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Vladimir Putin takes spotlight as Eurasia connector

At his year-end press conference, the Russian president let drop nuggets essential to understanding what lies ahead on the Eurasian geopolitical chessboard

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(Asia Times) – At his trademark annual year-end press conference in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again let drop selected foreign-policy nuggets essential to understanding what lies ahead on the turbulent Eurasian geopolitical chessboard.

By now it’s well known that Putin will run again in the presidential elections scheduled for March 18 (“it will be self-nomination” and “I hope for the overall support from the public”). The Man in Charge might as well continue to be in charge. So it’s always enlightening to bring down the (spin) noise: sit back, relax, and just listen.

On President Trump: “I am on first-name terms with Trump; yes, we would probably use the familiar ‘you.’ I hope he’ll get the opportunity to improve relations with Russia. Look at the markets, how they have grown. This means that investors trust the US economy, this means they trust what he [Donald Trump] is doing in this field.”

On Russiagate: “What’s so strange about this [diplomats speaking with officials in their host country]? Why do you have this ‘Russian spy’ hysteria?” On accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential race, Putin said, “They have been invented by those aiming to delegitimize Trump. These people don’t understand they are undermining their own country – they aren’t showing respect for the Americans [who] voted for Trump.”

On working together with Washington: “Russia and the US can work closely on a range of issues” even given the “well-known limitations” on Trump.

On potential US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty: “We hear about the problems with the INF Treaty. Apparently conditions are being created and an information-propaganda campaign is being run for a possible US withdrawal from the treaty. There is nothing good about a US withdrawal, that [would] be highly detrimental to international security. The US has de facto left the INF Treaty already, with the deployment of the Aegis ashore, but Russia is not going to leave the treaty. We will not be dragged into an arms race.”

Putin stressed that Russia’s defense spending was US$46 billion a year, while the US plans to spend $700 billion in 2018.

On the Arctic: “I have visited [the Arctic archipelago] Franz Josef Land; several years ago foreign guides, accompanying foreign tourist groups, would say that these islands ‘recently’ belonged to Russia. They had forgotten that [Franz Josef Land] is a Russian archipelago, but we reminded them, and at the moment everything is fine. We shouldn’t forget it. Developing all those resources in the Arctic should take place in sync with taking care of the environment … we should not impinge on economic activities of ethnic minorities.”

On Ukraine: “The Kiev authorities have no desire to implement the Minsk agreements, no desire to launch a real political process, the completion of which could be the implementation of an agreement on the special status of the Donbass, which is enshrined in the relevant law of Ukraine, adopted by the Rada [Ukraine’s parliament]. Russians and Ukrainians are basically one people” (the audience is audibly pleased).

On Syria: “The US is not contributing enough to the successful resolution of the Syrian crisis. It is important that none of the participants in this [Syrian peace] process have the desire or temptation to use various terrorist or quasi-terrorist radical groups to achieve their immediate political goals.”

On Iraq: “Let’s say, militants are parting for Iraq. We are telling our US colleagues, ‘Militants have gone this or that way.’ There is no reaction, they [militants] are just leaving. Why? Due to thinking that they could be used in the fight with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad. That’s very dangerous.”

On Russia possibly influencing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program: “Your congressmen, senators look so good, they have beautiful suits, shirts, they are seemingly clever people. They put us alongside North Korea and Iran. At the same time they push the [US] president to persuade us to solve the problems of North Korea and Iran together with you.”

On a nuclear DPRK: “On North Korea, we don’t accept it as a nuclear country. As for the US, it has gone beyond previous deals [with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] … and has provoked North Korea to withdraw from agreements.  I think we heard the US would stop military drills, but no … they didn’t. It is vital to act very carefully when dealing with the DPRK’s nuclear program.”

On China: “I have full confidence that cooperation with China is beyond any political agenda. We will always remain strategic partners, for a long period of time. We have similar approaches to the development of the international system. We are both interested in joint [economic] projects, including integration of OBOR [One Belt One Road] and the Eurasian Union.”

Crafting the integration soundtrack

And that takes us to the heart of the geopolitical New Great Game in Eurasia: the Russia-China strategic partnership, once again reaffirmed, and the deepening of integration between the New Silk Roads, formerly OBOR, now Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAUA).

Putin is clearly positive about the benefits for Russia from this economic interpenetration. He noted how “Russia was able to overcome major crises: the collapse of prices for energy carriers and trade sanctions. But the country is moving in the right direction with a greater focus on domestic production. Our internal trade grew by 3%. This has to mean something.”

As much as Beijing in relation to its BRI, Moscow has been on a charm offensive to enlarge the Eurasian Economic Union. Turkey is a possible EAEU candidate for the near future, as well as India and Pakistan

Stressing how Moscow is totally on board the BRI, Putin implied how this cooperation extrapolates to both the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) spheres as well; and that’s where we should place Moscow’s current efforts to convince New Delhi – also a BRICS and SCO member – that betting on the BRI favors India’s interests.

As recently as early this week in New Delhi, after a trilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been adamant: “I know India has problems, we discussed it today, with the concept of One Belt and One Road, but the specific problem in this regard should not make everything else conditional to resolving political issues.”

New Delhi has to be listening, as it was one of Moscow’s staunchest allies during the Cold War.

In a parallel development, Iran is bound to join the EAEU as early as February, according to Behrouz Hassanolfat, director of the Europe and Americas Department of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, as quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

As Asia Times has reported, India and Iran are getting more in sync economically via a parallel Silk Road to Central Asia centered on the port of Chabahar. Iran is also an essential BRI hub, and now will become an EAEU hub as well.

As much as Beijing in relation to its BRI, Moscow has been on a charm offensive to enlarge the EAEU. Turkey – already on board the BRI – is a possible EAEU candidate for the near future, as well as India and Pakistan.

Even as Putin at his presser once again advanced the cause of these multiple cross-pollinations of Eurasian integration, India sometimes may give the impression of being the odd partner out. New Delhi has just hosted the first ASEAN-India Connectivity Summit, which can be interpreted as an attempt to go against the BRI. Yet the emergence of an anti-China bloc across Southeast Asia seems far-fetched.

In parallel, Moscow certainly does not welcome a somewhat evolving “Indo-Pacific” US/India/Japan alliance. The undercurrent narrative in Putin’s script could not be more crystal clear: The roadmap for Eurasia integration is all about the coming together of the BRI, EAEU, the SCO and BRICS.

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Russian Hierarch explains Ukrainian issue in detail (VIDEO)

A Russian Orthodox Hierarch explores the incursion of earthly politics into the life, pastoral activity and needs of the Orthodox Church.

Seraphim Hanisch

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RT’s “Worlds Apart” interview program recently interviewed Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), a hierarch who heads the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church. The Duran has covered the crisis in Ukraine surrounding the activity of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, of Constantinople, intended to create a fully independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This effort falls completely outside the normal and authorized operating procedures of the Orthodox Church, but to the lay listener it is difficult to understand what the fuss really is all about.

Metropolitan Hilarion and Oksana Boyko do an excellent job with both the answers, but more importantly, the questions, since Ms. Boyko asks the questions that someone who knows nothing about the Church might ask. This situation is completely about politics and not about the true work of the Church, and Met. Hilarion answers these questions very completely and thoroughly.

One of the really interesting points that Met. Hilarion makes is the idea that the Ecumenical Patriarch seeks to bring about the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church from these four groups:

  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (which is canonical and which has not requested self-rule, called autocephaly
  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Church “Kyiv Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko, which is a completely schismatic group. This group, and Filaret, are leading the charge.
  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church – another schismatic group that is not in communion with Filaret’s church
  • The Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine – and this is truly interesting, because this group is not even Orthodox, but is an Eastern Rite group under the Pope of Rome, and is in fact Roman Catholic.

The notion of bringing together such a disparity of groups is stunning to the Metropolitan, and yet he understands the motives of the men driving this idea, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew, and Filaret Denisenko.

While the United States is not mentioned in this interview in any prominent sense, it should be noted that this move also does have strong US support as the American political leadership has been advocating for the Poroshenko government in an effort to continue to surround and isolate Russia. As we have noted elsewhere, this series of moves may well create more problems for Russia, by design.

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Putin Keeps Cool and Averts WWIII as Israeli-French Gamble in Syria Backfires Spectacularly

Putin vowed that Russia would take extra precautions to protect its troops in Syria, saying these will be “the steps that everyone will notice.”

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Authored by Robert Bridge via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


By initiating an attack on the Syrian province of Latakia, home to the Russia-operated Khmeimim Air Base, Israel, France and the United States certainly understood they were flirting with disaster. Yet they went ahead with the operation anyways.

On the pretext that Iran was preparing to deliver a shipment of weapon production systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli F-16s, backed by French missile launches in the Mediterranean, destroyed what is alleged to have been a Syrian Army ammunition depot.

What happened next is already well established: a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, which the Israeli fighter jets had reportedly used for cover, was shot down by an S-200 surface-to-air missile system operated by the Syrian Army. Fifteen Russian servicemen perished in the incident, which could have been avoided had Israel provided more than just one-minute warning before the attack. As a result, chaos ensued.

Whether or not there is any truth to the claim that Iran was preparing to deliver weapon-making systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon is practically a moot point based on flawed logic. Conducting an attack against an ammunition depot in Syria – in the vicinity of Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base – to protect Israel doesn’t make much sense when the consequence of such “protective measures” could have been a conflagration on the scale of World War III. That would have been an unacceptable price to achieve such a limited objective, which could have been better accomplished with the assistance of Russia, as opposed to NATO-member France, for example. In any case, there is a so-called “de-confliction system” in place between Israel and Russia designed to prevent exactly this sort of episode from occurring.

And then there is the matter of the timing of the French-Israeli incursion.

Just hours before Israeli jets pounded the suspect Syrian ammunition storehouse, Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan were in Sochi hammering out the details on a plan to reduce civilian casualties as Russian and Syrian forces plan to retake Idlib province, the last remaining terrorist stronghold in the country. The plan envisioned the creation of a demilitarized buffer zone between government and rebel forces, with observatory units to enforce the agreement. In other words, it is designed to prevent exactly what Western observers have been fretting about, and that is unnecessary ‘collateral damage.’

So what do France and Israel do after a relative peace is declared, and an effective measure for reducing casualties? The cynically attack Syria, thus exposing those same Syrian civilians to the dangers of military conflict that Western capitals proclaim to be worried about.

Israel moves to ‘damage control’

Although Israel has taken the rare move of acknowledging its involvement in the Syrian attack, even expressing “sorrow” for the loss of Russian life, it insists that Damascus should be held responsible for the tragedy. That is a highly debatable argument.

By virtue of the fact that the French and Israeli forces were teaming up to attack the territory of a sovereign nation, thus forcing Syria to respond in self-defense, it is rather obvious where ultimate blame for the downed Russian plane lies.

“The blame for the downing of the Russian plane and the deaths of its crew members lies squarely on the Israeli side,” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said. “The actions of the Israeli military were not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership, so we reserve the right to respond.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, took admirable efforts to prevent the blame game from reaching the boiling point, telling reporters that the downing of the Russian aircraft was the result of “a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet.”

Nevertheless, following this extremely tempered and reserved remark, Putin vowed that Russia would take extra precautions to protect its troops in Syria, saying these will be “the steps that everyone will notice.”

Now there is much consternation in Israel that the IDF will soon find its freedom to conduct operations against targets in Syria greatly impaired. That’s because Russia, having just suffered a ‘friendly-fire’ incident from its own antiquated S-200 system, may now be more open to the idea of providing Syria with the more advanced S-300 air-defense system.

Earlier this year, Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement that prevented those advanced defensive weapons from being employed in the Syrian theater. That deal is now in serious jeopardy. In addition to other defensive measures, Russia could effectively create the conditions for a veritable no-fly zone across Western Syria in that it would simply become too risky for foreign aircraft to venture into the zone.

The entire situation, which certainly did not go off as planned, has forced Israel into damage control as they attempt to prevent their Russian counterparts from effectively shutting down Syria’s western border.

On Thursday, Israeli Major-General Amikam Norkin and Brigadier General Erez Maisel, as well as officers of the Intelligence and Operations directorates of the Israeli air force will pay an official visit to Moscow where they are expected to repeat their concerns of “continuous Iranian attempts to transfer strategic weapons to the Hezbollah terror organization and to establish an Iranian military presence in Syria.”

Moscow will certainly be asking their Israeli partners if it is justifiable to subject Russian servicemen to unacceptable levels of danger, up to and including death, in order to defend Israeli interests. It remains to be seen if the two sides can find, through the fog of war, an honest method for bringing an end to the Syria conflict, which would go far at relieving Israel’s concerns of Iranian influence in the region.

 

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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