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East Ghouta: the last great battle of the Syrian war?

Jihadi defeat in East Ghouta would spell the end of the regime change war in Syria

Alexander Mercouris

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Reading media reports of the fighting in east Ghouta over the last few days has triggered an eery sense of déjà vu.

It is like taking a time machine back to the autumn of 2016 and listening to all the arguments over the fighting in Aleppo all over again.

Just as in 2016 the reports concern fighting between the Syrian military and a large force of Jihadis – in both cases around 10-15,000 men – trapped in a district of one of Syria’s two main cities.

In 2016 it was eastern Aleppo; this time it is east Ghouta, which is a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus.

Just as in 2016 the presence of these violent Jihadi terrorists is being ignored, with the fighters ‘defending’ east Ghouta more often referred to in the Western media as ‘moderate rebels’ rather than the Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliated Jihadi militants that they actually are.

Just as in 2016 the air waves and the presses are full of furious denunciations of Syrian and Russian bombing.

There is again talk of barrel bombs and of the supposedly intentional bombing of hospitals, though the military logic of deliberately bombing hospitals is never explained and entirely escapes me.

As was  the case with the bombing of eastern Aleppo in 2016 much emphasis is given to the killing of children, with vivid pictures plastered all over the media of dead or injured children, to the point where at times it almost seems as if most of the people being killed in east Ghouta are children.

In 2016 there were no Western reporters in eastern Aleppo to observe and report about the bombing there.

Today in east Ghouta there are also no Western reporters present to observe and report about the bombing there.

Just as was the case in eastern Aleppo in 2016 so in east Ghouta today the presence of Western reporters is impossible because the violent Jihadi terrorists who in the autumn of 2016 were in control of eastern Aleppo, and the violent Jihadis who are in control of east Ghouta today, would kill or kidnap without hesitation any Western reporter foolish enough to go there.

The result is that just as was the case in 2016 in Aleppo, the reports of the bombing in east Ghouta come entirely from ‘local sources’ whose accuracy and objectivity (given that they are reporting from an Al-Qaeda controlled area) must be in doubt.

Moreover the same organisation – the White Helmets – is prominently involved in both places and on both occasions.

Just as in 2016 the obvious problems with the accuracy and objectivity of the reporting seems not to worry the Western media at all.

Just as was the case in 2016 in its reporting of the bombing of Aleppo, so in its reporting of the bombing of east Ghouta today,  the Western media simply reproduces the reports it obtains from the ‘local sources’ and the White Helmets without providing any health warning about their objectivity or accuracy, publishing them as if they were proven and true.

This is despite the fact that – as Robert Fisk has pointed out – the propagandist nature of at least some of these reports is made obvious by the fact that they never speak of or show any Jihadi fighters in east Ghouta – just as in 2016 they never spoke of or showed any Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo – despite the large scale presence of Jihadi fighters there.

Just as in 2016 the United Nations Secretariat and the various humanitarian organisations lobby furiously for a ceasefire and for humanitarian corridors to rescue the civilians.

The United Nations Secretariat and the various humanitarian agencies however also give what are grossly inflated estimates of the number of civilians trapped in east Ghouta (“400,000”), just as in 2016 they gave what turned out to be grossly inflated estimates of the number of civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo (“250,000”), a fact which inevitably calls into question their objectivity, as does their failure to acknowledge the presence of Jihadi fighters there.

Moreover just as in 2016 the Syrian authorities claimed – accurately enough as it turned out – that the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo were preventing the civilians from leaving and were using the civilians as human shields, so the Syrian authorities are now claiming that the Jihadis in east Ghouta are preventing the civilians from leaving and are using them as human shields.

Just as in 2016 the Russians are busy brokering agreements for ceasefires, bombing pauses and humanitarian corridors to ease the plight of the civilians, despite the ill-concealed annoyance this causes to the Syrian authorities, whose military operations are thereby being obstructed.  Just as was the case in 2016 the Russians however get absolutely no credit in the West for doing this.

On the contrary the Western media is filled with atrocity stories which are blamed on Russia and on President Putin in particular, with this overblown editorial in the Guardian a typical example.

Just as was the case in 2016 during the fighting in Aleppo the air waves and presses today are full of talk of war crimes, with demands that war crimes prosecutions be brought against the Russians, the Syrians and the Iranians, who are supposedly responsible for the killing of the civilians in east Ghouta and for the bombing.

This is despite the fact that a British parliamentary committee which reported last year on the state of relations between Britain and Russia admitted that the claims that Russia had committed war crimes in 2016 in Aleppo were unverified.

Nor is the fact mentioned – just as it was not mentioned during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016 – that the Jihadis in east Ghouta are known to have engaged in the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, even though the extent of their shelling obviously cannot compare to the scale of the bombing carried out by the Russians and by the Syrian air force.

Just as was the case with the crisis in Aleppo in 2016, the crisis in east Ghouta today is the subject of much handwringing in the Western media.

There are also – just as there were in 2016 – pleas to President Putin to “show mercy”.

In 2016 these pleas came mainly from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.  This time they are coming from German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron.

Meanwhile – as in 2016 – there is grandstanding against Russia at the UN Security Council by the US’s UN ambassador.  In 2016 it was Samantha Power; this time it is Nikki Haley.

Just as in 2016 we are now seeing overheated and hysterical demands for ‘military action’ to ‘bring the killing to a stop’, with all concerns about what that might lead to brushed aside.

To complete the truly extraordinary parallels, there has even been a US bombing raid on Syrian forces far away in eastern Syria in Deir Ezzor province, just as there was during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016.

Moreover the Russian response to the US threats and to the US bombing raid appears to be the same as it was in 2016: the deployment of further powerful additional military forces to Syria and to Khmeimim air base.

In 2016 it was S-300VM Antey 2500 anti aircraft missiles; today it is additional S-400 anti aircraft missiles and (reportedly) SU-57 fighters.

As to what is really behind the furious campaign to stop the attack on east Ghouta, it is the same as was the case with the furious campaign to stop the attack on eastern Aleppo in 2016: to prevent a Jihadi enclave which threatens one of Syria’s two great cities – Aleppo in 2016, Damascus today – from being destroyed.

As to what would actually happen if – or rather when – that Jihadi enclave is finally destroyed, I can do no better than quote Marcus Papadopoulos

Once East Ghouta is liberated from Al-Qaeda, the world will see the same response from its inhabitants as the world saw once East Aleppo was liberated: jubilation. And, like with East Aleppo, East Ghouta will serve as another testimony about the facade that is the White Helmets.

Why all these frantic attempts to save an Al-Qaeda controlled Jihadi enclave from being destroyed near Damascus?

The short answer is that just as the destruction in 2016 of the Jihadi enclave in eastern Aleppo showed to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria could not be won, so the destruction of the Jihadi enclave in east Ghouta near Damascus today would show to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria is irretrievably lost.

The remaining Jihadi controlled territories in Syria would be reduced to a few fringe areas in remote and impoverished regions of Syria: places like Idlib province in Syria’s northwest, the ISIS holdout areas east of the Euphrates, and the small belt of territory near the increasingly lonely US base close to the Jordanian border at Al-Tanf.

Though fighting would not immediately end, and the massive problem of what to do with Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria would remain unresolved, it would be increasingly difficult to sustain the fiction that a genuine civil war likely to end in a “rebel” victory was underway.

Over time that would be bound to increase the pressure to withdraw the uninvited foreign troops – US, Turkish and Israeli – currently present on Syrian territory.

At that point the fighting against the Jihadis would be reduced to mopping up operations, and the charade of the ‘peace talks’ in Geneva, Astana and Sochi would end.

However if there are striking similarities between the uproar over the fighting in Aleppo in 2016 and the fighting in east Ghouta today, there is also one very important difference.

This is that this time the uproar lacks conviction.

Following the Syrian army’s victory in Aleppo in 2016, and following the establishment of permanent Russian bases in Syria, there is now no longer any possibility of President Assad being ousted by force.

That means that regime change in Syria is no longer practicable, which begs the question of why the war is being continued at all.

Putting that aside, since the US and the rest of the regime change coalition know that a “rebel” ‘victory’ in Syria is no longer possible, their protests against the Syrian army’s ongoing offensive against the Jihadis in east Ghouta inevitably lack conviction and have none of the force that they did in 2016.

This is what explains the empty Resolution that came out of the UN Security Council on Saturday 24th February 2018.  I reproduce the entire text of the Resolution below, but its key paragraphs are the following

The Security Council

………..

1.   Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded, in accordance with applicable international law;

“2.   Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;

The key point about paragraph 1 is that though the Resolution “demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay” it sets no date for the cessation of hostilities Ie. for the ceasefire to begin.

Instead the “parties” are to “to engage – (ie. negotiate with each other) – immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand”.

In other words instead of imposing a ceasefire the UN Security Council has actually merely ordered negotiations to achieve one.

Absurdly, the Resolution does not however say who the “parties” are who must negotiate this ceasefire.  The rest of the Resolution makes it clear that one of the “parties” is the Syrian government.  Paragraph 2 makes it clear the “parties” do not include “undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council”.  However it is left completely unsaid who in that case is the “party” the Syrian government is supposed to negotiate the ceasefire with.

The reality is that since the Jihadi fighters in east Ghouta are practically by definition members of “undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL”, who are excluded from the ceasefire, there is no one in east Ghouta to negotiate a ceasefire with.

In the run up to the voting on the Resolution on Saturday the Russians made the point that the draft of the Resolution with which they were presented – officially sponsored by Kuwait and Sweden, but in reality drawn up by the Western powers – failed to identify who the Syrian government is supposed to negotiate the ceasefire with.

Accordingly they apparently successfully objected to the inclusion of a date for the start of the ceasefire.

Since it is impossible to see how negotiations to agree the terms of the ceasefire can happen when one of the parties who is supposed to agree the ceasefire has not been identified and actually does not exist, that renders the whole demand for a ceasefire vacuous.

In fact even as I write this, despite the Resolution’s demand that “hostilities cease without delay” no negotiations to agree the terms of the ceasefire are taking place and the Syrian army’s offensive against the Jihadis in east Ghouta continues unabated.

The Western powers presumably agreed to put the Resolution to the vote in this meaningless form because they intend at some future date to blame the Syrians and the Russians for the “failure” of the ceasefire “demanded” by the Resolution.

That however simply demonstrates the bankruptcy of the West’s Syrian policy.

That the Russians – who have vetoed eleven Resolutions concerning Syria in the UN Security Council since the start of the conflict in 2011 – will simply brush off any more such empty Western criticism ought by now to be obvious.

In fact what the text of the Resolution shows is the weakening of the West’s position on Syria with respect to Russia.

Back in 2016 the Western powers would have rejected the Russian amendment and would have insisted that the Resolution be presented to the UN Security Council in its original form ie. with a start date for the ceasefire.

The Resolution would then almost certainly have gained the necessary votes in the UN Security Council to pass, obliging the Russians to veto it.

That would have led to further furious denunciations and grandstanding in the UN Security Council against Russia.

The fact that the Western powers on this occasion agreed to a Russian amendment which with respect to east Ghouta deprived the Resolution of all meaning shows either that they are tiring of this game, or that they were concerned that the Russian objections were being heeded by the non permanent members of the UN Security Council, so that the Resolution would not have gained enough votes to pass if put to the vote in its original form.

The United Nations’ summary of the debate at the UN Security Council suggests that four UN Security Council members (Russia, China, Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia) might have voted against the Resolution or abstained if it had been put to a vote in its original form, with three (Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Peru) having the swing vote

Most probably these three states would have voted for the Resolution, but the statements of their ambassadors during the debate were free of rhetoric and somewhat ambiguous, making it at least possible that some or even all of them might have abstained in a vote.

Since a Resolution requires at least nine votes in the UN Security Council to pass, if only two of these states had abstained the Resolution would have failed without any Russian veto being needed, dealing a massive diplomatic defeat to the US and to the Western powers.

Those who recall the events of the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ in 2016 will remember that there were numerous ceasefires or ‘humanitarian pauses’ ordered by President Putin over Syrian objections and over objections from his own military for the purpose of providing relief supplies to the civilians.

The Russians also negotiated strenuously to try to get the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo under escort with their families.

All the ceasefires and all the efforts to get the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo however ended in failure.

The Jihadis adamantly refused to leave, only finally agreeing to do so when the territory under their control had shrunk to barely a square kilometre and their position had become militarily untenable.

I suspect that something similar will happen in east Ghouta, though with the Syrian army much stronger than it was in Aleppo in 2016, and with the Jihadis in east Ghouta much weaker than were the Jihadis fighting in eastern Aleppo in 2016, I expect the process this time to be much shorter.

Already there are reports of the Syrian army making significant territorial gains as it closes in on the Jihadis in east Ghouta.

As for the Western powers, they have neither the means nor the will to prevent what is going to happen, which is the eventual liberation of east Ghouta from the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi terrorists who control it.

Though it may take a little time I expect the whole of east Ghouta before long to be under the control of the Syrian government.

At that point the Syrian government will be able to turn its full attention to the gathering crisis in Syria’s Kurdish areas far away in Syria’s north.

There now follows the complete text of UN Security Council Resolution 2401 (2018)

The Security Council,

Recalling its resolutions 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012), 2118 (2013), 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2175 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2209 (2015), 2235 (2015), 2249 (2015), 2254 (2015), 2258 (2015), 2268 (2016), 2286 (2016), 2332 (2016), 2336 (2016) and 2393 (2017), and its Presidential Statements of 3 August 2011 (S/PRST/2011/16), 21 March 2012 (S/PRST/2012/6), 5 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/10), 2 October 2013 (S/PRST/2013/15), 24 April 2015 (S/PRST/2015/10) and 17 August 2015 (S/PRST/2015/15),

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Reiterating its grave distress at the continued severity of the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria, including in Eastern Ghouta, Idlib Governorate, Northern Hama Governorate, Rukhban and Raqqa, and at the fact that urgent humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, is now required by more than 13.1 million people in Syria, of whom 6.1 million are internally displaced, 2.5 million are living in hard-to-reach areas, including Palestinian refugees, and hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in besieged areas,

Expressing outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence escalating in several parts of the country, in particular in Idlib Governorate and Eastern Ghouta but also Damascus City, including shelling on diplomatic premises, and at attacks against civilians, civilian objects and medical facilities, further compounding suffering and displacing large numbers of people, recalling in this regard the legal obligations of all parties under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as all relevant decisions of the Security Council, especially to cease all attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including those involving attacks on schools and medical facilities,

Expressing concern for those returning to areas, including those retaken from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), that are contaminated by explosive remnants of war and need resilience and stabilization support and expressing disturbance at the humanitarian situation in Raqqa,

Reiterating its deep disturbance at the lack of United Nations humanitarian access to besieged populations in recent months, expressing grave alarm at the dire situation of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas in the Syrian Arab Republic, especially in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, and reaffirming that sieges directed against civilian populations in Syria are a violation of international humanitarian law, and calling for the immediate lifting of all sieges,

Expressing its disturbance at the humanitarian situation for the internally displaced persons in Rukhban and stressing in this regard the need to ensure humanitarian access to Rukhban from inside Syria and the need for a sustainable solution,

Noting the ongoing work on de-escalation areas to reduce violence as a step towards a comprehensive nation-wide ceasefire, emphasizing the need for all parties to respect their commitments to existing ceasefire agreements, and that humanitarian access must be granted as part of these efforts in accordance with international humanitarian law,

Reaffirming that Member States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law,

Emphasizing that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate further in the absence of a political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with resolution 2254 (2015), calling upon all parties to make progress in this regard and to undertake confidence-building measures, including the early release of any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children,

Expressing outrage at the insufficient implementation of its resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2268 (2016), 2332 (2016) and 2393 (2017),

Determining that the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to constitute a threat to peace and security in the region,

Underscoring that Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Council’s decisions,

“1.   Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded, in accordance with applicable international law;

“2.   Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;

“3.   Calls upon all parties to respect and fulfil their commitments to existing ceasefire agreements, including the full implementation of resolution 2268, furthermore calls upon all Member States to use their influence with the parties to ensure implementation of the cessation of hostilities, the fulfilment of existing commitments and to support efforts to create conditions for a durable and lasting ceasefire and stresses the need for relevant guarantees from those Member States;

“4.   Calls upon all relevant Member States to coordinate efforts to monitor the cessation of hostilities, building on existing arrangements;

“5.   Further demands that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties shall allow safe, unimpeded and sustained access each week for United Nations’ and their implementing partners’ humanitarian convoys, including medical and surgical supplies, to all requested areas and populations according to United Nations’ assessment of need in all parts of Syria, in particular to those 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities in acute need, including the 2.9 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged locations, subject to standard UN security assessment;

“6.   Demands moreover that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties shall allow the United Nations and its implementing partners to undertake safe, unconditional medical evacuations, based on medical need and urgency, subject to standard UN security assessment;

“7.   Reiterates its demand, reminding in particular the Syrian authorities, that all parties immediately comply with their obligations under international law, including international human rights law, as applicable, and international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians as well as to ensure the respect and protection of all medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, and to fully and immediately implement all provisions of all relevant Security Council resolutions;

“8.   Demands that all parties facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their equipment, transport and supplies, including surgical items, to all people in need, consistent with international humanitarian law and reiterates its demand that all parties demilitarize medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities and avoid establishing military positions in populated areas and desist from attacks directed against civilian objects;

“9.   Takes note with appreciation of the five requests identified by the Emergency Relief Coordinator on 11 January 2018 during his mission to Syria, and calls upon all parties to facilitate the implementation of these five requests and others to ensure principled, sustained and improved humanitarian assistance to Syria in 2018;

“10.  Calls upon all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas, including in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, and demands that all parties allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival, and enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave, and underscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquillity, localized ceasefires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria, recalling that starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited by international humanitarian law;

“11.  Calls for humanitarian mine action to be accelerated as a matter of urgency throughout Syria;

“12.  Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution, and on compliance by all relevant parties in Syria, within 15 days of adoption of this resolution and thereafter within the framework of its reporting on resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016) and 2393 (2017);

“13.  Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

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Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence.

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Authored by Tom Luongo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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Moment of Truth on Second Referendum: The Plan All Along or a Head Fake?

If we assume a third meaningful vote goes ahead next week that included the provision for a second referendum, and that it passes with a majority, the motivation for extending Article 50 would then be clear.

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Authored by Steven Guinness:


The news that Theresa May has officially requested an extension to Article 50 until the end of June has been in the making since the European Court of Justice announced in December 2018 that the UK has the right to unilaterally revoke the article at any point prior to the UK leaving the EU.

In an article published at the time, I argued that the ECJ’s decision was designed to begin the process of the government legislating for a second referendum. To quickly summarise what has happened since, in the past three months the Brexit withdrawal agreement was rejected twice by the House of Commons, Theresa May survived a series of no confidence votes, parliament stated its opposition to both a no deal scenario and holding a second referendum before supporting an extension to Article 50, and finally speaker John Bercow announced that the government would only be allowed to put the Brexit withdrawal agreement to parliament again if it contained a ‘new‘ proposition.

Regular readers will know that since last year my position on Brexit has been consistent, in that I believe a no deal exit from the EU is the most likely outcome and that a ‘People’s Vote‘ could be used to facilitate this eventuality.

One explanation for why the Prime Minister has requested only a three month extension to Article 50 is that it would avoid the UK having to take part in upcoming EU parliamentary elections. Whilst this is possible, I do not think it is the primary reason.

Last week, Independent MP Sarah Wollaston tabled an amendment that called for Article 50 to be extended and for a second referendum on Brexit to be held. The amendment was comprehensively defeated, with the majority of the opposition Labour party abstaining from the vote. Elements of the party and The People’s Vote campaign went on record as saying that the timing of the amendment was too soon, and so as a result they did not rally behind it.

As with other supposed set backs to another vote, critics rounded on the news believing that the result killed off any prospect of another referendum from materialising. As I have stressed before, this interpretation is I believe premature.

On the same day as Wollaston’s defeated amendment, parliament voted by a majority to take no deal ‘off the table‘. But this was only in relation to the exit date of March 29th. It did not account for an extension of Article 50 and with that a new exit date.

It also needs to be stressed that the motions against a no deal and a second public vote were non-binding on the government. What neither did is definitively rule out the possibilities.

A month ago I wrote how on March 23rd a ‘Put it to the people‘ march is taking place in London that will call for a referendum on the government’s Brexit withdrawal agreement. With just a couple of days to go, the line from the European Union is that a request to extended Article 50 would only be granted by its 27 member states for a specific purpose. To extend in order to just give more time for negotiations on an non-negotiable deal would not be acceptable.

Tied in with this was House of Commons speaker John Bercow’s announcement that he would dismiss a motion for a third meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement unless it was markedly different from what has already been rejected.

Asked by MP Geraint Davies if a meaningful vote would be ‘intrinsically different‘ if it included the provision for the final say going to a public vote, Bercow responded by saying that he would look at the specifics but would ultimately abide by the principle that the proposition should be ‘different‘ and ‘not the same or substantially the same‘.

In other words, Bercow has left open the possibility. It is highly unlikely that either he or the European Union would reject a proposal that would legislate for an act of ‘democracy‘.

With the last ‘People’s Vote‘ march this Saturday, it appears to now be designed to move sentiment in favour of a second referendum prior to the original exit day of March 29th. Potential evidence for this comes from EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker, who has strongly intimated that a decision on whether to grant an extension to Article 50 will not be taken until next week,which means after the referendum march. Assuming an extension is approved, the EU may then go on to state that it is a one time deal to accommodate a public vote and that it cannot be extended for a second time.

As for Theresa May’s proposal of extending Article 50 until June 30th, EU Council President Donald Tusk has said a short extension is possible but would be ‘conditional on a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons‘.

Many parliamentarians who twice rejected the withdrawal agreement have indicated that they would support it a third time round if it included the proposition for the public to have the final say. This seems to be the direction of travel and the only way in which the deal would be accepted by the speaker as a new proposition.

Of more interest to me, though, is the motivation behind an extension to Article 50 that would only last until June 30th.

It was a few of weeks prior to Donald Trump securing the U.S. presidency that I first mentioned how when the 2016 EU referendum took place, it occurred at the same time central bank chiefs were gathering in Basel for the Bank for International Settlements annual conference. This is a conference that always takes place in the latter part of June.

At the start of January I raised the suggestion that a June referendum could become a reality. My suspicion is that if a second vote goes ahead, it would take the form of a streamlined campaign, one that would offer the public the options of supporting Theresa May’s deal (assuming it still stands), remaining in the EU or leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. This would mean a second referendum taking place in around twelve weeks time.

Should this be the case, then the vote would likely coincide with the movements of the BIS once more. And if my prediction of a no deal exit from the EU is proven correct, the economic fallout from this scenario would require close coordination between central banks, given that currency and equity markets would be heavily impacted.

What Brexit and Trump’s victory showed is that in the background key globalist institutions were convening. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that moves to extend Article 50 are coinciding with the EU Council Summit on March 21st and 22nd – the same two days where a meeting in Cambridge is scheduled between the BIS, the Bank of England, Cambridge University and the University of Basel. The topic? ‘New Economics of Exchange Rate Adjustment‘. The Bank of England and the Federal Reserve also meet this week to decide on interest rates.

If we assume a third meaningful vote goes ahead next week that included the provision for a second referendum, and that it passes with a majority, the motivation for extending Article 50 would then be clear.

Something else to consider is that under this scenario, those in parliament who want to remain in the EU would have to vote in support of leaving the union just so they can secure a referendum for which they would campaign to remain in the bloc. The sense of betrayal already felt by swathes of the electorate would only be heightened if they witnessed MP’s using the deal as nothing more than an opportunity to cancel Brexit altogether.

The next round of theatrics would be over the question on the ballot paper. Recall that in previous weeks the likes of Lord Kerr (author of Article 50 and a member of the Executive Committee of the Trilateral Commission), Chuka Umunna, founder of Best for Britain Gina Miller and ex Prime Minister Tony Blair have all raised the prospect of the ballot containing three options – one of which would be for a ‘hard‘ Brexit.

The popular consensus is that another referendum would offer just two options, to either leave with the negotiated deal or remain in the EU. This would eliminate from the campaign the possibility of a no deal Brexit, something which I have reasoned is beneficial to globalists as they would use it to scapegoat the vehicles of resurgent nationalism / protectionism as being responsible for a major impending economic downturn, but also as an opportunity to further centralise power.

For this reason, I expect a no deal option would be presented to the British public. As in 2016, opinion polls all point to the electorate wanting to remain in the EU. They were wrong then and I believe would be wrong again.

A new leave or ‘hard‘ Brexit campaign would play upon the desires of many to ‘take back control‘ of the United Kingdom from the ‘elites‘ and to talk up the prospects of the country, whereas a remain campaign runs the risk of being condescending to the public by pushing the narrative that they were conned the first time round, or worse were ignorant in their societal outlook.

In the middle would sit Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. If indeed it was carried forward to a referendum, it is feasible that it would become a theatrical tug of war between hard ‘Brexiteers‘ and remainers to convert those minded to support the deal over to their side.

Growing public sentiment is that the establishment have been doing everything it can to overturn the first referendum result. Faith in politicians has never been lower than it is today. In such a febrile atmosphere, if you give voters the option of voicing their discontent through the ballot box, the chances are that they will deliver in kind.

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Trump Demands Tribute from NATO Vassals

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO are a captive audience.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Tim Kirby via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Regardless of whether one loves or hates President Trump at least we can say that his presidency has a unique flavor and is full of surprises. Bush and Obama were horribly dull by comparison. Trump as a non-politician from the world of big (real estate) business and media has a different take on many issues including NATO.

Many, especially in Russia were hoping that “The Donald’s” campaign criticism of NATO would move towards finally putting an end to this anti-Russian alliance, which, after the fall of Communism really has no purpose, as any real traditional military threats to Europe have faded into history. However, Trump as President of the United States has to engage in the “realpolitik” of 21st century America and try to survive and since Trump seems rather willing to lie to get what he wants, who can really say which promises from his campaign were a shoot and which were a work.

So as it stands now Trump’s recent decision to maintain and build US/NATO bases across the world “and make country X pay for it” could mean anything from him trying to keep his campaign promises in some sort of skewed way, to an utter abandonment of them and submission to the swamp. Perhaps it could simply be his business instincts taking over in the face of “wasteful spending”. Making allies have to pay to have US/NATO forces on their territory is a massive policy shift that one could only predict coming from the unpredictable 45th President.

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO (and other “allies”) are a captive audience, especially Germany, Japan and South Korea, which “coincidentally” are the first set of countries that will have to pay the “cost + 50%” to keep bases and US soldiers on their soil. Japan’s constitution, written primarily by American occupation forces forbids them from having a real military which is convenient for Trump’s plan. South Korea, although a very advanced and wealthy nation has no choice but to hide behind the US might because if it were to disappear overnight, then Gangnam would be filled with pictures of the Kim family within a few weeks.

In the past with regard to these three countries NATO has had to keep up the illusion of wanting to “help” them and work as “partners” for common defense as if nuclear and economic titan America needs countries like them to protect itself. Trump whether consciously or not is changing the dynamic of US/NATO occupation of these territories to be much more honest. His attitude seems to be that the US has the possibility to earn a lot of money from a worldwide mafia-style protection scam. Vassals have no choice but to pay the lord so Trump wants to drop the illusions and make the military industrial complex profitable again and God bless him for it. This level of honesty in politics is refreshing and it reflects the Orange Man’s pro-business and “America will never be a socialist country” attitude. It is blunt and ideologically consistent with his worldview.

On the other hand, one could look at this development as a possible move not to turn NATO into a profitable protection scam but as a means to covertly destroy it. Lies and illusion in politics are very important, people who believe they are free will not rebel even if they have no freedom whatsoever. If people are sure their local leaders are responsible for their nation they will blame them for its failings rather than any foreign influence that may actually be pulling the real strings.

Even if everyone in Germany, Japan and South Korea in their subconscious knows they are basically occupied by US forces it is much harder to take action, than if the “lord” directly demands yearly tribute. The fact that up to this point US maintains its bases on its own dime sure adds to the illusion of help and friendship. This illusion is strong enough for local politicians to just let the status quo slide on further and further into the future. Nothing is burning at their feet to make them act… having to pay cost + 50% could light that fire.

Forcing the locals to pay for these bases changes the dynamic in the subconscious and may force people’s brains to contemplate why after multiple-generations the former Axis nations still have to be occupied. Once occupation becomes expensive and uncomfortable, this drops the illusion of friendship and cooperation making said occupation much harder to maintain.

South Korea knows it needs the US to keep out the North but when being forced to pay for it this may push them towards developing the ability to actually defend themselves. Trump’s intellectual “honesty” in regards to NATO could very well plant the necessary intellectual seeds to not just change public opinion but make public action against US/NATO bases in foreign countries. Japan has had many protests over the years against US bases surging into the tens of thousands. This new open vassal status for the proud Japanese could be the straw to break the camel’s back.

Predicting the future is impossible. But it is clear that, changing the fundamental dynamic by which the US maintains foreign bases in a way that will make locals financially motivated to have them removed, shall significantly affect the operations of US forces outside the borders of the 50 States and make maintaining a global presence even more difficult, but perhaps this is exactly what the Orange Man wants or is just too blind to see.

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