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Here’s what to expect from today’s Putin-Erdogan meeting

The summit will probably lead to an intensification of relations but no realignment or breakthrough.

Alexander Mercouris

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Russia today for a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, which will be Erdogan’s first meeting with a foreign leader following the recent coup attempt. Significantly, as if to lend more symbolic weight to the meeting, it will take place in St. Petersburg – Russia’s former capital and Putin’s home city.

Erdogan’s visit is understandably enough causing growing concern in the West as talk intensifies of a possible Turkish realignment with Russia and the Eurasian Powers at the expense of Turkey’s traditional links to the West.  In advance of the meeting Turkish diplomats in Western capitals have been working overtime to calm nerves.  As I have said previously an outright secession by Turkey from NATO is not on the cards and Turkish diplomats will be assuring Western governments of this and of Turkey’s continued loyalty to the US and to NATO.

However that does not mean that the Russian – Turkish rapprochement is of no significance though only time will tell how deep it will be or how far it will go.  Erdogan is however known to be furious that no Western leader has visited Turkey since the coup attempt to show support, and he has made it completely obvious through his ministers and officials and through the Turkish media that he suspects that the US had a hand in the coup attempt.

It is almost certainly not a coincidence that directly on the eve of Erdogan’s visit to Russia pictures surfaced in the Greek media supposedly showing the US ambassador to Turkey amicably meeting with a Turkish military officer identified as Colonel Ali Yazici, one of the alleged coup plotters, at a cafe the day before the coup. 

At this point it is essential to say that the significance of these pictures as evidence of a US hand in the coup is open to doubt.  Firstly it is not absolutely certain that the Turkish military officer is indeed Colonel Ali Yazici.  Also we do not know what the two men in the pictures were saying to each other.  We cannot even be absolutely sure when the pictures were taken.  The very fact that the two men are shown meeting in a public place, making it possible for pictures of them to be taken together, argues against this being a meeting to plot a coup. 

What we can however say with certainty is that whoever is behind the leak of these pictures is clearly someone who on the eve of Erdogan’s visit to Russia wants to draw attention to the US’s links with the coup plotters in a way that can only strengthen suspicions in Turkey that the US was behind the coup.  That points either to the Russians or conceivably to Erdogan’s intelligence services being behind the leak.

Putting the question of these pictures to one side, just as Erdogan has made his suspicions of a US role in the coup only too obvious, so he and his officials have gone out of their way to make their gratitude to Putin and to Russia for their support during the coup completely clear.  Of course if it was a Russian tip-off that caused the coup’s failure – as is almost certainly the case – then Erdogan and his government have a particular reason to be grateful to the Russians for the very fact of their survival.

What however can be expected to come out of the visit? 

The Russians have said that there will be no formal agreements.  However Erdogan and Putin will work to re-establish their personal relationship with each other, which became badly frayed last year following the SU24 shoot-down.  Erdogan and Putin will surely also work together towards each other on the three critical issues of mutual interest that most affect their two countries’ relations with each other.  These are (1) the gas pipeline project known as Turk Stream; (2) Turkey’s steps towards integrating with the Eurasian institutions; and (3) the Syrian war.   What progress can we expect in respect of each?

(1) Turk Stream

Whilst many technical problems still dog this project, whose importance to the Russians has diminished following the agreement with Germany to build North Stream II, this is the least problematic issue between the two countries.  It is a virtual certainty this project will be revived and taken forward.  It is quite possible that the meeting in St. Petersburg will result in a formal announcement of the fact.

(2) Eurasian Integration

The leading advocates of Turkey’s integration in Eurasia have historically not been Putin and Russia but Kazakhstan and its President Nursultan Nazarbayev.  Since the failure of the coup Nazarbayev has redoubled his efforts in this direction.

As I have discussed previously, there is a limit to how far Turkey will choose to integrate with the Eurasian institutions.  Having said that, Erdogan has now made it clear that he intends to restore the death penalty in Turkey.  This is a step which is plainly intended to signal that the anyway deadlocked project of Turkey’s accession to the EU is being abandoned at least for the time being.  That leaves Turkey more free to explore options with the Eurasian institutions.

It is possible we will see at the summit the first steps taken towards conclusion of a free trade area agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (“EEU”) and Turkey.  With the EEU in the process of negotiating a free trade area with Iran and Azerbaijan that would bring the whole of Central Asia bar Afghanistan into a free trade area with Belarus and Russia.

It would also mean something else, which so far as I know has not been mentioned in any media commentary.  Since Armenia is a member of the EEU a free trade area involving the EEU, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey would mean the end the economic blockade Azerbaijan and Turkey have imposed on Armenia because of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.  Iranian President Rouhani’s recent statement of support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity (ie. for Nagorno Karabakh’s reintegration into Azerbaijan) was clearly intended to make this fact more palatable to people in Azerbaijan.

Though there is likely to be discussion in St. Petersburg between Putin and Erdogan of a free trade agreement between Turkey and the EEU, the negotiations to achieve this will be protracted and far from simple.  Any discussion of this issue in St. Petersburg will only be the start of a very long process.

As I have said previously, Turkey is not for the moment prepared to burn its bridges with NATO aby seeking full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, as opposed to the observer status it has now.  Turkey’s membership of the other Eurasian security alliance, the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which unlike the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is an actual military alliance, is for the moment out of the question.

(3) Syria

This is far the most contentious issue between the two countries, with each country too deeply committed to supporting opposite sides in the Syrian war to make an outright policy reversal possible. 

In the case of the Russians that option can be completely ruled out.  In the case of Erdogan and the Turks, whilst there are signs of growing unease and unhappiness with the policy, with some Turkish officials hinting that they want a change of course, the political cost involved in simply abandoning the Syrian rebels would almost certainly be too high to make it politically acceptable. 

Erdogan would also have to consider the possible reaction of the large numbers of Jihadi fighters in Turkey to such a reversal.  With the security situation in Turkey already fraught, he will surely be concerned about taking any sudden move that might make them enemies.

The Russians are however certain to press Erdogan on this issue.  One particular point of concern will almost certainly be the joint rebel command headquarters which is coordinating the current rebel offensive against Aleppo.  The Iranian Fars news agency, in what is surely another leak intentionally timed to coincide with Erdogan’s visit to Russia, has revealed that this headquarters is located in the Turkish city of Antikiya (ancient Antioch).  Given that this headquarters is led by Jabhat Al-Nusra – recognised by the United Nations as a terrorist organisation – the Russians will almost certainly demand its closure. 

The Russians will also be looking to Erdogan for steps to reduce the flow of Jihadi militants into Syria, and there may be secret agreements for exchanges of intelligence information about their movements, which would make it easier for the Russians to target these militants more effectively. 

Ultimately however the Russians are almost certainly simply too realistic to expect Erdogan to repudiate the militants completely or to close the border entirely, which the Turkish military in its present disorganised post-coup state might anyway be unable to do.

Some rumours have also recently been floated of a joint Russian – Turkish diplomatic initiative to end the Syrian war.  The basis for doing this is not clear given the wide gap on the conflict between the two sides, and the completely different positions each has taken on the question of the future of President Assad.  Having said this the Russians might actually prefer to work on this issue with the Turks rather than with the US, with whom substantive agreement has proved impossible.

The relationship between Russia and Turkey is a complicated one and as I have said previously it is important not to pitch expectations too high.  The issues between the two countries are simply too numerous and too intractable to be simply wished away.  It is unlikely that the summit in St. Petersburg will lead to any dramatic breakthroughs. 

The key point however is that a Russian – Turkish rapprochement is underway and that there is at least for the moment genuine goodwill and a political will on the part of both sides to take their relations to a new level.  How far that will go will depend on many factors, not least the consistency of Turkish policy and the stability of President Erdogan’s government.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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Labour MP split is a cheap and final ploy to derail BREXIT (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 179.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss a small group of UK Labour MPs decision to quit the party and sit as Independent MPs in the house of commons.

Their excuse for leaving Labour was directed at leader Jeremy Corbyn for presiding over an “institutionally anti-Semitic” party. The real reason they are leaving Labour is because they are staunch remain MPs and are hoping to derail Brexit.

The seven Labour MPs quitting the party to become ‘The Independent Group’, are Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey.

RT reports that Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree took to the stage first, to claim that she could not stay in the party any more because it had become “institutionally anti-Semitic.”

Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, a prominent ‘People’s Vote’ advocate appealed to all MPs, not just Labour, to join their group, as the current parties are part of the problem, not the solution.

He argued that “It is time we dumped this country’s old fashioned politics.” Umunna claimed the UK needed a political party “fit for the hear and now” and the “first step in leaving the tribal politics behind.”

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Via RT

Twitter has been rocked by the sudden departure of seven Labour MPs to form their own Independent Group, with party supporters feverishly debating whether the move is better for the party, or a wake-up call to Jeremy Corbyn.

Former shadow cabinet minister Chuka Umunna along with MPs Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey have all jumped ship in the biggest Labour Party split since 1981, when the so-called “gang of four” left to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

In a press conference, Umunna stated that the established parties “cannot be the change because they have become the problem” arguing that it is “time we dumped this country’s old-fashioned politics.”

Jewish MP Luciana Berger said she was “embarrassed and ashamed” at what the Labour Party had become and criticized her former party for becoming “sickeningly institutionally racist.”

“I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation. I look forward to a future serving with colleagues who respect each other,” she added.

Reaction to the news online has been a mixture of shock and dismay, to outright derision. Some Labour supporters were quick to delight in the departures, suggesting the party will be stronger without detractors undermining it from within.

Others though said it was time for Jeremy Corbyn to take the criticism seriously.

Meanwhile, some Twitter users commented on Young Labour’s somewhat barbed response to the situation.

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