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Syria, Turkey, Russia and the Kurds: the struggle for Afrin

Russia tries to broker a diplomatic solution to the Afrin conflict

Alexander Mercouris

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The complexities of the fighting in Afrin have – unsurprisingly – confounded most people, to the points where understanding of what is actually going on there is becoming very difficult and is causing much misunderstanding.

Deciphering Russian policy with respect to the Afrin conflict between Turkey and the Kurds is causing special problems.

The most common view I have seen is that Turkey attacked the Kurds in Afrin with Russia’s agreement, with some speculating that the Russians are using the Afrin conflict to drive a wedge between Turkey – a NATO member state – and the US, which is backing the Kurds.

This has supposedly pitted the Russians against the Syrian government and Iran.

The recent movement of Syrian troops into Afrin has even led to some talk of Syria and Iran being now pitted in a conflict in Afrin alongside the Kurds against a supposed “Russian-Turkish” alliance.

This is often accompanied with talk that President Assad has made a serious mistake by sending his troops to fight alongside the Kurds in Afrin.  Supposedly the Syrian military without the support of Russia is incapable of defeating the Turkish military and is risking a serious defeat by fighting the Turks alongside the Kurds in Afrin.

In my opinion this analysis is wrong, and in this article I shall attempt to show why.

Before I do so however there are four key points I must make, without a proper knowledge and understanding of which any analysis of the recent moves in the Afrin conflict must fail.

4 key points about the Afrin crisis

(1) The ‘Russian-Turkish’ alliance in Syria does not exist.

Whilst the Russians and the Turks are in constant contact with each other, and whilst economic relations between Russia and Turkey are becoming ever closer, it is a fundamental mistake to think that Russia and Turkey are pursuing the same goals in Syria, as they would be doing if they were genuinely allies of each other.

On the contrary, the reason why contacts between the Russians and Turks over Syria are so intense is precisely because they have to negotiate constantly with each other because their aims in Syria are completely divergent.

(2) Whatever other criticisms may be made of him, President Assad has repeatedly shown over the course of the Syrian conflict that he is (i) in full control of the Syrian government and military; and (ii) an exceptionally skilful, realistic and well-informed politician and war leader.  He is also by now highly experienced.

It could hardly be otherwise.  After seven years of intense conflict President Assad would not still be leading Syria if he was not all those things.

(3) Having intervened in Syria in 2015 to save President Assad and his government, the Russians are not going to abandon him now when he is on the brink of victory and any thought that they might be thinking of doing so should be firmly put aside.

(4) In the de facto alliance which exists between Russia and Syria, Russia is immeasurably the stronger party.  That means that whilst the Russians have to listen carefully to what President Assad and the Syrians tell them, and to take their concerns into account, in the end it is the Syrians who must accommodate themselves to whatever the Russians decide.

Russian objectives in Syria and the Russian alliance with the Syrian government

Points (3) and (4) inevitably lead to a discussion of Russian objectives in Syria.

Especially now that Russia has committed itself to establishing substantial military bases in Syria the Russians need a Syria which is (1) peaceful and stable, so that it is in a position to safeguard the bases; and (2) friendly to themselves.

Beyond that there is for the Russians the question of their overriding objective in intervening in Syria in the first place.  That was done – as the Russians have said repeatedly – in order to achieve a Syria free of Jihadi terrorist influence, so that it cannot threaten Russia.  Only a strong and stable Syrian government in full control of all of Syria’s territory which is friendly to Russia can achieve this.

If it was not obvious to the Russians before, it is certainly obvious now, that President Assad is the only Syrian political leader who has the skill, legitimacy, support and authority within Syria to deliver all these things.  No substitute or replacement to him has emerged, because none exists.  That guarantees that Russia will stick by him.

To the extent that Russia is allied to any party in the Syrian conflict it is therefore with President Assad and his government.

Evidence for the existence of that alliance is there for all to see in the joint military operations the Syrian military and the Russians conduct together – as for example currently in eastern Ghouta – and in the obvious coordination that goes on between them on political and diplomatic questions.

That does not of course mean that disagreements between the Russians and President Assad’s government do not from time to time arise.  The Russians are known for example to believe that President Assad and the Syrian government should be more accommodating than they have been up to now towards the Kurds.

However the existence of these disagreements should not obscure the fact that on all major issues the Russians and the Syrians work together with each other, and that they are pursuing a common objective in Syria, which is the restoration of the Syrian government’s authority over the whole of Syria’s territory.

Given the presence of US and Turkish troops on Syrian territory, achieving that objective requires considerable diplomatic manoeuvring and finesse if an uncontrolled escalation of the conflict is to be avoided.  However that flexibility in achieving that objective should not cause confusion about what that objective is.   It is a major error to misconstrue tactical moves that the Russians and the Syrians must from time to time make as signs that they are giving up on their joint objective.  On the contrary they are steps towards achieving it.

Once all these points are understood it becomes possible to decipher the recent moves in the Afrin conflict correctly.

Origins of the Afrin conflict in the US’s Plan C

The conflict has its origins in what I have called the US’s Plan C: the US plan to create a powerful quasi-independent and heavily armed Kurdish statelet in northern Syria so as to undermine the Syrian government and to prevent the Syrian government from regaining control of all of Syria’s territory.

As I have previously pointed out, Plan C was hatched by a small group of powerful insiders within the US bureaucracy – President Trump’s National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster seems to have played a key role – and has never been properly discussed or thought through.

The result is that the inevitable strong reaction of Turkey to Plan C – ie to the creation of a heavily armed YPG led Kurdish statelet on its southern border – was grossly underestimated, so that the Turkish military intervention in Afrin and the Turkish demands for a US and Kurdish withdrawal from the strategically important town of Manbij seems to have taken the US by surprise.

Characteristically, despite the increasingly dangerous Turkish moves, the powerful insiders within the US bureaucracy who hatched Plan C have far too much invested in it to draw back, so that despite President Trump’s publicly expressed doubts and Turkey’s growing anger the US continues to pursue Plan C by continuing (despite denials) to arm the Kurds.

That all but guarantees that the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds – and between Turkey and the US – in Syria will continue and will escalate.

The only way that can be prevented is if the Kurds can be persuaded to change their position by distancing themselves from the US and by withdrawing themselves from involvement in the US’s Plan C.

Turkey’s attack on the Afrin and objectives in Syria

Turkey and President Erdogan for their part are making use of the conflict in Afrin not only to prevent the US backed YPG led Kurdish statelet in northern Syria from emerging but in order to pursue their own wider objectives in Syria.

These are to create a zone of territory in northern Syria under effective Turkish control which will act as a safe area for Turkey’s anti-Assad Jihadi proxies.

The Turkish incursion into northern Syria in August 2016 (Operation Euphrates Shield) was in furtherance of this objective, and the latest Turkish advance into Afrin (Operation Olive Branch) is a continuation of it.

The ongoing deployment of convoys of Turkish troops to the Jihadi controlled Syrian province of Idlib – which is clearly intended to block the advance of the Syrian army – is also being undertaken to achieve this objective..

That the Turkish attack on Afrin ultimately targets the Syrian government as much as it does the Kurds was in fact made clear in interviews given to the Guardian by the anti-Assad Arab Jihadi fighters who are participating alongside the Turkish army in the Afrin operation.

See for example this highly revealing discussion of Jihadi objectives in fighting alongside Turkey in Afrin in this Guardian article dated 27th January 2018

The decision to cross over into Syria, and directly intervene in the seven-year-long civil war, has underlined the depth of Turkey’s concern about Kurdish fighters inside Syria. But it has also thrown Ankara’s ambitious training project into relief. According to rebel commanders, Turkey has for nearly two years been supporting the build-up and training of a unified army in Syria capable of resuming the battle against President Bashar al-Assad, now in the ascendant in the long civil war.

The genesis of the idea came in the opening months of Turkey’s first military campaign into Syria, when it launched Operation Euphrates Shield in the summer of 2016. Its troops had orders to both oust Isis from key border towns and limit the Kurdish militias’ westward expansion.

After taking the town of Jarablus near the border, Turkey sought to augment the Euphrates Shield forces – a disparate coalition of rebel militias – with a cadre of trained fighters to tackle Isis and guard the frontiers against Kurdish forces.

Rebel officials say the training programme has continued, building up Euphrates Shield into a force of 10,000 to 15,000 battle-ready soldiers, with an additional 10,000 recent recruits. After major military losses to Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies, the rebels see this force as a lifeline that could allow them to relaunch their waning insurgency. That rebel army, they say, could wage a campaign to eliminate al-Qaida-linked fighters who dominate the opposition-controlled province of Idlib, and go on to fight Assad again.

“We cannot accept military defeat, we have to reinforce and start over,” said one rebel official. “Euphrates Shield is against both terrorism and the regime, and it is the first step to build a state.” But their prime aim of unseating Assad seems increasingly divergent from their Turkish patrons’ focus on attacking Kurdish troops, meaning the force may ultimately amount to nothing but another proxy militia under a foreign power’s command – much like most other groups fighting in Syria…..

Turkey has quietly continued to support the project as it has grown into multiple divisions led by Syrian commanders who coordinate with Turkish officers, and who are spearheading the campaign in Afrin now. Therein lies the dilemma of the rebels leading the ground assault. Abandoned by all their international allies, they see no choice but to follow Turkey’s lead.

While they agree with the rationale of the Afrin campaign, they also hope that taking the Kurdish enclave will open up a ground corridor into Idlib that would allow the national rebel army its first test against their greatest enemies – Assad’s regime, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former wing of al-Qaida in Syria. Turkey has given them no promises of support for this. Its actions after the Afrin campaign will determine whether it has helped build up the rebel army to be its own proxy force, or to fight against the regime.

“We have to play on the differences between global powers negotiating in Syria,” said one rebel commander, whose group is not in Afrin but intends to join the national rebel army. “It is a strategic interest to open the ground corridor into Idlib, and it coincides with Turkish interests.”

(bold italics added)

These words not only give insight into the motives of the Turkish backed Jihadi forces fighting in Afrin.  They also show the suspicions they have towards President Erdogan and the Turkish government.

However the overall objective is clear enough, and it is also clear that Turkey backs it.  It is to take over Afrin and then use Afrin along with Jarablus (the latter captured by the Turkish army in August 2016 at the outset of Operation Euphrates Shield) as stepping stones towards establishing a Turkish backed Jihadi protectorate over Idlib province (currently a contested zone between ISIS and Al-Qaeda), which can then be used as launch pad for a renewed Jihadi offensive against the Syrian government.

Moreover it seems that a very large Jihadi force numbering up to 25,000 men is being built up with Turkish help to put this plan into effect.

This article in the Guardian vindicates the analysis of the motives behind Turkey’s 2016 Operation Euphrates Shield made at the time by the independent analyst Mark Sleboda (see my discussion made at the time here).

Just as Mark Sleboda said, far from Operation Euphrates Shield being aimed primarily at ISIS and the Kurds – as President Erdogan led everyone at the time to believe – its primary purpose was to rescue the Jihadi insurgency by bringing it under Turkish control, and rebuilding it in a Turkish controlled and Turkish protected safe area in northern Syria under the supervision of the Turkish army.

The current Turkish operation against the Kurds in Afrin is explicitly said by the Turkish backed Jihadi fighters to be in further pursuit of this plan.

The Syrian government and the Kurds: cutting deals with each other

This is what explains the recent deployment of Syrian forces to Afrin, and the Syrian government’s strong opposition to the Turkish operation in Afrin.

Though the Syrian government is obviously deeply concerned about the recent alignment of the Kurdish militia with the US and is determined to do all it can to end it, the Kurdish militia is not an existential threat to the Syrian government or to the Syrian state in the way that the Jihadi groups that Turkey backs are.

Whilst the establishment of a US backed Kurdish statelet in northern Syria would be a major blow to the Syrian government, there is no possibility of the Kurdish militia taking over the whole of Syria or marching on Damascus.

By contrast the Jihadi fighters currently fighting alongside the Turkish army in Afrin make no secret that that is precisely what their ultimate objective is.

For that reason it is overwhelmingly in the interests of the Syrian government to prevent the Turkish army from taking over Afrin, and that is why the Syrian government has facilitated the transfer of Kurdish fighters from other areas of Syria to Afrin, and why it has now deployed pro-government militia forces there.

This deployment of pro-government militia forces to Afrin in fact achieves for the Syrian government a multiplicity of purposes:

(1) It makes it more difficult for the Turkish army to conquer Afrin, something which it is in the Syrian government’s overwhelmingly strong interest to prevent;

(2) It re-establishes a Syrian government presence on the ground in Afrin, furthering the Syrian government’s ultimate objective of re-establishing itself across all of Syria’s territory; and

(3) Despite the YPG’s denials, it is overwhelmingly likely that some sort of deal has been done, enabling the Syrian government to take over territory from the YPG in return for its help in Afrin.

Already there are reports that the YPG has surrendered control of several districts in Aleppo province to the Syrian army.

Assuming that these reports are true – and video footage suggests that they are – then this is probably only the first of many concessions the Kurdish militia has been obliged to make to the Syrian government in order to secure its support in Afrin.  There are now even reports – published by the normally reliable Al-Masdar news agency – that the Kurds are about to hand over to the Syrian military the key town of Manbij, which is a declared objective of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch.

What then of the fears which are widely expressed that the entry of Syrian militia forces into Afrin is a foolhardy step, setting the scene for an all-out clash between the Turkish military and the Syrian army, which the Syrian army cannot win?

An assessment of those risks requires a discussion of Russian policy in the Afrin crisis.

Russia and Afrin: brokering a compromise?

Any discussion of Russian policy in the Afrin crisis needs to begin with two of the points I made previously:

(1) that it is strongly in Russia’s interests that the Syrian government re-establish its authority across the whole of Syria, and that this is now Russia’s primary objective in the conflict; and

(2) that in the de facto alliance between the Syrian government and Russia it is Russia which is overwhelmingly the dominant partner to whose opinions the Syrian government must defer.

These facts taken together with the fact that President Assad has repeatedly shown a keen understanding of Syria’s need to work with the Russians makes it all but inconceivable that the deployment of pro-government militia forces to Afrin was undertaken by the Syrian government without Russia’s agreement.

That Russia has approved the Syrian government’s decision to send pro-government militia forces to Afrin has now been confirmed by the presence of Russian troops escorting the pro-government militia forces as they redeploy to Afrin in order to deter attacks on them by the Turkish military.

Here is how the reliable and well-informed Al-Masdar news agency has reported the Russian deployment

The 3rd batch of Syrian popular forces made it into the northwestern city of Afrin through al-Ziyara crossing to help defend the predominantly-Kurdish region from the Turkish aggression.

The first two batches have entered Afrin during the past few days as per an agreement concluded earlier between the Syrian government and Kurdish factions.

 Last month, Turkey and its proxy militants have launched a full-scale offensive on Afrin region with the aim to ‘liberate the area from the terrorist Kurdish militiamen”.

The arrival of the Syrian forces will definitely make things harder for the already troubled Turkish-backed militants who failed to make substantial gains on the ground.

Meanwhile, members of the Russian military police were seen escorting the convoys at the Ziyara crossing in order to prevent the Turkish military from targeting the crossing as it was the case a few days ago when the 1st batch arrived.

(bold italics added)

Obviously the Russians have no more wish to see Afrin become a Turkish controlled base area for a Jihadi army capable of threatening the Syrian government than the Syrians themselves do.  That the Russians are therefore quietly assisting in the deployment of pro-government militia forces to Afrin in order to prevent that happening should not be a surprise.

What is true – and what is the source of much of the confusion – is that the Russians have to play their cards very carefully.

The fundamental weakness of the Russians’ Syrian strategy is that they need President Erdogan’s cooperation in order to stabilise Syria and to bring the conflict there to an end.  At the same time the Russians have to work with the fact that President Erdogan’s objectives in Syria – of which the Russians are of course fully informed – are diametrically opposite to their own.

This is what creates the strange shadow-boxing between the Russians and Turkey in Syria, with the Russians and the Turks needing at all times to appear to be on the best of terms with each other even as they constantly manoeuvre against each other for advantage.

It is this tortuous approach which explains why the Russians initially approved the Turkish attack on the Kurds in Afrin but have now approved a Syrian government move intended to thwart that attack.

The Russians will however be anxious to prevent an open clash between the Turkish and Syrian militaries from taking place in Afrin.

The Russians and the Syrian government are of course fully aware that in any one to one clash between the Turkish and Syrian militaries the advantage lies with the Turkish army.  The Russians would be loathe to see such a clash happen not just because it is likely that the Syrian military would be defeated, but because were it to happen they would come under immense pressure from Syria and Iran to come to the Syrian army’s aid.

Were they to do so their relationship with President Erdogan and Turkey would however be damaged probably beyond repair, thereby ending any prospect of their securing President Erdogan’s help to end the conflict in Syria.

This explains the understated nature of Russia’s moves.

It is known that the Russians tried to preempt Turkey’s Afrin operation by trying to persuade the Kurds to hand over Afrin to the Syrian government.  The Kurds however refused, so when the Turks attacked the Russians gave them the green light.

Now that the Kurds in Afrin are coming under pressure they have been forced to turn to the Syrian government.  The Russians have therefore given the Syrian government the green light to deploy its forces there.  At the same time they have almost certainly brokered an agreement whereby the Kurds in return for Syrian help will surrender districts they control in Aleppo and the town of Manbij to the Syrian government.

At the same time the Russians – anxious to maintain a dialogue with President Erdogan and to help him save face – have ensured that the Syrian deployment to Afrin is of a limited nature, being made up exclusively of pro-government militia forces, with no involvement by the Syrian army

The Al-Masdar news agency has confirmed that no Syrian troops are actually present in Afrin, showing that the deployment of pro-government militia forces to Afrin is intended first and foremost as a piece of positioning in advance of negotiations

No Syrian Arab Army (SAA) troops have entered the Afrin region of Aleppo, a military source in Aleppo told Al-Masdar News on Saturday morning.

According to the military source, the Syrian Army has been ordered to remain in Aleppo city and absent from the Afrin front.

The source added that the Syrian Army agreed to stay out of the battle after the Russian military held a meeting with their Turkish counterparts.

While the Syrian Army is absent from Afrin, the pro-government National Defense Forces (NDF) have entered this region to aid the Kurdish-led YPG.

The NDF coordinates with the Syrian Army, but they are not an actual branch of the military, which means they can operate autonomously if need be.

(bold italics added)

Russia’s plan

It is not in fact difficult to see what the Russian plan is.

Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch has now brought the whole of the border area in northern Afrin under Turkish control.

The Russians are now doubtless telling the Turks that this has achieved for Turkey its primary objective, which is to prevent the movement of Kurdish YPG and PKK fighters and supplies from Afrin into Turkey.

However the Russians are doubtless also telling the Turks that further advances deeper into Afrin would be unwise since they will meet with increased resistance not just from the Kurds but from forces loyal to Damascus. They will point to the presence of pro-government militia forces in Afrin to reinforce their point.

Having secured the border, they will be saying to Erdogan and to the Turks that it is now in Turkey’s interests to declare victory and stop.

As for the Kurds, the Russians will be reminding them that when they came under attack from Turkey their US ‘allies’ were nowhere to be seen, so that they had to look for help to the Syrian government and to Russia.

It is not therefore in the Kurds’ interests to get enmeshed in the US’s Plan C.  Better for them to come to terms with the Syrian government – which means accepting its authority – whilst relying on the help of Russia to secure such terms for them as it can.

The Russians will be reminding the Kurds that Russia has always been sympathetic to Kurdish aspirations, and they will be advising the Kurds to listen to Russia’s advice as advice coming from a friend.

As for the Syrian government, any agreement with the Kurds and with Turkey which detaches the Kurds from the US and which results in the establishment of a Syrian government presence in areas formerly under Kurdish control would be for it a good thing, advancing the Syrian government’s eventual goal of re-establishing its control over all of Syria’s territory, whilst if Turkish plans to establish a safe zone for Turkey’s Jihadi proxies in northern Syria can be prevented, then that would be even better.

The Russians will not only be telling the Syrians all this; they will also be telling the Syrians that accepting a limited and ultimately temporary presence of Turkish troops in northern Afrin and making some minor concessions to the Kurds on questions of cultural autonomy and local government is a small price to pay in order to achieve it.

Will it work?

Any negotiation involving President Erdogan and the Kurds is fraught with difficulty.

Both have maximalist objectives – in President Erdogan’s case for the establishment of a Jihadi dominated Islamist state in Syria under Turkish control, in the case of the Kurds for self-rule in an independent Kurdish state – to which they are emotionally deeply committed, and which they are very reluctant to give up.

Moreover there is the further complicating factor that neither President Erdogan nor the Kurds can be trusted to keep whatever agreements they make.  That means that any agreement made with them requires constant effort to be kept effective.

Against this both President Erdogan and the Kurds find themselves in increasing difficulties.

For President Erdogan, whilst Operation Olive Branch has made some important advances in Afrin, it has done so at the price of heavy losses, and against combined Russian, Syrian and Kurdish opposition it is likely to run into increasing difficulties.

President Erdogan must also worry about Turkey’s rapidly deteriorating relations with the US, and may calculate that Turkey therefore needs at least the appearance of a good relationship with Russia in order to protect itself from the US.

Over and above these considerations, following the incident of the downing of the Russian SU-24 President Erdogan knows very well the heavy price Turkey will pay if it crosses Russia.  With Turkey’s economy showing signs of overheating, and heavily dependent on Russia, he has every incentive to keep relations with Russia on track.

As for the Kurds, their recent setbacks in Afrin have shown them that for all their bragging they cannot take on the Turkish military by themselves, and that in a showdown with Turkey they cannot rely on the US to save them.

Both President Erdogan and the Kurds therefore have reasons to draw back, though whether the Russians can persuade them to do so is another matter.

Having said this, both President Erdogan and the Kurds have shown themselves to be willing to make compromises in the past, so the possibility that they can be persuaded to do so again should not be completely discounted.

What is beyond dispute is that Russian diplomacy is working flat out to achieve that very thing.

Not only is the Russian military talking to the Turkish military on the ground, but Alexander Lavrentyev, a top Russian diplomat and President Putin’s personal envoy, has just met with President Assad in Damascus, whilst President Putin and President Erdogan have again spoken to each other, as the Russians gear up for the summit they are trying to convene between President Putin of Russia, President Erdogan of Turkey and President Rouhani of Iran in Istanbul.

Much now rides on the success of this summit.  However the possibility of a breakthrough is there.

Of course if that happens it will be the final end of the US’s Plan C, and the beginning of the end of the war in Syria.

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Fusion GPS founder trapped in legal jeopardy, bets on Democrat midterm win to bury Russiagate hoax (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 135.

Alex Christoforou

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Fusion GPS researcher Nellie Ohr and ex-FBI official James Baker are set to testify before Congress, but Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson is taking the Fifth.

The man at the center of the Russiagate hoax, Glenn Simpson, headed the espionage/PR smear firm Fusion GPS, which ordered the discredited and fake Trump ‘dossier’, which John McCain handed to the FBI, and which Buzzfeed News published as actual news.

Simpson has a lot of explaining to do, and now appears trapped in his “under oath” lies.

Simpson had previously testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that he never met with DOJ official Bruce Ohr, husband to Fusion GPS researcher Nellie Ohr.

Simpson also stated under oath that he never discussed with Bruce Ohr the Steele dossier prior to the October FISA application, which was used to spy on Carter Page and kick off the ‘Russiagate hoax’.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the legal jeopardy entangling Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson. Republicans are close to breaking the ‘Russiagate hoax’ wide open, but Simpson is betting on delay tactics, and a subsequent Democrat midterm House victory, to save his ass from prosecution, and bury his involvement in a brazen attempt to discredit and remove an elected US President.

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According to Zerohedge, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson may be in “real legal jeopardy” over inconsistent testimony given to Congress regarding his involvement in a massive counterintelligence effort against then-candidate Donald Trump, including the infamous Steele dossier.

Speaking with Fox News Maria Bartiromo, John Ratcliffe (R-TX) said…

“I’m not surprised that Glenn Simpson is taking the Fifth.”

“He probably should. He’s in real legal jeopardy. Very clearly someone is not telling the truth.”

Via The Daily Caller… 

Simpson, who investigated the Trump campaign on behalf of the DNC and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, informed Congress on Thursday that he will plead the Fifth to avoid speaking with members of the House Judiciary and House Oversight & Government Committee in an interview set for Tuesday.

“The reason for that … is that Glenn Simpson had previously testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that he never met with Bruce Ohr or discussed with Bruce Ohr the Steele dossier prior to the October FISA application in 2016 or the 2016 presidential election,” said Ratcliffe, a member of the House Judiciary panel.

Via Fox News ‘Sunday Morning Futures’

Via Zerohedge

Ohr told the Judiciary and Oversight & Government Reform Committees in an August 28 interview that he met with Simpson in August and December of 2016 to discuss Fusion GPS’s opposition research into Donald Trump.

Bruce’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was hired by Fusion GPS for the anti-Trump effort at the time.

Simpson, however, told a different story to the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017, when he said that he hadn’t been in contact with anyone from the DOJ or FBI until after the election. While he did acknowledge meeting with Bruce Ohr (meetings which would result in Ohr’s demotion), Simpson never disclosed his wife’s employment.

“Ohr, who has been demoted twice since December, was also in frequent contact with Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier. Steele, a former British spy, was hired by Fusion GPS in June 2016 to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible links to the Kremlin.

Steele met with the Ohrs on July 30, 2016, a day before the FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump team. Ohr met just after with FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe.” – Daily Caller

Following the 2016 election, Steel and Ohr met over a dozen times, despite the FBI having blacklisted Steele for improper media disclosures concerning his work.

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Hillary and Holder are hurting Democrat Party with their rhetoric

Democrat-written opinion piece points out the fact that the party has radicalized so much it has left its own supporters behind.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News ran an opinion piece written by Douglas E. Schoen early Sunday. It points out how radicalized the Democrat Party has become, and it is noteworthy because Douglas Schoen is a Democrat himself. He writes (emphasis added):

As Democrats campaign for the Nov. 6 midterm elections, they have plenty of legitimate criticisms to level at President Trump and Republicans who control the House and Senate. But Democrats were hurt in recent days by amazing and disgusting comments made by Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

As a Democrat, I want my party to win as many seats as possible in the House and Senate and to capture as many governorships and other state offices as it can. But the Clinton and Holder remarks do not advance that effort – they hurt it.

Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Clinton said Tuesday that “you cannot be civil with” the Republican Party because it “wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” She added that “if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”

But even worse than Clinton’s comments were those of Eric Holder, who said at a recent campaign event in Georgia that Democrats should abandon the advice of former first lady Michelle Obama, who said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that her party and mine should respond positively to negative attacks from the GOP.

Mrs. Obama said that “when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

Holder argued just the opposite, saying: “When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.” He later said he wasn’t advocating violence – not literal kicking.

I beg to differ with both Clinton and Holder.

The only way the Democrats can regain the majority in either or both houses of Congress is by being civil, and pointing out the differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issues.

This is the real issue that should govern elections. Rather than the politics of popularity, one needs to consider policy points and which side offers points that are actually achievable, believable, concrete, desirable and specific. Calling President Trump and his administration names does not offer any constructive dialogue on policy matters.

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Conservatives and Trump supporters know this and it is precisely because of this that Donald Trump won the White House.

While the mainstream media (and here we can include Fox News largely) tried every possible way to ridicule Donald Trump’s candidacy, the people that actually listened to what he had to say found him very impressive on policy as much as his ability to speak as the voice of the people. The recent hysteria around Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court was hysteria up front, driven by real policy fears from the deep core of liberals, as they know that this Justice is likely to form an effective wall against liberals ramming their agenda through the courts since their efforts fail legislatively so often.

Mr. Schoen continues:

As a centrist Democrat, the issue that strikes me most is the degree to which the national debt and the deficit are now out of control.

America faces uncertain and unstable times financially. Yet we are seeing a Republican-controlled Congress that has largely failed to do anything besides provide tax cuts for major corporations and the wealthiest individuals. This is by no means certain to have fundamentally altered the path of the economy or to provide economic growth.

Put another way, what the Trump administration has failed to do is to fix health care and cover pre-existing conditions more fundamentally; lead America in a fiscally responsible way; and pass tax cuts that help the average American. The Trump tax cuts have driven up the national debt and endangered funding for programs that benefit millions of people in our country.

So, here are policy points. Now we can begin to have a debate. Is Mr. Schoen right, or wrong in his information? This is far different than name-calling!

Democrats have long argued the need for a centrist agenda that focuses on:

  • Providing health-care benefits – whether private or public – to all Americans to cover expansively all pre-existing conditions.
  • Protecting the environment from the policies of the Trump administration that have only encouraged –and I dare say exacerbated – environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Promoting a pro-growth, inclusive agenda that seeks to put working people first, and the interests of Washington insiders and economic elites second. President Trump claims that he is doing this – he calls it “draining the swamp” – but this has not happened.

There is no justification for the angry rhetoric of Clinton and Holder, which only feeds into Republican claims that Democrats are an angry mob that can’t get over Clinton’s loss to Trump two years ago.

And Holder looks particularly bad because he was once the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, yet now sounds like he is effectively advocating what appears to be either illegal activities, or metaphorical initiatives that run counter to our traditions and our politics.

Hillary Clinton has said she won’t run for office again, but Holder has said he may run for president in 2020. Whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be needs to be a responsible and respectable opponent – not one who calls for kicking the GOP or for incivility.

We should have learned from the Senate confirmation hearing for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that resisting for the sake of resisting doesn’t work. In fact, Democratic attacks on Kavanaugh may well have backfired, recent polls show.

The Democratic Party itself is lost now, without a message, a direction, a strategy, or agenda to confront a Republican Party that is seen as in many ways as having let the American people down.

We need change – but it must be constructive change. This Democrat believes that the comments that Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton made are wrong, counterproductive, and deserve to be rejected by the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Perhaps Fox News ran this opinion piece because Douglas Schoen is the first rational Democrat contributor to say anything in some time. However, it also appears that Mr. Schoen is a minority in his own party. It is a greatly logical approach to argue policy, as he has and as anyone who really understands American government should. But it is unclear as to whether the bulk of the Democrat Party even has reasonable people remaining.

If they do, it may well be that they are being betrayed by their party’s increasingly leftist and radical positions. The Party apparatus seems focused, but it also seems to have left people like Mr. Schoen behind.

Who knows? Maybe that will bring them into the Trump camp.

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Patriarch Bartholomew lifts anathemas on schismatics in Ukraine (VIDEO)

Most of the Orthodox world is in strong opposition to this move by Patriarch Bartholomew, whose motivations seem not to be of Christ.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The biggest news in the Eastern Orthodox world in recent times occurred on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, lifted the anathemas against two schismatic Ukrainian Churches and their leaders, paving the way to the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian national Orthodox Church.

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This announcement was given in English and is shown here in video with the textual transcript following:

“Presided by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod convened for its regular session from October 9 to 11, 2018 in order to examine and discuss items on its agenda. The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length, the ecclesiastical mater of Ukraine in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishp Ilarion of Edmonon, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine, and following extensive deliberations decreed (emphasis added):

First, to renew the decision already made, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine;

Second, to re-establish at this moment the stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev—one of its many starvorpegion in Ukraine that existed there always;

Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church;

Fourth, to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through economia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the clergy-laity assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople;

Fifth, to appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties as well as every other act of violence and retaliation so that he peace and love of Christ may prevail.”

There are a few things that must be said about what this declaration is not before we get to the matter of what the points of actually are. The point of reference is the strict letter of the text above itself.

  • This is not a granting of autocephaly (full independent self-rule status) like the fourteen universally canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. However, it is a huge step towards this status.
  • As far as Constantinople is concerned, Filaret Denisenko, the leader and “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and Makary, the “Metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church”, and all their faithful are now restored to communion. The statement says that this applies to “The Church” which may be trying to state that these two men (and all the faithful that they lead), are now in communion with the entirety of canonical Orthodoxy, but more likely, this may be a carefully worded statement to say they now are in communion with Constantinople alone.
  • There is an official call for the cessation of the violence directed against the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and communities, who are the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and who are also the largest by far in that country. The Kyiv Patriarchate and Uniate (Roman oriented) Greek Catholics in Ukraine have gone on record for seizing MP church properties, often by force, with neo-Nazi sympathizers and other radical Ukrainian nationalists. So this official call to cease the violence is now a matter of public record.

However, the reaction has been far less civil than the clergy wished for.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “Expressing his view of the Moscow Patriarchate, Poroshenko added, “This is a great victory of the God-loving Ukrainian people over the Moscow demons, the victory of Good over Evil, the victory of Light over Darkness.”’

Perhaps this is the reason Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine (exarch under the Moscow Patriarchate) has been labeled an enemy of Ukraine and is now receiving death threats. Very civil.

Poroshenko’s statement is all the more bizarre, considering that it has been Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that have been violently attacking Moscow – related parishes in Ukraine. This has been corroborated by news sources eager to pin the blame on Russia, such as the U.K. Guardian.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists, based in Kiev and supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been under intense cyber attack since October 11th, when the EP’s announcement was issued.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary: “What happened at the Synod in Istanbul yesterday shocked the entire Orthodox world. It seems the Patriarchate of Constantinople is consciously embarking on a path of schism in world Orthodoxy. Patriarch Bartholomew ignored the calls of the Local Churches to convene a meeting of the primates to work out a common and conciliar solution to the Ukrainian Church issue and unilaterally made very serious but erroneous decisions. I hope the Orthodox world will give this action an objective evaluation… Having received the schismatics into communion, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make them canonical, but has himself embarked on the path of schism. The schismatics remain schismatics. They did not receive any autocephaly or tomos. It seems they have lost even that independence, although non-canonical, that they had and which they always emphasized.”

Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia:“The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia wrote two letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch, advocating that the provision of a new autocephaly is possible only with the consent of all local Orthodox Churches. According to Sedmitza.ru (Translation by Pravoslavie.ru),

“In these letters, it was very clearly stated that the granting of autocephaly cannot be the prerogative the Patriarchate of Constantinople alone, that new autocephalies must be created only with the consent of all the Local Orthodox Churches, as the Holy Synod of Antioch also said in its recent statement.”

Pat. Irinej also warned the Patriarchate of Constantinople against making such major decisions unilaterally, because “it will not bring harmony and peace to the Ukrainian land, but, on the contrary, will cause new divisions and new schisms.”

The Holy Synod of Antioch, the oldest Orthodox Church, and actually the very first place where the disciples of Christ were even called “Christians” weighed in on the issue as well and they had several things to say:

“The fathers examined the general Orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to a unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissensions and quarrels within the one Church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox world.

To summarize, this move by Constantinople is not being warmly received by many, many people. Most of the local Churches are on record giving their reaction to this process. In brief, here is the list most of the Local Churches and a one or two word summary of their reactions.

Patriarchate of Georgia: Unilateral action is wrong; Constantinople and Moscow must cooperate and find a solution together.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem: recognizes Ukraine as a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church alone, as do all other local Churches

Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa: The Church does not bow to politicians. Moscow-led church is the only canonical Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop of Cyprus: Decries the Ukrainian situation but offered to mediate a discussion between Moscow and Constantinople

Bulgarian Patriarchate: Interference of the State in Church affairs leads to serious and negative consequences for both.

Polish Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Sawa called for a council of Orthodox ruling hierarchs to discuss this situation.

Estonian Orthodox Church: Condemns Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

Greek Archdiocese of America: Supports Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church of Greece (Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus quoted): “Schismatics, as we know, are not the Church, and communion with them is forbidden by the Divine and holy canons and the Apostolic and Ecumenical Councils. Why then this persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing schismatics as an autocephalous Church? To provoke schisms and divisions in the one universal and Apostolic Church of Christ?”

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR): Ceased commemoration of Constantinople, ceased concelebration with Constantinople.

This issue has also rocked the secular geopolitical world.

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