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TAJIKISTAN: the next front in the Iranian-Saudi proxy war?

There are signs that this pivotal Central Asian country is turning into the next zone of rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which could have serious implications for Russia, China, and Pakistan’s national security.

Andrew Korybko

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The Iranian-Saudi rivalry is undoubtedly centered on the Mideast, but it’s also creeping into Central Asia, too. Largely ignored by both the Mainstream and Alternative Media, the impoverished but strategically positioned state of Tajikistan has suddenly emerged as a focal point of competition between these two Great Powers. Iran’s traditional legacy of historic, ethnic, and linguistic ties with Tajikistan is being “balanced” by Riyadh’s recent financial outreaches to Dushanbe, though it remains to be seen just how adroitly President Rahmon can manage his country’s relations with these two feuding parties.

The Roots Of Rivalry

The Diplomat published a useful article about Iranian-Tajik relations a few weeks ago titled “Iran Courts Tajikistan”, and it presents an impressively concise overview of the bilateral relationship since 1991. In a nutshell, Iran leveraged its civilizational ties with Tajikistan in order to make strategic inroads in the country, manifested most visibly by important infrastructure projects and soft power projection. However, Tehran may have irreparably harmed relations with the Rahmon government by hosting Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) “opposition” leader Muhiddin Kabiri in 2015 at the International Islamic Unity Conference in order to supposedly send a signal to Dushanbe that it should back off a bit from its rapprochement with Riyadh.

Relations with the Kingdom had previously been very frigid because of the Saudis’ support for fundamentalist rebels during the 1992-1997 Tajik Civil War, but Riyadh’s seemingly limitless checkbook was attractive for destitute Dushanbe. The two sides didn’t reach any significant deals until earlier this year in May when the Saudis gave their Tajik counterparts a $200 million grant for building new parliamentary and governmental complexes.  They also loaned them $35 million for constructing new schools, though it’s unclear whether or not these will be Wahhabi-run like just about all of Saudi Arabia’s international “educational” projects.

Tricky Sensitivities

Moscow-based Turkish political scientist and journalist Engin Ozer wrote at the time that Saudi Arabia is trying to influence Tajikistan and prevent its integration into the Eurasian Union. Moreover, he says that Riyadh might also be cultivating friendly elements of the Russia-based Tajik diaspora in order to craft a future instrument of pressure against Moscow. Ozer also believes that this is part of a joint US-Saudi plot to prepare for the destabilization of Central Asia. All told, his analysis is very accurate, and Rahmon’s attendance at the Riyadh Summit last month confirms that relations between the two sides are proceeding at a very fast pace. This therefore brings into question why Iran isn’t doing more to counter its regional-religious rival in the Central Asian state most closely related to its own ancient Persian civilization.

Like the earlier-referenced Diplomat article writes, Iran is indeed trying to recover some of its lost influence in Tajikistan, but the fact is that Tehran’s feting of Kabiri roughly 18 months ago couldn’t have come at a worse time. The IRPT had just been designated as a terrorist organization by the Tajik authorities after being accused of complicity in a violent attempted coup, so Dushanbe unofficially interpreted Tehran’s hosting of the banned party’s leader as “supporting terrorism”, which obviously played well to Riyadh’s ears and created the much-needed opening that it desired to re-enter the Central Asia space via its weakest and most desperate country. It’s presently difficult to quantify the level of Iranian and Saudi influence in Tajikistan, but it can safely be assumed that both Great Powers are jostling for control there, while Dushanbe is trying to do its best to “balance” between both of them.

Russian And Chinese Stabilizing Influence

Amidst the Iranian-Saudi competition for Tajikistan, one certainly can’t forget the Russian factor, since it’s Moscow which exerts the greatest degree of influence on the Central Asian state. The Russian-based Tajik diaspora contributed to more than half of the country’s GDP in 2014 through remittances, and Russia’s largest military base outside of its own borders is the 201st Motor Rifle Division near Dushanbe. In addition, Russia reached an agreement with Tajikistan earlier this year to return to jointly patrolling the long and porous riparian border with Afghanistan, which Moscow used to do until Dushanbe asked it to stop in the mid-2000s under what is suspected to have been heavy American pressure. Understandably, Russia is always suspicious of Saudi “educational” investments anywhere in the post-Soviet space, but at the same time it also doesn’t trust any foreign country such as Iran implying political support to “Islamic opposition” forces such as the now-banned and terrorist-designated IRPT.

Moscow understands that there are certain religious (Sunni) and civilizational (Persian) identity variables which play more to Riyadh and Tehran’s respective advantages when it comes to harnessing soft power, which is why Russia concentrates its efforts on presenting itself as the secular- and security-focused actor ensuring stability in the post-civil war country. China is also involved in this as well, albeit in different capacities. The People’s Republic is Tajikistan’s top trading partner because of the dominant position that it holds in as the country’s main source of imports, with Russia only providing half of amount that China does and neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia anywhere in the top five for either imports or exports. Furthermore, China unveiled the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM) last summer between itself, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, though this is more complementary to Russia’s mutual defense arrangements with Tajikistan through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) than a competitor to it.

Tajik Trouble

Historical Claims:

For the most part, Russia and China’s partnerships with Tajikistan are overall a stabilizing factor for the country, whereas Iran and Saudi Arabia’s competition for the Central Asian state could become destabilizing, therefore most directly harming Russia, China, and also Pakistan’s interests vis-à-vis the spillover effect that any potential proxy conflict could have for Central Asia and Afghanistan, respectively. It should be noted that Tajikistan has a sizeable diaspora in neighboring Afghanistan which is actually larger than the Tajiks living in their namesake state, while an unconfirmed number of them live in the country’s chief rival Uzbekistan. About this latter fact, The Diplomat correctly chronicles in its September 2016 article about “The Tajik Tragedy Of Uzbekistan” how this people’s historic lands of Samarkand and Bukhara were administratively annexed to Uzbekistan by Josef Stalin during the national delineation of Central Asia in the 1930s, which created a tense post-independence situation after 1991 that prompted Tashkent to suppress the Tajik minority and intimidate them into publicly disowning their identity.

The Afghan Connection:

The reason why this largely forgotten historical-demographic fact is being brought up in the context of the present analysis is to demonstrate to the reader how far-reaching the geographically contiguous Tajik population of Central Asia is, as it already dominates northern Afghanistan and is present to an uncertain extent in the western regions of Uzbekistan. There are thus very concrete geopolitical motivations behind the Iranian-Saudi competition for Tajikistan since this could by extended degree allow them to exert influence in either of these two states, though most immediately in Afghanistan. That war-torn country has seen the Tajiks become a disproportionately influential political force following the 2001 ousting of the Taliban from power, and this was all done intentionally by the US with the intent of dividing and conquering the country along the same “favored minority” colonial model that the British skillfully employed for centuries across the world.

Quite expectedly, this has led to furious resentment from the Pashtuns, who are the largest group in Afghanistan and feel shut out of the political process, which has in turn led them to support the Taliban’s very successful national liberation campaign in the country and undermine American ephemeral ‘gains’ there. All of a sudden, though, the Saudi-linked Daesh terrorist organization popped up in Afghanistan as the rebranded “Islamic State Khorasan Province” (ISKP) and began offering up stiff resistance to the Taliban, which has ultimately worked to America’s relative interests and those of its in-country Tajik partners. Therefore, it wouldn’t be ungrounded to suggest that the rock-solid US-Saudi military-strategic relationship might also be expanding to Afghanistan, with Washington supporting the Tajiks while Riyadh does the same with ISKP.

Only this year have the Saudis come to deepen their influence in Tajikistan proper, as evidenced by Dushanbe’s presidential presence at the Riyadh Summit and the $200 million grant that the Kingdom gave to the country (in exchange?) right around that time, but this is a troublesome development for the Russians, Chinese, and Pakistanis.

The US-Saudi Partnership:

Saudi Arabia’s unstated but significant entrance as a key player in the War on Afghanistan is hampering the prospects for peace between Kabul and the Taliban, which therefore creates security problems for Pakistan along the lengthy Durand Line border by giving cover to Indian RAW operatives active in this transnational space. Accordingly, it also means the prolongation of New Delhi’s Hybrid War on CPEC. As for Russia, Moscow has recently prioritized the peace process in Afghanistan and has even hosted three high-level conferences to this effect because it’s worried about a potential Central Asian spillover if the war doesn’t end in the near future. It’s not the Taliban that Russia fears, however, but ISKP, which aside from receiving US-Saudi assistance, even enjoys the backing of Kabul and India. It’s at this point where the Uzbek direction of the Iranian-Saudi rivalry comes into play, because one of the most “logical” first steps that the terrorist group could make in Central Asia would be through operating under the disguise of a “Tajik freedom movement” in western Uzbekistan.

Iran vs Saudi Arabia:

Whether this scenario comes into play, a “Greater (Islamic) Uzbek” one does, the two clash, or perhaps another ISKP-influenced geopolitical development occurs, the inevitable outcome would be the triggering of large-scale refugee flows to Russia if the crisis isn’t immediately contained, perhaps through coordinated SCO and CSTO interventions. That’s why Russia is so concerned about developments in Central Asia, which brings the focus back to Tajikistan, the state that functions as the pivot space between Afghanistan and Central Asia by virtue of its geography and diaspora.

As such, Iran and Saudi Arabia are also interested in this country as well. Iran’s grand strategy vis-a-vis Tajikistan is to extend its influence over the historical Persian cultural space as far east as possible (going through Afghanistan first, of course), which could therefore give Tehran a foothold in deeper foothold in Central Asia. Saudi Arabia, for its part, wants to thwart its rival’s ambitions and simultaneously create complications for Iran’s soft power projection in the region. The contradiction between these two is best summed up as a clash between Tajiks’ Persian identity and their Sunni one.

Russia and China provide the “third way” – a secular identity in an integrated Eurasia – though this might become increasingly difficult to ensure in the midst of an uncertain and potentially turbulent political transition in Tajikistan following the inevitable end of aging President Rahmon’s rule, which isn’t likely to be as smooth as in neighboring and much more stably (in a relative sense) cohesive Uzbekistan. The Iranian-Saudi competition for Tajikistan as fought out through the Tehran-supported IRPT and the Saudi-backed ISKP spikes the chances that this interim period could result in profound instability, thereby endangering everyone’s interests except the US’.

Concluding Thoughts

Looking forward, Tajikistan is without question the weakest and most vulnerable state in Central Asia to Hybrid Warfare, which stands the chance of being waged via proxy by Iran and Saudi Arabia through the IRPT and ISKP, respectively, during the country’s inevitably forthcoming political transition. In addition, the existing competition between the two Great Powers over this tiny state could see either of them make destabilizing outreaches to the Tajik diaspora in neighboring Uzbekistan or Afghanistan, both of which could undermine those states and create further security complications for Russia, China, and Pakistan.

Given the existing state of affairs in the region as regards Iran and Saudi Arabia’s core interests, Tehran would do well to follow Moscow, Beijing, and Islamabad’s lead in promoting the Taliban as the most effective anti-terrorist fighting force in Afghanistan in order to offset Riyadh’s plans for using the country as a launching pad for ISKP attacks inside of Iran. It’s understandable that Iran wants to preserve its civilizational influence in Tajikistan, but it might have blown its best opportunity to do so until Rahmon leaves office because of its provocative support of the IRPT in late-2015, which opened the door for Saudi Arabia to approach the country with a “balancing” offer that it evidently couldn’t refuse.

This in turn made Tajikistan the ultimate variable in determining the stability of the interconnected Central Asian-Afghan space, bridged as it is by the large Tajik diaspora on both sides. Instead of functioning as the ‘glue’ for ensuring stability in this transnational region, it’s ever more looking to be one of the forces which could pull it apart as Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for the Tajiks’ loyalty, which carries with it serious implications for Russia, China, and Pakistan’s security. It’s difficult to forecast how all of this will play out, but it’s nevertheless likely to be contingent on whether Iran behaves responsibly by disowning the IRPT and cooperates with its natural Eurasian partners to drive Saudi influence out of Tajikistan.

 

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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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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