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No regime change in Iran (analysis of the current protest wave)

Reports suggest small leaderless protests unlikely to threaten government

Alexander Mercouris

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Information about the protests in Iran is very difficult to assess because for the moment it is very sparse.

It appears the protests began in the city of Mashhad on 28th December 2017.  They have however continued and have spread elsewhere though they appear so far to be on a small scale.

Most reports say that the trigger for the protests was economic grievances, with particular stress being given to the 40% shock increase in egg and poultry prices, which was announced last week.

Undoubtedly there is some truth to this but it must be heavily qualified.

The reality is that contrary to some reports Iran’s economy is currently doing very well and after several years of recession which did cause living standards to fall is now actually in the throws of a boom, with double digit growth rates being recorded during the last two years.

Whilst it is said that the benefits of this boom have yet to reach the wider population, the boom has now been underway for almost two years, making it most unlikely that however unevenly its benefits are distributed the wider population has experienced no benefit from it at all.

As for price growth, the trend in Iran over the last four years is for price growth to fall.

The history of inflation in Iran is that Iran has experienced double digit inflation continuously since 1973, when the quadrupling of oil prices that year taken together with the former Shah’s runaway industrialisation programme pushed annual inflation up from its previous trend rate of 3% to an average annual rate over the next four years of more than 15%.

Inflation remained at an annual rate of around 15% in every remaining year of the Shah’s rule except for 1978.

The Iranian Revolution and the war with Iraq in the 1980s then caused inflation to go higher, so that it rose to an average annual rate between 1980 and 1988 of 18%.

In the succeeding period of economic liberalisation under President Rafsanjani from 1989 to 1997 inflation went higher still, hitting an average annual rate of 25%, and peaking in 1996 at 50% (still an inflation record in Iran).

In the succeeding reformist period of President Khatami from 1997 to 2005 average annual inflation fell to 16%, only to rise again during the succeeding more conservative period under President Ahmadinejad from 2005 to 2013 when it went up to an annual average of 17.7%, peaking at 35% in 2013, the year Ahmadinejad left office.

Compared to this record, the situation under President Rouhani is better on the inflation front than it has been at any time since the early 1970s, with average annual inflation in the four years since he became President falling to 12% and falling to just 9% in the Iranian year ending in March 2017.

Whilst this is still a high rate of inflation by international standards, the combination of a rapidly growing economy and a falling inflation rate makes it extremely doubtful that the population as a whole is currently coming under more severe economic pressure than it has been before.  On the contrary it is more likely that after years of contracting living standards caused by the recession more Iranians are now starting to feel better off.

That does not of course mean that some sections of the population may not be finding conditions difficult, and as many correctly point out the still sharp rise in Iran’s working age population means that the fast economic growth of the last two years has still left Iran with an unemployment rate at 12%.

That unemployment rate, though high by the standards of the developed economies, is not however high for Iran’s region (in Turkey the unemployment rate is 11%, in Egypt it is 12% and in Saudi Arabia it is 12.7%).

Though it is understandable therefore that the sharp increase in egg and poultry prices – supposedly caused by a cull triggered by an epidemic of bird flu – may have annoyed many people, it looks like a temporary price blip in an otherwise improving inflation and economic picture.

Exactly this point has been made by Iran’s Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, who Fars is reported as saying

the prices of several commodities may have seen a rise due to some incidents, and each case has its own reason

If economic grievances were indeed what originally lay behind the protests, then these improving conditions suggest that the protests will not go on for very long, especially as the growing economy and the recent rise in oil prices have given the government the means to improve the economic conditions of the protesters.

Vice-President Jahangiri in the same interview which I have just quoted is already reported as saying that the government is prepared to take steps to mitigate the effect of the recent rise in egg and poultry prices, presumably by importing more of these products from abroad.

If economic dissatisfaction does not fully explain the protests, what are the other reasons for them?

There have been some suggestions that the original protests in Mashhad – a politically conservative city – were originally orchestrated by conservative opponents of President Rouhani from within the clerical establishment.

Some reports say that this is Rouhani’s view and that it is also the view of some other senior Iranian officials, with fingers supposedly being pointed at the conservatives who supposedly instigated the protests, with complaints being made that the counter revolutionary slogans chanted by some of the protesters during the protests show that the conservative instigators of the protests have lost control over the protests.

Whilst there may be some truth to this, the single factor which almost certainly set the scene for the protests is that this is a time of the year when large numbers of Iranians are likely to be on the streets anyway.

The day which in the Western calendar is 30th December is the day when conservative supporters of the Iranian government annually mobilise in their millions to commemorate a large demonstration staged on 30th December 2009 in response to the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ protests which took place in Iran in 2009.

It looks as if celebration of the anniversary of this demonstration this year has triggered counter protests by opponents of the government, which have been given an extra twist this year by the anger many people feel at the sharp rise in egg and poultry prices.

However another factor behind the protests almost certainly is the international situation.

The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia supposedly reached a secret agreement last month to combine forces in an attempt to reverse the growth of Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Reports of this agreement may have given encouragement to pro-Western opponents of the government within Iran – of whom there are known to be some – encouraging them to come out to protest.

Besides it is a certainty that the US and its allies have their own covert networks of supporters within Iran who were doubtless activated to support and take over the protests as soon as they began.

Many of course go further still and believe that the anti-government part of protests has been entirely orchestrated by the US and its allies as part of a classic US regime change/’colour revolution’ operation.

That is certainly possible, there being after all ample precedent for it.  However it is always important to remember when making this claim that the US can only do this sort of thing in another country when there are already people there ready to work with it.

Outlining the various likely reasons for the protests however shows why – if the intention really is to topple the government – they are most unlikely to succeed.

The very fact that the US – and Donald Trump in particular – are backing the protests, and the widespread and probably justified suspicion within Iran and around the world that the US has a hand in them is certain to alarm many Iranians, deterring them from supporting the protests and causing them to rally behind the government.

Ultimately, with the protests small and scattered, with the government retaining the support of a critical mass of the Iranian population, with the economy strong and growing rapidly, and with the security forces completely loyal to the government, the Iranian government should have no trouble riding these protests out.

The key is to avoid overreaction, which is all but guaranteed to provoke more protests, whilst at the same time remaining firm and making no unnecessary concessions, which would be taken as a sign of weakness, and which would therefore also encourage more protests.

The Iranian government showed in 2009 that it has the knowledge and the skill to handle these sort of protests, and I have little doubt it will successfully do so again, especially with the protests this time being on a much smaller scale and without visible leadership.

If so then before long the protests will subside, with this probably becoming increasingly apparent over the next few days.

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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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