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Skripal crisis: Theresa May fires a blank shot

Measures announced today will bounce off Russia but will hurt Britain

Alexander Mercouris

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After days of hysteria and of mounting speculation, and after having stoked up by her statement on Monday expectations of stern action against Russia to stratospheric levels, Theresa May produced a package of ‘sanctions’ today which do no more than expose the weakness of Britain’s hand.

This is how the BBC describes them

  • The expulsion of 23 diplomats – who have one week to leave
  • Increased checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • The freezing of Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents
  • Ministers and Royal Family to boycott the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year
  • The suspension of all planned high level bi-lateral contacts between the UK and Russia

Note that none of these sanctions include any of the supposedly draconian steps which have been spoken about over the last few days.

Theresa May for example appeared to rule out a blanket visa ban and sweeping asset freezes on wealthy Russians coming to London.  It is clear that ideas for a boycott by the England team of the World Cup in Russia and for the complete severing of diplomatic relations with Russia have been abandoned if they were ever considered.

Reports in the media have also confirmed that the idea of launching a cyber attack against Russia has been ruled out, since the British quietly acknowledge that Russia has immeasurably greater cyber resources with which to retaliate than Britain does.

As to whether or not Ofcom will now strip RT of its broadcasting licence, Maria Zakharova’s threat to expel all British media outlets from Russia is having a chilling effect, with the British media apparently now quietly lobbying the British government against doing it.

By way of example, The Times of London, the newspaper which has been leading the British media’s offensive against RT, now has this to say, tucked away at the bottom of a meandering editorial with the woolly and meaningless headline ‘An Unstable World’

The Kremlin has threatened to expel British journalists from Moscow should London shut down the Russian propaganda channel RT. That would be ill advised. Britain stands for nothing if not free speech. Mrs May should stick to the evidence in the Skripal case, identifying the culprits and bringing maximum international force to bear to punish them personally.

It is interesting to see how the British media suddenly discovers free speech also applies to Russian media when its own interests are threatened.

It is still possible that Ofcom may follow up on its threats against RT, but that is now looking rather less likely.

As for the measures Theresa May announced today not only will they not affect Russia in the slightest, but they are actually counterproductive.

The Russians are sure to respond to the British expulsion of Russian diplomats from London by expelling a comparable number of British diplomats from Moscow.

Since Russia is by far the more powerful country, it is the British who need to maintain a strong diplomatic presence in Moscow to retain relevance.  By contrast Russia, as a Great Power, has no need to maintain a strong diplomatic presence in Britain, which is nowadays a second or even third rank power.

The reciprocal expulsions which are now going to happen will not therefore affect Russia’s position as a Great Power in the slightest.  They will however further marginalise the British in international diplomacy.

The same is true of the British decision to sever bilateral contacts with Russia.

Apart from Boris Johnson’s recent ill-starred to Moscow, there have in fact been barely any bilateral contacts between the Russian and British governments for years, even though it is again Britain as the weaker country which needs these contacts in order to retain relevance, not Russia.

As it happens I expect the Russians to greet the news that they are going to be spared further meetings with Boris Johnson with a quiet sigh of relief.

As for Boris Johnson himself, how he hopes to cut an important figure in international diplomacy when he is now prevented from visiting Moscow – the capital of one of the world’s Great Powers – by his own government, completely escapes me.  The reality is that no one takes him seriously anyway.

The reciprocal expulsions of diplomats will of course also make it more difficult for the British to maintain their intelligence operation in Moscow.

Since this appears to be rather extensive, and seems to involve far more ‘democracy promotion’ activity (ie. meddling in Russian domestic politics) than anything the Russians do in Britain, the Russians will probably also be quietly pleased about it.

Not surprisingly there have been media reports that the British intelligence community actually lobbied against large scale expulsions.  It is not difficult to see why, with her locker largely empty there was little else Theresa May could do.

As for the non-attendance of British government ministers and members of the Royal Family at the World Cup, I doubt anyone would have noticed their presence there anyway.  Certainly the Russians won’t be bothered if they don’t come.  I doubt anyone else will care much either.

As for the threat to seize Russian state assets in Britain “where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents” that may sound ominous, but note that no actual seizures of Russian state assets were announced, and given that such seizures would almost certainly be contrary to international law and would undoubtedly provoke retaliatory action from Russia, I doubt they will happen.

In summary, Theresa May today looks like a conjuror who following a lengthy drum roll discovered she was holding an empty hat.

It is possible that the British may lobby for further action from their allies, and that more such action may come, but frankly I think the prospects of any significant action being taken against Russia by the Western allies at an international level are small.

Note for example the carefully worded readout the White House has provided of Donald Trump’s conversation with Theresa May

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom.  They discussed the United Kingdom’s investigation into the chemical weapon attack on a private citizen and his daughter on British soil.  President Trump stated the United States stands in solidarity with its closest ally and is ready to provide any assistance the United Kingdom requests for its investigation.  President Trump agreed with Prime Minister May that the Government of the Russian Federation must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom. The two leaders agreed on the need for consequences for those who use these heinous weapons in flagrant violation of international norms.

(bold italics added)

Contrary to what some reports in the British media were saying yesterday, it seems that the only assistance Donald Trump actually offered to Theresa May was assistance with the conduct of the investigation into the Skripal attack itself.  There is no word here of help with action against Russia.

Theresa May did announce some other measures, which do not specifically target Russia.  The Guardian describes them as follows

  • The government will enact a new targeted power to detain people suspected of hostile state activity at borders. This power was previously limited to suspected terrorists.
  • The government will look at whether new counter-espionage powers are needed

Britain already has sweeping anti-terrorism and counter-espionage laws, and there is concern that they are already being used in an increasingly arbitrary way.  Beefing them up further should invite concern because of the threat to the rights of private individuals, not Russia..

Lastly, on the subject of the Skripal attack itself, the “increased checks on private flights, customs and freight” I take that as further proof that the British authorities do not know how the chemical which was used to attack Skripal was brought into Britain.

Of course based on the information about the investigation which has been released up to now there is also the possibility that the chemical used was produced in Britain.  No one in authority in Britain – least of all Theresa May – is however going to say that.

In conclusion, Theresa May has done what she habitually does: take what appears to be an exceptionally strong stand, and then fail to act on it.

It will probably take some time for this to sink in in Britain itself, but eventually it is bound to do so, and when it does that will only damage her already tattered authority further.

In truth the British were reckless and foolish to enter into a confrontation on the flimsiest of evidence against Russia, a country far more powerful than themselves.

The package of measures Theresa May announced today simply highlights that fact.

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Trump Has Gifted “No More Wars” Policy Position To Bernie Sanders (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 148.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss how US President Donald Tump appears to have ceded his popular 2016 ‘no more wars’ campaign message and policy position to Bernie Sanders and any other US 2020 candidate willing to grad onto a non-interventionist approach to the upcoming Democrat primaries.

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“Is Bernie Stealing Trump’s ‘No More Wars’ Issue?” by Patrick J. Buchanan…


The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016.

“The president has said that he does not want to see this country involved in endless wars… I agree with that,” Bernie Sanders told the Fox News audience at Monday’s town hall meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Then turning and staring straight into the camera, Bernie added:

“Mr. President, tonight you have the opportunity to do something extraordinary: Sign that resolution. Saudi Arabia should not be determining the military or foreign policy of this country.”

Sanders was talking about a War Powers Act resolution that would have ended U.S. involvement in the five-year civil war in Yemen that has created one of the great humanitarian crises of our time, with thousands of dead children amidst an epidemic of cholera and a famine.

Supported by a united Democratic Party on the Hill, and an anti-interventionist faction of the GOP led by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee of Utah, the War Powers resolution had passed both houses of Congress.

But 24 hours after Sanders urged him to sign it, Trump, heeding the hawks in his Cabinet and National Security Council, vetoed S.J.Res.7, calling it a “dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities.”

With sufficient Republican votes in both houses to sustain Trump’s veto, that should be the end of the matter.

It is not: Trump may have just ceded the peace issue in 2020 to the Democrats. If Sanders emerges as the nominee, we will have an election with a Democrat running on the “no-more-wars” theme Trump touted in 2016. And Trump will be left defending the bombing of Yemeni rebels and civilians by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Does Trump really want to go into 2020 as a war party president?

Does he want to go into 2020 with Democrats denouncing “Trump’s endless wars” in the Middle East? Because that is where he is headed.

In 2008, John McCain, leading hawk in the Senate, was routed by a left-wing first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who had won his nomination by defeating the more hawkish Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

In 2012, the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was far more hawkish than Obama on Russia, lost.

Yet, in 2016, Trump ran as a different kind of Republican, an opponent of the Iraq War and an anti-interventionist who wanted to get along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and get out of these Middle East wars.

Looking closely at the front-running candidates for the Democratic nomination of 2020 — Joe Biden, Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker — not one appears to be as hawkish as Trump has become.

Trump pulled us out of the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and reimposed severe sanctions.

He declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, to which Iran has responded by declaring U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization. Ominously, the IRGC and its trained Shiite militias in Iraq are in close proximity to U.S. troops.

Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy there, closed the consulate that dealt with Palestinian affairs, cut off aid to the Palestinians, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights seized from Syria in 1967, and gone silent on Bibi Netanyahu’s threat to annex Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Sanders, however, though he stands by Israel, is supporting a two-state solution and castigating the “right-wing” Netanyahu regime.

Trump has talked of pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the troops are still there.

Though Trump came into office promising to get along with the Russians, he sent Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and announced a pullout from Ronald Reagan’s 1987 INF treaty that outlawed all land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

When Putin provocatively sent 100 Russian troops to Caracas — ostensibly to repair the S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system that was damaged in recent blackouts — Trump, drawing a red line, ordered the Russians to “get out.”

Biden is expected to announce next week. If the stands he takes on Russia, China, Israel and the Middle East are more hawkish than the rest of the field, he will be challenged by the left wing of his party, and by Sanders, who voted “no” on the Iraq War that Biden supported.

The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016. And the anti-interventionist wing of the GOP is growing.

And when added to the anti-interventionist and anti-war wing of the Democratic Party on the Hill, together, they are able, as on the Yemen War Powers resolution, to produce a new bipartisan majority.

Prediction: By the primaries of 2020, foreign policy will be front and center, and the Democratic Party will have captured the “no-more-wars” political high ground that Candidate Donald Trump occupied in 2016.

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Over 200 killed, hundreds injured in series of blasts at Sri Lankan hotels & churches

A series of bombings hit churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 200 people.

RT

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Via RT…


A series of eight explosions rocked Catholic churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka as Christians began Easter Sunday celebrations, with over 200 killed and hundreds injured, media reported, citing police.

The blasts started at around 8:45am local time at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic-majority town outside of the capital. The Zion Church in Batticaloa on the eastern coast was also targeted. At around the same time, the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury five-star hotels were also hit, police confirmed.

Two more explosions happened later in the day, targeting two more locations in Colombo. All attacks appear to have been coordinated.

At least 207 people were killed, Reuters reported, citing police. More than 450 were injured in the attacks.

Alleged footage of the aftermath, shared on social media, showed chaos and large-scale destruction inside at least one of the churches.

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Mike Pompeo reveals true motto of CIA: ‘We lied, we cheated, we stole’ (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 147.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at a Texas A&M University speech, and subsequent interview, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The former CIA Director admitted, ‘as an aside’ to the question asked, that the Intelligence agency he headed up before being appointed as the top US Diplomat had a motto “we lied, we cheated, we stole”…which, according to Pompeo, contained entire CIA training courses based on ‘lying, cheating and stealing.’

Pompeo finally speaks some truth.

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