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In 2011 Russia was a passenger on a runaway train – in 2017 Russia is a geo-political driver

While many see Russia’s broader recovery as taking place between the year 2000 and the present day, in reality Russia’s geo-political revival began as recently as 2014.

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Originally appeared on RussiaFeed

Many contemporary writings on Russia tend to paint the years between 1991 and 2000 as uniformly bad, while painting the events which transpired between 2000 and the present day as uniformly good. I am personally the first to agree that the 1990s was a uniformly hellish time for Russia and that while the over all trajectory of the years since 2000 has been largely positive, people forget that late into the Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia was in a very different geo-political place than it is today.

2011 was a year of reckoning for the wider world, but particularly for the Middle East. It was in 2011, when the western powers unleashed a war on Libya and simultaneous proxy ‘regime change’ conflicts in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

Medvedev who has always been accused of harbouring some latent liberal tendencies, famously allowed the western bloc to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which allowed NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya while authorising NATO the powers to “protect civilians in any capacity”. At the time, alarm bells should have rung the world over and in many parts of the Russian press, they most certainly did. But under Medvedev, Russia merely abstained from voting on the resolution when the use of Russia’s veto would have not only been appropriate, but necessary in terms of offering a peaceful alternative to NATO’s disastrous war on Libya, an  innocent country that had gone out of its way to meet western demands.

Many in the west felt duped. A generation of leaders who campaigned vowing not to repeat the mistakes of the Bush-Blair war on Iraq, did the same thing to Libya only with the slightest amendments to the language used to justify their atrocity. For Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy, it was 2003 all over again and yet another prosperous Arab state was reduced to rubble as a result. Unlike Iraq, Libya shows no signs of recovery. The country with the highest living standards in the history of Africa, is now a failed state with several competing governments and many more terrorist groups running wild.

It was in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 global recession that many in Russia seemed to lose confidence in Russia’s own ability to create prosperous and economically sound conditions for its people. In an age before the unveiling of One Belt–One Road and a Chinese leadership under Hu Jintao that was markedly less assertive than today’s China under the towering figure of Xi Jinping, many in Russia felt that playing ball with the neo-liberals was the only road to salvation.

In reality, Russia’s careful management of fiscal and monetary policies led Russia to weather the storm of the global financial crisis far better than most European states. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now possible to say that the fears surrounding Russia’s ability to recover were all fatuous. In reality, the financial crash of 2007/2008 has led to the rise of multiple anti-neo-liberal parties and movements in Europe and the United States, whilst in Russia, a broadly conservative style of economic management has been roundly vindicated.

Returning to the fateful year 2011, Russia’s influence in the Middle East was space. Traditional allies were left largely to their own devices and the idea of cementing partnerships with traditional US allies in the region was unthinkable to many.

Today, the story has changed and the turning points were in the years 2014 and 2015. In 2012, Vladimir Putin once again became President and since then, Russia has not looked back to the comparatively indecisive Presidency of Medvedev whose only major accomplishment was preventing blood-shed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, early into his Presdiency. As it stands, most people have concluded that then Prime Minister Putin and his colleagues were largely responsible for the effectiveness of the security operations against the ethnic-cleansing of the Georgian regime.

In 2014, many fears among Russian politicians, notably those of Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the opposition LDPR, were vindicated when the US brought its ‘projects regime change’ to Kiev in the historic heart of Russian territory and on the doorstep of the modern Russian Federation.

Those like Zhirinovsky who warned that the US would use proxy conflicts on Russia’s borderlands to foment a larger conflict against Russia were once dismissed as mere purveyors of hyperbolic doom and gloom. Many in Russia, particularly those of the Medvedev style of politics, let alone out-and-out liberals, never thought the US would ‘actually do it’.

In 2014, when US proxies in the Ukrainian neo-Nazi right overthrow the Ukrainian government, Russia acted decisively to recognise the democratic vote among Crimeans to re-join Russia. While many in Russia believe the same settlement should have been offered to the Donbass republics, in the eyes of the wider world, there was a point of no return, nevertheless.. The US hit out at Russia directly by engineering a coup in Kiev and as a result, Russia allowed the peaceful return of part of its historic territory, rather than allow the US backed fascist regime in Kiev to wage war on Crimea.

The following year, Russia decided to heed the request of its long-time Syrian ally and conduct military operations against terrorism in Syria.

Two years later, Syria stands on the verge of total victory while its alliance with Moscow is stronger than ever. Moreover, Russia is now the de-facto problem solver for most of the Middle East. Russia has strengthened its partnership with Iran, revitalised an historic friendship with Iraq, continues to become more engaged in partnerships with Lebanon, re-booted relations with Egypt, all while establishing historically good ties to all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Russia’s rise in Eurasia, the Middle East, East Asia and South East Asia has directly parcelled the inauguration of China’s One Belt–One Road in 2013. Where in 2013, many were sceptical of how lasting and strong Russia’s post-Cold War partnership with China could be, today, Russia and China are both superpowers and form the most important bilateral partnership in the world. For most countries outside of the EU, US and scant parts of the white majority states of the former British Empire, China’s One Belt–One Road is not just a preferred economic and development model but the model. Russia of course is the largest participating member in One Belt–One Road.

Today, Russia has important partnerships with not only Turkey and Iran, two historical adversaries, but also with Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea, while retaining historically good ties with Vietnam and in many respects, also with India. Relations with Japan are also far better than at any time in late-modern history.

Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union looks to further intensify partnerships with South East Asia in a manner that is harmonious with the leg of China’s One Belt–One Road that looks to cover this economically dynamic region.

Russia has come a long way since 2011. In 2001, many Russians felt that while it was possible to restore the internal economic order, improve living standards and protect Russian citizens under attack in places like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that Russia did not have a wider role to play in the world.

Today, the opposite is happening. Russia’s dynamic, pragmatic and anti-ideological diplomatic model has put Russia into the geo-political driver’s seat in, a vehicle powered by the Chinese economy. That being said, Russia’s economy is becoming increasingly diversified and powerful while China is becoming increasingly assertive in global diplomacy.

At the same time, the US is losing many of the allies it once took for granted, at the same time that such countries pivot east. Turkey, Pakistan and Philippines are just three large countries that the US once took for granted. It is not able to do so anymore. Many other countries in the Arab world and South East Asia may soon join this list.

Political changes in Cambodia should make the US nervous about its Vietnam policy

While many continue to speculate on whether President Vladimir Putin will seek another term in office, his legacy is already solidified one way or another. His initial period in office was devoted mostly to fixing the domestic and economic problems of the Yeltsin years. During his current term, Russia has gone from a country focused on solving its own problems to a country invited by the rest of the world, to solve global crises.

Between 2012 and the present day, Putin’s current term in office, Russia has gone from a tentative re-emerging superpower to an undisputed superpower that is not only rivalling but eclipsing the United States in many areas.

In the year 2000, many people thought Russia’s best days were behind her and that all a good leader could do was control the speed and severity of the decline. Today, similar statements are being said, only in another geo-political giant of modern history. Sentiments about managed decline being more realistic than global dominance are now on the tips of tongues among the more rational observers of and in US politics.

The tables have turned radically in a very short period of time.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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