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Top Chinese officials visit Putin in Moscow as China reaffirms its alliance with Russia

Chinese acts to reaffirm alliance with Russia and to quell attempts by Trump administration to make trouble between Russia and China.

Alexander Mercouris

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The pace of Russian-Chinese contacts has suddenly intensified with Russian President Putin hosting this month no fewer than three senior officials of the Chinese government, each one following the other in quick succession.

The first was Zhang Gaoli, the First Vice-Chairman of China’s State Council (ie. China’s deputy prime minister).  He has now been followed by Zhang Dejiang, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (China’s parliament), who met with Putin yesterday.

Now comes news of the pending visit of Li Zhanshu, the Director of the General Office of the Communist Party of China, who the Chinese Foreign Ministry says will visit Moscow on 25th April 2017, where he will meet over several days with President Putin and with various other senior Russian officials.

Of these three officials the most important is Li Zhanshu, whose position approximates to that of Anton Vaino, the head of the Russian President’s Executive Office.

Li and Vaino can be described as the chiefs of the staff of their respective leaders, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.  Moreover it has been clear for some time that contact between China and Russia does not take place through the foreign ministries of the two countries (their foreign ministers – Wang Yi and Sergey Lavrov – rarely meet), but at some other level, and it is likely that it is conducted by Li and Vaino, who have immediate access to their chiefs, Xi and Putin.

If so then Li’s visit to Moscow is the visit to the Russian capital of the Chinese official in charge of managing China’s relations with its closest ally, Russia.

What explains this visit, coming so soon after the visits of two other high-ranking Chinese officials to Moscow?

At the most basic level it is likely that Li’s visit, like those of Zhang Gaoli and of Zhang Dejiang, is intended to prepare the way for Putin’s visit to China next month.  It is clear that this visit is going to be a major visit, and is seen as such by the leaderships of the two countries.  It is likely that intense discussions are underway to fine-tune arrangements for this visit, and to complete the details of whatever agreements are expected to be signed during it.

However it is difficult to avoid the impression that at least in Li’s case his visit is in part intended to coordinate with the Russians in light of the Trump administration’s ham-fisted attempts to cause trouble between Beijing and Moscow.  What suggests that this is the reason for Li’s visit is that there was so little advanced notice of it, suggesting that unlike the visits by Zhang Gaoli and Zhang Dejiang it was not arranged long ago but was arranged hurriedly at short notice.

That the Trump administration is indeed trying to make trouble between Beijing and Moscow has been all but confirmed by no less a person than President Trump’s National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, who in an interview with ABC television said the following

What we do know is that, in the midst of responding to the mass murder of the Syrian regime, the president (Trump) and the first lady hosted an extraordinarily successful conference, summit, with President Xi and his team. And not only did they establish a very warm relationship, but… they worked together as well in connection with the response to the mass murder on the part of the Assad regime in connection with the U.N. vote.  I think President Xi was courageous in distancing himself from the Russians, isolating really the Russians and the BoliviansAnd I think the world saw that, and they (Xi) saw, well, what club do you want to be in? The Russian-Bolivian club? Or the — in the club with the United States, working together on our mutual interests and the interests of peace, security

(bold italics added)

This comment serves as a further illustration of the inexperience and naivety of US diplomacy in the age of Trump.  It confirms that China abstained in the vote in the UN Security Council on 12th April 2017 following a personal request from Trump to Xi Jinping.  However it completely misconstrues the meaning of that act.

The Chinese almost certainly cleared their decision to abstain in the UN Security Council vote ahead of the vote with Moscow.  From their point of view and that of the Russians a decision by China to abstain would have meant little.  There was no possibility that the draft Resolution would pass because Russia had already made known it would veto it, whilst the US had already removed the most offensive words in the draft of the Resolution before it was put to the vote by deleting wording in the draft which blamed the Khan Sheikhoun incident on the Syrian government before any investigation had taken place.

Why would China hurt and humiliate Trump – whom Xi Jinping had met just days before – by refusing his request and voting against a Resolution which was no longer controversial, which did not concern an issue important to China, and which the Chinese knew the Russians were going to veto anyway?

What was undoubtedly intended by the Chinese as a simple diplomatic courtesy to the new US President over an issue which for China is of secondary importance, is however now being misconstrued by the Trump administration as a big step by China against Russia.

To be clear, it would have been an entirely different matter if China had voted for the Resolution after Russia had made known it would vote against it.  In that case it would have been legitimate to speak of a serious rift over the Syrian issue between Beijing and Moscow.  However an abstention should not be construed in that way.

China has previously abstained on votes in the UN Security Council on Syria and Ukraine, and it is far from unusual for China to sidestep Western criticism by acting in this way over issues which it regards as being of only secondary importance to itself.  The Russians understand this fully, and have never shown any concern about it.

It is however fully understandable that in light of the sort of comments that have been coming out of the Trump administration the Chinese leadership should now be pulling out the stops to make clear that China’s alliance with Russia is unaffected and as strong as always.

The result is a series of articles which have appeared in the Chinese media, which have been strongly critical of the Trump administration’s actions (discussed here and here), a strong statement reaffirming support for Russia’s position in Syria rushed out by the BRICS group, which is unofficially led by China and Russia, and the visits by the three important Chinese dignitaries to Moscow.

The statement by the BRICS group is the most public expression of these Chinese steps.  It seems to have been hurriedly put together at a meeting of the BRICS special envoys in Visakhapatnam in India, and was published on 12th April 2017 – the same day as the UN Security Council vote – in a way that was obviously intended to offset any misconception arising from China’s decision to abstain in that vote.

Its full text has been published by Russia’s Foreign Ministry, and was undoubtedly agreed in advance following detailed discussions at the highest levels of the Russian and Chinese governments, but also involving the governments of the three other BRICS states: India, Brazil and South Africa.

The statement reaffirms the primacy of international law in settling disputes in the Middle East and elsewhere, and importantly it reaffirms the primary role of the UN Security Council as the only body empowered to authorise the use of force

BRICS Special Envoys on Middle East expressed their concern about internal crises that have emerged in a number of states in the region in recent years. They firmly advocated that these crises should be resolved in accordance with the international law and UN Charter, without resorting to force or external interference and through establishing broad national dialogue with due respect for independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the countries of the region…..

….In the course of the meeting, the role of the UN Security Council as the international body bearing the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security was underlined.  It was also stressed that military interventions that have not been authorized by the Security Council are incompatible with the UN Charter and unacceptable.

(bold italics added)

The highlighted words are straightforward criticisms of the US missile strike on Al-Shayrat air base on 6th April 2017, which was carried out without authorisation from the UN Security Council, though the statement is careful not to refer to the US by name.

Li Zhanshu’s pending visit to Moscow is almost certainly connected to these steps.

The idea that China can be sweet-talked out of an alliance with Russia it has spent 25 years creating as a result of a single meeting between the US and Chinese Presidents during which nothing of substance was agreed, is fanciful in the extreme.  It is a further illustration of the lack of understanding or experience of international diplomacy within the Trump administration.

President Trump is right to believe that establishing good personal relations with foreign leaders is critically important for the successful conduct of diplomacy.  The fact that he spent time meeting and talking to Xi Jinping and made a serious effort to establish a personal rapport with him promises well for the future.  It contrasts with the arrogant disdain towards foreign leaders of Barack Obama, who as President barely communicated with foreign leaders on a personal level at all.

However President Trump has to be realistic about what such personal diplomacy can do.  If he over-invests in it, and thinks he can change the entire foreign policy of a superpower like China by a single meeting and a few phone calls, then he is setting himself up for failure and disappointment.

In the meantime the way President Trump through his officials has misconstrued the habitual courtesy of the Chinese President, and tried to use it to make trouble between Moscow and Beijing, has almost certainly taught the Chinese of the need to handle him carefully.  He may find that in future meetings they are not quite so polite.

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Rod Rosenstein resigns from his post before President Trump can fire him

Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the President backfire, and resignation may throw the Mueller Russiagate probe into question.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Washington Times broke the story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned from his post. He submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.  At present the breaking story says the following:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out at the Department of Justice.

Axios reported that Mr. Rosenstein verbally resigned to White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, but CNN said that he is expecting to be fired.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

President Trump mulled firing the No. 2 at the Department of Justice over the weekend.

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This report came after Fox News reported that the Deputy AG was summoned to the White House. Fox reported a little more detail:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House expecting to be fired, sources tell Fox News, in the wake of a report that he suggested wearing a wire against President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year.

This is a developing story, however one major factor that comes under consideration is the fate of Robert Mueller and his Russiagate investigation, which was authorized by Rosenstein. CNBC had this to say in their piece:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is resigning Monday, according to Axios, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

NBC News’ Pete Williams, however, reported that Rosenstein would not resign of his own accord, and that he will only depart if the White House fired him. He will refuse to resign if asked to do so, Williams added.

Rosenstein was at the White House when Williams reported this on the air. However, President Donald Trump is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Bloomberg later reported that the White House accepted Rosenstein’s resignation, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein’s expected resignation will immediately raise questions about the fate of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Rosenstein’s job security was called into question after The New York Times reported last week that the No. 2 DOJ official had discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump, and had also talked about surreptitiously recording the president.

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation, and has appointed Mueller to run the Russia probe last year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the report.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Axios’ report. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller’s inquiry, which also is focused on possible collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign.

He has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and has repeatedly vented frustration about Sessions’ recusal, which directly led to Mueller’s appointment by Rosenstein.

Rosenstein’s expected departure comes on the heels of a guilty plea by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to conspiracy charges related to his consulting work in Ukraine, which predates his role on the campaign.

As part of the investigation, Mueller’s team has been locked in an ongoing back-and-forth with Trump’s legal team over an in-person interview with the president.

Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have signaled that Trump is unwilling to sit for an interview, calling it a “perjury trap” and setting up a potential challenge for Mueller to subpoena the president.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

 

 

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European Council crushes Theresa May’s soft Brexit dream (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that the European Council was ready to see things her way, in terms of proceeding with a soft Brexit, which was essentially no Brexit at all…at least not the hard Brexit that was voted on in a democratic referendum approximately two years ago.

Much to May’s surprise, European Council President Donald Tusk delivered a death blow verdict for May’s Brexit, noting that EU leaders are in full agreement that Chequers plan for Brexit “will not work” because “it risks undermining the single market.”

Without a miracle compromise springing up come during the October summit, the UK will drift into the March 29, 2019 deadline without a deal and out of the European Union…which was initially what was voted for way back in 2016, leaving everyone asking, what the hell was May doing wasting Britain’s time and resources for two years, so as to return back to the hard Brexit terms she was charged with carrying forward after the 2016 referendum?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss what was a disastrous EU summit in Salzburg for UK PM Theresa May, in what looks to be the final nail in May’s tenure as UK Prime Minister, as a hard Brexit now seems all but certain.

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Via Zerohedge

Tusk was speaking at the end of an EU summit in Salzburg, where the leaders of the 27 remaining states in the bloc were discussing Brexit. He said that while there were “positive elements” in May’s Chequers plan, a deal that puts the single market at risk cannot be accepted.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.

May has been urging her European counterparts to accept her controversial Chequers plan which has split both the Conservative party and the broader UK population after it was thrashed out back in July. However, despite the painfully-slow negotiation process, which appears to have made little headway with just a few months left, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 – with or without an exit deal.

The main sticking point that has emerged, and left May and the EU at loggerheads, has been how to avoid new checks on the Irish border. May has claimed that her proposals were the “only serious, credible” way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She said during a press conference after the Salzburg meeting that she would not accept the EU’s “backstop” plan to avoid a Northern Ireland hard border. She said the UK would shortly be bringing forward its own proposals.

May also said that there was “a lot of hard work to be done,” adding that the UK was also preparing for the eventuality of having to leave the EU without a deal. Tusk, meanwhile, said that the upcoming October summit would be the “moment of truth” for reaching a deal, and that “if the conditions are there” another summit would be held in November to “formalize” it.

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Russia makes HUGE strides in drone technology

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The US and Israel are universally recognized leaders in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Thousands of American and Israeli UAVs are operating across the world daily.

The US military has recently successfully tested an air-to-air missile to turn its MQ-9 Reaper drone into an effective long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance unmanned spy aircraft capable of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air missions. This is a major breakthrough. It’s not a secret that Russia has been lagging behind in UAV development. Now its seems to be going to change with tangible progress made to narrow the gap.

Very few nations boast drones capable of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) missions. Russia is to enter the club of the chosen. In late 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a HALE UAV contract to the Kazan-based Simonov design bureau.

This month, Russian Zvezda military news TV channel showed a video (below) of Altair (Altius) heavy drone prototype aircraft number “03”, going through its first flight test.

Propelled by two RED A03/V12 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines, each producing a capacity of 500 hp on takeoff, the 5-ton heavy vehicle with a wingspan of 28.5 meters boasts a maximum altitude of 12km and a range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/h.

Wingspan: about 30 meters. Maximum speed: up to 950 km/h. Flight endurance: 48 hours. Payload: two tons, which allows the creation of a strike version. The vehicle is able to autonomously take off and land or be guided by an operator from the ground.

The UAV can carry the usual range of optical and thermal sensors as well as synthetic-aperture ground-surveillance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. The communications equipment allows real-time data exchange.

Russia’s UAV program currently underway includes the development of a range of large, small, and mid-sized drones. The Orion-E medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV was unveiled at the MAKS 2017 air show. Its developer, Kronstadt Technologies, claims it could be modified for strike missions. The one-ton drone is going through testing now. The Orion-E is capable of automatic takeoff and landing.

It can fly continuously for 24 hours, carrying a surveillance payload of up to 200 kg to include a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret, synthetic aperture radar and high resolution cameras. The drone can reach a maximum altitude of 7,500 m. Its range is 250 km.

The Sukhoi design bureau is currently developing the Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone with a range of about 3,500km. The drone made its maiden flight this year. In its current capacity, it has an anti-radar coating, and will store missiles and precision-guided bombs internally to avoid radar detection.

The Kazan-based Eniks Design Bureau is working on the small T-16 weaponized aerial vehicle able to carry 6 kg of payload.

The new Russian Korsar (Corsair) tactical surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be upgraded to receive an electronic warfare system. Its operational range will be increased from 150km to 250km. The drone was revealed at Victory Day military parade along with the Korsar unmanned combat helicopter version.

The rotary wing drone lacks the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but has a great advantage of being able to operate without landing strips and can be sea-based. Both drones can carry guided and unguided munitions. The fixed-wing version can be armed with Ataka 9M120 missiles.

The first Russian helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells was presented at the Army-2018 international forum. With the horizontal cruising speed of the drone up to 60 kph, the unmanned chopper can stay in the air at least 2.5 hours to conduct reconnaissance operations. Its payload is up to 5 kg.

Last November, the Kalashnikov Concern reported that it would start production of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying up to several tons of cargo and operating for several days at a time without needing to recharge.

All in all, the Russian military operate 1,900 drones on a daily basis. The multi-purpose Orlan-10 with a range of 600km has become a working horse that no military operation, including combat actions in Syria, can be conducted without. Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov,
the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, Russian drones performed over 23,000 flights, lasting 140,000 hours in total.

Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027 puts the creation of armed UAVs at the top of priorities’ list. Looks like the effort begins to pay off. Russia is well on the way to become second to none in UAV capability.

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Via Strategic Culture

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