contained only general statements indicating Japan’s intention to contribute to the “enhancement of capabilities” of the Philippine marine border patrol and to the “peaceful settlement of disputes in conformity with international laws”.

However, when commenting on this meeting, experts talk about very specific results. For example, they mention that the Philippines plan to buy ten patrol boats and three maritime patrol and antisubmarine aircrafts P-3C Orion from Japan.

The Japan-Vietnam and Japan-Indonesia (the latter being the largest country in the South China Sea region) relations demonstrate, maybe in a more discrete form, the same trends.

According to the Defense Minister of Japan Gen Nakatani, “a wide range of issues covering a further development of the bilateral cooperation in defense” was discussed during his November 2015 visit to Hanoi and negotiations with his Vietnamese counterpart Phung Quang Thanh. For example, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships will be allowed port calls in Cam Ranh Bay, a base in the South China Sea.

As for the Japan-Indonesia relations, the first meeting in the “2+2” format, with participation of foreign and defense ministers, held in December 2015, testifies to the high degree of trust between the two countries. A Joint Statement adopted following the negotiations is noteworthy, as it demonstrates the intention of the parties to give the cooperation in defense “one of the highest priorities”. In the future, the countries are planning to hold meetings in the “2+2” format on a regular basis.

Summing up the foregoing, it looks like Japan is making a military and political comeback (75 years after its first attempt) in the strategically important region of the South China Sea. Apparently, this time the form and scale will be different, but the situation in the subregion and in the Pacific Rim is also different as compared to the times of the “first attempt.”

It is almost definite that Japan, as the host country of the forthcoming G7 summit, will make sure that the topic concerning the situation in the South China Sea is put on the summit’s agenda.

Taking into account that the leading countries of the EU are looking to develop more profound and comprehensive relations with China, it would be interesting to see what strategy Europeans will adopt in the discussion of this problem.

The reaction of China to the latest steps of its geopolitical opponents in the South China Sea and broader—in the Southeast Asia—is a topic of a separate article.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Russia Matches NATO’s Brigade on Its Border. Raises the Pot by Two Divisions and a Tank Army

US has announced that starting next February it will maintain a permanent deployment of a full combat brigade in Eastern Europe to counter an aggressive Russia.

A US armored brigade corresponds to about 4,500 men, along with 250 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery, as well as 1,700 cars and trucks.

The unit will be spread out between Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and the Baltic states.

Obviously the Russians are not happy about this. The US foray into Estonia and Latvia in particular means a heavier rival military presence in close proximity to Russian cities since any time since 1944. (Obviously there were more troops arrayed against the Soviets during the Cold War, but these were sitting on the Elbe in central Germany, rather than 200 kilometres from Saint Petersburg.)  

At the same time the Russians have not offered a high-pitched reaction to the move that NATO’s Philip Breedlove was perhaps hoping for. Deutsche Well has the reason:

Moscow’s lack of anger at these US plans has a simple explanation, said Alexander Golz, an expert on the Russian military. “The deployment of the armored brigade was already decided at the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014. Russia has already responded.

Moscow already announced it would set up new divisions in the west of the country. Lately there have been conflicting statements about their number. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said a few days ago, Russia planned to station two new divisions permanently in Russia’s Western Military District.

“NATO is expanding its military potential in Europe, including in the immediate vicinity of the Russian border,” he said. Russia was concerned, he said – and forced to react. But earlier, the defense minister had spoken about three new divisions in Russia’s west. One of these divisions would be created from a brigade in the Smolensk region on the border with Belarus.

In addition, the Russian defense ministry announced in early February that it was reactivating the 1st Tank Guards Army, dissolved in 1998, in the west of the country. The new army is being formed from existing divisions and brigades that are to be reorganized and strengthened.

While the recent announcement sheds more detail on NATO’s planned and ongoing buildup in Eastern Europe and also revises it to an extent the Russians have understood that NATO was coming ever since mid 2014. They have already moved to meet it. And boy are they some moves.

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In the last 15 years the Russian military has slowly transformed from a massive division-based force to a lighter, more modular brigade-based force, better suited to fighting small wars.

However, especially for NATO it is now bringing back two divisions and a tank army!

A Russian tank army is a corps of two to three armored divisions with integrated artillery, bridging and helicopter support and motorized infantry divisions assigned on an ad hoc basis when needed.

So NATO, how do you like them apples?

Deportations kick off in Greece amid warnings Turkey is ‘not safe 3rd country for refugees’

“This is the first day of a very difficult time for refugee rights. Despite the serious legal gaps and lack of adequate protection in Turkey, the EU is forging ahead with a dangerous deal,” Giorgos Kosmopoulos, head of Amnesty International in Greece, told AP, referring to the operation, which started at dawn and was conducted under heavy security.

“Turkey is not a safe third country for refugees. The EU and Greek authorities know this and have no excuse […] Even if this first group is not refugees, what we are seeing here is symbolic kick off of what might be a very dangerous practice of returns to Turkey,” he added.

Migrants were escorted onto small ferries by officers from the EU border protection agency, Frontex, to nearby ports on the Turkish coast.

“All of the migrants returned are from Pakistan except for two migrants from Syria who returned voluntarily,” Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government refugee crisis committee, told state television, adding that there is “no timetable for returns.”

A number of refugees on the islands have reportedly complained of not being given sufficient time and access to the asylum procedure.


© David W CernyAbuse of hospitality: Czechs to deport Iraqi Christian refugees for attempt to move on to Germany

Anas al-Bakhr, a Syrian engineer from Homs now stuck on Chios Island, said police marked his arrival date as March 20, although he claims to have arrived the day before.

“They said the computers were broken that day,” the man told AFP.

Senior UN migration official Peter Sutherland has recently warned in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today program that “if there is any question of collective deportations without individuals being given the right to claim asylum, that is illegal.”

A total of 50,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece following EU and Balkan border closures, the Ekathimerini Greek daily reported, citing fresh data provided by the government late last month. Only those who arrived after March 20 will be detained for deportation.

Last month EU leaders and Turkey agreed a plan, aimed at opening a ‘safe and legal’ route to the EU for Syrian refugees. The idea is that all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey; and for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.

This ‘temporary link’ between resettlement and return is only feasible up to a limit of 72,000, the European Commission noted, however. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledged that the European Union and Greece were facing a “Herculean task” to implement the plan. 

“I don’t think that this kind of deal can work,” Joaquin Flores of the Independent Journalists Association for Peace told RT. “The direct cause of the refugee crisis has not been resolved. There is still a conflict raging in Syria, which has claimed the lives of half-a-million to a quarter-of-a-million people, depending on reports. Until countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia can really become a proactive force for curtailing the inflow of terrorist fighters from their countries into Syria, then there will be no end to this conflict –a political solution becomes very difficult.”

In return for re-admitting migrants, Ankara is set to receive more financial aid and a promised visa-free travel in the EU for its citizens. Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala said his country is ready to receive 500 refugees on Monday and Greek authorities have provided 400 names, AFP reported.

Up to 4,000 migrants and refugees are being detained on Greek islands since the agreement came into effect March 20. According to Kyritsis, over 130 migrants were deported from Lesbos and more than 60 from the nearby island of Chios.

Scuffles erupted in Chios Island on Sunday night between riot police and local residents objecting to the relocation of migrants, The Toc Greece reported. Locals, protesting the establishment of a temporary migrant accommodation facility at the Tampakika area of the island, worry that it may eventually become a permanent migrant center.

Police sources on Lesbos reportedly said there had been a flurry of last-minute asylum applications on Sunday amongst the 3,300 migrants there.

“We… have over 2,000 people that have stated their wish to seek asylum and we need to see a credible process go ahead with the Greek asylum service for those that wish to express their protection concerns,” Boris Cheshirkov, the UN refugee agency spokesman on Lesbos, told AFP.

Russia sees GDP growth in 2016/17

Inflation should fall from 7.9 per cent now to four per cent in 2017, the Russian Central Bank said last week [Xinhua]

Inflation should fall from 7.9 per cent now to four per cent in 2017, the Russian Central Bank said last week [Xinhua]

Russian investors will begin the first week of April with little bit of good news delivered to the local market.

According to the Federal Statistics Service, the Russian economy has contracted at a slower pace than previously predicted.

It contracted 3.8 per cent in Q4 in 2015. Some analysts had predicted a 3.9 per cent contraction.

Overall, GDP growth for the whole 2015 remains at 3.7 per cent.

And a new report from the Economic Development Ministry, the Russian economy will turn the corner in 2016 and show GDP growth once again in 2017 as long as oil prices remain above $45 a barrel.

Global oil prices currently pivot slightly below the $40 mark period, but some analysts believe it could reach $60 a barrel by 2018.

The ministry also revised up its overall 2016 GDP growth rate from 0.3 to 0.8 per cent.

The data backs the Russian Central Bank’s March 18 decision to hold interest rates steady at 11 per cent on studies which showed a lower ruble enabled greater export of local manufactured goods and commodities.

The Russian Central Bank also said it expects the current 7.9 per cent inflation to ease to
four per cent by the end of 2018.

Russia last week was one of 23 Emerging Markets which experienced a rally in the currency and stock exchanges.

Moscow’s benchmark MICEX has performed better since the beginning of the year, but at the end of last week was still trading lower than its monthly peak on March 18.

Russia’s ruble currency jumped 0.7 per cent against the dollar on Wednesday, before slipping back down and then rising 1.18 per cent on April 1.

Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on its oil and gas exports. Russian economists had warned that the country would be in trouble if oil prices were maintained below $30 a barrel. And for a while in February, the risk was considerable as oil prices fell to 11-year lows of $26.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Reports of Russia’s Defeat in Syria are Greatly Exaggerated

1037241522In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s announcement of a partial withdrawal from Syria upon accomplishing its initial objectives, pundits, politicians, and analysts in the West attempted to capitalize on it by portraying Russia in retreat, broke economically, and attempting to avoid a quagmire it had entangled itself in.

However, more honest and thoughtful analysis noted that Russia’s partial withdrawal was more diplomatic than strategic – a grand gesture by Moscow to the West that it was able and willing to give the perpetrators of this proxy war a graceful exit out – and that enough Russian assets would remain in theater to ensure all gains made by Russian and Syrian forces were not only maintained, but expanded upon further in the near and intermediate future.

Since the announcement, this analysis has proven to be accurate, with Russia continuing to conduct effective military operations in Syria, and most notably, helping the Syrian Arab Army liberate the ancient city of Palmyra – which was overrun by the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) ironically at the height of the United States-led coalition’s alleged battle against the internationally listed terrorist organization.

Despite the fact that Russia is assisting the Syrian government in eradicating an internationally listed terrorist organization from Syrian territory, Western analysts are now crying foul over Russia’s continued military activity in Syria despite its announcement of a partial draw down.

Brookings “Insight” – No Matter What Happens, It’s “Russia’s Fault…” 

The Brookings Institution, a Western policy think tank representing the collective interests of the Fortune 500 who fund it and chair its board of directors, published analysis upon its “Order from Chaos” blog titled, “Why Russia is accountable if the Syrian ceasefire fails.” In it, it claims (emphasis added):

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of victory in Syria has already been eclipsed by his announcement on his willingness to use military force against violators of the ceasefire if he doesn’t get assurances from the United States about how it will control the truce. Meanwhile, it’s become clear that more Russian military hardware is going into Syria instead of leaving, and that Russian forces are openly engaged in ground combat. 

Is Putin really offering to secure peace in Syria? Probably not. The conditions that led to Syria’s death spiral into civil war have still not been addressed, and Russia’s withdrawal is a facade. Putin’s announcement highlights that while Russia is a main player in the Syrian conflict, it is far from willing or able to assure peace.

Brookings analysts appear disinterested in the fact that Russia’s forces are fighting ISIS, and that many of the “violators” of the ceasefire are openly collaborating with other listed terrorist organizations, including the Al Nusra Front. The March 30th post fails to make any mention of the liberation of Palmyra days earlier by Russian-backed Syrian forces – in complete defiance of reality.

Brookings concludes by stating (emphasis added):

The Russian military intervention is about Russian interests and gaining an advantageous position within a world order in which it demands to be an equal but sees no equals. Military intervention is meant to upend the international order to the benefit of only Russia and those who align with its interests. The Syrian ceasefire began because Russia said it could. It represents a strategic pause for Russia to reposition itself both politically at home and abroad, and militarily on the battlefield. If it ends, it will likely be because it claims the United States is not living up to its terms, as well as if conditions become favorable for Assad to resume military operations to reclaim lost territory. This is hardly the mark of a nation seeking to lead the peace process and cessation of hostilities. By resorting to the use of force, Russia will be accountable for the ceasefire’s failure, and will prove itself unwilling to peacefully advance the terms it agreed to in order to secure a lasting peace.

It is perhaps ironic that the United States, who has for over a year, unilaterally intervened militarily in Syria to allegedly fight ISIS, is now crying foul when a nation – Russia – has also intervened, only with Syria’s permission, and is actually defeating ISIS in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the force used by the US and its allies. The implications of this run deep including the fact that Russia and Syria are defeating ISIS by cutting their supply lines running straight out of NATO and US-allied territory, but there is at least one point Brookings makes that is valid.

Russia is indeed upending the “international order.”

Russia is upending it, if one understands that the term “international order” actually means the economic, sociopolitical, and military projection of power by Wall Street, Washington, London, and Brussels across the entire planet. Considering that in the West’s “international order,” it is acceptable to unilaterally bomb a sovereign nation without acquiring permission  from that nation’s government, it seems upending such egregious, unchecked injustice, it is not only acceptable, it is mandatory.

That Russia has done so in a measured, prudent, and proportional manner, respecting the principles of the multipolar order it seeks to replace the current “international order” with – one that respects the primacy of national sovereignty over monopolized and skewed notions of “international law,” is probably why it has been so successful in Syria. Considering that every alleged principle underpinning the “international order” Brookings refers to has been subverted first and foremost by the West itself, it is no surprise that a crisis of legitimacy has finally begun to take its toll on Western foreign policy objectives.

And while the US and its policymakers attempt to blame Russia already for a failed ceasefire that has yet to manifest itself, it is the US who is still openly training militants along Syria’s borders in an attempt to further perpetuate the violence that has ravaged Syria now for 5 years.

It is not a surprise that the West’s foreign policy circles, politicians, and media are attempting to frame the Syrian crisis as everyone’s fault but their own, however, doubling down on a failed policy and continuing to frame it dishonestly when much of the world now sees the truth, only deepens the crisis of legitimacy that has led the West to this particular cliff’s edge. Continuing forward rather than taking a step back, ensures the West’s legitimacy plunges further still.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”.

Are Paid Government Trolls Harrassing London Mayoral Candidate George Galloway? (Video)

With all the discussion of trolls and hackers manipulating the US elections, the Dutch-Ukraine referendum, the Russian elections, and much else, this discussion with Mr. Galloway, who is running for mayor of London, is very timely.

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

For those who don’t follow UK politics, Galloway is a dogged gadfly to the UK establishment, one of the most articulate critics of Israel policy towards the palestinians, and was a leader of the pre-Iraq European peace movement, arguing forcefully that the Iraq war was being drummed up by the media on, as he famously put it, “a pack of lies”.

Another interesting thing about Galloway is that even his critics concede that he is a brilliant public speaker, many say, the best in the UK.  For an example of his ascerbity, see the second video below, where he famously destroys two very hawkish, neoconish, pro-Israel, pro-Iraq war senators, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Carl Levin of Michigan, who happen to be jewish themselves.  They hauled him up in front of senate investigation committee, probably not realizing who they were dealing with, and got their heads handed to them.  The fun starts at 0.15.  Politics junkies will enjoy the full version on youtube.  

Youtube is full of Galloway’s bon mots.  A particularly good video is a famous debate with Christopher Hitchens, where the redoubtable Hitchens meets his Waterloo.

Galloway’s guest is Neil Clark, one of the best writers on Russian affairs today.  What he has to say is always of value.  You can see his work here.

 

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia to boost non-oil income by 2020


Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. © Charles PlatiauSaudi Arabia to set up $2tn mega-fund for post oil era

Last year, the country’s non-oil revenue grew 35 percent to $44 billion (163.5 billion riyals), according to preliminary data. “It’s a large package of programs that aims to restructure some revenue generating sectors,” said the prince.

The proposed measure will include restructuring subsidies, imposing a value added tax and a levy on luxury items as well as energy and sugary drinks. The government is also discussing plans to introduce a program similar to the US Green Card to raise more revenue.

Last week, the Saudi government said it was considering selling a stake in the state-owned energy company Saudi Aramco and transform it into an industrial conglomerate.

Riyadh also wants to create a $2 trillion sovereign wealth fund to help the kingdom shift away from oil.

Prince Mohammed expects the value added tax to bring about $10 billion a year by 2020 with restructured subsidies raising over $30 billion a year. Permission for companies to hire more foreigners than the quota stipulates for a fee along with the Green Card-like program would make $10 billion a year each.

The country currently has a record budget deficit which is expected to reach $87 billion this year. Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves, the third-largest in the world after China and Japan, plunged to $640 billion last year from $737 billion in 2014.

The country’s debt level might climb 30-35 percent of gross domestic product by 2020 from less than two percent in 2014, according Minister of State Mohammad bin Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh. “We’re going to borrow but, by 2020, our plan is that we will have a balanced budget,” said the Minister.

As oil sales account for almost 80 percent of the kingdom’s revenue, the crude price crisis has had a huge impact on the economy.

Saudi crude producer to invest in India

Head of Saudi_Aramco Khalid A. Al Falih with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 3rd March 2016 [Image: MEA, India]

Head of Saudi_Aramco Khalid A. Al Falih with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 3rd March 2016 [Image: MEA, India]

India will join the list of Asian nations where Saudi oil giant Aramco, the world’s largest crude exporter with crude reserves of about 265 billion barrels, plans to make major investments.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up a visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

Head of Aramco Khalid A Al Falih met Modi in Riyadh.

“Minister Al Falih to PM: Aramco looks to India as its No 1 target for investmen,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.

Saudi Aramco has earlier announced plans to build new plants in energy-hungry Asia including China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Dhahran-based Aramco is planning to expanding its refining capacity to find new outlets for Saudi crude oil. The company currently has a refining capacity of around 5.4 million barrels a day.

Aramco is Saudi Arabia’s national oil company with crude reserves of about 265 billion barrels which is over 15 per cent of all global oil deposits.

Energy-powerhouse Saudi Arabia is India’s largest crude oil supplier, accounting for about one-fifth of total imports.

India is specifically looking at Saudi investment in “high temperature deep sea off shore exploration” and has opened up the sector for FDI.

In neighbouring China, Aramco already owns a stake in a refinery in Fujian province.

It is in talks with another partner, China National Petroleum Corp., to build a new joint-venture refinery in China.

 

TBP and Agencies

Kurd Autonomy: Is it Kerry’s Plan B or Putin’s Plan A?

456456555On March 17 delegates representing different ethnicities and nationalities–Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkomans, Armenians, Circassians and Chechen–along with representatives from the Syrian People’s Defense Units or YPG, and the YPJ womens’ defense units, declared a formal Federation of Northern Syria which would incorporate 250 miles of mostly Kurdish-held territory along the Syria-Turkey border. On March 15, two days earlier, Russian President Putin surprised much of the world by announcing “Mission Accomplished” in Syria, ordering Russian jets and personnel to begin withdrawal. The two events are intimately connected.

Combined and Conflicting Goals

Both Russia’s beginning of withdrawal and the Kurds declaration of an autonomous federal region within Syria are linked, but not in the manner most western media report. A distinctly different phase in the long-standing US State Department blueprint for a new Greater Middle East Project, first announced by Condoleezza Rice in 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq, has begun.

What is the exact nature of the surprising Obama Administration apparent cooperation with Putin’s Russia to redraw the political map of Syria to pre-Sykes-Picot borders, or at least a modern-day imitation of that? Will Russian support for the newly proclaimed federal Kurdish-dominated Federation of Northern Syria lead soon to a Greater Kurdistan that united Kurds from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran? And what is the significance of US Defense Secretary going to Syria in recent days praising the military successes of the Syrian Kurds?

There is clearly a very big, a tectonic shift underway in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. The question is to what end?

Five Hundred Years of War

The ethnic Kurd populations, as a result of the deliberate Anglo-French carving up the map of the collapsed Ottoman Empire following the First World War, were deliberately denied a national sovereignty. Kurdish culture predates the birth of Islam and of Christianity, going back some 2,500 years. Ethnically Kurds are not Arab, not Turkic peoples. They are Kurds. Today they are predominantly Sunni Muslim, but ethnically Kurd peoples, numbering perhaps 35 million divided between four adjoining states.

Their struggles with the Turks, who invaded from the steppes of Central Asia during the Seljuk Dynasty in the mid- 12th century, have been long and volatile. In the 16th Century the Kurdish regions were the battlegrounds of wars between the Ottoman Turks and the Persian Empire. Kurds were the losers, much like the Poles over the past century or more. In 1514 the Turkish Sultan offered the Kurds wide-ranging freedoms and autonomy if they agreed to join the Ottoman Empire after the Ottoman defeated the Persian army. For the Ottomans the Kurds served as a buffer against possible future Persian invasion.

The peace between the Turkish Sultanate and the Kurdish people lasted into the 19th Century. Then, as the Turkish Sultan decided to force the Kurds of his empire to give up their autonomy in the early 19th Century, conflicts between Kurds and Turks began. Ottoman forces, advised by the Germans, including Helmut von Moltke, waged brutal wars to subjugate the independent Kurds. Kurd revolts against an increasingly bankrupt and brutal Turkish Ottoman Sultanate continued until the First World War, fighting for a separate Kurdish state independent of Constantinople.

In 1916 the secret Anglo-French agreement called Sykes-Picot called for the postwar carving up of Kurdistan. In Anatolia a traditional religious wing of the Kurdish people made an alliance with the Turkish leader, Mustafa Kemal, who later became Kemal Ataturk, in order to avoid domination by the Christian Europeans. Kemal went to the Kurdish tribal leaders to seek support in his war to liberate modern Turkey from the European colonial powers, notably the British and Greeks. The Kurds fought side-by-side with Kemal in the Turkish War of Independence to liberate occupied Anatolia, and create a Turkey independent from a British-Greek occupation in 1922. The Soviets supported Ataturk and the Kurds against the British-Greek alliance. In 1921 France had handed over another of the four Kurdish regions to Syria, then a French booty of the war of Sykes-Picot, along with Lebanon. In 1923 at the Peace Conference at Lausanne, the European powers formally recognized Ataturk’s Turkey, a tiny part of the pre-war Ottoman Empire and gave the largest Kurdish population in Anatolia to the new independent Turkey with no guarantees of autonomy or rights. Iranian Kurds lived in a state of constant conflict and dissidence with the Shah’s government.

Finally, the fourth group of Kurds was in the newly-carved Sykes-Picot British domain called Iraq. There were known oil riches in and around Mosul and Kirkuk. The region was claimed by both Turkey and by Britain, while the Kurds demanded independence. In 1925 Britain managed to get a League of Nations Mandate over oil-rich Iraq with the Kurdish territories included. The British promised to allow the Kurds to establish an autonomous government, another British broken promise in the grim history of their colonial Middle East adventures. By the end of 1925 the country of the Kurds, known since the 12th Century as Kurdistan, had been carved up between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria and for the first time in 2,500 years was deprived of its cultural autonomy.

Puzzling timing or shrewd move?

With such a history of betrayal and war to extinguish or suppress their people, it’s understandable that the Syrian Kurds today would try to take advantage of their very essential military role in fighting ISIS in northern Syria along the Turkish border. However, with the future of Bashar al Assad and a unified Syrian state very much in question, it seems reckless of the Syrian Kurds of Rojava to declare their autonomy and risk a two-front war against Damascus and against Erdogan’s military who are conducting a brutal war against their Kurdish cousins in Turkey across the border. Assad has not recognized the proclamation of Kurd autonomy and is reported very opposed to it. There are reports of clashes between the Kurd YPG People’s Defense Units and troop of the Syrian Arab Army of Assad.

Here we must come back to the surprise announcement by Vladimir Putin on March 15 to announce the drawdown of Russian military presence in Syria.

The declaration of an autonomous Kurdish-dominated territory along the Turkish border backed by Moscow is a major geopolitical shift in the Syrian situation

On February 7 of this year a curious event took place little noticed by western media. The Syrian Kurds, represented by the Democratic Unity Party (PYD), the main political organization, were welcomed by Russia to open their first foreign office in Moscow. The opening ceremony was attended by Russian foreign ministry officials. Little-known is the fact that Russia’s positive relations with the Kurds goes back more than two centuries. From 1804 forward, Kurds played important roles in Russia’s wars with Persia and Ottoman Turkey.

Turkey and Washington refused to invite the PYD to participate in the Syrian reconciliation talks now ongoing in Geneva, despite strong Russian insistence to include them as legitimate Syrian anti-ISIS opposition playing a decisive role in defeating the ISIS and other terrorist organizations in the north. On the other hand, Washington refuses to yield to Erdogan and Turkish demands that Washington break off any support to the Syrian Kurds. There is a Washington double game that Russia appears to have intervened in. Does this herald a Grand Design between Washington and Moscow over the “Bosnia Solution” for Syria?

At this point it rather looks like a shrewd judo by Putin, himself an old judo master, with a Judo 8th Dan and sitting as Honorary President of the European Judo Union. It looks like Russia, despite its air force drawdown and troop pull-back, has just established the first “No Fly” zone in Syria, the most-wanted aim of the US Pentagon and Turkey only five months ago, as the necessary step to topple Assad and the Syrian government and create a weak government presiding over a Balkanized Syria. Only the Russian no fly zone has a quite different aim–to protect the Syrian Kurds from a possible Turkish military attack.

The creation of the 250 mile long Kurdish-dominated Federation of Northern Syria autonomous region, seals the porous Turkish border where ISIS and other terrorist groups are constantly being reinforced by the Turkish armed forces and MIT intelligence to keep the ISIS war going. A Russian de facto no fly zone stops that. While Russia has withdrawn much of its air force planes in the last days, Moscow has made clear Russia will retain its long-standing naval base at Tarsus and Khmeimim airbase near Latakia, as well as its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft batteries to enforce any air attacks from Turkey or Saudi Arabia into the Kurd autonomous region of Syria. As well, Russia has not withdrawn her air-to-air fighters–SU-30SMs and SU-35 from Khmeimim. And as Russia demonstrated in the first weeks of Russian intervention quite impressively, its SU-34s are long-range strike aircraft and they can attack objectives in Syria by taking off from southern Russia if needed. As well Russian cruise missiles, they have a range of 1,500km (Kalibr) and 4,500km (X-101) and can be delivered from the Caspian.

The Kurdish PYD and its armed wing inside Syria have been aggressively expanding the amount of territory it controls along the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara is alarmed to put it mildly. The PYD is a subsidiary of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistane), or PKK, which is in a bloody war for survival against the Turkish military. Russia recognizes both the PKK, which it supported against NATO-member Turkey during the Cold War, and the Syrian PYD. The PKK was founded by a Turkish Kurd named Abdullah Öcalan in 1978, and was supported by Russia and the Soviet Union from the onset. Russian-Kurdish relations go back to the late 18th Century. During the 1980’s in the Cold War era Syria under Hafez al Assad, Bashar’s father, was a Soviet client state, and the PKK’s most vital supporter, providing the group safe basing inside Syria.

In Syria, the PYD’s armed wing has received Russian arms and Russian air support to aggressively expand the amount of territory it controls along the Syrian-Turkish border in recent months so it’s little surprise it was Moscow, not Washington, that the PYD chose to open its first foreign representative office.

Since Erdogan broke off earlier peace negotiations with the Kurds in Turkish Anatolia before elections in 2015 and began military operations against them, the PKK has resumed its insurgency against Ankara forces across the border from Syria’s newly-declared Kurd-dominated autonomous region. PKK activists have declared Kurdish self-rule in their own Anatolia region bordering Syria, and PKK fighters are holing up in cities, digging trenches and taking on Turkish security forces with everything from snipers and rocket propelled grenades to improvised explosive devices. The PKK took advantage of the collapse of the Saddam Hussein’s rule after 2003 to establish their headquarters in exile in the secure Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq in the Iraqi Kurdish region of that country.

The PKK and Russia have a strategic synergy. Since the Turkish shooting down of the Russian jet late last year in Syrian airspace, Russia has dramatically turned policy to isolate and contain Turkey. That has meant that today the PKK and its Syrian affiliate together with Moscow share common enemies in ISIS and in Turkey, while the US must walk on eggshells because Turkey is a strategically vital NATO member. Working with the Kurds, Moscow can advance the war against ISIS, which is not in the ceasefire agreement, hence fair target, and punish Turkey at the same time. That, in turn, allows Putin to outmaneuver the US once more in Syria and provoke a rift in Turkish-US relations, weakening NATO.

Israeli President meets Putin

Into this already highly complex geometry comes Israel.

Relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv in recent months are more open than those between Netanyahu’s government and the Obama Administration. Immediately after start of deployment of Russian forces to Syria in September last year, Netanyahu rushed to Moscow to create a coordination mechanism between the Russian forces in Syria and the Israeli military.

On March 15, the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, came to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin and discuss Syria and the background to the Russian troop withdrawal. According to Israeli media, the two discussed continued coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow regarding military activities in Syria. In talks with Prime Minister Medvedev, Russia’s government also spoke of increasing imports of Israeli agriculture products to replace embargoed Turkish imports. Rivlin mentioned the bonds created as well by the one million Russian-origin citizens today in Israel. The Rivlin Moscow talks were sanctioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu who himself will soon meet Putin to discuss Syria and trade relations. An Israeli official told Israeli media that “over the last few months we had regular contact with the Russians at the highest level, and that will continue.”

A Russo-Israeli-Kurd Alliance?

As with the Iraqi Kurds, the Kurds of Syria are also in behind-the-scenes talks with the Netanyahu government to establish relations. According to Professor Ofra Bengio, head of the Kurdish studies program at Tel Aviv University, in an interview with The Times of Israel, the Syrian Kurds are willing to have relations with Israel as well as with Russia. Bengio stated, referring to Syrian Kurd leaders, “I know some that some have been to Israel behind the scenes but do not publicize it.” She herself said she has made personal contacts with Syrian Kurds who would like to send the message that they are willing to have relations. “This is like the Kurds of Iraq behind the scenes. Once they feel stronger, they can think about taking relations into the open,” she said. In 2014, Netanyahu stated, “We should … support the Kurdish aspiration for independence,” adding that the Kurds are “a nation of fighters [who] have proved political commitment and are worthy of independence.”

When Iraqi Kurds defied Baghdad in 2015 and began direct sale of the oil in their Kurd region, Israel became the major buyer. The oil revenues allowed the Iraqi Kurds to finance their fight to expel ISIS from the region.

Clearly there is more going on between Moscow-Tel Aviv and the newly-declared autonomous Syrian Kurds than meets the ordinary garden variety eye. According to a report in a natural gas industry blog, Israel and Russia are about to agree upon a modus operandi in the East Mediterranean. Israel would agree to end talks with Turkey’s erratic Erdogan on sale of Israeli Leviathan natural gas to Turkey to displace Russian Gazprom gas which still supplies 60% of Turkish gas despite sanctions. The report states that the Israeli military establishment “prefers maintaining military cooperation with Russia over potential Israeli gas sales to Turkey if they hurt Russian interests and anger Putin.”

The Israel-Turkey negotiations of Israeli weapons and gas was backed by US Vice President Joe Biden on March 14, in a Tel Aviv meeting with Netanyahu. According to Israeli press reports, Biden pressed Netanyahu to reach an agreement with Turkey to end the six-year stand-off in Turkey-Israel relations. According to Haaretz, Biden told Netanyahu that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was eager to conclude the reconciliation agreement with Israel and said he, Biden, was willing to assist “in any way possible” to get an agreement between the two allies of the US.

Kerry’s Plan B?

If in fact Putin now has managed to bring Netanyahu to cancel the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement negotiations in favor of closer cooperation with Russia in not-yet-disclosed areas, it would throw a gargantuan monkey wrench into US plans for Syria and the entire Middle East as well as US plans to isolate and weaken Russia.

On February 23, US Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a schizophrenic testimony that Russia had played a vital role in getting the Geneva and other peace talks to happen, as well as getting Iran to agree the nuclear deal. Then, without hesitating, he added the curious statement, “There is a significant discussion taking place now about a Plan B in the event that we do not succeed at the [negotiating] table.” Kerry didn’t elaborate other than to hint it included the Balkanization of Syria into autonomous regions, stating that it could be “too late to keep as a whole Syria if we wait much longer.”

Kerry’s ‘Plan B’ is reportedly a Brookings Institution think-tank report authored several years ago by Michael O’Hanlon, who very recently repeated his plan in the US media. It calls for dividing Syria into a confederation of several sectors: “one largely Alawite (Assad’s own sect), along the Mediterranean coast; another Kurdish, along the north and northeast corridors near the Turkish border; a third primarily Druse, in the southwest; a fourth largely made up of Sunni Muslims; and then a central zone of intermixed groups in the country’s main population belt from Damascus to Aleppo. The last zone would likely be difficult to stabilize, but the others might not be so tough. Under such an arrangement, Assad would ultimately have to step down from power in Damascus. As a compromise, however, he could perhaps remain leader of the Alawite sector. A weak central government would replace him.”

When asked about Kerry’s reference to a US “Plan B” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov replied that Russia is currently focusing on ‘Plan A’ in dealing with the situation in Syria.

Given the Janus-faced US policy of support and non-support for the autonomy of the Syrian Kurds, its talk about Plan B Bosnia-style Balkanization of Syria into a group of weak regions, its support for Erdogan’s reconciliation with Israel, the recent Russian moves raise more questions than answers. Is Russia ready to renege on its promised delivery of its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Iran and future relations with Teheran including integration into the China-Iran-Russia economic sphere within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the construction of the Eurasian New Economic Silk Road, in order to cut a deal with Israel against Turkey as some Israeli media suggest? If not, what is the real geopolitical strategy of Putin after the military draw-down in Syria, support for Kurdish autonomy, and the simultaneous talks with Rivlin? Is a huge trap being baited for Erdogan to go mad and invade the now autonomous Kurdish region along its border, to set the stage to force Turkey to cede autonomy also to Turkish PKK and other Kurds? Is that Washington’s intent?

What is clear is that all players in this great game for the energy riches of Syria and the entire Middle East are engaged in deception, all to everyone. Syria is nowhere near an honestly-negotiated peace.

F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

NATO Is Much More Than Just ‘Obsolete’

Unlike many libertarians, I love presidential election season, because that’s when generally ignored foreign policy issues are discussed beyond the small circle of Washington wonks. And that’s why I’m having such fun with Donald Trump – much to the annoyance of some of my readers, both libertarians and liberals alike: because he’s provoking a much-needed discussion about who benefits (and loses) from “American leadership” on the world stage. Most useful is his recent assertion that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is “obsolete.”

So it is. When the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved, the rationale for NATO disintegrated along with it. However, as libertarians know all too well, government programs (especially those that benefit the corporate sector) never die, nor do they fade away: they just keep growing to the degree that their constituency wields political clout. In NATO’s case, this clout is considerable.

When the citizens of Berlin did what Ronald Reagan urged Gorbachev to do – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” – the Soviet leader tried to negotiate with the West. And, to his mind, he succeeded: an understanding was reached with Washington that the Russians would allow German reunification on the condition that the NATO alliance would not expand eastward.

That promise was not kept. Instead, the lobbyists, both foreign and domestic, went into overdrive in a campaign to extend NATO to the very gates of Moscow. It was a lucrative business for the Washington set, as the Wall Street Journal documented: cushy fees for lobbyists, influence-buying by US corporations, as well as political tradeoffs for the administration of George W. Bush, which garnered support for the Iraq war from Eastern Europe’s former Warsaw Pact states in exchange for favorable treatment of their NATO applications.

The Committee to Expand NATO, later re-dubbed the US Committee on NATO, had at its core many of the founding members of Bill Kristol’s Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which played such an instrumental role in agitating for the invasion of Iraq. Yet it was too lucrative to exclude “progressives” of the Clintonian variety, bringing together neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, Stephen Hadley, and Richard Perle, with liberal internationalists such as Will Marshall, of the Progressive Policy Institute, and Sally Painter, a former Commerce Department official under Bill Clinton –turned-lobbyist, who raked in hundreds of thousands in contracts from aspiring NATO countries and their corporate clients in the US.

Founder and president of the NATO Committee was Bruce Jackson, at the time finance director of Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, and vice-president in charge of planning and strategy for Lockheed – today Lockheed-Martin – the biggest military contractor in the country.

The NATO expansion project fit neatly in with Jackson’s day job: all NATO applicants must upgrade their military forces in order to meet uniform standards, and this meant a windfall for the military-industrial complex – with Lockheed first in line. The Lockheed connection was reinforced by Randy Scheunemann, a member of the Committee’s board, and president of Orion Strategies, a public relations firm whose clients include Lockheed.

The Clinton administration fully supported NATO expansion, and the Committee’s activities brought together the White House, members of Congress from both parties, and the Washington lobbyists and their foreign clients for a spate of conferences, dinners, and private meetings. Reams of propaganda were aimed at the mass media, and the political class, including a very visible presence at the national conventions of both political parties.

In short, NATO expansion was – and is – a crony capitalist’s dream, albeit not the sort that gets the same amount of attention from “libertarian” critics of such boondoggles as the Ex-Im Bank, who regularly remind us that Boeing is the Bank’s biggest customer. Forgotten (or evaded) is the fact that Boeing (or Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics, etc.) gets billions whenever a new applicant is added to NATO’s ranks and has to modernizes its forces.

The NATO expansionists won their battle: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined in 1999: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia were added in 2004. Albania and Croatia came on board in 2006. The latest applicants are tiny Montenegro, a splinter shaved off of the former Yugoslavia, which will probably be admitted this summer, and Georgia, which is not even in Europe, and is still fighting to join the club: its inclusion is controversial in part because it would be seen as throwing down the gauntlet to Russia, with whom it fought a brief war in 2008 over the breakaway Republic of Ossetia.

Therein lies the real danger posed by NATO expansion – and, indeed, the existence of the alliance thirty years after the Soviet implosion. As Sen. Robert A. Taft put it in a 1949 nationally broadcast speech opposing US entry into NATO, he said:

“It obligates us to go to war if at any time during the next 20 years anyone makes an armed attack on any of the 12 nations. Under the Monroe Doctrine we could change our policy at any time. We could judge whether perhaps one of the countries had given cause for the attack. Only Congress could declare a war in pursuance of the doctrine. Under the new pact the President can take us into war without Congress. But, above all the treaty is a part of a much larger program by which we arm all these nations against Russia… A joint military program has already been made… It thus becomes an offensive and defensive military alliance against Russia. I believe our foreign policy should be aimed primarily at security and peace, and I believe such an alliance is more likely to produce war than peace. A third world war would be the greatest tragedy the world has ever suffered. Even if we won the war, we this time would probably suffer tremendous destruction, our economic system would be crippled, and we would lose our liberties and free system just as the Second World War destroyed the free systems of Europe. It might easily destroy civilization on this earth…

“There is another consideration. If we undertake to arm all the nations around Russia from Norway on the north to Turkey on the south, and Russia sees itself ringed about gradually by so-called defensive arms from Norway and. Denmark to Turkey and Greece, it may form a different opinion. It may decide that the arming of western Europe, regardless of its present purpose, looks to an attack upon Russia. Its view may be unreasonable, and I think it is. But from the Russian standpoint it may not seem unreasonable. They may well decide that if war is the certain result, that war might better occur now rather than after the arming of Europe is completed…

“How would we feel if Russia undertook to arm a country on our border; Mexico, for instance?

“Furthermore, can we afford this new project of foreign assistance?”

Which brings us to Trump’s critique: that NATO is a “bad deal” because we bear a disproportionate share of the costs. He is quite correct on this score. As of today, the US and Estonia are the only two NATO members keeping to the “requirement” that their military spending equals two percent of GDP. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed this out in a 2011 speech in which he predicted that NATO’s future was sure to be “dim if not dismal.” Our shiftless allies are all too “willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets,” he said.

Added to the direct costs of NATO is the expense of stationing over 60,000 troops in Europe, maintenance of our many bases, and the opportunity costs of money that could have been diverted to productive domestic uses. Taft, it seems, was right that the costs of NATO would turn out to be “incalculable.”

And then there is yet another cost – the price of risking World War III.

NATO expansion has led to Russian rearmament and the nullification of arms treaties negotiated as the cold war neared its endpoint. The Western powers have launched provocative military “exercises” that cannot be seen by the Russians as anything other than a dress rehearsal for war – and the Kremlin has reacted accordingly.

With his plan – or, rather, inclination – to abandon the old NATO and replace it with some sort of multilateral counterterrorist operation, and his insistence that our “allies” pay up, Trump is forcing an issue onto the stage that hasn’t been seen since the days of Bob Taft. And with the bogeyman of Communism absent, he is free to say he could get along with Vladimir Putin and only catch flak from committed neocons.

NATO isn’t just an expensive luxury of the sort we can no longer afford – it is a tripwire that could be set off by a minor border conflict involving Moldova, the status of Kaliningrad, or – more likely – another round of hostilities in Ukraine.

Would we start World War III in defense of the oligarchs of Kiev?

I wouldn’t put it past them.

That’s why, no matter what the fate of Trump’s presidential bid, we all owe him for raising this vital issue – and within the GOP, no less, a party which has been, up until now, a bastion of support for the NATO-crats and the new cold war against Russia.

Pillars of smoke, massive blaze as oil tank ‘explodes’ in Lugansk, Ukraine (VIDEO)

Social media include accounts of blasts and say that so far one tank is on fire.

The carriages have reportedly been engulfed in black smoke for over half an hour.

Eastern Ukraine has been devastated following the 2014 revolution that brought President Petro Poroshenko to power. While a truce has been reached between Kiev and the break-away regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, political differences continue to stall the final settlement.

‘Russia can’t find common ground with those demonizing Syrian govt’

Damaged ancient architectures are seen in Palmyra of central Syria, on April 1, 2016 [Xinhua]

Damaged ancient architectures are seen in Palmyra in central Syria, on April 1, 2016 [Xinhua]

Russia has criticised demands for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step down saying this restricts perspectives for political settlement in the war-torn country.

Russia will “never find common ground” with Washington and others who are forwarding Syrian settlement under the motto ‘Assad must resign”, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Monday.

The issue should be decided later by the sides involved in the Syrian conflict, Ryabkov added.

“We will never find common ground on the matter not only because it contradicts our entire foreign policy doctrine, under which regime change, ‘color revolutions’ and social engineering from the outside are unacceptable, but also simply because such a condition leaves no future for any political process,” Ryabkov told Russian agency Ria Novosti.

A fragile peace pact has held in Syria for over a month as opposing parties to the conflict try to negotiate an end to Syria’s civil war.

Moscow says Washington’s rejection of Damascus as “a legitimate partner” creates problems.

“Like in many cases before Palmyra [liberation] we feel that Washington’s approach depends upon certain priorities and preferences,” Ryabkov said.

“That is why, unfortunately, our Western colleagues, and not only Western, are so obsessed with Bashar Assad and the demonization of the Syrian government that … they fail to comply with the requirements of corresponding UNSC resolutions to the full extent,” he added.

Syrian and allied forces backed by Russian air strikes drove Islamic State militants out of the town of al-Qaryatain, near the ancient city of Palmyra, on Sunday, Syrian military said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been trying to retake al-Qaryatain and other pockets of the Daesh (Islamic State) control to reduce the terrorist group’s ability to project military power into the heavily populated western region of Syria.

Islamic State militants have retreated from Palmyra after an offensive by the Syrian military and Russian air strikes.

 

TBP and Agencies

Ukraine – the Precious Deadwood of the EU

345345345444It is curious how, as April 6 approaches – the day of the referendum on the approval of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine in Netherlands – two increasingly confrontational parties are starting to appear, although the referendum is purely advisory in nature and therefore not binding. So it remains to be seen whether those who are voicing reasonable concerns are going to get an upper hand or will Washington apply enough financial and political pressure to obtain the result it wants, instead of allowing people to decide for themselves.

The US has been heavily engaged in the struggle for Ukraine for some time now, aiming at tearing this state away from Russia and in turn, invest heavily into anti-Russian sentiments. This policy is being actively supported by certain American financial circles, who seek to obtain an impressive return on their “investments”, by getting control over fertile Ukrainian lands where they will be able to produce GMO crops, while paying no heed to legislation in the neighboring EU and Russia. Monsanto couldn’t care less if its products bring health issues and premature death to the people of Ukraine, as long as it can get a healthy profit out of it.

In a rush to get their share of the Ukrainian “pie,” Western businessmen, politicians and military contractors have already gotten themselves a red carpet rolled out in Ukraine before them, taking advantage of the corrupt nature of the sitting Kiev regime. By the way, the fact that Washington has deliberately installed this particular reign of corruption currently presiding over Ukraine has been noted by numerous Western media sources like The New York Times. It has also been frankly noted by Forbes that the sitting Ukrainian president received one hundred million dollars over the last year alone at the height of a bitter economic crisis in Ukraine.

Representing not only US political interests but his own personal welfare as well, US Vice President Joe Biden has got most of his relatives engaged in the teardown of Ukraine as well, by establishing hand-in-hand with his son, an array of US-Ukrainian companies. A number of US journalists are however convinced that this step is not simply violating Ukrainian laws, but American ones as well.

To protect their own interests, the financial and political elites of the US have installed a Neo-Nazi government in Ukraine over two years, a step that has been carefully documented by prominent alternative media source, Global Research. Unfortunately, the result of this “experiment” turned out to be truly disappointing – thousands of civilians have been massacred in the east of the country, since Kiev didn’t hesitate to turn heavy artillery and cluster bombs on the civil population they were allegedly sworn to protect. Those who survived have consistently been deprived of drinking water, food supplies, heat, and electricity. There’s ongoing genocide of the ethic Russian population being carried out by these so-called authorities under the very nose of the international community.

It is therefore not surprising that US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau urged Dutch voters to support the association agreement days before the vote. It’s even less surprising that American billionaire George Soros has allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch a propaganda campaign in favor of the association agreement with Ukraine across the EU, while applying a considerable amount of pressure on Holland’s officials.

One should draw their attention to the fact that we are witnessing two persistent attempts to accede to the EU, which are being pushed forward by states seeking accession, namely Ukraine and Turkey along with the overseas sponsors of these states. For the latter, the possible damage from this process bears minimum political risks. As for the potential damage to the EU, it can be quite considerable since it will be swarmed by both radicals and migrants once the gates are opened.

In recent months, Ukraine and Turkey have both been promoting bilateral contacts at the highest political level in a bid to promote mutual support of one another’s foreign and domestic policy. Behind the scenes, agreements reached between Poroshenko and Erdogan are astonishingly cynical toward both Middle Eastern migrants and Ukrainians, since the Ukrainian leader proposed to accommodate migrants in several regions of Ukraine. However, it seems doubtful that those displaced souls will have the desire to stay for long in a Neo-Nazi-controlled territory, so it’s clear that they will be making attempts to cross over the poorly protected Ukrainian border with the EU, thus creating yet another major headache for EU officials.

Therefore, the referendum in the Netherlands coming April 6 will be, to a certain extent, a test of the ability of EU citizens to make independent decisions that are based on their own best interests.

Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

Daily Ticker – All the News That’s Fit to Link (April 1, 2016)

Russia

Wendi Deng rumoured to be dating Vladimir Putin after magazine links pair (Daily Mail). You know, the thought had occurred. But seriously, if this is the best they can manage, it’s risible, to say the least. Unless it’s an April fools’ joke.

Kremlin dismisses reports businessman provided home to women tied to Putin (Sputnik). Yeah but we wanna hear Peskov address rumours about Putin and Wendi Deng – not this complicated paper-trail stuff! Ah, but that may be the reason for the Wendi Deng story – to cater to those who’d easily get lost trying to follow the complicated paper-trail story about homes and women with pussycats and so forth. But seriously, one hopes Peskov won’t dignify the Deng rumours with a response.

Despite pledged drawdown, Putin flexes new forms of military muscle (Defense News). “But why would they position such an important strategic asset [the Iskander missile] without camouflage in the middle of a field, a few hundred yards from the runway where everyone can see it? It doesn’t make sense.” Er, perhaps so that everyone can see it?

Introducing the Iskander: The Russian missile NATO fears (National Interest). Let’s hope it talks some sense to Erdogan.

The Romanovs: masterful account of Russia’s doomed royal family (Guardian).

USA

‘We’re going to war’ – Oliver Stone fears the dangerous extremism of neocon Hillary Clinton (Zero Hedge).

Turkey’s Erdogan came to Washington, and things got a bit crazy (Washington Post).

Trump’s new Russia adviser has deep ties to Kremlin’s Gazprom (Bloomberg). Well Trump’s all about deals, right? So positive news.

Europe

Serbia won’t ascent to EU at cost of alienating Russia, or join NATO – FM (RT).

Europe closes its eyes to war crimes and repression in Turkey (Strategic Culture Foundation).

Insane in the Ukraine

Forget the EU subplot; Maidan was about splitting Ukraine from Russia (Sputnik).

Middle-East

Russia says reports on US-Russian deal on Assad’s fate are “dirty leaks” (Daily Star). “Our American partners cannot publicly call into question this formula that … only the people of Syria decide all the questions about the future of Syria”. The Russians have been pretty consistent on this line; their refrain is on the sovereignty of nations, after all.

Details emerge of arrest of Russian of Russian pilot’s killer in restaurant in Turkey (Sputnik). Turkey’s Economy Minister had expressed hope that Russo-Turkish relations would improve soon. Perhaps this is Turkey’s peace offering.

Multipolar World

China set to deploy nuke-equipped ballistic missile capable of reaching US (Sputnik).

The mysterious letters: Is Washington plotting against Xi Xinping? (New Eastern Outlook).

China proposes $50 trillion global renewable energy network (RT). Such initiatives are better than war, war and more war.

Pre-orders of Tesla Model 3 hit almost 200K in 24 hours

Those interested in the car were asked to place a $1,000 deposit on the vehicles, which would help in the production costs, and this certainly hasn’t deterred people with Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk taking to Twitter on Friday to say that pre-orders had hit 180,000.

A short while later, Musk tweeted again to say the orders had continued to roll in with a total of 198,000 now placed.

With each car averaging at a cost of $42,000 that means that, if these reservations translate into actual sales once the car is delivered, Tesla would take in over $8.3 billion

With figures like that, it’s no surprise that Musk tweeted to say that the “future of electric cars [is] looking bright.”

Musk added that he would “recommend ordering soon, as the wait time is growing rapidly,” while also saying that they were “definitely going to need to rethink production planning.”

At the car’s unveiling on Thursday, Musk detailed how the car will be able to go at least 215 miles per charge and go from 0 to 60mph in less than six seconds, which left many thrilled.

Some have called Tesla the Apple of the automotive world. 

Others also complimented Musk on his interaction with Twitter users after the product launch, with the company head answering various questions posed to about the car on the social network.

One question raised after the Model 3’s unveiling involved the source of all the lithium for the batteries used to power the cars. 

Musk said during the launch that the company’s so-called Gigafactory will produce more lithium batteries than all other facilities combined, and at a cheaper cost, although no major deals with lithium producers have been announced. 

However, a number of big producers of lithium have already said they’re not willing to supply the metal at the prices Tesla has demanded.

As evidenced in the number of people interested, the demand for the highly sought-after metal can only increase, which in turn will make it more expensive.

With 70 percent of the world’s known lithium reserves currently found in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, the global lithium market is already approaching a shortage, Fortune reported, although there are hopes that the United States’ only operating lithium mine, located in Nevada, may be home to as yet undiscovered lithium.

A Song for Maria ‘Aquamarine’ Zakharova (Video)

Maria Zakharova is the first woman to occupy the position of the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and since then has been ubiquitous on television screens as she presents to the world the Russian Federation’s point of view.

This ubiquity was noticed by Cameroonian singer Pierre Narcisse, an already familiar voice in Russia, who on account of Zakharova’s apparent boundless energy, together with her “aquamarine” blue eyes, inspired him to pen a song in her honor.

He has provided Zakharova with a sampling of the song through twitter, and to his surprise received a positive response. The accompanying music video is in the finishing stages, and it should not be long now before the Russian airwaves are carrying an ode to Maria “Aquamarine” Zakharova.

Spying in St Louis: US spy agency HQ to be built in Missouri city

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) hopes to build its new western HQ in north St Louis, where it was offered free land on the site of the failed Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex.

The failed projects were demolished in the 70s, when many African-Americans residents moved to nearby Ferguson, now infamous as the city where teenager Michael Brown was shot by police officer Darren Wilson in 2014. 

READ MORE: Protesters gather in Ferguson to remember 1st anniversary of Michael Brown killing (VIDEO)

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner had hoped to entice the spy agency to the Prairie State by also offering free land, but the spy agency chose to remain in St Louis.

The competition between the two states has drawn attention to the government spying agency which has enjoyed a far lower profile than that of the NSA, the CIA and other elements of the US’s large intelligence apparatus. 

So what exactly is the NGA? 

The NGA is part of the Department of Defense and works with the CIA and the Air Force to provide intelligence that is largely geographical in nature. 

Established in 1996, the agency was known as the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency until 2003. It provides geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT to the Pentagon and the intelligence community. NGA also provides combat support, mapping and satellite imagery.

Its main headquarters are in Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

According to the NGA, “anyone who sails a U.S. ship, flies a U.S. aircraft, makes national policy decisions, fights wars, locates targets, responds to natural disasters, or even navigates with a cellphone relies on NGA.”

The agency credits itself with providing the strategic intelligence “that allows the president and national policymakers to make crucial decisions on counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, global political crises and more.”

The NGA also claims to “defend the nation against cyber threats” by providing support to other intelligence agencies.

According to the agency, “NGA was integral in helping the Department of Defense and U.S. Intelligence Community pinpoint the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan, where bin Laden was residing.” 

Although Seymour Hersch’s investigation into his capture stated that a former Pakistani intelligence agent had provided the location in return for the $25 million reward offered by the US, the NGA did provide mapping of the compound and created a replica of the building to help plan the raid.

© nga.mil

Documents released by former government contractor Edward Snowden showed the NGA received $4.9 billion of the US’s ‘black budget’ in 2013, double its funding in 2004. In comparison, the CIA received $14.7 billion and the NSA $10.8 and their budgets increased by 56 and 53 percent, respectively.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper worked as director of the NGA for five years, from 2001 to 2006. Clapper began working there two days after 9/11 and recalled how they “dramatically altered the organization and outlook of the Agency” over a long weekend.

“Our nation, and our Agency, was fully engaged in a war and we had no choice but to focus on doing the best we could,” he said.

The NGA played a role in providing the data used to create the false weapons of mass destruction narrative that the US used as the reason to invade Iraq.

Watch out for Dirty Jihadi Bombs!

The author is an Italian industrialist and honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of the Institut de France with long experience in the Middle East


On November 30, 2015 the Belgian police discovered a film about the movements of a Belgian nuclear researcher and his family working in Dohel-1, one of the country’s seven nuclear production sites, in the home of a man linked to Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

The jihadists were interested not so much in the nuclear plant as such, but in the possibility of using radioisotopes, that can cause poisoning, disease, and various temporary or permanent disorders through long-term contact.

Under strict safety conditions, radioisotopes are widely used in industry, medicine, biology, pharmacology, archaeology and paleontology. The jihadists in Belgium probably wanted to kidnap the nuclear expert or a member of his family and force him to make one or more “dirty bombs”.

Normally, a team of experts is needed to make a dirty bomb, but a single “lone wolf” could make one using recycled materials and the ordinary homemade explosives used in most of the blasts so far in Europe by jihadists.

The jihadists do not want to conquer our territory, but to subjugate it politically and culturally. A dirty bomb” is as effective as a cyber attack or a demonstration against miniskirts or halal food in public schools.

Jihadists taylor their fight to serve the primary interests of the umma, namely the Islamic global community through the cultural and economic subjugation of our territories to Islam, possibly with mass conversion. The important factor is intimidation, leading to hegemony and finally to dominance.

The fear, terror and social dislocation caused by the terrorist actions are aimed at weakening the reactions of the “infidel” and increasing defense costs until they become unsustainable, finally forcing Europe into “submission”, the title of Michel Houellebecq’s recent literary success.

We’re talking about long-term warfare combining elements of traditional war with psychological warfare. They combine the good cop of cultural and mental-mythical submission and subjugation with the bad cop’s brutal violence in Paris and Brussels.

An “if …. then” mechanism rules our minds, and we begin to think that if we are good and keep quiet and adapt without protesting they will not hurt us anymore. But this is not true: if we are good and keep quiet, we will be even more cruelly subjugated.

It is useless to explain this to current politicians in Italy and Europe, who are just canvassers in search of foreign capital, including from the countries that have always funded the jihad. There are important socio-economic factors in this psy-war, but not even the intelligence services realize it.

First, there was the plan outlined by Osama Bin Laden to hit the West – economic and energy advocate of the “apostate” regimes of Islam and the Jewish State – with a war that is very cheap for the jihad but expensive for those defending themselves.

Compared to the low cost of the attacks of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have cost the West over three trillion dollars in fifteen years, including wars, new security and safety standards and part of the covert operations involved in finding and killing Bin Laden. Not to mention the high cost of supporting about 150,000 military and boosting the US military budget by 25%.

The jihad started by Bin Laden – a wealthy “daddy’s boy” who became radicalized at the university in Saudi Arabia through contacts with a professor linked to the Muslim Brotherhood – is an asymmetrical war of the poor against us, the would-be “rich”. Jihadists are used as proxy warriors by the rich Muslim countries to progressively impoverish the West, make it suitable for profitable investment by the OPEC Sunni area, finally creating an economic, but also a political dependence on Middle East oil and gas.

The terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, not to mention the now sadly neglected affair of mass rapes in Cologne, are the beginning of a new phase of this non-orthodox Islamic war in Europe and other continents.

Before Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate – which created the  territorial entity needed to wage global jihad, both as political mythology and military base – Mohammed Badie, the former Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and later leader of the Ikhwan International, had stated: “There is no need for sword jihad in Europe, we will conquer it just with our growing population”.

The transition from the old to the new jihad with the establishment of the Daesh-Isis Caliphate, has modified the Islamist strategy in Europe. Which is why we must be very careful with “dirty bombs” that would achieve their political goal, regardless of their actual potential for radiation. Fear is a mechanism that increases with small doses of violence.

It’s hard to estimate the number of sites where radionuclides are produced and stored, but the best statistics now available point to over 70,000 storage systems placed in at least 13,000 facilities.

The brutality of the attacks and the size of the jihadist network in Belgium is partly due to the fact that this country is a major producer of radionuclides, and there is at least one Islamic researcher working in the nuclear complex called SK-CEN, located near the Bocholt-Herentals Canal, fifty-three miles from Brussels.

Since the Belgian system was reported to have insufficient defenses against a possible attack by Al Qaeda in 2004, it has not received on-going shipments of radioactive material from the United States. But the two fake journalists who killed the anti-Taliban Afghan leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud two days before the September 11th attack came  from Molenbeek, home to the jihadists who carried out the massacres in Paris and Brussels.

In 2003, there were reports of  an attempt by the Belgian soccer star, Nizar Trabelsi, to plant a bomb in the military area of Kleine Brogel, eighteen miles from the aforementioned nuclear research centre, that hosted twenty US tactical nuclear weapons for an F-16 squadron. The safety and security structures were deactivated in 2010 by a group of peace activists, who ran around the base undisturbed for over two hours.

It wasn’t until 2014, after renovations by the Belgian government upon US request, that the IAEA declared safety and security in SK-CEN and the nearby military base to be effective.

Belgian nuclear plants supply over 50% of the country’s electricity. Could these terrorist actions be designed to force Belgium to run with Middle East oil and gas instead?

The Belgian power plants have recently had a series of accidents that have endangered the city of Antwerp, which is close to the SK-CEN centre. And Germany has repeatedly questioned the technical and strategic safety nets of the Belgian nuclear system.

Ilyass Boughalab, a Moroccan expert linked to an old information network, Sharia4Belgium, that is still operational though silent, works in Dohel-1.

In Italy, the disastrous decision to renounce civilian nuclear energy was taken in a well-funded referendum in June 2011, after the equally well-funded one in 1987, shortly after the Chernobyl disaster.

No one uses psychological warfare better than Muslims. Dismissing Clausewitz, they do not believe that war obeys strict, Kantian rules, and are convinced that confrontation is not a “polarization of extremes”, but the essence of politics.

Today, radioisotope components are found in approximately 3,500 sites located in 110 countries.

In Iraq, Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate has reached the nuclear sites of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, which are  supposed to have enough radioactive material to build a dirty bomb that could render a small city uninhabitable (the tactical goal pursued).

Moreover, only 23 IAEA countries, 14% of the total 168 IAEA members, adhere to international safety and security procedures for the storage and use of radioactive materials. In 2013 and 2014, at least 325 nuclear accidents were reported in IAEA databases, with heavy losses of radioactive materials. Eighty-five percent of those accidents concerned non-nuclear radioactive material – that is, nucleotides, with more than 753 unreported accidents in that two-year period.

Highly enriched uranium (HEU) is stored in sites located in 25 countries and radioactive substances are even more widespread. Moreover, “dirty bombs” cause less damage than nuclear ones, but the cost of clean-up are huge, in addition to that of evacuating the population.

According to the rule of asymmetric economic war started by Bin Laden and today continued by Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, this is exactly what is needed. “Dirty bombs” have been called weapons of mass disruption and not weapons of mass destruction and can achieve two goals at the same time: crushing us psychologically, and increasing defense costs, which could force some European governments (the aforementioned canvassers and salesmen) into a strategic or political surrender. (A radiological dispersal device (RDD) could be poised for use in areas around those hit by the dirty bomb.)

Of the total number of nations adhering to IAEA rules for radionuclides, only nineteen have a specific strategy to monitor or recover illegally exported material; eight of them are developing a procedure for notifying neighboring countries of any illegal release or transfer of radioactive material, while the others are studying new safer storage and monitoring systems.

The Code of Conduct currently in force for all the countries adhering to the special IAEA system for radionuclides is inevitably vague and full of shortcomings at the procedural and penalty levels. And only 130 IAEA countries have accepted the Code of Conduct.

Many thefts of radioactive material have occurred, apart from those carried out by the so-called Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate (two, as far as we know). In 1993, the Russian mafia placed small pieces of radioactive material in the office of a Russian businessman, who died in minutes.

In 1995, Chechen jihadists buried a container full of Cesium-137 in Moscow’s Ismailovsky Park, letting the police know where it was before it could cause too much damage.

In 1998, 19 tubes containing Cesium-137 were stolen from a hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina.

That same year, the secret services of the pro-Russian Chechen government discovered a container hidden under a railroad and connected to an explosive ignition device.

Other thefts were recorded, often not reported by “open sources”. How many Chechens are fighting with Daesh/Isis? Between 200 and 700 – exceeded only by militants from Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia.

As an example of costs and possible damage, a dirty bomb charged with Cesium-137 could “pollute” 250 square meters at a minimum cost of decontamination/ repopulation of over 81 billion euros, depending on the infrastructure in the detonation area.

How can we prevent dirty bomb attacks? Sensors can be placed and monitored often and carefully in “sensitive” facilities and densely populated areas.

As already happened in the US, a government committee should identify a number of critical points for RDD attacks and initiate full-time computerized monitoring of those which may be targeted, including parks, city centers, schools and universities.

We must also improve the storage and destruction of such materials used in hospitals, research centers or others – to be certified by the police, not garbage collectors.

In Italy alone there are a huge number of radionuclide production or storage sites, including all the hospitals, private medical radiology centers, as well as biological, archaeological, physical, chemical and paleontological research centers.

Radioactive waste and waste from nuclear power plants, would cover 30,000 square meters over 30 years. Approximately 140,000 tons of special waste, including radionuclides, are produced every year, while  hazardous waste (including some specific radionuclides) amounts to 9 tons/year.

Little can be done other than the rapid management and processing of information in the EU area and  prevention of the radicalization of Muslim populations in communities near radionuclide production or storage sites.

The likelihood of an RDD explosion is statistically not measurable, but we should be thinking about it.

Pig heads dumped at Moroccan ambassador’s home amid anti-Muslim hate crime spike in France

The animals’ severed heads were left hanging on the fence outside the ambassador’s premises located in Neuilly-sur-Seine to the west of Paris.

“The pig’s heads were discovered by security staff on Thursday at 9:00am. The ambassador was present,” a police source told AFP.

The embassy filed an official complaint, but warned against jumping to conclusions.


Pig heads dumped outside Muslim school in Lancashire treated as hate crime

“We don’t want to interpret this act, it’s up to the authorities to investigate,” an embassy official said.

The head of the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and the Morocco-linked Group of Muslims in France (RMF), Anouar Kbibech, called the attack a “desecration” and a “provocation” which has “moved up a level.”

Kbibech believes an “unhealthy atmosphere” reigns in France, “in which Muslims are the target of acts of stigmatization.”

The incident should be classified as a hate crime, an international political consultant Cecile le Roux told RT, calling it “an insult in very poor taste”.

“It must have been a very shocking sight indeed,” she added.

Incidents involving pigs’ heads are not unusual. In the past few years pigs’ heads have been discovered in several cities across France and frequently found outside of mosques.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has been running high in the French population after the November terror attacks in Paris claimed the lives of more than 130 people.

READ MORE: Over 150 killed as Paris rocked by coordinated shootings, explosions 

Hate crimes against Muslims in France have tripled since the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo magazine in January 2015. More than 400 incidents of an “Islamophobic” nature were recorded by authorities in 2015, compared to 133 reported the previous year.

Turkey’s Civil War: Authoritarian Stability vs Separatist Terrorism

turk4-704x481In last year’s November Surprise, the Justice and Development Party (or AKP) solidified its position at the helm of Turkey’s ship, capitalizing on its supposed proven economic track record and firm stance in the face of separatist terrorism. The country is now still being led by the dynamic duo of Tayyip Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, respectively Turkey’s President (or Prez) and wily PM (or Wily). Both men appear more determined than ever to enforce their vision of Turkey’s future, as a country once again ruled by charismatic strongmen and united in its devotion to Sunni Islam.

Kurds attack Ankara: TAK vs AKP

But now Kurdish suicide bombers (or terrorists, if you will) have twice struck Turkey’s capital Ankara in quick succession (on 17 February and 13 March 2016, respectively). The authorities immediately associated these two deadly attacks with the names of the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê or Kurdistan Workers’ Party), active in Turkey, and the PYD (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat or Democratic Union Party), active in Syria. In this way, the AKP-led government seemed to acknowledge the existence of a causal link between the terrorist attacks and its military operations in the South-East of the country that have been continuing for many months now. The official rationale behind these fierce military operations is the Turkish state’s desire to bring an end to the armed struggle with Kurdish separatists, a struggle whose beginnings hark back to the 1980s and that was actually in the process of a peaceful resolution when the ceasefire was brought to a sudden end following the supposedly inconclusive June 2015 elections. These operations amount to veritable exercises in collective punishment and have been described as “a vicious offensive against Kurdish citizens over the last eight months” by the West Yorkshire-based writer, poet and teacher employing the pseudonym Ed Sykes.

But rather than give the AKP-led government additional justification for continuing its “vicious offensive against Kurdish citizens,” the PKK did not claim responsibility in spite of the government’s best efforts. Instead, a little known Kurdish fraction known as TAK (the Teyrêbazên Azadiya Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons) released the following statement on the internet (17 March 2016): “On the evening of March 13, a suicide attack was carried out . . . in the streets of the capital of the fascist Turkish republic. We claim this attack.” The online message also contained the following explanation: “[t]his action was carried out to avenge the 300 Kurds killed in Cizre as well as our civilians who were wounded. We would like to apologise for the civilian losses which had nothing to do with the dirty war being waged by the fascist Turkish republic.” Furthermore, the internet missive elucidated that “[o]ur unit targeted state forces in Ankara, the stronghold of fascism and barbarism, to bring the AKP government that massacred Kurds in Cizre to account on a revolutionary basis. However, the police intervention on our unit which came as it advanced toward the target, resulted in civilian casualties. We therefore voice sadness over the loss of civilians that have no connection with those pursuing this dirty war.” And, in an apparent attempt to garner some sympathy the following was added: “[i]n the atmosphere that has been created as a result of civilian losses after our action, we hope that public opinion will understand the pains suffered by the Kurdish people who are being massacred savagely, and whose bodies are burned, displayed and not given to families. Even this savagery alone is a reason for Kurdistan Freedom Falcons to seek revenge.” In fact, the TAK had earlier also claimed responsibility for the first Ankara blast (17 February), explaining that the attack had come in response to the AKP government’s military crackdown in the South-East. In view of this state terror and the concomitant terrorist reaction, some voices have already come out to say the unspeakable. Voices, such as the one belonging to Kamuran Yüksek, the co-chair of the Democratic Regions Party (or DBP), a sister-party of the nationally recognized HDP (or Peoples’ Democratic Party), led by the co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ. Already at the end of last January, Yüksek told the press that “the country could descend into a civil war,” and adding that “[w]e are already in such a situation, more or less.”

The Beyoğlu Blast: The Civil War moves West or a Caliphal Intervention?!??

And now terrorism has struck at the cultural and commercial heart of the country, as a “[s]uicide bomber kills four, wounds 36 in Istanbul shopping district,” on Saturday, 19 March 2016, as reported by the news agency Reuters. This audacious act hit the famous İstiklal Caddesi (or Independence Avenue), a pedestrian mall in the now-fashionable district of Beyoğlu, adjacent to the by now world-famous Taksim Square, and home to many brand name outlets as well as being a cultural hub in its own right, a hub where many locals and foreigners alike congregate and spend money: “Turkish media said three Israelis and one Iranian were killed, while two of the Israelis were also named by Washington as US citizens.” The fact that this suicide attack came quickly after the latest Ankara blast could lead to the conclusion that the spectre of a “civil war” in Turkey is now slowly turning into a reality, a new reality that has the country’s Kurds, or rather separatist or terrorist organizations of Kurdish provenance fight the AKP-led government of the country in an all-out guerilla campaign that takes no prisoners and kills civilians and soldiers, citizens and foreigners alike. But, as was the case with the seemingly random suicide attack on the Hippodrome in Istanbul’s tourist district of Sultanahmet last January, the authorities swiftly dismissed any Kurdish link and instead pointed the finger at Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his Islamic State (or ISIS). And, as has become the Turkish norm by now, the authorities imposed a media blackout, so that journalistic investigation all but turned to speculation and conspiracy-mongering, leaving the official narrative intact and unquestioned.

By means of DNA evidence the Turkish authorities have since quickly identified the Beyoğlu suicide bomber as a young man named Mehmet Öztürk, whom the media now describe as an “ISIS militant.” The security forces have now also taken Öztürk’s father and brother into custody. Turkey’s Interior Minister Efkan Ala has told the press that “[t]he available information indicates a link with the terror group [known as] Daesh [or ISIS or the IS]. Whether other links and other powers were behind [the attack] is a topic for investigation. There is no search record available on the person [in question].” In other words, the appearance of Mehmet Öztürk as a caliphal operative active in Turkey is basically a matter of conjecture. Other terror acts perpetrated by ISIS in other locations are usually followed by some kind of subsequent claim of responsibility. But in Turkey, ISIS terror tends to remain unclaimed. For instance, the spectacular Brussels attacks of 22 March, that quickly succeeded the Beyoğlu blast, were claimed in due time. This “coordinated terror attack,” claiming the lives of at least 31 victims, in addition to the two suicide bombers, was subsequently owned by the Islamic State (or ISIS/Daesh), attributing its execution to a “security group from the soldiers of the caliphate,” before issuing a severe threat: “What is coming is worse and more bitter, God permitting.” In the same way, following the Sultanahmet attack, the IS carried out an attack on the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, executed by at “least five militants.” These actions were also immediately claimed by the terror group previously known as ISIS via the services of the Amaq News Agency, which openly supports the Caliph and his IS.

Suicide Terrorism: LTTE, PKK TAK

In contrast, both supposed IS-orchestrated Istanbul attacks (12 January and 19 March 2016) remained unclaimed, which did not stop the Turkish authorities from accusing the Caliph and his henchmen. On the other hand, the Ankara attacks have clearly shown that Kurdish terrorists are now equally capable of deploying suicide commandos though their ideological belief system does not hold the promise of 72 virgins in the afterlife. Instead, the TAK is now operating on the same wavelength as the erstwhile Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (or LTTE, meaning Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). According to the Military Guide to Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century, prepared under the direction of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the “LTTE ha[d] a suicide unit, The Black Panthers [consisting] of both men and women that direct[ed] their attacks primarily against senior government and military personnel. Between July 1987 and February 2000, the LTTE carried out approximately 168 suicide attacks in Sri Lanka and India killing and wounding thousands of innocent bystanders.” Today the LTTE have ceased to exist, as the Sri Lankan government smashed the group militarily in March 2009.

Even though the LTTE was “the most effective and brutal organization to utilize this form of terrorism,” Turkey’s PKK has in time also resorted to this tactic. The Senior Research Fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Yoram Schweitzer relates that the “PKK has carried out a total of 21 suicide attacks or attempted attacks (15 attacks were actually carried out and 6 were intercepted). Its suicide campaign started on 30 June 1996 and ceased on 5 July 1999 at the decision of its leader Abdullah Öcalan [in captivity since 15 February 1999]. This terror campaign caused relatively low casualties: 19 were killed and 138 were wounded.” But now, the TAK, as the only Kurdish group to claim publicly that it is continuing a bloody terror campaign against the Turkish state, has apparently decided to continue this relatively short-lived PKK tactic. And, it seems, the TAK is more effective in its execution of suicide missions, apparently following in the footsteps of the LTTE. And in this context, it is interesting and ominous to read in the Military Guide to Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century that the Tamil Tigers were “the only organization that succeeded in assassinating two heads of states. Former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi was killed in May 1991 by a female suicide bomber and Sri Lanka President Prendesa was killed in 1993 by a male suicide bomber.” The LTTE’s ideological superstructure was also based upon the principles of geographical separatism and (Tamil) nationalism, as the Tamil Tigers fought for the “oppressed Tamil people” in order to save them from the “chauvinist Sinhala regime,” in place on the island of Sri Lanka, as expressed by the Tamil extremist Fr. Emmanuel, S.J. Could these things now mean that the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons have decided to become a Turkish version of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam?? And should the Prez and Wily now start worrying seriously about their own safety??

Civil War as a Real Prospect

The Turkish state has effectively been at war in the south-eastern part of Anatolia’s territory for many months now. Even though casual observers might think that sheer and unadulterated nationalism lies behind the fighting, the reality on the ground proves quite different. It seems that the AKP leadership’s promises of continued stability induced a great majority of the voting public to cast their ballots in favour of the PM Ahmed Davutoğlu and President Erdoğan. As such, some would even argue that the sudden breakdown of the ceasefire with the PKK and the discontinuation of the Kurdish Peace Process were directly linked to the AKP’s election campaign and Erdoğan’s grand-standing, trying to prove that he alone would be able to unite and pacify the nation. That the Prez and his AKP would be able to unite and pacify the country as a nation of believers, firmly dedicated to Sunni Islam able to supersede mere ethnic or national ties and solidarity. The notorious Islamophobic director of the Middle East Forum Daniel Pipes rightly points out that the dynamic duo Erdogan-Davutoglu’s dangerous gamble has now brought the country “to the point that civil war has become a real prospect.” As a result, I would argue that the Turkish government has now taken compete control of the nation’s news’ media in order to propagate its own narrative. The message being driven home now is that AKP-led Ankara is doing all it can to bring peace and tranquility to the South-East, but is somehow being outsmarted by foreign players. such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his IS. And that the spectre of civil war is nothing but a chimera, a fancyful fantasy that does not fit into Turkey’s AKP narrative . . . the Prez himself has after all declared last year that “[i]f there are [people] who are expecting a civil war, then they belong to a network of treason. Treason.” And in this way, in Turkey, reality gives way to faith . . . faith in the figure of Tayyip Erdoğan and his ability to shape the Turkish narrative in his own image.

Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in İstanbul, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the Greater Middle East, , especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”