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Barack Obama goes after Russia’s senior police chief

Alexander Mercouris

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Barack Obama remains determined to exit the Presidency in a blaze of petulance.

Yesterday he announced a further set of sanctions against Russia, using as his legal authority the Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act was passed by Congress in 2012, and imposed sanctions on a group of Russian individuals who the US Congress says are guilty of causing the death in prison of Sergey Magnitsky.  This Act stemmed from a case involving allegations by the Russian authorities that the business Magnitsky whose accounts Magnitsky was handling – Hermitage Capital, which is run by the British businessman Bill Browder – was guilty of tax evasion, and Browder’s cross allegations that a group of corrupt Russian police officers and Russian mobsters had used the false tax evasion allegations to seize some of Hermitage Capital’s companies to carry out a tax fraud of their own.

The Russian authorities claim that Magnitsky was implicated in Browder’s and Hermitage Capital’s tax scam, and arrested him on that basis.  He was held on charges in prison for a year but died shortly before he was due to be released.

There is massive controversy both about the truth of the tax claims and about the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death.  Browder – who has repeatedly though it seems wrongly referred to Magnitsky as a lawyer – claims Magnitsky was murdered.  The Russian authorities deny this, and say he died of natural causes, though they admit the negligence of some of the prison officials tasked with looking after him.

The key point is that none of the allegations has ever been proved or disproved in any properly contested court hearing – though the Russians did try Browder and Magnitsky in absentia on the tax charges and found them both guilty – and though Browder was afforded an opportunity to prove his case in a defamation case in Britain but in the event declined to do so, citing (as is his right) jurisdiction issues.

Though it is beyond me to say where the truth lies in the tax case, and in the absence of a properly contested court hearing I do not see how anyone else can, I would repeat a certain point which I have made before, which is that if a businessman under investigation on tax evasion charges were to make the sort of claims that Browder is making in any other advanced country, most people would deem these claims fanciful.

I would also note that recently a Russian film (which I have not seen) has appeared made by a film director who says he had previously assumed Browder’s innocence, but who now believes in his guilt.

As to the causes of Magnitsky’s death, I think it is a virtual certainty that the Russian authorities are telling the truth, and that Magnitsky was not murdered as Browder says, but that he died as the Russian authorities say of natural causes compounded by the negligence of the prison officials.  The evidence of the official investigation conducted by Russia’s Investigative Committee which has looked into this issue seems to me overwhelming.

The paradox of these latest sanctions which Obama has imposed on the authority of the Magnitsky Act is that he actually opposed the Magnitsky Act when it was first proposed by Congress in 2012.  As a constitutional lawyer he undoubtedly knows that Congress is not a court and has no jurisdiction to pronounce on the guilt or innocence of anyone involved in the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death and to impose punishments on them, especially as Magnitsky died in Russia where Congress has no jurisdiction.   He must also know that around 4,400 prison inmates die in US prisons every year.  The sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act are therefore of dubious legality, and have no moral basis.  Nonetheless despite making known his disagreement with the Magnitsky Act, he signed it into law.

I should say that the slide in US-Russian relations under Obama’s administration began in my opinion with the Magnitsky Act, which preceded the Ukrainian crisis by more than a year.

Notwithstanding Obama’s (weak) opposition to the Magnitsky Act in 2012, he has now used it to impose further sanctions on several Russian individuals.  Two of them are Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, the two Russians the British authorities accuse of murdering Andrey Litvinenko with polonium in London in 2006.  In passing I should say that though the Magnitsky Act is named after Sergey Magnitsky and focuses on his alleged murder, it is drafted in such a way as to allow the US President to impose sanctions on anyone he considers guilty of human rights violations, and not just in Russia.

Lugovoy and Kovtun are small fry who have long been unable to travel to the West because of the British charges against them.  The Russians are unlikely to care about any US sanctions imposed on them.

The other person covered by Obama’s sanctions is a far more important person: Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee (“Sledkom”), Russia’s equivalent of the FBI.

Bastrykin has no connection to the Litvinenko murder, having been appointed to head the Investigative Committee in 2007 (when it was still part of the Procurator General’s Office) which is after Litvinenko was killed, and he has not previously been accused of having any direct involvement in the Magnitsky’s death.  However the Investigative Committee was placed in charge of the Russian investigations into Litvinenko’s and Magnitsky’s deaths – which are regularly condemned in the West as cover ups – and on that basis it is possible to construct a tenuous connection between Bastrykin and these two cases.

Almost certainly the main reason Bastrykin has been targeted has however nothing to do with either the Litvinenko or Magnitsky cases, but is because in Western and Russian liberal demonology Bastrykin is a notorious anti-Western hardliner.

Much of this stems from Bastrykin’s role pursuing corruption investigations against Russian businessmen, some of whom  (eg. the banker Andrey Borodin) then complain that they are being persecuted because of their political views.

These claims are then often treated uncritically in the West, where they occasionally result in grants of asylum, and where they become a regular part of the charge sheet against Russian President Putin and Russia.

The paradox of the West simultaneously criticising Russia for corruption and criticising Russia for acting against corruption, never seems to get noticed.

Another reason for going after Bastrykin is however that it complicates cooperation between Western and Russian police forces.

Following the election of a senior Chinese and Russian police officials to senior posts in Interpol – the international police coordination agency which until recently has been under effective US control – it is understandable why some people in Washington might be concerned about such cooperation and anxious to disrupt it.  Going after Bastrykin looks like an attempt to do it.

Regardless of the precise motive, this shabby episode, coming at the fag end of Obama’s Presidency, with Obama due to leave office in just 10 days, has to be seen as yet another slight by Obama towards Trump, his soon-to-be successor.

With Trump making clear his determination to press on with his policy of detente with Russia, it seems Obama simply cannot stop doing everything he can to foul the nest.

This petty episode, which Trump and Putin will simply disregard, further diminishes Obama, once again making him vindictive and small-minded.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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