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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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French opposition rejects Macron’s concessions to Yellow Vests, some demand ‘citizen revolution’

Mélenchon: “I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.”

RT

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Via RT…


Macron’s concessions to the Yellow Vests has failed to appease protesters and opposition politicians, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who called for “citizen’s revolution” to continue until a fair distribution of wealth is achieved.

Immediately after French President Macron declared a “social and economic state of emergency” in response to large-scale protests by members of the Yellow Vest movement, promising a range of concessions to address their grievances, left-wing opposition politician Mélenchon called on the grassroots campaign to continue their revolution next Saturday.

I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.

Macron’s promise of a €100 minimum wage increase, tax-free overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses, Mélenchon argued, will not affect any “considerable part” of the French population. Yet the leader of La France Insoumise stressed that the “decision” to rise up rests with “those who are in action.”

“We expect a real redistribution of wealth,” Benoît Hamon, a former presidential candidate and the founder of the Mouvement Génération, told BFM TV, accusing Macron’s package of measures that benefit the rich.

The Socialist Party’s first secretary, Olivier Faure, also slammed Macron’s financial concessions to struggling workers, noting that his general “course has not changed.”

Although welcoming certain tax measures, Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally (previously National Front), accused the president’s “model” of governance based on “wild globalization, financialization of the economy, unfair competition,” of failing to address the social and cultural consequences of the Yellow Vest movement.

Macron’s speech was a “great comedy,”according to Debout la France chairman, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who accused the French President of “hypocrisy.”

Yet many found Melanchon’s calls to rise up against the government unreasonable, accusing the 67-year-old opposition politician of being an “opportunist” and “populist,” who is trying to hijack the social protest movement for his own gain.

Furthermore, some 54 percent of French believe the Yellow Vests achieved their goals and want rallies to stop, OpinionWay survey showed. While half of the survey respondents considered Macron’s anti-crisis measures unconvincing, another 49 percent found the president to be successful in addressing the demands of the protesters. Some 68 percent of those polled following Macron’s speech on Monday especially welcomed the increase in the minimum wage, while 78 percent favored tax cuts.

The Yellow Vest protests against pension cuts and fuel tax hikes last month were organized and kept strong via social media, without help from France’s powerful labor unions or official political parties. Some noted that such a mass mobilization of all levels of society managed to achieve unprecedented concessions from the government, which the unions failed to negotiate over the last three decades.

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Soros Mimics Hitler’s Bankers: Will Burden Europeans With Debt To ‘Save’ Them

George Soros is dissatisfied with the current EU refugee policy because it is still based on quotas.

The Duran

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Via GEFIRA:


After the Second World War, many economists racked their brains to answer the question of how Hitler managed to finance his armament, boost the economy and reduce unemployment.

Today his trick is well known. The economic miracle of Führer’s time became possible thanks to the so-called Mefo promissory notes.

The notes were the idea of the then President of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht, and served not only to finance the armament of the Wehrmacht for the Second World War, but also to create state jobs, which would otherwise not have been possible through the normal use of the money and capital markets, i.e. the annual increase in savings in Germany.

The Reich thus financed the armaments industry by accepting notes issued by the dummy company Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft GmbH (hence the name Mefo) rather than paying them in cash. The creation of money was in full swing from 1934 to 1938 – the total amount of notes issued at that time was 12 billion marks. The Reichsbank declared to the German banks that it was prepared to rediscount the Mefo notes, thus enabling the banks to discount them.

Because of their five-year term, the redemption of notes had to begin in 1939 at the latest. This threatened with enormous inflation. Since Schacht saw this as a threat to the Reichsmark, he expressed his doubts about the Reich Minister of Finance. But it did not help, and Schacht was quickly replaced by Economics Minister Walther Funk, who declared that the Reich would not redeem the Mefo notes, but would give Reich bonds to the Reichsbank in exchange. At the time of Funk, the autonomous Reichsbank statute was abolished, the Reichsbank was nationalized, and inflation exploded in such a way that Mefo notes with a circulation of 60 billion Reichsmark burdened the budget in post-war Germany.

George Soros also proposes such a money flurry in the style of Schacht and Funk.

Soros is dissatisfied with the current EU refugee policy because it is still based on quotas. He calls on the EU heads of state and governments to effectively deal with the migrant crisis through money flooding, which he calls “surge funding”.

“This would help to keep the influx of refugees at a level that Europe can absorb.”

Can absorb? Soros would be satisfied with the reception of 300,000 to 500,000 migrants per year. However, he is aware that the costs of his ethnic exchange plan are not financially feasible. In addition to the already enormous costs caused by migrants already in Europe, such a large number of new arrivals would add billions each year.

Soros calculates it at 30 billion euros a year, but argues that it would be worth it because “there is a real threat that the refugee crisis could cause the collapse of Europe’s Schengen system of open internal borders among twenty-six European states,” which would cost the EU between 47 and 100 billion euros in GDP losses.

Soros thus sees the financing of migrants and also of non-European countries that primarily receive migrants (which he also advocates) as a win-win relationship. He calls for the introduction of a new tax for the refugee crisis in the member states, including a financial transaction tax, an increase in VAT and the establishment of refugee funds. Soros knows, however, that such measures would not be accepted in the EU countries, so he proposes a different solution, which does not require a vote in the sovereign countries.

The new EU debt should be made by the EU taking advantage of its largely unused AAA credit status and issuing long-term bonds, which would boost the European economy. The funds could come from the European Stability Mechanism and the EU balance of payments support institution.

 “Both also have very similar institutional structures, and they are both backed entirely by the EU budget—and therefore do not require national guarantees or national parliamentary approval.“

In this way, the ESM and the BoPA (Balance of Payments Assistance Facility) would become the new Mefo’s that could issue bills of exchange, perhaps even cheques for Turks, Soros NGOs. Soros calculates that both institutions have a credit capacity of 60 billion, which should only increase as Portugal, Ireland and Greece repay each year the loans they received during the euro crisis. According to Soros, the old debts should be used to finance the new ones in such a way that it officially does not burden the budget in any of the EU Member States. The financial institutions that are to carry out this debt fraud must extend (indeed – cancel) their status, as the leader of the refugees expressed such a wish in his speech.

That Soros is striving to replace the indigenous European population with new arrivals from Africa and Asia is clear to anyone who observes its activities in Europe. The question is: what does he want to do this for and who is the real ruler, behind him, the real leader?

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The French People Feel Screwed

For the first time in his presidency, Macron is in trouble and Europe and America are looking on.

The Duran

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Authored by David Brown via The Gatestone Institute:


On December 4, French Prime Minister Édouard Phillipe told deputies of the ruling party, “La République en Marche”, that a proposed fuel tax rise, which had led to the largest protests France has seen in decades, would be suspended.

The protesters, called Gilets-Jaunes — “Yellow Vests,” because of the vests drivers are obliged by the government to carry in their vehicles in the event of a roadside breakdown — say that the fuel tax was the last straw from a president who took office with a promise to help the economically left-behind but instead has favoured the rich.

Even by French standards, the protests of the “Yellow Vests” during the weekend of December 1 were startling. Burning cars and vast plumes of grey smoke seemed to engulf the Arc De Triomphe as if Paris were at war. Comparisons were drawn with the Bread Wars of the 17th Century and the spirit of the Revolution of the 18th Century.

For more than two weeks, the “Yellow Vests” disrupted France. They paralyzed highways and forced roads to close — causing shortages across the country – and blocked fuel stations from Lille in the North to Marseilles in the South.

During protests in France’s capital, Paris, the “Yellow Vests” were soon joined by a more violent element, who began torching cars, smashing windows and looting stores. 133 were injured, 412 were arrested and more than 10,000 tear gas and stun grenades were fired.

One elderly lady was killed when she was struck by a stray grenade as she tried to shutter her windows against the melee.

There was talk of imposing a State of Emergency.

The “Yellow Vests” present the most significant opposition French President Emmanuel Macron has faced since coming to office in May 2017. Unlike previous protests in France, which have divided public opinion, these have widespread support – 72% according to a Harris Interactive Poll published December 1st.

Fuel tax rises — announced in November before being retracted on December — were intended to help bring down France’s carbon emissions by curbing the use of cars. Macron makes no secret of his wish to be seen as a global leader for environmental reform.

He forgets that back at home, among the people who elected him, fuel prices really matter to those outside big cities, where four-fifths of commuters drive to work and a third of them cover more than 30km each week.

The increases have incensed people in smaller communities, where they have already seen speed limits reduced to please the Greens and cuts to the local transport services.

These additional costs-of-living increases come at an extremely bad time for ordinary French people working outside of Paris. Lower-middle class families are not poor enough to receive welfare benefits but have seen their income flat-line whilst cost-of-living and taxes have risen.

An analysis by the Institut des Politiques Publiques think-tank shows that benefits cuts and tax changes in 2018 and 2019 will leave pensioners and the bottom fifth of households worse off, while the abolition of the wealth tax means that by far the biggest gains will go to the top 1%

This is tough to swallow. Macron is seen as being out of touch with ordinary people and is unlikely to escape his new title, “the President of the Rich.”

“People have this feeling that the Paris technocrats are doing complicated things to screw them,” said Charles Wyplosz, an economics professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

It is probably not as complex as that. The French people feel screwed.

As employment and growth are slowing, Macron, for the first time in his presidency, is under serious pressure. Unemployment is at 9%; his efforts to reform Europe are stalling, and his approval rating has plummeted to just 23% according to a recent opinion poll by IFOP.

Images of Macron at the Arc De Triomphe daubed in graffiti calling for him to step down, or worse, have done little to bolster his image abroad.

So far, Macron had said he would not bow to street protests. To underline his point, in September 2017, he called protestors against French labour-market reform “slackers”.

The political U-Turn on the fuel tax is a turning point for the Macron presidency. The question is : What next, both for Macron and the “Yellow Vests”?

Macron most likely needs to plough ahead with his reform agenda, and doubtless knows he has the support of a solid majority in the National Assembly to do so. France is crippled by debt (nearly 100% of GDP) and its grossly bloated public sector. There are 5.2 million civil servants in France, and their number has increased by 36% since 1983. These represent 22% of the workforce compared to an OCDE average of 15%.

Tax-expert Jean-Philippe Delsol says France has 1.5 million too many “fonctionnaires [officials]. When you consider that public spending in France now accounts for 57 per cent of gross domestic product. Soon the system will no longer function as there will be less and less people working to support more and more people working less”.

Macron’s mistake, in addition to a seeming inclination for arrogance, is not to have made national economic reform his absolute priority right from his initial grace period after his election. Lower public expenses would have made it possible to lower taxes, hence creating what economists call a virtuous circle. Instead, he waited.

Now, at a time when he is deeply unpopular and social unrest is in full sway he is looking to make further reforms in unemployment benefits, scaling them back by reducing the payments and the length of time beneficiaries can receive the money. The “President of the Rich” strikes again.

There is talk that he may also re-introduce the wealth tax to try to placate the protestors.

Macron’s presidential term lasts until May 13, 2022. Understandably, Macron will be focused on the elections to the European Parliament expected to be held May 23-26, 2019. Headlines have signalled that Marine Le Pen and the National Rally (formally National Front) are ahead in the polls at 20%, compared to Macron’s En Marche at 19%.

The shift is understandable, given the divide between the countryside, where Le Pen has solid support, and the cities, where Macron’s centre-left prevail.

In contrast, the “Yellow Vests” have galvanised support after standing up for the “impotent ordinary”, and seem much buoyed by the solidarity they have been shown by both fire fighters and the police. There are images online of police removing their helmets and firefighters turning their backs on political authority to show their support for the protestors.

Whilst Macron’s political opposition may be fragmented, this new breed of coherent public opposition is something new. Leaderless, unstructured and organised online, the “Yellow Vests” have gained support from the left and right, yet resisted subjugation by either.

Being leaderless makes them difficult to negotiate withor to reason with in private. The “Yellow Vests” seem acutely aware of this strength, given their firm rebuttal of overtures for peace talks from the Macron government.

Enjoying huge support from the public and with reforms to the social welfare system on the horizon, the “Yellow Vests” are not going away.

For the first time in his Presidency, Macron is in trouble and Europe and America are looking on.

After Macron rebuked nationalism during his speech at the armistice ceremony, Trump was quick to remind the French President of his low approval rating and unemployment rate near 10%. A stinging broadside from Trump on twitter suggests that Macron may well be relegated to Trump’s list of global “Losers“:

“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

The “impotent ordinary” in the United Kingdom, who might feel betrayed over Brexit, and the nationalists in Germany, who have suffered under Merkel , are no doubt staring in wonder at the “Yellow Vests”, wishing for the same moxie.

The historian Thomas Carlyle, chronicler of the French Revolution, said the French were unrivaled practitioners in the “art of insurrection”, and characterised the French mob as the “liveliest phenomena of our world”.

Mobs in other countries, by comparison, he argued were “dull masses” lacking audacity and inventiveness. The blazing yellow vests of the French protest movement , however, have made Macron appear increasingly dull and weak too.

David Brown is based in the United Kingdom.

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