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Vladimir Putin’s withering scorn for Barack Obama laid bare

Vladimir Putin uses end of year press conference to disclose his personal feelings about US President Obama and the current US administration.

Alexander Mercouris

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Vladimir Putin’s massive end-of-year press conference saw the Russian President in a relaxed and confident mood.

This is not surprising.  For Vladimir Putin and for Russia, 2016 has been, if not quite an anno mirabilis, nonetheless a good year.

As Putin pointed out at the start of his press conference, the economy is now clearly recovering, with all the productive sectors of the economy now showing growth, with inflation now expected to end the year at 5.5% – lower than expectations – and with the budget deficit also likely to be lower than expected.

In foreign policy, relations with China – the anchor upon which Russia’s international position rests – not only remain strong, but are growing stronger, enabling Russia to leverage its de facto alliance with China to achieve a breakthrough in its relations with the two big Far Eastern powers – South Korea and Japan.

Meanwhile Russia has maintained its traditionally strong relations with the other big Asian powers: India and Vietnam.

In the Middle East there has been a spectacular breakthrough, with Russia’s military intervention in Syria resulting in a conclusive victory in Aleppo, with Russia forging ever closer ties to Iran, and with a major turnaround in relations with Turkey – which at the start of the year had been terrible – and with Russia managing to maintain good relations with countries as diverse as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Russian success in preserving a dialogue with the Saudis in the face of every possible provocation, and despite the Russians and the Saudis supporting opposite sides in the war in Syria, bore fruit this year in an agreement between the Russians and the Saudis to stabilise oil prices.

I would add that in the event that oil prices remain above $50 a barrel – where they are at the moment – then the wildly overblown claims of a Russian budget crisis, will end up looking even more ridiculous than they already do.  Next year’s budget is based on a conservative assumption that oil prices will average $40 a barrel over the year, so that if the actual oil price over the year remains above $50 a barrel, it is likely that in conditions of growing tax receipts as Russia’s recovery gathers pace that the budget deficit will either disappear entirely or turn out significantly smaller than the government is now predicting.  Either way Russia’s success in raising funds both in its own domestic money markets, and through its two Eurobond issues this year, shows that claims that the country cannot cover its budget deficit are absurd.

Looming over every other issue is however the prospective change of administration in the US.

The single most striking thing to come out of President Putin’s end-of-year press conference this year, was that he no longer felt the need to conceal his lack of respect and indeed his positive dislike for the outgoing US administration and for the current US President.  Though Putin’s comments appeared to address the particular issue of the hacking scandal, his carefully chosen words show that his feelings go far wider

The current US Administration and leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on outside factors. I have questions and some thoughts in this regard.

We know that not only did the Democratic Party lose the presidential election, but also the Senate, where the Republicans have the majority, and Congress, where the Republicans are also in control. Did we, or I also do that? We may have celebrated this on the “vestiges of a 17th century chapel,” but were we the ones who destroyed the chapel, as the saying goes? This is not the way things really are. All this goes to show that the current administration faces system-wide issues, as I have said at a Valdai Club meeting.

It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win. (Applause).

The outstanding Democrats in American history would probably be turning in their graves though. Roosevelt certainly would be because he was an exceptional statesman in American and world history, who knew how to unite the nation even during the Great Depression’s bleakest years, in the late 1930s, and during World War II. Today’s administration, however, is very clearly dividing the nation. The call for the electors not to vote for either candidate, in this case, not to vote for the President-elect, was quite simply a step towards dividing the nation. Two electors did decide not to vote for Trump, and four for Clinton, and here too they lost. They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully.

(bold italics added)

What President Putin is saying here is that the Obama administration is using him and Russia as its scapegoat to explain not just its electoral failures but all its failures, including most especially its foreign policy failures.  The fact that he says that “they are losing on all fronts” shows how comprehensively he thinks the Obama administration has failed.

These comments incidentally show that Putin is very well aware of the way Western governments and media have demonised him, and that despite an outward appearance of equanimity, he is actually deeply offended by it.

As for Barack Obama himself, strikingly Putin never referred to him by name save once, when he pointedly contrasted his policy of not disclosing what foreign leaders tell him in diplomatic conversations, with the way Obama does

As concerns my conversation with President Obama, again, it is my rule to never talk about this in public. I am aware that his aide recently made a public statement regarding that conversation with Mr Obama. You can ask my aide, he will answer. Mr Peskov is here.

Though Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush were very much geopolitical adversaries, at a personal level they were able to get on with each other, though contrary to some claims they were never friends.   All the indications are that Putin and the Russian government nonetheless welcomed Obama’s 2008 election victory, and looked forward to working with Obama and with his administration.

In his mammoth series of interviews with The Atlantic earlier this year Obama himself admitted as much, acknowledging that Putin was invariably polite to him during their meetings, and always strove to find areas of agreement

The truth is, actually, Putin, in all of our meetings, is scrupulously polite, very frank. Our meetings are very businesslike. He never keeps me waiting two hours like he does a bunch of these other folks.  He’s constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he’s not completely stupid.  He understands that Russia’s overall position in the world is significantly diminished.

(bold italics added)

The dripping condescension in the last two sentences (“because he’s not completely stupid”) shows why for all Putin’s efforts the relationship between him and Obama failed so completely, and has become so bad.

In contrast to his words of withering scorn for the Obama administration – and by implication for Barack Obama himself – Putin’s comments about Donald Trump were very warm

It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win.

These words show that Putin genuinely looks forward to working with Donald Trump, and seriously hopes for a sustained improvement in relations between Russia and the US.  However, the totality of his words about US-Russian relations suggest that his dominant feeling is not one of joy at the coming prospect of Donald Trump.  It is relief that Barack Obama will soon be gone.

 

 

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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Second Canadian Citizen Disappears In China

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea.

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Via Zerohedge…


For a trade war that was supposed to be between the US and China, Canada has found itself increasingly in the middle of the crossfire. And so after the arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing in retaliation for the detention of the Huawei CFO in Vancouver, Canada said a second person has been questioned by Chinese authorities, further heightening tensions between the two countries.

The second person reached out to the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, at which point Canada lost contact with him. His whereabouts are currently unknown and Global Affairs Canada said they are in contact with his family.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Freeland told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea. He gained fame for helping arrange a visit to Pyongyang by former NBA player Dennis Rodman, and he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on that trip, the newspaper reported. Attempts to reach Spavor on his contact number either in China, or North Korean went straight to voicemail.

Spavor’s personal Facebook page contains several images of him with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un including one of him with both Jong-un and former Dennis Rodman at an undisclosed location.

Michael P. Spavor, right, pictured here with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, and Dennis Rodman.

Another image shows the two sharing a drink on a boat.

The unexplained disappearance takes place after China’s spy agency detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Beijing on Monday, who was on leave from the foreign service. The arrest came nine days after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. DOJ. While Canada has asked to see the former envoy after it was informed by fax of his arrest, Canada is unaware of Kovrig current whereabouts or the charges he faces.

“Michael did not engage in illegal activities nor did he do anything that endangered Chinese national security,” Rob Malley, chief executive officer of the ICG, said in a written statement. “He was doing what all Crisis Group analysts do: undertaking objective and impartial research.”

One possibility is that Kovrig may have been caught up in recent rule changes in China that affect non-governmental organizations, according to Bloomberg. The ICG wasn’t authorized to do work in China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing Wednesday.

“We welcome foreign travelers. But if they engage in activities that clearly violate Chinese laws and regulations, then it is totally another story,” he said, adding he had no information on Kovrig specifically.

As Bloomberg further notes, foreign non-governmental organizations are now required to register with the Chinese authorities under a 2017 law that subjects them to stringent reporting requirements. Under the law, organizations without a representative office in China must have a government sponsor and a local cooperative partner before conducting activities. ICG said this is the first time they’ve heard such an accusation from the Chinese authorities in a decade of working with the country. The company closed its Beijing operations in December 2016 because of the new Chinese law, according to a statement. Kovrig was working out of the Hong Kong office.

Meanwhile, realizing that it is increasingly bearing the brunt of China’s retaliatory anger, Trudeau’s government distanced itself from Meng’s case, saying it can’t interfere with the courts, but is closely involved in advocating on Kovrig’s behalf.

So far Canada has declined to speculate on whether there was a connection between the Kovrig and Meng cases, with neither Freeland nor Canadian Trade Minister Jim Carr saying Wednesday that there is any indication the cases are related. Then again, it is rather obvious they are. Indeed, Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, says the link is clear. “There’s no coincidence with China.”

“In this case, they couldn’t grab a Canadian diplomat because this would have created a major diplomatic incident,” he said. “Going after him I think was their way to send a message to the Canadian government and to put pressure.”

Even though Meng was granted bail late Tuesday, that did not placate China, whose foreign ministry spokesman said that “The Canadian side should correct its mistakes and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou immediately.”

The tension, according to Bloomberg,  may force Canadian companies to reconsider travel to China, and executives traveling to the Asian country will need to exercise extra caution, said Andy Chan, managing partner at Miller Thomson LLP in Vaughan, Ontario.

“Canadian business needs to look at and balance the reasons for the travel’’ between the business case and the “current political environment,’’ Chan said by email. Chinese officials subject business travelers to extra screening and in some case reject them from entering, he said.

Earlier in the day, SCMP reported that Chinese high-tech researchers were told “not to travel to the US unless it’s essential.”

And so, with Meng unlikely to be released from Canada any time soon, expect even more “Chinese (non) coincidences”, until eventually China does detain someone that the US does care about.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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