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Game of thrones, the battle for South Stream. Ukraine to be rendered irrelevant? Bulgaria and Serbia to be targeted?

The battle for control of the energy market in Europe is well underway. In what is becoming a very dynamic and fluid situation, the South Stream pipeline project, connecting Russia to Europe and bypassing Ukraine altogether, looks to be a major area of contention between EU member nations, Russia and the U.S.

Alex Christoforou

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At this point it is fair to say that much of the Ukraine crisis is rooted in oil and gas distribution. More specifically, controlling the European gas market and its transit routes.

Aside from the benefits of having NATO positioned right under Russia’s southwest borders, Ukraine was and remains a big geo-political win for Washington in terms of energy control. Having ownership of Ukraine’s transit gas pipelines means controlling and restricting Russian gas flow to west Europe.  This has the potential of opening the European market to more U.S. ‘friendly’ suppliers and solutions. For Europe, having a stake in Ukraine means lessening the energy power levers that Russia now exerts on its western partners as well as appeasing Washington’s geo-political global agenda.

The one fly in the ointment of this high stakes game of energy control, has and remains the South Stream pipeline. Last week Austria and Russia sealed a deal that makes South Stream a reality. Austria (an EU ‘insider’ nation), in defiance of Washington and Brussels will fully commit to building out its end of the pipeline that will then send gas to the greater European continent. The cooperation is a slap in the face for Washington and Brussels, and goes against their current efforts to shelve the South Stream project and keep the focus on Ukraine transit routes, which the west has invested heavily on through internal destabilisation and IMF economic loan packages.

South Stream and Ukraine

The map below explains how South Stream can and will render the entire Ukraine power grab (in terms of energy) null and void. With South Stream, Ukraine is effectively bypassed as a west Europe gas transit conduit, greatly diminishing the country’s geo-political value.

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The South Stream pipeline is an alternative pathway for Russian gas, bypassing Ukraine entirely as it crosses the Black Sea and enters Bulgaria before passing Serbia and Hungary on the way to its hub located in Baumgarten, Austria. As Itar-Tass reports, citing Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller,

“Russia’s gas giant Gazprom does not rule out gas transit via Ukraine may be stopped completely. What happened once is a tendency, nothing happens incidentally. In 2009, gas supplies were stopped completely — so, we know precedents.”

Miller noted that Gazprom is not interested in participation in Ukraine’s gas transportation system (GTS). The Gazprom CEO said, “The train has already departed. It seems it departed yesterday. It belongs to no one. The GTS has no owner. The GTS of Ukraine does not belong to Naftogaz but to the Ukrainian government. Before discussing things with someone regarding modernization and cooperation, it should appear on the balance sheet of this or that economic entity.”

“Property and legal issues should be resolved first,” Miller said.

‘The train has departed’…this is not encouraging news for Ukraine’s fragile economic and geo political future.

Zerohedge explains…

In fact, the civil war torn country may soon lose all leverage it had with both Europe and Russia as a transit hub for natural gas, which also means that it is quite likely that Ukraine is about to be abandoned by its western allies who will no longer have any practical use for it.

The Gazprom CEO confirmed what little leverage Ukraine had with Moscow is now effectively zero…

“As for the continuation of negotiations with Ukraine, today there is no subject for talks. First, they must repay their debts. The gas price for Ukraine is fair – this price is fixed in the contract.”

“A dozen Ukrainian laws need to be changed to be able to do something with the GTS.”

And just like that Putin has altered the game. By cutting off Russian energy transit through Ukraine’s pipelines, the country will lose all strategic importance to Russia and eventually Europe, which will have to then focus its attention towards South Stream and its transit route.

Bulgaria, Serbia and South Stream

This brings us to Bulgaria and Serbia. One is an EU member nation (but not in the monetary union), and the latter is mulling over joining the EU. Recent banking and economic difficulties in both Eastern European countries cannot be simple coincidence, as Brussels mounts an aggressive campaign to stop the South Stream pipeline from being built in these countries.

Last week Bulgaria suddenly suffered a bank meltdown, while Serbia’s new Prime Minister warned his country could go bankrupt within a year and end up “in the position of Greece” unless he passes a deeply unpopular package of fiscal consolidation and economic reforms in the next few months. Not passing such economic measures would effectively dash Serbia’s hopes of entering the EU. When Serbia eventually calls for monetary assistance from the EU and IMF, we are sure Serbia’s close relations with Russia and the South Stream project will come up.

For his part Russian Ambassador in Belgrade, Alexander Chepurin told the Itar-Tass news agency that…

“Now Belgrade is holding talks and hopes to join the EU in 2020, Simultaneously, Belgrade stresses its willingness to preserve and develop good relations with its historical friend – the brotherly country of Russia.”

“Today the message ‘never against Russia’ is very popular among the Serbian public. Unlike its neighbors, Serbia said it would not impose any sanctions against Russia. Serbian President Tomislav Nicolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic confirmed it. Serbia demonstrates itself as Russia’s real friend. And it refuses to come against its economic interests.”

Zerohedge also echoes the belief that Bulgaria and Serbia will undergo an economic punishment of sorts, in order to halt their South Stream ambitions:

…the main reason why none other than the poorest EU member country, Bulgaria, just suffered its worst bank run in 17 years, and one which has paved the way to early elections, is precisely that: to provide Europe with a government which will be more focused on Brussels’ interests, instead of the current socialist regime, whose allegiance to the Kremlin is said to take precedence.

After all, now that Ukraine is yesterday’s news, pay close attention to how Europe treats all the South Stream countries, starting with Bulgaria, and going through Serbia, Hungary and of course, Austria.

Austria and South Stream

Austria has clearly opted to side with Russia, putting its own national self interest and economic prosperity ahead of Brussels and Washington. Closer cooperation with Gazporm and Austria is also in the cards, with a good chance that the already prosperous Austria, will soon become a major energy hub in the center of Europe.

Finally, and perhaps most notably, is last week’s announcement by Gazprom CEO Miller that Gazprom has good chance, and is interested in discussing buying a stake in the [Austrian] Baumgarten gas hub.

In other words, as Europe and the US remains still focused on Ukraine, the one place which now matters most for Europe’s energy future is Austria: a country where Gazprom, and Putin of course, are quietly sowing the seeds of Russia’s energy dominance tomorrow. As for the feeder countries, especially Bulgaria, pay close attention as the US “foreign service” does all it can to destabilize the local government and financial system as a last ditch attempt to wrest Russia’s trump card out of its hand. Something tells us Putin will hardly let it go easily.

Italy, the EU Presidency and South Stream

With Italy set to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, the fissures in European-Russian relations and energy policy are starting to really show.

Itar-Tass reports that Italy’s state secretary for European affairs, Sandro Gozi said…

Italy has always regarded the South Stream project plans to pipe Russian gas across the floor of the Black Sea to Bulgaria and then ashore for onward transit to Greece, Italy and Austria as a strategic project for Europe and will facilitate its implementation during its presidency of the European Union.

“The South Stream project has always been and remains most important for Italy, and we have a strong interest in implementing it, first of all, as it is one of those projects aimed to diversify transit routes. We assume that in order to strengthen a single European energy market, it is absolutely necessary to diversify infrastructure connecting it with various suppliers…and we believe that the same approach should be applied to everyone.”

And with regard to Ukraine, Russia, and the growing threat of sanctions being pushed by Brussels and Washington…

Italy supports further expansion of the European Union and consolidation of Europe, but it considers it possible only while developing partnership between Russia and the EU, said Gozi.

“As Italy takes over the European Union presidency, we give absolute priority to establishing political and economic integration with Kiev while resuming strategic partnership between the EU and Russia. Relations with Moscow can be neither broken off nor suspended. On the contrary, we are convinced of the need to strengthen them further.”

So much for isolating Russia. It comes as no surprise that Ukraine has decided to end the cease-fire and resume attacks in East Ukraine.  It is becoming clear that one of the last cards left to play before the complete Ukraine adventure becomes a waste of time, energy, and money is to bait Russia into a military quagmire, which could then halt South Stream construction and destabilise Russia’s efforts and standing with its European energy partners.

References:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/10933132/Serbia-could-go-bankrupt-says-PM.html

http://www.euractiv.com/sections/elections/bulgarian-bank-run-paves-way-early-election-303148

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-06-30/russia-reveals-plan-b-gazprom-says-gas-transit-ukraine-may-be-stopped-completely

http://en.itar-tass.com/economy/738370

http://en.itar-tass.com/economy/738060

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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