Austrian business leader suggests free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok

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

Italy and Hungary against automatic renewal of anti-Russian sanctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child survivors of Nepal earthquake sold to rich British families

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

Magnitude 7.3 deadly earthquake strikes Nepal close to Everest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ MORE: Nepal rebuilds with quake-proof Japanese designs

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

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

Tehran ups oil exports ahead of production freeze talks

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

Iran’s oil ‘catch-22’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myanmar and China on the Path to New Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has Trying to Balkanize Syria Boomeranged on the West?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No compromise with US over fate of Syria President Assad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puppet on a String

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

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

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

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

War Criminal in Chief

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

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

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

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

Arming Al-Qaeda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former CIA directors defend waterboarding, rectal rehydration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: Agencies

The Cloak and Dagger Inside the Kerry Briefcase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China box office revenue up 51% in 1st quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China limits foreign movie imports to 34 annually.


TBP and Agencies

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”.

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”.

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”.