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BREAKING: In Presidential Address Putin signals willingness to work with Trump, charts steady course for Russia

In a low key end of year address to Russia’s Parliament President Putin signalled his willingness to work with US President elect Trump, was cautiously optimistic about the Russian economy, and in general recommitted himself to his existing policies.

Alexander Mercouris

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Russia’s President Putin delivered today his usual end of year Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, in other words to the joint session of the two houses – the Duma and the Federation Council – which together make up Russia’s parliament.

This Presidential Address is the direct equivalent to the US President’s State of the Union speech to Congress.  There however the similarity ends.  Whereas a typical State of the Union speech is heavy on rhetoric and rarely goes beyond generalities, the sort of Presidential Address Putin likes to give is the opposite: heavy on facts and statistics and short on rhetoric.

The greater part of this year’s Presidential Address – as of previous ones – was devoted to domestic issues. 

Putin gave a very large part of the Presidential Address to discussing education and healthcare, issues of great interest to Russians but of less interest to those abroad.  In both areas he reported significant progress – with Russians healthier, living longer and being better educated than they have ever been before – but both remain works in progress, as they doubtless always will.

What does stand out is the extent of Putin’s personal commitment to education and healthcare. 

Anyone whose memory extends back to the Soviet era will note that Putin accords healthcare more personal interest than any other Soviet or Russian leader in living memory.  If Russians today are healthier and living longer than they have ever done before, it is in part because he accords healthcare especially so much attention.

Putin also touched on historical topics, with 2017 being the centenary year of the Russian Revolution.  Here he went out of his way to emphasise that the commemoration of the Revolution should be a unifying experience for the whole country and not a source of division

“Next year, 2017, will mark the 100th anniversary of the February and October revolutions. This is a good moment for looking back on the causes and nature of these revolutions in Russia. Not just historians and scholars should do this; Russian society in general needs an objective, honest and deep-reaching analysis of these events.

This is our common history and we need to treat it with respect. This is something that the outstanding Russian and Soviet philosopher Alexei Losev wrote about. “We know the thorny road our country has travelled,” he wrote. “We know the long and tiring years of struggle, want and suffering, but for our homeland’s sons, this is all their native, inalienable heritage.”

I am sure that the vast majority of our people have precisely this attitude towards their homeland, and we need history’s lessons primarily for reconciliation and for strengthening the social, political and civil concord that we have managed to achieve.

It is unacceptable to drag the grudges, anger and bitterness of the past into our life today, and in pursuit of one’s own political and other interests to speculate on tragedies that concerned practically every family in Russia, no matter what side of the barricades our forebears were on. Let’s remember that we are a single people, a united people, and we have only one Russia.”

This has been Putin’s objective ever since he became Russia’s leader.  Whereas Soviet and Russian leaders who preceded him took sides in the Revolution’s struggles – identifying themselves either with the Reds or in Boris Yeltsin’s case with the Whites – thereby perpetuating the Revolution’s conflicts – Putin wants Russian society to internalise and historicise the Revolution, treating it as a historical as opposed to a political event, and one in which no-one today – himself included – is obliged to take sides. 

In other words he wants Russians to treat their Revolution in much the same way that the French Revolution is nowadays treated in France.

Most people who look at contemporary Russian society with any degree of objectivity would I think agree that Putin has been far more successful in this task than anyone would have thought possible when he came to power. 

Next year’s commemoration of the centenary of the Revolution will however challenge this approach as it has never been challenged before.  It will be interesting to see how Putin and the Russian government go about it.

Inevitably Putin also had much to say about the economy, though here he touched on no new ground. 

He confirmed Russia’s exit from recession, and reaffirmed his support for the counter-inflation policy of the Central Bank.  The objective remains to transition Russia from an economy based on consumption to one based on advanced manufacturing and export

“The examples I cited earlier show that we are already changing the economic structure in a focused way, modernising corresponding sectors and creating new ones, and establishing modern companies that can work on international markets. It is essential to continue moving in this direction systematically and assertively. What is needed are not abstract scenarios, which are mostly irrelevant, but a professional, thoroughly calculated development forecast. It is important to define clearly how a better business climate, major investment projects, an expansion of non-commodity exports, and support for small and medium-sized businesses will contribute to economic growth and what the role of regions and particular production sectors will be.”

The part of the Presidential Address which will attract the most international attention will however inevitably be the part which concerns foreign policy. 

Here also Putin also charted a steady course, reiterating Russia’s longstanding position that it is prepared to work with all countries on the basis of equality, but that it will be dictated to by none

“We do not want confrontation with anyone. We have no need for it and neither do our partners or the global community. Unlike some of our colleagues abroad, who consider Russia an adversary, we do not seek and never have sought enemies. We need friends. But we will not allow our interests to be infringed upon or ignored. We want to and will decide our destiny ourselves and build our present and future without others’ unasked for advice and prompting.”

Putin was careful to make clear that Russia will stick by its long term priorities: the alliance with China and the Eurasian Union. 

On China and the Chinese alliance he had this to say

“In today’s challenging environment, the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China have become one of the key factors in ensuring global and regional stability. This partnership can be regarded as a model for shaping a world order free from the domination of a single country, no matter how strong it is, and taking into account the interests of all countries in harmony.

Today, China is about to become the world’s largest economy, so it is very important that every year adds new large-scale projects in various areas, including trade, investment, energy and high technology, to our mutually beneficial cooperation”.

On the Eurasian Union and the Greater Eurasia Project he had this

“Further strengthening cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Union and with other CIS countries has always been a foreign policy priority for Russia.

Russia attaches great importance to the idea of building a multi-level integration model for Eurasia in the form of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. We are already discussing this idea on various international and regional levels. I am confident that we can have conversation with the European Union countries, where the demand for political and economic independence is currently on the rise. This is what we see judging by election results.”

However it is his comments on relations with the US which will attract the most attention.  On these following the change in administration Putin appears cautiously optimistic

“Russia is also ready to work with the new US Administration. It is important to put bilateral relations back on track and to develop them on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.

Cooperation between Russia and the United States in addressing global and regional issues will benefit the whole world. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security and stability, to strengthen non-proliferation regimes.

I would like to emphasise that attempts to break the strategic parity are extremely dangerous and can lead to a global catastrophe. We must not forget about it even for a second.

I certainly count on joining efforts with the United States in the fight against real rather than fictional threats, international terrorism being one of them. That is the task our servicemen are fulfilling in Syria. Terrorists have suffered significant losses. The Russian Army and Navy have shown convincingly that they are capable of operating effectively away from their permanent deployment sites.”

These are carefully chosen words, free of the tense rhetoric of recent years.  It is striking that NATO’s eastward expansion, missile defence, and the conflict in Ukraine are nowhere mentioned. Whilst Putin is making it quite clear that Russia insists on being treated by the US as an equal partner, and that it will not be pushed around, he is signalling clearly that he is ready to work constructively with Donald Trump if the will to do so is there.

By contrast with these comparatively conciliatory words addressed to the US, and reflecting the extent of Putin’s disillusion with the EU, Putin had nothing to say about relations with the EU, save to repeat his offer to the EU to participate in the Greater Eurasia Project.  About Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel he had nothing to say at all.

Compared with recent years the tone of this year’s Presidential Address was more low key.   Overall the overriding impression was of a sense that Russia has turned the corner, with the most fraught period in international relations and in the process of economic transition now behind it. 

On the strength of this Putin – and one suspects the rest of the Russian leadership also – clearly hope that they will be left alone at least for the next few years to focus on sorting out the problems of Russian society. 

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BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

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If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.

 

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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