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East Ghouta: the last great battle of the Syrian war?

Jihadi defeat in East Ghouta would spell the end of the regime change war in Syria

Alexander Mercouris

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Reading media reports of the fighting in east Ghouta over the last few days has triggered an eery sense of déjà vu.

It is like taking a time machine back to the autumn of 2016 and listening to all the arguments over the fighting in Aleppo all over again.

Just as in 2016 the reports concern fighting between the Syrian military and a large force of Jihadis – in both cases around 10-15,000 men – trapped in a district of one of Syria’s two main cities.

In 2016 it was eastern Aleppo; this time it is east Ghouta, which is a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus.

Just as in 2016 the presence of these violent Jihadi terrorists is being ignored, with the fighters ‘defending’ east Ghouta more often referred to in the Western media as ‘moderate rebels’ rather than the Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliated Jihadi militants that they actually are.

Just as in 2016 the air waves and the presses are full of furious denunciations of Syrian and Russian bombing.

There is again talk of barrel bombs and of the supposedly intentional bombing of hospitals, though the military logic of deliberately bombing hospitals is never explained and entirely escapes me.

As was  the case with the bombing of eastern Aleppo in 2016 much emphasis is given to the killing of children, with vivid pictures plastered all over the media of dead or injured children, to the point where at times it almost seems as if most of the people being killed in east Ghouta are children.

In 2016 there were no Western reporters in eastern Aleppo to observe and report about the bombing there.

Today in east Ghouta there are also no Western reporters present to observe and report about the bombing there.

Just as was the case in eastern Aleppo in 2016 so in east Ghouta today the presence of Western reporters is impossible because the violent Jihadi terrorists who in the autumn of 2016 were in control of eastern Aleppo, and the violent Jihadis who are in control of east Ghouta today, would kill or kidnap without hesitation any Western reporter foolish enough to go there.

The result is that just as was the case in 2016 in Aleppo, the reports of the bombing in east Ghouta come entirely from ‘local sources’ whose accuracy and objectivity (given that they are reporting from an Al-Qaeda controlled area) must be in doubt.

Moreover the same organisation – the White Helmets – is prominently involved in both places and on both occasions.

Just as in 2016 the obvious problems with the accuracy and objectivity of the reporting seems not to worry the Western media at all.

Just as was the case in 2016 in its reporting of the bombing of Aleppo, so in its reporting of the bombing of east Ghouta today,  the Western media simply reproduces the reports it obtains from the ‘local sources’ and the White Helmets without providing any health warning about their objectivity or accuracy, publishing them as if they were proven and true.

This is despite the fact that – as Robert Fisk has pointed out – the propagandist nature of at least some of these reports is made obvious by the fact that they never speak of or show any Jihadi fighters in east Ghouta – just as in 2016 they never spoke of or showed any Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo – despite the large scale presence of Jihadi fighters there.

Just as in 2016 the United Nations Secretariat and the various humanitarian organisations lobby furiously for a ceasefire and for humanitarian corridors to rescue the civilians.

The United Nations Secretariat and the various humanitarian agencies however also give what are grossly inflated estimates of the number of civilians trapped in east Ghouta (“400,000”), just as in 2016 they gave what turned out to be grossly inflated estimates of the number of civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo (“250,000”), a fact which inevitably calls into question their objectivity, as does their failure to acknowledge the presence of Jihadi fighters there.

Moreover just as in 2016 the Syrian authorities claimed – accurately enough as it turned out – that the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo were preventing the civilians from leaving and were using the civilians as human shields, so the Syrian authorities are now claiming that the Jihadis in east Ghouta are preventing the civilians from leaving and are using them as human shields.

Just as in 2016 the Russians are busy brokering agreements for ceasefires, bombing pauses and humanitarian corridors to ease the plight of the civilians, despite the ill-concealed annoyance this causes to the Syrian authorities, whose military operations are thereby being obstructed.  Just as was the case in 2016 the Russians however get absolutely no credit in the West for doing this.

On the contrary the Western media is filled with atrocity stories which are blamed on Russia and on President Putin in particular, with this overblown editorial in the Guardian a typical example.

Just as was the case in 2016 during the fighting in Aleppo the air waves and presses today are full of talk of war crimes, with demands that war crimes prosecutions be brought against the Russians, the Syrians and the Iranians, who are supposedly responsible for the killing of the civilians in east Ghouta and for the bombing.

This is despite the fact that a British parliamentary committee which reported last year on the state of relations between Britain and Russia admitted that the claims that Russia had committed war crimes in 2016 in Aleppo were unverified.

Nor is the fact mentioned – just as it was not mentioned during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016 – that the Jihadis in east Ghouta are known to have engaged in the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, even though the extent of their shelling obviously cannot compare to the scale of the bombing carried out by the Russians and by the Syrian air force.

Just as was the case with the crisis in Aleppo in 2016, the crisis in east Ghouta today is the subject of much handwringing in the Western media.

There are also – just as there were in 2016 – pleas to President Putin to “show mercy”.

In 2016 these pleas came mainly from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.  This time they are coming from German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron.

Meanwhile – as in 2016 – there is grandstanding against Russia at the UN Security Council by the US’s UN ambassador.  In 2016 it was Samantha Power; this time it is Nikki Haley.

Just as in 2016 we are now seeing overheated and hysterical demands for ‘military action’ to ‘bring the killing to a stop’, with all concerns about what that might lead to brushed aside.

To complete the truly extraordinary parallels, there has even been a US bombing raid on Syrian forces far away in eastern Syria in Deir Ezzor province, just as there was during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016.

Moreover the Russian response to the US threats and to the US bombing raid appears to be the same as it was in 2016: the deployment of further powerful additional military forces to Syria and to Khmeimim air base.

In 2016 it was S-300VM Antey 2500 anti aircraft missiles; today it is additional S-400 anti aircraft missiles and (reportedly) SU-57 fighters.

As to what is really behind the furious campaign to stop the attack on east Ghouta, it is the same as was the case with the furious campaign to stop the attack on eastern Aleppo in 2016: to prevent a Jihadi enclave which threatens one of Syria’s two great cities – Aleppo in 2016, Damascus today – from being destroyed.

As to what would actually happen if – or rather when – that Jihadi enclave is finally destroyed, I can do no better than quote Marcus Papadopoulos

Once East Ghouta is liberated from Al-Qaeda, the world will see the same response from its inhabitants as the world saw once East Aleppo was liberated: jubilation. And, like with East Aleppo, East Ghouta will serve as another testimony about the facade that is the White Helmets.

Why all these frantic attempts to save an Al-Qaeda controlled Jihadi enclave from being destroyed near Damascus?

The short answer is that just as the destruction in 2016 of the Jihadi enclave in eastern Aleppo showed to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria could not be won, so the destruction of the Jihadi enclave in east Ghouta near Damascus today would show to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria is irretrievably lost.

The remaining Jihadi controlled territories in Syria would be reduced to a few fringe areas in remote and impoverished regions of Syria: places like Idlib province in Syria’s northwest, the ISIS holdout areas east of the Euphrates, and the small belt of territory near the increasingly lonely US base close to the Jordanian border at Al-Tanf.

Though fighting would not immediately end, and the massive problem of what to do with Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria would remain unresolved, it would be increasingly difficult to sustain the fiction that a genuine civil war likely to end in a “rebel” victory was underway.

Over time that would be bound to increase the pressure to withdraw the uninvited foreign troops – US, Turkish and Israeli – currently present on Syrian territory.

At that point the fighting against the Jihadis would be reduced to mopping up operations, and the charade of the ‘peace talks’ in Geneva, Astana and Sochi would end.

However if there are striking similarities between the uproar over the fighting in Aleppo in 2016 and the fighting in east Ghouta today, there is also one very important difference.

This is that this time the uproar lacks conviction.

Following the Syrian army’s victory in Aleppo in 2016, and following the establishment of permanent Russian bases in Syria, there is now no longer any possibility of President Assad being ousted by force.

That means that regime change in Syria is no longer practicable, which begs the question of why the war is being continued at all.

Putting that aside, since the US and the rest of the regime change coalition know that a “rebel” ‘victory’ in Syria is no longer possible, their protests against the Syrian army’s ongoing offensive against the Jihadis in east Ghouta inevitably lack conviction and have none of the force that they did in 2016.

This is what explains the empty Resolution that came out of the UN Security Council on Saturday 24th February 2018.  I reproduce the entire text of the Resolution below, but its key paragraphs are the following

The Security Council

………..

1.   Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded, in accordance with applicable international law;

“2.   Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;

The key point about paragraph 1 is that though the Resolution “demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay” it sets no date for the cessation of hostilities Ie. for the ceasefire to begin.

Instead the “parties” are to “to engage – (ie. negotiate with each other) – immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand”.

In other words instead of imposing a ceasefire the UN Security Council has actually merely ordered negotiations to achieve one.

Absurdly, the Resolution does not however say who the “parties” are who must negotiate this ceasefire.  The rest of the Resolution makes it clear that one of the “parties” is the Syrian government.  Paragraph 2 makes it clear the “parties” do not include “undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council”.  However it is left completely unsaid who in that case is the “party” the Syrian government is supposed to negotiate the ceasefire with.

The reality is that since the Jihadi fighters in east Ghouta are practically by definition members of “undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL”, who are excluded from the ceasefire, there is no one in east Ghouta to negotiate a ceasefire with.

In the run up to the voting on the Resolution on Saturday the Russians made the point that the draft of the Resolution with which they were presented – officially sponsored by Kuwait and Sweden, but in reality drawn up by the Western powers – failed to identify who the Syrian government is supposed to negotiate the ceasefire with.

Accordingly they apparently successfully objected to the inclusion of a date for the start of the ceasefire.

Since it is impossible to see how negotiations to agree the terms of the ceasefire can happen when one of the parties who is supposed to agree the ceasefire has not been identified and actually does not exist, that renders the whole demand for a ceasefire vacuous.

In fact even as I write this, despite the Resolution’s demand that “hostilities cease without delay” no negotiations to agree the terms of the ceasefire are taking place and the Syrian army’s offensive against the Jihadis in east Ghouta continues unabated.

The Western powers presumably agreed to put the Resolution to the vote in this meaningless form because they intend at some future date to blame the Syrians and the Russians for the “failure” of the ceasefire “demanded” by the Resolution.

That however simply demonstrates the bankruptcy of the West’s Syrian policy.

That the Russians – who have vetoed eleven Resolutions concerning Syria in the UN Security Council since the start of the conflict in 2011 – will simply brush off any more such empty Western criticism ought by now to be obvious.

In fact what the text of the Resolution shows is the weakening of the West’s position on Syria with respect to Russia.

Back in 2016 the Western powers would have rejected the Russian amendment and would have insisted that the Resolution be presented to the UN Security Council in its original form ie. with a start date for the ceasefire.

The Resolution would then almost certainly have gained the necessary votes in the UN Security Council to pass, obliging the Russians to veto it.

That would have led to further furious denunciations and grandstanding in the UN Security Council against Russia.

The fact that the Western powers on this occasion agreed to a Russian amendment which with respect to east Ghouta deprived the Resolution of all meaning shows either that they are tiring of this game, or that they were concerned that the Russian objections were being heeded by the non permanent members of the UN Security Council, so that the Resolution would not have gained enough votes to pass if put to the vote in its original form.

The United Nations’ summary of the debate at the UN Security Council suggests that four UN Security Council members (Russia, China, Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia) might have voted against the Resolution or abstained if it had been put to a vote in its original form, with three (Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Peru) having the swing vote

Most probably these three states would have voted for the Resolution, but the statements of their ambassadors during the debate were free of rhetoric and somewhat ambiguous, making it at least possible that some or even all of them might have abstained in a vote.

Since a Resolution requires at least nine votes in the UN Security Council to pass, if only two of these states had abstained the Resolution would have failed without any Russian veto being needed, dealing a massive diplomatic defeat to the US and to the Western powers.

Those who recall the events of the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ in 2016 will remember that there were numerous ceasefires or ‘humanitarian pauses’ ordered by President Putin over Syrian objections and over objections from his own military for the purpose of providing relief supplies to the civilians.

The Russians also negotiated strenuously to try to get the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo under escort with their families.

All the ceasefires and all the efforts to get the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo however ended in failure.

The Jihadis adamantly refused to leave, only finally agreeing to do so when the territory under their control had shrunk to barely a square kilometre and their position had become militarily untenable.

I suspect that something similar will happen in east Ghouta, though with the Syrian army much stronger than it was in Aleppo in 2016, and with the Jihadis in east Ghouta much weaker than were the Jihadis fighting in eastern Aleppo in 2016, I expect the process this time to be much shorter.

Already there are reports of the Syrian army making significant territorial gains as it closes in on the Jihadis in east Ghouta.

As for the Western powers, they have neither the means nor the will to prevent what is going to happen, which is the eventual liberation of east Ghouta from the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi terrorists who control it.

Though it may take a little time I expect the whole of east Ghouta before long to be under the control of the Syrian government.

At that point the Syrian government will be able to turn its full attention to the gathering crisis in Syria’s Kurdish areas far away in Syria’s north.

There now follows the complete text of UN Security Council Resolution 2401 (2018)

The Security Council,

Recalling its resolutions 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012), 2118 (2013), 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2175 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2209 (2015), 2235 (2015), 2249 (2015), 2254 (2015), 2258 (2015), 2268 (2016), 2286 (2016), 2332 (2016), 2336 (2016) and 2393 (2017), and its Presidential Statements of 3 August 2011 (S/PRST/2011/16), 21 March 2012 (S/PRST/2012/6), 5 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/10), 2 October 2013 (S/PRST/2013/15), 24 April 2015 (S/PRST/2015/10) and 17 August 2015 (S/PRST/2015/15),

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Reiterating its grave distress at the continued severity of the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria, including in Eastern Ghouta, Idlib Governorate, Northern Hama Governorate, Rukhban and Raqqa, and at the fact that urgent humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, is now required by more than 13.1 million people in Syria, of whom 6.1 million are internally displaced, 2.5 million are living in hard-to-reach areas, including Palestinian refugees, and hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in besieged areas,

Expressing outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence escalating in several parts of the country, in particular in Idlib Governorate and Eastern Ghouta but also Damascus City, including shelling on diplomatic premises, and at attacks against civilians, civilian objects and medical facilities, further compounding suffering and displacing large numbers of people, recalling in this regard the legal obligations of all parties under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as all relevant decisions of the Security Council, especially to cease all attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including those involving attacks on schools and medical facilities,

Expressing concern for those returning to areas, including those retaken from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), that are contaminated by explosive remnants of war and need resilience and stabilization support and expressing disturbance at the humanitarian situation in Raqqa,

Reiterating its deep disturbance at the lack of United Nations humanitarian access to besieged populations in recent months, expressing grave alarm at the dire situation of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas in the Syrian Arab Republic, especially in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, and reaffirming that sieges directed against civilian populations in Syria are a violation of international humanitarian law, and calling for the immediate lifting of all sieges,

Expressing its disturbance at the humanitarian situation for the internally displaced persons in Rukhban and stressing in this regard the need to ensure humanitarian access to Rukhban from inside Syria and the need for a sustainable solution,

Noting the ongoing work on de-escalation areas to reduce violence as a step towards a comprehensive nation-wide ceasefire, emphasizing the need for all parties to respect their commitments to existing ceasefire agreements, and that humanitarian access must be granted as part of these efforts in accordance with international humanitarian law,

Reaffirming that Member States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law,

Emphasizing that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate further in the absence of a political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with resolution 2254 (2015), calling upon all parties to make progress in this regard and to undertake confidence-building measures, including the early release of any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children,

Expressing outrage at the insufficient implementation of its resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2268 (2016), 2332 (2016) and 2393 (2017),

Determining that the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to constitute a threat to peace and security in the region,

Underscoring that Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Council’s decisions,

“1.   Demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties, for a durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded, in accordance with applicable international law;

“2.   Affirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council;

“3.   Calls upon all parties to respect and fulfil their commitments to existing ceasefire agreements, including the full implementation of resolution 2268, furthermore calls upon all Member States to use their influence with the parties to ensure implementation of the cessation of hostilities, the fulfilment of existing commitments and to support efforts to create conditions for a durable and lasting ceasefire and stresses the need for relevant guarantees from those Member States;

“4.   Calls upon all relevant Member States to coordinate efforts to monitor the cessation of hostilities, building on existing arrangements;

“5.   Further demands that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties shall allow safe, unimpeded and sustained access each week for United Nations’ and their implementing partners’ humanitarian convoys, including medical and surgical supplies, to all requested areas and populations according to United Nations’ assessment of need in all parts of Syria, in particular to those 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities in acute need, including the 2.9 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged locations, subject to standard UN security assessment;

“6.   Demands moreover that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties shall allow the United Nations and its implementing partners to undertake safe, unconditional medical evacuations, based on medical need and urgency, subject to standard UN security assessment;

“7.   Reiterates its demand, reminding in particular the Syrian authorities, that all parties immediately comply with their obligations under international law, including international human rights law, as applicable, and international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians as well as to ensure the respect and protection of all medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, and to fully and immediately implement all provisions of all relevant Security Council resolutions;

“8.   Demands that all parties facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their equipment, transport and supplies, including surgical items, to all people in need, consistent with international humanitarian law and reiterates its demand that all parties demilitarize medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities and avoid establishing military positions in populated areas and desist from attacks directed against civilian objects;

“9.   Takes note with appreciation of the five requests identified by the Emergency Relief Coordinator on 11 January 2018 during his mission to Syria, and calls upon all parties to facilitate the implementation of these five requests and others to ensure principled, sustained and improved humanitarian assistance to Syria in 2018;

“10.  Calls upon all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas, including in Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, and demands that all parties allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance, cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival, and enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave, and underscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquillity, localized ceasefires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria, recalling that starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited by international humanitarian law;

“11.  Calls for humanitarian mine action to be accelerated as a matter of urgency throughout Syria;

“12.  Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution, and on compliance by all relevant parties in Syria, within 15 days of adoption of this resolution and thereafter within the framework of its reporting on resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016) and 2393 (2017);

“13.  Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

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Schaeuble, Greece and the lessons learned from a failed GREXIT (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 117.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine a recent interview with the Financial Times given by Wolfgang Schäuble, where the former German Finance Minister, who was charged with finding a workable and sustainable solution to the Greek debt crisis, reveals that his plan for Greece to take a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone (in order to devalue its currency and save its economy) was met with fierce resistance from Brussels hard liners, and Angela Merkel herself.

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Via FT

“Look where we’re sitting!” says Wolfgang Schäuble, gesturing at the Berlin panorama stretching out beneath us. It is his crisp retort to those who say that Europe is a failure, condemned to a slow demise by its own internal contradictions. “Walk through the Reichstag, the graffiti left by the Red Army soldiers, the images of a destroyed Berlin. Until 1990 the Berlin Wall ran just below where we are now!”

We are in Käfer, a restaurant on the rooftop of the Reichstag. The views are indeed stupendous: Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz loom through the mist. Both were once in communist East Berlin, cut off from where we are now by the wall. Now they’re landmarks of a single, undivided city. “Without European integration, without this incredible story, we wouldn’t have come close to this point,” he says. “That’s the crazy thing.”

As Angela Merkel’s finance minister from 2009 to 2017, Schäuble was at the heart of efforts to steer the eurozone through a period of unprecedented turbulence. But at home he is most associated with Germany’s postwar political journey, having not only negotiated the 1990 treaty unifying East and West Germany but also campaigned successfully for the capital to move from Bonn.

For a man who has done so much to put Berlin — and the Reichstag — back on the world-historical map, it is hard to imagine a more fitting lunch venue. With its open-plan kitchen and grey formica tables edged in chrome, Käfer has a cool, functional aesthetic that is typical of the city. On the wall hangs a sketch by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who famously wrapped the Reichstag in silver fabric in 1995.

The restaurant has one other big advantage: it is easy to reach from Schäuble’s office. Now 76, he has been confined to a wheelchair since he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1990, and mobility is an issue. Aides say he tends to avoid restaurants if he can, especially at lunchtime.

As we take our places, we talk about Schäuble’s old dream — that German reunification would be a harbinger of European unity, a step on the road to a United States of Europe. That seems hopelessly out of reach in these days of Brexit, the gilets jaunes in France, Lega and the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Some blame Schäuble himself for that. He was, after all, the architect of austerity, a fiscal hawk whose policy prescriptions during the euro crisis caused untold hardship for millions of ordinary people, or so his critics say. He became a hate figure, especially in Greece. Posters in Athens in 2015 depicted him with a Hitler moustache below the words: “Wanted — for mass poverty and devastation”.

Schäuble rejects the criticism that austerity caused the rise of populism. “Higher spending doesn’t lead to greater contentment,” he says. The root cause lies in mass immigration, and the insecurities it has unleashed. “What European country doesn’t have this problem?” he asks. “Even Sweden. The poster child of openness and the willingness to help.”

But what of the accusation that he didn’t care enough about the suffering of the southern Europeans? Austerity divided the EU and spawned a real animus against Schäuble. I ask him how that makes him feel now. “Well I’m sad, because I played a part in all of that,” he says, wistfully. “And I think about how we could have done it differently.”

I glance at the menu — simple German classics with a contemporary twist. I’m drawn to the starters, such as Oldenburg duck pâté and the Müritz smoked trout. But true to his somewhat abstemious reputation, Schäuble has no interest in these and zeroes in on the entrées. He chooses Käfer’s signature veal meatballs, a Berlin classic. I go for the Arctic char and pumpkin.

Schäuble switches seamlessly back to the eurozone crisis. The original mistake was in trying to create a common currency without a “common economic, employment and social policy” for all eurozone member states. The fathers of the euro had decided that if they waited for political union to happen first they’d wait forever, he says.

Yet the prospects for greater political union are now worse than they have been in years. “The construction of the EU has proven to be questionable,” he says. “We should have taken the bigger steps towards integration earlier on, and now, because we can’t convince the member states to take them, they are unachievable.”

Greece was a particularly thorny problem. It should never have been admitted to the euro club in the first place, Schäuble says. But when its debt crisis first blew up, it should have taken a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone — an idea he first floated with Giorgos Papakonstantinou, his Greek counterpart between 2009 and 2011. “I told him you need to be able to devalue your currency, you’re not competitive,” he says. The reforms required to repair the Greek economy were going to be “hard to achieve in a democracy”. “That’s why you need to leave the euro for a certain period. But everyone said there was no chance of that.”

The idea didn’t go away, though. Schäuble pushed for a temporary “Grexit” in 2015, during another round of the debt crisis. But Merkel and the other EU heads of government nixed the idea. He now reveals he thought about resigning over the issue. “On the morning the decision was made, [Merkel] said to me: ‘You’ll carry on?’ . . . But that was one of the instances where we were very close [to my stepping down].”

It is an extraordinary revelation, one that highlights just how rocky his relationship with Merkel has been over the years. Schäuble has been at her side from the start, an éminence grise who has helped to resolve many of the periodic crises of her 13 years as chancellor. But it was never plain sailing.

“There were a few really bad conflicts where she knew too that we were on the edge and I would have gone,” he says. “I always had to weigh up whether to go along with things, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do, as was the case with Greece, or whether I should go.” But his sense of duty prevailed. “We didn’t always agree — but I was always loyal.”

That might have been the case when he was a serving minister, but since becoming speaker of parliament in late 2017 he has increasingly distanced himself from Merkel. Last year, when she announced she would not seek re-election as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the party that has governed Germany for 50 of the past 70 years, Schäuble openly backed a candidate described by the Berlin press as the “anti-Merkel”. Friedrich Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer who is the chairman of BlackRock Germany, had once led the CDU’s parliamentary group but lost out to Merkel in a power struggle in 2002, quitting politics a few years later. He has long been seen as one of the chancellor’s fiercest conservative critics — and is a good friend of Schäuble’s.

Ultimately, in a nail-biting election last December, Merkel’s favoured candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, narrowly beat Merz. The woman universally known as “AKK” is in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor when her fourth and final term ends in 2021.

I ask Schäuble if it’s true that he had once again waged a battle against Merkel and once again lost. “I never went to war against Ms Merkel,” he says. “Everybody says that if I’m for Merz then I’m against Merkel. Why is that so? That’s nonsense.”

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The conclusion of Russiagate, Part I – cold, hard reality

The full text of Attorney General William P Barr’s summary is here offered, with emphases on points for further analysis.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The conclusion of the Russiagate investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was a pivotal media watershed moment. Even at the time of this writing there is a great deal of what might be called “journalistic froth” as opinion makers and analysts jostle to make their takes on this known to the world. Passions are running very high in both the Democrat / anti-Trump camps, where the reactions range from despondency to determined rage to not swallow the gigantic red pill that the “no collusion with Russia” determination offers. In the pro-Trump camp, the mood is deserved relief, but many who support the President are also realists, and they know this conflict is not over.

Where the pivot will go and what all this means is something that will unfold, probably relatively quickly, over the next week or two. But we want to offer a starting point here from which to base further analysis. At this time, of course, there are few hard facts other than the fact that Robert Mueller III submitted his report to the US Attorney General, William Barr, who then wrote and released his own report to the public Sunday evening. We reproduce that report here in full, with some emphases added to points that we think will be relevant to forthcoming pieces on this topic.

The end of the Mueller investigation brings concerns, hopes and fears to many people, on topics such as:

  • Will President Trump now begin to normalize relations with President Putin at full speed?
  • In what direction will the Democrats pivot to continue their attacks against the President?
  • What does this finding to to the 2020 race?
  • What does this finding do to the credibility of the United States’ leadership establishment, both at home and abroad?
  • What can we learn about our nation and culture from this investigation?
  • How does a false narrative get maintained so easily for so long, and
  • What do we do, or what CAN we do to prevent this being repeated?

These questions and more will be addressed in forthcoming pieces. But for now, here is the full text of the letter written by Attorney General William Barr concerning the Russia collusion investigation.

Dear Chairman Graham, Chairman Nadler, Ranking Member Feinstein, and Ranking Member Collins:
As a supplement to the notification provided on Friday, March 22, 2019, I am writing today to advise you of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and to inform you about the status of my initial review of the report he has prepared.
The Special Counsel’s Report
On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.
The report explains that the Special Counsel and his staff thoroughly investigated allegations that members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and others associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, or sought to obstruct the related federal investigations. In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.
The Special Counsel obtained a number of indictments and convictions of individuals and entities in connection with his investigation, all of which have been publicly disclosed. During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action. The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public. Below, I summarize the principal conclusions set out in the Special Counsel’s report.
Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
The Special Counsel’s report is divided into two parts. The first describes the results of the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts. The report further explains that a primary consideration for the Special Counsel’s investigation was whether any Americans including individuals associated with the Trump campaign joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election, which would be a federal crime. The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election. As noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated with the IRA in its efforts, although the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian nationals and entities in connection with these activities.
The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.
Obstruction of Justice.
The report’s second part addresses a number of actions by the President most of which have been the subject of public reporting that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns. After making a “thorough factual investigation” into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The Special Counsel’s decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime. Over the course of the investigation, the Special Counsel’s office engaged in discussions with certain Department officials regarding many of the legal and factual matters at issue in the Special Counsel’s obstruction investigation. After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.
In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction. Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.
Status of the Department’s Review
The relevant regulations contemplate that the Special Counsel’s report will be a “confidential report” to the Attorney General. See Office of Special Counsel, 64 Fed. Reg. 37,038, 37,040-41 (July 9, 1999). As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.
Based on my discussions with the Special Counsel and my initial review, it is apparent that the report contains material that is or could be subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure which imposes restrictions on the use and disclosure of information relating to “matter[s] occurring before grand jury.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2)(B) Rule 6(e) generally limits disclosure of certain grand jury information in a criminal investigation and prosecution. Id. Disclosure of 6(e) material beyond the strict limits set forth in the rule is a crime in certain circumstances. See, e.g. 18 U.S.C. 401(3). This restriction protects the integrity of grand jury proceedings and ensures that the unique and invaluable investigative powers of a grand jury are used strictly for their intended criminal justice function.
Given these restrictions, the schedule for processing the report depends in part on how quickly the Department can identify the 6(e) material that by law cannot be made public. I have requested the assistance of the Special Counsel in identifying all 6(e) information contained in the report as quickly as possible. Separately, I also must identify any information that could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices. As soon as that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released in light of applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.
* * *
As I observed in my initial notification, the Special Counsel regulations provide that “the Attorney General may determine that public release of” notifications to your respective Committees “would be in the public interest.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.9(c). I have so determined, and I will disclose this letter to the public after delivering it to you.
Sincerely,
William P. Barr
Attorney General

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The consolidation of power of the global military industrial complex

Do Europeans support the notion that the countries of the EU be the nuclear war playground of the United States?

Richard Galustian

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Humanity faces two imminent existential threats: environmental catastrophe and nuclear war.

America has elected to completely ignore scientists warnings that we have 12 years to reverse an environmental disaster.

As far as nuclear obliteration, Trump announced that the US is withdrawing from the INF treaty, which eliminated short range missiles deployed in Western Europe, on Russia’s doorstep. It’s the equivalent of Russia placing nuclear missiles in Venezuela.

A provocation, which enables US supplied missiles to be launched, only a few minutes flight time to Moscow.

That, of course sharply increases the nuclear danger. Historically on both sides, attack warnings given by automated systems have often proved faulty in the past; that, if enacted upon, would have meant the end of life as we know it.

Anyone familiar with contemporary military history knows that it’s a virtual miracle that we have so far avoided nuclear war.

Politically within Europe, the attack on democracy is very clear. Unchallenged undemocratic institutions in Brussels exist that is, in the main, part of the problem of the UK BREXIT negotiations.

Why does the public readily accept wars, engineered by our morally bankrupt governments to create ‘regime change’ in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Ukraine and soon to be Venezuela followed by Nicaragua and Iran, with such a muted outcry?

That preemptive nuclear attacks are even thought of shows the insanity of Western leadership controlled by vested financial interests led by the Military/Security Industrial Complex and bankers. Those same interests created both ‘industrialised’ World Wars in the 20th Century.

Our governments do not listen to the people. When two million hit the streets of London before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it made not an iota of difference to Tony Blair’s government.

Today, people’s apathy is notably caused by conditioning’, maybe better described as we’ve been ‘disciplined’ by MSM propaganda and family’s economic necessity to focus on their income, have made us so, due to our governments mismanagement of our economies.

Example, our university students are saddled with impossible to repay debt for a reason; to keep future generations ‘disciplined’.

No one has time or dare show any dissent especially given the Orwellian ‘newspeak’ environment that is created by ‘political correctness’.

Back to the subject of Russia phobia. The Western narrative against Russia is, in the main, the below:

* that Russia tried to murder the Skripals. Let the British government, who seem to be holding the Skripals against their will, prove they are not, by letting them be interviewed by the World’s Press.

* Ukraine – For over four years, the governments of NATO and the MSM have been waging the new cold war against Russia. This began with the ‘Maidan’ protests in Kyiv, Ukraine in early 2014 that culminated in the overthrow, universally acknowledged to have been engineered by the CIA, of Ukraine’s elected president and Parliament in February 2014. Putting in power an ultra neo-Nazi government, that in particular voiced hatred against all things Russian…and Jewish. Which MSM, TV news or newspapers, says so?

* That almost 100% of Crimea’s population are glad and grateful to be part of Russia. US, UK and EU says that is untrue, which is nonsense.

The demonisation of Russia is central to the multinational corporate interests that control our governments; the bankers protecting the steeply declining US Dollar, the institutions of the EU that are really controlled by Washington, who are preparing world public opinion to accept what the United States are now gearing up for, the “defence” of Europe.

At this point let us reflect on history by quoting one of America’s most distinguished soldiers, maybe of its entire history, General Smedley D. Butler, from his book ‘War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier.’

“No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with US patents.”

It is recommended to read more about General Smedley Butler, as he was the man chosen by US bankers and particularly the Bush family in the 1930s, to be the new fascist leader of the USA by overthrowing, in a coup, the then President Roosevelt during the period of Hitler’s rise to power. A coincidence one wonders. Butler was a true patriot; he bided his time then revealed the plot to both Congress and President Roosevelt. If you doubt this, it is suggested you research the subject.

We can stop the consolidation of power of the global military/security industrial complex, its war party associates, and specifically the US, UK and EU deep state political and financial elite that no doubt exists. We must elect new leaders, it’s that simple.

To quote Noam Chomsky “….power is always illegitimate, unless it proves itself to be legitimate. So the burden of proof is always on those who claim that some authoritarian hierarchic government is legitimate. If they can’t prove it, then it should be dismantled.”

Implicit in this statement is change by either elections or revolutions.

The French people have shown us when enough is enough by their persistent resistance to their government.

Do Europeans support the notion that the countries of the EU be the nuclear war playground of the United States?

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