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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third reason is it only makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

Will it make a difference?

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

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

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

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

Question is which formations are being boosted in this way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subtitle by Julia Rakhmetova


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

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

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

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

The CIA Just Backstabbed Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I wonder…who might that be?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

See if you can separate the truth from the lies.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So NATO, how do you like them apples?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

NATO Is Much More Than Just ‘Obsolete’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t put it past them.

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

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

Russia

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

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

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

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

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

USA

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

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

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

Europe

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

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

Insane in the Ukraine

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

Middle-East

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

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

Multipolar World

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

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

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

A Song for Maria ‘Aquamarine’ Zakharova (Video)

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

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

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

Watch out for Dirty Jihadi Bombs!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Firms Primed to Cash In on Syria’s Oil & Gas ‘Frontier’

US, British, French, Israeli and other energy interests could be prime beneficiaries of military operations in Iraq and Syria designed to rollback the power of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and, potentially, the Bashar al-Assad regime.

A study for a global oil services company backed by the French government and linked to Britain’s Tory-led administration, published during the height of the Arab Spring, hailed the significant “hydrocarbon potential” of Syria’s offshore resources.

The 2011 study was printed in GeoArabia, a petroleum industry journal published by a Bahrain-based consultancy, GulfPetroLink, which is sponsored by some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Total, and BP.

GeoArabia’s content has no open subscription system and is exclusively distributed to transnational energy corporations, corporate sponsors and related organisations, as well as some universities.

Authored by Steven A. Bowman, a Senior Geoscientist for the French energy company CGGVeritas, the study identified “three sedimentary basins, Levantine, Cyprus, and Latakia, located in offshore Syria” and highlighted “significant evidence for a working petroleum system in offshore Syria with numerous onshore oil and gas shows, DHIs (direct hydrocarbon indicators) observed on seismic, and oil seeps identified from satellite imagery.”

France’s secret affair with Assad’s Syria

At the time, when civil unrest was sweeping across Syria, CGGVeritas was contracted to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Sources.

The French company is one of the world’s largest seismic surveyors. Backed by the French government which owns 18% voting rights in the firm, CGGVeritas had acquired seismic data on offshore Syrian resources in 2005, and since then has been the main point of contact for geophysical and geological datasets on behalf of the Syrian regime.

In 2011, the French firm had an exclusive contract with the Syrian government to provide technical support for that year’s Syrian International Offshore Bid Round for firms to explore, develop and produce oil and gas from three offshore blocks in the Mediterranean Sea by the Syrian coast.

Describing offshore Syria as “a truly frontier area of exploration”, Bowman — who was also involved in CGGVeritas evaluations of seismic datasets of energy resources in Libya — noted the discovery of several “flat-spots” which, if real, “will represent billion-barrel/multi-TCF [trillion cubic feet] drilling targets given the scale and volumetrics of the structures within which they occur.”

Throughout 2010, Shell officials held numerous meetings with British government ministers. In July, Shell met David Cameron to discuss “business issues”, Foreign Office minister David Howell to discuss “international energy matters”, and Charles Hendry, minister of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Such meetings with multiple government departments and often dozens of senior officials continued for every month through to the end of the following year, except June 2010. These included meetings with the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor Peter Ricketts; business secretary Vince Cable, various DECC ministers to discuss “energy issues” related to Qatar, along with several sessions with Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

Declassified British government memos show that in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, oil firms BP and Shell held several meetings with senior government officials to guarantee a role of British energy companies in post-conflict Iraq.

While publicly the government decried criticisms of an oil motive for British involvement in the war as “the oil conspiracy theory”, one memo of a meeting between then Trade Minister Baroness Symons and UK oil firms revealed that in private, they believed “it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

After the 2011 protests, even when Assad was brutalising demonstrators in the streets, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ruled out military intervention and insisted that the Syrian dictator was a “reformer” — which he took as a green light to escalate his crackdown.

As the cycle of violence intensified, Western governments disassociated from Assad when it became clear his rule had become completely unstable. With the outbreak of civil war, the plans of Shell and other oil majors to open up Syria’s offshore resources were unexpectedly suspended.

Military action to protect Mediterranean oil and gas

The sudden crisis in Syria threw a spanner in the works for longstanding efforts to explore and open up lucrative energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

report published in December 2014 by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) provides compelling evidence that American, British and Gulf defence strategists see the Mediterranean as an opportunity to wean Europe off dependence on Russian gas, and boost Israel’s energy independence.

As part of this process, the report revealed, military action is viewed as potentially necessary to secure Syria’s untapped offshore gas resources, which overlap with the territorial waters of other Mediterranean powers, including Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.

The report by Mohammed El-Katiri, an advisor to the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Defence and formerly a research director at the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Advanced Research and Assessment Group (ARAG), explicitly acknowledges that a post-conflict Syria would open up new prospects for energy exploration.

The US Army SSI report noted that Syria’s offshore resources are part of a wider matrix of oil and gas deposits in the Levant basin encompassing the offshore territories of these competing states.

The region is estimated to hold approximately 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which could be just a third of the basin’s total hydrocarbons.

US-led military intervention has a key role to play, the report concludes, in “managing” conflicts and tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially the prospect of “Syria destabilising into de facto civil war.”

“US diplomatic and military support has a pivotal role to play in the East Mediterranean’s complex geopolitical landscape, and its importance will only grow as the value of the natural resources at stake increases,” the Army SSI report said:

Neocons angling for Syria’s Golan oil bonanza

One of the key potential conflicts flagged up by the report is between Syria and Israel, over oil exploration licenses granted by the Israeli government to search for oil in the Golan Heights.

The Golan was captured by Israel from Syria in 1967, and unilaterally annexed in 1981 with the introduction of Israeli law to the territory.

The report recognised the risk of “another armed conflict between the two parties should substantial hydrocarbon resources be discovered.”

The company that has been granted exploration rights in the Golan Heights is a major American firm, Genie Oil and Gas. Data from exploratory wells explored by Genie’s Israeli subsidiary, Afek Oil and Gas, confirmed “significant” quantities of oil and gas after drilling into a column of reserves 1,150 feet thick, “about 10 times larger than the global average.”

Yuval Bartov, Afek’s chief geologist, recently told the Economist his firm had discovered an oil reservoir “with the potential of billions of barrels.”

Equity-holding board members of Afek’s parent company, Genie Oil and Gas, include global media baron Rupert Murdoch.

In late 2010, Murdoch teamed up with Lord Jacob Rothschild to buy a 5.5% stake in Genie, worth around $11 million. Lord Rothschild is chairman of RIT (Rothschild Investment Trust) Capital Partners, a $3.4 billion investment trust fund formerly associated with the Rothschild investment bank.

RIT Capital invests primarily in public equity, debt markets, real estate equities, gold and oil, including “sectors that we have a deep knowledge of” such as “energy, resources, financial services, TMT [technology, media and telecommunications] and consumer-related.”

Murdoch is the owner of News Corporation, the world’s second largest media conglomerate before it split in 2013 into News Corp, where he is executive chairman, and 21st Century Fox, where he is co-executive chairman, running the corporation with his two sons, Lachlan and James.

As such, Murdoch is a dominant force over newspapers, publishers and TV networks in the English-language media, encompassing BSkyB, The Timesand The Sun in the UK; the FOX cable network including FOX News, Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and National Geographic in the US; The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, and Herald Sun in Australia — to name just a few.

“I believe Genie Energy’s technologies and vast shale oil licenses have real potential to spur a global, geo-political paradigm shift by moving a major portion of new oil production to America, Israel, and other western-oriented democracies,” said Murdoch explaining his reasons for investing in the firm.

During the Leveson inquiry, it emerged that the global media baron hadnumerous undisclosed meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron, who appeared to have close relationships with Murdoch and other senior News Corp. officials.

Murdoch and Rothschild also serve on Genie’s strategic advisory board. Joining them on the board are Larry Summers, former Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council; ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, a former Vice-President of NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Director of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, advisory board member of anti-Muslim hate group the Gatestone Institute, international patron to the Henry Jackson Society; Dick Cheney, former Vice-President under George W. Bush; and Bill Richardson, former Secretary of Energy under Clinton, Governor of New Mexico and Obama nominee for Secretary of Commerce.

Dismembering Syria to stave-off peak oil

Another of Genie Oil and Gas’s subsidiaries is American Shale Oil, a joint project with the French major Total SA. Total was among the sponsors of the 2010 international oil and gas exhibition hosted by the Assad regime in Damascus.

American Shale Oil (AMSO) operates in the US in Colorado’s Green River Formation, estimated to hold 3 trillion barrels of recoverable oil.

On its website, the company offers an extraordinary declaration regarding its rationale for focusing on unconventional oil and gas resources in the US and Israel:

NATO Would Probably Lose a War Against Russia

Shellback is the pseudonym of someone who started working for a NATO military structure in the Brezhnev years. He does not think that the Cold War was so much fun that we should try to repeat it.


With the hyper-aggressive resolution just passed by the US House of Representatives we move closer to open war. Thus what follows may be apposite. In short, the US and NATO, accustomed to cheap and easy victories (at least in the short term – over the long term Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo are hardly victories), will have a shattering shock should they ever fight the Russian Armed Forces.

At the beginning of my career, in the 1970s, I spent some years engaged in combat simulations. Most of these exercises were for training staff officers but some were done in-house to test out some weapon or tactic. The scenario was usually the same: we, NATO, the good guys, Blue, would be deployed, usually in Germany; that is, on the eastern edge of West Germany. There we would be attacked by the Warsaw Pact, the bad guys, Red. (The colors, by the way, date from the very first war game, Kriegspiel; nothing to do with the Communist Party’s favorite color).

Over several years of being on the control staff I noticed two things. Naturally both Red and Blue were played by our people, however interesting it might have been to borrow some Soviet officers to play Red. What always fascinated me was how quickly the people playing Red would start getting aggressive. Their fellow officers, on the Blue side, were very risk-averse, slow and cautious. The Red players just drove down the road and didn’t mind losing a tank, let alone a tank company. What was really interesting (we tested this in the office, so to speak) was that, at the end of the day, the full speed ahead approach produced fewer casualties than the cautious approach. The other thing – rather chilling this – was that Red always won. Always. And rather quickly.

I developed a great respect for the Soviet war-fighting doctrine. I don’t know whether it was based on traditional Russian doctrine but it certainly had been perfected in the Second World War where the Soviets carried out what are probably the largest land operations ever conducted. Nothing could be farther from the truth than the casual Western idea that the Soviets sent waves of men against the Germans until they ran out of ammunition and were trampled under the next wave. Once the Soviets got going, they were very good indeed.

The Soviet war-fighting doctrine that I saw in the exercises had several characteristics. The first thing that was clear is that the Soviets knew that people are killed in wars and that there is no place for wavering; hesitation loses the war and gets more people killed in the end. Secondly, success is reinforced and failure left to itself. “Viktor Suvorov”, a Soviet defector, wrote that he used to pose a problem to NATO officers. You have four battalions, three attacking and one in reserve; the battalion on the left has broken through easily, the one in the middle can break through with a little more effort, the one on the right is stopped. Which one do you reinforce with your reserve battalion? He claimed that no NATO officer ever gave the correct answer. Which was, forget the middle and right battalions, reinforce success; the fourth battalion goes to help the lefthand one and, furthermore, you take away the artillery support from the other two and give it to the battalion on the left. Soviet war-fighting doctrine divided their forces into echelons, or waves. In the case above, not only would the fourth battalion go to support the lefthand battalion but the followup regiments would be sent there too. Breakthroughs are reinforced and exploited with stunning speed and force. General von Mellenthin speaks of this in his book Panzer Battles when he says that any Soviet river crossing must be attacked immediately with whatever the defender has; any delay brings more and more Soviet soldiers swimming, wading or floating across. They reinforce success no matter what. The third point was the tremendous amount of high explosives that Soviet artillery could drop on a position. In this respect, the BM-21 Grad, about which I have written before, was a particular standout, but they had plenty of guns as well.

An especially important point, given a common US and NATO assumption, is that the Soviets did not assume that they would always have total air superiority. The biggest hole, in my opinion, of US and NATO war-fighting doctrine is this assumption. US tactics often seem to be little more than the instruction to wait for the air to get the ground forces out of trouble (maybe that’s why US-trained forces do so poorly against determined foes). Indeed, when did the Americans ever have to fight without total air superiority other than, perhaps, their very first experience in World War II? The Western Allies in Italy, at D-day and Normandy and the subsequent fighting could operate confident that almost every aircraft in the sky was theirs. This confident arrogance has, if anything, grown stronger since then with short wars in which the aircraft all come home. The Soviets never had this luxury – they always knew they would have to fight for air superiority and would have to operate in conditions where they didn’t have it. And, General Chuikov at Stalingrad “hugging the enemy”, they devised tactics that minimized the effectiveness of enemy aircraft. The Russians forces have not forgotten that lesson today and that is probably why their air defense is so good.

NATO commanders will be in for a shattering shock when their aircraft start falling in quantity and the casualties swiftly mount into the thousands and thousands. After all, we are told that the Kiev forces lost two thirds of their military equipment against fighters with a fraction of Russia’s assets, but with the same fighting style.

But, getting back to the scenarios of the Cold War. Defending NATO forces would be hit by an unimaginably savage artillery attack, with, through the dust, a huge force of attackers pushing on. The NATO units that repelled their attackers would find a momentary peace on their part of the battlefield while the ones pushed back would immediately be attacked by fresh forces three times the size of the first ones and even heavier bombardments. The situation would become desperate very quickly.

No wonder they always won and no wonder the NATO officer playing Red, following the simple instructions of push ahead resolutely, reinforce success, use all you artillery all the time, would win the day.

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I don’t wish to be thought to be saying that the Soviets would have
“got to the the English Channel in 48 hours” as the naysayers were fond of warning. In fact, the Soviets had a significant Achilles Heel. In the rear of all this would have been an unimaginably large traffic jam. Follow-up echelons running their engines while commanders tried to figure out where they should be sent, thousands of trucks carrying fuel and ammunition waiting to cross bridges, giant artillery parks, concentrations of engineering equipment never quite in the right place at the right time. And more arriving every moment. A ground-attack pilot’s dream. The NATO Air-Land Battle doctrine being developed would have gone some distance to even things up again. But it would have been a tremendously destructive war, even forgetting the nuclear weapons (which would also be somewhere in the traffic jam).

As for the Soviets on the defense, (something we didn’t game because NATO, in those days, was a defensive alliance) the Battle of Kursk is probably the model still taught today: hold the attack with layer after layer of defenses, then, at the right moment, the overwhelming attack at the weak spot. The classic attack model is probably Autumn Storm.

All of this rugged and battle proven doctrine and methodology is somewhere in the Russian Army today. We didn’t see it in the first Chechen War – only overconfidence and incompetence. Some of it in the Second Chechen War. More of it in the Ossetia War. They’re getting it back. And they are exercising it all the time.

Light-hearted people in NATO or elsewhere should never forget that it’s a war-fighting doctrine that does not require absolute air superiority to succeed and knows that there are no cheap victories. It’s also a very, very successful one with many victories to its credit. (Yes, they lost in Afghanistan but the West didn’t do any better.)

I seriously doubt that NATO has anything to compare: quick air campaigns against third-rate enemies yes. This sort of thing, not so much.

Even if, somehow, the nukes are kept in the box.

To quote Field Marshal Montgomery “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow’. Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good. That is the first rule.”

(His second rule, by the way, was: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.” As Washington’s policy drives Moscow and Beijing closer together…. But that is another subject).

 

 

Twelve Famous Lines Muscovites Have Long Waited In

Russians have and will always stand in lines! For scarce clothes, bread and circuses, even for a dream or a miracle. Komsomolskaya Pravda has remembered what made people stand in kilometer long lines, squeezed into each other, crashing doors and windows, in the heat and the cold over the last half century. First we struggled just to feed ourselves and now, satiated, we long for the spiritual and the beautiful. If it’s something material, it should be about status. 

The 1970-s

1. Lenin’s Tomb on Red Square (1970)

Probably every person who was born in the USSR has been to the most famous tomb in the world. I vaguely remember a childhood visit. the mysterious gloom one feels in Red Square where the leader of the working class is buried in all his glory. We were not allowed to stop to stare at him, the guards hurried us along. Now, you can see Lenin without standing in line to buy tickets. The tomb is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

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According to some estimates, since the opening in 1924, the year of Lenin’s death, more than 120 million people waited more than 6 hours to visit his tomb.

2. Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts to see the Mona Lisa (1974)

The Louvre painting was sent to the Tokyo National Museum on loan and stopped in Moscow on the way back. The USSR Minister of Culture, Ekaterina Furtseva, negotiated the right to exhibit the masterpiece for two months in Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. It cost the Soviet authorities $100 million in insurance and was shown in a special bulletproof case.

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More than 2 million people waited from 7 to 15 hours to view the most famous portrait.

3. Ilya Glazunov at the Manezh (1978)

The gallery show room was surrounded with a tight ring of those who wanted to see the paintings of the semi-banned artist. More than 400 canvas were collected for the exhibition, mostly related to Russian historical, national and religious topics.  Now many of them can be seen without crowds at the Glazunov gallery in Volkhonka Street. 

More than half a million people waited for 5 – 7 hours.

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The 1980-s, When there were lines for food, clothes and gadgets all over the country.  

4. The Eliseevsky grocery for liquor (1989)

There were some items on the counter but most were under it in Gastronom №1, as the famous grocery store was officially called during the period of total scarcity. Purchases could be ordered through the catering services for celebrities and party officials.  

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Several hundred people would wait from 1 to 6 hours.

The 1990-s

5. The opening of first McDonald’s (1990)

The first American fast-food restaurant opened in the very center of Moscow – at Pushkinskaya Square in place of the former café Lira. Since then, the three large halls with seating for 900 inside and outside have never been empty. Together with Red Square, McDonald’s became a must-visit place for tourists.  

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On the first working day, 30,000 people waited more than 6 hours

The 2000’s

6. Filming of the first Russian reality TV show: Behind the Glass in the Rossiya Hotel (2001)

This was a copy of the famous international reality TV-show “Big Brother.” The daily show about Russians living together was watched by almost 40% of TV viewers all over the country gathered in front of their TV – and in front of the hotel where the show took place. 

Over 35 days of broadcasting, 30,000 visitors waited an hour or two in line.

7. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior where the Virgin Mary’s girdle was brought (2011)

There were so many people that the Church scrapped its rules and allowed pilgrims to touch the reliquary with their hand, although not with their lips, as tradition demanded. But the line didn’t start to move faster as it spread from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to the Vorobyovy Hills.

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About 1 million a week spent 1 to 20 hours in line.

8. To buy the new iPhone (2014)

Every new gadget by Steve Jobs attracts crowds of Apple lovers all over the world. Moscow is no exception. The line in the city malls usually took a day, but lately iPhone fans have been put off by the crisis.

Normally, more than 1,000 will stand in line for more more than 10 hours.

9. The Manezh free exhibit of ‘Orthodox Russia. From the Great Upheavals to the Great Victory’(2015)

Unique documents that had been marked ‘confidential’ and ‘top secret’ in the archives, including those of the FSB, were shown for the first time,. The exhibit was divided into several subjects: the First World War, the October Revolution, The Civil War, Stalin’s repressions, Collectivization, the Great Patriotic War. Documentary footage was broadcast on a 250-meter screen. The eight biggest battles of the two World Wars were reconstructed in 3D.

Almost 17,000 people in the first two days and more than 250,000 during the three weeks waiting for about an hour (according to witnesses the line moved fast).

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10. To buy the new collections of HM and Balmain in the Metropolis mall (2015)

Moscovites swept up clothes and shoes from the Swedish brand and the haute couture fashion house in a couple of hours, breakng down entrance doors and shelves. Some shoppers were so badly hurt that ambulances were called. The first purchasers resold tops bought for 2,500 rubles (сirca $40) for $300 right there.  

About 300 people stood in line for about 10 hours (some people spent the night in the store’s parking lot).

11. A Valentin Serov Exhibit at the Tretyakov Gallery (2016)

Art experts called the exhibit of Serov’s paintings timed to his (NUMBER!) anniversary the most visited show in Russia for 50 years. A lot of people couldn’t make it between October 7th and January 17th. After a crowd broke down the door the day before the closing, the show was prolonged. The museum even changed its closing hours closing during the week to 9 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. and installed mobile warming centers and a kitchen truck outside the Gallery for art lovers waiting in the cold. 

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About half a million waited  from 1 to 5 hours.

12. The crowd scene of the new version of Anna Karenina, directed by Karen Shakhnazarov. (2016)

Almost half of Moscow rushed to the audition for the crowd scene announced by Mosfilm.

The famous actress Elizabeth Boyarskaya plays Anna Karenina and her husband – actor Maksim Matveev — will appear as her lover.  The filmmakers chose aristocratic-looking Muscovites for the ball.  The audition was scheduled to end for 4 p.m. but was extended by several hours. And they worked until the last ‘aristocrat’.

About 1,000 people spent from 3 to 6 hours in line.

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Russia Is a Tourist Hotspot (Video)

China’s New Silk Road is a decades-long project linking Asia to Europe, but meanwhile Chinese with money to spend are flocking to Russia, even in winter, and even where it’s coldest.  Lake Baikal and Lenin’s home are favorites and the Chinese are quick to pick up the language and praise their welcome.  

But it’s not only the Chinese: Germans visit the Siege of Leningrad Museum in St.Petersburg, and go trekking in the Urals, part of the Russian industrial heartland. Japanese savor raw fish at Irkutsk markets, and the French love shopping for the famous Russian shapka.

See for yourself on this video.

Almost Every Second Ukrainian Already Feels European – Poll

The sociological service of the Razumkov Center together with the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation conducted an investigation that showed 47% of Ukrainians already feel themselves to be Europeans..

For example, if in May 2013, 34% of Ukrainian citizens felt themselves to be Europeans and 55% did not, at the end of 2015, those who considered themselves Europeans were 47%, and those who did not were 42%.

The most important factor which the vast majority of the Ukrainians lack to feel fully European is material well-being, as confirmed by 47% of respondents. The absence of security vis a vis the state and the law was mentioned by 33.5% of respondents.

Only 57% of Ukrainians consider the visa-free regime with the EU important, not surprising since the average salary in the Ukraine is less than 100 euros a month. In the south and east of the country only 44% and 39%, respectively, continue to expect visa liberalization.

TV: Russia Versus ISIS: Russia Sends in Its Attack Helicopters (Video)

The Russian Defence Ministry has now confirmed reports – which have been circulating for some time – that sophisticated MI28 helicopter gunships are operating in Syria.

It seems that at least one MI28 helicopter took part in the Battle for Palmyra and the number is surely greater though there is no information on the total number of MI28 helicopters deployed to Syria.

There is no official confirmation yet that the equally sophisticated KA52 helicopter gunships have also been deployed to Syria though rumours of their presence often circulate and it is quite likely they are there.

The MI28 is an exceptionally powerful battlefield helicopter.  Unlike the more massive MI35, which can carry 8 troops, the more powerfully armed and agile MI28 has a crew of just two (a pilot and a weapons systems operator) and is fully dedicated to ground attack.

If the MI35 is an “aerial infantry fighting vehicle” the MI28 is an “aerial tank”.

The MI28 is the exact equivalent of the US Apache helicopter.  It has similar performance and weapon load to the Apache though it is more heavily armoured.

The MI28 packs a formidable punch with a powerful 30 mm cannon and four hard points for a bewildering array of air to ground weapons including up to 16 radio guided Ataka anti tank missiles, and up to 40 S8 and or 10 larger S13 unguided rockets (the Russians are converting their S8 and S13 unguided rockets into guided missiles with laser guidance but it is not known how many of these updated missiles have been deployed yet or whether the MI28s deployed to Syria are using them).

The biggest advantage the MI28 has over the preceding MI35 is that it is more manoeuvrable and has more sophisticated electronics and guidance systems – including a radar set – which enables it to operate at night and in all weathers.

It is a formidable weapons system and potentially a force multiplier on the Syrian battlefield.  

The fight against the Islamic State is its baptism of fire.  It will increase the pressure on the Islamic State considerably.

Mounting Evidence That Vladimir Putin Is Secretly Dating Every Woman on Earth

New and highly credible reports of Vladimir Putin’s “extracurricular activities” suggest that Russia’s president has millions — and possibly billions — of secret girlfriends, according to an analysis of Putin’s secret dating history by Russia Insider.

The most recent and verified reports of Putin’s womanizing involve Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife and a lady with an apartment in Moscow.

But recall: Putin is also secretly dating former gymnast Alina Kabaeva, and also some boxer lady.

How the leader of the world’s largest country finds time to elope with so many women is a closely-guarded secret.

But the Kremlin can’t hide the truth forever. The full extent of Putin’s love life will eventually be uncovered by British tabloids, and then re-published by Foreign Policy.