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Vladimir Putin to meet Erdogan in Istanbul despite continued Syria differences

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forthcoming trip to Istanbul continues the pattern of a gradual repairing of relations between Russian and Turkey despite continuing deep differences over the conflict in Syria.

Alexander Mercouris

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News that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to travel to Turkey on 10th October 2016 re-opens the question of how well the Russian – Turkish rapprochement is going.

Many of the hoped for predictions made shortly after the Turkish coup attempt in July have failed to happen.

NATO and the US are still firmly ensconced at Incirlik air base.  The US continues to conduct missions in Syria from there.  Talk of Russia being granted use of the air base has ended.

There is no sign of Turkey quitting NATO or giving up its application for EU membership or joining the Eurasian institutions.

Erdogan’s much anticipated visit to Tehran has failed to happen.  The Iranian news media, which was far more enthusiastic in talking up the possibility of a Turkish realignment than the Russian media was, has quietly dropped the subject.

Meanwhile Erdogan continues to support the Ukrainian position on Crimea, and assured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of this when the two men met at the recent session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Turkey is also pressing ahead with Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria. 

There is a persistent myth that there is a secret Russian-Turkish understanding whereby the Turks have supposedly agreed to cease assisting the Jihadi fighters battling in and around Aleppo in return for Russian acquiescence to Operation Euphrates Shield, which supposedly is directed against the Kurds.

The Russians have in fact publicly criticised Operation Euphrates Shield, and have made it perfectly clear that they oppose it.

As for the talk of a secret Russian-Turkish understanding about Turkey ceasing to help Jihadi fighters fighting in and around Aleppo, there is no evidence that such an agreement exists, and what is actually happening on the ground in Syria proves that it does not. 

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin recently complained to the UN Security Council that the Jihadis fighting in and around Aleppo are continuing to receive heavy weapons.  This is what he said

 “They are armed by tanks, APCs, field artillery, multiple rocket launchers… dozens and dozens of units, including heavy weaponry… Of course, they couldn’t have made this equipment themselves. All of this has been received by them and is still being shipped to them by generous Western backers, with the US, presumably, turning a blind eye”.

The only route through which such equipment could reach the Jihadis fighting near or in Aleppo is across the Turkish border by way of the Jarablus corridor.  This is the supply route to the Jihadis in northern Syria, and Churkin’s comments show that it is still operating.

It was in order to keep this corridor open when it was threatened by closure because of the advance of the Kurdish militia the YPG that the Turks occupied Jarablus and launched Operation Euphrates Shield.

In passing, I find it surprising that people continue to believe in the existence of this supposed secret Russian-Turkish agreement – for which there is no evidence – when the very public US support for the Turkish move on Jarablus (shown by the fact the US provided air support for it) makes its purpose perfectly clear.

It is an entirely different matter that Operation Euphrates Shield does not seem to be going well. 

As predicted, it is running into opposition from the Kurdish YPG, whilst the Jihadi “Free Syrian Army’ fighters upon whom Turkey relies have turned out to be poor fighters incapable of taking on either ISIS or the YPG even when backed by Turkish tanks. 

An anonymous source (likely either Turkish or American) speaking to Al-Monitor derisively spoke of them in this way

“The war in Syria is a war of ideologies. A Shiite militiaman dies for Twelver imams; a YPG man dies for [imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah] Ocalan and Kurdish nationalism. Who will the FSA militant sacrifice himself for? Without jihadi motivation, the majority of the FSA looks more like a mercenary gang fighting for money.”

The result is that Operation Euphrates Shield is far from achieving its objectives.  Most importantly the key town of Al-Bab has not been secured and is still in ISIS’s hands, and there now seems to be a race underway between the Turkish military, the Syrian military, and the YPG over who will be the first to capture it.

However reports suggest that Erdogan – as is to be expected – far from pulling back, is instead doubling down on Operation Euphrates Shield, and is now planning to support the Turkish tanks and ‘Free Syrian Army’ fighters who are carrying out the operation by sending Turkish infantry into Syria to back the Turkish tanks there.

This opens up the very real possibility that the eventual result of Operation Euphrates Shield will be that it is Turkey not Russia that becomes bogged down in Syria.

As for the Russians, whilst it is true is that the Russians have been relatively restrained in what they have publicly said about Operation Euphrates Shield, that should not be taken as any sort of sign that they are happy about it, or that there is some sort of secret understanding in existence between them and the Turks.

Rather it is consistent with the way the Russians conduct their diplomacy.  They cannot stop Operation Euphrates Shield so they see no sense in advertising the fact by making a great fuss about it.

Not for the first time the Russians are misjudged because they do not behave like Americans.  Where the Americans increase the volume of their complaints whenever they feel powerless to do something effective (the fighting in Aleppo being a case in point) the Russians do the opposite.  Generally speaking it is the Russians rather than the Americans who like to talk soft and carry a big stick.

In this the Turks are more like the Russians.  Turkey’s reticence about the fighting in Aleppo is not because the Turks are happy about what is going on there or because they have some sort of secret understanding about it with the Russians. 

It is because the Turks know they cannot stop the fighting in Aleppo and do not want to humiliate themselves and risk the improvement of their relations with Russia by acting as if they can.

The one important Syria related contact between the Russians and the Turks which has taken place is the one which happened on 15th September 2016 – several weeks after Operation Euphrates Shield began – when General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, finally followed through with his previously postponed trip to Turkey and met there with General Hulusi Akar, the Chief of the Turkish military’s General Staff. 

The purpose of this meeting was not to agree that Turkish supplies to Jihadis fighting in and around Aleppo would be stopped.  It was to agree rules of engagement between the Russian and Turkish militaries in Syria to prevent accidental clashes between them.  A necessary consequence of this agreement is that the Turkish military will stay away from Aleppo.

If there is no real understanding between Russia and Turkey over Syria, and if the Turks are showing no sign of a strategic realignment away from the West and towards Russia, what is the point of Putin’s visit?

The short answer is that it is to continue work on re-establishing the political and economic ties between Turkey and Russia, which disintegrated following the Turkish shooting down of the Russian SU24 fighter bomber last November, and which have yet to be fully restored. 

In a sign of the residual distrust the Russians still feel towards Erdogan and Turkey – reflecting Russian anger about Operation Euphrates Shield – these ties are taking much longer to restore than anyone anticipated.

By way of example, it took a direct order from Putin – following a complaint to Putin from Erdogan on 26th August 2016 – for the ban on Russian charter flights to Turkey to be lifted on 28th August 2016.

This happened at the very end of August, just before the end of the school holidays in Russia, so that the benefit to Turkey of direct charter flight from Russia for this year’s tourist season was lost.

The Russians and the Turks nonetheless still have reasons to talk to each other despite their differences over Syria and their residual distrust of each other.

From the Russian point of view there is nothing to be gained from having Turkey an enemy.  The economic ties, whilst more valuable to Turkey than Russia, still benefit Russia, especially the Turk Stream pipeline, which is useful insurance for Russia in case North Stream 2 runs into problems.

Beyond that at a time when relations with the US over Syria are becoming increasingly fraught the Russians will be seeking reassurances from the Turks that they will not support any dramatic action by the US in Syria, for example a no-fly zone over the whole of Syria, or covert attacks by the US from Turkish territory on Russian military positions in Syria.

As for the Turks, with their economy precariously balanced as they struggle with large deficits, rising inflation, growing debt, and the demotion of their credit rating to junk status, maintaining a good economic relationship with Russia – their biggest trading partner after the EU – is becoming of critical importance.

Beyond that Turkey’s relations with the US remain fraught. 

No evidence has come to light that the US was involved in the July coup attempt and the US ambassador to Turkey has insisted that (as I have previously speculated) he would have immediately warned the Turkish government if he had been tipped off about it. 

However the US and Turkey remain in dispute over a wide range of issues, including the extradition of  Fethullah Gulen – whom the Turks continue to blame for the attempted coup – and especially over the YPG, which the US still cannot decide whether to commit to or drop. 

If only for that reason – in order to remind the US not to take Turkey for granted – the limited Russian-Turkish rapprochement remains just about on track, and Putin can expect a warm reception when he arrives on 10th October 2016 in Istanbul.

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Social media purge continues, as platforms operate as publishers (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 80.

Alex Christoforou

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Following the suspension of Alex Jones, Twitter has also moved to restrict Jones’ Infowars account.

BuzzFeed News is reporting that the Infowars account will be restricted from tweeting, but will still be able to browse Twitter and send direct messages to other users, while users will still be able to view the account.

The move, which essentially puts the account in read-only mode, comes less than a day after Twitter temporarily limited Infowars proprietor Alex Jones for a week after he tweeted a link to a video in which he called on his supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready. That video, which was shared on Twitter-owned live streaming service Periscope, was also shared by Infowars earlier on Wednesday.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that Infowars’ account, which has more than 430,000 followers, will be prevented from tweeting, retweeting, liking or following other users during a seven-day window. The account will stay online, allowing users to view it during that period.

Via Zerohedge

On Tuesday, Twitter suspended the conspiracy theorist and blogger for violating the social media company’s policies, in a stark reversal for Jack Dorsey who previously bucked the trend by other tech giants to muzzle the Infowars creator.

As CNET first reported, Jones’ account was put in “read only” mode and will be blocked from posting on Twitter for seven days because of an offending tweet, the company said. While Twitter declined to comment on the content that violated its policies, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN the content which prompted the suspension was a video published Tuesday in which he said, “now is time to act on the enemy before they do a false flag.”

A Twitter spokesperson wouldn’t say what would get Jones or Infowars permanently suspended, however they noted “We look at [the] volume and nature of violations before suspending an account,” according to Buzzfeed.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the latest twists and turns in the vicious social media purge of conservative right and libertarian accounts. Platforms are acting like publishers and this may mean the end of monopoly social media services.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Meanwhile, in a censorship move against Libertarian commentary, Ron Paul Institute director Daniel McAdams and Antiwar editor Scott Horton were suspended by Twitter for simply retweeting. Justin Raimondo informs…

Target Liberty reports

Update from Justin:

Neither @scotthortonshow nor @DanielLMcAdams have been reinstated. You can see their tweets: they can’t tweet.

RW

Daniel McAdams explain what happened…

Robert I can give you an update from my perspective regarding what happened:

Yesterday on Twitter, former US diplomat Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) took members of the mainstream media to task for swallowing and printing government lies without even bothering to check them out. He said as a former US government official (turned whistleblower) he also lied to the press on behalf of the government and was astonished that the press swallowed each one, hook, line and sinker.

Several corporate media hacks and in particular one employee of an NGO funded by George Soros — a fellow called Jonathan Katz — piled on Peter, accusing him of all manner of treachery. When Peter ended one response with a sarcastic reference to zombie attacks – “I hope a MAGA guy eats your face” — which is obviously a joke, Katz replied that he is reporting Peter for promoting violence.

So he and his buddies ganged up on Peter and got him banned. Scott Horton and I were incensed over the ban, which seemed to us totally arbitrary. There was no threat of violence and it was no different than millions of Tweets all the time. So Scott and I both joined in and criticized Katz for running off to the authorities in attempt to get someone banned rather than just walk away from the debate.

Katz then did his usual routine and ran to the authorities and had Scott and me banned. Mine was for, as Twitter informed me, because “you may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” There is no way at all that my Tweet violated the above rule. In no way did I harass or threaten based on those criteria. I merely strongly criticized Katz for running to the authorities to get Peter banned.

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“I’m Not A Racist, But I’m A Nationalist”: Why Sweden Faces A Historic Election Upset

Sweden is set to have a political earthquake in September.

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Via Zerohedge


“Trains and hospitals don’t work, but immigration continues,” Roger Mathson, a retired vegetable oil factory worker in Sweden, told Bloomberg on the same day as the violent, coordinated rampage by masked gangs of youths across five Swedish cities.

We noted earlier that Swedish politicians were quick to react with anti-immigrant party ‘Sweden Democrats’ seeing a surge in the polls ahead of the September 9th election.

“I’m not a racist, but I’m a nationalist,” Mathson said. “I don’t like seeing the town square full of Niqab-clad ladies and people fighting with each other.”

Is Sweden set to have its own political earthquake in September, where general elections could end a century of Social Democratic dominance and bring to power a little known (on the world stage), but the now hugely popular nationalist party often dubbed far-right and right-wing populist, called Sweden Democrats?

Sweden, a historically largely homogeneous population of 10 million, took in an astounding 600,000 refugees over the past five years, and after Swedes across various cities looked out their windows Tuesday to see cars exploding, smoke filling the skies, and possibly armed masked men hurling explosives around busy parking lots, it appears they’ve had enough.

Over the past years of their rise as a political force in Swedish politics, the country’s media have routinely labelled the Sweden Democrats as “racists” and “Nazis” due to their seemingly single issue focus of anti-immigration and strong Euroscepticism.

A poll at the start of this week indicated the Sweden Democrats slid back to third place after topping three previous polls as the September election nears; however, Tuesday’s national crisis and what could legitimately be dubbed a serious domestic terror threat is likely to boost their popularity.

Bloomberg’s profile of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, echoes the tone of establishment Swedish media in the way they commonly cast the movement, beginning as follows:

Viking rock music and whole pigs roasting on spits drew thousands of Swedes to a festival hosted by nationalists poised to deliver their country’s biggest political upheaval in a century.

The Sweden Democrats have been led since 2005 by a clean-cut and bespectacled man, Jimmie Akesson. He’s gentrified a party that traces its roots back to the country’s neo-Nazi, white supremacist fringe. Some polls now show the group may become the biggest in Sweden’s parliament after general elections on Sept. 9. Such an outcome would end 100 years of Social Democratic dominance.

The group’s popularity began surging after the 2015 immigration crisis began, which first hit Europe’s southern Mediterranean shores and quickly moved northward as shocking wave after wave of migrants came.

Jimmie Akesson (right). Image source: Getty via Daily Express

Akesson emphasizes something akin to a “Sweden-first” platform which European media often compares to Trump’s “America First”; and the party has long been accused of preaching forced assimilation into Swedish culture to be become a citizen.

Bloomberg’s report surveys opinions at a large political rally held in Akkeson’s hometown of Solvesborg, and some of the statements are sure to be increasingly common sentiment after this week’s coordinated multi-city attack:

At his party’s festival, Akesson revved up the crowd by slamming the establishment’s failures, calling the last two governments the worst in Swedish history. T-shirts calling for a Swexit, or an exit from the EU, were exchanged as bands played nationalist tunes.

Ted Lorentsson, a retiree from the island of Tjorn, said he’s an enthusiastic backer of the Sweden Democrats. “I think they want to improve elderly care, health care, child care,” he said. “Bring back the old Sweden.” But he also acknowledges his view has led to disagreement within his family as his daughter recoils at what she feels is the “Hitler”-like rhetoric.

No doubt, the media and Eurocrats in Brussels will take simple, innocent statements from elderly retirees like “bring back the old Sweden” as nothing short of declaration of a race war, but such views will only solidify after this week.

Another Sweden Democrat supporter, a 60-year old woman who works at a distillery, told Bloomberg, “I think you need to start seeing the whole picture in Sweden and save the original Swedish population,” she said. “I’m not racist, because I’m a realist.”

Sweden’s two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and Moderates, are now feeling the pressure as Swedes increasingly worry about key issues preached by Akesson like immigration, law and order, and health care – seen as under threat by a mass influx of immigrants that the system can’t handle.

Bloomberg explains further:

But even young voters are turning their backs on the establishment. One potential SD supporter is law student Oscar Persson. Though he hasn’t yet decided how he’ll vote, he says it’s time for the mainstream parties to stop treating the Sweden Democrats like a pariah. “This game they are playing now, where the other parties don’t want to talk to them but still want their support, is something I don’t really understand,” he said.

Akesson has managed to entice voters from both sides of the political spectrum with a message of more welfare, lower taxes and savings based on immigration cuts.

With many Swedes now saying immigration has “gone too far” and as this week’s events have once again thrust the issue before both a national and global audience, the next round of polling will mostly like put Sweden’s conservative-right movements on top

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The Turkish Emerging Market Timebomb

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him.

The Duran

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Authored by Jim O’Neill, originally on Project Syndicate:


As the Turkish lira continues to depreciate against the dollar, fears of a classic emerging-market crisis have come to the fore. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him, and sooner or later, he will have to make nice with his country’s traditional Western allies.

Turkey’s falling currency and deteriorating financial conditions lend credence, at least for some people, to the notion that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” I suspect that many Western policymakers, in particular, are not entirely unhappy about Turkey’s plight.

To veteran economic observers, Turkey’s troubles are almost a textbook case of an emerging-market flop. It is August, after all, and back in the 1990s, one could barely go a single year without some kind of financial crisis striking in the dog days of summer.

But more to the point, Turkey has a large, persistent current-account deficit, and a belligerent leader who does not realize – or refuses to acknowledge – that his populist economic policies are unsustainable. Moreover, Turkey has become increasingly dependent on overseas investors (and probably some wealthy domestic investors, too).

Given these slowly gestating factors, markets have long assumed that Turkey was headed for a currency crisis. In fact, such worries were widespread as far back as the fall of 2013, when I was in Istanbul interviewing business and financial leaders for a BBC Radio series on emerging economies. At that time, markets were beginning to fear that monetary-policy normalization and an end to quantitative easing in the United States would have dire consequences globally. The Turkish lira has been flirting with disaster ever since.

Now that the crisis has finally come to pass, it is Turkey’s population that will bear the brunt of it. The country must drastically tighten its domestic monetary policy, curtail foreign borrowing, and prepare for the likelihood of a full-blown economic recession, during which time domestic saving will slowly have to be rebuilt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership will both complicate matters and give Turkey some leverage. Erdoğan has  constitutional powers, reducing those of the parliament, and undercutting the independence of monetary and fiscal policymaking. And to top it off, he seems to be reveling in an escalating feud with US President Donald Trump’s administration over Turkey’s imprisonment of an American pastor and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system.

This is a dangerous brew for the leader of an emerging economy to imbibe, particularly when the United States itself has embarked on a Ronald Reagan-style fiscal expansion that has pushed the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster than it would have otherwise. Given the unlikelihood of some external source of funding emerging, Erdoğan will eventually have to back down on some of his unorthodox policies. My guess is that we’ll see a return to a more conventional monetary policy, and possibly a new fiscal-policy framework.

As for Turkey’s leverage in the current crisis, it is worth remembering that the country has a large and youthful population, and thus the potential to grow into a much larger economy in the future. It also enjoys a privileged geographic position at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, which means that many major players have a stake in ensuring its stability. Indeed, many Europeans still hold out hope that Turkey will embrace Western-style capitalism, despite the damage that Erdoğan has done to the country’s European Union accession bid.

Among the regional powers, Russia is sometimes mentioned as a potential savior for Turkey. There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would love to use Turkey’s crisis to pull it even further away from its NATO allies. But Erdoğan and his advisers would be deeply mistaken to think that Russia can fill Turkey’s financial void. A Kremlin intervention would do little for Turkey, and would likely exacerbate Russia’s own .

The other two potential patrons are Qatar and, of course, China. But while Qatar, one of Turkey’s closest Gulf allies, could provide financial aid, it does not ultimately have the wherewithal to pull Turkey out of its crisis singlehandedly.

As for China, though it will not want to waste the opportunity to increase its influence vis-à-vis Turkey, it is not the country’s style to step into such a volatile situation, much less assume responsibility for solving the problem. The more likely outcome – as we are seeing in Greece – is that China will unleash its companies to pursue investment opportunities after the dust settles.

That means that Turkey’s economic salvation lies with its conventional Western allies: the US and the EU (particularly France and Germany). On August 13, a White House spokesperson confirmed that the Trump administration is watching the financial-market response to Turkey’s crisis “very closely.” The last thing that Trump wants is a crumbling world economy and a massive dollar rally, which could derail his domestic economic ambitions. So a classic Trump “trade” is probably there for Erdoğan, if he is willing to come to the negotiating table.

Likewise, some of Europe’s biggest and most fragile banks have significant exposure to Turkey. Combine that with the ongoing political crisis over migration, and you have a recipe for deeper destabilization within the EU. I, for one, cannot imagine that European leaders will sit by and do nothing while Turkey implodes on their border.

Despite his escalating rhetoric, Erdoğan may soon find that he has little choice but to abandon his isolationist and antagonistic policies of the last few years. If he does, many investors may look back next year and wish that they had snapped up a few lira when they had the chance.

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