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Skripal case: Theresa May now demands Russia prove itself innocent

British government lacking evidence of Russian guilt reverses the burden of proof

Alexander Mercouris

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After a week of speculation and allegations British Prime Minister Theresa May has finally spoken about the murder attempt on the former British spy Sergey Skripal, which has left both him and his daughter critically ill.

This how the Guardian reports her statement

Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal….

Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others…

Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom……

This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals.

“It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil. I commend this statement to the House….

The first thing to say about this statement is that it is essentially an admission that the British authorities have not been able to identify any suspects who might have carried out the attack on Skripal.

No person or persons have been identified as suspects in the case, and the only conclusion one can draw from Theresa May’s statement is that the British authorities either do not have the names of any suspects, or are uncertain about any names they do have..

I say this because if the British authorities did suspect any person or persons of carrying out the attack, Theresa May would presumably not be publicly speculating about whether this person or these persons might or might not have acted on the Russian government’s instructions.

The second thing to say about this statement is that the Russian attribution the British government is making is entirely based upon a scientific assessment that the nerve agent used in the attack was one of the agents developed by the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s as part of the so-called Novichok programme.

On the face of it this seems an uncertain basis upon which to attribute responsibility.

Details of the Novichok programme were disclosed by the Russians to the West decades ago, and the properties of the nerve agents developed as part of this programme are well known.  That presumably is why it was possible to assess that the nerve agent used in the attack on Skripal was one of the nerve agents developed as part of this programme.

Given that this is so, it is not obvious how it is possible to say that because the nerve agent used was of a type which was originally developed in Russia as part of the Novichok programme, that must mean that the Russian government or Russians were definitely responsible for the attack.

That seems to me a little like saying that because sarin was originally developed decades ago in Germany, that means that any chemical weapons attack which uses sarin is attributable to Germany.

The danger involved in using the supposed origin of a poison to identify the perpetrator is in fact shown by what happened in the Litvinenko case.

At the time of the murder in 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko Britain was awash with claims that the polonium with which he was poisoned was extremely expensive, was only made in Russia, and had been positively traced back to Russia.  These claims were widely treated as providing the proof that the Russian authorities were responsible for Litvinenko’s murder.

In the event, the public inquiry into Litvinenko’s murder, after hearing from a range of scientific witnesses, concluded that all the claims which had for a decade been made about polonium were untrue: it is not expensive, it is not produced only in Russia, and it is scientifically impossible to trace the point of origin of any polonium sample, whether to Russia or to anywhere else.

The Judge who headed the inquiry could not conceal his disappointment, making the extraordinary statement in his inquiry report that though it could not be proved that the polonium had come from Russia, it nonetheless might have done so.

The result was that with the polonium evidence – the evidence which supposedly “proved” Russian state involvement – having collapsed, the Judge could only say that the Russian authorities were “probably” involved, and could only do so by speculating at length about possible but in fact unlikely connections between the Russian authorities and the two men who were Litvinenko’s likely murderers spiced up with further speculations about the possible motives the Russians might have had for wanting Litvinenko dead (see my detailed discussion of the Litvinenko inquiry here).

It is therefore alarming to see Theresa May in the Skripal case in effect doing the same thing as the Judge did in the Litvinenko inquiry: gingering up a case against the Russian authorities which is nowhere near proved by making general assertions about Russian conduct which have no direct bearing on the case itself.

How else to explain such comments as her comment about “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations” and her utterly gratuitous reference to Crimea in another part of her statement?

That the British authorities actually know very little about the attack on Skripal, and are perfectly aware that the case they are making against Russia is nowhere near proved, is shown by the bizarre way they are now approaching Russia.

Instead of sharing with the Russians their conclusions about the nerve agent that was used to poison Skripal, and asking the Russians for their cooperation in a case where the victim was a former Russian citizen and where the nerve agent used is of a type that was developed in Russia, the British government has instead given the Russian authorities an ultimatum, saying that they must prove their innocence by tomorrow or the British government will assume they are guilty.

I say that because that is what these words in Theresa May’s statement amount to

Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others…

Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom……

That this is a way of proving guilt by reversing the burden of the proof – something which is both wrong and absurd in a criminal investigation in a modern European country – ought to be obvious.

What this ultimatum in fact actually shows is that the British government is determined to declare the Russian government guilty, but cannot prove its case, so it has to use an ultimatum to provide proof of guilt which ‘proof’ is however actually a sham.

The Russians have in fact previously offered their cooperation to solve the case.

Perhaps that offer is also a sham.  However if the British authorities really were serious about finding out the truth of what happened or – better still – were really intent on making a case that could stand up in a court of law, they would accept this offer.

If it turned out that the Russian offer was a sham then in that case – but not before – the British government would be entitled to make public inferences from it.

Where does all this leave the case?

I do not know how Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia came to be poisoned.  I have a completely open mind about that and about who may have been responsible.  At this very early stage in the investigation when few facts are known so should everyone else.

The fact that the nerve agent used to poison Skripal apparently has a Russian origin – which is not the same as saying that it was made in Russia – is suggestive and important, but without much more knowledge about the other facts of the case it is impossible to say what weight should be placed on it.

I would refer again to the mistaken way the polonium evidence was initially assessed in the Litvinenko case (see above) and the way that mistaken assessment came to distort the whole conduct of that case.

Which brings me directly to the problem.

Now that the British government right at the beginning of the investigation has publicly declared that the attack on Skripal originated in Russia, with all the indications being that the British government will say tomorrow that the Russian authorities were directly responsible, the future conduct of the investigation has been irredeemably prejudiced.

It is now all but impossible for the British courts and the British police – who are ultimately officials of the British state – to come to any conclusion other than the one the British government has now publicly made for them.

The result is that what might be other promising lines of enquiry in the case will not now be followed up.

Again the lesson of the Litvinenko case is instructive.  Having predetermined Russian guilt on the strength of an assessment of the polonium evidence which turned out to be wrong, it became impossible for the British authorities to draw back, so that the Judge who headed the inquiry into Litvinenko’s death came to the inquiry with his mind made up.

The result was that when the polonium evidence collapsed it was impossible for him to change his mind, so that instead of doing so he hunted around for other ‘evidence’ in order to find a way to make a verdict of Russian guilt, which he came to the inquiry already believing in.

Once upon a time the dangers of rushing prematurely to conclusions about guilt or innocence in a case were well understood in Britain.

Prior to a change in the law in 1981, which effectively abolished the sub judice rule, the sort of speculations that were made in 2006 in the Litvinenko case, and which are being made in the Skripal case today, would have been impossible.

Certainly it is inconceivable that the British government before 1981 would have publicly interfered in a case in the way that Theresa May has just done.

The fact that the British government is now doing so is in some respects even more concerning than the fact and manner of the attack on Skripal.

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Republicans call Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr to testify, but where is British Spy Steele? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 78.

Alex Christoforou

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Representative Mark Meadows tweeted Friday…

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+ contacts with dossier author Chris Steele, as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth.”

Lawmakers believe former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr is a central figure to finding out how the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid PR smear firm Fusion GPS and British spy Christopher Steele to fuel a conspiracy of Trump campaign collusion with Russians at the top levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Sunday to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo…

So here you have information flowing from the Clinton campaign from the Russians, likely — I believe was handed directly from Russian propaganda arms to the Clinton campaign, fed into the top levels of the FBI and Department of Justice to open up a counter-intelligence investigation into a political campaign that has now polluted nearly every top official at the DOJ and FBI over the course of the last couple years. It is absolutely amazing,

According to Breitbart, during the 2016 election, Ohr served as associate deputy attorney general, and as an assistant to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His office was four doors down from Rosenstein on the fourth floor. He was also dual-hatted as the director of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Ohr’s contacts with Steele, an ex-British spy, are said to date back more than a decade. Steele is a former FBI informant who had helped the FBI prosecute corruption by FIFA officials. But it is Ohr and Steele’s communications in 2016 that lawmakers are most interested in.

Emails handed over to Congress by the Justice Department show that Ohr, Steele, and Simpson communicated throughout 2016, as Steele and Simpson were being paid by the Clinton campaign and the DNC to dig up dirt on Trump.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the role Bruce Ohr played in Hillary Clinton’s Deep State attack against the Presidency of Donald Trump, and why the most central of figures in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, British spy for hire Christopher Steele, is not sitting before Congress, testifying to the real election collusion between the UK, the Obama White House, the FBI and the DOJ.

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

Via The Washington Times

Republicans in a joint session of House committees are set to interview former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr this month to gauge whether a complex conspiracy against Donald Trump existed among Hillary Clinton loyalists and the Justice Department.

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+contacts with dossier author Chris Steele as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

His panel and the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a joint hearing to interview Mr. Ohr, according to The Daily Caller.

FBI documents show that the bureau bluntly told dossier writer Christopher Steele in November 2016 that it no longer wanted to hear about his collection of accusations against Mr. Trump.

But for months afterward, the FBI appeared to violate its own edict as agents continued to receive the former British spy’s scandalous charges centered on supposed TrumpRussia collusion.

 

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The US-Turkey Crisis: The NATO Alliance Forged in 1949 Is Today Largely Irrelevant

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via American Herald Tribune:


There has been some reporting in the United States mass media about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara and what it might mean. Such a falling out between NATO members has not been seen since France left the alliance in 1966 and observers note that the hostility emanating from both sides suggests that far worse is to come as neither party appears prepared to moderate its current position while diplomatic exchanges have been half-hearted and designed to lead nowhere.

The immediate cause of the breakdown is ostensibly President Donald Trump’s demand that an American Protestant minister who has lived in Turkey for twenty-three years be released from detention. Andrew Brunson was arrested 21 months ago and charged with being a supporter of the alleged conspiracy behind the military coup in 2016 that sought to kill or replace President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has asserted that the coup was directed by former political associate Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, but has produced little credible evidence to support that claim. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan has had himself voted extraordinary special powers to maintain public order and has arrested 160,000 people, including 20 Americans, who have been imprisoned. More than 170,000 civil servants, teachers, and military personnel have lost their jobs, the judiciary has been hobbled, and senior army officers have been replaced by loyalists.

Gulen is a religious leader who claims to promote a moderate brand of Islam that is compatible with western values. His power base consists of a large number of private schools that educate according to his curriculum, with particular emphasis on math and sciences. Many of the graduates become part of a loose affiliation that has sometimes been described as a cult. Gulen also owns and operates a number of media outlets, all of which have now been shut by Erdogan as part of his clamp down on the press. Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country.

It is widely believed that Erdogan has been offering to release Brunson in exchange for Gulen, but President Donald Trump has instead offered only a Turkish banker currently in a U.S. prison while also turning the heat up in the belief that pressure on Turkey will force it to yield. Washington began the tit-for-tat by imposing sanctions on two cabinet-level officials in Erdogan’s government: Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. Ankara has now also been on the receiving end of a Trump tweet and tariffs have been placed on a broad range of Turkish products, to include steel and aluminum.

The view that economic pressure will force the Turks to yield could be mistaken and demonstrates that the Administration does not include anyone who knows that Americans have been unpopular in Turkey since the Gulf War. The threats from Washington might actually rally skeptical and normally pro-western Turks around Erdogan but U.S. sanctions have already hit the Turkish economy hard, with the lira having lost 40% of its value this year and continuing to sink rapidly. Foreign investors, who fueled much of Turkey’s recent economic growth, have fled the market, suggesting that a collapse in credit might be on the way. Those European banks that hold Turkish debt are fearing a possible default.

It is a spectacle of one NATO member driving another NATO member’s economy into the ground over a political dispute. Erdogan has responded in his autocratic fashion by condemning “interest rates” and calling for an “economic war” against the U.S., telling his supporters to unload all their liquid valuables, gold and foreign to buy the plummeting lira, a certain recipe for disaster. If they do that, they will likely lose everything.

Other contentious issues involved in the badly damaged bilateral relationship are conflicting views on what to do about Syria, where the Turks have a legitimate interest due to potential Kurdish terrorism and are seeking a buffer zone, as well as Ankara’s interest in buying Russian air defense missile systems, which has prompted the U.S. to suspend sales of the new F-35 fighter. The Turks have also indicated that they have no interest in enforcing the sanctions on Iran that were re-imposed last week and they will continue to buy Iranian oil after the November 4th initiation of a U.S. ban on such purchases. The Trump Administration has warned that it will sanction any country that refuses to comply, setting the stage for a massive confrontation between Washington and Ankara involving the Turkish Central Bank.

In terms of U.S. interests, Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, is of strategic value because it is Muslim, countering arguments that the alliance is some kind of Christian club working to suppress Islam in the Middle East. And it is also important because of its geographic location close to hot spots where the American military is currently engaged. If the U.S. heeds Trump’s call to cut back on involvement in the region, Turkey will become less valuable, but currently, access to the Incirlik Airbase, near Adana and the Syrian border, is vital.

Indeed, Incirlik has become one of the flashpoints in the argument with Washington. Last week, a group of lawyers connected politically to Erdogan initiated legal action against U.S. officers at Incirlik over claimed ties to “terrorists” linked to Gulen. The “Association for Social Justice and Aid” has called for a temporary halt to all operations at the base to permit a search for evidence. The attorneys are asking for the detention of seven named American Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command based in Germany is also cited. If the lawyers are successful in court, it will mean a major conflict as Washington asserts the rights of the officers under the Status of Forces Agreement, while Turkey will no doubt insist that the Americans are criminals and have no protection.

Another trial balloon being floated by Erdogan is even more frightening in terms of the demons that it could be unleashing. Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist writing in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Atik, has suggested that there might well be a second terrorist attack on the United States like 9/11. Dilipak threatened that if Trump does nothing to reduce tension “…some people will teach him [to do] that. It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility.” Dilipak also warned that presumed Gulenist “U.S. collaborators” inside Turkey would be severely punished if they dared to go out into the streets to protest in support of Washington.

If recent developments in Turkey deteriorate further it might well suggest that Donald Trump’s instinct to disengage from the Middle East was the right call, though it could equally be seen as a rejection of the tactic being employed, i.e. using heavy-handed sanctions and tariffs to compel obedience from governments disinclined to follow Washington’s leadership. Either way, the Turkish-American relationship is in trouble and increasingly a liability for both sides, yet another indication that the NATO alliance forged in 1949 against the Soviet Union is today largely irrelevant.

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Is This The Most Important Geopolitical Deal Of 2018?

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water.

The Duran

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Authored by Olgu Okumus via Oilprice.com:


The two-decade-long dispute on the statute of the Caspian Sea, the world largest water reserve, came to an end last Sunday when five littoral states (Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) agreed to give it a special legal status – it is now neither a sea, nor a lake. Before the final agreement became public, the BBC wrote that all littoral states will have the freedom of access beyond their territorial waters, but natural resources will be divided up. Russia, for its part, has guaranteed a military presence in the entire basin and won’t accept any NATO forces in the Caspian.

Russian energy companies can explore the Caspian’s 50 billion barrels of oil and its 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan can finally start considering linking its gas to the Turkish-Azeri joint project TANAP through a trans-Caspian pipeline, while Iran has gained increased energy supplies for its largest cities in the north of the country (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) – however, Iran has also put itself under the shadow of Russian ships. This controversy makes one wonder to what degree U.S. sanctions made Iran vulnerable enough to accept what it has always avoided – and how much these U.S. sanctions actually served NATO’s interests.

If the seabed, rich in oil and gas, is divided this means more wealth and energy for the region. From 1970 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the Caspian Sea was divided into subsectors for Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – all constituent republics of the USSR. The division was implemented on the basis of the internationally-accepted median line.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the new order required new regulations. The question was over whether the Caspian was a sea or a lake? If it was treated as a sea, then it would have to be covered by international maritime law, namely the United Nations Law of the Sea. But if it is defined as a lake, then it could be divided equally between all five countries. The so-called “lake or sea” dispute revolved over the sovereignty of states, but also touched on some key global issues – exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Basin, freedom of access, the right to build beyond territorial waters, access to fishing and (last but not least) managing maritime pollution.

The IEA concluded in World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2017 that offshore energy has a promising future. More than a quarter of today’s oil and gas supply is produced offshore, and integrated offshore thinking will extend this beyond traditional sources onwards to renewables and more. Caspian offshore hydrocarbon reserves are around 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent (equivalent to one third of Iraq’s total oil reserves) and 8.4 trillion cubic meters of gas (almost equivalent to the U.S.’ entire proven gas reserves). As if these quantities were not themselves enough to rebalance Eurasian energy demand equations, the agreement will also allow Turkmenistan to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline, connecting Turkmenistan’s resources to the Azeri-Turkish joint project TANAP, and onwards to Europe – this could easily become a counter-balance factor to the growing LNG business in Europe.

Even though we still don’t have firm and total details on the agreement, Iran seems to have gained much less than its neighbors, as it has shortest border on the Caspian. From an energy perspective, Iran would be a natural market for the Caspian basin’s oil and gas, as Iran’s major cities (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) are closer to the Caspian than they are to Iran’s major oil and gas fields. Purchasing energy from the Caspian would also allow Iran to export more of its own oil and gas, making the country a transit route from the Caspian basin to world markets. For instance, for Turkmenistan (who would like to sell gas to Pakistan) Iran provides a convenient geography. Iran could earn fees for swap arrangements or for providing a transit route and justify its trade with Turkey and Turkmenistan as the swap deal is allowed under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA, or the D’Amato Act).

If the surface water will be in common usage, all littoral states will have access beyond their territorial waters. In practical terms, this represents an increasingly engaged Russian presence in the Basin. It also reduces any room for a NATO presence, as it seems to be understood that only the five littoral states will have a right to military presence in the Caspian. Considering the fact that Russia has already used its warships in the Caspian to launch missile attacks on targets within Syria, this increased Russian presence could potentially turn into a security threat for Iran.

Many questions can now be asked on what Tehran might have received in the swap but one piece of evidence for what might have pushed Iran into agreement in its vulnerable position in the face of increased U.S. sanctions. Given that the result of those sanctions seems to be Iran agreeing to a Caspian deal that allows Russia to place warships on its borders, remove NATO from the Caspian basin equation, and increase non-Western based energy supplies (themselves either directly or indirectly within Russia’s sphere of geopolitical influence) it makes one wonder whose interests those sanctions actually served?

By Olgu Okumus for Oilprice.com

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