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Russia’s Military Builds Up in Syria

Western reporters aghast at scale of Russian military presence in Syria.

Alexander Mercouris

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A little known fact about the Palmyra concert is that the Russians arranged for 150 western journalists to attend it. The Western reporters who attended the concert seem however to have been uninterested in it.

This report from CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen does not mention it at all.

Instead the Western reporters whom the Russians took to Palmyra seem to have been more interested in reporting on the scale of the Russian military operation in Syria.

The Russians must find this deeply frustrating. However for those of us interested in the nature of the Russian military operation in Syria it does at least provide an insight into what is going on.

The first thing that comes across from Western reporters’ accounts of their visit to Syria is their barely concealed awe at the professionalism and high motivation of the Russian troops they saw there. They were clearly impressed by the fitness and discipline of the troops, the high level of organisation, the general appearance of cleanliness and good order, and the efficient supply chain.

This was not the view the Western media generally had of the Russian military before the campaign. On the contrary, fed by stories of Russian backwardness, brutality, corruption and incompetence from the likes of people like Pavel Felgenhauer, until the start of the campaign the Western media rarely took the Russian military seriously.

Most Western reporters by now have at least a passing knowledge of Russian military equipment and it is clear that they were also hugely impressed by the cornucopia of Russian weapons they saw in Syria, as well as by their very high state of maintenance.

Lastly – a fact never directly expressed but nonetheless obvious from the reporting – Western reporters were clearly also impressed by the obvious intelligence and professionalism of the Russian officers they came across.

All these impressions are important. One of the fundamental assumptions the West made about Russia after the Cold War is that for all its bluster it is militarily weak and therefore easy to push around.

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Since the South Ossetia War of 2008 that assumption has come to be doubted despite the best efforts of people like Mark Galeotti and Pavel Felgenhauer to keep it alive. Following the Crimean and Syrian operation that assumption has collapsed.

Western politicians and more importantly the Western public now know that Russia militarily speaking is a force to be reckoned with. That is bound to affect military and political calculations and will make Western leaders and the Western public more wary of directly challenging it.

The information gleaned by the Western reporters has also provided some further information about the state of the Russian operation in Syria and the state of the conflict there.

Firstly it is now clear that the Syrian government is once more firmly in control of Palmyra and of the communications to the city. The Russians were able to transport a convoy of 150 Western journalists to the city from their base in Khmeimim in western Syria and return them there in one day without incident.

Very wisely and very properly the Russians took rigorous precautions to protect the journalists – including keeping armed helicopters constantly above the convoy in an overwatch role – but the fact remains that a whole symphony orchestra and a large convoy of journalists was transported to and from Palmyra without any challenge from Daesh or any of the other rebel groups. This is an impressive achievement given that Palmyra just a few weeks ago was under Daesh’s control. It is clear that in this part of central Syria at least Daesh’s power has been broken.

Secondly, it is now clear that the withdrawal of part of the Russian aerial strike force in March has been balanced by a significant increase in the presence of Russian ground troops in Syria. Moreover it seems that these are not just defending the two bases the Russians have constructed – at lightning speed – in Khmeimim and Palmyra. Some at least of the Russian Special Forces appear to be actually involved in the fighting. There was for example a recent Iranian news report which spoke of Russian Special Forces snipers killing a group of Daesh rebels in a battle in central Syria.

Whilst it is not yet possible to estimate the extent of the Russian force in Syria, it is clear that it represents a substantial commitment.

The Russian presence in Syria at one level guarantees the survival of the Syrian government. It is now impossible for the rebel groups to overthrow the Syrian government without defeating Russia. That is not something they are capable of on their own and for the moment the Western public strongly opposes any action by Western governments to shift the balance.

At the same time the Russian presence in Syria gives the Russians strong leverage over the Syrian government.

It is clear that the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah would prefer a more aggressive approach towards the jihadi rebels and mistrust the Russian emphasis on diplomacy and negotiations. The large Russian presence in Syria however ensures that the Russians have the means to make their view prevail.

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US Sanctions Foster Emergence of Multipolar World

US sanctions negatively affect the economies of the targeted countries, but they also push the nations hit by them to move closer to each other.

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Authored by Arkady Savitsky via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Russia, Iran, China, and now Turkey are in the same boat, as all have become the target of US sanctions. But none of those nations has bowed under the pressure. Russia had foreseen the developments in advance and took timely measures to protect itself. The Turkish national currency, the lira, is plummeting now that Washington has introduced sanctions as well as tariffs on steel and aluminum, in an attempt to compel Ankara to turn over a detained American pastor. Turkish President Erdogan said it was time for Turkey to seek “new friends,” and Turkey is planning to issue yuan-denominated bonds to diversify its foreign borrowing instruments. On Aug. 11, President Erdogan said Turkey was ready to begin using local currencies in its trade with Russia, China, Iran, Ukraine, and the EU nations of the eurozone.

The recent BRICS summit reaffirmed Ankara’s commitment to the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) that is geared toward de-dollarizing its member states’ economies, and the agreement to quickly launch a Local Currency Bond Fund gives that policy teeth. Turkey has also expressed its desire to join BRICS.

Ankara is gradually moving toward membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It has been accepted as a dialog partner of that organization. Last year Turkey became a dialog partner with ASEAN. On Aug. 1, the first ASEAN-Turkey Trilateral Ministerial Meeting was held in Singapore, bringing together Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt ÇavuşoğluASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, and Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is serving as the 2018 ASEAN term chairman. The event took place under the auspices of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that attracted foreign ministers and top diplomats from 30 countries.

Ankara is mulling over a free-trade area (FTA) agreement with the Eurasian Union. This cooperation between Ankara and the EAEU has a promising future.

Meanwhile, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has provided a $3.6-billion loan package for the Turkish energy and transportation sector. Turkey and China have recently announced an expansion of their military ties. As one can see, Turkey is inexorably pivoting from the West to the East.

Russia has a special role to play in this process. The US Congress has prohibited the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because of the risk associated with Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 air-defense system. In response, Turkey is contemplating a purchase of Russian warplanes. Ankara prefers Russian weapons over the ones offered by NATO states. As President Erdogan put it, “Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives.”

On Aug. 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan discussed the prospects for boosting economic cooperation. Both nations are parties to the ambitious Turkish Stream natural-gas pipeline project. Ideas for ways to join forces in response to the US offensive were also on the agenda during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Turkey, Aug. 13-14, although Syria was in the spotlight of the talks. One mustn’t forget that Russia was the first country to be visited by the Turkish president after the failed 2016 coup.

As a result of some tough times resulting from US sanctions, Iran is redoubling its efforts at building foreign relationships. Under US pressure, European companies are leaving Iran, with China gradually filling the void. Now that US and European airspace companies are moving their business ventures out of Iran, this presents a good opportunity for Russian aircraft, such as the MS-21 or IL-96-400M. The Russian automaker GAZ Group is ready to supply Iran with commercial vehicles and light trucks powered by 5th generation engines.

Tehran is an observer state in the SCO, and it is to become an essential hub for the Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI). On June 25, a freight train arrived in the Iranian city of Bandar-e Anzali, a port on the Caspian Sea, having passed through the China-Kazakhstan-Iran transportation corridor and entering the Anzali Free Zone that connects China to both the Kazakh port of Aktau and to Iran, thus creating a new trade link to the outside world. This gives a boost to the BRI. On Aug. 12, the five littoral states (the Caspian Five) signed the Caspian Sea Convention — the fruit of 22 years of difficult negotiations. This opens up new opportunities for Iran and other countries of the region as well as the BRI. The idea to form a new economic forum was floated at the Caspian Five summit.

China and Russia back the idea of Iran’s full-fledged SCO membership. In May Tehran signed an interim FTA agreement with the EAEU. Greater EAEU-BRI integration under the stewardship of the SCO is also on the horizon.

According to the Daily Express, Iran could band together with Russia and China in an anti-US alliance. Iran may also get an observer status in the CSTO. Iran-Turkey trade has recently revived, and that bilateral relationship includes burgeoning military cooperation.

Nothing can be viewed in just black and white, and every coin has two sides. The US sanctions do negatively affect the economies and finances of the targeted countries, but in the long run, they will also push the nations hit by them to move closer to each other, thus encouraging the emergence of the multipolar world the US is trying so hard to resist.

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It’s Official: ‘Britain’s Democracy Now At Risk’

It’s not just campaigners saying it any more: democracy is officially at risk, according to parliament’s own digital, culture, media and sport committee.

The Duran

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Via True Publica, authored by Jessica Garland – Electoral Reform Society:


Britain’s main campaign rules were drawn up in the late 1990s, before social media and online campaigning really existed. This has left the door wide open to disinformation, dodgy donations and foreign interference in elections.

There is a real need to close the loopholes when it comes to the online Wild West.

Yet in this year’s elections, it was legitimate voters who were asked to identify themselves, not those funnelling millions into political campaigns through trusts, or those spreading fake news.

The government trialled mandatory voter ID in five council areas in May. In these five pilot areas alone about 350 people were turned away from polling stations for not having their papers with them — and they didn’t return. In other words, they were denied their vote.

Yet last year, out of more than 45 million votes cast across the country, there were just 28 allegations of personation (pretending to be someone else at the polling station), the type of fraud voter ID is meant to tackle.

Despite the loss of 350 votes, the pilots were branded a success by the government. Yet the 28 allegations of fraud (and just one conviction) are considered such a dire threat that the government is willing to risk disenfranchising many more legitimate voters to try to address it. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Indeed, the fact-checking website FullFact noted that in the Gosport pilot, 0.4 per cent of voters did not vote because of ID issues. That’s a greater percentage than the winning margin in at least 14 constituencies in the last election. Putting up barriers to democratic engagement can have a big impact. In fact, it can swing an election.

In the run-up to the pilots, the Electoral Reform Society and other campaigners warned that the policy risked disenfranchising the most marginalised groups in society.

The Windrush scandal highlights exactly the sort of problems that introducing stricter forms of identity could cause: millions of people lack the required documentation. It’s one of the reasons why organisations such as the Runnymede Trust are concerned about these plans.

The Electoral Commission has now published a report on the ID trials, which concludes that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns” on this front.

The small number of pilots, and a lack of diversity, meant that sample sizes were too small to conclude anything about how the scheme would affect various demographic groups. Nor can the pilots tell us about the likely impact of voter ID in a general election, where the strain on polling staff would be far greater and a much broader cross-section of electors turns out to vote.

The Electoral Reform Society, alongside 22 organisations, campaigners and academics, has now called on the constitution minister to halt moves to impose this policy. The signatories span a huge cross-section of society, including representatives of groups that could be disproportionately impacted by voter ID, from Age UK to Liberty and from the British Youth Council to the Salvation Army and the LGBT Foundation.

Voters know what our democratic priorities should be: ensuring that elections are free from the influence of big donors. Having a secure electoral register. Providing balanced media coverage. Transparency online.

We may be little wiser as a result of the government’s voter ID trials. Yet we do know where the real dangers lie in our politics.

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Corrupt Robert Mueller’s despicable Paul Manafort trial nears end (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 79.

Alex Christoforou

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Paul Manafort’s legal team rested its case on Tuesday without calling a single witness. This sets the stage for closing arguments before the judge hands the case to jurors for a verdict.

Manafort’s defense opted to call no witnesses, choosing instead to rely on the team’s cross-examination of government witnesses including a very devious Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy, and several accountants, bookkeepers and bankers who had financial dealings with Manafort.

Closing arguments are expected on Wednesday. Jurors may begin deliberating shortly after receiving their final instructions from judge Ellis.

Manafort case has nothing to do with Mueller’s ‘Trump-Russia collusion witch-hunt’ as the former DC lobbyist is accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied a defense motion to acquit Manafort on the charges because prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the circus trial of Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, and how crooked cop Robert Mueller is using all his power to lean on Manafort, so as to conjure up something illegal against US President Donald Trump.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via Zerohedge

Prosecutors allege he dodged taxes on millions of dollars made from his work for a Ukrainian political party, then lied to obtain bank loans when cash stopped flowing from the project.

The courtroom was sealed for around two hours Tuesday morning for an unknown reason, reopening around 11:30 a.m. with Manafort arriving around 10 minutes later.

The decision to rest their case without calling any witnesses follows a denial by Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort after his lawyers tried to argue that the special counsel had failed to prove its case at the federal trial.

The court session began at approximately 11:45 a.m.:

“Good afternoon,” began defense attorney Richard Westling, who corrected himself and said, “Good morning.”

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Judge Ellis responded.

Ellis then heard brief argument from both sides on the defense’s motion for acquittal, focusing primarily on four counts related to Federal Savings Bank.

Federal Savings Bank was aware of the status of Paul Manafort’s finances,” Westling argued. “They came to the loans with an intent of doing business with Mr. Manafort.”

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye fired back, saying that that even if bank chairman Steve Calk overlooked Manafort’s financial woes, it would still be a crime to submit fraudulent documents to obtain the loans.

“Steve Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued, adding that while Caulk may have “had a different motive” — a job with the Trump administration — “I’m not really sure there’s evidence he knew the documents were false.”

Ellis sided with prosecutors.

The defense makes a significant argument about materiality, but in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said, adding. “That is true for all the other counts… those are all jury issues.”

Once that exchange was over, Manafort’s team was afforded the opportunity to present their case, to which lead attorney Kevin Downing replied “The defense rests.

Ellis then began to question Manafort to ensure he was aware of the ramifications of that decision, to which the former Trump aide confirmed that he did not wish to take the witness stand.

Manafort, in a dark suit and white shirt, stood at the lectern from which his attorneys have questioned witnesses, staring up at the judge. Ellis told Manafort he had a right to testify, though if he chose not to, the judge would tell jurors to draw no inference from that. – WaPo

Ellis asked Manafort four questions – his amplified voice booming through the courtroom:

Had Manafort discussed the decision with his attorney?

“I have, your honor,” Manafort responded, his voice clear.

Was he satisfied with their advice?

“I am, your honor,” Manafort replied.

Had he decided whether he would testify?

“I have decided,” Manafort said.

“Do you wish to testify?” Ellis finally asked.

“No, sir,” Manafort responded.

And with that, Manafort returned to his seat.

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