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Saudi Arabia and Russia: neither allies nor enemies but wary friends

The visit of Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Russia shows Saudi Arabia’s need for Russia’s help to stabilise the oil market.

Alexander Mercouris

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Shortly after hosting US President Trump in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s actual ruler – Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – flew off to Russia to meet Russian President Putin.

My colleague Adam Garrie has recently suggested that Saudi Arabia needs Russia more than Russia needs Saudi Arabia, and that this account for the visit.  He is absolutely right.

I have recently written of the grandiose plans Prince Mohammed bin Salman has for Saudi Arabia.  I have made it clear that I think them wholly unrealistic and certain to end with the Kingdom’s bankruptcy.

I have also discussed Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s intense hostility towards Iran, and how he openly talks of pre-emptive war against that powerful country.

Putting aside the question of whether Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grandiose plans are realistic, even he undoubtedly realises that they will require simply immense amounts of money.  If they are to have any possibility of success that means a high and stable oil price.

That must be why Saudi Arabia in 2016 abruptly reversed its previous policy of allowing the oil market to stabilise naturally, and instead agreed first to an oil production freeze and then to an oil production cut.

They key point is that this policy can only succeed if it is backed by Russia.

In the world today there are three great oil producers producing roughly the same amount of oil who between them dominate the oil market: the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

There is no possibility of the US ever agreeing to freeze or cut its production.  However though US oil production is important in deciding the oil price, the US is a net oil importer, and it does not compete internationally with Saudi Arabia and Russia for global market share.

What that means is that Saudi Arabia needs Russia’s cooperation if it is to stabilise the oil market and preserve its market share.  That forces Saudi Arabia to talk to Russia if it is looking for oil production freezes or oil production cuts.

Back in 2014 there was very widespread speculation that Saudi Arabia had deliberately engineered the oil price crash in a plot with the US to undermine Russia.

I have always been very skeptical about this theory, which the Saudis have emphatically denied. In my opinion the collapse of oil prices which happened that year was caused by the tightening of monetary policy in the US, which put a downward pressure on oil prices since they are denominated in dollars. However there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia’s policy in 2014 of letting the oil price stabilise naturally put further downward pressure on prices that year.

Now that Saudi Arabia has reversed the policy it has become clear that it is Russia not Saudi Arabia which has the whip hand, obliging Saudi Arabia to look to Russia for help to stabilise oil prices.

This was made clear in the introductory comments Prince Mohammed bin Salman made during his meeting with Putin

Today relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia are going through one of the best stages. Our countries have attained mutual understanding on many issues. As for those issues on which we are divided, we have efficient mechanisms for overcoming our differences. We are moving ahead at a fast pace and the current visit will become a big achievement in consolidating relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The main point is that we are building a solid foundation for stabilising the oil market and energy prices and this is creating good opportunities for building our strategic future.

As you rightly pointed out, there are many economic cooperation programmes between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and this is bound to help us build up our cooperation in the future.

There are no points of conflict in our respective policies and we hope we will manage to steer them in the right direction in the interests of both countries. We achieved much in the previous brief stage but more work lies ahead of us.

(bold italics added)

Objectively this should come as no surprise.  Russia is a huge country with a large well-educated population, a powerful scientific and industrial base, and a vast agricultural sector.  Saudi Arabia is an oil monarchy.  Of course Russia has been able to ride out the oil price fall better than Saudi Arabia has been able to do.  The wonder is why so many people expected otherwise.  It is testament to the huge number of false ideas there are about Russia.

Whether the oil production cut the Russians and the Saudis have agreed will stabilise the oil market in the way that Prince Mohammed bin Salman obviously wants is another matter.  Since US monetary policy for the moment is continuing to tighten, and since shale oil production in the US is still rising, and since the previously relentless rise in energy consumption in China appears to have slackened, the current ceiling for oil prices seems to be no more than $55 a barrel.  Currently oil is trading below this ceiling, and the Russian government and Central Bank say they expect oil prices to fall to $40 a barrel by the end of the year.

Regardless, the fact the Saudis have to talk to the Russians about oil prices means that they have no realistic choice but to talk about other things as well.  That has created the conditions for a dialogue to develop between the two countries.  The fact that the Russians always deal with the Saudis with their customary tact has obviously made establishing this dialogue easier.

Russia and Saudi Arabia can never be close allies or friends.  They are not however enemies, and they seem to be determined to avoid becoming such, recognising that it is neither of their interests.  In the meantime they are able to work together on questions of mutual interest, and that is what Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Russia was about.

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Russia Gives US Red Line On Venezuela

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


At a high-level meeting in Rome this week, it seems that Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, President Donald Trump was again bragging that the military option was still on the table, in his press conference with Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. Trump is bluffing or not yet up to speed with being apprised of Russia’s red line.

The meeting in the Italian capital between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had an air of urgency in its arrangement. The US State Department announced the tête-à-tête only three days beforehand. The two officials also reportedly held their two-hour discussions in a Rome hotel, a venue indicating ad hoc arrangement.

Abrams is no ordinary diplomat. He is a regime-change specialist with a criminal record for sponsoring terrorist operations, specifically the infamous Iran-Contra affair to destabilize Nicaragua during the 1980s. His appointment by President Trump to the “Venezuela file” only underscores the serious intent in Washington for regime change in Caracas. Whether it gets away with that intent is another matter.

Moscow’s interlocutor, Sergei Ryabkov, is known to not mince his words, having earlier castigated Washington for seeking global military domination. He calls a spade a spade, and presumably a criminal a criminal.

The encounter in Rome this week was described as “frank” and “serious” – which is diplomatic code for a blazing exchange. The timing comes at a high-stakes moment, after Venezuela having been thrown into chaos last week from civilian power blackouts that many observers, including the Kremlin, blame on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation with the Venezuelan military over humanitarian aid deliveries last month from neighboring Colombia.

The fact that Washington’s efforts to overthrow the elected President Nicolas Maduro have so far floundered, might suggest that the Americans are intensifying their campaign to destabilize the country, with the objective of installing US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido. He declared himself “acting president” in January with Washington’s imprimatur.

Given that the nationwide power blackouts seem to have failed in fomenting a revolt by the civilian population or the military against Maduro, the next option tempting Washington could be the military one.

It seems significant that Washington has recently evacuated its last remaining diplomats from the South American country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the evacuation by saying that having US personnel on the ground “was limiting” Washington’s scope for action. Also, American Airlines reportedly cancelled all its services to Venezuela in the past week. Again, suggesting that the US was considering a military intervention, either directly with its troops or covertly by weaponizing local proxies. The latter certainly falls under Abrams’ purview.

After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly: “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

One of those warnings delivered by Ryabkov is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.

For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand. “No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters.

“A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.

The arrogance of the Americans is staggering. Abrams seems, according to US reporting, to have flown to Rome with the expectation of working out with Ryabkov a “transition” or “compromise” on who gets the “title of president” of Venezuela.

That’s what he no doubt meant when he said after the meeting “there was not a meeting of minds”, but rather he got “a better understanding” of Russia’s position.

Washington’s gambit is a replay of Syria. During the eight-year war in that country, the US continually proffered the demand of a “political transition” which at the end would see President Bashar al Assad standing down. By contrast, Russia’s unflinching position on Syria has always been that it’s not up to any external power to decide Syria’s politics. It is a sovereign matter for the Syrian people to determine independently.

Nearly three years after Russia intervened militarily in Syria to salvage the Arab country from a US-backed covert war for regime change, the American side has manifestly given up on its erstwhile imperious demands for “political transition”. The principle of Syrian sovereignty has prevailed, in large part because of Russia’s trenchant defense of its Arab ally.

Likewise, Washington, in its incorrigible arrogance, is getting another lesson from Russia – this time in its own presumed “back yard” of Latin America.

It’s not a question of Russia being inveigled by Washington’s regime-change schemers about who should be president of Venezuela and “how we can manage a transition”. Moscow has reiterated countless times that the legitimate president of Venezuela is Nicolas Maduro whom the people voted for last year by an overwhelming majority in a free and fair election – albeit boycotted by the US-orchestrated opposition.

The framework Washington is attempting to set up of choosing between their desired “interim president” and incumbent Maduro is an entirely spurious one. It is not even worthy to be discussed because it is a gross violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. Who is Washington to even dare try to impose its false choice?

On Venezuela, Russia is having to remind the criminal American rulers – again – about international law and respect for national sovereignty, as Moscow earlier did with regard to Syria.

And in case Washington gets into a huff and tries the military option, Moscow this week told regime-change henchman Abrams that that’s a red line. If Washington has any sense of rationale left, it will know from its Syria fiasco that Russia has Venezuela’s back covered.

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

Now, the desperate Americans could still try more sabotage, cyber or financial. But their options are limited, contrary to what Trump thinks.

How the days of American imperialist swagger are numbered. There was a time when it could rampage all over Latin America. Not any more, evidently. Thanks in part to Russia’s global standing and military power.

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With RussiaGate Over Where’s Hillary?

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain. She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


During most of the RussiaGate investigation against Donald Trump I kept saying that all roads lead to Hillary Clinton.

Anyone with three working brain cells knew this, including ‘Miss’ Maddow, whose tears of disappointment are particularly delicious.

Robert Mueller’s investigation was designed from the beginning to create something out of nothing. It did this admirably.

It was so effective it paralyzed the country for more than two years, just like Europe has been held hostage by Brexit. And all of this because, in the end, the elites I call The Davos Crowd refused to accept that the people no longer believed their lies about the benefits of their neoliberal, globalist agenda.

Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the Presidency was to be their apotheosis along with the Brexit vote. These were meant to lay to rest, once and for all time, the vaguely libertarian notion that people should rule themselves and not be ruled by philosopher kings in some distant land.

Hillary’s failure was enormous. And the RussiaGate gambit to destroy Trump served a laundry list of purposes to cover it:

  1. Undermine his legitimacy before he even takes office.
  2. Accuse him of what Hillary actually did: collude with Russians and Ukrainians to effect the outcome of the election
  3. Paralyze Trump on his foreign policy desires to scale back the Empire
  4. Give aid and comfort to hurting progressives and radicalize them further undermining our political system
  5. Polarize the electorate over the false choice of Trump’s guilt.
  6. Paralyze the Dept. of Justice and Congress so that they would not uncover the massive corruption in the intelligence agencies in the U.S. and the U.K.
  7. Isolate Trump and take away every ally or potential ally he could have by turning them against him through prosecutor overreach.

Hillary should have been thrown to the wolves after she failed. When you fail the people she failed and cost them the money she cost them, you lose more than just your funding. What this tells you is that she has so much dirt on everyone involved, once this thing started everyone went along with it lest she burn them down as well.

Burnin’ Down da House

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain

She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

And she was willing to tear it down to keep him from having it no matter how much damage it would do. She’s worse than the Joker from The Dark Knight.

Because while the Joker is unfathomable to someone with a conscience there’s little stopping us from excising him from the community completely., even though Batman refuses.

Hillary hates us for who we are and what we won’t give her. And that animus drove her to blackmail the world while putting on the face of its savior.

And that’s what makes what comes next so obvious to me. RussiaGate was never a sustainable narrative. It was ludicrous from the beginning. And now that it has ended with a whimper there are a lot of angry, confused and scared people out there.

Mueller thought all he had to do was lean on corrupt people and threaten them with everything. They would turn on Trump. He would resign in disgrace from the public outcry.

It didn’t work. In the end Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone all held their ground or perjured themselves into the whole thing falling apart.

Andrew Weissman’s resignation last month was your tell there was nothing. Mueller would pursue this to the limit of his personal reputation and no further.

Just like so many other politicians.

Vote Your Pocketbook

With respect to Brexit I’ve been convinced that it would come down to reputations.

Would the British MP’s vote against their own personal best interests to do the bidding of the EU?

Would Theresa May eventually realize her historical reputation would be destroyed if she caves to Brussels and betrays Brexit in the end?

Always bet on the fecklessness of politicians. They will always act selfishly when put to the test. While leading RussiaGate, Mueller was always headed here if he couldn’t get someone to betray Trump.

And now his report is in. There are no new indictments. And by doing so he is saving his reputation for the future. And that is your biggest tell that HIllary’s blackmail is now worthless.

They don’t fear her anymore because RussiaGate outed her as the architect. Anything else she has is irrelevant in the face of trying to oust a sitting president from power.

The progressives that were convinced of Trump’s treason are bereft; their false hope stripped away like standing in front of a sandblaster. They will be raw, angry and looking for blood after they get over their denial.

Everyone else who was blackmailed into going along with this lunacy will begin cutting deals to save their skins. The outrage over this will not end. Trump will be President when he stands for re-election.

The Wolves Beckon

The Democrats do not have a chance against him as of right now. When he was caving on everything back in December it looked like he was done. That there was enough meat on the RussiaGate bones to make Nancy Pelosi brave.

Then she backed off on impeachment talk. Oops.

But the Democrats have a sincere problem. Their candidates have no solutions other than to embrace the crazy and go full Bolshevik. That is not a winning position.

Trump will kill them on ‘socialism.’

The Deep State and The Davos Crowd stand revealed and reviled.

If they don’t do something dramatic then the anger from the rest of the country will also be palpable come election time. Justice is not done simply by saying, “No evidence of collusion.”

It’s clear that RussiaGate is a failure of monumental proportions. Heads will have to roll. But who will be willing to fall on their sword at this point?

Comey? No. McCabe? No.

There is only one answer. And Obama’s people are still in place to protect him. I said last fall that “Hillary would indict herself.” And I meant it. Eventually her blackmail and drive to burn it all down led to this moment.

The circumstances are different than I expected back then, Trump didn’t win the mid-terms. But the end result was always the same. If there is no collusion, if RussiaGate is a scam, then all roads lead back to Hillary as the sacrificial lamb.

Because the bigger project, the erection of a transnational superstate, is bigger than any one person. Hillary is expendable.

Lies are expensive to maintain. The truth is cheap to defend. Think of the billions in opportunity costs associated with this. Once the costs rise above the benefits, change happens fast.

If there is any hope of salvaging the center of this country for the Democrats, the ones that voted against Hillary in 2016, then there is no reason anymore not to indict Hillary as the architect of RussiaGate.

We all know it’s the truth. So, the cheapest way out of this mess for them is to give the MAGApedes what they want, Hillary.

And hope that is enough bread and circuses to distract from the real storm ahead of us.

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Trump’s CIA Now Unbound And Back To Its Traditional Hijinks

There is further evidence that suggests the neo-cons, in cahoots with Haspel at the CIA, set out to disrupt the Hanoi summit.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Under the directorship of torture and black site maven Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s Central Intelligence Agency has returned to its traditional roots of conducting “black bag” operations and disrupting electrical grids through cyber-attacks.

The Venezuelan government has accused the Trump administration of giving the green light for a series of crippling power failures in Venezuela, which affected 22 of Venezuela’s 23 states, including the capital of Caracas. The long-duration power failures were cited by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a reason for the US withdrawing its diplomats from Caracas. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that an international commission assisted by specialists from Russia, China, Iran, and the United Nations would help his country analyze the sources of the Venezuelan electrical grid cyber-attack. Initial cyber-forensics by Venezuela traced some of the cyber warfare being waged against Venezuela to nodes in Houston and Chicago.

In addition to electricity, water service was disrupted in Venezuela. From Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Maduro tweeted on March 12: “From the Presidential Command Post, we monitored minute-by-minute the progress of the recovery of the National Electric System.”

Cyber-attacks on a country that puts its civilian population in jeopardy might, at first glance, appear to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions on warfare. However, without a Digital Geneva Convention, civilian populations are not covered by the current Geneva Conventions. However, in 2015, the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (UN GGE), which included experts from the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and other nations, agreed that current international law does apply to cyberspace. Most international legal experts agree that the Geneva Conventions require a digital annex to cover the type of cyber-disruption of the Venezuelan electrical grid carried out by the US intelligence services.

Hybrid warfare against Venezuela, which includes economic, diplomatic, and cyber, has the backing of the neo-conservatives who now call the shots for the Trump White House. They include, in addition to Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton; Iran-Contra felon Elliott Abrams, Trump’s special envoy to the US-backed opposition-led rump Venezuelan government of Juan Guaido; Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council; and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, who represents the interests of South Florida’s right-wing oligarch exiles from Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

While Trump was preparing for his Hanoi summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump’s second summit with Kim, Haspel’s CIA dug into its old bag of black operations, while also engaging in the more modern form of cyber-attack in targeting North Korea.

On February 22, 2019, ten males, all wearing masks, broke into the North Korean embassy, which is located in the residential suburb of Aravaca, north of Madrid, Spain, and subjected eight embassy staff members to brutal interrogation tactics, including tying up the diplomats, throwing black bags over their heads (a specialty of Ms. Haspel), and subjecting them to beatings. One female diplomat managed to escape through a second-floor window and her screams alerted a neighbor, who promptly called the police. Two embassy employees required medical attention from their injuries.

The Spanish police and National Intelligence Center (CNI) linked two of the embassy invaders to the CIA. “El Pais,” a Spanish national newspaper, reported that the CIA issued one of its standard “denials,” however, the paper stated that Spanish authorities found the denial from Langley, Virginia to be “unconvincing.” “El Pais” reported that the invasion of the North Korean embassy by the CIA had severely harmed relations between Madrid and Washington.

The National Police Corps’ General Commissariat of Information (CGI) and CNI concluded that the attack and occupation of the North Korean embassy was not carried out by common criminals but was the work of a “military cell” that stole mobile phones and computers. Two of the embassy invaders were identified as Koreans and, based on CGI’s and CNI’s analysis of security camera video footage, they were further recognized as Koreans linked to the CIA. Spanish authorities did not rule out the possibility that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service assisted the CIA in the embassy invasion. The embassy invaders escaped from the embassy using two North Korean luxury sedans bearing diplomatic plates. The cars were later found abandoned.

The criminal inquiry into the incident is now before the Spanish High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, which could order the arrests of the embassy attackers and, if they are in the United States or South Korea, have Spain’s INTERPOL national bureau put out a Red Notice for their arrest and extradition to Spain to stand trial.

Spanish authorities believe the CIA’s embassy attackers were looking for information on Kim Hyok Chol, the former North Korean ambassador to Spain, who was declared “persona non grata” by the Spanish government in 2017. Kim Hyok Chol, a career diplomat from one of North Korea’s elite families who studied French at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and speaks fluent English, is now one of Kim Jong Un’s trusted diplomatic advisers on nuclear talks with the Trump administration and he traveled with Chairman Kim to the failed Hanoi summit with Trump.

With certainty, Kim Hyok Chol thoroughly briefed Kim Jong Un on the CIA’s storming of his old diplomatic post in Spain. When Trump and Chairman Kim met in Hanoi on February 27 and if the issue of the CIA’s siege of the North Korean embassy was brought up, that could have been enough to derail the summit. Considering the fact that war hawks like Bolton, Abrams, and Pompeo are now calling the foreign policy shots for the Trump administration, the attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid, just five days prior to the Hanoi summit, may have been ordered by Washington’s neo-con cell with the intention of scuttling the second meeting between Trump and Kim and put on ice any future meetings.

There is further evidence that suggests the neo-cons, in cahoots with Haspel at the CIA, set out to disrupt the Hanoi summit. While Trump was meeting with Kim in Vietnam, the CIA is believed to have launched a cyber-attack on the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC) in New York, an organization with ties to the Pyongyang government. KANCC is a non-governmental organization with offices in the Interchurch Center building, near Columbia University in Manhattan. It champions the dropping of US sanctions against North Korea, a sore point in Hanoi between Trump and Kim.

The Trump-Kim Hanoi summit was reported to have hit a roadblock over North Korea’s request for a partial lifting of US sanctions on North Korea, in return for the continued North Korean moratorium on nuclear testing and a partial freeze on production of fissile material. With the CIA’s attack on the North Korean embassy in Spain still fresh in the minds of the North Korean side and the neo-cons’ insistence, pushed by Bolton and Pompeo, for complete North Korean nuclear disarmament, the Hanoi summit was destined for failure. And, with Bolton, Abrams, Pompeo, and other dangerous neo-cons in charge at the White House and the State Department — and Haspel dancing to their tune at the CIA – North Korea and Venezuela are not the only countries currently in the gunsights of the Trump administration.

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