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In essence, Greeece has submitted the same proposal that Greeks voted against last Sunday

Athens has submitted a loan proposal that looks like the Juncker proposal the Greek people rejected a last Sunday.

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on Zerohedge.

“We got a mandate to bring a better deal than the ultimatum that the Eurogroup gave us, but certainly not given a mandate to take Greece out of the eurozone,” Greek PM Alexis Tsipras reportedly told Syriza lawmakers on Friday, underscoring the fact that his government’s mandate is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to achieve.

As detailed Thursday evening, the proposal (or, the “thorough piece of text” as Jeroen Dijsselbloem called it) submitted by Tsipras looks quite a bit like the proposal the Greek people rejected at Tsipras’ urging last Sunday. Here are the basics:

The broad strokes: a 3 year, €53.5 billion bailout program, including €35 billion of growth measures, lasting through June 30, 2018 requesting funds from the ESM, seeking to finally put the IMF off to the side. The program is heavy on revenue promises and lite on actual spending cuts. Greece hopes to achieve a 1% primary budget surplus in 2015, rising to 2%, 3%, and 3.5% by 2018, all of which are now impossible due to the total collapse of the economy in the past week. Among the tax reform will be a modest increase in corporate tax from 26% to 28%. The changes to the VAT system are as noted previously, keeping the VAT on hotels at 13% but raising it to 23% for restaurants; Greece also promises to eliminate discounts on islands, starting with the islands with higher incomes and which are the most popular tourist destinations. Create strong disincentives to early retirement, incur penalties for early withdrawals, make all supplementary pension funds financed by own contributions; and so on. Greece will seek to “gradually phase out the solidarity grant (EKAS) for all pensioners by end-December 2019” – who will be impacted and when: “the top 20% of beneficiaries in March 2016.” In other words another 9 months of non real action. Greece will also “freeze monthly guaranteed contributory pension limits in nominal terms until 2021.”

Reactions from Europe and from Syriza itself have been largely predictable. As mentioned above, Dijsselbloem is lukewarm, French President Francois Hollande called the proposal “serious and credible”, Italian PM Matteo Renzi is “more optimistic than [he] was in the past,” while Germany is, to use Bloomberg’s words “reserving judgement.”

On person who is not “reserving judgement” however is Greek Energy Minister and far-left leader Panagiotis Lafazanis. “The proposals are not compatible with the Syriza programme,” he told Reuters on Friday. On Thursday, in the course of detailing Greece’s €2 billion energy partnership with Russia, Lafazanis said the referendum “no vote “must not become a humiliating ‘yes’.” 

While the Eurogroup will convene on Saturday to consider whether to go ahead with the deal, the first hurdle is the Greek parliament where Tsipras is set to use what Deutsche Bank calls an “unusual political move” to give the proposal a better chance of passing next week. Here’s Deutsche Bank with more:

In the meantime, the Greek PM has initiated the domestic approval process as well. In an unusual political move, he has submitted a one-page legislative proposal requesting emergency parliamentary authorization to negotiate the final terms of the agreement. He has published the government’s proposal at the same time, but is not calling for parliament to vote upon the actual measures. In principle such authority is not required. In practice, the strategy aims at consolidating the SYRIZA party’s parliamentary base ahead of a likely vote to approve the measures next week. On the positive side, pre-emptive parliamentary support will make it more difficult for SYRIZA MPs to reject an agreement after it comes to parliament. On the negative side, the PM will also have an authority to reject an agreement if he so decides.

The opposition’s stance to this strategy remains to be seen, but it will be the support of the government’s parliamentary majority that will be the most important today. The PM will meet with SYRIZA parliamentarians at 6am London time. A full parliamentary vote will take place later in the evening. Approval will provide negotiating space to the PM, increasing credibility with the Europeans and the odds of passage in a subsequent parliamentary vote next week.

In other words, it appears as though Tsipras is looking to back the Syriza hardliners into a corner. The argument appears to go something like this: voting on the actual proposals would be largely pointless as Europe hasn’t approved them, so let’s vote on whether I have the authority to negotiate the measures, but if you say “yes” to that, and I agree to a deal this weekend, then I can then come back to you and say “well, you gave me the authority to negotiate and I decided to accept so now you pretty much have to approve this.” This strategy has the added benefit of allowing Tsipras to tell Europe that the Greek parliament voted “yes” even though in reality they did not vote on the actual deal. You have to love politics.

As for “debt sustainability” (i.e. that small issue which the IMF brought up three days before the referendum and effectively won the vote for Tsipras and the “no” crowd), that will be considered later apparently. From Bloomberg:

Debt sustainability is a central part of discussions in the Euro Working Group and the Eurogroup of euro-area finance ministers, EU official says.

Assessment of Greece’s financing requirements will also form part of analysis, official tells reporters in Brussels.

First, prior actions will be discussed, then financing, then debt sustainability — but they are all linked, official says.

They may be “all linked” but Germany still isn’t biting — or at least not on the idea of a “classic haircut.” Here’s the Irish Times:

The Greek government received a boost on Thursday, after European Council President Donald Tusk said that a “realistic proposal from Athens” should be matched by “realistic proposal from creditors on debt sustainability”.
His unexpected comments – the first from a senior EU figure – followed a phone conversation with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Senior officials representing the 19 euro zone member states will consider Greece’s new reform plan on Friday, ahead of a scheduled eurogroup meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Saturday.

Mr Tusk’s intervention follows renewed calls from IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on Wednesday that Greece’s debt burden should be addressed.

US treasury secretary Jack Lew also intervened to call for debt relief for Greece.

In a sign that Berlin could be open to the idea of debt relief, German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said the issue could be discussed over the coming days, though he hinted that the impact of any measures would be minimal. “The room for manoeuvre through debt reprofiling or restructuring is very small,” he said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also explicitly ruled out a debt writedown for Greece. “I have said that a classic haircut is out of the question for me and that hasn’t changed between today and yesterday,” she said, echoing comments she made on Tuesday in Brussels.

Speaking within hours of Mr Tusk’s comments, she said that Greece’s debt sustainability had already been addressed under previous bailouts.

So, just as we said: Germany and the US are now at odds over a Greek debt writedown.

Ultimately, Tspiras has submitted the same proposal that Greeks, at his behest, voted against last weekend. The PM will use a shrewd political maneuver to secure parliamentary support and new FinMin Euclid Tsakalotos will attempt to close the deal on Saturday. And although that would mean selling Greek “no” voters down the river, it’s once again a nearly impossible choice because as Bloomberg reports, citing Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad, the ECB “will terminate emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) to Greece as of 6am on Monday morning if Greek reform proposals are deemed too light and if Greece is unwilling to cooperate with withdrawal from the euro zone.”

Here’s Commerzbank’s Markus Koch summing things up: “The ‘No’ in the referendum appears to be turning into a ‘Yes’ from Tsipras.”

Sorry Panagiotis Lafazanis. Maybe there’s a cabinet position open in Moscow.

So much for “hope”…

Hope

References:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-07-10/tsipras-sells-out-referendum-no-vote-ahead-weekend-deadline

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US Blunders Have Made Russia The Global Trade Pivot

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead

The Duran

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Authored by Mathew Maavak via ActivistPost.com:


The year 2019 had barely begun before news emerged that six Russian sailors were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Benin. It was perhaps a foretaste of risks to come. As nations reel from deteriorating economic conditions, instances of piracy and other forms of supply chain disruptions are bound to increase.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 107 cases of piracy were noted during the first half of 2018 vis-à-vis 87 throughout 2017.  The 2018 tally included 32 cases in Southeast Asian waters and 48 along African shores – representing 75% of the total. To put this figure into perspective, Asian behemoths India and China – despite their vast shorelines – recorded only 2 cases of piracy each during the study period. Russia had none. In terms of hostages taken, the IMB tally read 102 in H1 2018 vs 63 in H1 2017.

Piracy adds to shipping and retail costs worldwide as security, insurance and salaries are hiked to match associated risks in maritime transport. Merchant vessels will also take longer and costlier routes to avoid piracy hotspots.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report in 2016 sums up the perils ahead:

As over 90% of global trade is carried out by sea, the economic effects of maritime crime can be crippling. Maritime crime includes not only criminal activity directed at vessels or maritime structures, but also the use of the high seas to perpetrate transnational organized crimes such as smuggling of persons or illicit substances.  These forms of maritime crime can have devastating human consequences.

Indeed, cases of human trafficking, organ harvesting, and the smuggling of illicit substances and counterfeit goods are proliferating worldwide in tandem with rising systemic debt and suspect international agendas.

Australia offers a case in point. While it fantasizes over a Quad of allies in the Indo-Pacific – to “save Asians from China” – criminal elements from Hong Kong, Malaysia to squeaky-clean Singapore have been routinely trafficking drugs, tobacco and people right into Sydney harbour for years,  swelling the local organised crime economy to as much as $47.4 billion (Australian dollars presumably) between 2016 and 2017.

With criminal elements expected to thrive during a severe recession, they will likely enjoy a degree of prosecutorial shielding from state actors and local politicians. But this is not a Southeast Asian problem alone; any superpower wishing to disrupt Asia-Europe trade arteries – the main engine of global growth – will have targets of opportunity across oceans and lands.  The US-led war against Syria had not only cratered one potential trans-Eurasia energy and trade node, it served as a boon for child traffickingorgan harvesting and slavery as well. Yet, it is President Bashar al-Assad who is repeatedly labelled a “butcher” by the Anglo-American media.

Ultimately, industries in Asia and Europe will seek safer transit routes for their products. The inference here is inevitable: the greatest logistical undertaking in history – China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – will be highly dependent on Russian security umbrella, particularly in Central Asia. Russia also offers an alternative transit option via the Northern Sea Route, thereby avoiding any potential pan-Turkic ructions in Central Asia in the future.

Russo- and Sinophobia explained?

In retrospect, Washington’s reckless policies post-Sept 11 2001 seem aimed at disrupting growing synergies between Asia and Europe. This hypothesis helps explain the relentless US-led agitprops against Russia, China and Iran.

When the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests rocked France weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before some pundits blamed it on Russia. US President Donald J. Trump cheered on; just as “billionaire activist” George Soros celebrated the refugee invasion of Europe and the Arab Spring earlier.  If the yellow vest contagion spreads to the Western half of Europe, its economies will flounder. Cui bono? A Russia that can reap benefits from the two-way BRI or Arctic trade routes or a moribund United States that can no longer rule roost in an increasingly multipolar world?

Trump’s diplomatic downgrade of the European Union and his opposition to the Nord Stream 2gas pipeline matches this trade-disruption hypothesis, as do pressures applied on India and China to drop energy and trade ties with Iran.  Washington’s trade war with Beijing and recent charges against Huawei – arguably Asia’s most valuable company – seem to fit this grand strategy.

If China concedes to importing more US products, Europe will bear the consequences. Asians love European products ranging from German cars to Italian shoes and Europe remains the favourite vacation destination for its growing middle class. Eastern European products and institutions are also beginning to gain traction in Asia. However, these emerging economies will suffer if their leaders cave in to Washington’s bogeyman fetish.

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough – at least theoretically – to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead.

In the meantime, as the US-led world crumbles, it looks like Russia is patiently biding its time to become the security guarantor and kingmaker of Asia-Europe trade.  A possible state of affairs wrought more by American inanity rather than Russian ingenuity…

Dr Mathew Maavak is a regular commentator on risk-related geostrategic issues.

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Historic Eastern Christianity: An Uncertain Future

The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Elias Samo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The survival of historic Eastern Christianity has never been as urgent as it is today. Christianity saw its beginning in Greater Syria which was subdivided by France and Britain after WWI into modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestian/Israel and Jordan. The land that housed, nurtured and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ for over two millenniums, now threatens children of that faith. The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons:

  1. Greater Syria is the homeland of Jesus and Christianity. Abraham was from modern day Iraq, Moses from Egypt, and Muhammad from Mecca; Jesus was from Syria.
  1. Paul converted to Christianity and saw the light while walking through ‘The Street Called Straight’ in Damascus.
  1. Jesus’ followers were called Christians for the first time in Antioch, formerly part of Syria.
  1. One of the earliest churches, perhaps the earliest, is in Syria.

The potential demise of historic Eastern Christianity is reflected in the key question Christians ask: should we stay or emigrate? The urgent question – in the face of the ongoing regional turmoil – precipitated with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and escalated since the Arab uprisings in 2011. Historic Eastern Christians’ fears were further magnified when Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, both of metropolitan Aleppo, were kidnapped on April, 22, 2013; with no traces of their whereabouts, dead or alive, since. For many years, I was deputy, friend, and advisor to the Archbishop Ibrahim, which provided me an opportunity to meet many Christians. I have, over time, noticed the change in their sentiment, with more considering emigration after the uprising and the kidnapping of the two Archbishops. Historic Eastern Christians survived the Ottoman Genocide in 1915 and thereafter; they multiplied and thrived in the Fertile Crescent despite some atrocities until the start of the misnamed “Arab Spring” in early 2011. Prior to the “Arab Spring”, historic Eastern Christians were victims of violence on several occasions. In the mid-1930s, the historic Assyrian community in Iraq suffered violent onslaughts and were driven to Syria. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War, Christians were victims of sectarian violence. During the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians were victims of widespread sectarian violence which led to mass migration. The “Arab Spring” began with great hope for the right of the people to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. However, it was swiftly hijacked by Islamists and Salafists and turned into an “Islamic Spring, an Arab Fall and a Christian Winter”; bringing along with it a new massacre of Christians. Presently, Eastern Christianity is at the mercy of clear and identifiable domestic, regional, and international, historic and contemporary conflicts in the Fertile Crescent, namely:

  1. Jihad vs. Ijtihad: A long standing conflict amongst Muslims between the sword vs. the pen.
  2. Sunni vs. Shiite: A conflict which began following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
  3. Arabism vs. Islamism: The former has territorial limitations, the later has no territorial limitations.
  4. Syria vs. Israel: It is an essential component of the Palestinian problem, not the presumed Arab- Israeli conflict.
  5. West vs. East: A throwback to the Cold War, or its revival.
  6. Historic Persian, Ottoman and Arab Empires animosities: Each seeking regional hegemony.

One is reminded of the proverbial saying, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Certainly, Eastern Christianity is suffering and threatened with extinction.

Syria was a model of religious tolerance, common living and peaceful interaction amongst its religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic components. Seven years of turmoil, in which various international and regional powers manipulated segments of Syrian society by supplying them with an abundance of weapons, money and sectarian ideologies, has heightened Eastern Christians’ fears. During the seven-year turmoil in Syria, the entire society has suffered; Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others. Christians, being a weak and peaceful component of the society, have suffered immensely. Ma’aloula; a religious treasure for Christians globally, and the only city in the world where Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ – is spoken, was attacked and besieged by ISIS. Numerous historic Churches were damaged, and many destroyed. Christians in Raqqa were forced by ISIS into one of three options: 1. Pay a penalty in pure gold – known as a ‘Jizya’ to keep their life and practice their faith – albeit in secret only; 2. Convert into Islam; or 3. Face immediate death. To top their pain, the kidnap of the two prominent Archbishops meant no Eastern Christian believer was safe.

Amidst all the doom and gloom, however, there remains hope. The survival of Christianity depends on the actions and reactions of three parties:

Eastern Christians: During the last hundred years, 1915-2015, since the Ottoman Genocide, Eastern Christians have been victims of a history of massacres, which meant that every Eastern Christian was a martyr, a potential martyr or a witness of martyrdom; if you fool me once, shame on you, if you fool me twice, shame on me. The ongoing regional turmoil has heightened their sense of insecurity. The answer to an age-old question Eastern Christians had on their mind: To flee Westwards or remain in their land, in the face of death, is increasingly becoming the former.

Eastern Muslims: There is a difference in perceptions between Eastern Christians and mainstream Muslims regarding the massacres committed against Christians. When certain violent groups or individuals kill Christians, while shouting a traditional Islamic profession: “No God but one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger”, it is reasonable for Christians to assume the killers are Muslims. However, for mainstream Muslims, the killers do not represent Islam; they are extremists, violating basic Islamic norms such as Muhammad’s sayings, “Whoever hurts a Thummy – Christian or Jew – has hurt me”, “no compulsion in religion” and other Islamic norms regarding just treatment of people of the Book; Christians and Jews. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Muslim elites to impress upon their fellow Muslims that:

a. The three monotheistic religions believe in one God and all ‘faithfuls’ are equal in citizenship, rights and duties.

b. Christians participated in the rise of Arab Islamic civilization. They were pioneers in the modern Arab renaissance and they joined their Muslim brethren in resisting the Crusades, the Ottomans and Western colonialism.

c. Christians are natives of the land and they provide cultural, religious, educational, and economic, diversity.

d. Christians are a positive link between the Muslims and the Christian West, particularly in view of the rise of Islamophobia. Massacres of Christians and their migration provide a pretext for the further precipitation of Islamophobia.

e. Civilization is measured by the way it treats its minorities.

The Christian West: The Crusades, Western colonialism, creation and continued support of Israel, support of authoritarian Arab political systems, military interventions, regime change, and the destabilization of Arab states made Muslims view Eastern Christians ‘guilty by association’. The Christian West helped Jews come to Palestine to establish Israel. Shouldn’t the same Christian West also help Eastern Christians remain in their homeland, rather than facilitate their emigration? Western Christians, particularly Christian Zionists, believe that the existence of Israel is necessary for the return of Jesus to his homeland. However, it would be a great disappointment for Jesus to return to his homeland, Syria and not find any of his followers.

Prior to 2011, Eastern Christian religious leaders were encouraging Syrian Christians in the diaspora to return to Syria, their homeland, where life was safe and secure with great potential. Now, the same leaders are desperately trying to slow down Christian emigration. Eastern Christians’ loud cries for help to remain are blowing in the wind.

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Protests erupt in Athens, as ‘North Macedonia’ vote fast approaches (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 62.

Alex Christoforou

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NATO and the EU are full of joy with the Prespes agreement, which is sure to pass the Greek Parliament and fast rack the newly minted Republic of North Macedonia into NATO and the EU.

Meanwhile in Athens and Skopje, anger is reaching dangerous levels, as each side debates the pros and cons of the deal inked by Tsipras and Zaev.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at yesterday’s protests in Athens, Greece, where things got very ugly as radical left Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras used tear gas and a heavy police hand to put down protests, that reached upwards of 60,000 people in the Syntagma downtown square.

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Via Ekathimerini

As Greece gets ready for a political showdown this week over the Prespes agreement, we are witnessing a relentless, often cynical, maneuvering between parties, their leaders and even individual deputies.

What is at stake is not only the ratification of the deal between Athens and Skopje, but also the potential redrawing of the domestic political map.

Greek society and the country’s political world are deeply divided. The public is clearly against the deal, with up to 70% opposed to it.

The tens of thousands that demonstrated in Sunday’s rally in Athens, showed once more that sentiments run high.

The violence, which the Prime Minister blamed on extremists, while the opposition leader criticized the extended use of tear gas and called for an investigation to find out who was responsible, is indicative of the slippery slope the country is facing in the months leading to the national elections.

Despite the voices of reason calling for a minimum of cooperation and looking for common ground, Alexis Tsipras and Kyriakos Mitsotakis are in an all out war.

The leftist Prime Minister is attempting to use the Prespes agreement to create a broad “progressive” coalition that extends well beyond SYRIZA, while the conservative opposition leader, who is leading in the polls, is trying to keep his party united (on the name issue there are differing approaches) and win the next elections with an absolute majority.

With respect to the Prespes deal itself, the rare confluence of shrewd political considerations with deeply held feelings about one’s history, makes for an explosive mix and ensures a heated debate in parliament.

As for the raw numbers, despite the public opposition, the passage of the Prespes agreement in the 300 member Greek Parliament should be considered a done deal. In the most plausible senario 153 deputies will support the deal in the vote expected later in the week.

The governing SYRIZA has 145 deputies, and one should add to those the positive votes of Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, centrist To Potami deputies Stavros Theodorakis, Spyros Lykoudis and Giorgos Mavrotas, former To Potami MP Spiros Danellis, and ANEL MP Thanasis Papachristopoulos.

This leads to a majority of 151. Last night one more positive vote was announced, that of Thanasis Theocharopoulos, leader of Democratic Left which untill now was part of the Movement for Change coalition, from which he was ejected as a result of his decision to support the deal.

Finally, Citizens Security Deputy Minister Katerina Papacosta, a former member of New Democracy, is expected to also vote for the agreement, but has not officially said so. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Prespes agreement is expected to pass, with 152 or 153 votes.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who is not a member of parliament and who has worked tiressly on the issue, both as foreign minister and PM, has gone public in support of the deal.

Despite the discomfort this move created in the leadership of the Movement for Change, doing otherwise would have made him look inconsistent. As he is not voting, the damage is seen as limited, although the symbolism does not help the Movement for Change approach.

To the extent that Greece’s transatlantic partners and allies want to see the agreement implemented, they should feel relief. Of course, nothing is done until the “fat lady sings”, but one can clearly hear her whispering the notes in the corridors of the Greek Parliament.

Still, for the astute observer of Greek politics and the foreign officials and analysts who value the crucial role of Greece as an anchor of stability in the Balkans – being by far the strongest country in this region, both militarily and economically, despite the crisis of the last eight years – the deep divisions the issue has created in the society and the political world, are a cause for concern and could spell trouble in the future.

Dealing with such a volatile landscape calls for delicate moves by all.

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