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9 things you need to know from Vladimir Putin’s end-of-year Q&A session

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President Putin has just conducted another marathon end-of-year Q and A sessions with Russian and international journalists. Putin covered a wide variety of issues on both foreign and domestic policy matters.

Here are the key points to takeaway.

1. Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)

President Putin was asked several questions about the speed and efficacy of EAEU integration. Putin responded positively saying that all member states including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus, have been working closely to modernise both physical and digital infrastructure across member states. This includes the ability to receive and track items via digital customs forms as well as joint investment projects.

Putin noted that the aggregate growth rate of the EAEU is even higher than that of the Russian Federation in isolation, which is proof positive of the fact that cooperation is mutual beneficial, while based on a model that does not threaten the sovereignty of any member state (a charge commonly levelled against the European Union).

He also responded positively to a question from a Kazakh journalist about using news media to help inform the public about the progress of the EAEU, before mentioning that far from being a reaction to EU sanctions, the EAEU was the brainchild of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev–one which predates the post-2014 sanctions from the west.

With Iran set to join the EAEU in 2018, President Putin’s positive response signifies Russia’s general optimism about the future of its role as a Eurasian leader.

Iran to join Eurasian Economic Union – diplomatic sources

2. North Korea 

President Putin stated that Russia does not accept the nuclear status of North Korea, but that one must work with a realistic attitude to de-escalate tensions in the region.

Putin also roundly condemned US provocations, questioning why this could be reasonably expected to improve the situation.

He once again referenced his analogy to Iraq and Libya, saying that when Pyongyang saw how the US destroyed two countries without the means to protect themselves, North Korea took the logical step to implement measures to do so. Putin further reminded journalists that the situation was exacerbated by the unwillingness of the US to engage in constructive talks in the past with Pyongyang which could have produced a lasting treaty for peace and de-escalation.

Putin then said that Rex Tillerson’s recent statements, indicating that Washington may be willing to discuss the matter directly with Pyongyang was a positive development, even though Washington seemed to negate Tillerson’s statement within 24 hours of him making it.

3. Syria 

Putin stated that he “had to” go to Syria in order to make his announcement regarding a partial troop withdrawal. He stated that most of the terrorist groups in Syria have been defeated and security issues involving his trip were coordinated with Russian troops in Syria in a highly professional manner.

Putin however stated that further work must still be done to destroy that which remains of the terrorist threat in Syria. He said that increasing the welfare of people is crucial to prevent terrorist in the future. Turning to the peace process, the Russian President stated,

In Syria, all the parties involved should resist the temptation to take advantage of short-term political goals.

We see that terrorists are escaping Syria to Iraq and the US doesn’t hit them because they may want to use them later against (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad… That’s very dangerous”.

Putin further stated that while working with international partners, including the Syrian government as well as Turkey and Jordan, it is important to help actual Syrian refugees return to their homes in a post-conflict environment. He further stated that children of Russian citizens brought to Iraq and Syria by terrorists, should be re-integrated into the social life of various republics and regions of the Russian Federation.

4. Ukraine/Donbass conflict 

Putin lamented the unwillingness of the Kiev regime to implement the protocols of the MINSK II accords. He further lamented that even when the Rada (parliament) in Kiev approved a special status for Donbass in-line with MINSK II, Kiev’s forces continue to act aggressively.

He then stated that because of this, it is important that the militias of Donbass are able to defend themselves. Putin also said that he remains confident that even without Russian assistance, they will be able to do so and that it was necessary for the people of Donbass to remain armed so as to avoid a “massacre” at the hands of Kiev’s troops, ultra-nationalist (neo-Nazi) volunteers and pro-Kiev mercenaries.

Turning to the power struggle in Kiev between regime leader Petro Poroshenko and former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, he called the former Georgian leader who is wanted as a criminal in his home country “pathetic”. He asked rhetorically why people from Ukraine aren’t able to produce a prospective new leader themselves?

He then talked of the united history of the Slavic people and how the medieval Rus formed their first state in Kiev. He mentioned that central regions of what is now Ukraine rejoined the Russian Empire in 1654 and that after wars with Ottoman Turkey, other areas (Novorossiya and Crimea) became incorporated into Russia. These areas along with parts of former Polish governed regions in the west were added to Soviet Ukraine in 1945. Putin then remarked that the 1954 transfer of Soviet Crimea to Soviet Ukraine was in fact illegal according to the Soviet laws of the era.

The conclusion that Putin drew was that while most Russians and Ukrainians see themselves as part of a wider fraternal nation, the future is up to people in Ukraine, in respect of how they would like to govern themselves. If they choose to remain totally separate from Russia, this is their choice and they will have to work to improve their conditions themselves if this is the final decision of Ukrainians.

5. Relations with China/One Belt–One Road 

President Putin stated that he welcomes the decisions taken by the ruling Communist Party of China in terms in further modernisation programmes and an increased emphasis on respectful cooperation with international partners via the One Belt–One Road initiative.

He further stated that Chinese model is similar in many ways to that which Russia is currently building internally and among Russia’s international partners.

Putin praised the fast growth of the Chinese economy and credited them to good decisions made by President Xi Jinping and his predecessors. He called China a “strategic partner of Russia” and said that Russia and China have $63 billion in trade turnover. Putin expressed his optimism that this figure is likely to increase in the very near future.

Putin stated that the EAEU and One Belt–One Road are compatible and that Russia seeks to participate in broader cooperation in Asia and that progress has been made in this area all the time.

He further stated,

“China is part of some major projects in the Arctic, we’ve just launched the first stage of the Yamal liquefied natural gas project – China is a major investor.

…We have another great project on high-speed transit, we support high-speed transit from China to Europe via Russia.”

Finally, Putin stated that irrespective of the restults of next year’s Presidential election in Russia,

“I have full confidence that cooperation with China is beyond any political agenda – we’ll remain strategic partners for a long period of time”.

6. 2018 Russian Presidential elections 

Vladimir Putin confirmed for the first time that he plans to run in the 2018 Russian Presidential elections (scheduled for March) as an independent candidate. He stated that he looks forward to engaging in dialogue with many political parties in the hopes of winning their endorsement.

Later he was asked a question directly by Ksenia Sobchak, a Presidential hopeful in the 2018 elections, but not a candidate who is widely regarded as serious. The main challengers to President Putin’s incumbency will be Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPSU) leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russian (LDPR) founder and leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

However, because Sobchak has attained her fame through being a so-called ‘socialite’, much attention has been on her.

President Putin however took her to task, saying,

“I said the opposition needs positive proposals – what are you offering?

…The people you mentioned (including Aleksey Navalny) are the Russian versions of Mikhail Saakashvili… Do you want Russia moving from one Maidan-style situation to another?

…Most Russians don’t want that”.

7. US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

President Putin remarked on the unfortunate results of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) but said that Russia remains committed to the principles of the treaty in line with Russia’s commitment to international protocols.

He stated that when the US puts missiles close to Russia’s borders, particularly on Russia’s European borderlands, Russia will respond by taking appropriate measures in respect of defensive military mechanisms within Russia’s borders.

8. Russiagate/Donald Trump

US based ABC news asked President Putin about the ongoing ‘Russiagate’ scandal with Donald Trump, which in reality ought to be called Israelgate due to the fact that Israeli’s Prime Minister colluded directly with Trump transition team officials, in order to try and influence the foreign policy of other nations and the UN itself. While President Putin stayed clear of this issue, he said the following:

“It’s up to the American people to assess Trump, not me. But look at the markets, they are up, indicating investors trust him. We also respect the US opposition. I don’t know if Trump still has the same desire to cooperate closely with us, but I hope we can work closely on a range of issues.”

Turning to so-called Trump collusion with Russia, Putin said,

“That’s been invented by those aiming to de-legitimize Trump. These people don’t understand they are undermining their own country, they aren’t showing respect for Americans that voted for Trump”.

Finally, turning to contacts between Russian diplomats and Americans, the Russian President stated,

“It is standard practice for diplomats to talk – what’s so strange about this? Why do you have this ‘Russia spy hysteria?”

Vladimir Putin: Russiagate “invented by those aiming to de-legitimize Trump”

9. 2018 World Cup 

Putin stated that Russia has a long history of successful experiences in hosting international sporting events. He further stated that all major public infrastructure projects related to the World Cup, including the 12 World Cup stadiums in 11 Russian cities are on schedule, except for one stadium that has a 2 month delay.

Nevertheless, Putin stated that everything will be accomplished on time.

Vladimir Putin then stated that the funding for World Cup facilities is half drawn from public funds and the other half from private investors.

Other areas covered:

–There are no plans to increase taxation.

This issue will be considered again at the end of 2018

–Russia will not ban abortions 

On this issue Putin stated,

“…in most modern countries today, it is up to the woman to make this decision.

If there was a total ban, we’d eventually have a criminal trade in this – women would go abroad, there would be illegal abortions… it does immense damage to women’s health, so we have to be careful….We are willing to support pregnant women, of course”.

–Afghanistan

Russia is willing to cooperate with international partners, including the US over security concerns in Afghanistan.

–Nuclear war 

President Putin said that he felt the US decision to drop nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945 was something he disagrees with.

–Iraqi Kurds 

Putin stated that Russia has good relations with Iraq and also good relations with Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region. He said that he expects Kurdish leaders to respect the decisions of the Iraqi government and that he does not foresee anything drastic happening from this point forward.

Now sit down (comfrotably) and watch 3 hours and 42 minutes of Vladimir Putin taking questions from Russian and international journalists

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops occupying Idlib will take control over that land, and have responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet.

Eric Zuesse

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As I recommended in a post on September 10th, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width. I had had in mind the Korean experience, but obviously Putin and Erdogan are much better-informed about the situation than I am, and they have chosen a DMZ that’s four to five times wider. In any case, the consequences of such a decision will be momentous, unless U.S. President Donald Trump is so determined for there to be World War III as to stop at nothing in order to force it to happen no matter what Russia does or doesn’t do.

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops who now are occupying Idlib province of Syria will take control over that land, and will thus have the responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet: Idlib. It contains the surviving Syrian Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters, including all of the ones throughout Syria who surrendered to the Syrian Army rather than be shot dead on the spot by Government forces.

For its part, the U.S. Government, backed by its allies and supported in this by high officials of the United Nations, had repeatedly threatened that if there occurs any chemical-weapons attack, or even any claimed chemical-weapons attack, inside Idlib, the U.S. and its allies will instantaneously blame the Syrian Government and bomb Syria, and will shoot down the planes of Syria and of Russia that oppose this bombing-campaign to conquer or ‘liberate’ Syria from its Government. The U.S. has announced its determination to protect what one high U.S. official — who is endorsing what Trump is doing there — “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” He admits it, but he wants to protect them from being bombed by Syria and by Russia.

During recent weeks, the U.S. military has increasingly said that even if the jihadists they’ve been assisting to assemble the materials for a chemical-weapons attack fail to carry it out or to stage one, any attempt by Syrian and Russian forces to destroy the jihadists (which the U.S. side calls ‘rebels’) in Idlib will be met with overwhelming U.S.-and-allied firepower. That would spark WW III, because whichever side — Russia or U.S. — loses in the Syrian battlefield will nuclear-blitz-attack the other side so as to have the lesser damage from the nuclear war and thus (in military terms) ‘win’ WW III, because the blitz-attack will destroy many of the opposite side’s retaliatory weapons. In a nuclear war, the first side to attack will have a considerable advantage — reducing the number of weapons the other side can launch.

If, on the other hand, the DMZ-plan works, then Turkey’s forces will be responsible for vetting any of Idlib’s residents who try to leave, in order to prohibit jihadists and their supporters from leaving. Once that task (filtering out the non-dangerous inhabitants and retaining in Idlib only the jihadists and their supporters) is done, the entire world might be consulted on whether to exterminate the remaining residents or to set them free to return to the countries from which they came or to other countries. Presumably, no country would want those ‘refugees’. That would answer the question.

America’s Arab allies, the oil monarchies such as the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia and the Thanis who own Qatar, and which have funded Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, would then be put on a spot, because if they say “Exterminate them!” then their clergy who have provided the moral imprimatur upon those families’ ownership of those nations, will either be in rebellion or else will themselves become overthrown either by their own followers or else by their monarch — overthrown from below or from above.

Alternatively, after Turkey’s forces in Idlib will have allowed release from Idlib of all who will be allowed out, Syria’s and Russia’s bombers will simply go in and slaughter the then-surrounded jihadists and take upon themselves the responsibility for that, regardless of what the leaders of the U.S. and its allied governments might say.

On the night of September 17th in Syria, there were missile-attacks “from the sea” against several Syrian cities; and those attacks could have come from either Israel’s or America’s ships, or from other U.S.-allied ships. Russian Television bannered, “Russian plane disappears from radars during Israeli attack on Syria’s Latakia – MoD” and reported:

A Russian military Il-20 aircraft with 14 service members on board went off the radars during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Air traffic controllers at the Khmeimim Air Base “lost contact” with the aircraft on Wednesday evening, during the attack of Israeli F-16 fighters on Latakia, said the MOD.Russian radars also registered the launch of missiles from a French frigate in the Mediterranean on the evening of September 17. …
The attack on Latakia came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of the Idlib province

If the missiles were authorized by President Trump, then WW III has already begun in its pre-nuclear stage. However, if the attacks were launched by Israel’s Netanyahu, and/or by France’s Macron, without U.S. authorization, then the U.S. President might respond to them by siding against that aggressor(s) (and also against what he used to call “Radical Islamic Terrorists”), so as to prevent a nuclear war.

Late on September 17th, Al Masdar News bannered “NATO warships move towards Syrian coast” and reported “The NATO flotilla cruising off the Syrian coast reportedly consists of a Dutch frigate, the De Ruyter, a Canadian frigate, the Ville de Quebec, and a Greek cruiser, the Elli.” Al Qaeda and ISIS have influential protectors.

Ultimately, the decision will be U.S. President Trump’s as to whether he is willing to subject the planet to WW III and to its following nuclear winter and consequent die-off of agriculture and of everyone, in order to ‘win’ a nuclear war, such as America’s aristocracy has especially championed since the year 2006. The nuclear-victory concept is called “Nuclear Primacy” — the use of nuclear weapons so as to win a nuclear war against Russia, instead of to prevent a nuclear war. That concept’s predecessor, the “Mutually Assured Destruction” or “M.A.D.” meta-strategy, predominated even in the U.S. until 2006. Trump will have to decide whether the purpose of America’s nuclear-weapons stockpiles is to prevent WW III, or is to win WW III.

In Russia, the purpose has always been to have nuclear weapons in order to prevent WW III. But America’s President will be the person who will make the ultimate decision on this. And Idlib might be the spark. Netanyahu or Macron might be wanting to drag the U.S. into war even against Russia, but the final decision will be Trump’s.

The ultimate question is: How far will the U.S. go in order to continue the U.S. dollar as being the overwhelmingly dominant global currency?

—————

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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Russian MoD: Il-20 downed by Syrian missile after attacking Israel’s F-16s used it as cover

Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces.

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Russia has stated that it “reserves right to response” after claiming that Israel’s actions led to downing of Il-20 by Syrian S-200 missiles.

The Russian military accused their Israeli counterparts for causing the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrian air defense forces, which were responding to an Israeli air raid on Latakia.

Via RT


The Russian military say the Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events, which led to the shooting down of a Russian Il-20 plane by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

On Monday evening four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean, a statement by the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday. The Israeli warplanes came at a small altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region”, it said.

The military said the French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area of the Israeli operation.

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” the statement said.

The Russian ministry stressed that the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, which didn’t stop them from “the provocation”. Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,” the statement said.

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