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Pro U.S., Pro EU, Anti-Russian lobbyist, Paul Manafort, sentenced to 47 months (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 99.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s sentencing of 47 months in prison for fraud and other financial crimes, unrelated to Russia.

RT reports that Manafort found himself in special counsel’s crosshairs as the manager of President Donald Trump’s campaign between March and August 2016, but the bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to declare a foreign bank account – the eight charges on which he was found guilty last August in a federal court in Virginia – have nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election, and everything to do with Manafort’s lobbying activities in Ukraine.

“He is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government,” Judge T.S. Ellis III told the courtroom on Thursday.

After lengthy consultations with both prosecutors and defense, Ellis said that Manafort “lived an otherwise blameless life,”so the sentence requested by prosecutors was “excessive.” His final verdict, which came around 7 pm local time, was 47 months – just short of four years – and a $50,000 fine. Manafort was also told to pay $24.8 million in restitution.

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“Paul Manafort Was an Agent of Ukraine, Not Russia.” Authored by Andrew C. McCarthy, via National Review

Paul Manafort, the clandestine agent of Russia at the heart of the Trump campaign’s “collusion” scand — oh, wait.

Have you ever noticed what Paul Manafort’s major crime was? After two years of investigation, after the predawn raid in which his wife was held at gunpoint, after months of solitary confinement that have left him a shell of his former self, have you noticed what drew the militant attention of the Obama Justice Department, the FBI, and, ultimately, a special counsel who made him the centerpiece of Russia-gate?

According to the indictment Robert Mueller filed against him, Manafort was an unregistered “agent of the Government of Ukraine.” He also functioned as an agent of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president from 2010 to 2014, and of two political parties, the Party of Regions and its successor, the Opposition Bloc.

Manafort was not an unregistered agent of Russia. Mueller never alleged that Manafort was a clandestine operative of the Kremlin. He worked for Ukraine, not Putin. Indeed, for much of his time in Ukraine, he pushed his clients against Putin’s interests.

Mueller’s prosecutors looked on glumly Thursday as Manafort was sentenced to a mere 47 months’ imprisonment by Judge T. S. Ellis III of the federal court in Alexandria, Va. After rescinding the cooperation agreement they had extended Manafort following his convictions at trial, Mueller’s team had pressed for a sentence of up to 24 years for the 70-year-old former Trump campaign chairman. The judge demurred, pointedly observing that Manafort was “not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence [the 2016] election.”

The prosecutors won’t be chagrined long, of course. Against Manafort, one case with a potential century of jail time was not enough. There’s a case in Washington, too. There, Manafort will be sentenced next week, by a different judge who will surely impose a sentence more to the special counsel’s liking. The knowledge of that, more than anything else, explains Judge Ellis’s comparative wrist-slap, which ignored sentencing guidelines that called for a severe prison term.

Those guidelines were driven by prodigious financial fraud, not espionage. No one has even alleged espionage — even though the investigation was aggressive, even though the two indictments charge numerous felonies, and even though Mueller has had as his star informant witness Manafort’s longtime sidekick, Richard Gates, a fellow fraudster who was deeply involved in his partner’s work for foreign governments.

Understand: Paul Manafort would never have been prosecuted if he had not joined Donald Trump’s campaign. He would not have been prosecuted if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election and spared Democrats the need to conjure up a reason to explain their defeat — something other than nominating a lousy candidate who stopped campaigning too early.

Manafort’s Ukrainian work was not a secret. By the time of the 2016 campaign, he’d been at it for over a dozen years. He wasn’t alone. Not even close. An array of American political consultants flocked to post-Soviet Ukraine because that’s where the money was. Manafort worked for the Party of Regions, led by Yanukovych. The Obama consultants worked for Yanukovych’s rival, Yulia Tymoshenko — the populist-socialist who sometimes colluded with Putin and other times posed as his opponent. The Clinton consultants lined up with Viktor Yuschenko, Putin’s generally pro-Western bête noire, who was nearly assassinated by Kremlin operatives and who navigated between east and west.

What you may already notice is that Ukraine is complicated. That collusion narrative you’ve been sold since November 8, 2016? It’s a caricature.

The people peddling it know that Americans are clueless about the intricacies of politics in a former Soviet satellite and the grubby bipartisan cesspool of international political consultancy. You are thus to believe that the Party of Regions was nothing but a cat’s paw of Moscow; that Manafort went to work for Yanukovych, the party’s Putin puppet; and that Manafort’s entrée into the Trump campaign was a Kremlin coup, a Russian plot to control of the White House.

Sure. But then . . . where’s the collusion charge? If that’s what happened, where is the special counsel’s big indictment of a Trump–Russia conspiracy, with Manafort at its core?

There is no such case because the collusion narrative distorts reality.

Manafort is not a good guy. He did business and made lots of money with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs who, largely through their organized-crime connections, made their fortunes in the post-Soviet gangster-capitalism era, when the spoils of an empire were up for grabs.

Manafort got himself deeply in hock with some of these tycoons. He may owe over $25 million to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate. Deripaska, you’ve repeatedly been told, is Putin’s oligarch. That may be true — they are close enough for Putin to have intervened on his behalf when the U.S. government imposed travel restrictions. But former senator Bob Dole intervened on Deripaska’s behalf, too. So did the FBI, when they thought Deripaska could help them rescue an agent detained in Iran. So did Christopher Steele, the former British spy of Steele-dossier infamy.

Having business with Deripaska did not make Manafort a Russian spy. No more than taking $500,000 from a Kremlin-tied bank made Bill Clinton a Russian spy. For a quarter century, the United States government encouraged commerce with Russia, notwithstanding that it is anti-American and run like a Mafia family. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton worked with the Putin regime to develop Moscow’s version of Silicon Valley. Business with Russia was like what the Clintons used to tell us about lies about sex: Everybody does it.

Manafort’s business eventually soured. There is good reason to believe that, once he was installed as chairman of the Trump campaign — when Trump looked like a sure GOP-nomination winner and general-election loser — Manafort tried to monetize his position of influence. He hoped to make himself “whole,” as he put it, by demonstrating that he was once again a political force to be reckoned with — offering Deripaska briefings on the campaign, offering his Ukrainian oligarch benefactors polling data showing that Trump had a real chance to win.

Manafort likes the high life. Running with this crowd helped him live it, and helped him hide most of his money overseas, in accounts he could stealthily access without sharing his millions with the taxman.

But all that said, Manafort was not a Russian agent. Even Robert Mueller, who went after him hammer and tongs, never accused him of that.

When his Ukrainian oligarch sponsors asked him to take Yanukovych on as a client, Manafort was reluctant. Yanukovych was essentially a thug who grew up in the Soviet system. The corruption of the 2004 presidential election, which Yanukovych’s Kremlin-backed supporters tried to steal, ignited Kiev’s Orange Revolution. Manafort, a cold-blooded Republican operative who had cut his teeth fighting off the Reagan revolution in the 1976 Ford campaign, calculated that Yanukovych was damaged goods.

But in the shadowy world of international political consultancy, money talks and scruple walks. Manafort’s oligarch patrons made the Regions reconstruction project worth his while. He remade Yanukovych from the ground up: Learn English, warm to Europe, embrace integration in the European Union, endorse competitive democracy, be the candidate of both EU-leaning Kiev and Russia-leaning Donbas.

This was not a Putin agenda. It was an agenda for Ukraine, a country with a split personality that needs cordial relations with the neighborhood bully to the east as it fitfully lurches westward. Regions was a pro-Russia party, but that is not the same thing as being Russia. What the oligarchs want is autonomy so they can run their profitable fiefdoms independent of Kiev. They leverage Moscow against the EU . . . except when they talk up EU integration to ensure that they are not swallowed up by Moscow. What the oligarchs mainly are is corrupt, which suited Manafort fine.

The unsavory business was successful for a time. Regions returned to power. Yanukovych finally won the presidency and immediately announced that “integration with the EU remains our strategic aim.” It was a triumph for Manafort, but a short-lived one. While Yanukovych rhapsodized about rising to Western standards, he ran his administration in the Eastern authoritarian style, enriching his allies and imprisoning his rivals.

The latter included Tymoshenko, who was prosecuted over a gas deal she had entered when she was prime minister — with Putin. Russia bitterly criticized her prosecution, and when she was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, the Kremlin blasted Yanukovych’s government for pursuing her “exclusively for political motives.” Manafort, meanwhile, continued to airbrush Yanukovych’s image in the West, scheming with lobbyists and a law firm to help him defend the controversial Tymoshenko trial — a scheme abetted by lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who eventually pled guilty to making false statements to Mueller’s investigators.

Yanukovych’s moment of truth came in late 2013. He was poised to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, a framework for integration. Putin furiously turned up the heat: blocking Ukrainian imports, drastically reducing Ukrainian exports, bleeding billions of trade dollars from Kiev’s economy, threatening to cut off all gas supplies and drive Ukraine into default. Manafort pleaded with his client to stick with the EU. Yanukovych caved, however, declining to enter the Association Agreement and making an alternative pact with Putin to assure gas supplies and financial aid.

It was over this decision that the Euromaidan protests erupted. Yanukovych fled the country in early 2014, given sanctuary in Moscow. Subsequently, Regions renounced Yanukovych, blaming him for the outbreak of violence and for looting the treasury. The party disbanded, with many of its members reemerging as the Opposition Bloc, the party to which Manafort gravitated — along with his partner, Konstantin Kilimnik, and his lobbyist associate, W. Samuel Patten. (Like Manafort, Patten has pled guilty to working as an unregistered agent of Ukraine; Kilimnik, who is in Russia, was indicted by Mueller for helping Manafort tamper with witnesses.)

Paul Manafort is a scoundrel. He was willing to do most anything for money — even offering to burnish Putin’s image as he burnished Yanukovych’s. But Manafort was never a Kremlin operative working against his own country, except in the fever dreams of the Clinton campaign’s Steele dossier. And his crimes notwithstanding, he’d be a free man today if Mrs. Clinton had won. Instead, he’ll be sentenced yet again next week. And this time, he’ll get slammed.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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