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Syria, Turkey and the Kurds: A Devil’s Triangle that only Russia can navigate

As ISIS crumbles in Syria, all eyes should be on America’s inconsistent but growing relations with Syrian Kurds.

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Throughout the conflict in Syria, the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian/Iranian and Hezbollah allies have tended to operate in different regions vis-a-vis the Kurdish led US proxy army known as the SDF.

Over the last year however, this has increasingly changed. As Syrian forces along with their allies continue to liberate Deir ez-Zor city which has been under ISIS occupation for the last three years, reports have surfaced indicating that a faction of the SDF is only a few short kilometres away from Syrian forces as the SDF approaches the city from the north.

With the SDF and the Syrian Arab Army now effectively competing for territory which will be inevitably re-gained from ISIS by either force, the previous unspoken agreement that the SDF would more or less have free reign east of the Euphrates, might no longer apply. In many respects this is now a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if.

As Deir ez-Zor lies just west of the Euphrates and with Syria intent on exercising its right to liberate “ever inch of Syria”, the question now is, what will the major foreign powers do to either prevent or encourage conflict between Kurdish militants and the Syrian Arab Army?

Before exploring the answers to such questions, it is necessary to understand that according to international law, only the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have any right to operate in Syria. The United States remains in Syria in contravention to international law, but because the US shows little respect for international law, it is necessary to explore the various scenarios bearing this unfortunate situation in mind.

The first major test of how the SAA and SDF would interact with one another when coming face to face on the battlefield, took place in June of 2017.

At that time, the United States illegally shot down a Syrian fighter jet which the US alleges fired on SDF positions. Syria however claims that it was firing on ISIS/Daesh positions.

As geo-political expert Andrew Korybko pointed out at the time,

“These narratives aren’t mutually exclusive, and it’s very possible that the SAA rightly conflates the SDF with Daesh due to the Kurds’ documented connection with this terrorist organization. Moreover, the Kurds are ethnically cleansing Arabs from Raqqa en mass in order to pave the way for the city’s annexation to their unilaterally declared “federation” after its forthcoming capture, so it makes sense why Damascus could implicitly recognize them as terrorists without publicly declaring them as such for reasons of sensitive political optics”.

Russia responded furiously to America’s downing of the Syrian jet and issued a statement saying that any US aircraft flying west of the Euphrates were now legitimate targets. Since then, confrontations between Russia’s Syrian partners and the US have generally de-escalated. The establishment of a joint Russian-Jordanian-US de-escalation zone in south western Syria is a further proof that part of America’s policy on Syria amounts to little more than ‘where you can’t beat them, quietly join them’.

The Russian statement regarding US aircraft being targeted seemed to enshrine the idea that areas west of the Euphrates were the Syria/Russian/Iranian sphere on influence while those to the east were the US/Kurdish sphere of influences.

Now however, that those spheres are set to literally collide in Deir ez-Zor, the questions is ‘what now’?

The answer to this lies in examining what each side wants or is perceived as wanting from the aftermath of the assured defeat of ISIS in eastern Syria.

Syria: 

Syria wants something that is simple, legal and obvious: the full liberation of its territory and the expulsion of all terrorists as well as unwelcome state actors, primarily the United States but also Turkey.

Any further discussions between Kurds and Damascus about regional autonomy can only be a post-war political discussion so far as Syria is concerned. Syria has grave concerns about the anti-Arab racism among many Kurds as Damascus ought to have. It is ultimately the duty of the Syrian government to protect its citizens from discrimination or anti-Arab propaganda.  Even so, Damascus sees this as a civil issue rather than an issue of international conflict.

Turkey: 

While Turkey’s continued presence in Syria, particularly in Idlib is still deeply unwelcome by Damascus, the nature of Turkey’s goals in Syria have changed dramatically over the last several months.

Most crucially, in August of this year, Turkey quietly withdrew support for terrorist factions (the so-called opposition) in Syria. While some expected this to pave the way for rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara, who prior to the conflict had no serious disagreements, both the Syrian and Turkish Presidents have recently rejected such claims.

For Syria, this is a matter of dignity. Turkey had, for most of the conflict been an effective state actor illegally occupying Syrian land and training terrorist groups who operated in some of the most strategically important parts of western, northern and north-central Syria.

For Turkey, it is a matter of pride also, as Turkey’s ruling elite have spent years positioning themselves in opposition to the ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath party in Syria and all it stood for.

That being said, Turkey’s mission in Syria is now to prevent the consolidation of Kurdish militias. This itself is done in the service of Turkey’s geo-strategic goal of preventing any Kurdish state from rising on its borders.

This has led Ankara to grow closer to Iran which also rejects the idea of a Kurdish state in the Arab world as it would set a precedent for Kurds in Iran to threaten the territorial integrity of Iran itself.

At the same time, Turkey’s President Erodgan who previously had serious disagreements with Russia over Syria, has now said that Turkey and Russia’s position on Syria is now more or less the same.

Erdogan stated this morning,

“Currently, the process in Idlib is being run as we agreed with Russia. There are no disputes with Russia on it. No controversy was brought to the agenda during our meeting with Iran”.

While Turkey and Syria will likely not directly cooperate against the Kurds any time soon, depending on US aims for its Kurdish proxies, one can certainly not rule out such a thing happening in the future.

Turkey and Syria will perhaps never be friends any time soon, but they may likely have a common enemy and in this sense, it will be in the interests of both Damascus and Ankara to work to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria.

The United States: 

Ever since Donald Trump took office, the modus operandi of the US in Syria has shifted from using jihadists to foment regime change against the legitimate government in Damascus, to one of using Kurdish forces as proxies to create a would-be sphere of influence in parts of eastern and northern Syria.

It is still less than clear what the US intends to do with this sphere of influence, if it even attains it. The fact that the SDF is having a much harder time fighting ISIS in Raqqa vis-a-vis the SAA in the more fortified Deir ez-Zor, is testament to the fact that ultimately while the SDF are better fighters than the jihdaists, they still are far less effective a fighting force than the legitimate Syrian Arab Army.

Should the SDF conquer significant amounts of territory in Syria, the US would be in a position to argue for either hyper-Kurdish autonomy, beyond that which has already been established or otherwise, argue for the establishment of a Kurdish state.

Here though, matters get more difficult for the US. While Washington and Ankara are increasingly at odds over foreign policy, Turkey is still a member of NATO. Furthermore, Turkey’s army is second largest in NATO, only America’s standing army is larger.

If the US pushed for a Kurdish state in Syria, what remains of the US alliance with Turkey would essentially be over. It is still not clear if this is something which concerns the Trump administration. This might be due to the foreign policy chaos which dominates Washington or because the US has designs on Turkey and Erdogan which may represent something resembling a soft regime change ambition in Ankara.

Turkey is all too aware of America’s odd behaviour vis-a-vis Turkey and no country in the region wants to see civil war in Turkey, much though the alt-media in parts of the secular and Shi’a Arab world and even among some genuine Russians might indicate something contrary to this.

The other problem the US has is the Kurds in Iraq. Ironically, the US is now less inclined to support Kurdish separatism in Iraq than Washington was during the Presidency of Saddam Hussein. Under Saddam, the US was happy to weaken Iraq in any way possible and Kurdish separatism was a clear option.

Now, the US is playing something of a ridiculous balancing act in Iraq where it is trying to placate historically decent (though often inconsistent) relations with Iraqi Kurds while trying to maintain America’s substantial (however totally immoral) investment in Iraq which aims to see Iraq’s borders preserved. If the Kurds in Iraq do declare unilateral independence, the pro-Iran sentiment which is already strong in Baghdad will only grow stronger as Ian’s position vis-a-vis Iraqi Kurds is consistent as are Iran’s increasingly political fraternal bonds to the majority Shi’a population of Iraq.

America could still exploit political tensions between Iraqi and Syrian Kurds in order to say ‘yes’ to a Kurdish state in Syria but ‘no’ to one in Iraq, however, even by the standards of American hypocrisy, a great deal of geo-political tightrope walking would have to be embarked upon in order to achieve this. Wider regional blow-back against the US, from all directions, would nevertheless, be inevitable.

Russia: 

Russia is unique among all of the aforementioned powers as Russia has acceptable to good and historically very good relations with the Kurds of the Middle East. Russia of course also has good relations with Iran, Turkey, Syria, Israel (the only entity in the region which covertly and sometimes overtly supports a Kurdish state), Palestine and to a degree the United States. In other words, Russia can talk to all parties in the Middle East, including and especially those who do not speak to each other.

Russia is already known to be a go-between in respect of the SDF/US and Syria. The fact that there haven’t been more conflicts between the Kurds and Syrian Arab Army as well as between Turkey and the Kurds, is a testament to just how effective Russian diplomacy is.

The other side of this coin is that because Russia refuses to act as a puppet master of any one faction in the Middle East, both out of respect for international law and because Russia does not seek to appear as favouring any one faction, the aforementioned interests of each groups will inevitably collide and short of Russia acting as brazenly in Syria as America did and to an extent still does in Iraq, there is little Russia can do or will do.

CONCLUSION: 

Ultimately, the Kurds are only as powerful as America and to some degree Israel allows them to be. Every other state in the region is opposed to Kurdish separatism and therefore, should the Kurds seek to unilaterally declare independence in Syria, American aid both militarily and politically, is ultimately the only thing that could even come close to nullifying the position of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

While Russia officially adopts an agnostic position on a Kurdish state, Russia’s increasingly good relations with Turkey and Iran mean that Russia may quietly shift to one of respectful opposition to a Kurdish state, perhaps arguing instead for a process of dialogue between Damascus and Kurdish rebel leaders. This would not take a great deal of effort to shift form Russia’s existing agnostic position which de-facto applies support for the status quo of regional territorial integrity.

The old reality of Russia using the Kurds as leverage against Turkey and Iran, something which dates back to the 18th century, is increasingly not valid. Turkey’s economic reliance on Russia for example has made it so that Russia has enough leverage against Turkey and also Iran, without resorting to any supine ‘Kurdish threats’. That being said, Russia requires less leverage against either country than it once did and what leverage it does need can be achieved through Russia’s good relations with secular Syria and its often discarded but relevant good relations with hysterically anti-Iran, Tel Aviv.

In this respect, the fate of many countries depends on the fact that a country as powerful as the United States is being run by people who are exploiting the Kurds, but to ends which are as unknown amongst many Americans as they are to everyone else.

Welcome to the Devil’s Triangle.

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Gavin Allen
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Gavin Allen

Yet more fake news and propaganda from the Durian… “the Kurdish led US proxy army known as the SDF” LOL. SDF is not a “US proxy”. SDF’s closest political ally is Russia. “As geo-political expert Andrew Korybko pointed out… the SAA rightly conflates the SDF with Daesh due to the Kurds’ documented connection with this terrorist organization. Moreover, the Kurds are ethnically cleansing Arabs from Raqqa en mass” – omg, pathetic! So, apparently, the left-wing democratic feminist “Kurds” (actually he means the population of northern Syria) have a “documented connection” with a right wing patriarchal terrorist organisation allied with Turkey?… Read more »

Kaput
Member
Kaput

I do love your state of mind indeed…………. Why not give back to Mexico all annexed States lol………… California, Arizona, Texas etc etc…………. Then maybe the kurds can have teir cemetry as well.

Boris Kazlov
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Boris Kazlov

You are the shit-posting murican troll, paid CIA disinfo agent.Adam and Andrew are spot on right, did you not read recent declaration of operation Inherent Resolve, that they will not allow SAA to cross the Euphrates as if this s thier territory, and will support their allies, so SDF is their pupet or not, they also declared that they will not allow SAA to reclaim land that was not taken by them from ISIS, so if SDF takes land of ISIS it belongs to them, right? The scheme of the Zionists has changed from regime change to partitioning and weakening… Read more »

JNDillard
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JNDillard

Russia has repeatedly stated its position in support of the internationally recognized borders of the state of Syria, a position supported by the UN. This position is also supported by all the states in the region, with the exception of Israel, and all the countries of the world, except the United States. Of course, NATO countries, with the exclusion of Turkey, also indirectly support the internationally illegal claims of Kurdistan. It does appear that the Kurds, in alliance with Israel and the US, who are paying and arming them handsomely, have been taking advantage of the preoccupation of the Syrian… Read more »

FlorianGeyer
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FlorianGeyer

On a purely tactical level it will be important for the SAA to reinforce its positions South of Raqqa and indeed all the way to Aleppo as any US response could be along that part of the borders which in the Raqqa area would give some advantage to the ISIS gangs there.

A major issue will be of course that US air and artillery intervention will likely be from Kurdish held areas.

ColinNZ
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ColinNZ

The US will not risk a direct confrontation with Russia, especially when ISIS are defeated (very soon now) and thus the US have no further legal/illegal pretext to be in Syria. They are just posturing for land grab, and hope an autonomous Kurdish area will allow an indefinite tentative presence, but it wont be long before even the US will see no strategic advantage in staying there.

ColinNZ
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ColinNZ

The SAA & allies have overwhelming force at DeZ, with tens of thousands of battle-hardened troops and special forces. The SDF will suffer catastrophic casualties if they confronted them, and the US would trigger a catastrophic larger conflict if it joined in. My guess is that the US-backed SDF are posturing for a land grab (including oil fields) for future bargaining chip but I do not think the Syrian government will allow it. If the SDF do not back down they will be routed.

Daisy Adler
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Daisy Adler

In the news today:
The losers: “Germany putting arms exports to Turkey on hold”
The winners: “Turkey’s sings the contract with Russia, for the supplies of S-400 missile system”

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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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