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Britain’s ultimatum to Russia BACKFIRES, NATO and EU allies reject demands for action on Skripal

British diplomacy fails to unite West in strong action against Russia

Alexander Mercouris

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Donald Trump’s latest tweets saying that the US should aim for better relations with Russia underscores a crucial point about the Skripal case: the British are failing to win the support of their allies that they seem to have expected.

At this point it is necessary to say something about the British diplomatic strategy last week,

On Monday 12th March 2018 British Prime Minister Theresa May gave Russia a 36 hour ultimatum saying that unless it proved itself innocent the British government would deem it guilty of the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal

Here is what Theresa May said to the British House of Commons on 12th March 2018

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.

Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Mr. Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March.

Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country.

Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

This afternoon my Rt. Hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has summoned the Russian Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is — and therefore to account for how this Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury against Mr Skripal and his daughter.

My Rt. Hon. Friend has stated to the Ambassador that the Russian Federation must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

And he has requested the Russian government’s response by the end of tomorrow…….

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday we will consider in detail the response from the Russian State.

Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.

(bold italics added)

The last highlighted words are unequivocal.  Unless the Russians admitted to the existence of its Novichok stockpile by midnight British time on 13th March 2018 and provided an explanation for the use of the Novichok chemical agent in the Skripal attack by that same deadline, the British government would conclude that it was the Russian government itself which had carried out the attack.

As I have previously pointed out, this was a transparent attempt to reverse the burden of proof, with Russia being required to prove itself innocent instead of Britain being required to prove Russia guilty.

In the event – and as was to be expected – the Russians denied Theresa May’s claims.  They pointed out that the OPCW had certified that Russia had destroyed all its stocks of chemical weapons.  They categorically denied possessing or stockpiling Novichok agents.  They demanded sight of the evidence upon which Theresa May was making her claims, and insisted on adoption of the procedure set out in Article IX(2) of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  They denied any role in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

Accordingly, and consistent with the logic of her ultimatum, Theresa May on 14th March 2018 went before the House of Commons again and declared Russia guilty of a chemical weapons attack on British territory and of the murder attempt on Sergey and Yulia Skripal

……there were only two plausible explanations.

Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country.

Or conceivably, the Russian government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

Mr Speaker, it was right to offer Russia the opportunity to provide an explanation.

But their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.

They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent.

No explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom; no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law.

Instead they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

So Mr Speaker, there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter – and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.

This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.

(bold italics added)

Britain’s subsequent actions followed this logic.

Since it was supposedly “proved” that Russia had carried out a military attack on Britain (“an unlawful use of force….against the United Kingdom”) the British took the matter to the UN Security Council, which is supposed to consider all cases where “an unlawful use of force” is used.

It was at this point that the whole British strategy unravelled.

Firstly, the Russians insisted that the UN Security Council debate be held in public and not in private as the British had originally sought.

The Russians then responded strongly to the British claims, denying them and insisting that proper procedures be followed.

To see what happened next, it is necessary to read through the UN Press Office’s summary of the debate.

Though the British got strong support from Nikki Haley (as was to be expected), the British failed to win unequivocal support for their claim that Russia is guilty from any of the other ambassadors present in the UN Security Council, even from those ambassadors who represent France, Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden, who are Britain’s closest allies.

Instead, in what looks to have been a coordinated position, the ambassadors of Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden followed the lead of the French ambassador whose comments are summarised by the UN Press Office as follows

The United Kingdom Prime Minister had stated that the Russian Federation was responsible.  He expressed full confidence in the United Kingdom investigation to shed light on the use of that chemical weapon.  The perpetrators must be identified and prosecuted, with responses provided to the United Kingdom’s legitimate questions.

(bold italics added)

The sting in the highlighted words has not been widely grasped.  The point however is that earlier on that same day – 14th March 2018 – Theresa May on the expiry of her ultimatum had already pronounced Russia guilty (see above).  Yet here was the French ambassador just a few hours later on the same day saying – along with the ambassadors of Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden – that the question of Russia’s guilt had still not been determined, with Russia being asked to answer Britain’s questions, with no deadline for those answers being demanded of Russia, in the context of an investigation which was still underway.

That this is a completely different position from the one taken earlier on the same day by Theresa May has not been generally reported, a fact which is a testament to the extraordinary and continuing power of the passionately anti-Russian English speaking media.  However it is clear if one reads carefully the words used.

In other words, though dressing up their position in supportive language, Britain’s allies were declining to echo what the British were saying: that Russia had already been proved to be guilty of the Skripal attack.

The summary of the debate provided by the UN Press Office shows that the non-aligned states were much more equivocal even than this.

None of their ambassadors said that Russia was guilty whilst Russia got support from its allies: China and Kazakhstan.

The ambassador from Peru made a comment which looks like an implied rebuke of the British.  The UN Press Office summarises his comment as saying that the incident in Salisbury should be

….investigated in the framework of the rule of law and due process, while the parties involved must fully cooperate in an investigation that would determine those responsible and any applicable sanctions.

(bold italics added)

The ambassador of Ethiopia is reported to have spoken in similar terms

He voiced hope that an independent investigation would be conducted, and vetted, on the Salisbury incident, including by holding consultations on the basis of the Chemical Weapons Convention, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice.  He encouraged good-faith cooperation between United Kingdom and the Russian Federation, which was critical to ensuring that the issue did not get out of hand.  Given the United Kingdom’s justified concern, he hoped all concerned would fully cooperate and that the matter would be handled in a fair manner.

(bold italics added)

The point behind these words is that – as Russia’s formidable ambassador Vasily Nebenzia pointed out, it is Britain not Russia which is not following due process and which is acting outside the rule of law, and which is refusing Russia’s offer to cooperate with the investigation.

Here is how the UN Press Office summarises what Nebenzia said

The United Kingdom ignored the procedures in line with international commitments.  The matter was being dragged into the Council while the real experts were in The Hague, and those experts would not be convinced.  The letter stated that the Russian Federation had something to do with the use of toxic agents in Salisbury.  His country had been given 24 hours to admit that it had committed a crime.  His country did not speak the language of ultimatums, and would not be spoken to in that language….His country had nothing to do with the incident, and the ultimatum from London was something that it could not pay attention to and that he considered null and void.  He expected that the United Kingdom should act in strict adherence to the Convention on Chemical Weapons and would provide samples of the substances for joint investigation, as it was saying that it was Russian in origin.  That was not optional; it was mandatory under the Convention.

I am not privy to Britain’s diplomatic strategy, but I suspect that the British expected much stronger support in the UN Security Council than they got, and expected that their NATO allies at least would simply accept and echo their assertion of Russian guilt.

My guess is that the British plan was to follow this up by presenting a Resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Russia.

After the Russians vetoed the Resolution – as it would of course do – the British intended to call on the support of their NATO allies by invoking Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which reads as follows

Article 5

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Note how Article 5 uses essentially the same language – “an armed attack” – as Theresa May used in her statements to the House of Commons on 12th and 14th March 2018 – “an unlawful use of force” – and how it envisages an “immediate report to the Security Council” and “measures necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area” until “the Security Council has taken the necessary measures”.

In other words the British referral to the UN Security Council had the purpose of preparing the ground for an emergency NATO summit at which Britain would invoke Article 5.

My guess is that the British planned to get their NATO and EU allies at this summit to impose across the board sanctions on Russia as “necessary measures” for “collective self-defence” pursuant to Article 5 in light of the “unlawful use of force” that they all agreed Russia had carried out against one of their members ie. Britain.

If this is correct – and I am sure it is – then Britain’s allies saw through this British strategy and quietly sidestepped it.

The result is a series of ritual statements which appear to support Britain but which actually do no such thing.

Here is the first of them, a joint statement made by the US, Britain, Germany and France on 15th March 2018

We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2018. A British police officer who was also exposed in the attack remains seriously ill, and the lives of many innocent British citizens have been threatened. We express our sympathies to them all, and our admiration for the United Kingdom police and emergency services for their courageous response.

This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It is an assault on the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all.

The United Kingdom thoroughly briefed its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack. We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury.

Russia should, in particular, provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behavior. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the U.N. Security Council to uphold international peace and security.

Craig Murray has correctly pointed out the careful use in this statement of the formula “a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia” as opposed to a simple and outright statement that the “military grade nerve agent” was “made by Russia“.

However what has so far as I know has up to now gone unnoticed is that the statement actually falls well short of saying that Russia actually carried out the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

On the contrary, repeating the formula used by Britain’s Western allies in the UN Security Council on the previous day (see above), it continues to treat the question of Russia’s guilt as undecided, and continues to ask Russia to answer Britain’s questions, without setting any deadline for Russia to do so.

This despite the fact that Theresa May’s deadline for Russia to answer these questions had by then already passed, so that she had already declared Russia guilty.

On 19th March 2018 the EU issued its own statement which proved to be even weaker and more equivocal than the statement issued by the US, Britain, Germany and France on 15th March 2018.  Its full text is as follows

The European Union strongly condemns the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK on 4 March 2018, that also left a police officer seriously ill. The lives of many citizens were threatened by this reckless and illegal act. The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible.

The European Union is shocked at the offensive use of any military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, for the first time on European soil in over 70 years. The use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is completely unacceptable and constitutes a security threat to us all. Any such use is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order. The EU welcomes the commitment of the UK to work closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in supporting the investigation into the attack. The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW.

The European Union expresses its unqualified solidarity with the UK and its support, including for the UK’s efforts to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.

The EU will remain closely focussed on this issue and its implications.

Once again we see the formula identified by Craig Murray – “a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia” – instead of “a military-grade nerve agent, made by Russia“.

However the sting in this statement is again contained in the following words

The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW

Once again Theresa May’s ultimatum of 12th March 2018 is treated as if it had never been made.

There is no statement of Russia’s guilt, despite Theresa May having already declared Russia guilty on 14th March 2018.

Instead the Russians are asked to cooperate with the OPCW – whose investigation of the type of chemical agent used in the attack the Russians were the first to insist upon – by making a full disclosure about the Novichok programme to the OPCW – something which the Russians have always said they are prepared to do.

Note that though the statement demands “immediate disclosure” it too sets no actual deadline, whilst it ignores the fact that Theresa May’s deadline has already passed.

It also speaks of a “Russia’s Novichok programme” as opposed to “Novichok stockpiles in Russia”, leaving open the possibility that – as the Russians say – no such Novichok stockpiles in Russia exist.

Britain’s Western allies have in the meantime made it absolutely clear that they do not consider that the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal is such a one as to merit Britain invoking Article 5.

Even Boris Johnson, Britain’s buffoonish Foreign Secretary who presumably devised its diplomatic strategy, now accepts – to his obvious disappointment and frustration – that Article 5 is not going to be invoked

Mr Johnson said that Russia had skilfully chosen a series of targets just beneath the level at which Nato’s Article 5 would be triggered. Article 5 commits member states to consider an armed attack on one to be against them all.

As to what Britain’s core allies really think of the whole Skripal affair, that is shown by the fulsome way they have all rushed to congratulate Vladimir Putin following his recent re-election.

This is how the Kremlin summarises the call from US President Trump

Donald Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin on his victory in the presidential election. The leaders spoke in favour of developing practical cooperation in various areas, including efforts to ensure strategic stability and combat international terrorism, with particular emphasis on the importance of coordinated efforts to curb an arms race.

The exchange on economic cooperation revealed an interest in bolstering it. Energy was discussed separately.

The problem of Syria was discussed, as was the internal crisis in Ukraine. There was recognition on both sides of the need to make rapid strides toward achieving settlements.

Satisfaction was expressed with the limited reduction of tensions around the Korean Peninsula. The expediency of continuing consistent efforts to resolve the situation by peaceful, diplomatic means was underscored.

It was agreed to develop further bilateral contacts in light of the changes in leadership at the US Department of State. The possibility of organising a top-level meeting received special attention.

On the whole, the conversation was constructive and businesslike, with a focus on overcoming the accumulated problems in Russian-American relations.

Note that there is no reference here to the Skripal attack here at all, a fact which echoes Donald Trump’s total silence about the Skripal attack in his twitter feed, which is the place where he expresses those things on his mind.

Instead what we have from Donald Trump on his twitter feed is more restatements of his long standing wish for good relations with Russia

More words of congratulation for Putin came from President Macron of France.  Here is how the Kremlin summarises those

Emmanuel Macron congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning the presidential election and spoke in favour of continuing joint work aimed at the further expansion of multifaceted Russian-French cooperation, in particular, between civil societies, as part of the Trianon Dialogue.

The Syrian settlement within the context of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2401 and the Ukraine crisis were discussed extensively, given the importance of complying with the Minsk agreements.

The incident in Salisbury was also touched on. Russia focused on the unsubstantiated nature of the charges brought against it and reiterated its willingness to conduct a joint investigation into the incident.

It was agreed to continue exchanging views on the issues raised during the conversation at various levels.

Here we do see a mention of the Skripal attack, with Putin however restating Russia’s position and reiterating Russia’s willingness “to conduct a joint investigation”.
We are not told what Macron said in reply.  However he apparently “agreed to continue exchanging views on the issues raised during the conversation”.
What Macron really thinks about the Skripal affair is shown by what his spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said shortly after Britain announced it was expelling 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Skripal attacK
We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven, then the time will come for decisions to be made.
The cruellest blow of all has however come from German Chancellor Angela Merkel – the person the British were counting on to rally European support behind them – who instead has sent a fulsome telegram congratulating Putin on his victory

Dear Mr. President, with all my heart I congratulate you on your next reelection Russian president.

Today, it is vitally important to continue dialogue and maintain relations between our countries and nations. With this in mind, we should take efforts for constructive work on major bilateral and international problems to find proper solutions. I wish you success in your work to resolve the tasks facing you

Note that there is no reference here to the Skripal attack either.

Britain’s anger at the fulsome letter of congratulation sent to Putin by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is in my opinion a mask for British dismay at the telegram sent to Putin by Merkel.

In truth Juncker’s words of congratulations to Putin were fulsome enough

However Merkel is a far more powerful and important person than Juncker.  The British dare not criticise her, so they are taking out their anger by criticising Juncker instead.

All the indications are that the same pattern will continue at the EU Council meeting today.

There will be what superficially looks like strong statement of support for the British.  When examined closely it will turn out that the statement however actually says less than it seems to, with even the BBC admitting that

EU countries were not united in “being willing to point their finger at Russia” or taking further steps, such as expelling diplomats.

As for concrete measures against Russia, already it seems that the British are scaling down their demands.

Suggestions that Nord Stream 2 be cancelled have apparently already been rebuffed.  The BBC quotes British officials saying the following

……..a senior Whitehall official said Russia had “shown itself to be a strategic enemy not a strategic partner”.

The official stressed that the UK’s response to the Salisbury attack had been carefully calibrated to remain within the law, and that the UK was “not looking for some big confrontation with Russia or regime change”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the UK’s Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “very important to stand up” to Russia over the attack, but the UK must “continue to engage” with the country.

He added: “We continue to engage with Russia because we seek a position where Russia does abide by internal rules and norms [and] where Russia is a grown-up player on the world stage abiding by the international approaches, for instance not using chemical weapons.”

That Britain is “not looking for some big confrontation with Russia” after all the fire and thunder of last week will have come as a surprise to many people.

In truth what those words show is that the “big confrontation with Russia” has already happened, and that the British have lost it.

Quite simply their allies don’t want it, and for that reason it isn’t going to happen.

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS

The problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

RT

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Forces are aligning against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, lead by elements within the CIA and strong players in the mainstream media. But what is really behind this deterioration in relationship, and what are its implications?

Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, western media and various entities, including the CIA, appear to have turned their back on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). In response to the scandal, the Guardian released a video which its celebutante, Owen Jones, captioned“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest threats on Earth. Time to stop propping up its repulsive regime.”

The Guardian was not alone in its condemnation. “It’s high time to end Saudi impunity,” wrote Hana Al-Khamri in Al-Jazeera. “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to tell the truth on Jamal Khashoggi,” the Washington Post’s Editorial Board argued. Politico called it “the tragedy of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Even shadowy think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Atlantic Council released articles criticising Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

A number of companies began backing away from Saudi money after the journalist’s death, including the world’s largest media companies such as the New York Times, the Economist’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, Arianna Huffington, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Google Cloud CEO, just to name a few.

The CIA concluded that MBS personally ordered Khashoggi’s death, and was reportedly quite open in its provision of this assessment. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, also took time out of his schedule to express concern over Saudi Arabia’s confirmation of the killing.

At the time of the scandal, former CIA director John Brennan went on MSNBC to state that the Khashoggi’s death would be the downfall of MBS. Furthermore, the US Senate just voted in favour of ending American involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (a somewhat symbolic victory, though this is a topic for another article), but nonetheless was a clear stab at MBS personally.

The only person who appeared to continue to uphold America’s unfaltering support for MBS, even after all the publicly made evidence against MBS, was the US president himself. So after years of bombarding Yemen, sponsoring terror groups across the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific and beyond, why is it only now that there has been mounting opposition to Saudi Arabia’s leadership? Let’s just bear in mind that western media had spent years investing in a heavy PR campaign to paint MBS as a “reformer.”

Former national security adviser under Barack Obama’s second term, Susan Rice, wrote an article in the New York Times, in which she called MBS a “partner we can’t depend on.” Rice concludes that MBS is “not and can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner of the United States and our allies.” But why is this? Is it because MBS is responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses inside his own kingdom as well as in Yemen? Is it because of MBS’ support for groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda? No, according to Rice, we “should not rupture our important relationship with the kingdom, but we must make it clear it cannot be business as usual so long as Prince Mohammad continues to wield unlimited power.”

One will observe that the latter segment of Rice’s article almost mirrors former CIA director Brennan’s word on MSNBC word for word who stated that:

“I think ultimately this is going to come out. And it’s very important for us to maintain the relations with Saudi Arabia. And if it’s Mohammed bin Salman who’s the cancer here, well, we need to be able to find ways to eliminate the cancer and to move forward with this relationship that is critical to regional stability and our national interests.”

In reality, this is probably the issue that western media and government advisors have taken up with MBS. Aside from the fact he allegedly held a huge hand in the brutal murder of one of their own establishment journalists (Saudi Arabia reportedly tortured and killed another journalist not long after Khashoggi, but western media was eerily silent on this incident) MBS is not opposed for his reckless disregard for human rights. With insight into Rice’s mindset, we actually learn that if the US were to punish MBS, he would be likely to “behave more irresponsibly to demonstrate his independence and exact retribution against his erstwhile Western partners.”

You see, the problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and the other major oil producers met in Vienna at the year’s final big OPEC meeting of the year. As Foreign Policy notes, Saudi Arabia remains the largest oil producer inside OPEC but has to contend with the US and Russia who are “pumping oil at record levels.” Together, the three countries are the world’s biggest oil producers, meaning any coordinated decision made between these three nations can be somewhat monumental.

However, it appears that one of these three nations will end up drawing the short end of the stick as the other two begin forming a closer alliance. As Foreign Policy explains:

“But Saudi Arabia has bigger game in mind at Vienna than just stabilizing oil prices. Recognizing that it can’t shape the global oil market by itself anymore but rather needs the cooperation of Russia, Saudi Arabia is hoping to formalize an ad hoc agreement between OPEC and Moscow that began in 2016, a time when dirt-cheap oil also posed a threat to oil-dependent regimes. That informal agreement expires at the end of the year, but the Saudis would like to make Russia’s participation with the cartel more permanent.”

Russian officials have been signalling their intention to formalise this agreement for quite some time now. Given the hysteria in western media about any and all things Russian, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is the kind of news that is not sitting too well with the powers-that-be.

Earlier this year, Russia and Saudi Arabia announced that it would “institutionalize” the two-year-old bilateral agreement to coordinate oil production targets in order to maintain an edge on the global market.

While US president Trump has been supportive and incredibly defensive of MBS during this “crisis”, the truth is that the US only has itself to blame. It was not all too long ago that Trump announced that he had told Saudi King Salman that his kingdom would not last two weeks without US support.

Saudi Arabia is learning for themselves quite quickly that, ultimately, it may pay not to have all its eggs in one geopolitical superpower basket.

Saudi Arabia has been increasingly interested in Moscow since King Salman made a historic visit to Moscow in October 2017. While Trump has openly bragged about his record-breaking arms deals with the Saudis, the blunt truth is that the $110 billion arms agreements were reportedly only ever letters of interest or intent, but not actual contracts. As such, the US-Saudi arms deal is still yet to be locked in, all the while Saudi Arabia is negotiating with Russia for its S-400 air defence system. This is, as the Washington Post notes, despite repeated US requests to Saudi Arabia for it disavow its interest in Russia’s arms.

The economic threat that an “independent” Saudi Arabia under MBS’ leadership poses to Washington runs deeper than meets the eye and may indeed have a domino effect. According to CNN, Russia and Saudi Arabia “are engaged in an intense battle over who will be the top supplier to China, a major energy importer with an insatiable appetite for crude.”

The unveiling of China’s petro-yuan poses a major headache for Washington and its control over Saudi Arabia as well.According to Carl Weinberg, chief economist and managing director at High-Frequency Economics, China will “compel”Saudi Arabia to trade oil in Chinese yuan instead of US dollars. One must bear in mind that China has now surpassed the US as the “biggest oil importer on the planet,” these direct attacks on the US dollar will have huge implications for its current world reserve status.

If Saudi Arabia jumps on board China’s petro-yuan, the rest of OPEC will eventually follow, and the US might be left with no choice but to declare all of these countries in need of some vital freedom and democracy.

Therefore, ousting MBS and replacing him with a Crown Prince who doesn’t stray too far from the tree that is US imperialism may put a dent in pending relationships with Saudi Arabia and Washington’s adversaries, Russia and China.

Once we get over the certainty that the US media and the CIA are not against MBS for his long-list of human rights abuses, the question then becomes: why – why now, and in this manner, have they decided to put the spotlight on MBS and expose him exactly for what he is.

Clearly, the driving force behind this media outrage is a bit more complex than first meets the eye.

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