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Game of thrones, the battle for South Stream. Ukraine to be rendered irrelevant? Bulgaria and Serbia to be targeted?

The battle for control of the energy market in Europe is well underway. In what is becoming a very dynamic and fluid situation, the South Stream pipeline project, connecting Russia to Europe and bypassing Ukraine altogether, looks to be a major area of contention between EU member nations, Russia and the U.S.

Alex Christoforou

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At this point it is fair to say that much of the Ukraine crisis is rooted in oil and gas distribution. More specifically, controlling the European gas market and its transit routes.

Aside from the benefits of having NATO positioned right under Russia’s southwest borders, Ukraine was and remains a big geo-political win for Washington in terms of energy control. Having ownership of Ukraine’s transit gas pipelines means controlling and restricting Russian gas flow to west Europe.  This has the potential of opening the European market to more U.S. ‘friendly’ suppliers and solutions. For Europe, having a stake in Ukraine means lessening the energy power levers that Russia now exerts on its western partners as well as appeasing Washington’s geo-political global agenda.

The one fly in the ointment of this high stakes game of energy control, has and remains the South Stream pipeline. Last week Austria and Russia sealed a deal that makes South Stream a reality. Austria (an EU ‘insider’ nation), in defiance of Washington and Brussels will fully commit to building out its end of the pipeline that will then send gas to the greater European continent. The cooperation is a slap in the face for Washington and Brussels, and goes against their current efforts to shelve the South Stream project and keep the focus on Ukraine transit routes, which the west has invested heavily on through internal destabilisation and IMF economic loan packages.

South Stream and Ukraine

The map below explains how South Stream can and will render the entire Ukraine power grab (in terms of energy) null and void. With South Stream, Ukraine is effectively bypassed as a west Europe gas transit conduit, greatly diminishing the country’s geo-political value.

i2890c46e006a0865b663c2914fa60c2a_south_stream

The South Stream pipeline is an alternative pathway for Russian gas, bypassing Ukraine entirely as it crosses the Black Sea and enters Bulgaria before passing Serbia and Hungary on the way to its hub located in Baumgarten, Austria. As Itar-Tass reports, citing Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller,

“Russia’s gas giant Gazprom does not rule out gas transit via Ukraine may be stopped completely. What happened once is a tendency, nothing happens incidentally. In 2009, gas supplies were stopped completely — so, we know precedents.”

Miller noted that Gazprom is not interested in participation in Ukraine’s gas transportation system (GTS). The Gazprom CEO said, “The train has already departed. It seems it departed yesterday. It belongs to no one. The GTS has no owner. The GTS of Ukraine does not belong to Naftogaz but to the Ukrainian government. Before discussing things with someone regarding modernization and cooperation, it should appear on the balance sheet of this or that economic entity.”

“Property and legal issues should be resolved first,” Miller said.

‘The train has departed’…this is not encouraging news for Ukraine’s fragile economic and geo political future.

Zerohedge explains…

In fact, the civil war torn country may soon lose all leverage it had with both Europe and Russia as a transit hub for natural gas, which also means that it is quite likely that Ukraine is about to be abandoned by its western allies who will no longer have any practical use for it.

The Gazprom CEO confirmed what little leverage Ukraine had with Moscow is now effectively zero…

“As for the continuation of negotiations with Ukraine, today there is no subject for talks. First, they must repay their debts. The gas price for Ukraine is fair – this price is fixed in the contract.”

“A dozen Ukrainian laws need to be changed to be able to do something with the GTS.”

And just like that Putin has altered the game. By cutting off Russian energy transit through Ukraine’s pipelines, the country will lose all strategic importance to Russia and eventually Europe, which will have to then focus its attention towards South Stream and its transit route.

Bulgaria, Serbia and South Stream

This brings us to Bulgaria and Serbia. One is an EU member nation (but not in the monetary union), and the latter is mulling over joining the EU. Recent banking and economic difficulties in both Eastern European countries cannot be simple coincidence, as Brussels mounts an aggressive campaign to stop the South Stream pipeline from being built in these countries.

Last week Bulgaria suddenly suffered a bank meltdown, while Serbia’s new Prime Minister warned his country could go bankrupt within a year and end up “in the position of Greece” unless he passes a deeply unpopular package of fiscal consolidation and economic reforms in the next few months. Not passing such economic measures would effectively dash Serbia’s hopes of entering the EU. When Serbia eventually calls for monetary assistance from the EU and IMF, we are sure Serbia’s close relations with Russia and the South Stream project will come up.

For his part Russian Ambassador in Belgrade, Alexander Chepurin told the Itar-Tass news agency that…

“Now Belgrade is holding talks and hopes to join the EU in 2020, Simultaneously, Belgrade stresses its willingness to preserve and develop good relations with its historical friend – the brotherly country of Russia.”

“Today the message ‘never against Russia’ is very popular among the Serbian public. Unlike its neighbors, Serbia said it would not impose any sanctions against Russia. Serbian President Tomislav Nicolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic confirmed it. Serbia demonstrates itself as Russia’s real friend. And it refuses to come against its economic interests.”

Zerohedge also echoes the belief that Bulgaria and Serbia will undergo an economic punishment of sorts, in order to halt their South Stream ambitions:

…the main reason why none other than the poorest EU member country, Bulgaria, just suffered its worst bank run in 17 years, and one which has paved the way to early elections, is precisely that: to provide Europe with a government which will be more focused on Brussels’ interests, instead of the current socialist regime, whose allegiance to the Kremlin is said to take precedence.

After all, now that Ukraine is yesterday’s news, pay close attention to how Europe treats all the South Stream countries, starting with Bulgaria, and going through Serbia, Hungary and of course, Austria.

Austria and South Stream

Austria has clearly opted to side with Russia, putting its own national self interest and economic prosperity ahead of Brussels and Washington. Closer cooperation with Gazporm and Austria is also in the cards, with a good chance that the already prosperous Austria, will soon become a major energy hub in the center of Europe.

Finally, and perhaps most notably, is last week’s announcement by Gazprom CEO Miller that Gazprom has good chance, and is interested in discussing buying a stake in the [Austrian] Baumgarten gas hub.

In other words, as Europe and the US remains still focused on Ukraine, the one place which now matters most for Europe’s energy future is Austria: a country where Gazprom, and Putin of course, are quietly sowing the seeds of Russia’s energy dominance tomorrow. As for the feeder countries, especially Bulgaria, pay close attention as the US “foreign service” does all it can to destabilize the local government and financial system as a last ditch attempt to wrest Russia’s trump card out of its hand. Something tells us Putin will hardly let it go easily.

Italy, the EU Presidency and South Stream

With Italy set to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, the fissures in European-Russian relations and energy policy are starting to really show.

Itar-Tass reports that Italy’s state secretary for European affairs, Sandro Gozi said…

Italy has always regarded the South Stream project plans to pipe Russian gas across the floor of the Black Sea to Bulgaria and then ashore for onward transit to Greece, Italy and Austria as a strategic project for Europe and will facilitate its implementation during its presidency of the European Union.

“The South Stream project has always been and remains most important for Italy, and we have a strong interest in implementing it, first of all, as it is one of those projects aimed to diversify transit routes. We assume that in order to strengthen a single European energy market, it is absolutely necessary to diversify infrastructure connecting it with various suppliers…and we believe that the same approach should be applied to everyone.”

And with regard to Ukraine, Russia, and the growing threat of sanctions being pushed by Brussels and Washington…

Italy supports further expansion of the European Union and consolidation of Europe, but it considers it possible only while developing partnership between Russia and the EU, said Gozi.

“As Italy takes over the European Union presidency, we give absolute priority to establishing political and economic integration with Kiev while resuming strategic partnership between the EU and Russia. Relations with Moscow can be neither broken off nor suspended. On the contrary, we are convinced of the need to strengthen them further.”

So much for isolating Russia. It comes as no surprise that Ukraine has decided to end the cease-fire and resume attacks in East Ukraine.  It is becoming clear that one of the last cards left to play before the complete Ukraine adventure becomes a waste of time, energy, and money is to bait Russia into a military quagmire, which could then halt South Stream construction and destabilise Russia’s efforts and standing with its European energy partners.

References:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/10933132/Serbia-could-go-bankrupt-says-PM.html

http://www.euractiv.com/sections/elections/bulgarian-bank-run-paves-way-early-election-303148

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-06-30/russia-reveals-plan-b-gazprom-says-gas-transit-ukraine-may-be-stopped-completely

http://en.itar-tass.com/economy/738370

http://en.itar-tass.com/economy/738060

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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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