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Saudi Arabia and Russia close to freezing oil production

Joint Russian – Saudi statement on oil production and prices suggests despite vague language movement towards a temporary oil production freeze, though impact on oil prices likely to be small.

Alexander Mercouris

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Talks between the Russians and the Saudis at the G20 summit in Hangzhou once again raised hopes throughout the oil industry of a Russian – Saudi agreement for an oil production freeze.

Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US are the three big oil producers, producing roughly similar quantities of oil in any given year.  Of these three countries Saudi Arabia, since it is not a significant oil consumer, has the single biggest role in the oil market, a position further consolidated by its de facto leadership of OPEC – the international oil producers’ cartel – and the oil producing Gulf States.

In 2014 as oil prices began to slide, to the surprise and disappointment of many in the oil industry, Saudi Arabia refused to cut its output to create an artificial shortage in the oil market to support prices.  On the contrary the trend throughout 2015 was for Saudi oil production to rise.  The Saudis instead insisted that the market would eventually rebalance itself as more expensive output was shelved because of low prices.

Contrary to the expectations – and hopes – of many in the oil industry, the Saudis have stuck to this position ever since.

One particular phantom that has flickered with tedious regularity throughout this affair is the hope that if the Saudis will not cut production themselves, they will at least come to some sort of arrangement with the other big oil exporter – Russia (the US despite the size of its production being a net importer of oil) – to rebalance the market. 

The original grounds for this hope were comments by the Saudis at the time of the OPEC summit in November 2014 that they would not cut production because they could not rely on the other big producers – first and foremost Russia – also doing so.

The Russians for their part have consistently said they will not cut production to rebalance the market, and that that is something for Saudi Arabia to do.  They have also said that it would be technically impossible for them to cut production during the winter months since the cold weather in Russia would cause their Siberian wells to freeze.  This explanation is widely ridiculed, though it is in fact perfectly plausible given the harsh conditions of the Siberian winter.

Whilst the Russians have consistently ruled out an oil production cut, they have been open to the idea of an oil production freeze, and in the first few weeks of this year talks between them and the Saudis to achieve this seemed for a time to be going well. 

The background to those talks was a temporary crash in oil prices, which briefly fell to low of $25 a barrel.  What however seems to have prompted these talks was a tour of oil producers in the first few weeks of 2016 by the Oil Minister of Venezuela who was furiously lobbying for an output cut on behalf of his severely cash-strapped government. 

Whilst neither the Saudis nor the Russians were in the mood to talk about a production cut, the Venezuelan Oil Minister’s lobbying does seem to have prompted them to talk to each other about the possibility of a freeze.

In the event talks between the Russians and the Saudis and other oil producers appeared in April 2016 to have come to the brink of reaching agreement on an oil production freeze, with the text of an agreement prepared and ready for signature at an oil producers’ summit in Doha. 

Then to everyone surprise, at the very last moment, the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, suddenly reversed Saudi Arabia’s position, and abruptly ordered the Saudi delegation – which was about to sign the agreement – home

The Deputy Crown Prince’s reason was that Iran, whose oil industry had just been freed from the effect of UN sanctions which had previously limited its production and ability to sell oil, was in the process of bringing more oil onto the market, allowing Iran to benefit from a Russian – Saudi production freeze by capturing part of Saudi Arabia’s market share. 

Underlying this of course is the ongoing geopolitical duel between Iran and the Saudis in the Middle East, which makes any agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran on any subject, including oil prices and production, extremely difficult.

The meeting between Russian President Putin and the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince during the G20 summit in Hangzhou seems to have raised hopes amongst oil industry insiders that this time – with the Deputy Crown Prince directly involved in the talks – an agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia for an oil production freeze to rebalance the oil market would finally be reached. 

In the days that followed the meeting in Hangzhou comments by certain Russian and Saudi oil industry officials did appear to hold out the promise of an agreement for an oil production freeze.  Thus Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak after meeting Saudi officials in Hangzhou was reported to have said

“We have agreed with the Saudi Arabia energy minister on joint action aimed at stabilizing the situation in the oil market. We consider a production freeze the most efficient tool, concrete parameters are being discussed at the moment.”

Novak is also reported to have said that Saudi Arabia was considering freezing production for one to three months at the levels of July, August or September.

Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih for his part is reported to have said

“I have to say all other producers are expressing interest in coordinating… with Saudi Arabia and other like-minded countries to reach a consensus.  We are optimistic the Algiers meeting will provide a forum, and pre-Algiers consultations taking place bilaterally and in groups will bring us to Algiers with some sort of coordinated decisions. But the two countries agree that even if there is no consensus, we will be willing to take joint action when necessary.”

The reference to the meeting in Algiers is to a meeting of the International Energy Forum, which is due to take place later in September in that city.

In the event the joint Russian – Saudi statement on oil production and prices which appeared after the talks proved to be something of a damp squib.  It contained no reference to an oil production freeze.  The closest it came to discussing that possibility was in the following paragraph

“The Ministers recognizer the current challenges in the supply side of the global oil market, including major contraction of capital investments in oil extraction on a global scale, particularly in exploration, as well as mass deferrals of investment projects, which made the market, as a whole, more volatile and therefore unsustainable to both producers and consumers in the long term. There is an imperative to mitigate excessive volatility harmful to global economic stability and growth. In this regard, the Ministers noted that constructive dialogue and close cooperation among major oil producing countries is crucial to oil market stability to ensure sustainable levels of investment for the long term. Therefore, the Ministers agreed to act jointly or with other producers. In addition, the Ministers agreed to continue consultations on market conditions by establishing a joint monitoring task force to continuously review the oil market fundamentals and recommend measures and joint actions aimed at securing oil market stability and predictability.”

This is not an agreement for an oil production freeze.  It is simply a statement of platitudes amounting to nothing more than a wish-list.  Not a single concrete proposal appears anywhere in it, with some oil industry analysts not surprisingly calling it “all talk and no action”.

The likelihood nonetheless remains that some sort of oil production freeze – lasting however no more than a few weeks – will be agreed in Algiers, especially as comments from the Iranian Oil Minister suggest that Iran might now also be willing to join in.

No one should however expect a brief production freeze lasting no more than 3 months at most to have any significant impact on oil prices. 

As I have said many times, the two factors that determine the level of oil prices are (1) monetary policy in the US, which has a direct impact on the oil price because oil is traded in US dollars; and (2) supply and demand. 

An oil production freeze of a few weeks might have some marginal impact on supply.  It cannot influence the effect on oil price movements caused by US monetary policy.  This is key since it was the tightening of US monetary policy in the summer of 2014 with the ending of QE, leading eventually to the rise in interest rates in December 2015, which was the single biggest factor causing oil prices to fall.

Why then, if the effect of an oil production freeze on oil prices can only be minimal, are the Russians and the Saudis even talking about one? 

The answer has been provided by Omar Al-Ubaydli, who is a programme director at the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies as well as an affiliated senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

“In the case of Saudi Arabia and Russia, both countries are seeking closer relations, and they want to project a good relationship to the rest of the world.  They both know that there’s no chance of effective cooperation in oil markets due to market forces, but there’s no harm in having an extra meeting, and issuing mutually supportive statements.”

In other words, at a time when Russia and Saudi Arabia are intent on improving their relations with each other, it is in their joint interests to appear to be cooperating on oil production and prices, even if in reality that cooperation does not amount to very much.

By at least going through the motions of talking to and agreeing with each other, they send out a strong signal – first and foremost to the US and Iran – that despite their differences over the conflict in Syria they remain friends.

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US continues to try to corner Russia with silence on Nukes

Moscow continues to be patient in what appears to be an ever more lopsided, intentional stonewalling situation provoked by the Americans.

Seraphim Hanisch

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TASS reported on March 17th that despite Russian readiness to discuss the present problem of strategic weapons deployments and disarmament with its counterparts in the United States, the Americans have not offered Russia any proposals to conduct such talks.

The Kremlin has not yet received any particular proposals on the talks over issues of strategic stability and disarmament from Washington, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Sunday when commenting on the statement made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who did not rule out that such talks could be held with Russia and China.

“No intelligible proposals has been received [from the US] so far,” Peskov said.

Earlier Bolton said in an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis aired on Sunday that he considers it reasonable to include China in the negotiation on those issues with Russia as well.

“China is building up its nuclear capacity now. It’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at strengthening our national missile defense system here in the United States. And it’s one reason why, if we’re going to have another arms control negotiation, for example, with the Russians, it may make sense to include China in that discussion as well,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s sense about this particular aspect of any arms discussions is correct, as China was not formerly a player in geopolitical affairs the way it is now. The now all-but-scrapped Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was a treaty concluded by the US and the USSR leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, back in 1987. However, for in succeeding decades, most notably since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been gradually building up weaponry in what appears to be an attempt to create a ring around the Russian Federation, a situation which is understandably increasingly untenable to the Russian government.

Both sides have accused one another of violating this treaty, and the mutual violations and recriminations on top of a host of other (largely fabricated) allegations against the Russian government’s activities led US President Donald Trump to announce his nation’s withdrawal from the treaty, formally suspending it on 1 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by suspending it the very next day.

The INF eliminated all of both nations’ land based ballistic and cruise missiles that had a range between 500 and 1000 kilometers (310-620 miles) and also those that had ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (620-3420 miles) and their launchers.

This meant that basically all the missiles on both sides were withdrawn from Europe’s eastern regions – in fact, much, if not most, of Europe was missile-free as the result of this treaty. That is no longer the case today, and both nations’ accusations have provoked re-development of much more advanced systems than ever before, especially true considering the Russian progress into hypersonic and nuclear powered weapons that offer unlimited range.

This situation generates great concern in Europe, such that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on both Moscow and Washington to salvage the INF and extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or the New START as it is known.

“I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved,” Guterres said at a session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Monday.

He stressed that the demise of that accord would make the world more insecure and unstable, which “will be keenly felt in Europe.” “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said.

Guterres also urged the US and Russia to extend the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, and explore the possibility of further reducing their nuclear arsenals. “I also call on the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New START Treaty before it expires in 2021,” he said.

The UN chief recalled that the treaty “is the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” and that its inspection provisions “represent important confidence-building measures that benefit the entire world.”

Guterres recalled that the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the US “has been one of the hallmarks of international security for fifty years.”

“Thanks to their efforts, global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now less than one-sixth of what they were in 1985,” the UN secretary-general pointed out.

The Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) entered into force on February 5, 2011. The document stipulates that seven years after its entry into effect each party should have no more than a total of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, as well as no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and strategic bombers, and a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and strategic bombers. The new START Treaty obliges the parties to exchange information on the number of warheads and carriers twice a year.

The new START Treaty will remain in force during 10 years until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. It may be extended for a period of no more than five years (that is, until 2026) upon the parties’ mutual consent. Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington not to delay the issue of extending the Treaty.

 

 

 

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Trump witch hunt dots connected: CNN to Steele to John McCain (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss documents released which show that Christopher Steele admitted to using posts by ‘random individuals’ on the CNN community website ‘iReport’ in order to back up his fabricated Trump dossier.

President Trump took note of Steele’s use of CNN citizen journalist posts, in a twitter tirade that blasted the British ex-spy for running with unverified community generated content from a now now-defunct ‘iReports’ website as part of his research.

Trump the proceeded to rip into late neocon Arizona Senator John McCain, tweeting that it was “just proven in court papers” that “last in his class” McCain sent the Steele’s dossier to media outlets in the hopes that they would print it prior to the 2016 US election.

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Via The Daily Caller

A federal court unsealed 43 pages Thursday of a deposition that former British spy Christopher Steele gave as part of a lawsuit over his infamous anti-Trump dossier.

To the disappointment of many observers, the full deposition was not unsealed in Thursday’s motion. Instead, portions of Steele’s interview, which he gave in London on July 13, 2018, were unsealed in separate court filings submitted in the lawsuit.

Steele’s full deposition totaled 145 pages. The portions published Thursday focus mainly on questions about the dossier’s claims about Aleksej Gubarev, a tech executive who Steele alleges took part in the hacking of Democrats’ computer systems.

Gubarev has vehemently denied the claim and sued Steele and BuzzFeed News, which published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro, who handled the lawsuit, ordered a slew of previously sealed documents to be made public Thursday. Ungaro dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 19 but did not weigh in on whether the dossier’s claims about Gubarev were accurate.

It is unclear whether Steele’s entire deposition will be released. A source familiar with Steele’s interview tempered expectations of any bombshells in the document, saying that Steele avoided going into detail about his efforts to create the dossier and his sources.

A deposition given by former State Department official David Kramer was perhaps the most enlightening document contained in the dump.

Kramer, a longtime associate of late Arizona Sen. John McCain, was BuzzFeed’s source for the dossier. Kramer shared the dossier with at least 11 other reporters, including CNN’s Carl Bernstein. (RELATED: John McCain Associate Gave Dossier To A Dozen Reporters)

Kramer obtained the dossier in late November 2016 after visiting Steele in London. Steele acknowledged that Kramer and McCain were picked as conduits to pass the dossier to then-FBI Director James Comey. McCain met with Comey on Dec. 9, 2016 and provided all of the dossier’s memos that had been written up to that point.

“I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” Kramer said in the deposition when asked why Steele and his business partners at Fusion GPS wanted McCain to meet with Comey.

Via Washington Examiner

Former British spy Christopher Steele admitted that he relied on an unverified report on a CNN website for part of the “Trump dossier,” which was used as a basis for the FBI’s investigation into Trump.

According to deposition transcripts released this week, Steele said last year he used a 2009 report he found on CNN’s iReport website and said he wasn’t aware that submissions to that site are posted by members of the public and are not checked for accuracy.

web archive from July 29, 2009 shows that CNN described the site in this manner: “iReport.com is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked, or screened before they post.”

In the dossier, Steele, a Cambridge-educated former MI6 officer, wrote about extensive allegations against Donald Trump, associates of his campaign, various Russians and other foreign nationals, and a variety of companies — including one called Webzilla. Those allegations would become part of an FBI investigation and would be used to apply for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

During his deposition, Steele was pressed on the methods he used to verify allegations made about Webzilla, which was thought to be used by Russia to hack into Democratic emails.

When asked if he discovered “anything of relevance concerning Webzilla” during the verification process, Steele replied: “We did. It was an article I have got here which was posted on July 28, 2009, on something called CNN iReport.”

“I do not have any particular knowledge of that,” Steele said when asked what was his understanding of how the iReport website worked.

When asked if he understood that content on the site was not generated by CNN reporters, he said, “I do not.” He was then asked: “Do you understand that they have no connection to any CNN reporters?” Steele replied, “I do not.”

He was pressed on this further: “Do you understand that CNN iReports are or were nothing more than any random individuals’ assertions on the Internet?” Steele replied: “No, I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may has some kind of CNN status. Albeit that it may be an independent person posting on the site.”

When asked about his methodology for searching for this information, Steele described it as “what we could call an open source search,” which he defined as “where you go into the Internet and you access material that is available on the Internet that is of relevance or reference to the issue at hand or the person under consideration.”

Steele said his dossier contained “raw intelligence” that he admitted could contain untrue or even “deliberately false information.”

Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to investigate then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Fusion GPS was receiving funding at the time from the Clinton campaign and the DNC through the Perkins Coie law firm.

The series of memos that Steele would eventually compile became known as the “Trump Dossier.” The dossier was used in FISA applications to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

When asked whether he warned Fusion GPS that the information in the dossier might be “Russian disinformation,” Steele admitted that “a general understanding existed between us and Fusion … that all material contained this risk.”

Steele also described his interactions with Sen. John McCain’s aide, David Kramer, whose own deposition showed that he provided BuzzFeed with a copy of the dossier and had spoken with more than a dozen journalists about it.

“I provided copies of the December memo to Fusion GPS for onward passage to David Kramer at the request of Sen. John McCain,” Steele said. “Sen. McCain nominated him as the intermediary. I did not choose him as the intermediary.”

When asked if he told Kramer that he couldn’t “vouch for everything that was produced in the memos,” Steele replied, “Yes, with an emphasis on ‘everything.'”

When asked why he believed it was so important to provide the dossier to Sen. McCain, Steele said: “Because I judged it had national security implications for the United States and the West as a whole.”

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Trudeau’s Top Bureaucrat Unexpectedly Quits Amid Growing Corruption Scandal

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

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Via Zerohedge


Since it was exposed by a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, the scandal that’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair has already led to the firing of several of Trudeau’s close advisors and raised serious questions about whether the prime minister was complicit in pressuring the attorney general to offer a deferred prosecution agreement with a large, Quebec-based engineering firm.

And according to the first round of polls released since the affair exploded into public view…

…it could cost Trudeau his position as prime minister and return control to the conservatives, according to the CBC.

Campaign Research showed the Conservatives ahead with 37% to 32% for the Liberals, while both Ipsos and Léger put the margin at 36% to 34% in the Conservatives’ favour.Since December, when both polling firms were last in the field, the Liberals have lost one point in Campaign Research’s polling and four percentage points in the Ipsos poll, while the party is down five points since November in the Léger poll.

Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around Trudeau, on Monday another of the key Canadian government officials at the center of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has quit his post.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, the highest-ranking position in Canada’s civil service and a key aide to Justin Trudeau, announced his retirement Monday. Trudeau named Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace him.

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” he said, citing the need for impartiality on the issue of potential foreign interference. According to Bloomberg, the exact date of his departure is unclear.

As we reported in February, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit following allegations that several key Trudeau government figures pressured her to intervene to end a criminal prosecution against Montreal-based construction giant SNC. Wernick was among those she named in saying the prime minister’s office wanted her to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Wernick has since twice spoken to a committee of lawmakers investigating the case, and during that testimony both defended his actions on the SNC file and warned about the risk of foreign election interference, as “blame Putin” has become traditional Plan B plan for most politicians seeing their careers go up in flames.

“I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed. I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election,” he said in his first appearance before the House of Commons justice committee, before repeating the warning a second time this month. “If that was seen as alarmist, so be it. I was pulling the alarm. We need a public debate about foreign interference.”

Because somehow foreign interference has something to do with Wenick’s alleged corruption.

Incidentally, as we wonder what the real reason is behind Wernick’s swift departure, we are confident we will know soon enough.

Anyway, back to the now former clerk, who is meant to be non-partisan in service of the government of the day, also criticized comments by a Conservative senator and praised one of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers.

Wernick’s testimony was criticized as overly cozy with the ruling Liberals. Murray Rankin, a New Democratic Party lawmaker, asked the clerk how lawmakers could “do anything but conclude that you have in fact crossed the line into partisan activity?” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he seemed “willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”

Whatever Wernick’s true motives, he is the latest but not last in what will be a long line of cabinet departures as the SNC scandal exposes even more corruption in Trudeau’s cabinet (some have ironically pointed out that Canada’s “beloved” prime minister could be gone for actual corruption long before Trump). Trudeau had already lost a top political aide, Gerald Butts, to the scandal. A second minister, Jane Philpott, followed Wilson-Raybould in quitting cabinet.

Separately, on Monday, Trudeau appointed a former deputy prime minister in a Liberal government, Anne McLellan, as a special adviser to investigate some of the legal questions raised by the controversy. They include how governments should interact with the attorney general and whether that role should continue to be held by the justice minister.

As Bloomberg notes, the increasingly shaky Liberal government hasn’t ruled out helping SNC by ordering a deferred prosecution agreement in the corruption and bribery case, which centers around the company’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Doing so would allow the company to pay a fine and avoid any ban on receiving government contracts. That decision is up to the current attorney general, David Lametti; of course, such an action would only raise tensions amid speculation that the government is pushing for a specific political, and favorable for Trudeau, outcome.

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