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Here’s what to expect from today’s Putin-Erdogan meeting

The summit will probably lead to an intensification of relations but no realignment or breakthrough.

Alexander Mercouris

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Russia today for a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, which will be Erdogan’s first meeting with a foreign leader following the recent coup attempt. Significantly, as if to lend more symbolic weight to the meeting, it will take place in St. Petersburg – Russia’s former capital and Putin’s home city.

Erdogan’s visit is understandably enough causing growing concern in the West as talk intensifies of a possible Turkish realignment with Russia and the Eurasian Powers at the expense of Turkey’s traditional links to the West.  In advance of the meeting Turkish diplomats in Western capitals have been working overtime to calm nerves.  As I have said previously an outright secession by Turkey from NATO is not on the cards and Turkish diplomats will be assuring Western governments of this and of Turkey’s continued loyalty to the US and to NATO.

However that does not mean that the Russian – Turkish rapprochement is of no significance though only time will tell how deep it will be or how far it will go.  Erdogan is however known to be furious that no Western leader has visited Turkey since the coup attempt to show support, and he has made it completely obvious through his ministers and officials and through the Turkish media that he suspects that the US had a hand in the coup attempt.

It is almost certainly not a coincidence that directly on the eve of Erdogan’s visit to Russia pictures surfaced in the Greek media supposedly showing the US ambassador to Turkey amicably meeting with a Turkish military officer identified as Colonel Ali Yazici, one of the alleged coup plotters, at a cafe the day before the coup. 

At this point it is essential to say that the significance of these pictures as evidence of a US hand in the coup is open to doubt.  Firstly it is not absolutely certain that the Turkish military officer is indeed Colonel Ali Yazici.  Also we do not know what the two men in the pictures were saying to each other.  We cannot even be absolutely sure when the pictures were taken.  The very fact that the two men are shown meeting in a public place, making it possible for pictures of them to be taken together, argues against this being a meeting to plot a coup. 

What we can however say with certainty is that whoever is behind the leak of these pictures is clearly someone who on the eve of Erdogan’s visit to Russia wants to draw attention to the US’s links with the coup plotters in a way that can only strengthen suspicions in Turkey that the US was behind the coup.  That points either to the Russians or conceivably to Erdogan’s intelligence services being behind the leak.

Putting the question of these pictures to one side, just as Erdogan has made his suspicions of a US role in the coup only too obvious, so he and his officials have gone out of their way to make their gratitude to Putin and to Russia for their support during the coup completely clear.  Of course if it was a Russian tip-off that caused the coup’s failure – as is almost certainly the case – then Erdogan and his government have a particular reason to be grateful to the Russians for the very fact of their survival.

What however can be expected to come out of the visit? 

The Russians have said that there will be no formal agreements.  However Erdogan and Putin will work to re-establish their personal relationship with each other, which became badly frayed last year following the SU24 shoot-down.  Erdogan and Putin will surely also work together towards each other on the three critical issues of mutual interest that most affect their two countries’ relations with each other.  These are (1) the gas pipeline project known as Turk Stream; (2) Turkey’s steps towards integrating with the Eurasian institutions; and (3) the Syrian war.   What progress can we expect in respect of each?

(1) Turk Stream

Whilst many technical problems still dog this project, whose importance to the Russians has diminished following the agreement with Germany to build North Stream II, this is the least problematic issue between the two countries.  It is a virtual certainty this project will be revived and taken forward.  It is quite possible that the meeting in St. Petersburg will result in a formal announcement of the fact.

(2) Eurasian Integration

The leading advocates of Turkey’s integration in Eurasia have historically not been Putin and Russia but Kazakhstan and its President Nursultan Nazarbayev.  Since the failure of the coup Nazarbayev has redoubled his efforts in this direction.

As I have discussed previously, there is a limit to how far Turkey will choose to integrate with the Eurasian institutions.  Having said that, Erdogan has now made it clear that he intends to restore the death penalty in Turkey.  This is a step which is plainly intended to signal that the anyway deadlocked project of Turkey’s accession to the EU is being abandoned at least for the time being.  That leaves Turkey more free to explore options with the Eurasian institutions.

It is possible we will see at the summit the first steps taken towards conclusion of a free trade area agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (“EEU”) and Turkey.  With the EEU in the process of negotiating a free trade area with Iran and Azerbaijan that would bring the whole of Central Asia bar Afghanistan into a free trade area with Belarus and Russia.

It would also mean something else, which so far as I know has not been mentioned in any media commentary.  Since Armenia is a member of the EEU a free trade area involving the EEU, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey would mean the end the economic blockade Azerbaijan and Turkey have imposed on Armenia because of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.  Iranian President Rouhani’s recent statement of support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity (ie. for Nagorno Karabakh’s reintegration into Azerbaijan) was clearly intended to make this fact more palatable to people in Azerbaijan.

Though there is likely to be discussion in St. Petersburg between Putin and Erdogan of a free trade agreement between Turkey and the EEU, the negotiations to achieve this will be protracted and far from simple.  Any discussion of this issue in St. Petersburg will only be the start of a very long process.

As I have said previously, Turkey is not for the moment prepared to burn its bridges with NATO aby seeking full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, as opposed to the observer status it has now.  Turkey’s membership of the other Eurasian security alliance, the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which unlike the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is an actual military alliance, is for the moment out of the question.

(3) Syria

This is far the most contentious issue between the two countries, with each country too deeply committed to supporting opposite sides in the Syrian war to make an outright policy reversal possible. 

In the case of the Russians that option can be completely ruled out.  In the case of Erdogan and the Turks, whilst there are signs of growing unease and unhappiness with the policy, with some Turkish officials hinting that they want a change of course, the political cost involved in simply abandoning the Syrian rebels would almost certainly be too high to make it politically acceptable. 

Erdogan would also have to consider the possible reaction of the large numbers of Jihadi fighters in Turkey to such a reversal.  With the security situation in Turkey already fraught, he will surely be concerned about taking any sudden move that might make them enemies.

The Russians are however certain to press Erdogan on this issue.  One particular point of concern will almost certainly be the joint rebel command headquarters which is coordinating the current rebel offensive against Aleppo.  The Iranian Fars news agency, in what is surely another leak intentionally timed to coincide with Erdogan’s visit to Russia, has revealed that this headquarters is located in the Turkish city of Antikiya (ancient Antioch).  Given that this headquarters is led by Jabhat Al-Nusra – recognised by the United Nations as a terrorist organisation – the Russians will almost certainly demand its closure. 

The Russians will also be looking to Erdogan for steps to reduce the flow of Jihadi militants into Syria, and there may be secret agreements for exchanges of intelligence information about their movements, which would make it easier for the Russians to target these militants more effectively. 

Ultimately however the Russians are almost certainly simply too realistic to expect Erdogan to repudiate the militants completely or to close the border entirely, which the Turkish military in its present disorganised post-coup state might anyway be unable to do.

Some rumours have also recently been floated of a joint Russian – Turkish diplomatic initiative to end the Syrian war.  The basis for doing this is not clear given the wide gap on the conflict between the two sides, and the completely different positions each has taken on the question of the future of President Assad.  Having said this the Russians might actually prefer to work on this issue with the Turks rather than with the US, with whom substantive agreement has proved impossible.

The relationship between Russia and Turkey is a complicated one and as I have said previously it is important not to pitch expectations too high.  The issues between the two countries are simply too numerous and too intractable to be simply wished away.  It is unlikely that the summit in St. Petersburg will lead to any dramatic breakthroughs. 

The key point however is that a Russian – Turkish rapprochement is underway and that there is at least for the moment genuine goodwill and a political will on the part of both sides to take their relations to a new level.  How far that will go will depend on many factors, not least the consistency of Turkish policy and the stability of President Erdogan’s government.

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Major Syrian Army Assault On Southeast Idlib As Sochi Deal Unravels

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months. 

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Via Zerohedge


The Syrian Army unleashed a major assault across the southeastern part of Idlib province on Saturday, a military source told Middle East news site Al-Masdar in a breaking report. According to the source, government forces pounded jihadist defenses across the southeast Idlib axis with a plethora of artillery shells and surface-to-surface missiles.

This latest exchange between the Syrian military and jihadist rebels comes as the Sochi Agreement falls apart in northwestern Syria, and in response to a Friday attack by jihadists which killed 22 Syrian soldiers near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major anti-Assad and al-Qaeda held region. The jihadist strikes resulted in the highest number of casualties for the army since the Sochi Agreement was established on September 17th.

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months.

The Al-Masdar source said the primary targets for the Syrian Army were the trenches and military posts for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the towns of Al-Taman’ah, Khuwayn, Babulin, Haish, Jarjanaz, Um Jalal, and Mashirfah Shmaliyah. In retaliation for the Syrian Army assault, the jihadist rebels began shelling the government towns of Ma’an, Um Hariteen, and ‘Atshan.

Damascus has been critical of the Sochi deal from the start as it’s criticized Turkey’s role in the Russian-brokered ceasefire plan, especially as a proposed ‘de-militarized’ zone has failed due to jihadist insurgents still holding around 70% of the planned buffer area which they were supposed to withdraw from by mid-October. Sporadic clashes have rocked the “buffer zone” since.

Russia itself recently acknowledged the on the ground failure of the Sochi agreement even as parties officially cling to it. During a Thursday press briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova admitted the following:

We have to state that the real disengagement in Idlib has not been achieved despite Turkey’s continuing efforts to live up to its commitments under the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17.

This followed Russia also recently condemning  “sporadic clashes” and “provocations” by the jihadist group HTS (the main al-Qaeda presence) in Idlib.

Likely due to Moscow seeing the writing on the wall that all-out fighting and a full assault by government forces on Idlib will soon resume, Russian naval forces continued a show of force in the Mediterranean this week.

Russian military and naval officials announced Friday that its warships held extensive anti-submarine warfare drills in the Mediterranean. Specifically the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen conducted the exercise in tandem with deck-based helicopters near Syrian coastal waters.

Notably, according to TASS, the warships central to the drill are “armed with eight launchers of Kalibr-NK cruise missiles that are capable of striking surface, coastal and underwater targets at a distance of up to 2,600 km.”

Since September when what was gearing up to be a major Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib was called off through the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement, possibly in avoidance of the stated threat that American forces would intervene in defense of the al-Qaeda insurgent held province (also claiming to have intelligence of an impending government “chemical attack”), the war has largely taken a back-burner in the media and public consciousness.

But as sporadic fighting between jihadists and Syrian government forces is reignited and fast turning into major offensive operations by government forces, the war could once again be thrust back into the media spotlight as ground zero for a great power confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

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Trump Quietly Orders Elimination of Assange

The destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government.

Eric Zuesse

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On June 28th, the Washington Examiner headlined “Pence pressed Ecuadorian president on country’s protection of Julian Assange” and reported that “Vice President Mike Pence discussed the asylum status of Julian Assange during a meeting with Ecuador’s leader on Thursday, following pressure from Senate Democrats who have voiced concerns over the country’s protection of the WikiLeaks founder.” Pence had been given this assignment by U.S. President Donald Trump. The following day, the Examiner bannered “Mike Pence raises Julian Assange case with Ecuadorean president, White House confirms” and reported that the White House had told the newspaper, “They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

On August 24th, a court-filing by Kellen S. Dwyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia, stated: “Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure [than sealing the case, hiding it from the public] is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged. … This motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” That filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. On November 15th, he posted an excerpt of it on Twitter, just hours after the Wall Street Journal had reported on the same day that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange. However, now that we know “the fact that Assange has been charged” and that the U.S. Government is simply waiting “until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter,” it is clear and public that the arrangements which were secretly made between Trump’s agent Pence and the current President of Ecuador are expected to deliver Assange into U.S. custody for criminal prosecution, if Assange doesn’t die at the Ecuadorean Embassy first.

On November 3rd (which, of course, preceded the disclosures on November 15th), Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, described in detail what has happened to her son since the time of Pence’s meeting with Ecuador’s President. She said:

He is, right now, alone, sick, in pain, silenced in solitary confinement, cut off from all contact, and being tortured in the heart of London. … He has been detained nearly eight years, without trial, without charge. For the past six years, the UK Government has refused his requests to exit for basic health needs, … [even for] vitamin D. … As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. … A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes. … They will stop at nothing. … When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently visited Ecuador, a deal was done to hand Julian over to the U.S. He said that because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high, the plan was to break him down mentally…   to such a point that he will break and be forced to leave. … The extradition warrant is held in secret, four prosecutors but no defense, and no judge, … without a prima-facie case. [Under the U.S. system, the result nonetheless can be] indefinite detention without trial. Julian could be held in Guantanamo Bay and tortured, sentenced to 45 years in a maximum security prison, or face the death penalty,” for “espionage,” in such secret proceedings.

Her phrase, “because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high” refers to the worry that this new President of Ecuador has, of his cooperating with the U.S. regime’s demands and thereby basically ceding sovereignty to those foreigners (the rulers of the U.S.), regarding the Ecuadorian citizen, Assange.

This conservative new President of Ecuador, who has replaced the progressive President who had granted Assange protection, is obviously doing all that he can to comply with U.S. President Trump and the U.S. Congress’s demand for Assange either to die soon inside the Embassy or else be transferred to the U.S. and basically just disappear, at Guantanamo or elsewhere. Ecuador’s President wants to do this in such a way that Ecuador’s voters won’t blame him for it, and that he’ll thus be able to be re-elected. This is the type of deal he apparently has reached with Trump’s agent, Pence. It’s all secret, but the evidence on this much of what was secretly agreed-to seems clear. There are likely other details of the agreement that cannot, as yet, be conclusively inferred from the subsequent events, but this much can.

Basically, Trump has arranged for Assange to be eliminated either by illness that’s imposed by his Ecuadorean agent, or else by Assange’s own suicide resulting from that “torture,” or else by America’s own criminal-justice system. If this elimination happens inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, then that would be optimal for America’s President and Congress; but, if it instead happens on U.S. soil, then that would be optimal for Ecuador’s President. Apparently, America’s President thinks that his subjects, the American people, will become sufficiently hostile toward Assange so that even if Assange disappears or is executed inside the United States, this President will be able to retain his supporters. Trump, of course, needs his supporters, but this is a gamble that he has now clearly taken. This much is clear, even though the rest of the secret agreement that was reached between Pence and Ecuador’s President is not.

Scooter Libby, who had arranged for the smearing of Valerie Plame who had tried to prevent the illegal and deceit-based 2003 invasion of Iraq, was sentenced to 30 months but never spent even a day in prison, and U.S. President Trump finally went so far as to grant him a complete pardon, on 13 April 2018. (The carefully researched docudrama “Fair Game” covered well the Plame-incident.) Libby had overseen the career-destruction of a courageous CIA agent, Plame, who had done the right thing and gotten fired for it; and Trump pardoned Libby, thus retroactively endorsing the lie-based invasion of Iraq in 2003. By contrast, Trump is determined to get Julian Assange killed or otherwise eliminated, and even Democrats in Congress are pushing for him to get that done. The new President of Ecuador is doing their bidding. Without pressure from the U.S. Government, Assange would already be a free man. Thus, either Assange will die (be murdered) soon inside the Embassy, or else he will disappear and be smeared in the press under U.S. control. And, of course, this is being done in such a way that no one will be prosecuted for the murder or false-imprisonment. Trump had promised to “clean the swamp,” but as soon as he was elected, he abandoned that pretense; and, as President, he has been bipartisan on that matter, to hide the crimes of the bipartisan U.S. Government, and he is remarkably similar in policy to his immediate predecessors, whom he had severely criticized while he was running for the Presidency.

In any event, the destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government; and, just like in Khashoggi’s case, the nation’s ruler controls the prosecutors and can therefore do whatever he chooses to do that the rest of the nation’s aristocracy consider to be acceptable.

The assault against truth isn’t only against Assange, but it is instead also closing down many of the best, most courageous, independent news sites, such as washingtonsblog. However, in Assange’s case, the penalty for having a firm commitment to truth has been especially excruciating and will almost certainly end in his premature death. This is simply the reality. Because of the system under which we live, a 100% commitment to truth is now a clear pathway to oblivion. Assange is experiencing this reality to the fullest. That’s what’s happening here.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Libya’s Peace Process Dies in Palermo

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet to sort out their differences.

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Authored by Richard Galustian for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:


“Resounding flop” was the verdict of Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi on this week’s Libya peace conference held in Palermo. He’s not wrong. The conference hosted by Italy’s new government achieved the remarkable feat of making Libya’s tensions worse, not better. Acrimony broke out between the parties, and Turkey’s delegation walked out, its vice president Fuat Oktay accusing unnamed States of trying to “hijack the process.”

Some sources in Palermo suggested, yet to be verified, that the US thought the Conference was not too bad: a joke if true.

Moreover the mystery we might ask is what “process” is there to hijack? Because the truth is, the peace plan the conference was supporting is already dead.

That plan was the brainchild of the United Nations, launched more than a year ago with the aim of ending Libya’s split between warring Eastern and Western governments with elections in December.

Even before the first delegates set foot in the pleasant Sicilian city of Palermo this week, the UN admitted the election date of December 10 they had decided to scrap.

The eastern government, led by the parliament in Tobruk, had made moves in the summer to organize a referendum on a new constitution which would govern the elections. But no referendum was held, and most Libyans agree it would be pointless because Tripoli, home to a third of the country’s population, is under the iron grip of multiple warring militias who have the firepower to defy any new elected government. Hours after the delegates left Palermo, those militias began a new bout of fighting in the Tripoli suburbs.

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end of the talks was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet in a grand conference to sort out their differences – and this after four years of civil war. To say that chances of this are slim is an understatement.

Dominating the Palermo talks, and indeed Libya’s political landscape, was and is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, the country’s most powerful formation. In four years, the LNA has secured Libya’s key oil fields and Benghazi, its second city, ridding most of the east Libya of Islamist militias.

Haftar met reluctantly negotiators in Palermo, but insisted he was not part of the talks process. The Italian government press office said Haftar was not having dinner with the other participants nor joining them for talks. Haftar specifically opposed the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood champion, Qatar, at the event along with Turkey.

Haftar clearly only attended because he had a few days before visiting Moscow – which sent to Sicily Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and because also of Egyptian President Sisi’s presence along with his allies.

Possibly Haftar was simply fed up. Twice in the past two years he has attended previous peace talks, hosted each time in Paris, giving the nod to declarations that Libya’s militias would dissolve. Yet the militias remain as strong as ever in Tripoli.

Haftar is detested by the militias and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but supported by a large segment of the population – 68 percent, according to an opinion poll by America’s USAID. His popularity is based on a single policy – his demand that security be in the hands of regular police and military, not the militias.

Not everyone is happy, certainly not Turkey, which is backing Islamist, MB and Misratan forces in western Libya who detest Haftar. Yet Turkey’s greatest statesman, the great Kamal Ataturk, was a champion of secularism: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War One Turkey faced the prospect of utter disintegration, and it was Attaturk who rose to the challenge, defending the country’s borders, while ordering that the mullahs, while responsible for spiritual welfare, have no political power.

Political Islam is not popular in Libya either. Libya is a Muslim country, its people know their faith, and most want government to be decided through the ballot box.

The problem for Libya is what happens next with the peace process broken. Haftar has in the past threatened to move on Tripoli and rid the militias by force if they refuse to dissolve, and it may come to that – a fierce escalation of the civil war.

The second possibility is that Libya will split. The east is, thanks to the LNA, militarily secure. It also controls two thirds of the country’s oil and operates as a separate entity, down to it banknotes, which are printed in Russia while the Tripoli government’s are printed in Britain. A formal split would be an economic boon for the lightly populated east, but a disaster for Tripolitania, its population losing most of the oil, its only source of export income.

Yet with the failure of peace talks, and no sign of Tripoli militias dissolving, military escalation or breakup seem more likely than ever.

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