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The Moscow cyber-crime arrests and the Yahoo hack: was the same gang involved?

The naming of Dmitry Dokuchaev in both the Moscow cyber-arrests and the Yahoo suggests the US and Russia may unwittingly be on the track of the same criminal gang.

Alexander Mercouris

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Earlier this year reports appeared in the Russian media of a series of arrests of Russian FSB officers and cyber specialists, including one Ruslan Stoyanov, an employee of  Russia’s top cyber security company, the Kaspersky Lab.

Subsequently it became known that some of them at least had been charged with treason, in a case that supposedly involved the US, with Stoyanov supposedly charged with passing on Russian state secrets to Verigin, a US company.

Following the arrests numerous reports circulated speculating that these arrests were somehow connected to the hacking of John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers.

Some sections of the Western media made claims – strongly denied by the Russians – that the individuals arrested were the ones who had carried out the hacking of John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers.

Others, rather more plausibly, speculated that those arrested were some of the informers who had provided information to the US which was used by the US intelligence community to support its claims of Russian responsibility for the Podesta and DNC hacks.

The case of the arrested FSB officers in Moscow has now taken an extraordinary new twist with the US Department of Justice bringing charges against a group of four Russian cyber criminals, who according to the the Department of Justice’s report, are being charged with

…..the 2014 hack into the network of email provider Yahoo, the theft of information about at least 500 million Yahoo accounts and the use of that information to obtain the contents of accounts at Yahoo and other email providers.

What makes the Yahoo case interesting is that the Department of Justice is saying that two of the individuals who have been charged are FSB officers.  The Department of Justice identifies them as follows

The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian Federation and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions.

Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere.

They worked with co-conspirators Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov to hack into computers of American companies providing email and internet-related services, to maintain unauthorized access to those computers and to steal information, including information about individual users and the private contents of their accounts.

The defendants targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cyber security, diplomatic and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities.

(bold italics added)

Dmitry Dokuchaev, one of the FSB officers being charged by the US Justice Department in connection with the Yahoo hack, appears to be the same Dmitry Dokuchaev who has been arrested in Moscow in the treason case, and who The London Times has described – obviously on the basis of information obtained from British intelligence sources – as “a cyber-spy and former hacker”.

The fact that the same man  – Dmitry Dokuchaev – has been charged simultaneously in both cases, the one in Washington and the one in Moscow, makes it at least possible that the two cases – the Yahoo case in Washington and the treason case in Moscow – are in some way connected, and may involve the same group of cyber-criminals.

Importantly, the Department of Justice’s and the FBI’s claims about Dokuchaev and Sushchin, the two FSB officers charged in the Yahoo case, do not necessarily point to them undertaking an intelligence operation on behalf of the Russian government.   Though the wording is not completely clear, it is not inconsistent with Dokuchaev and Sushchin running a rogue operation for the purpose of self-enrichment.  Here is what the Department of Justice report has to say about them

Belan’s notorious criminal conduct and a pending Interpol Red Notice did not stop the FSB officers who, instead of detaining him, used him to break into Yahoo’s networks.

Meanwhile, Belan used his relationship with the two FSB officers and his access to Yahoo to commit additional crimes to line his own pockets with money…..

For those not familiar with the FSB, it is an intelligence and law enforcement agency and a successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB. The FSB unit that the defendants worked for, the Center for Information Security, aka Center 18, is also the FBI’s point of contact in Moscow for cyber-crime matters.

The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities makes this conduct that much more egregious. There are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behavior.

This appears to suggest that the Department of Justice believes that Dokuchaev and Sushchin recruited Belan to carry out illegal hacks of US companies on behalf of the FSB, and that Belan used the protection this afforded him to carry out more illegal hacks to enrich himself and them.

However it is equally or perhaps more likely that Dokuchaev and Sushchin were Belan’s accomplices in a series of crimes carried out on their own initiative.  It is after all hardly unusual for criminals to enlist the services of corrupt law enforcement officers to help them carry out their crimes.  Such a thing undoubtedly happens in Russia, just as it happens in most other places.

That Dokuchaev at least was a corrupt FSB officer involved in a rogue operation is strongly suggested by what the FBI itself says about him.  Here is the information the FBI has provided about his activities which appears in the Most Wanted Notice the FSB has issued about him.

Conspiring to Commit Computer Fraud and Abuse; Accessing a Computer Without Authorization for the Purpose of Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain; Damaging a Computer Through the Transmission of Code and Commands; Economic Espionage; Theft of Trade Secrets; Access Device Fraud; Aggravated Identity Theft; Wire Fraud

(bold italics added)

The words “purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain” point clearly to a rogue criminal operation rather than an official state-sponsored one.

That the FBI’s knowledge of the case still has gaps is strongly suggested by what the FBI has to say about Dokuchaev’s alleged accomplice Igor Sushchin in its Most Wanted Notice about him

Sushchin has Russian citizenship and is known to hold a Russian passport.  Sushchin is alleged to be a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Officer of unknown rank.  In addition to working for the FSB, he is alleged to have served as Head of Information Security for a Russian company, providing information about employees of that company to the FSB.  He was last known to be in Moscow, Russia.

 (bold italics added)

These comments about Sushchin cast doubt on whether Sushchin really is an FSB officer.

The FBI says that Sushchin is simultaneously an officer of the FSB and the head of information security at a Russian company.  Moonlighting in the private sector was a common practice for FSB officers in the chaotic 1990s.  It is hardly conceivable today.

It seems more likely that Sushchin is the head of information security for a Russian company but that because of his relationship with Dokuchaev the FBI supposes him to be an FSB officer.  Its Most Wanted Notice about Sushchin shows that the FBI does not know for a fact that Sushchin actually is an FSB officer.  It merely guesses he is, and on the facts the FBI itself provides it is probably wrong.

To add to the uncertainty there is a question mark about Dokuchaev’s own role within the FSB.  According to reports in Russia, Dokuchaev is not a conventional FSB officer at all but is rather a notorious former hacker and cyber-criminal who was blackmailed by the FSB into working for them.  Here is what the Moscow based Moscow Times has to say about him

Major Dmitry Dokuchaev, one of four cyber-security experts arrested by the Kremlin on charges of treason, has allegedly been revealed as an infamous Russian hacker.

Dokuchaev worked as a hacker under the alias “Forb” until Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) threatened to jail him, an unverified source told the RBC newspaper.

“Forb” gave a interview to Russian newspaper Vedomosti in 2004, revealing that he specialized in “hacking on request” and stealing money from bank cards – an occupation which he said could earn him anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000 a month.

He also claimed that he had carried out a successful attack on U.S. government infrastructure.

The FSB ultimately traced Dokuchaev to the card thefts, and threatened to prosecute the hacker unless he agreed to work for the agency, the source alleged.

If what the Moscow Times article says is true (and the story looks well-sourced) then Dokuchaev’s criminal past makes it even more plausible that what he engaged in was a rogue criminal operation which was not officially sanctioned by the FSB.

Recruiting a notorious cyber-criminal to track down other cyber-criminals is a strange idea, but hardly unique in the world of law-enforcement.  Possibly the FSB, lacking its own trained cyber-specialists as a result of the crisis of the 1990s, looked to people like Dokuchaev in order to fill its ranks quickly.  If so then this has now come back to bite it, with another FSB officer – Sergey Mikhailov, the deputy head of the FSB’s security information centre (the FSB department for which the US Justice Department says Dokuchaev worked), who may have been Dokuchaev’s superior and line manager – seemingly also implicated in Dokuchaev’s activities.

This is a tangled web.  However if what is known about the case in Moscow is put together with what is now known about the case in Washington, then it is at least possible that this is a case of two parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang.  Belan and Dokuchaev would presumably be the ringleaders, but it seems that Dokuchaev has succeeded in involving at least one other person (Mikhailov) within the FSB as well.

Supporting the theory that the treason case in Moscow and the Yahoo case in Washington are the products of two parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang, is a report carried by TASS of the comments of a lawyer familiar with the Moscow case.  The lawyer is reported to have said the following

No CIA is mentioned in the case. It is only the country that is mentioned. Yes, the talk is about America, not about the CIA

(bold italics added)

When I previously discussed this comment in an article written on 2nd February 2017, I assumed it referred to the passing of classified information to the US intelligence community, if not to the CIA itself.  I overlooked the fact that the lawyer’s comment contains no hint of this.  Instead the lawyer merely said that “the talk is about America”.   His words are equally consistent with data theft from the US as with information transfer to the US.

It is likely that both took place.  If the cases in Moscow and Washington involve the activities of the same gang of cyber-criminals, then it seems that they were equally happy to steal information from the US, and to steal information from Russia and sell it to the US.

That would explain the claim about the passing of classified information to Verigin, with which Stoyanov is charged, and which is presumably what lies behind the treason charges.

However in all cases the motive for the gang’s activities would have been the same – the classic criminal one: to make money.

As it happens the fact that the gang was targeting Russians as well as Americans is confirmed by the US Justice Department in its report

The defendants targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cyber security, diplomatic and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities.

(bold italics added)

There is much that is murky about this affair.  Though the known facts do suggest that the arrests in Moscow and the charges in Washington concern the same gang or at least the same people, that is not yet absolutely certain, and it could be that Dokuchaev, who figures so prominently in both cases, spread his net wide and involved more than one gang in his activities.

If however the two cases do involve the same gang, then unfortunately it is all too clear from the information trickling out of both Washington and Moscow that the relevant law enforcement agencies of the US and Russia are not cooperating with each other and are completely uninformed and possibly even unaware of each other’s investigations.  If so then that is much to be regretted since it can only increase the possibility of the two investigations working against each other and at cross-purposes, as in fact actually seems to be the case.

At this point however a few points can be made with confidence.

Firstly, it is clear that the Moscow arrests have absolutely nothing to do with the hacking of the computers of John Podesta and the DNC.  The case in Moscow is a criminal investigation into the activities of a gang of cyber-criminals, who practised criminal activity for financial gain.  They may be and probably are the same gang the US Justice Department and the FBI say is behind the Yahoo hack.  Regardless all the stories claiming that the Moscow case is somehow connected to the DNC and Podesta leaks are wrong.

Secondly, the claims in the Russian media that the arrests in Moscow had something to do with the Shaltay Boltai hacking group are also clearly wrong.  In that case the confusion is understandable.  It seems there is a wholly separate investigation into the Shaltay Boltai group going on as well.  Unsurprisingly some journalists in Moscow have confused the two, failing to realise that they are two wholly distinct investigations into two different groups of people.

Thirdly, if the investigations in Washington and Moscow are indeed parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang, then this shows the huge damage which has been done by the severing of contacts between the US and Russian law enforcement agencies carried out by the Obama administration.

Instead of information being pooled in order to track down and prosecute the same gang of cyber-criminals, two wholly separate and rival investigations are being conducted in two different countries which quite possibly involve the same gang.

The result is that neither investigation is being provided with all the facts.  Worse, the potential for conflict and misunderstanding between Washington and Moscow has been increased.   Both Washington and Moscow seem to be convinced that what looks to be one and the same gang was working for the intelligence agencies of the other side.  The result is that the US and Russia are blaming each other for the gang’s activities whilst protesting – correctly – their own innocence.

Perhaps one day, if Donald Trump finally comes through with his proposed detente with Russia, this sort of muddle and recrimination will be avoided.  If so then cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of the two countries would be a further important step in reducing misunderstandings and improving relations.

However until that happens the sort confusion, misunderstanding and exchange of blame and recriminations we are now seeing will continue unabated.

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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Second Canadian Citizen Disappears In China

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea.

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Via Zerohedge…


For a trade war that was supposed to be between the US and China, Canada has found itself increasingly in the middle of the crossfire. And so after the arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing in retaliation for the detention of the Huawei CFO in Vancouver, Canada said a second person has been questioned by Chinese authorities, further heightening tensions between the two countries.

The second person reached out to the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, at which point Canada lost contact with him. His whereabouts are currently unknown and Global Affairs Canada said they are in contact with his family.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Freeland told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea. He gained fame for helping arrange a visit to Pyongyang by former NBA player Dennis Rodman, and he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on that trip, the newspaper reported. Attempts to reach Spavor on his contact number either in China, or North Korean went straight to voicemail.

Spavor’s personal Facebook page contains several images of him with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un including one of him with both Jong-un and former Dennis Rodman at an undisclosed location.

Michael P. Spavor, right, pictured here with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, and Dennis Rodman.

Another image shows the two sharing a drink on a boat.

The unexplained disappearance takes place after China’s spy agency detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Beijing on Monday, who was on leave from the foreign service. The arrest came nine days after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. DOJ. While Canada has asked to see the former envoy after it was informed by fax of his arrest, Canada is unaware of Kovrig current whereabouts or the charges he faces.

“Michael did not engage in illegal activities nor did he do anything that endangered Chinese national security,” Rob Malley, chief executive officer of the ICG, said in a written statement. “He was doing what all Crisis Group analysts do: undertaking objective and impartial research.”

One possibility is that Kovrig may have been caught up in recent rule changes in China that affect non-governmental organizations, according to Bloomberg. The ICG wasn’t authorized to do work in China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing Wednesday.

“We welcome foreign travelers. But if they engage in activities that clearly violate Chinese laws and regulations, then it is totally another story,” he said, adding he had no information on Kovrig specifically.

As Bloomberg further notes, foreign non-governmental organizations are now required to register with the Chinese authorities under a 2017 law that subjects them to stringent reporting requirements. Under the law, organizations without a representative office in China must have a government sponsor and a local cooperative partner before conducting activities. ICG said this is the first time they’ve heard such an accusation from the Chinese authorities in a decade of working with the country. The company closed its Beijing operations in December 2016 because of the new Chinese law, according to a statement. Kovrig was working out of the Hong Kong office.

Meanwhile, realizing that it is increasingly bearing the brunt of China’s retaliatory anger, Trudeau’s government distanced itself from Meng’s case, saying it can’t interfere with the courts, but is closely involved in advocating on Kovrig’s behalf.

So far Canada has declined to speculate on whether there was a connection between the Kovrig and Meng cases, with neither Freeland nor Canadian Trade Minister Jim Carr saying Wednesday that there is any indication the cases are related. Then again, it is rather obvious they are. Indeed, Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, says the link is clear. “There’s no coincidence with China.”

“In this case, they couldn’t grab a Canadian diplomat because this would have created a major diplomatic incident,” he said. “Going after him I think was their way to send a message to the Canadian government and to put pressure.”

Even though Meng was granted bail late Tuesday, that did not placate China, whose foreign ministry spokesman said that “The Canadian side should correct its mistakes and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou immediately.”

The tension, according to Bloomberg,  may force Canadian companies to reconsider travel to China, and executives traveling to the Asian country will need to exercise extra caution, said Andy Chan, managing partner at Miller Thomson LLP in Vaughan, Ontario.

“Canadian business needs to look at and balance the reasons for the travel’’ between the business case and the “current political environment,’’ Chan said by email. Chinese officials subject business travelers to extra screening and in some case reject them from entering, he said.

Earlier in the day, SCMP reported that Chinese high-tech researchers were told “not to travel to the US unless it’s essential.”

And so, with Meng unlikely to be released from Canada any time soon, expect even more “Chinese (non) coincidences”, until eventually China does detain someone that the US does care about.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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