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Here’s what happened at the Putin-Erdogan summit

Russia and Turkey massively upgrade their cooperation – however, agree to differ over Syria.

Alexander Mercouris

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As is frequently the case the most information about what Putin and Erdogan discussed and agreed with each other came out of their joint news conference. The Kremlin has provided a transcript

Syria

Putin and Erdogan both said that they had not discussed Syria prior to the news conference and that their discussion about Syria would take place after.

This could be for any of various reasons: that restoring their bilateral relations was the bigger priority with the contentious issue of Syria being put off till later; that Putin and Erdogan did not want to spoil the mood at the press conference by revealing how far apart they still are on this issue; or that the discussions they were about to have on Syria touched on such sensitive topics that they did not want to be questioned and reveal information about them at the news conference.  Probably all of these reasons were in play.

Both Putin and Erdogan did say at the press conference that their positions on Syria remain far apart.  In an interview with TASS on the eve of the visit Erdogan however showed no shift in his longstanding positions on the Syrian conflict.  For example he continued to insist that President Assad had to go

“We don’t want Syria’s disintegration, but the departure of Bashar Assad who is guilty for the deaths of 600,000 people. This is the condition for preventing this scenario. Syria’s unity cannot be kept with Assad. And we cannot support a murderer who has committed acts of state terror.”

In a point that will be particularly contentious for the Russians (and one presumes for some people in the US) he even denied that Jabhat Al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation despite its connection to Al-Qaeda

“Considering that the al-Nusra front is also fighting against the Islamic State, it should not be considered as a terrorist organisation either. This is an incorrect approach.”

Other comments Erdogan made during the TASS interview strongly suggest that it was he who was ultimately behind the recent Jabhat Al-Nusra announcement that it was distancing itself from Al-Qaeda.

In a recent post the Moon of Alabama expresses bafflement that despite the Turkish rapprochement with Russia that has taken place since the coup attempt there is no evidence of any slackening of Turkish support for the rebels in Syria.  On the contrary it seems that in connection with the fighting in Aleppo that support has if anything been stepped up.  The Moon of Alabama speculates implausibly that this is being done by the CIA on Turkish territory contrary to Erdogan’s wishes.

The true position is as I have said previously: Erdogan has invested too much in supporting the rebellion in Syria over too long a time to make it possible for him to change course.  Were he to try to do so he would expose himself to criticism in Turkey from many of his own supporters that he was selling out to the Russians.  He would also risk a violent reaction from the many Jihadist fighters currently in Turkey, which at a time when the Turkish security forces are at their most disorganised following the coup would be highly dangerous.  Beyond that there is the fact that Erdogan is almost certainly sincere about his Syrian policy.  His comments to TASS suggest as much, as do his actions on the ground. 

The truth is what I said before: what we are seeing between Turkey and Russia is a strictly limited rapprochement, not a fundamental realignment.  The two countries have moved closer to each other and are developing their political and economic relations at a blistering pace.  However there will be no switch in alliances and on the question of Syria they fundamentally differ and continue to support opposing camps.  The leaderships of both countries understand this perfectly well but are not prepared to hold the improvement of their mutual relations hostage to the situation in Syria.

On one question related to Syria there may however be progress.  Erdogan’s interview with TASS shows that he is still seething at Russian allegations made earlier this year that members of his family were involved in illegal trading with ISIS. 

“I had earlier been told that these facts also pointed to Turkey.  I asked for the relevant evidence to be demonstrated. However, no one could prove it to me. Nothing of this kind can be found with regard to Turkey. They also tried to entangle my family in this. I said prove it, I’ll leave my post, if you demonstrate the relevant evidence. I turned to those who conjured up these insinuations and asked them about whether they would leave their posts, if no evidence was found. Silence followed.”

His comments to TASS suggest that Erdogan might be prepared to work with the Russians to destroy ISIS.  However the extent of that cooperation is for the moment difficult to gauge.  It is unlikely to involve Russian aircraft operating from Incirlik.

As anticipated there does appear to have been some discussion during the summit of the Russians and the Turks working together on a joint plan to end the war in Syria.  In his interview with TASS Erdogan hinted as much, also confirming that against US and Saudi opposition he is also prepared to involve Iran in this plan

“Russia is fundamentally the key and most important player in establishing peace in Syria. I believe it is necessary to solve this crisis with the help of mutual action by Russia and Turkey. If the talk is about widening the circle of participants, then I already told my dear friend Vladimir [Putin] earlier: if necessary, we’ll also involve Iran in the effort. We can invite Qatar, Saudi Arabia and America. In this regard, we can form a wide circle of participants. If not, then the Russian Federation and Turkey given our common 950-km border with Syria, can take some steps, without violating Syria’s sovereignty.”

However given the differences between the Russians and the Turks over the future of President Assad and the status of Jabhat Al-Nusra it is difficult to see at the moment how they could agree a joint position on Syria that they would be able to take forward in order to achieve a settlement of the conflict there.  Doubtless the discussions between Putin and Erdogan after the press conference touched on this question.  However given the size of the gap between the two sides it will take a long time for any consensus on the way forward between them to emerge.  Most probably it will be the situation on the ground that will decide the issue first.

The Turkish coup

Both in the press conference and in his interview with TASS Erdogan again went out of his way to accuse the Gulen movement of being behind the recent coup attempt.  I have previously speculated that Erdogan’s constant references to the Gulen movement are intended to signal that the US (where Gulen is based) was somehow implicated in the coup.  Nothing Erdogan said in either the press conference or the TASS interview refutes that speculation.  He notably failed to say that the US was not involved in the coup, or that the US is Turkey’s ally and friend.  On the contrary in the TASS interview he appeared to criticise the US for its foot-dragging in handing over Gulen

“In reality, even though we have demanded this man’s extradition. They say if you regard this man as a terrorist, then send us the documents. We will study them first and then take measures in accordance with US legislation. True, there are some documents we had sent them before. By now we’ve sent 85 boxfuls of paperwork on this case. In the near future, the Turkish justice minister, foreign minister, special envoy and a number of prosecutors and judges who were in charge of this matter will go to the United States and brief the American authorities in person.”

By contrast Erdogan went out of his way to thank his “friend Putin” and Russia for their support during the coup.  What is more than a little strange about this however is that Erdogan does not really explain what that support was.  Instead he constantly refers to a telephone call he had from Putin the day after the coup, which he says gave Turkey “psychological support”. By that point however the coup had visibly failed, making it is difficult to see why Erdogan should attach so much importance to this call.

The true reason for Erdogan’s gratitude to Putin and Russia is probably touched on in his comments to TASS about the reports of a Russian tip-off to Turkish intelligence warning of the coup

“This is the first time that I have heard such a thing. Even if it had really been so, those concerned would have been obliged to inform me first thing. I received no such information, not from intelligence, nor through any other channels. We don’t know who said what and to whom. I believe that this is a groundless rumour.”

As I have said before the Russians will never confirm that there was a tip-off even if there was one, and for that reason neither will the Turks.  Note however that Erdogan’s comments about the tip-off to TASS are very far from a denial.  Instead we are asked to believe that Erdogan of all people “doesn’t know who said what to whom” and that “this is the first time that I have heard of such a thing” despite the story being all over the Middle East media for weeks.   As I have discussed previously, this looks very much like an agreed position reached by the Russians and the Turks not to deny the tip-off but to pretend to no knowledge of it.  That makes it a virtual certainty the report of the tip-off is true.

Turk Stream, South Stream, Nuclear cooperation etc

As I discussed previously these proved the least contentious issues, allowing for rapid progress.  There is also talk of the Russians granting the Turks visa free access or at least simplified visa access to Russia. 

Two points can be made briefly.  Firstly it is clear that it is the Turks rather than the Russians who are the main drivers behind both Turk Stream and the nuclear power agreement.  Putin confirmed that the Turks continued to do preparatory work on Turk Stream even during the crisis in relations following the SU24 shoot-down in November.  Secondly it is clear that contrary to some reports the Russians are not prepared to revive South Stream and that their opposition to the EU’s Third Energy Package remains as strong as ever.   On the contrary Putin made it clear that the Russians will not participate in any pipeline project that could be construed as their agreeing to the EU’s Third Energy Package.  Moreover Putin made it quite clear that he sees the US (whom he referred to as “a third party”) as being behind the Third Energy Package and all the problems that exist in relation to Russia’s EU pipeline projects

“We have never politicised economic cooperation. In proposing the South Stream project initially, we assumed that our gas would go directly to EU consumers in southern Europe. However, at first the European Parliament made a decision that prevented the implementation of this project and then the European Commission sent a letter to the Bulgarian Government demanding that preparations for it stop, and ultimately we did not receive the permission of the Bulgarian authorities to enter Bulgarian territory.

Yes, now we see that Bulgaria would like to resume this project, but we incurred some losses due to the refusal of our European partners to carry out this project. So now we will not settle for just intentions and need absolutely rock solid legal guarantees. They have not been forthcoming. Initially we regarded the Turkish Stream not even as an alternative to the South Stream but as an opportunity to expand our gas cooperation both with Turkey and Europe as a whole. One part of the Turkish Stream was designed exclusively for Turkey’s domestic consumers given the growing economy of the Republic of Turkey. This is how we discussed the issue today. This part is beyond any doubt and its implementation may be launched very soon.

The second part related to routing our energy to Europe depends, of course, on a third party. We should work out these issues with European countries and the European Commission in Brussels. Together with our Turkish partners and friends, we are prepared to work toward this, but again we need to have an agreement with all the participants.”

(Bold italics added)

Conclusion

In summary, the Putin – Erdogan summit went much as predicted.  There is now a strong rapprochement underway between the two countries.  This goes well beyond a mere detente, which is a relaxation of tensions.  On the contrary the leaders of the two countries now publicly call each other “friends”.  It is not however a reversal of alliances.  Turkey remains a member of NATO and an ally of the US.

In my opinion this actually suits the Russians much better, at least for the moment.  They surely know that an outright attempt to detach Turkey from NATO is for the moment impossible and might actually cause Turkey to become destabilised, which is absolutely not in their interests.  However at a time of heightened East West tensions they now have the leader of a key NATO state with NATO’s second biggest army calling their leader a “friend”.  Sometimes it is more useful to have a friend in the enemy’s camp than a doubtful and unstable ally in one’s own.  That is the situation which through a combination of skill and good luck the Russians have now manoeuvred themselves into.

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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