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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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Beijing Threatens “Severe” Retaliation Against Canada If Huawei CFO Is Not Released

China’s warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony.

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Via Zerohedge


Canada’s extraordinary arrest one week ago of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder and billionaire executive Ren Zhengfei, and its decision to charge her with “multiple” counts of fraud – a preamble to her likely extradition to the US to face charges of knowingly violating US and EU sanctions on Iran – has elicited widespread anger in Beijing, which declared Meng’s detention a “violation of human rights” during a bail hearing for the jailed executive on Friday.

That anger has apparently only intensified after the hearing adjourned without a decision (it will resume on Monday, allowing Meng’s defense team to argue for why she should be released on bail, contrary to the wishes of government attorneys who are prosecuting the case).

And with Canada insisting that it will prosecute Meng to the full extent of the law over allegations that she mislead banks about the true relationship of a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom, angry Chinese officials have decided to issue an ultimatum directly to the Canadian ambassador, who was summoned to a meeting in Beijing on Saturday and told in no uncertain terms that Canada will face “severe consequences” if Meng isn’t released, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign ministry publicized the warning in a statement (though Canadian officials have yet to comment):

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canada’s ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, on Saturday to deliver the warning, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The statement doesn’t mention the name of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, though it refers to a Huawei “principal” taken into custody at U.S. request while changing planes in Vancouver, as was Ms. Meng. The statement accuses Canada of “severely violating the legal, legitimate rights of a Chinese citizen” and demands the person’s release.

“Otherwise there will be severe consequences, and Canada must bear the full responsibility,” said the statement, which was posted online late Saturday.

Phone calls to the Canadian Embassy rang unanswered while the Canadian government’s global affairs media office didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony. A federal judge issued a warrant for Meng’s arrest back in August. Though after she was made aware of the warrant, Meng avoided travel to the US. She was arrested in Vancouver last Saturday while traveling to Mexico.

Aside from breaking off trade talks, some are worried that Beijing could seek to retaliate in kind by arresting a notable US executive. While the threats of Chinese bureaucrats might not amount to much in the eyes of US prosecutors, threatening a US executive with long-term detention in a Chinese “reeducation camp” just might.

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The trials of Julian Assange

Eresh Omar Jamal interviews Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi in relation to the situation of Julian Assange.

The Duran

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Authored by Eresh Omar Jamal for The Daily Star (Bangladesh):


Stefania Maurizi is an investigative journalist working for the Italian daily La Repubblica. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden Files about Italy. She has authored two books—Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani and Una Bomba, Dieci Storie. In an exclusive interview with Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star, Maurizi talks about the continued arbitrary detention of Julian Assange, why powerful governments see WikiLeaks as an existential threat, and the implications for global press freedom if Assange is prosecuted for publishing secret government documents.

You recently had the chance to visit Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. When was this and can you describe the state he is in?

I was able to visit him on November 19, after 8 months of failed attempts, because last March the Ecuadorian authorities cut off all his social and professional contacts, with the exception of his lawyers, and in the preceding 8 months, I had asked for permission to visit him nine times without success—the Ecuadorian authorities didn’t reply at all to my requests.

When I was finally granted permission to visit the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last November, I was literally shocked to see the huge impact his isolation has had on his health. Because I have worked as a media partner with him and his organisation, WikiLeaks, for the last nine years, I have met him many times and can tell when there are any changes in his body and mind. I wondered how his mind could keep working; but after talking to him in the embassy for two hours, I have no doubt that his mind is working fine. I still wonder how that’s possible after six and a half years of detention without even one hour of being outdoors. I would have had a physical and mental breakdown after just 6 months, not after 6 years.

Detention and isolation are killing him slowly, and no one is doing anything to stop it. The media reports, the commentators comment, but at the end of the day, he is still there; having spent the last six and a half years confined to a tiny building with no access to sunlight or to proper medical treatment. And this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. He is not sitting in an embassy in Pyongyang. It is truly tragic and completely unacceptable. And I’m simply appalled at the way the UK authorities have contributed to his arbitrary detention, and have opposed any solution to this intractable legal and diplomatic quagmire.

Having bravely defended Assange for years, the Ecuadorian government in late March cut off almost all his communications with the outside world. What prompted this turnabout and what is its purpose?

Politics has completely changed in Ecuador, and more in general, in Latin America, since 2012, when Ecuador granted Julian Assange asylum. I have never had any interviews with the current Ecuadorian President, Mr Lenin Moreno, but based on his public declarations, it’s rather obvious to me that he does not approve of what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks do.

With all his problems, Rafael Correa (former president of Ecuador) protected Assange from the very beginning, whereas Lenin Moreno considers him a liability. Moreno is under pressure from the right-wing politicians in Ecuador, and also from very powerful governments, like the US and UK governments, who will leave no stones unturned to jail Assange and destroy WikiLeaks. I am not sure how long Lenin Moreno will hold out against this immense pressure, provided that he wants to hold out at all.

Assange was vindicated not so long ago as to why he cannot leave the embassy when the US Department of Justice “accidentally” revealed in November that the founder of WikiLeaks had been secretly charged in the US. What do you think those charges are for?

It’s hard to say unless the charges get declassified and I really appreciate how the US organisation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is fighting before the court in the Eastern District of Virginia, US, to have the charges declassified.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the US authorities have always wanted to charge him for WikiLeaks’ publications. They have wanted to do so from the very beginning, since 2010, when WikiLeaks released its bombshell publications like the US diplomatic cables.

But the US authorities have been unable to do so due to the fact that WikiLeaks’ publication activities enjoy constitutional protection thanks to the First Amendment. So it will be very interesting to see how they will get around this constitutional protection in order to be able to charge him and other WikiLeaks journalists and put them all in jail.

Why have some of the most powerful governments and intelligence agencies invested so much resources to attack Assange and WikiLeaks?

You have to realise what it meant for the US national security complex to witness the publication of 76,000 secret documents about the war in Afghanistan, and then another 390,000 secret reports about the war in Iraq; followed by 251,287 US diplomatic cables and 779 secret files on the Guantanamo detainees; and to watch WikiLeaks save Edward Snowden, while the US was trying everything it could do, to show the world that there is no way of exposing the NSA’s secrets and keep your head attached to your neck having done so.

You have to realise what this means in an environment like that of the US, where even the most brilliant national security reporters didn’t dare to publish the name of the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Michael D’Andrea, even though his name and the abuses committed by his centre were open secrets within their inner circles. Although the New York Times finally did, later on. But this was and still is the reality in the US, and even though it may not be as bad in the UK, it’s still quite bad. Look at what happened with the arrest of Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, at the Heathrow Airport during the publication of the Snowden Files. Look at what happened with The Guardian being forced to destroy its hard drives during the publication of those files.

There are different levels of power in our societies and generally in our western democracies, criticism against the low, medium and high levels of power via journalistic activities is tolerated. Journalists may get hit with libel cases, have troubles with their careers; however, exposing those levels is permitted. The problem is when journalists and media organisations touch the highest levels, the levels where states and intelligence agencies operate.

WikiLeaks is a media organisation that has published secret documents about these entities for years, and Julian Assange and his staff have done this consistently, not occasionally like all the other media organisations do. You can imagine the anger these powerful entities have towards WikiLeaks—they perceive WikiLeaks as an existential threat and they want to set an example that says, “Don’t you dare expose our secrets and crimes, because if you do, we will smash you.”

If Assange is prosecuted, what impact might it have on other publishers and journalists and on press freedom globally?

It will have a huge impact and that is why organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union are speaking out. Never before in the US has an editor and media organisation ended up in jail for publishing information in the public interest. If Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks’ staff end up in jail, it will be the first time in US history and will set a devastating precedent for attack on press freedom in the US, but actually, not only in the US. Because if a country like the US, in which the activities of the press enjoy constitutional protection, treats journalists this way, you can imagine how other countries where the press doesn’t enjoy such strong protection will react. It will send a clear message to them: “Your hands are free.”

At the end of the day, I think there are two sides to this Assange and WikiLeaks saga: the US-UK national security complex, but more in general, I would say, the people within the national security complex, who want to destroy Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to send a clear message to journalists: “Don’t mess with us if you don’t want your lives to be destroyed.” While on the other side, there are the freedom of the press guys, meaning journalists like me, who want to demonstrate the exact opposite: that we can expose power at the highest levels, we can expose the darkest corners of governments and come out alive and well. And actually, we must do this, because real power is invisible and hides in the darkest corners.

Eresh Omar Jamal is a journalist for The Daily Star (Bangladesh). You can find him on Twitter: @EreshOmarJamal and Stefania Maurizi: @SMaurizi

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Diplomacy a Waste of Time with Washington

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

The Duran

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Authored by Stephen Lendman:


The US is a serial lawbreaker, operating by its own rules, no others.

Time and again, it flagrantly breaches international treaties, Security Council resolutions, and other rule of law principles, including its own Constitution.

Diplomacy with Republicans and undemocratic Dems is an exercise in futility.

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s proposed US outreach to discuss INF Treaty bilateral differences is well intended – despite knowing nothing is accomplished when talks with Washington are held, so why bother.

It’s just a matter of time before the US breaches another promise. They’re hollow when made. Kremlin good intentions aren’t enough to overcome US duplicity and implacable hostility toward Russia.

“We are ready to continue the dialogue in appropriate formats on the entire range of problems related to this document on the basis of professionalism and mutual respect, without putting forward unsubstantiated accusations and ultimatums. Our proposals are well known and remain on the negotiating table,” said Zakharova, adding:

“We have admitted (US) documents for further consideration. This text again includes accusations in the form of unfounded and unsubstantiated information about Russia’s alleged violations of this deal.

Comments to Washington like the above and similar remarks are like talking to a wall. The US demands all countries bend to its will, offering nothing in return but betrayal – especially in dealings with Russia, China, Iran, and other sovereign independent governments it seeks to replace with pro-Western puppet ones.

Not a shred of evidence suggests Russia violated its INF Treaty obligations. The accusation is baseless like all others against the Kremlin.

“No one has officially or by any other means handed over to Russia any files or facts, confirming that Russia breaches or does not comply with this deal,” Zakharova stressed, adding:

“We again confirm our consistent position that the INF Treaty is one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.”

It’s why the Trump regime intends abolishing it by pulling out. Strategic stability and international security defeat its agenda. Endless wars and chaos serve it.

The US, UK, France, Israel, and their imperial partners get away with repeated international law breaches because the EU, UN, and rest of the world community lack backbone enough to challenge them.

It’s how it is no matter how egregious their actions, notably their endless wars of aggression, supporting the world’s worst tinpot pot despots, and failing to back the rights of persecuted Palestinians and other long-suffering people.

The only language Republicans and Dems understand is toughness. Putin pretends a Russian/US partnership exists to his discredit – a show of weakness, not strength and responsible leadership.

In response to the Trump regime’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, he said Russia will “react accordingly” – precisely what, he didn’t say.

A few suggestions, Mr. President.

  • Recall your ambassador to Washington. Expel the Trump regime’s envoy from Moscow and other key embassy personnel.
  • Arrest US spies in Russia you long ago identified. Imprison them until the US releases all Russian political prisoners. Agree to swap US detainees for all of them, no exceptions.
  • Install enough S-400 air defense systems to cover all Syrian airspace. Warn Washington, Britain, France and Israel that their aircraft, missiles and other aerial activities in its airspace will be destroyed in flight unless permission from Damascus is gotten – clearly not forthcoming.
  • Publicly and repeatedly accuse the above countries of supporting the scourge of ISIS and likeminded terrorists they pretend to oppose.
  • Warn them in no uncertain terms that their aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic no longer will be tolerated. Tell them the same goes if they dare attack Iran.
  • Stop pretending Mohammad bin Salman didn’t order Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, along with ignoring the kingdom’s horrendous human rights abuses domestically and abroad – including support for ISIS and other terrorists.
  • Put observance of rule of law principles and honor above dirty business as usual with the kingdom and other despotic regimes for profits.
  • Do the right things at all times and damn the short-term consequences – including toughness on Washington, the UK, Israel, and their imperial partners in high crimes of war and against humanity.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

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