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Here’s what Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad discussed in Sochi

Syrian President Assad arrives in Russia for talks with Russian President Putin and top Russian military leaders on Syria’s future

Alexander Mercouris

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President Assad of Syria has come unexpected to the Russian resort city of Sochi, where he is having high level talks with Russia’s President Putin and with Russia’s senior military leadership.

This is the second trip President Assad is known to have made to Russia since Russia intervened militarily in Syria in September 2015.  The first trip came in late October 2015, shortly after the Russian military intervention began.  Of course there may have been – and probably have been – other secret Assad trips to Russia, which have not been announced.

At the time of Assad’s first trip to Moscow the situation in Syria remained very fraught.  The Jihadi rebels still held eastern Aleppo and had effectively surrounded the rest of the city and were pressing on the remaining territories the Syrian government still controlled along the coast.  Further east the whole of central and eastern Syria had fallen under the control of ISIS, which had recently captured Palmyra.  The Syrian military was over-stretched and exhausted, and in urgent need of time and help to sort itself out.

In summary, President Assad came to Moscow in October 2015 a drowning man to whom the Russians had just thrown a lifeline.

The situation is totally transformed today.

Not only has eastern Aleppo been liberated and the whole of Aleppo secured, but the authority of the Syrian government has been restored along the whole of Syria’s western coast with only the province of Idlib and a few pockets of territory still under Jihadi control.

In central and eastern Syria ISIS has been broken.  Palmyra is now conclusively liberated, the siege of Deir Ezzor has been broken and the city cleared of ISIS, and following the liberation of Albukamal  ISIS no longer controls any large or important towns in Syria, and has been reduced to a rural insurgency.

In the meantime the Syrian army has been expanded, retrained and re-equipped into a far more formidable force than it was before.

Though there are different estimates of the precise extent of the territory controlled by the Syrian government, when Assad came to Moscow in October 2015 the territories under the Syrian government’s control consisted of a small belt of territory along Syria’s western coastline, whereas now the greater part of Syria is once more indisputably under the Syrian government’s control.

In summary, Putin was fully justified in saying to Assad at the start of the summit today that

……the Syrian people, despite a very difficult ordeal, are gradually moving towards the final and inevitable defeat of the terrorists.

Why then is President Assad in Russia today?

The obviously very carefully prepared and pre-scripted comments Putin and Assad made to each other at the start of their meeting shows that with the war winding down the Russians want to consult with Assad about the political negotiations to achieve a Syrian settlement which are about to restart.  Putin in fact said as much

Mr President, as you know, I will meet with my colleagues – the presidents of Turkey and Iran – here in Sochi the day after tomorrow. We have agreed to hold additional consultations with you during our meeting. Of course, the main subject on the agenda is a peaceful and lasting political settlement in Syria after the routing of the terrorists.

As you know, in addition to the partners I have mentioned we are also working closely together with other countries, such as Iraq, the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We maintain constant contact with these partners.

I would like to talk with you about the basic principles of the political process and the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, the idea of which you have supported. I would like to hear your opinions on the current situation and development prospects and your views on the political process, which should ultimately be implemented under the UN auspices. We also hope that the UN will join the [political] process at its final stage.

(bold italics added)

Here it is necessary to make some comments about the speech President Assad made recently, which was discussed at length by my colleague Adam Garrie.

In the speech President Assad spoke of an ideology of Arabism, which as my colleague Adam Garrie correctly says is consistent with the Baathist ideology of Syria’s ruling party.

As Adam Garrie correctly says, what President Assad was doing in his speech was charting a future course for Syria and potentially for the whole Arab world which whilst in no sense opposed to Islam nonetheless looks to transcend sectarian and confessional differences on behalf of a united Arab nation.

It was in other words an emphatic restatement of the ideology of Arabism which has been around in the Arab world since the 1950s and which remains the prevailing ideology in Syria to this day.

President Assad is not however an ideologist but a practical politician, and the primary audience for his speech was not in my opinion Arab public opinion – which is already very familiar with all these arguments – but the Russians, with whom he currently must deal.

Briefly, what President Assad was saying in his speech was that Syria should retain its Arab identity, and should not make excessive concessions to the Kurds and to Syria’s various confessional groups.

He specifically ruled out changes to the official names of the country and the army, and said they should continue to be called the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ and the ‘Syrian Arab Army’ and not become the ‘Syrian Republic’ and the ‘Syrian Army’.

The Russians – or at least some of them – have by contrast tentatively floated ideas of Syria doing precisely those things – of creating some sort of federal structure that would grant some form of political or cultural autonomy to the Kurds and to the country’s confessional groups, with the names of the country and the army being changed to the “Syrian Republic” and the “Syrian Army” – which President Assad said in his speech would be wrong and appeared to rule out.

The meeting between Assad and Putin appears to be intended to argue out these points, in preparation for the negotiations for the final settlement of the Syrian conflict which are about to start.

The meeting in Sochi also however has a military dimension.  Putin often uses his Sochi residence as a venue for the large-scale conferences of top experts to discuss national policies which form an essential part of his governing style.

On 17th November 2017 – shortly before Assad arrived in Sochi – a major conference began there bringing together Russia’s senior military and the leaders of its defence industries to discuss the State Armaments Programme, which will shape the development of Russia’s armed forces up to 2025.  The Kremlin’s website has published Putin’s introductory comments to the conference, which is apparently still continuing.

The Kremlin website shows that Putin arranged for Assad to participate in this conference

Meeting with senior officials of the Defence Ministry and the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces

Vladimir Putin: I have asked the President of Syria to attend our meeting.

I want him to see those who have played the key role in saving Syria.

Of course, Mr Assad knows some of you personally. He told me at our talks today that the Russian Army has saved Syria as a state. Much has been done to stabilise the situation in Syria. I hope that we will close the chapter on the fight against terrorism in Syria, although some seats of tension will remain or will flare up again……

(bold highlighting in the original)

At one level this is an extraordinary honour to the Syrian President.  However there are obviously practical dimensions as well.

Firstly, there is the obvious wish to have President Assad give his personal thanks to the Russian military which saved him and Syria from destruction.  However it is a certainty that future military cooperation was also discussed.

This will obviously include discussions on the ongoing military operations to bring the Syrian war to a final end.  However it is a certainty that Syrian-Russian military cooperation beyond the war’s end will be discussed as well.

With Syria set to host a very large complex of Russian military bases, and with the Syrian military needing to be reconfigured and re-equipped to face the challenges of ‘peace’ (which in the Middle East is never truly peace) there will be much to talk about.

 

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Tape recorded evidence of Clinton-Ukraine meddling in US election surfaces (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a look at new evidence to surface from Ukraine that exposes a plot by the US Embassy in Kiev and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to leak Paul Manafort’s corrupt dealings in the country, all for the benefit of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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Via Zerohedge


Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Hill’s John Solomon, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko

“Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko said last week, according to The Hill

Lutsenko is probing a claim from a member of the Ukrainian parliament that the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Artem Sytnyk, attempted to the benefit of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

A State Department spokesman told Hill.TV that officials aware of news reports regarding Sytnyk. –The Hill

“According to the member of parliament of Ukraine, he got the court decision that the NABU official conducted an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” said Lutsenko, speaking with The Hill’s John Solomon about the anti-corruption bureau chief, Artem Sytnyk.

“It means that we think Mr. Sytnyk, the NABU director, officially talked about criminal investigation with Mr. [Paul] Manafort, and at the same time, Mr. Sytnyk stressed that in such a way, he wanted to assist the campaign of Ms. Clinton,” Lutsenko continued.

Solomon asked Lutsenko about reports that a member of Ukraine’s parliament obtained a tape of the current head of the NABU saying that he was attempting to help Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, as well as connections that helped release the black-ledger files that exposed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort‘s wrongdoing in Ukraine.

“This member of parliament even attached the audio tape where several men, one of which had a voice similar to the voice of Mr. Sytnyk, discussed the matter.” –The Hill

What The Hill doesn’t mention is that Sytnyk released Manafort’s Black Book with Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko – discussed in great length by former Breitbart investigator Lee Stranahan, who has been closely monitoring this case.

Serhiy Leshchenko

T]he main spokesman for these accusations was Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian politician and journalist who works closely with both top Hillary Clinton donors George Soros and Victor Pinchuk, as well as to the US Embassy in Kyiv.

James Comey should be asked about this source that Leshchenko would not identify. Was the source someone connected to US government, either the State Department or the Department of Justice?

The New York Times should also explain why they didn’t mention that Leshchenko had direct connections to two of Hillary Clinton biggest financial backers. Victor Pinchuk, the largest donor to the Clinton Foundation at a staggering $8.6 million also happened to have paid for Leshchenko’s expenses to go to international conferences. George Soros, whose also founded the International Renaissance Foundationthat worked closely with Hillary Clinton’s State Department in Ukraine, also contributed at least $8 million to Hillary affiliated super PACs in the 2016 campaign cycle. –Lee Stranahan via Medium

Meanwhile, according to former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, Leshchenko was a source for opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

Nellie Ohr, a former contractor for the Washington, D.C.-based Fusion GPS, testified on Oct. 19 that Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist turned Ukrainian lawmaker, was a source for Fusion GPS during the 2016 campaign.

“I recall … they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian,” Ohr said when asked who Fusion GPS’s sources were, according to portions of Ohr’s testimony confirmed by The Daily Caller News Foundation. –Daily Caller

Also absent from The Hill report is the fact that Leshchenko was convicted in December by a Kiev court of interfering in the 2016 US election.

A Kyiv court said that a Ukrainian lawmaker and a top anticorruption official’s decision in 2016 to publish documents linked to President Donald Trump’s then-campaign chairman amounted to interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The December 11 finding came in response to a complaint filed by another Ukrainian lawmaker, who alleged that Serhiy Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk illegally released the documents in August 2016, showing payments by a Ukrainian political party to Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The documents, excerpts from a secret ledger of payments by the Party of Regions, led to Manafort being fired by Trump’s election campaign.

The Kyiv court said that the documents published by Leshchenko and Sytnyk were part of an ongoing pretrial investigation in Ukraine into the operations of the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The party’s head had been President Viktor Yanukovych until he fled the country amid mass protests two years earlier.

-RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty (funded by the US govt.).

So while Lutsenko – Solomon’s guest and Ukrainian Prosecutor is currently going after Artem Sytnyk, it should be noted that Leshchenko was already found to have meddled in the 2016 US election.

Watch:

Meanwhile, you can also check out Stranahan’s take on Leshchenko being left out of the loop.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Via RT


Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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