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Russia outsmarts Nikki Haley in UN Security Council debate

Majority of UN Security Council members fail to vote against Russian draft Resolution severely criticising conduct of OPCW-UN-JIM

Alexander Mercouris

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The events at the United Nations Security Council surrounding the joint OPCW-UN-JIM investigation  report (“the report”) into the alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapon attack are not being widely reported.

This is unfortunate because they show that international opinion is swinging heavily against the report, which has lost credibility.

Here an account of what happened on the two most recent occasions when the UN Security Council discussed this issue is necessary.

On 24th October 2017 the Russians vetoed at the UN Security Council a resolution to extend the OPCW’s mandate in Syria.  They complained that the resolution presented to the UN Security Council to extend the OPCW’s mandate had been brought forward in haste before its report had been provided to the UN Security Council.   They pointed out that this was obviously inappropriate and appeared intended to led authority to the report before it was published. They said that there was actually no need to bring forward a resolution to extend the OPCW’s mandate in that way, and that the more correct time to bring such a resolution forward was after the report had been submitted to the UN Security Council for its consideration.

The Russians during the 24th October 2017 UN Security Council session also severely criticised the methodology used to prepare the report by the OPCW-UN-JIM team, pointing out that it was being prepared without inspections of the two sites in Syria relevant to an understanding of the incident: Khan Sheikhoun itself, where the attack allegedly took place, and Al-Sharyat air base, from where the attack was allegedly launched.

At this point it is necessary to say that the current structure of the UN Security Council means that the US can normally rely on a built-in majority in any vote in the UN Security Council.  In the overwhelming of cases where resolutions are presented to the UN Security Council the US can rely on the well-nigh automatic support of 9 to 10 of its members, which is enough to pass a resolution where there is no veto.

Though this proved to be the case with the resolution presented to the UN Security Council on 24th October 2017, the account of the discussion around the resolution provided by the United Nations press centre shows that the Russian concerns – both about the seeming haste in bringing the resolution forward, and concerning the flawed methodology being used to prepare the OPCW-UN-JIM report – were widely shared even by some states which voted for the US backed resolution.

The two strongest statements expressing such doubts were made by the ambassadors of Ethiopia and Egypt, both of who are normally reliable US allies.

Here is how the UN press centre reports the comments of the Ethiopian ambassador

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed regret that the Council had not been able to adopt the draft resolution since the Mechanism had been created on the basis of consensus.  Ethiopia had voted in favour of the text because there remained credible allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, he said, adding that renewing the mandate should ensure continuity of the Mechanism’s work.  Despite today’s outcome, Ethiopia was hopeful that the Council’ unity would be restored and compromise found, because failure to renew the mandate would be send the wrong message to the perpetrators.  However, today’s outcome should not be interpreted as an a priori endorsement of the Mechanism’s report, he cautioned, emphasizing that its final version was expected to establish clear responsibility for the two incidents mentioned.  Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons should be punished on the basis of robust and conclusive evidence, he said, underlining, however, that it was impossible to overlook the concerns of the Russian Federation and Bolivia, which was the reason why politicization must be avoided.

(bold italics added)

And here is how the UN press centre reports the comments of the Egyptian ambassador

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said he had voted in favour of the draft because of his country’s interest in ensuring that those involved in using chemical weapons in Syria were identified.  The use and growing proliferation of chemical weapons in that country posed a threat to security in the region and around the world, he said, noting the non-existence of an international system to deter non-State groups from acquiring such weapons.  The Mechanism’s methodologies must be improved and sites in Syria visited, he said, adding that conducting such visits and collecting available evidence in a timely manner would help in creating a strong foundation for any findings to be issued.  The Council could still renew the Mechanism’s mandate and improve its methodology, he said, emphasizing that its work must be carried out in an impartial and independent manner, and must not be politicized.

(bold italics added)

In the voting over the resolution two states voted against it – Russia and Bolivia – and two abstained – China and Kazakhstan.

It is however clear from their comments (see above) that if they had felt wholly free to vote as they wished, Ethiopia and Egypt would either have voted against it or would have abstained.

That would have brought the majority in support of the US backed resolution down to just nine, which is the bare majority needed to pass a resolution in the absence of a veto.

Ethiopia and Egypt were not prepared to go so far.  The US is known to take careful note of how states vote in the UN Security Council.  With Ethiopia and Egypt both heavily dependent on the US for aid, they were not prepared to risk their relationship with the US by openly defying it on an issue of such importance.  However, as their comments show, their ambassadors nonetheless made their true feelings clear.

In the weeks that followed the OPCW-UN-JIM report was duly submitted to the UN Security Council.  I do not propose to discuss this report in any detail because its flaws have already been thoroughly discussed and analysed by Rick Sterling.

My own quick observations about the OPCW-UN-JIM report are

(1) no attempt was made to inspect the site of the alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun;

(2) no inference was drawn from the supposed security concerns which allegedly prevented such an inspection of the alleged site of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun from taking place;

(3) no inference was drawn from the apparent tampering of the site after the alleged attack (eg. by the concreting over of the bomb crater alleged to have been caused by the alleged attack); and

(4) no attempt was made to inspect Al-Sharyat air base – the site from which the alleged chemical weapons attack was allegedly launched – despite the fact that the security concerns which supposedly prevented an inspection of the Khan Sheikhoun site did not apply there.

Instead, in the absence of such inspections of the two sites relevant to an understanding of the supposed incident, the report relied wholly

(5) on eye-witness evidence, though this has been repeatedly shown to be unreliable;

(6) on video evidence, which is also generally acknowledged to be unreliable;

(In both cases there are or should be particular concerns about the use of this sort of evidence in this case given that it was provided in both cases by individuals operating in an Al-Qaeda controlled area)

and

(7) on sampling obtained through a chain of custody which is widely acknowledged to be insecure, and which also originated and was collected without proper or independent supervision in an Al-Qaeda controlled area.

The video evidence as it turns out is inconclusive (it does not show the attack) and the eye-witness evidence – obtained from witnesses in an Al-Qaeda controlled area – suffers from time discrepancies that the report is unable to resolve.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, there is even some reason to think that some of the individuals who were supposedly victims of the alleged attack were admitted to hospital before the earliest time that the attack could have taken place.

Such a report has inevitably come in for a great deal of criticism from the Russians, who have rejected it, and have called it unprofessional.

The key point about UN Security Council session on 16th November 2017 (yesterday) is that it shows the extent to which these criticisms are gaining traction.

Two draft resolutions were presented to the UN Security Council on 16th November 2017, one by the US and one by Russia.

With its built-in majority the US was initially successful in preventing the Russian drafted resolution from being put to the vote.  It being obvious that the UN Security Council would not vote for the Russian drafted resolution the Russians withdrew it.

However, stung by criticism of the methodology used to prepare the OPCW-UN-JIM report, the US does appear to have conceded some cosmetic changes to the text of its resolution.  However these proved unacceptable to the Russians.

The Russians accordingly vetoed the resolution, voting against it together with Bolivia, with China and on this occasion Egypt abstaining.

Up to this point events had followed what has become the established pattern of debates within the UN Security Council.

The US – relying on its built-on majority – proposes a resolution on Syria or Ukraine or some other issue, which it knows Russian cannot accept and will vote against.  That gives the US and other Western ambassadors an opportunity to grandstand at Russian expense.  The ambassadors of the non-aligned states look on with ill-concealed disapproval, making clear in coded language their unhappiness that the UN Security Council is being used in this way.  However they then vote for the US proposed resolution through gritted teeth, ensuring that their concerns go unreported in the Western media. The Chinese ambassador makes clear his support for Russia but when the final vote comes usually abstains.  The Russians give as good as they get, and veto the resolution as the US always expected.  The Western media then writes up the story of how Russia was “isolated” in the UN Security Council, and round on Russia for being obstructive.  Occasionally there is even a portentous article saying Russia should be stripped of its veto.

That was not what happened yesterday, and it was what happened after the Russians vetoed the US backed resolution which led to events no longer following the usual pre-arranged script.

Though the Russians had previously withdrawn their resolution in the knowledge that the UN Security Council would never vote for it, it was re-presented – undoubtedly by prearrangement with the Chinese and the the Russians – to the UN Security Council by the Bolivian ambassador once voting on the US draft resolution was out of the way.

On this occasion the three Eurasian states – Russia, China and Kazakhstan – all voted for the Russian drafted resolution along with Bolivia.

However only six or possibly seven states backed the US by voting against it – the US, Britain, France, Ukraine, Italy and Sweden, and possibly Uruguay.

Significantly it seems that all four of what are sometimes called the non-aligned states – Ethiopia, Egypt, Senegal and Uruguay – abstained, along with Japan – a US ally, which also abstained – even though all of these countries are in reality allies of the US.

(NB: there is an error in the UN press centre’s summary of the vote on the Russian backed resolution.  It says that Japan both voted against and abstained in the vote on the resolution, which is of course impossible.  In fact it seems clear that Japan abstained, an event so surprising that it knocked the UN press centre’s note takers off-balance, causing them to report Japan’s vote wrongly in one place in their summary as a vote against.  The UN press centre’s summary also fails to report Uruguay’s vote, though it is likely that it too abstained).

The summary of the debate provided by the United Nations press centre vividly captures the quality of the whole debate

The United States draft on extending the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism was rejected due to the negative vote of a permanent member following a vote of 11 in favour to 2 against (Bolivia, Russian Federation), with 2 abstaining (China, Egypt).  Had it been adopted, it would have extended the Mechanism’s mandate — established by resolution 2235 (2015) and set to expire tomorrow, 17 November — for a further one year.

The Bolivian draft on extending the Mechanism, also for one year, was rejected after first being tabled by the Russian Federation and withdrawn.  The text was rejected by a vote of 4 in favour (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation) to 7 against (France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States) with 4 abstaining (Egypt, Ethiopia, Japan, Ukraine).  It would have welcomed what it called the “full and profound cooperation” extended by the Syrian Government to the Mechanism and the other group investigating chemical attacks, the fact‑finding mission.

Regretting the lack of visits to the sites of chemical incidents, and lack of full chain of custody of evidence and other methodological factors that might cast doubt on the Mechanism’s conclusions, the Russian draft tabled by Bolivia would have requested that investigative teams be dispatched to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat airbase, subjects of the most recent report of the Mechanism.  It would have requested the Mechanism to collect and analyse information on use by non‑State actors of chemical weapons, and to submit to the Council analytical reports every three months.  It would have also called for greater focus on the use of non‑State weapons by non‑State actors.

In addition to the provisions contained in the draft that failed on 24 October (see Press Release SC/13040), the United States draft would have underscored the ongoing importance of the Mechanism conducting its investigations according to high methodological standards and basing its findings on the evidentiary levels outlined in its first report.  It would have encouraged the Mechanism to consult United Nations bodies on counter‑terrorism and non‑proliferation to exchange information on attacks by non‑State actors.  It also would have encouraged the Mechanism to inform the Council of any inability to gain access to sites relevant to investigations.

The Russian draft was withdrawn before either text was voted on, after a Russian Federation proposal that its draft be voted on after the United States draft was rejected in a procedural vote.  It was tabled by Bolivia after the rejection of the United States draft and statements after that vote.  Before and after the voting, all Council members condemned the use of chemical weapons and called for accountability for perpetrators through professional, impartial investigation.

In multiple statements, the supporters of the draft, however, said that today’s procedure pushed that goal back by not guaranteeing the continuity of the Mechanism.  The representative of the United States said that the Russian Federation had struck a deep blow to the effort, killing the Mechanism and eliminating its ability to identify attackers and deter future attacks.  She accused the Russian delegation of playing games with its procedural moves and not consulting with other delegations to come up with a compromise.  The representative of the United Kingdom stated that the goal of the Russian Federation was to scuttle the Mechanism because it simply could not accept any investigation that attributed guilt to its Syrian ally.

Italy’s representative, voting for the United States draft and against the Russian and Bolivian text, recounted the extensive negotiations that had gone into the United States draft to ensure that all concerns were addressed.  He said that the outcome weakened the security architecture and was difficult to merely accept.  He pledged continued work to ensure the investigations continued, however.

Japan’s representative, having voted for the United States draft and abstaining from voting on the Russian text, stressed that despite the procedures, the Council was still responsible to act to prevent further use of chemical weapons and to provide accountability for attacks in Syria.  He urged Council members to work to find consensus on renewing the Mechanism.

The representative of the Russian Federation, in multiple statements, said that the flaws in the operations of the Mechanism were not concretely addressed in the United States draft, but were addressed in his text.  He expressed disappointment that the initiative for extending and qualitatively improving the Mechanism had failed to secure the requisite support.  Calling the way the votes had occurred an effort to disparage his country, he said various tricks would now be used to pin the cessation of the Mechanism’s activity on his country.  Noting that his delegation had been accused of not taking part in consultations, he said that they had met three times with the United States colleagues.

Similarly, the representatives of China and Bolivia expressed their strong desire for the continuance of the Mechanism, but an equally strong wish that concerns over methodology be addressed.  Both therefore voted for the Russian text, with Bolivia voting against the other draft and China abstaining.

Speaking before the first vote were Bolivia, Russian Federation and the United States.  Speaking after that vote were the United States, France, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Senegal, China, Japan, Egypt, Russian Federation, Italy and Syria.

Speaking before the vote on the second draft were Bolivia, Russian Federation and the United States.  Speaking after that vote were Egypt, Ukraine, Japan, China, Russian Federation and Bolivia.  The Russian Federation spoke a final time after those speakers.

The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and closed at 5:49 p.m.  During that period the meeting was suspended for 15 minutes after the first vote and the comments following it.

Note that nine members of the UN Security Council (or eight if Uruguay voted with the US) – in other words a majority – either voted for or declined to vote against a Russian drafted resolution which

…..[welcomed] ……the “full and profound cooperation” extended by the Syrian Government to the Mechanism……[regretted] the lack of visits to the sites of chemical incidents, and lack of full chain of custody of evidence and other methodological factors that might cast doubt on the Mechanism’s conclusions….requested that investigative teams be dispatched to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat airbase….[and] requested the Mechanism to collect and analyse information on use by non‑State actors of chemical weapons, and to submit to the Council analytical reports every three months…..[and] called for greater focus on the use of non‑State weapons by non‑State actors.

Following this vote it is impossible to say that there is a majority supporting the OPCW-UN-JIM report in the UN Security Council or that Russia is in a minority in criticising it.  Not surprisingly, after this debacle yesterday’s debate in the UN Security Council has gone almost entirely unreported in the Western media.

Not surprisingly US ambassador Nikki Haley was furious, as her outraged comments show

Ms. HALEY (United States) said that Bolivia had tried to pull one over on the Council by calling for the vote in the way it had.  She added that flaws were only found in the Mechanism when evidence pointed to Syria.  No flaws were found when evidence pointed to ISIL/Da’esh.  Neither the Russian Federation nor Bolivia consulted with others on their procedures; they were playing games.  She regretted that the whole procedure was embarrassing for the Council.  The Russian Federation wanted a Mechanism that they could micromanage.  Today’s developments had proven that the Russian Federation could not be trusted as a broker in Syria.  The rejected resolution had all the changes that had been requested and the United States and all other members had been disrespected.  The next chemical attack would be on the head of the Russian Federation.

There are two important facts to take away from this affair.

Firstly, despite some heroic attempts to argue otherwise, the methodology of the OPCW-UN-JIM report is quite simply too obviously flawed for it to gain widespread international acceptance.

In reality – as I have said previously – a truly impartial investigation to find out what actually happened in Khan Sheikhoun in April this year became impossible the moment President Trump launched his missiles against Al-Sharyat air base a few days after the supposed attack took place.

From that point the whole international prestige of the United States and of its NATO allies who had supported the US attack became bound up with a finding that the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

Any other finding would have been politically impossible and acceptable, and given the hold the US and NATO powers have over the international bodies charged with carrying out international investigations (whose budgets they largely fund) it is completely unsurprising that the OPCW-UN-JIM investigation was structured to ensure that only the “correct” finding was made.

What happened in this case was that the flaws built into the investigation in order to ensure that it would come up with the “correct” finding were in the end simply too glaring, and could not be ignored even by countries which are normally supportive of the US.

Secondly, there were some concerns in Russia a few months ago when the country’s brilliant ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin died unexpectedly that he would prove to be irreplaceable.

The skill with which Vasily Nebenzia, Russia’s new ambassador to the UN, outwitted Nikki Haley yesterday, and the forceful way in which he made Russia’s case both during yesterday’s debate and during the previous debate on 24th October 2017, shows that these fears are groundless.

Nebenzia is clearly a fully worthy successor to Churkin, even if he perhaps lacks something of Churkin’s urbanity and charm.  The other ambassadors will have taken note of the fact.

As to what actually took place in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, I doubt that we will ever know the full truth.

I continue to think that the most plausible scenario is the one proposed by Seymour Hersh on the basis of what he says he was told by a senior US intelligence official: that a Syrian bombing raid targeting some Al-Qaeda commanders inadvertently released a toxic cloud as a result of the release of materials held in the building in which the Al-Qaeda commanders were meeting.  Since the chain of custody of the forensic samples used to prove that it was instead a sarin attack is insecure, I don’t think it is possible to place any reliance on them.

The suggestion that Seymour Hersh’s story is untrue because he cannot identify the building in question is a red herring.  Seymour Hersh’s story is not based on personal observation of Khan Sheikhoun but on information he says he was provided by his sources within the US intelligence community.  Seymour Hersh provided Die Welt (which published his story) with the details of these sources, enabling Die Welt to contact them directly and to authenticate that what Seymour Hersh was saying about them was true.

As I have said previously, it is well within the ability of Al-Qaeda to manipulate or fabricate evidence and to manipulate the way it is presented, and it continues to astonish me that so many people remain in denial about this.

I note for example that the person who attempted to uphold the findings of the OPCW-UN-JIM report which I mentioned previously appears to be unaware that it was Al-Qaeda which was in physical control of Al-Sheikhoun on the day when the chemical weapons attack is supposed to have taken place, and that it continues to be in control there to this day.

Others will of course dispute these opinions, as is their right.

The point however is that politically speaking it no longer matters.  Following the debate in the UN Security Council yesterday the effect of what happened in Khan Sheikhoun in April both on the course of the Syrian war and on the future development of international relations has ended.  The chapter on this incident is closed.

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Maria Butina, her crime: A love of the NRA and being Russian (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 61.

Alex Christoforou

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has communicated to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Russian national Maria Butina must be set free and allowed to return to Russia, after she was arrested by US officials on dubious spy charges.

Lavrov said that the US should immediately release the Russian gun activist, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, after a phone conversation with his US counterpart.

Lavrov called the charges levied against Butina “fabricated.”

In his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, “Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable.”

In an official statement the Russian Foreign Ministry called for her “immediate release.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the oddly timed, out of the blue arrest of Maria Butina, who is being held by US authorities for what they claim to be a violation of the FARA act.

In reality Maria Butina’s crime is much more troubling than simply failing to register as a foreign agent.

Maria made the double mistake of being in the United States of America as a Russian citizens who loves guns, at a time when racism and bigotry against Russians and NRA supporters is surpassing McCarthyite levels.

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Via RT

The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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Ugly breakup at FBI: Lisa Page throws ex-lover, Peter Strzok, under the bus (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 60.

Alex Christoforou

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While Peter Strzok’s testimony put a face on the deceptive and secretive Deep State, GOP lawmakers who were present at Lisa Page’s closed-door deposition said they learned a lot of new information from the ex-FBI lawyer, and ex-lover of Peter Strzok.

Lisa Page confirmed to GOP lawmakers that the text messages sent between her and her lover Strzok “meant exactly what they said,” contrary to Strzok’s testimony.

According to The Gateway Pundit, one damning text message in particular sent from Strzok on May 19th, 2017, just two days after Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel, intrigued investigators and the public alike.

“There’s no big there there,” Strzok texted.

According to investigative reporter, John Solomon, Lisa Page confirmed that text from Peter Strzok did indeed refer to the Trump-Russia case.

Strzok knew it was a nothing-burger yet he forged ahead.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou, RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle, and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss how Peter Strzok’s testimony has undoubtedly contradicted Lisa Page’s cooperative deposition, as the ex-FBI lawyer is preparing to save herself, while throwing her ex-lover under the bus.

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Via The Epoch Times

Representatives John Ratcliffe and Louie Gohmert of Texas recently shared their observations of the closed-door testimony of former high-ranking FBI lawyer Lisa Page, which concluded on July 16.

One of the major questions regarding the testimony was whether it would match the one given by FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.

But while Ratcliffe said he found a mismatch, Gohmert wouldn’t go so far.

Page and Strzok played major roles in the investigations on both 2016 presidential candidates: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. During the same period, Page and Strzok had an affair and exchanged thousands of text messages expressing a strong bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton.

“When I questioned Lisa Page on Friday about the anti-Trump text messages that were sent between herself and Peter Strzok, there were significant differences in her testimony and Strzok’s as it relates to what she thought some of these text messages meant,” Ratcliffe said in a July 16 tweet, shortly before the second round of questioning.

“Page gave us new information that Strzok either wouldn’t or couldn’t, confirming some of the concerns we had about these investigations and the people involved in running them,” he wrote.

On July 17, Ratcliffe expanded on his further statements about Page’s testimony. Radcliffe told Fox News…

“There are differences in their testimony.”

“In many cases, she admits that the text messages mean exactly what they say, as opposed to agent Strzok, who thinks that we’ve all misinterpreted his own words on any text message that might be negative.”

Via The Epoch Times

In one of the texts, Strzok vowed to “stop” Trump from becoming president. In another, the two discussed having an “insurance policy” in the “unlikely” event that Trump would win the election.

Strzok, who gave a closed-door testimony on June 27 and a public one on July 12, said the first message meant he and the American people would stop Trump. The second, he said previously, meant he wanted to pursue the Russia investigation aggressively, in case Trump won.

GOP lawmakers were furious with Strzok’s attitude and unwillingness to answer questions. In a scathing monologue, Gohmert even linked Strzok’s credibility to the fact that he was unfaithful to his wife.

President Donald Trump repeatedly called Strzok’s testimony a “disgrace.”

The lawmakers said Page was comparatively more cooperative.

“There were times the FBI lawyers would be reaching to the button to mute her comment, and she would answer before they could mute her comment,” Gohmert told Fox News.

He said Page didn’t contradict Strzok “so much,” but “has given us insights into who was involved in what.”

“I think she’ll be a good witness,” he said.

Page ditched her first testimony appointment on July 11, prompting GOP lawmakers to threaten her with contempt of Congress. She then agreed to appear on July 13, which gave her the opportunity to review Strzok’s public testimony before giving hers.

The lawmakers are probing the FBI’s and Justice Department’s decisions before the election, suspecting they were influenced by political considerations.

Texts between Strzok and Page suggest that the FBI initiated an offensive counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign as early as December 2015.

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Russia makes MASSIVE progress on its ‘super-weapons’

Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle moves into serial production, nuclear-engine powered cruise missile tests continue, and more as Russia continues to outdo all Western military tech

Seraphim Hanisch

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On July 19th and 20th, The Russian Defense Ministry announced several milestones of progress in its advanced weapons systems programs. These programs were revealed to the world in March of this year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the State of the Russian Federation speech.

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While at first the Western onlookers did not believe the amazing announcements of hypersonic weapons and nuclear-powered cruise missiles with unlimited range, subsequent releases and concurrent observation by the American military experts has shown these developments to be as real as Mr. Putin claimed they are.

TASS, the Russian News Agency, released information on these weapons systems in separate reports:

Kinzhal

The Kinzhal hypersonic missile:

Squadrons of MiG-31 fighter jets armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles should enter combat duty in the Black Sea region and at other Russian fleets and flotillas, said Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of the Arsenal Otechestva magazine.

Besides, a squadron (between 12 and 16 aircraft) of MiG-31 fighter jets armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles entered combat duty in the Caspian Sea region in April.

“I think at least one squadron of those complexes should be deployed at any fleet, in other words – at all regions where we have fleets and flotillas. We need to deploy them in the regions of the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Northern Fleet. The Pacific region also should not be forgotten,” Murakhovsky said.

He said that such systems can become a “good instrument” against not only vessels equipped with high-precision weapons, but also for countering carrier attack groups.

“We know how expensive a carrier attack group can be. By employing this asymmetric method, which is unbelievably cheap in comparison with building a carrier attack group, we can neutralize this threat almost completely,” the expert said.

Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile trials:

The Burevestnik is an entirely new cruise missile, powered by a nuclear engine. This gives the missile unlimited range. In theory, such a missile could be launched at a target and spend days or weeks in hidden flight using advanced guidance systems, and then close on its target at the optimal time to assure destruction of that target with maximum surprise. The TASS piece goes on to say:

The Russian Defense Ministry announced that Russia was preparing to test upgraded test prototypes of the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile with an unlimited range.

According to the expert, it is highly likely that the prototype of the missile “has already made a flight.”

“Clearly, it was something like the pop-up trials of Sarmat – a launch without the nuclear-powered engine, in other words, with an ordinary missile booster, conducted in order to assess the possibility of a launch, aerodynamics and the operability of the entire system in general,” [Murakhovsky] said.

Further reporting from TASS had this to add about the Burevestnik program:

Russia is getting ready for flight tests of the Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile, an official at the Defense Ministry told reporters on Thursday.

“The missile’s component makeup is being improved based on clarified requirements, while ground tests continue and preparations are being made for experimental flight tests of the improved missile,” the official said.

According to the Defense Ministry, “work on an unlimited-range missile is going according to plan.”

“In the meantime, launching systems are also being designed, while technological processes to manufacture, assemble and test the missile are being improved. This range of work will make it possible to start designing a totally new sort of weapon – a strategic nuclear complex armed with a nuclear powered missile,” the ministry official noted.

[The head] of the 12th Central Research Institute at Russia’s Defense Ministry Sergey Pertsev, in turn, said that the tests of the new cruise missile equipped with a small nuclear power unit had confirmed the accuracy of the technical decisions that Russian researchers, engineers and designers had made. In addition, the tests enabled the researchers “to receive valuable experimental data necessary for specifying a number of requirements.”

“A low-flying and low-observable cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead, with an almost unlimited range, an unpredictable trajectory and capability to bypass interception lines is invincible to all the existing and advanced air and missile defense systems,” the Russian Defense Ministry stressed.

A further use of the nuclear engine technology is also expected in the Poseidon underwater drone, Mr. Murakhovsky stated that separate systems for the craft have been successfully tested. He further noted that the next task is to design the entire layout, build a test model and begin testing the whole platform.

The Avangard Hypersonic Missile

While the Kinzhal is a Mach-10 capable hypersonic system that can be launched from a fighter, the Avangard is a Mach-20 capable system that has intercontinental reach. There is almost no footage of this system released to the public, but the concept videos show how the system works. TASS reports this status:

Russia’s Strategic Missile Force is preparing a position area for accepting the Avangard hypersonic missile system for service as part of the efforts to strengthen the country’s military security, the Defense Ministry announced on Thursday.

“The Russian defense industry has completed developing the Avangard missile system with the principally new armament – the gliding cruise warhead. Industrial enterprises have switched to its serial production,” the Defense Ministry said.

“A set of organizational and technical measures is underway in the position area of the Dombarovsky large unit of the Strategic Missile Force to accept the Avangard missile system for operation,” it added.

The development of new strategic weapon systems “is aimed at increasing Russia’s defense capability and preventing any aggression against our country and its allies,” the Defense Ministry stressed.

The infrastructural facilities of the large unit’s position area have already been prepared for the missile system’s operation, the ministry said.

“The position area has been prepared in geodesic and engineering terms to accommodate the missile system. Work is underway to build new and reconstruct old facilities to provide for the operation and the combat use of the system. Technical and utility supply lines are being modernized and electric power, communications and command and control cables are being laid. Work has been arranged to train personnel and prepare armament, military and special hardware,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Deputy Commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Force for Armament Sergei Poroskun has said that the Avangard hypersonic missile system features combat capabilities that “make it possible to reliably breach any anti-missile defenses.”

The Okhotnik attack drone

The Okhotnik (“Hunter”) attack drone is now being viewed as a prototype for Russia’s “sixth-generation” fighter plane. TASS describes this in more detail:

According to [a defense industry] official, although the sixth generation fighter jet project “has not yet taken full shape, its main features are already known.”

“First of all, it should be unmanned and capable of performing any combat task in an autonomous regime. In this sense, Okhotnik will become the prototype of the sixth generation fighter jet,’ the source said, adding that the drone will be able to “take off, fulfill its objectives and return to the airfield.”

“However, it will not receive the function of decision-making regarding the use of weapons – this will be decided by a human,” he said.

TASS was unable to officially confirm the information at the time of the publication.

Another defense industry source earlier told TASS that the prototype of Okhotnik (Hunter) was ready and would start test flights this year.

The Russian Defense Ministry and the Sukhoi Company signed a contract for developing the 20-ton Okhotnik (Hunter) heavy unmanned strike aircraft in 2011. The drone’s mock-up model was made in 2014. According to unconfirmed reports, composite materials and anti-radar coating were used to create the Okhotnik. The drone is equipped with a reaction-jet propulsion and is supposed to develop a speed of 1000 kilometers per hour.

Peresvet laser weapons systems

TASS reported that the Russian military forces are now training for the use of the Peresvet combat laser system:

Russian Aerospace Force has accepted for service the laser complexes Peresvet and the military are now taking drills that involve the novel combat technologies, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

“The Peresvet laser complexes have been placed at sites of permanent deployment,” the report said. “Active efforts to make them fully operational are underway.”

“To ensure their proper functioning, the necessary infrastructures and specialized facilities for housing the complexes and duty crews have been built,” the ministry said.

The crews assigned to the Peresvets have taken upgrader courses at the Alexander Mozhaisky Military-Space Academy in St Petersburg.

The Russian military strategy of “asymmetric response.”

The overall defense strategy is termed an “asymmetric response”, and Mr. Murakhovsky explained the principle in this way:

“This is an asymmetric response, in which new classes of weapons are created, instead of new types within the framework of the existing systems. Other states are not expected to have anything of this kind [in the near future],” he said.

The expert described this response as “quite an efficient one, all the more so because it requires no additional investment – all the works are being carried out within the framework of the state procurement program.”

He added that unlike the Soviet Union, Russia avoids being dragged into a direct arms race and searches for cutting-edge solutions instead of simply increasing the number of weapons.

“The development of counter-weapons to those arms [may be possible] in distant future, but it does not mean that they can be created at all,” Murakhovsky added.

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