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The US sends its energy hit man to Athens in order to scare Greece into not moving forward with Greek Stream pipeline

With Russia set to advance Greece $5 billion against the future potential profits from its portion of the Turk Stream pipeline, The US sent its energy envoy to Greece to scare (and probably bribe) Athens into not building an economic future as an energy hub in Europe.

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on Zerohedge.

Over the course of Greece’s painful and protracted negotiations with European creditors, Athens has sought, at various times when a deal seems to be slipping away, to play the Russian pivot card. What began as a series of diplomatic overtures between the Tsipras government and Moscow quickly turned more serious once rumors began to swirl around Greece’s potential participation in Russia’s Turkish Stream pipeline which, as a reminder, will allow Russia to bypass Bulgaria by piping gas through Turkey, then through Greece, Serbia, and Hungary straight to the Austrian central hub.

TurkishStream_0

In short order, it leaked that Moscow was set to advance Greece $5 billion against the future potential profits from the pipeline, a payment which we characterized as a get-out-of-Troika-jail free card and although conflicting reports emerged thereafter regarding just how soon money would actually be flowing from Moscow to Athens, discussions around the pipeline continued to move forward when Gazprom chief  Alexei Miller visited Greece late last month to discuss “current energy issues of interest.”

That visit proved more than Europe could bear, and so the European Commission promptly filedantitrust charges against the Russian gas giant in an absurdly transparent attempt to punish the Kremlin for interfering in negotiations between the EU and its Aegean debt serf.

Now with negotiations between Athens and creditors still fraught with uncertainty, and with the IMF now reportedly at odds with the rest of the Troika over appropriate bailout terms, another interested party is stepping into the melee because, as NY Times reports, fresh off a humiliating political defeat at the hands of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Washington is in no mood to see the birthplace of Western civilization co-opted by a Russian natural gas firm. Here’s more:

The United States, wading into the international efforts to shape Greece’s economic and geopolitical orientation, is pushing the leftist government in Athens to resist Russia’s energy overtures.

A State Department envoy in Athens urged Greece on Friday to embrace a Western-backed project that would link Europe to natural gas supplies in Azerbaijan, rather than agree to a gas pipeline project pushed by Moscow.

The dueling sales pitches, reminiscent of a Cold War struggle, come as debt-burdened Greece is desperate for new sources of revenue of the sort that a gas pipeline could bring.

In an interview in Athens on Friday, before meeting with Greek officials, the State Department envoy, Amos J. Hochstein, said Greece would increase its appeal to Western investors — and would help reduce the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas supplies — if it declined to play host to a pipeline proposed by the Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom.

That pipeline would carry Russian gas to Europe through Turkey and Greece, bypassing pipelines that run through Ukraine…

The geopolitical tug of war over Europe’s energy supply is growing increasingly intense.

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, spoke by telephone with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece about the Gazprom pipeline project on Thursday. And Mr. Tsipras’s office has confirmed his country’s readiness to take part in the construction of a Greek pipeline to transfer Russian natural gas from the Greek-Turkish border to Europe.

The Greek foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, has said that the Greek portion of the Russian-backed project could be worth billions of dollars to his country…

While revenue from a new gas pipeline could be years away, such a project — whether with Russian or Western backing — would have obvious allure for Greece.

The Russian proposal is for a pipeline called Turkish Stream. It is intended to replace an earlier Russian initiative for a pipeline to Europe called South Stream, which Mr. Putin was forced to abandon late last year because of European Union rules that would have made the project unpalatable to Moscow by requiring Gazprom to share the pipeline with other suppliers. The South Stream pipeline, running under the Black Sea, would have brought gas into the European Union through Bulgaria.

Mr. Hochstein, the American official, said on Friday that the pipeline he was promoting — called the Southern Gas Corridor project — was farther along in construction. It would involve multiple companies, including the British energy giant BP, and countries including Georgia and Turkey, and it would bring together a series of pipeline projects stretching from Azerbaijan to Italy, through Greece.

The Southern Gas Corridor is a project aimed at “improving the diversity of the EU’s energy supply” — in other words, it’s an attempt to help break Gazprom’s stranglehold and this is of course why Washington is giving Greece the hard sell.

Essentially, the corridor will allow the EU to tap into Caspian gas via a series of connecting pipelines running from Azerbaijan to Italy.

SGCMap_0

Here is what the European Council On Foreign Relations has to say about the prospects for working closely with Azerbaijan:

Azerbaijan is the supplier best placed to respond to the EU’s strategy of diversifying gas supply away from Russia. Azerbaijan has long been cooperating with Western energy companies on projects such as the Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Guneshli oil project and the Shah Deniz gas condensate project (both led by BP), as well as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) pipelines. Thus, the scope for increasing gas supply from Azerbaijan seems to be simply a matter of the economics of the potential supply projects.

The supply is expected to come from the second phase of the Shah Deniz project, with an estimated cost of over $45 billion, or $380-430/billion cubic metres at the Turkey-Greece border, and from the Umid gas field (SOCAR and Nobel Oil). The two projects could potentially supply up to 18-19 bcm per year of gas by 2020, with at least 6 bcm committed to the Turkish market and 10 bcm to Greece, Albania, and Italy. In 2014, the Shah Deniz consortium finally agreed to commit gas resources to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will bring Azeri gas to Europe through Turkey; although it has a small transport capacity, this project will certainly contribute to the EU’s diversification efforts.

And here is an amusing graphic which outlines the pros and ‘cons’ of various alternatives to Russian energy:

EUGazpromAlt_0

As the Times suggests, this is further evidence that Washington is becoming increasingly concerned that the world is rapidly shifting away from the US-dominated, unipolar model that has existed, in one form or another, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This consternation is beginning to manifest itself in the revitalization of Cold War politics.

Of course the official line is that the US is simply concerned about Greece’s economic future and thereby feels it necessary to adopt a bit of well-meaning paternalism to assist the country — which clearly cannot make decisions for itself — in determining what is in its own best interests. Indeed, Washington is even brazen enough to assume that no one will see the hilarious irony in this assessment of Russia’s Turkish Stream Pipeline: “It’s not an economic project… it’s only about politics.”

We wonder how long it will be before Washinton “urges” Pakistan to tread carefully when cooperating with China on infrastructure development.

We’ll leave you with Vladimir Putin’s take on the issue:

“Just because Greece is debt-ridden, this does not mean it is bound hand and foot, and has no independent foreign policy.”

Here’s the official statement from the US Embassy in Athens:

Mr. Amos Hochstein, Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, visited Athens May 7-8 for discussions with Minister of State Nikos Pappas, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias, Minister of Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Panagiotis Lafazanis, and energy company officials.

Special Envoy Hochstein came to Athens to reaffirm Secretary of State Kerry’s and the U.S government’s support for Greek energy diversification, including support for key natural gas infrastructure projects such as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector (IGB), and expanded use of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

These projects will increase Greek and European Union energy security, reduce Greece’s dependence on a single supplier of gas, increase competition, and reduce prices for consumers.  TAP will result in 1.5 billion euros in foreign investment in Greece, generate 10,000 jobs during construction, and provide many millions of euros in revenue annually over 25 years.

The United States is concerned that Greek consideration of an extension of a “Turkstream” pipeline across Greece will not increase energy diversification, may be of concern to EU competition authorities, and is not a long-term solution to Greece’s energy needs.

Mr. Hochstein discussed with Greek leaders Greece’s great potential to play a leadership role in being part of the solution to Europe’s energy security concerns.

References:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-05-09/us-tells-greece-reject-putin-pipeline-marking-return-cold-war-politics

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Vladimir Putin calls new Ukrainian church ‘dangerous politicking’

President Putin said creation of the “Orthodox Church in Ukraine” is against Church canon and that the West drove Constantinople to do it.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In an interview with the Serbian newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti ahead of his visit to Serbia, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted the creation of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, a schismatic agglomeration headed by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists was “dangerous politicking.” He further noted that:

The establishment of the new religious entity in Ukraine is nothing but an attempt “to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.”

“Yet, hardly anyone in the U.S. or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this,” Putin said.

“Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking,” he said.

President Putin had more things to say in the interview, and we present what he said in full here (emphasis ours), as reported on the Kremlin.ru website:

Question: The Serbian Orthodox Church has taken the side of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of countries are exerting pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew and seek to ensure recognition of Ukrainian ”schismatics“ by Local Orthodox Churches. How do you think the situation will evolve?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind your readers, who are greatly concerned about the information regarding the split in the Orthodox community but are probably not fully aware of the situation in Ukraine, what it is all about.

On December 15, 2018, the Ukrainian leaders, actively supported by the USA and the Constantinople Patriarchate, held a so-called “unifying synod”. This synod declared the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with Patriarch Bartholomew signing the tomos (decree) granting it autocephaly on January 6, 2019. Thus, it was attempted to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.

Yet, hardly anyone in the US or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this, as the new church entity is an entirely political, secular project. Its main aim is to divide the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, sowing seeds of ethnic as well as religious discord. No wonder Kiev has already declared ”obtaining complete independence from Moscow.”

Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking. Likewise, we do not speak about the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It is de-facto fully controlled by Istanbul. Whereas Ukraine’s largest canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has never requested autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew, is absolutely independent in its actions. Its connection with the Russian Orthodox Church is purely canonical – but even this causes undisguised irritation of the current Kiev regime.

Because of this, clergymen and laymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being persecuted and deprived of churches and monasteries, and attempts are made to deny the Church its legitimate name, which raises tensions and only leads to further discord in Ukrainian society.

Evidently, Ukraine’s leaders have to understand that any attempts to force the faithful into a different church are fraught with grave consequences. Yet, they are eager to put interconfessional concord in the country at stake in order to conduct the election campaign of the current Ukrainian President based on a search for enemies, and to retain power by all means.

All of this does not go unnoticed by Orthodox Christians.

Naturally, Russia does not intend to interfere in ecclesiastical processes, especially those happening on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state. However, we are aware of the danger posed by such experiments and blatant interference of the state in religious affairs.

The situation continues to degrade in Ukraine, and though the Orthodox faithful of the Autonomous but Moscow-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church are the hardest hit, worry over Ukrainian lawlessless-made-law has the Jewish community in that country nervous as well. This is perhaps to be expected as the Azov Brigade, a neo-Nazi aligned group that is hypernationalist, is a good representation of the character of the “hate Russia at all costs” Ukrainian nationalists. A parallel piece in Interfax made note of this in a piece dated January 17th 2019:

[A] bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada introducing a procedure by which parishes can join the new Ukrainian church makes it easier to seize places of worship, and supporters of autocephaly have already started doing this across the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said.

“They need this law to seize our churches. You can’t just come with a crowbar to someone else’s barn, but now the law allows you to do so. They aren’t creating something of their own, but are trying to steal what’s ours,” Ukrainian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vasyl Anisimov told Interfax on Thursday.

The religious entity set up in December with Constantinople’s involvement and called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine “in fact doesn’t yet exist in nature. It’s fake. It doesn’t have any parishes of its own or government registration,” he said.

However, “the supporters of autocephaly don’t have plans to create anything of their own at all, so they have chosen the path of takeover, and the authorities are helping them in that,” Anisimov said.

“Hence, the legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada today is in fact absolute lawlessness,” he said.

“If you pass legislation affecting an industry, you should talk to industrialists, and if it’s legislation on the agricultural sector, talk to farmers. And here legislation on a church is passed, and moreover, this legislation is aimed against this church, it is protesting, and Jews are protesting, too, because this legislation may affect them as well – but nobody is listening, and they change the law for the sake of an absolutely absurd and unconstitutional gimmick. But, of course, it’s the people who will ultimately suffer,” Anisimov said.

 

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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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