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No more sectoral sanctions against Russia: US gives up targeting Russia’s sovereign debt

US Treasury admits further sectoral sanctions against Russia’s sovereign debt would backfire

Alexander Mercouris

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In a recent article for RussiaFeed I discussed the possible additional sectoral sanctions against Russia which were being discussed in the US, and I said that none of them would do significant long term harm to Russia, but all of them risked doing real harm to the US.

As a self-sufficient continental economy sanctions on Russia almost by definition can have only a limited impact, and one which over time must diminish anyway.

As it happens the most effective sanctions the West could have imposed on Russia, both in terms of their impact on the Russian economy and their limited impact on the economies of the West, were the sectoral sanctions which were imposed in 2014.

Those sanctions did stop for a time the flow of capital from the West into Russia at a time when Russia was facing heavy debt repayments and when the price of its main export products – oil and gas – was collapsing.  The result was to deepen the recession caused by the collapse of oil and gas prices whilst further lowering the value of the rouble in a way which intensified the inflation spike.

With oil prices now rising, most short term Russian foreign debt repaid, and with the rouble floating, none of the sanctions discussed in this article look like they can have anything like the impact on Russia that the sanctions imposed in 2014 did.

The fact that the Russian economy successfully – in fact almost effortlessly – adjusted to those sanctions despite the difficult conditions ought to serve as a warning that further sanctions against Russia will not work, and if they are of the sort discussed in this article are counter-productive.

I also discussed at length in the same article the one set of sanctions the US seemed to be most actively considering, which was a prohibition on US investors buying Russian sovereign debt.

I said why this would be counterproductive and would not work and why it would only harm US investors if it was not backed by a freeze on Russian gold and foreign currency reserves held abroad and specifically in the US

The US cannot prevent Russia from floating bonds in the international money markets – in Asia if not in Europe – and the Democratic Senators’ assumption that prohibiting US investors from buying such bonds will dissuade other international investors from doing so is also almost certainly wrong (the cited authority for the claim are not ‘economists’ but two articles in Bloomberg Markets).

The problem anyway is that with Russia now expected to run a budget surplus next year, and with Russia’s trading position also in healthy surplus, and with Russia’s gold and foreign currency reserves now standing at more than $430 billion and growing, it is not obvious that Russia needs to borrow at all.

Unless this measure is combined with a freezing of Russian gold and foreign currency reserves, it is difficult to see how this could be more than a pinprick, just as the Democratic Senators report Russian Central Bank Chair Nabiullina having said.

However if the US were to freeze Russian gold and foreign currency reserves this step would not be necessary anyway, since US investors would not want to buy Russian foreign debt in those circumstances if the Russian reserves were frozen.

At that point of course the US would be facing all the consequences outlined in (2).

Needless to say, if US investors were prohibited from buying Russian debt but no action was taken against Russia’s reserves, then the US would simply be forcing its own investors to forego an opportunity to make money by buying into a strong financial asset which was being bought by other international investors elsewhere.  Again it is not obvious how this would benefit the US.

As to the suggestion that the US freeze Russian gold and foreign currency reserves held abroad and specifically on US territory – which would be the indispensable step if a prohibition on US investors buying Russian sovereign debt were to have any effect – I said why that would be totally counterproductive first and foremost for the US itself

Russia does keep some of its foreign currency reserves in the US with the IMF, but it is not clear how great the amount is and claims that it is much as a third of the reserves is probably an overstatement.

There is no doubt that such a step would have a serious impact, causing the value of the rouble to fall, at least for a short time.

However Russia runs a trade surplus and has paid off most of its foreign debt and the Central Bank since 2014 has been letting the rouble float.

The economy would swiftly adjust as it did to the crisis of 2014, with the Russian trade surplus growing still further as Russia’s trade position benefitted from the rouble’s fall and from the surge in oil prices which would be likely follow such a measure.

Doubtless inflation in Russia would be higher, though it would be unlikely to go as high as it did during the inflation spike of 2015.  However the political impact of the increase in inflation within Russia would be mitigated with the Russian government in a position to blame the US for causing it.  Besides as happened following the inflation spike of 2015, once the economy adjusted inflation would fall back again.

If freezing the Russian state’s foreign currency reserves in the US would only have a short term impact on the Russian economy, it would nonetheless constitute a colossal shock across the world financial system.

It would show that the US is prepared to abuse its position at the core of the world finance system and as the host of institutions such as the IMF to target not just the financial reserves of the smaller economies such as Libya, Venezuela or Iran but also the reserves of big G20 economies such as Russia.

The Chinese especially – who have been on the receiving end of similar threats against their reserves for some time – would be horrified.

It would be difficult to imagine any step the US might take that would galvanise more countries like China and Russia to set up their own alternatives to the world financial system and its institutions which have historically been under the control of the US.  Such moves are already underway and following the freezing (ie. seizure) of whatever proportion of Russia’s reserves are on US territory that process would be bound to accelerate.

It is impossible to see how that would benefit the US.

On 1st February 2018 Russian Central Bank Chair Nabiullina made the same points about the limited effect of the sanctions being discussed on the Russian economy.  Here is how Interfax reports her comments

We saw this risk previously, we see it now. We evaluated it, evaluated the effect of two possible scenarios: a scenario when there is a ban on purchase of new [obligations] and a ban on ownership [of existing obligations]. Of course, both of these decisions might trigger some volatility on the sovereign debt market, but in our view, even if there is initial short-term volatility, the markets will arrive at equilibrium.  We do not see any great effects either for the economy, financial stability or the financial sector.

(bold italics added)

A short while earlier – on 16th January 2018 – Russian Finance Minister Siluanov made the same point.  Here is how Interfax reports his comments

If these sanctions are introduced, those primarily suffering would be foreign investors, who are happy to invest in Russian obligations and receive a steady, reliable, guaranteed high return.  [Russian sovereign bonds would in that case be placed] among our Russian investors, using Russian infrastructure, which is very important.  We will also be engaged in not increasing budget imbalances, in order to carry out this borrowing in minimal volumes.

The US Treasury Department has now released a report which concedes all these points and which says that sanctions against Russia’s sovereign debt would be counterproductive, would have only a limited impact on Russia, and would harm the US.

The report concedes the Russian government’s very limited dependence on foreign borrowing and its invulnerability to sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt

According to public information from the Russian Finance Ministry, Russia plans to issue roughly $17 billion annually in net new domestic bonds [NB: this refers to rouble bonds which the Russian government issues internally in Russia’s own domestic money markets, and which are invulnerable to sanctions – AM] to finance its fiscal deficits over 2018-2019, but to taper issuance beyond 2019 as the Russian budget comes into balance.  On the external side, Russia’s persistent current account surplus, supported by energy exports, its ample foreign exchange reserves, and its manageable schedule of dollar-denominated bond redemptions limit the need for Eurobond issuance in upcoming years.  However, Russia plans to continue to maintain a presence in this market to support a benchmark yield curve and to reach new investors.  Future external debt issuances will continue to be primarily denominated in US dollars.

In other words Russia does not need to borrow externally at all since it has very limited foreign debt, very large foreign currency reserves (which actually exceed the amount of its foreign debt), and a budget which is almost balanced and which will be in surplus from next year.

To the extent that Russia needs to borrow at all in order to cover its budget deficit, it can do so without difficulty on its own internal rouble denominated money markets.

The only reason Russia continues to float dollar denominated Eurobonds in the international money markets is not because it needs to do so in order to raise money to cover its budget or trade deficits or to pay its foreign debt.

It is in order to impress on foreign investors the strength and credit worthiness of the Russian economy as confirmed by the low interest Russia pays on its Eurobonds.

The US Treasury report does say that despite this invulnerability sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt would nonetheless have a negative impact on Russia’s economy

Expanding Directive 1 to include dealings in new Russian sovereign debt and the full range of related derivatives would likely raise borrowing costs for Russia; prompt Russian authorities to alter their fiscal and monetary strategies; put downward pressure on Russian economic growth; destabilize financial markets, including Russia’s repurchase market, which is critical for overnight bank funding; increase strain on Russia’s banking sector; and lead to Russian retaliation against US interests.

Some of this is no doubt true, though it undoubtedly underestimates the extent to which the Russian economy – as Nabiullina and Siluanov have said – would rapidly adjust to these sanctions.

It also seriously underestimates the action the Russian authorities would themselves take to mitigate the effect of the sanctions.  By way of example, the assumption that Russia’s repurchase market would be destabilised by sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt almost certainly underestimates the steps Russia’s Finance Ministry and Central Bank would immediately take to support it.

It is a certainty that more than four years after sanctions began to be imposed Russia’s Finance Ministry and Central Bank have game-planned for all conceivable scenarios, and are prepared to counter them.  Given Russia’s exceptionally strong financial position they have all the available means to do so, and that already makes any plans for new sanctions look unviable.

However the key point is that even the US Treasury report now admits that additional sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt such as those which are being proposed would have extremely negative consequences for the US and world economies irrespective of whatever effect they might have on Russia

However, because the Russian economy has extensive real and financial sector linkages to global businesses and investors, the effect of the sanctions would not be limited to Russian authorities and businesses.  In particular, expanding sanctions could hinder the competitiveness of large US asset managers and potentially have negative spillover effects on global financial markets and businesses, although competitive distortions could be partially mitigated if the EU implemented similar sanctions.  Expanding US sanctions to include dealings in new Russian sovereign debt without corresponding measures by the EU and other US partners could undermine efforts to maintain unity on Russia sanctions.  Given the size of Russia’s economy, its interconnectedness and prevalence in global asset markets, and the likely over-compliance by global firms to US sanctions, the magnitude and scope of consequences from expanding sanctions to sovereign debt and derivatives is uncertain and the effects could be borne by both the Russian Federation and US investors and businesses.

In plain English, if the sanctions are limited to prohibiting US investors from buying Russian sovereign debt they will fail, and US investors will be the losers; whereas if the US were to succeed in strong arming its allies (ie. Japan and the EU) into supporting the sanctions then because of the Russian economy’s great size and sophistication the damage done to the world financial system and to the world economy would be extensive, and might call into question the US’s management of the world financial system and the reserve currency status of the US dollar.

The last words in the preceding paragraph of course do not appear anywhere in the US Treasury report.  US officials invariably avoid discussing the US’s role in managing the world financial system or the reserve currency status of the US dollar in discussions of this sort, since for completely understandable reasons they do not want to give the slightest hint that they might ever be questioned.  However concern for them is implicit in the whole paragraph from the US Treasury’s report which I have just quoted.

I return to my original point in my article discussing the proposed additional sectoral sanctions which I wrote when reports first circulated that these sanctions were being considered.

The sectoral sanctions which were imposed in Russia in July 2014 were calibrated to do the greatest possible harm to Russia and the least possible harm to the US and its allies.  Indeed I can remember no less a person than Barack Obama saying precisely that about them at the time.

The fact that those sanctions have failed is not a reason to double-down on still more sanctions.

No sanctions the West can now impose on Russia can harm Russia more than did the sanctions which the West imposed on Russia in July 2014.

On the contrary any further sectoral sanctions the West now imposes on Russia look more likely to harm the West than to harm Russia, especially over the medium and long term.

Rather the fact that the sectoral sanctions imposed on Russia in July 2014 failed should be a reason not for doubling down on still more sanctions, but rather for drawing back and reconsidering whether imposing sanctions on Russia is a good idea in the first place.

That in the present fraught atmosphere is something Western leaders seem unable to do.

However it does for the moment seem that the folly of imposing more sectoral sanctions is simply too obvious, and has for the moment been abandoned.

Following publication of the US Treasury report US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has now admitted as much, and in testimony to the House Financial Services Committee on 6th February 2018 has said that the only further sanctions the US Treasury is now considering are sanctions against individual Russian persons (“oligarchs”) and businesses

We’re targeting specific sanctions to bad individuals and companies as opposed to sanctions on debt.

As I have said previously, such sanctions on individual Russian persons and businesses are wrong and unfair.

However they cannot affect the Russian economy or the political situation in Russia, and in political and economic terms they are pinpricks.

On the contrary, all such sanctions do is give added force to the campaign the Russian authorities have been waging for some time to persuade Russian businessmen to repatriate to Russia the money they have been squirrelling away abroad, and it is almost certainly not a coincidence that for the first time that campaign looks to be meeting with a measure of success.

Inevitably there have been suggestions that the US Treasury Department’s decision to give up on further sectoral sanctions against Russia was somehow inspired by the well-known wish of US President Trump for better relations with Russians.

I think that is very unlikely to be true, with the true reasons for the decision being set out in this and my previous article and in the US Treasury Department’s own report.  As I have said many times, there is no reason to look for a secret conspiratorial reason for a decision, when the straightforward and openly expressed reason is fully sufficient and satisfactory.

On 27th May 2016, shortly after The Duran was started, I wrote a long article for The Duran in which I pointed out that Western attempts to stop the Russian government raising funds by borrowing both internally on Russia’s own money markets and internationally were guaranteed to fail, and that the attempts being made to stop the Russian government doing this were merely making Russia stronger.

The US’s decision not to proceed with sectoral sanctions targeting Russia’s sovereign debt confirm this.

With further sectoral sanctions against Russia now conclusively off the agenda, this episode merely highlights how much stronger in financial terms Russia has become.

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Judicial Watch Calls for Re-Opening of Hillary Email Investigation After More Classified Info Found

Judicial Watching is calling for a re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails after finding more classified information on the former Secretary of State’s non-“state.gov” email system.

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Authored by Joseph Jankowski via PlanetFreeWill.com,


On Thursday, the watchdog revealed that it had received two batches, 184 pages and 45 pagesof newly uncovered emails belonging to Hillary Clinton from the U.S. Department of State sent and received over her unsecured server.

The emails were uncovered by a FOIA lawsuit filed on May 6, 2015, after the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015 FOIA request seeking all emails sent or received by Clinton in her official capacity as Secretary of State, as well as all emails by other State Department employees to Clinton regarding her non-“state.gov” email address.

Judicial Watch broke down what they found:

  • On June 7, 2011, Clinton received classified information on her non-secure email account from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which Blair also forwarded to Jake Sullivan, about Blair’s Middle East negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians and the French
  • On January 26, 2010, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan sent classified information via his unsecure Blackberry to Huma Abedin’s State Department email account that he’d earlier sent to Clinton’s and Abedin’s non-secure @clintonemail.com email accounts about U.K. negotiations with Northern Ireland.
  • On October 28, 2010, Clinton exchanges information with her friend Marty Torrey – a congressional aide – who asks Clinton in an email if she would advise that Torrey meet with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Clinton responds through her non-secure email account approving the meeting and notes that she is emailing him from Hanoi, Vietnam.
  • An email chain dated April 8, 2010, which contains a memo from Sid Blumenthal to Hillary Clinton related to the change of government in Kyrgyzstan, contains information classified “confidential” and is redacted as “foreign government information” and “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.” Blumenthal urges Clinton to “develop relations” with the new government in Kyrgyzstan.

These emails caused Judicial Watch founder Tom Fitton to call for the Department of Justice to re-open the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time in office.

“These emails were undercovered from the emails that Hillary Clinton tried to delete or otherwise hide from the American people,” Fitton said in a video posted Thursday. “These new emails once again show why the Clinton email investigation needs to be re-opened by the Justice Department.”

The batch of emails also disclosed a January 26, 2010, email to Hillary Clinton’s private server from her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan, that is classified “confidential” and contains a “call sheet” that Clinton received prior to a call with Northern Ireland political leaders.

Interesting, but not surprising, is also an email that shows a meeting scheduled between Hillary Clinton and leftwing billionaire George Soros.

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Doug Casey on Social Media: “Facebook enshrines stupidity”

“Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook.”

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Authored by Joel Bowman via InternationalMan.com:


Joel Bowman: G’day, Doug. Thanks for speaking with us today.

Doug Casey: No problem, Joel. It’s a pleasure to hear your Australian accent come across the ether from Mexico.

Joel: Let’s dive right in. A week or two ago, Facebook registered the largest single day loss for any one company in stock market history – roughly $122 billion. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lost around $15 billion himself, as much as the annual GDP of several resource-rich, West African nations.

Looking back to 2000, during the go-go days of the dot.com boom, Intel and Microsoft both registered staggering single-day losses, too… $90 billion and $80 billion, respectively. And we know what happened next in that case…

So, investors want to know… is past prologue? What’s next for Silicon Valley’s tech darlings?

Doug: Talking about losing multiple billions in a single day, it’s really a sign of the times. I remember when the only billionaires in the world were Howard Hughes, John Paul Getty and John Beresford Tipton– the mythical billionaire on a 1950’s-era show called “The Millionaire.”

These days, however, it seems everyone’s a billionaire. In fact, there are several thousand billionaires roaming the planet today, with new ones being minted almost every day.

Of course, much of this so-called wealth is just paper. It’s not real. In fact, it’s pretty clear to me that we’re in a stock market bubble. Which is being driven by the bond market hyper-bubble. And that, in turn, is fueling a real estate bubble, which I believe is just now beginning to deflate in major cities around the world.

None of this augurs well for the stock market. You’ve got bubbles all over the place. Except in the resource market. That’s the one place that hasn’t inflated. In fact, it’s been going down since it’s last peak in 2011.

Getting back to Facebook, I hope it goes bankrupt. I hate it as an institution. I hate what it does. I don’t like its policies. I don’t like its management. I don’t like the fact that it’s causing people to destroy whatever privacy they have left. While turning their brains to mush sending out selfies all day.

Joel: You’ve put a lot on the table there, Doug. Let’s unpack a bit of that, starting with the general tendency toward cerebral rot…

Many younger readers may not remember this, but there actually existed a time before everybody knew everything, when people had to read books and discuss them, engage in healthy debate and rigorous dialectic in order to learn and develop intellectually.

Now that everyone apparently has plenty of time to Instagram their kale salads and “like” one and other’s cat pictures, are we to assume mankind has finally reached the End of Learning…some new Age of Enlightenment?

Or might Facebook and its (anti)social media cousins represent – in addition to the potential fallout for investors – another, hidden cost to society?

Doug: Perhaps humanity is bifurcating into the Morlocks and the Eloi at this point. It’s true that people used to go to libraries. But even the Library of Congress has only a tiny fraction the world’s data available; libraries are quaint and delightful, but they’re dinosaurs.

All the knowledge in the world is now at our fingertips on the Internet. The Internet is one of the greatest inventions in history, on a par with moveable type and the Gutenburg printing press. A few people are using it to educate and better themselves—but relatively few.

Most people just use it for trivial amusement, as you mentioned. Facebook adds very little value to the equation. In fact, I can’t see that it does much that’s productive. It’s basically a vehicle for gossip and watching cat videos.

Joel: And it’s less than that. Aside from the general degradation of public discourse, social media also represents a kind of unalterable historical record of bad jokes and regrettable moments, accessible to anyone who may wish to besmirch one’s character or skittle one’s reputation.

We’ve all said things we wish we hadn’t. To err is to be human, after all. What do you make of a world in which everyone’s worst moments are readily available to everyone else – including potential enemies – at the click of a mouse?

Doug: Facebook enshrines stupidity. A heavy Facebook user is, in effect, saying: “Look at me! I’m a thoughtless person who doesn’t have anything better to do with his time”. That’s on top of the fact that users are exposing their thoughts, actions, and whereabouts to the NSA, the FBI, the CIA and any of a hundred other nefarious agencies. In fact, there are credible allegations that Facebook, along with Google and Amazon, are willing tools of these intelligence agencies. No good can come of being a Facebookista.

But that’s about whether you should use Facebook. Whether you should own Facebook stock is a different question. Even after the recent selloff, Facebook still has a market cap of about $500 billion, which impresses me as a lot for a chat site cum advertising vehicle. Especially one where most of its growth is behind it. A lot of users are getting hip to the fact they’re not customers, they’re the product.

Facebook was a clever innovation ten years ago. But you know, there’s an old saying in the stock market: High Tech, Big Wreck!

Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook. My understanding is that kids now see Facebook as something used by old people– people over 21 years of age. So if it’s going nowhere with the younger generation, where’s it’s future? Maybe it picks up a billion new users in the Third World. Ultimately, what’s that worth?

Facebook may not be a terminal short sale, but I certainly won’t be putting any of my own money into the stock.

Joel: Assuming you’re correct and Facebook 2.0 does displace the current market leader, are you hopeful that such a platform may serve to promote a heightened level of discourse? Perhaps people might find their way into “phyles,” that is, subgroups based on commonly shared values that actually have real world meaning?

Doug: I hope that, in a year or two, International Man itself grows into a community of likeminded people with above average I.Q.s, libertarian values, and real world experience. IM might, itself, even branch off to become its own kind of Facebook. A private version.

I know there’s a lot of talk about regulating FB, or breaking it up. That’s a bad idea; the government should have zero to do with business in general—and areas related to free speech in particular. I’m disgusted by the fact FB has kicked Alex Jones and others off their platform. But they have a right to do so, as a private company. Although, on the other hand, they’re almost a creature of the State.

But that’s not an excuse for the government to “step in”. What will happen is that a newer, better Facebook lookalike—or a dozen of them—will replace them. FB will self-destruct. It’s a non-problem.

To be frank, you and I don’t really have that much in common with most of the 7.3 billion people on this planet. In fact, while I like many individual humans, I despise humanity in general. The more people you put together in a group, the more they act like chimpanzees. Big groups force down the lowest common denominator.

There’s some cause for optimism, but only on a person-to-person basis. I prefer the company of people who value free minds and free markets—and I suspect most people who are reading this now feel the same way.

Joel: That’s probably a very good note to end this conversation on, Doug. Thanks, as always, for taking the time.

Doug: Meanwhile, we’ll look for something with the potential of Facebook in 2008… and stay away from Facebook today.

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Why did Erdogan free two Greek soldiers after six months in a Turkish prison?

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 83.

Alex Christoforou

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Two Greek soldiers freed after months in a Turkish prison returned to Greece by government jet after their unexpected release by a Turkish provincial court.

Greece’s Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said he phoned his Turkish counterpart to express his satisfaction with the soldiers’ release and invite him to visit Greece.

Kammenos told reporters, referring to the Feast of the Dormation, which falls on August 15 and to the Italian torpedoing on a Greek warship on this day in 1940…

“This is a great day for our motherland, the day of Our Lady, the day of Tinos in 1940.”

“I hope that their release…will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the reasons behind Erdogan’s unexpected overture to Greece, with the sudden release of two Greek soldiers held in a Turkish prison for nearly 6 months.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via Ekathimerini

The soldiers – 2nd Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis – were met by Kammenos, the army chief of staff and an honor guard after their arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

“All I want to say is thank you,” Mitretodis told reporters.

The men were arrested on March 1 for illegally entering Turkey after crossing the heavily militarized land border. Greece strongly protested their long detention in the western town of Edirne, arguing that they had strayed across during a patrol of a trail of suspected illegal immigration amid poor visibility due to bad weather.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed their release as “an act of justice,” and provided the jet he uses on official foreign journeys to bring them back.

Their release “will contribute to strengthening friendship, good neighborly relations and stability in the region,” Tsipras said in a statement. “I want to congratulate and thank (the two men) and their families for their fortitude, patience and trust in our efforts, which were finally justified.”

In Athens, the Foreign Ministry said: “We welcome the release of the two members of the Greek armed forces … following more than five months of unjustified custody in Edirne prison. This decision by the Turkish authorities is positive and will contribute to the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations and the friendship between our people.

“The constant efforts exerted by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Ministry and the diplomatic and consular missions of Greece in Turkey have borne fruit. Once again diplomacy is the biggest winner.”

The men’s arrest had considerably strained Greek-Turkish relations. Kammenos had claimed that they were being held “hostage” by Turkey, which is trying to secure the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the 2016 failed military coup in Turkey.

Ankara accuses its servicemen of involvement in the coup, but Greek courts have refused to extradite them, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives would be in danger there.

The two Greeks were released Tuesday pending the outcome of their trial by a Turkish court. Turkey’s state Anadolu Agency said that in a court hearing to review a request for their release the two said in their defense that they had crossed the border by mistake.

Mitretodis’ father told the AP that his son had shown great strength in prison.

“My wife phoned and told me the news, and at once I called the Greek consul (in Edirne) and confirmed that the lads have been set free,” Nikos Mitretodis said. “They didn’t do anything wrong, and they spent a long time in prison. But they were strong during all that time, and remain strong, they have to be.”

“I want to thank everyone for their solidarity – the media, our political leadership, the Church and anonymous people who stood by us,” he added.

Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the release of the two soldiers “on the one hand constitutes a basic act of justice on the part of the Turkish authorities. On the other hand, it shows how Turkey can and should continue to fully reestablish the climate of friendship and good neighborliness with Greece”.

Main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “The release of the two Greek officers is happy news amid the gloomy summer that our country is experiencing. All Greeks await their return with joy and emotion.”

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was delighted by news of the Greek soldiers’ imminent release. “As I said (before) … Turkey has nothing to fear from its European neighbors. We want to see a democratic, stable and prosperous Turkey,” he posted on Twitter.

Authored by Raul Ilargi Meijer via The Automatic Earth blog:

On August 15, Greeks celebrate the “Dormition (or the Assumption) of the Virgin Mary (in Greek: Koimisis tis Theotokou). The holiday commemorates the “falling asleep” or death of the Theotokos (Mary, translated as “God-bearer”). August 15, one of the most important holidays in the Orthodox calendar, is celebrated across the country, and is a date when many Greeks leave the towns and cities where they live and work to return to their home villages.”

Stole that bit from the local Kathimerini paper. And I would add: while most Athenians leave for the islands, along with about 2 billion tourists. Thought I’d bring up the national holiday because in Turkey, they celebrate the same. The orthodox church is still going strong in both countries. Even if Turkey is leaning increasingly towards Islam. And even then: the House of the Virgin Mary shrine in Turkey, which the Apostle John is supposed to have built for her, on a mountain overlooking the Aegean, the place where Mary is said to have spent her last years, sees both Christian and Muslim pilgrims.

All this can’t be seen apart from some recent developments between the two countries. Turkey had been holding two Greek servicemen in jail after they crossed a border in bad weather early March.

Athens got a phone call from Ankara, probably to Kammenos, not Tsipras, that said: you come get them. Whether that call was before or after the court decision we’ll probably never know. A bit of a shame, because it could tell us a lot of where the decisions are made in Turkey. Then again, we do have an idea. A mere provincial court that could make decisions that go completely against what Erdogan desires? What are the odds? But stick around.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: the two soldiers, who had been in detention for almost half a year, were released by a provincial court, and got back home on a joint Turkish/Greek national holiday. What’s not to like?

But then this: a few hours after they arrive home on PM Tsipras’ own government jet at 3pm, another Turkish court decides that an appeal for American pastor Brunson to be released, is denied. Brunson is the guy Trump wants freed. John Bolton has said there’ll be no more talks until that is done. But if one court takes a decision that at least on the face of it goes against supreme ruler Erdogan’s demands, and another decides differently, Erdogan can claim the pastor’s fate is out of his hands: it’s the court system that decides.

That victory over Trump, concerning not freeing the pastor, is apparently worth more to him than the defeat of not exchanging the soldiers for the 8 Turkish servicemen who have gotten asylum in Greece. Something Erdogan is allegedly very angry about, because he accuses them of being party to the 2016 ‘coup’. He’s trying to play chess with Trump.

*****

And then Reuters has this just now:

Erdogan Spokesman Says Problems With US Will Be Resolved

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday he expected problems with the United States, which helped drive the lira to record lows, to be resolved but Washington must stop trying to influence Turkey’s judiciary. Ibrahim Kalin also told a news conference that Turkey would exercise its rights if the U.S. does not deliver F-35 jets to Ankara. The lira, which has rallied after hitting a record low of 7.24 to the dollar, would continue to recover, he said.

Via The Automatic Earth blog:

A masterstroke? Did Erdogan just succeed in making everyone, including Trump, believe the Turkish judiciary system is impartial, and he’s not the one keeping Brunson from leaving the country? Sure looks like he tried. “Sorry, Mr. Trump, it’s out of my hands.. A judge let the Greek soldiers go, and I didn’t want that either..”

Problem is, everyone knows Erdogan fired half the judiciary system and 90% or so of the press, accusing them of being part of the same coup plot as Gülen and the pastor Brunson. It’s almost amusing. Almost, because innocent people’s lives are being played out on some primitive chess board and sacrificed against dreams of ever more power. Only a pawn in their game.

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