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Russia and Uzbekistan edge closer

Friendly meeting in Samarkand between Russian President Putin and Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev points to a closer relationship.

Alexander Mercouris




Russia’s President Putin rounded off another trip of frenetic diplomacy with a stop-over in Uzbekistan’s historic former capital Samarkand on his way back to Moscow from the G20 summit in Hangzhou.

Putin’s visit to Samarkand came after confirmation of the death of Uzbekistan’s longstanding leader Islam Karimov

Putin’s visit obviously was not just a courtesy call, though he was careful to observe the proprieties by giving personal condolences to Karimov’s family – a highly important symbolic step that will draw favourable notice in a conservative and traditional society like Uzbekistan.

Putin’s main purpose will however have been to establish contacts with the new Uzbek leadership and to try to ascertain as much as he can about their policies and about the future of Uzbekistan’s relations with Russia.

Putin seems to have achieved his purpose.  Whilst in Samarkand with Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev who, following his appointment as Chairman of the Commission set up to arrange Karimov’s funeral, is now widely expected to succeed Karimov.  Indeed the very fact it was Mirziyoyev who met Putin in Samarkand – representing Uzbekistan in a meeting with the President of Russia – is the strongest possible sign to date that he is indeed Karimov’s successor.

Equally important from Putin’s point of view was what Mirziyoyev had to say about Uzbekistan’s relations with Russia.  In what look like carefully chosen words, after thanking Putin for the medical help Russia provided to try to save Karimov, he described Uzbekistan’s relations with Russia in these words

“Your visit today conveys a great deal to us, and we are grateful to you for this. You are standing by us as a real friend…..We can say now that Uzbekistan has always considered and will always consider its relationship with Russia as a strategic partnership and Russia as an allied country.”

(Bold italics added)

The words “strategic partnership” have increasingly become a euphemism in international relations for “alliance”.  Mirziyoyev however went a step further by referring in the same sentence to Russia as an “allied country”.

Both Putin and Mirziyoyev of course know that at various times since Uzbekistan achieved independence and whilst Karimov was President relations between Uzbekistan and Russia absolutely could not be described in that way.  On the contrary there were periods when relations between Uzbekistan and Russia were quite tense, with Uzbekistan tilting strongly towards the US, hosting a US military base, and joining US sponsored anti-Russian regional groupings such as GUUAM.

In the later stages of Karimov’s life relations between Uzbekistan and Russia became much warmer – a fact Putin indirectly alluded to when he said

“Islam Karimov and I have established a very good personal relationship, a trusting relationship, especially in recent years….Indeed, Islam Karimov has laid a very solid foundation for relations between our countries, and built a strategic partnership.  He clearly implied he saw developing relations with Russia as the best course of action for Uzbekistan and its people to achieve their full potential, an attitude we have always appreciated.”

(Bold italics added)

Putin here was also alluding to a key factor which lay behind the warming of relations between Uzbekistan and Russia in the final years of Karimov’s rule.  Not only did Russia – in contrast to the US – provide solid political support to Karimov in the face of challenges from his regime, but Karimov gradually came to realise that good relations with Russia – and China – are critical for Uzbekistan’s economic development.

Uzbekistan’s key economic problem is that its principal export – cotton – is insufficient to cover its import needs.  It has therefore felt obliged to operate a highly controlled economy with tight import and currency controls to sustain its balance of payments.  Uzbekistan with its large population however needs a growing economy to provide jobs for its people, a fact which even the most self-interested elite understands is essential to maintain stability.

Despite its problems Uzbekistan is however potentially a rick country.  What it needs is heavy investment to turn its economy round, and close reciprocal trading arrangements with its key trading partners.

In this part of the world that investment and those arrangements can only realistically come and be reached by agreement with the two great Eurasian powers – Russia and China – whether through remittances from Uzbek guest workers in Russia, or direct investment via such institutions as the ones the Russians and the Chinese are busy setting up via the Eurasian Union and the Silk Road project.

It is no coincidence that Uzbekistan’s economy began to grow at a higher sustained rate (its annual growth rate in recent years has been as high as 7%) as soon as it began to move closer to Russia and China.

As Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister – and therefore as the official with overall responsibility for the economy – Mirziyoyev will know all this, but just to make sure Putin gently reminded him

“He (Karimov) clearly implied he saw developing relations with Russia as the best course of action for Uzbekistan and its people to achieve their full potential, an attitude we have always appreciated. 

You have just recalled that during my last visit to Tashkent, he invited me to see the monument to Alexander Pushkin, to lay flowers. He spoke in detail about when and how he made the decision to move that monument, and why it should be there – so that people could come and sense the bond between our cultures, our peoples, our common history. We cherish it, and we certainly hope that all that was started by President Islam Karimov will be continued.

For our part, we will make every effort to continue along the path of our mutual development, to support the people of Uzbekistan, the Uzbek leadership; you can count on us in full measure as the most reliable friends.”

(Bold italics added)

The warm exchanges between Putin and Mirziyoyev suggest that there is a clear understanding on both sides, and that the Uzbek leadership will indeed henceforth give priority to relations with Russia and ultimately China.

If so then the ambivalences of the Karimov era may be past, in which case it is possible and perhaps even likely that Uzbekistan will gradually move towards integrating itself with the Eurasian institutions such as the Eurasian Union from which up till now it has held aloof.

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BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou



The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

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If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.


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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou



The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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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



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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