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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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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

RT

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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