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Fighting in Donbass, coal blockade, and infighting in Kiev, as Ukraine’s crisis deepens

Crisis deepens in Ukraine as far right militants seize and are then driven out of water filtration plant and mount coal blockade threatening country with energy emergency.

Alexander Mercouris

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The last few weeks have witnessed an acceleration of Ukraine’s downward slide.

Following the bitter fighting in and around Avdeevka and the angry telephone exchange between Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Merkel, an attempt was made to bring the fighting in the area around Avdeevka to an end and to arrange for a mutual pullback of forces to the starting lines.

As always the Ukrainians proved unwilling to comply with their commitments to do so, and yesterday the whole process was thrown into chaos when militants from the far right Azov Brigade stormed and took over a water filtration plant from the local Ukrainian authorities, seeking to cut off the water supply to Donetsk without apparently realising that large areas of Ukrainian controlled territory also depend for their water on the plant.

Latest reports say that they have been forced to withdraw from the plant, but the episode once again shows how little control the Ukrainian authorities have over those who are supposedly their most fervid supporters.

If the situation on the front line in the Donbass remains catastrophic, elsewhere in Ukraine it is becoming disastrous.

Far right groups and people who the Ukrainian and Western media euphemistically call “activists” have initiated a blockade of coal imports from the Donbass, claiming that such imports are “treasonous”.  Since the Ukrainian energy system depends heavily on Donbass coal the result is to cause an energy emergency in Ukraine, risking another downward spiral in Ukraine’s economy.  The government however appears too weak to do anything about it.

Meanwhile fresh from her meeting with Donald Trump in Washington, Ukraine’s perennial political challenger Yulia Tymoshenko sought to present to the Ukrainian parliament a no confidence vote against the Ukrainian government.  The government however used procedural methods to prevent the motion from being debated, whilst Ukraine’s Prime Minister, President Poroshenko’s long serving henchman Volodymyr Groysman, let rip at Tymoshenko at a cabinet meeting, reportedly calling her

The mother of Ukrainian economic weakness, destruction of Ukrainian independence, corruption, populism and inefficiency…

Ukraine was handed an unexpected and undeserved gift in 2014.  This was not the Minsk Protocol of 5th September 2014, which briefly ended the fighting that year, but rather the collapse in oil prices which took place in the second half of the year.  This was by far the single most important factor in my opinion in averting the Ukrainian economy’s total collapse, and gave the Ukrainian economy a further lease of life.

The Ukrainian government has however failed to use effectively the brief time window the oil price fall afforded it, and given the paralysis of Ukraine’s riven and corrupt political system it is impossible to see how it could have done.

In passing, my view is that the “help” Ukraine has received from the IMF since 2014 has made the underlying condition of its economy not better but worse, just as IMF “help” to Russia in the 1990s also only made the condition of Russia’s economy at that time not better but instead much worse.  The IMF has little understanding of either the Russian or the Ukrainian economies, and the various prescriptions it has handed out to them (in both cases taken from its standard handbook) were not only wrong ones but in my opinion actually worsened their problems.  As for the sums of money the IMF from time to time doles out to Ukraine, these in my opinion simply prolong and deepen the agony, ensuring that the underlying situation goes on getting worse for much longer.

Certainly IMF “help” to Ukraine has come nowhere close to compensating Ukraine for the loss of its long established trade links with Russia.

With oil prices now possibly creeping up again, and with the positive effect of 2014’s oil price fall anyway running out, it is likely Ukraine will face renewed economic pressure this year.  If so the political system is in no condition to deal with it.

Ukraine’s tragedy is that after repeated political crises its governmental system lacks legitimacy or authority.

The Maidan coup was the third in a succession of three unconstitutional overthrows of the government which have taken place in Ukraine since independence (the others took place in 2004 and 2007).  Independence itself seems to have been only genuinely wanted by a probably quite small minority of Ukrainians.  Moreover the form of the 2014 Maidan coup – with a constitutionally elected President violently removed from office midway through his term, and with a wholesale purge of the police and the bureaucracy happening thereafter – has demoralised further what was an already demoralised and inefficient police force and bureaucracy.

To compound the trouble the war in the Donbass has burdened Ukraine with a bloated and angry military it cannot afford, whilst adding to the already dangerously large number of violent men in Ukraine with guns.  Not only do many of these hold openly Nazi views but as the episode at the filtration plant shows they are difficult to control if only because they feel the war has given them licence to behave as they please.  As the coal blockade shows, the government seems to lack both the will and the means to control them.

There are some people in Ukraine who occasionally show some glimmers of understanding of the dead-end into which the country now finds itself.

A Ukrainian politician, Andrii Artemenko, recently tried to interest the Trump administration in a plan for ending the Ukrainian conflict through a lease by Ukraine of Crimea to Russia.  The Russians immediately rejected a plan which is completely unacceptable to them.

Though his plan was completely unrealistic and even fantastic, Artemenko was – however incompetently and even stupidly – at least trying to find some way out of Ukraine’s crisis, which is more than anyone else in Ukraine is doing.  His reward is that he now faces treason charges.

Possibly a more convincing though surprising figure who also appears to be acting as if she was looking to find some way out of Ukraine’s crisis (though she has yet to come up with any plan) is Nadiya Savchenko, the former Ukrainian pilot convicted by a Russian court of killing Russian journalists, who was then exchanged by the Russians for two of their own men.

To everyone’s surprise Savchenko – once lionised by the Ukrainian and Western media as a Ukrainian “Joan of Arc” – has metamorphosed since her return to Ukraine into a peace campaigner.  She has recently visited Donetsk where she met with Ukrainian prisoners and where she undoubtedly had at least some contacts with the militia.  Savchenko however is not a politician and even if her ‘conversion’ from warrior to peace campaigner is genuine (which many doubt) she seems altogether too marginal a figure to lead Ukraine or have impact there.

That leaves Tymoshenko who is simply too compromised to convince many people.

In 1943 the writer Gerald Brenan wrote The Spanish Labyrinth, a book about Spain’s social and political crisis which led to the civil war.  For the moment, as its crisis deepens, Ukraine’s remains trapped in its own labyrinth, and there is no visible sign of an exit.

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”

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Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran

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Authored by Al Masdar News:


Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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