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Russia outsmarts Nikki Haley in UN Security Council debate

Majority of UN Security Council members fail to vote against Russian draft Resolution severely criticising conduct of OPCW-UN-JIM

Alexander Mercouris

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The events at the United Nations Security Council surrounding the joint OPCW-UN-JIM investigation  report (“the report”) into the alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapon attack are not being widely reported.

This is unfortunate because they show that international opinion is swinging heavily against the report, which has lost credibility.

Here an account of what happened on the two most recent occasions when the UN Security Council discussed this issue is necessary.

On 24th October 2017 the Russians vetoed at the UN Security Council a resolution to extend the OPCW’s mandate in Syria.  They complained that the resolution presented to the UN Security Council to extend the OPCW’s mandate had been brought forward in haste before its report had been provided to the UN Security Council.   They pointed out that this was obviously inappropriate and appeared intended to led authority to the report before it was published. They said that there was actually no need to bring forward a resolution to extend the OPCW’s mandate in that way, and that the more correct time to bring such a resolution forward was after the report had been submitted to the UN Security Council for its consideration.

The Russians during the 24th October 2017 UN Security Council session also severely criticised the methodology used to prepare the report by the OPCW-UN-JIM team, pointing out that it was being prepared without inspections of the two sites in Syria relevant to an understanding of the incident: Khan Sheikhoun itself, where the attack allegedly took place, and Al-Sharyat air base, from where the attack was allegedly launched.

At this point it is necessary to say that the current structure of the UN Security Council means that the US can normally rely on a built-in majority in any vote in the UN Security Council.  In the overwhelming of cases where resolutions are presented to the UN Security Council the US can rely on the well-nigh automatic support of 9 to 10 of its members, which is enough to pass a resolution where there is no veto.

Though this proved to be the case with the resolution presented to the UN Security Council on 24th October 2017, the account of the discussion around the resolution provided by the United Nations press centre shows that the Russian concerns – both about the seeming haste in bringing the resolution forward, and concerning the flawed methodology being used to prepare the OPCW-UN-JIM report – were widely shared even by some states which voted for the US backed resolution.

The two strongest statements expressing such doubts were made by the ambassadors of Ethiopia and Egypt, both of who are normally reliable US allies.

Here is how the UN press centre reports the comments of the Ethiopian ambassador

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed regret that the Council had not been able to adopt the draft resolution since the Mechanism had been created on the basis of consensus.  Ethiopia had voted in favour of the text because there remained credible allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, he said, adding that renewing the mandate should ensure continuity of the Mechanism’s work.  Despite today’s outcome, Ethiopia was hopeful that the Council’ unity would be restored and compromise found, because failure to renew the mandate would be send the wrong message to the perpetrators.  However, today’s outcome should not be interpreted as an a priori endorsement of the Mechanism’s report, he cautioned, emphasizing that its final version was expected to establish clear responsibility for the two incidents mentioned.  Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons should be punished on the basis of robust and conclusive evidence, he said, underlining, however, that it was impossible to overlook the concerns of the Russian Federation and Bolivia, which was the reason why politicization must be avoided.

(bold italics added)

And here is how the UN press centre reports the comments of the Egyptian ambassador

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said he had voted in favour of the draft because of his country’s interest in ensuring that those involved in using chemical weapons in Syria were identified.  The use and growing proliferation of chemical weapons in that country posed a threat to security in the region and around the world, he said, noting the non-existence of an international system to deter non-State groups from acquiring such weapons.  The Mechanism’s methodologies must be improved and sites in Syria visited, he said, adding that conducting such visits and collecting available evidence in a timely manner would help in creating a strong foundation for any findings to be issued.  The Council could still renew the Mechanism’s mandate and improve its methodology, he said, emphasizing that its work must be carried out in an impartial and independent manner, and must not be politicized.

(bold italics added)

In the voting over the resolution two states voted against it – Russia and Bolivia – and two abstained – China and Kazakhstan.

It is however clear from their comments (see above) that if they had felt wholly free to vote as they wished, Ethiopia and Egypt would either have voted against it or would have abstained.

That would have brought the majority in support of the US backed resolution down to just nine, which is the bare majority needed to pass a resolution in the absence of a veto.

Ethiopia and Egypt were not prepared to go so far.  The US is known to take careful note of how states vote in the UN Security Council.  With Ethiopia and Egypt both heavily dependent on the US for aid, they were not prepared to risk their relationship with the US by openly defying it on an issue of such importance.  However, as their comments show, their ambassadors nonetheless made their true feelings clear.

In the weeks that followed the OPCW-UN-JIM report was duly submitted to the UN Security Council.  I do not propose to discuss this report in any detail because its flaws have already been thoroughly discussed and analysed by Rick Sterling.

My own quick observations about the OPCW-UN-JIM report are

(1) no attempt was made to inspect the site of the alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun;

(2) no inference was drawn from the supposed security concerns which allegedly prevented such an inspection of the alleged site of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun from taking place;

(3) no inference was drawn from the apparent tampering of the site after the alleged attack (eg. by the concreting over of the bomb crater alleged to have been caused by the alleged attack); and

(4) no attempt was made to inspect Al-Sharyat air base – the site from which the alleged chemical weapons attack was allegedly launched – despite the fact that the security concerns which supposedly prevented an inspection of the Khan Sheikhoun site did not apply there.

Instead, in the absence of such inspections of the two sites relevant to an understanding of the supposed incident, the report relied wholly

(5) on eye-witness evidence, though this has been repeatedly shown to be unreliable;

(6) on video evidence, which is also generally acknowledged to be unreliable;

(In both cases there are or should be particular concerns about the use of this sort of evidence in this case given that it was provided in both cases by individuals operating in an Al-Qaeda controlled area)

and

(7) on sampling obtained through a chain of custody which is widely acknowledged to be insecure, and which also originated and was collected without proper or independent supervision in an Al-Qaeda controlled area.

The video evidence as it turns out is inconclusive (it does not show the attack) and the eye-witness evidence – obtained from witnesses in an Al-Qaeda controlled area – suffers from time discrepancies that the report is unable to resolve.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, there is even some reason to think that some of the individuals who were supposedly victims of the alleged attack were admitted to hospital before the earliest time that the attack could have taken place.

Such a report has inevitably come in for a great deal of criticism from the Russians, who have rejected it, and have called it unprofessional.

The key point about UN Security Council session on 16th November 2017 (yesterday) is that it shows the extent to which these criticisms are gaining traction.

Two draft resolutions were presented to the UN Security Council on 16th November 2017, one by the US and one by Russia.

With its built-in majority the US was initially successful in preventing the Russian drafted resolution from being put to the vote.  It being obvious that the UN Security Council would not vote for the Russian drafted resolution the Russians withdrew it.

However, stung by criticism of the methodology used to prepare the OPCW-UN-JIM report, the US does appear to have conceded some cosmetic changes to the text of its resolution.  However these proved unacceptable to the Russians.

The Russians accordingly vetoed the resolution, voting against it together with Bolivia, with China and on this occasion Egypt abstaining.

Up to this point events had followed what has become the established pattern of debates within the UN Security Council.

The US – relying on its built-on majority – proposes a resolution on Syria or Ukraine or some other issue, which it knows Russian cannot accept and will vote against.  That gives the US and other Western ambassadors an opportunity to grandstand at Russian expense.  The ambassadors of the non-aligned states look on with ill-concealed disapproval, making clear in coded language their unhappiness that the UN Security Council is being used in this way.  However they then vote for the US proposed resolution through gritted teeth, ensuring that their concerns go unreported in the Western media. The Chinese ambassador makes clear his support for Russia but when the final vote comes usually abstains.  The Russians give as good as they get, and veto the resolution as the US always expected.  The Western media then writes up the story of how Russia was “isolated” in the UN Security Council, and round on Russia for being obstructive.  Occasionally there is even a portentous article saying Russia should be stripped of its veto.

That was not what happened yesterday, and it was what happened after the Russians vetoed the US backed resolution which led to events no longer following the usual pre-arranged script.

Though the Russians had previously withdrawn their resolution in the knowledge that the UN Security Council would never vote for it, it was re-presented – undoubtedly by prearrangement with the Chinese and the the Russians – to the UN Security Council by the Bolivian ambassador once voting on the US draft resolution was out of the way.

On this occasion the three Eurasian states – Russia, China and Kazakhstan – all voted for the Russian drafted resolution along with Bolivia.

However only six or possibly seven states backed the US by voting against it – the US, Britain, France, Ukraine, Italy and Sweden, and possibly Uruguay.

Significantly it seems that all four of what are sometimes called the non-aligned states – Ethiopia, Egypt, Senegal and Uruguay – abstained, along with Japan – a US ally, which also abstained – even though all of these countries are in reality allies of the US.

(NB: there is an error in the UN press centre’s summary of the vote on the Russian backed resolution.  It says that Japan both voted against and abstained in the vote on the resolution, which is of course impossible.  In fact it seems clear that Japan abstained, an event so surprising that it knocked the UN press centre’s note takers off-balance, causing them to report Japan’s vote wrongly in one place in their summary as a vote against.  The UN press centre’s summary also fails to report Uruguay’s vote, though it is likely that it too abstained).

The summary of the debate provided by the United Nations press centre vividly captures the quality of the whole debate

The United States draft on extending the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism was rejected due to the negative vote of a permanent member following a vote of 11 in favour to 2 against (Bolivia, Russian Federation), with 2 abstaining (China, Egypt).  Had it been adopted, it would have extended the Mechanism’s mandate — established by resolution 2235 (2015) and set to expire tomorrow, 17 November — for a further one year.

The Bolivian draft on extending the Mechanism, also for one year, was rejected after first being tabled by the Russian Federation and withdrawn.  The text was rejected by a vote of 4 in favour (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation) to 7 against (France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States) with 4 abstaining (Egypt, Ethiopia, Japan, Ukraine).  It would have welcomed what it called the “full and profound cooperation” extended by the Syrian Government to the Mechanism and the other group investigating chemical attacks, the fact‑finding mission.

Regretting the lack of visits to the sites of chemical incidents, and lack of full chain of custody of evidence and other methodological factors that might cast doubt on the Mechanism’s conclusions, the Russian draft tabled by Bolivia would have requested that investigative teams be dispatched to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat airbase, subjects of the most recent report of the Mechanism.  It would have requested the Mechanism to collect and analyse information on use by non‑State actors of chemical weapons, and to submit to the Council analytical reports every three months.  It would have also called for greater focus on the use of non‑State weapons by non‑State actors.

In addition to the provisions contained in the draft that failed on 24 October (see Press Release SC/13040), the United States draft would have underscored the ongoing importance of the Mechanism conducting its investigations according to high methodological standards and basing its findings on the evidentiary levels outlined in its first report.  It would have encouraged the Mechanism to consult United Nations bodies on counter‑terrorism and non‑proliferation to exchange information on attacks by non‑State actors.  It also would have encouraged the Mechanism to inform the Council of any inability to gain access to sites relevant to investigations.

The Russian draft was withdrawn before either text was voted on, after a Russian Federation proposal that its draft be voted on after the United States draft was rejected in a procedural vote.  It was tabled by Bolivia after the rejection of the United States draft and statements after that vote.  Before and after the voting, all Council members condemned the use of chemical weapons and called for accountability for perpetrators through professional, impartial investigation.

In multiple statements, the supporters of the draft, however, said that today’s procedure pushed that goal back by not guaranteeing the continuity of the Mechanism.  The representative of the United States said that the Russian Federation had struck a deep blow to the effort, killing the Mechanism and eliminating its ability to identify attackers and deter future attacks.  She accused the Russian delegation of playing games with its procedural moves and not consulting with other delegations to come up with a compromise.  The representative of the United Kingdom stated that the goal of the Russian Federation was to scuttle the Mechanism because it simply could not accept any investigation that attributed guilt to its Syrian ally.

Italy’s representative, voting for the United States draft and against the Russian and Bolivian text, recounted the extensive negotiations that had gone into the United States draft to ensure that all concerns were addressed.  He said that the outcome weakened the security architecture and was difficult to merely accept.  He pledged continued work to ensure the investigations continued, however.

Japan’s representative, having voted for the United States draft and abstaining from voting on the Russian text, stressed that despite the procedures, the Council was still responsible to act to prevent further use of chemical weapons and to provide accountability for attacks in Syria.  He urged Council members to work to find consensus on renewing the Mechanism.

The representative of the Russian Federation, in multiple statements, said that the flaws in the operations of the Mechanism were not concretely addressed in the United States draft, but were addressed in his text.  He expressed disappointment that the initiative for extending and qualitatively improving the Mechanism had failed to secure the requisite support.  Calling the way the votes had occurred an effort to disparage his country, he said various tricks would now be used to pin the cessation of the Mechanism’s activity on his country.  Noting that his delegation had been accused of not taking part in consultations, he said that they had met three times with the United States colleagues.

Similarly, the representatives of China and Bolivia expressed their strong desire for the continuance of the Mechanism, but an equally strong wish that concerns over methodology be addressed.  Both therefore voted for the Russian text, with Bolivia voting against the other draft and China abstaining.

Speaking before the first vote were Bolivia, Russian Federation and the United States.  Speaking after that vote were the United States, France, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Senegal, China, Japan, Egypt, Russian Federation, Italy and Syria.

Speaking before the vote on the second draft were Bolivia, Russian Federation and the United States.  Speaking after that vote were Egypt, Ukraine, Japan, China, Russian Federation and Bolivia.  The Russian Federation spoke a final time after those speakers.

The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and closed at 5:49 p.m.  During that period the meeting was suspended for 15 minutes after the first vote and the comments following it.

Note that nine members of the UN Security Council (or eight if Uruguay voted with the US) – in other words a majority – either voted for or declined to vote against a Russian drafted resolution which

…..[welcomed] ……the “full and profound cooperation” extended by the Syrian Government to the Mechanism……[regretted] the lack of visits to the sites of chemical incidents, and lack of full chain of custody of evidence and other methodological factors that might cast doubt on the Mechanism’s conclusions….requested that investigative teams be dispatched to Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat airbase….[and] requested the Mechanism to collect and analyse information on use by non‑State actors of chemical weapons, and to submit to the Council analytical reports every three months…..[and] called for greater focus on the use of non‑State weapons by non‑State actors.

Following this vote it is impossible to say that there is a majority supporting the OPCW-UN-JIM report in the UN Security Council or that Russia is in a minority in criticising it.  Not surprisingly, after this debacle yesterday’s debate in the UN Security Council has gone almost entirely unreported in the Western media.

Not surprisingly US ambassador Nikki Haley was furious, as her outraged comments show

Ms. HALEY (United States) said that Bolivia had tried to pull one over on the Council by calling for the vote in the way it had.  She added that flaws were only found in the Mechanism when evidence pointed to Syria.  No flaws were found when evidence pointed to ISIL/Da’esh.  Neither the Russian Federation nor Bolivia consulted with others on their procedures; they were playing games.  She regretted that the whole procedure was embarrassing for the Council.  The Russian Federation wanted a Mechanism that they could micromanage.  Today’s developments had proven that the Russian Federation could not be trusted as a broker in Syria.  The rejected resolution had all the changes that had been requested and the United States and all other members had been disrespected.  The next chemical attack would be on the head of the Russian Federation.

There are two important facts to take away from this affair.

Firstly, despite some heroic attempts to argue otherwise, the methodology of the OPCW-UN-JIM report is quite simply too obviously flawed for it to gain widespread international acceptance.

In reality – as I have said previously – a truly impartial investigation to find out what actually happened in Khan Sheikhoun in April this year became impossible the moment President Trump launched his missiles against Al-Sharyat air base a few days after the supposed attack took place.

From that point the whole international prestige of the United States and of its NATO allies who had supported the US attack became bound up with a finding that the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

Any other finding would have been politically impossible and acceptable, and given the hold the US and NATO powers have over the international bodies charged with carrying out international investigations (whose budgets they largely fund) it is completely unsurprising that the OPCW-UN-JIM investigation was structured to ensure that only the “correct” finding was made.

What happened in this case was that the flaws built into the investigation in order to ensure that it would come up with the “correct” finding were in the end simply too glaring, and could not be ignored even by countries which are normally supportive of the US.

Secondly, there were some concerns in Russia a few months ago when the country’s brilliant ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin died unexpectedly that he would prove to be irreplaceable.

The skill with which Vasily Nebenzia, Russia’s new ambassador to the UN, outwitted Nikki Haley yesterday, and the forceful way in which he made Russia’s case both during yesterday’s debate and during the previous debate on 24th October 2017, shows that these fears are groundless.

Nebenzia is clearly a fully worthy successor to Churkin, even if he perhaps lacks something of Churkin’s urbanity and charm.  The other ambassadors will have taken note of the fact.

As to what actually took place in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, I doubt that we will ever know the full truth.

I continue to think that the most plausible scenario is the one proposed by Seymour Hersh on the basis of what he says he was told by a senior US intelligence official: that a Syrian bombing raid targeting some Al-Qaeda commanders inadvertently released a toxic cloud as a result of the release of materials held in the building in which the Al-Qaeda commanders were meeting.  Since the chain of custody of the forensic samples used to prove that it was instead a sarin attack is insecure, I don’t think it is possible to place any reliance on them.

The suggestion that Seymour Hersh’s story is untrue because he cannot identify the building in question is a red herring.  Seymour Hersh’s story is not based on personal observation of Khan Sheikhoun but on information he says he was provided by his sources within the US intelligence community.  Seymour Hersh provided Die Welt (which published his story) with the details of these sources, enabling Die Welt to contact them directly and to authenticate that what Seymour Hersh was saying about them was true.

As I have said previously, it is well within the ability of Al-Qaeda to manipulate or fabricate evidence and to manipulate the way it is presented, and it continues to astonish me that so many people remain in denial about this.

I note for example that the person who attempted to uphold the findings of the OPCW-UN-JIM report which I mentioned previously appears to be unaware that it was Al-Qaeda which was in physical control of Al-Sheikhoun on the day when the chemical weapons attack is supposed to have taken place, and that it continues to be in control there to this day.

Others will of course dispute these opinions, as is their right.

The point however is that politically speaking it no longer matters.  Following the debate in the UN Security Council yesterday the effect of what happened in Khan Sheikhoun in April both on the course of the Syrian war and on the future development of international relations has ended.  The chapter on this incident is closed.

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Dear editors,

thanks for providing the detailed account of the UN security council meeting. Thank you also for the numerous reports I read throughout the year on this site. I would like to donate but refuse to register on a different crowd-funding site for every individual project asking for funds. Please e-mail me your international bank account (IBAN + BIC) such that I can donate using the good old wire transaction system in place.

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Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence.

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Authored by Tom Luongo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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Moment of Truth on Second Referendum: The Plan All Along or a Head Fake?

If we assume a third meaningful vote goes ahead next week that included the provision for a second referendum, and that it passes with a majority, the motivation for extending Article 50 would then be clear.

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Authored by Steven Guinness:


The news that Theresa May has officially requested an extension to Article 50 until the end of June has been in the making since the European Court of Justice announced in December 2018 that the UK has the right to unilaterally revoke the article at any point prior to the UK leaving the EU.

In an article published at the time, I argued that the ECJ’s decision was designed to begin the process of the government legislating for a second referendum. To quickly summarise what has happened since, in the past three months the Brexit withdrawal agreement was rejected twice by the House of Commons, Theresa May survived a series of no confidence votes, parliament stated its opposition to both a no deal scenario and holding a second referendum before supporting an extension to Article 50, and finally speaker John Bercow announced that the government would only be allowed to put the Brexit withdrawal agreement to parliament again if it contained a ‘new‘ proposition.

Regular readers will know that since last year my position on Brexit has been consistent, in that I believe a no deal exit from the EU is the most likely outcome and that a ‘People’s Vote‘ could be used to facilitate this eventuality.

One explanation for why the Prime Minister has requested only a three month extension to Article 50 is that it would avoid the UK having to take part in upcoming EU parliamentary elections. Whilst this is possible, I do not think it is the primary reason.

Last week, Independent MP Sarah Wollaston tabled an amendment that called for Article 50 to be extended and for a second referendum on Brexit to be held. The amendment was comprehensively defeated, with the majority of the opposition Labour party abstaining from the vote. Elements of the party and The People’s Vote campaign went on record as saying that the timing of the amendment was too soon, and so as a result they did not rally behind it.

As with other supposed set backs to another vote, critics rounded on the news believing that the result killed off any prospect of another referendum from materialising. As I have stressed before, this interpretation is I believe premature.

On the same day as Wollaston’s defeated amendment, parliament voted by a majority to take no deal ‘off the table‘. But this was only in relation to the exit date of March 29th. It did not account for an extension of Article 50 and with that a new exit date.

It also needs to be stressed that the motions against a no deal and a second public vote were non-binding on the government. What neither did is definitively rule out the possibilities.

A month ago I wrote how on March 23rd a ‘Put it to the people‘ march is taking place in London that will call for a referendum on the government’s Brexit withdrawal agreement. With just a couple of days to go, the line from the European Union is that a request to extended Article 50 would only be granted by its 27 member states for a specific purpose. To extend in order to just give more time for negotiations on an non-negotiable deal would not be acceptable.

Tied in with this was House of Commons speaker John Bercow’s announcement that he would dismiss a motion for a third meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement unless it was markedly different from what has already been rejected.

Asked by MP Geraint Davies if a meaningful vote would be ‘intrinsically different‘ if it included the provision for the final say going to a public vote, Bercow responded by saying that he would look at the specifics but would ultimately abide by the principle that the proposition should be ‘different‘ and ‘not the same or substantially the same‘.

In other words, Bercow has left open the possibility. It is highly unlikely that either he or the European Union would reject a proposal that would legislate for an act of ‘democracy‘.

With the last ‘People’s Vote‘ march this Saturday, it appears to now be designed to move sentiment in favour of a second referendum prior to the original exit day of March 29th. Potential evidence for this comes from EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker, who has strongly intimated that a decision on whether to grant an extension to Article 50 will not be taken until next week,which means after the referendum march. Assuming an extension is approved, the EU may then go on to state that it is a one time deal to accommodate a public vote and that it cannot be extended for a second time.

As for Theresa May’s proposal of extending Article 50 until June 30th, EU Council President Donald Tusk has said a short extension is possible but would be ‘conditional on a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons‘.

Many parliamentarians who twice rejected the withdrawal agreement have indicated that they would support it a third time round if it included the proposition for the public to have the final say. This seems to be the direction of travel and the only way in which the deal would be accepted by the speaker as a new proposition.

Of more interest to me, though, is the motivation behind an extension to Article 50 that would only last until June 30th.

It was a few of weeks prior to Donald Trump securing the U.S. presidency that I first mentioned how when the 2016 EU referendum took place, it occurred at the same time central bank chiefs were gathering in Basel for the Bank for International Settlements annual conference. This is a conference that always takes place in the latter part of June.

At the start of January I raised the suggestion that a June referendum could become a reality. My suspicion is that if a second vote goes ahead, it would take the form of a streamlined campaign, one that would offer the public the options of supporting Theresa May’s deal (assuming it still stands), remaining in the EU or leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. This would mean a second referendum taking place in around twelve weeks time.

Should this be the case, then the vote would likely coincide with the movements of the BIS once more. And if my prediction of a no deal exit from the EU is proven correct, the economic fallout from this scenario would require close coordination between central banks, given that currency and equity markets would be heavily impacted.

What Brexit and Trump’s victory showed is that in the background key globalist institutions were convening. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that moves to extend Article 50 are coinciding with the EU Council Summit on March 21st and 22nd – the same two days where a meeting in Cambridge is scheduled between the BIS, the Bank of England, Cambridge University and the University of Basel. The topic? ‘New Economics of Exchange Rate Adjustment‘. The Bank of England and the Federal Reserve also meet this week to decide on interest rates.

If we assume a third meaningful vote goes ahead next week that included the provision for a second referendum, and that it passes with a majority, the motivation for extending Article 50 would then be clear.

Something else to consider is that under this scenario, those in parliament who want to remain in the EU would have to vote in support of leaving the union just so they can secure a referendum for which they would campaign to remain in the bloc. The sense of betrayal already felt by swathes of the electorate would only be heightened if they witnessed MP’s using the deal as nothing more than an opportunity to cancel Brexit altogether.

The next round of theatrics would be over the question on the ballot paper. Recall that in previous weeks the likes of Lord Kerr (author of Article 50 and a member of the Executive Committee of the Trilateral Commission), Chuka Umunna, founder of Best for Britain Gina Miller and ex Prime Minister Tony Blair have all raised the prospect of the ballot containing three options – one of which would be for a ‘hard‘ Brexit.

The popular consensus is that another referendum would offer just two options, to either leave with the negotiated deal or remain in the EU. This would eliminate from the campaign the possibility of a no deal Brexit, something which I have reasoned is beneficial to globalists as they would use it to scapegoat the vehicles of resurgent nationalism / protectionism as being responsible for a major impending economic downturn, but also as an opportunity to further centralise power.

For this reason, I expect a no deal option would be presented to the British public. As in 2016, opinion polls all point to the electorate wanting to remain in the EU. They were wrong then and I believe would be wrong again.

A new leave or ‘hard‘ Brexit campaign would play upon the desires of many to ‘take back control‘ of the United Kingdom from the ‘elites‘ and to talk up the prospects of the country, whereas a remain campaign runs the risk of being condescending to the public by pushing the narrative that they were conned the first time round, or worse were ignorant in their societal outlook.

In the middle would sit Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. If indeed it was carried forward to a referendum, it is feasible that it would become a theatrical tug of war between hard ‘Brexiteers‘ and remainers to convert those minded to support the deal over to their side.

Growing public sentiment is that the establishment have been doing everything it can to overturn the first referendum result. Faith in politicians has never been lower than it is today. In such a febrile atmosphere, if you give voters the option of voicing their discontent through the ballot box, the chances are that they will deliver in kind.

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Trump Demands Tribute from NATO Vassals

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO are a captive audience.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Tim Kirby via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Regardless of whether one loves or hates President Trump at least we can say that his presidency has a unique flavor and is full of surprises. Bush and Obama were horribly dull by comparison. Trump as a non-politician from the world of big (real estate) business and media has a different take on many issues including NATO.

Many, especially in Russia were hoping that “The Donald’s” campaign criticism of NATO would move towards finally putting an end to this anti-Russian alliance, which, after the fall of Communism really has no purpose, as any real traditional military threats to Europe have faded into history. However, Trump as President of the United States has to engage in the “realpolitik” of 21st century America and try to survive and since Trump seems rather willing to lie to get what he wants, who can really say which promises from his campaign were a shoot and which were a work.

So as it stands now Trump’s recent decision to maintain and build US/NATO bases across the world “and make country X pay for it” could mean anything from him trying to keep his campaign promises in some sort of skewed way, to an utter abandonment of them and submission to the swamp. Perhaps it could simply be his business instincts taking over in the face of “wasteful spending”. Making allies have to pay to have US/NATO forces on their territory is a massive policy shift that one could only predict coming from the unpredictable 45th President.

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO (and other “allies”) are a captive audience, especially Germany, Japan and South Korea, which “coincidentally” are the first set of countries that will have to pay the “cost + 50%” to keep bases and US soldiers on their soil. Japan’s constitution, written primarily by American occupation forces forbids them from having a real military which is convenient for Trump’s plan. South Korea, although a very advanced and wealthy nation has no choice but to hide behind the US might because if it were to disappear overnight, then Gangnam would be filled with pictures of the Kim family within a few weeks.

In the past with regard to these three countries NATO has had to keep up the illusion of wanting to “help” them and work as “partners” for common defense as if nuclear and economic titan America needs countries like them to protect itself. Trump whether consciously or not is changing the dynamic of US/NATO occupation of these territories to be much more honest. His attitude seems to be that the US has the possibility to earn a lot of money from a worldwide mafia-style protection scam. Vassals have no choice but to pay the lord so Trump wants to drop the illusions and make the military industrial complex profitable again and God bless him for it. This level of honesty in politics is refreshing and it reflects the Orange Man’s pro-business and “America will never be a socialist country” attitude. It is blunt and ideologically consistent with his worldview.

On the other hand, one could look at this development as a possible move not to turn NATO into a profitable protection scam but as a means to covertly destroy it. Lies and illusion in politics are very important, people who believe they are free will not rebel even if they have no freedom whatsoever. If people are sure their local leaders are responsible for their nation they will blame them for its failings rather than any foreign influence that may actually be pulling the real strings.

Even if everyone in Germany, Japan and South Korea in their subconscious knows they are basically occupied by US forces it is much harder to take action, than if the “lord” directly demands yearly tribute. The fact that up to this point US maintains its bases on its own dime sure adds to the illusion of help and friendship. This illusion is strong enough for local politicians to just let the status quo slide on further and further into the future. Nothing is burning at their feet to make them act… having to pay cost + 50% could light that fire.

Forcing the locals to pay for these bases changes the dynamic in the subconscious and may force people’s brains to contemplate why after multiple-generations the former Axis nations still have to be occupied. Once occupation becomes expensive and uncomfortable, this drops the illusion of friendship and cooperation making said occupation much harder to maintain.

South Korea knows it needs the US to keep out the North but when being forced to pay for it this may push them towards developing the ability to actually defend themselves. Trump’s intellectual “honesty” in regards to NATO could very well plant the necessary intellectual seeds to not just change public opinion but make public action against US/NATO bases in foreign countries. Japan has had many protests over the years against US bases surging into the tens of thousands. This new open vassal status for the proud Japanese could be the straw to break the camel’s back.

Predicting the future is impossible. But it is clear that, changing the fundamental dynamic by which the US maintains foreign bases in a way that will make locals financially motivated to have them removed, shall significantly affect the operations of US forces outside the borders of the 50 States and make maintaining a global presence even more difficult, but perhaps this is exactly what the Orange Man wants or is just too blind to see.

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