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BOMBSHELL: “Certain parties” linked to Syrian War sabotaging gas deal with Russia – Lebanon’s FM

Russia’s relationship with Lebanon as with all members of the northern bloc of Middle East states, has been strengthened by the political crisis in Lebanon.

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Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Geral Bassil is in Moscow where he has spoken of elements within Lebanon attempting to sabotage joint initiatives and cooperative agreements with Russia.

Bassil who is a member of President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement has stated the following to Russian journalists,

“We are about to conclude the first in the history of our country agreement with Russia on shell gas exploration. And now we see an attemp to hinder this effort. Certain parties are trying to intimidate Lebanon.

We hope that Russia will continue building up its influence in the Middle East in order to form a balance of powers in the region“.

He continued, offering an obvious criticism of Saudi Arabia, although refusing to name it,

“Some countries are trying to use certain forces to remove the head of Lebanon. The same forces that unleashed the war in Syria and those who are feeding into terrorists are now trying to damage Lebanon”.

Bassil affirmed that he looks forward to expanding Lebanon’s relationship with Russia, while praising Russia’s constructive position in the region. During his official visit to Moscow, Bassil also praised Hezbollah. He said,

“Hezbollah defended Lebanon against ISIS terrorist when the government and army failed to do so”.

At face value, Bassil’s remarks are a clear criticism of Saudi Arabia for trying to meddle in Lebanon, something which among many other things, would seem to have an aim of retarding Beirut’s growing relationship with Moscow.

In reality, the remarks signify something even more important. Russia’s position as the de-facto mediator/balancer of interests in Middle Eastern disputes has been affirmed by the foreign minister of the Middle Eastern country which has historically been prone to the highest levels of instability. In reality, Bassil’s remarks, offered from a position of confident defiance, serve to illustrate that if anything, the recent political crisis in Lebanon has only strengthened Moscow’s bonds with Beirut.

This reality is a further indication of the emergence of two new blocs among Middle Eastern states which are divided between a northern bloc and a southern bloc. Bassil’s remarks further confirm that most Lebanese see themselves as part of the northern bloc.

The new Middle East: A North/South divide where Israel is losing its narrative and its old game plan

Russia’s traditional Middle Eastern allies as well as her new found partners are in this northern bloc. Syria, Iraq and certainly forces in Lebanon have always favoured close ties with Moscow. In recent years, Iran has very much joined this list. Turkey and parties in Lebanon which previously took a more agnostic or oppositional approach to Russia, also appear to be fully gravitating towards this bloc.

While the southern bloc includes the GCC states, Jordan and Israel which have tended to be US partners as well as Egypt which is developing a foreign policy involving strong links with both Moscow and Washington, the entirety of the southern bloc is also realising that good relations with Russia are unavoidable if one wants to be a stable Middle Eastern power.

The leaders in Qatar, Saudi, Kuwait and Egypt have all praised Russia for its genuinely neutral role in helping to ease tensions and engage in dialogue with all sides in the Qatar diplomatic crisis. This demonstrates a level of respect for Russia among not only traditional Middle Eastern allies but also among traditional US partners, many of whom have grown exacerbated with the zero-sum mentality of US diplomatic initiatives.

The proximity in time of the Saudi Arabian King’s first ever visit to Moscow and the phenomenon of Saudi Arabia forcing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to “resign” on Saudi state-run television is important for the following reason. It serves to demonstrate that while de-facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has certainly ratcheted up rhetoric against Russian partners like Iran and those sympathetic to Russia in Lebanon, that such a move is not mutually exclusive to also seeking the development of further, deeper and more meaningful relations with Russia and also China.

In this sense, a Lebanon in which Hariri’s Future Movement is weakened and where the prestige of parties such as the Free Patriotic Movement, Amal Movement and Hezbollah is strengthened, could actually work to the medium and long-term benefit of Russian interests in the region.

As I wrote shortly after Hariri’s infamous “resignation” speech,

“Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) sees China and Russia as crucial partners that will help realise his Vision 2030 project to diversify the Saudi economy. This means that Saudi will have to increasingly play by both Russia and China’s rules, which mean abandoning proxy imperial ambitions, abandoning military threats against nearby states and possibly move towards selling energy in the Petroyuan.

Therefore, a radically different explanation for yesterday’s events in Saudi begin to emerge. Perhaps the Hariri ‘resignation’ and the great purge are meant less to encourage Israel and provoke Iran, Syria and Hezbollah than they are events used to send subtle messages to Russia and China, possibly with communiques made behind the scenes to clarify the meaning.

Such a message is summarised as follows: Saudi has surrendered in its attempts to politically influence the Levant and will allow the chips to fall where they may. The Saudi puppet is out of Lebanon and Saudi won’t do anything meaningful to oppose Hezbollah in the post-Hariri era in Lebanon. Instead, Saudi will focus on domestic political changes to pave the way for a more ‘eastern friendly’ MBS regime in Riyadh.

Here, the implied advantage to Russia is that President Michel Aoun will be allowed to form a new government in Beirut that will be more amenable to Russian and consequently Chinese interests in the region, thus giving the eastern superpowers an unbroken chain of partners in the region stretching from Pakistan to Iran, into Iraq and Syria and finishing on the Mediterranean with Lebanon.

In return, it is implied that Russia will continue to resist any US attempts to slow down MBS’ ascent to power.

To be absolutely clear, I do not believe for a moment that this is a ‘Russian plan’. Instead, Saudi is doing something whose long term outcome is naturally in Russia’s interest and Russia, a country which does not even intervene in the affairs of its enemies, will surely not intervene in the affairs of a Saudi state which is pivoting (however awkwardly) towards Russia and her partners”.

2 radically different interpretations of Saudi’s ‘great purge’ and Lebanese PM Hariri’s ‘resignation’

In this sense, while Saudi’s relationship with Russia is largely dependant on internal Saudi matters, Saudi Arabia’s meddling in Lebanon in respect of removing Prime Minister Hariri, has already largely forced other leading parties, including that of the Lebanese President, closer to Russia.

Ultimately, the smooth consolidation of a northern bloc of Middle Eastern countries would allow Russia to have a stream of partners stretching from Pakistan in South Asia to Lebanon on the Mediterranean. This of course is happening not to the detriment, but rather, simultaneous to Russia cultivating new economic partnerships with the countries of the southern bloc.

Russia’s ability to leverage its diplomatic weight over Saudi Arabia through agreements on cutting the production of oil in order to stabilise prices, remains a key element to the Russo-Saudi relationship. If Russia were to flood the marketplace with oil, Saudi Arabia would lose its economic raison d’être. By contrast, if Russia continues to cooperate with Saudi over stabilising world oil prices, Russia will be in a position to extract concessions from Saudi Arabia that incidentally are also in the Saudi economic interest. The fact that this clear carrot and stick approach has been implement with tact and respect from Russia, has not been lost on the Saudi leadership, irrespective of their intrinsic feelings towards Russia’s partners in the northern bloc of the Middle East.

Muhammad bin Salman stands at a crossroads of his emerging leadership. He can either continue to wage war in Yemen, threaten war on Lebanon and Iran and provoke Iran’s other regional allies such as Syria and Iraq; or he can focus on his internal reforms known as Vision 2030, a highly ambitious set of plans intended to desecrate Saudi’s dependence on oil sales through the diversification Saudi’s limited economic portfolio.

Irrespective of the penultimate success of Saudi’s aggressive foreign policy or its internal reforms, the fact of the matter is that Saudi can only attempt to do one or the other. It cannot logically accomplish both at the same time.

Russia would clearly prefer Saudi to focus on Vision 2030, rather than on foreign policy aggression. This is because Russia seeks to de-escalate all major tension points in the Middle East as part of its long-term strategy for the region. Secondly, Russia stands to economically benefit from joint investment projects regarding Vision 2030, as of course would Russia’s closest partner, China.

Muhammad bin Salman’s final decision is still not entirely foreseeable, although logic would dictate an exit (however loud this exist is) from his aggressive foreign policy moves and a pivot towards domestically driven economic projects as the the only means of Saudi achieving long term success and comparative self-sufficiency through economic diversification.

Irrespective of what Muhammad bin Salman decides however, Russia’s role as an intrinsically valued partner by the countries of the northern bloc of the Middle East is no longer a theory, it is a  matter of fact. Saudi’s recent meddling in Lebanon may have well been designed to test this and like most of Saudi’s foreign meddling adventures, it  has failed. The recent events in Lebanon which Saudi has orchestrated, have only made Beirut and Moscow’s relationship stronger while failing to weaken Russia’s relationship with Riyadh.

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Russian Il-20 downed by Syrian missile. Russia blames Israel. Israel blames Syria (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The unthinkable has happened in Syria.

The world now teeters on the brink of all out war in Syria as a Russian Il-20 was downed by Syrian missile after Israeli F-16s used it as cover during attack, according to statements made by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

President Vladimir Putin, answering a reporter’s question during a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, said the downing of the Russian Il-20 plane looks like “a chain of tragic circumstances.” 

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the tripwire triggered that has the potential to tip the fragile balance in Syria towards conflict between Russia, Iran and Israel.

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The Russian military says an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its Il-20 plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said…

“Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation. We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone.”

The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said that four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean.

The Israeli warplanes approached at a low altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region.”

The statement further said that 15 Russian military service members have died as a result…

“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.”

According to reports from RT, the Russian military said that the French Navy’s frigate ‘Auvergne,’ as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area during the Israeli operation.

Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.

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

The statement gives a larger death toll than earlier reports by the Russian military, which said there were 14 crew members on board the missing Il-20. It said a search and rescue operation for the shot-down plane is underway.

A later update said debris from the downed plane was found some 27km off the Latakia coast. The search party collected some body parts, personal possessions of the crew, and fragments of the plane.

Meanwhile Israel has come out to blame the Syrian government for the downing of the military plane, according to an IDF statement.

Israel said that it “expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members” of the Russian plane. However, it stated that the government of Bashar Assad “whose military shot down the Russian plane,” is “fully responsible” for the incident.

Israel further blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained that its jets were targeting a Syrian facility “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Israel claimed that the weapons were “meant to attack Israel.”

Via RT

The IDF assumed that the Syrian anti-air batteries “fired indiscriminately” and didn’t “bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The Israelis said that when the Syrian military launched the missiles which hit the Russian plane, its own jets were already within Israeli airspace. “During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation.”

According to the Israeli military, both IDF and Russia have “a deconfliction system,” which was agreed upon by the leadership of both states, and “has proven itself many times over recent years.” The system was in use when the incident happened, the IDF stated. The IDF promised to share “all the relevant information” with Russia “to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

The military presented a four-point initial inquiry into events in Latakia. It insisted that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused the Russian jet “to be hit and downed.”

The Russian Il-20 aircraft, with 15 crew on board, went off radar during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province late Monday. Later on Tuesday the Russian Defense Ministry said that an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile.

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Trump Orders Immediate Release Of All Text Messages, Carter Page FISA Application From Russia Investigation

Trump has ordered the DOJ to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions.

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Via Zerohedge

President Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions, of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also released will be specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr.

The statement reads in full:

“At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr

***

As we reported last Monday, Trump had been expected to release the documents any time – with specific attention to the Page documents and the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship  with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months.

  • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election — a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.)
  • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page — all to take down Trump. –Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill‘s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele.

Last month Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions  “Justice” Department? A total joke!”

Trump’s threat came one day after two tweets about Ohr, noting a connection to former FBI agent Peter Strzok, as well as a text sent by Ohr after former FBI Director James Comey was fired in which Ohr says “afraid they will be exposed.”

According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign.

“Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help.”

“After two years of investigations and accusations from both sides of the aisle about what documents indicate, it is past time for documents to be declassified and let the American people decide for themselves if DoJ and FBI acted properly,” Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows told Axios earlier Sunday.

In early August, journalist Paul Sperry tweeted that Trump may use his presidential authority to declassify “20 redacted pages of a June, 2017 FISA renewal, “and possibly” 63 pages of emails and notes between “Ohr & Steele,” and FD-302 summaries of 12 interviews.”

President Trump threatened to declassify documents two weeks ago – one day after the New York Times allegedly published an anonymous Op-Ed claiming to be from a White House official claiming to be part of an unelected “resistance” cabal within the Trump administration.

“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do,” Trump tweeted earlier this month, adding: “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”

Trump’s threat comes as calls by frustrated GOP legislators to release the documents have hit a fevered pitch. Spearheading the effort are Republican Reps. Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Lee Zeldin – who have repeatedly asked Trump to declassify more of the heavily redacted FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016.

In June, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee asked President Trump to declassify key sections of Carter Page’s FISA warrant application, according to a letter obtained by Fox News.

Carter Page, the DOJ/FBI’s person of interest, weighed in on the matter in late August, tweeting: “The Corrupt DOJ, co-conspirators in the DNC and their high-priced consultants correctly believed they had American democracy and the FISA Court over a barrel in 2016.”

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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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Via Strategic Culture

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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