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Russia just tipped the balance of power in the Mediterranean

The agreement provides Russia with permanent base rights in Syria capable for the first time of challenging US strategic dominance in the eastern Mediterranean.

Alexander Mercouris

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Though there has been remarkably little discussion of the subject in the Western media, Russia last week quietly acquired for the first time in its modern history a proper permanent base in the Mediterranean.

Following negotiations between the Syrian government and Russia an agreement dating to 2015 has now been ratified by Russia turning the Russian air base at Khmeimim in Syria into a permanent base.  In other words Russia will retain the base at Khmeimim beyond the conclusion of the Syrian conflict, and its presence there has just been made permanent.

That the Syrian government has wanted to grant the base to Russia on a permanent basis has been known for some time.  From the Syrian point of view the Russian base not only guarantees Russia’s support for the present Syrian government but also provides Syria with a measure of protection it has never had before from Israeli air incursions.  These have been a continuous reality for decades with Syria lacking the capability to prevent them.  The Russians do have that capability and the Syrians will be hoping that because of the presence of the base they will now use it to protect Syria from Israeli air incursions.  As it happens reports suggest that the number of Israeli incursions of Syrian airspace have fallen off significantly since the Russian Aerospace Forces deployed to Syria last autumn, with the Israelis now careful to keep the Russians informed of their flights.

Whilst the Syrian government is known to have been keen to grant Russia a permanent base, the Russians have up to now been less sure.  Establishing a permanent foreign base in Syria is for the Russians a major departure from their former policy given the Russian military’s overwhelming focus on defending Russian territory rather than projecting Russian military power far beyond Russia’s borders. 

Some Russian military officials are also believed to have questioned the military utility of a Syrian base, pointing out that the eastern Mediterranean where the base is located is well within the range of Russian ballistic and cruise missiles.  Importantly, judging from comments he made in December last year, one of the leading skeptics was none other than Putin himself:

“about the base, opinions differ, you know. Some people in Europe and the US repeatedly said that our interests would be respected, and that our [military] base can remain there if we want it to. But I do not know if we need a base there. A military base implies considerable infrastructure and investment.

After all, what we have there today is our planes and temporary modules, which serve as a cafeteria and dormitories. We can pack up in a matter of two days, get everything aboard Antei transport planes and go home. Maintaining a base is different.

Some believe, including in Russia, that we must have a base there. I am not so sure. Why? My European colleagues told me that I am probably nurturing such ideas. I asked why, and they said: so that you can control things there. Why would we want to control things there? This is a major question.

We showed that we in fact did not have any medium-range missiles. We destroyed them all, because all we had were ground-based medium-range missiles. The Americans have destroyed their Pershing ground-based medium-range missiles as well. However, they have kept their sea- and aircraft-based Tomahawks. We did not have such missiles, but now we do – a 1,500-kilometre-range Kalibr sea-based missile and aircraft-carried Kh-101 missile with a 4,500-kilometre range.

So why would we need a base there? Should we need to reach somebody, we can do so without a base.

It might make sense, I am not sure. We still need to give it some thought. Perhaps we might need some kind of temporary site, but taking root there and getting ourselves heavily involved does not make sense, I believe. We will give it some thought.”

These comments, whilst carefully leaving the option open, suggest a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the idea of a permanent base and an ongoing debate on the subject within the Russian leadership.  Presumably it was these doubts and this debate that held up ratification of the base agreement for so long.  It is clear that that debate has now been settled, with the agreement finally ratified and with the decision finally made to make Khmeimim into a permanent base.

It should be said clearly that this is a major shift.  Tsarist Russia did operate naval bases in the Greek islands and in Piedmont in Italy in the nineteenth century, and the USSR negotiated naval and air facilities at various times with Albania, Yugoslavia, Syria and Egypt, which however all fell well short of being true permanent naval and air bases.  The USSR did seek at the end of the Second World War Western agreement for a Russian base in Libya, but unsurprisingly this was refused. 

All these previous projects proved ephemeral or stillborn, with whatever temporary arrangements the Russians negotiated with the various Mediterranean powers always reversed whenever these powers realigned towards the West, as they invariably did.  The one exception was the Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus which dates back to 1971.  Though it has attracted huge attention during the Syrian conflict, like all the other facilities the USSR acquired in the Mediterranean during the Cold War it is in no sense a base.  As even the BBC has been obliged to admit, the facility at Tartus is at best a support and resupply station for Russian ships in the Mediterranean.  It is too small to host Russian naval warships of frigate size and upwards, and has no facilities to host large numbers of Russian sailors or personnel such as a true base would need to do. 

The military reality is that since 1943 it is the US Navy which together with its naval allies (primarily Britain and France) has been the overwhelmingly dominant military power in the Mediterranean.  Since the Second World War the Mediterranean has been in military terms an American lake.

The base at Khmeimin however is different from anything that has existed before.  Not only does it already host a formidable strike force of aircraft roughly equivalent to that of a US Navy carrier strike group, but it is heavily defended by formidable air defence assets including S400, BUK and Pantsir anti aircraft missiles, and contains a host of radar, electronic warfare and command facilities.  It is also defended by a formidable force of Russian ground troops, said to be of battalion strength.  Moreover there is talk the base is going to be significantly expanded to make it capable of hosting much heavier strike aircraft, possibly TU22M3s.  Khmeimim also forms part of what is becoming a very powerful complex of Russian military bases and facilities in Syria, which obviously include the Tartus naval facility (which may also now be expanded) and a top secret Russian listening post which has long been rumoured to exist somewhere in Latakia province.

In aggregate this is a base complex of a sort the Russians have never had in the Mediterranean before, and one that has now been made permanent.

The Russian base in Syria cannot challenge the supremacy of the US Navy in the whole of the Mediterranean area.  However it does have the potential to change drastically political and military perceptions in its eastern half.  There is now the prospect of Russian fighters flying over the eastern Mediterranean in regular patrols, monitoring US warships and aircraft in the area, and making Russia’s presence felt in the area as it has never been felt before.  It is one thing to know in the abstract that Russian ballistic and cruise missiles can reach this area.  It is quite another actually to be able to see Russian military aircraft physically present there.  The psychological and political impact on the countries that border the eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel) and on the US Navy (in an area where it has long been accustomed to sailing unchallenged) cannot be overstated, and would be tremendous.

All this of course depends on the eventual outcome of the conflict in Syria.  By establishing a permanent base there Russia has just raised the stakes, a fact that undoubtedly explains the intensity of the conflict.

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‘End of free speech’: Maffick CEO, host slam Facebook’s unprovoked ‘censorship’ after CNN report

This is because of the political content that challenges the US wars. It is absolutely an act of censorship.

RT

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Via RT…


Facebook blocking several pages operated by Maffick Media is nothing short of outright censorship, the company’s CEO Anissa Naouai said, after a US-funded think tank pointed them out to CNN for a ‘hit-piece’.

The actions of the social media giant, which suspended the accounts of In the Now, Soapbox, Back Then and Waste-Ed last Friday without providing any explanation or even contacting the company that ran the pages, is nothing but a simple attempt to get rid of dissenting voices critical of Washington’s policies, Naouai told RT.

It is blatant censorship. What else can you call it?

Unexplained ban

The ban came literally out of the blue even though Maffick did not violate any existing Facebook regulations. “There is no rule that you have to post anything about your funding or personal funding. No one does it, not any of the US-sponsored outlets,” Naouai said. However, that was apparently the stated reason for the blocking as a Facebook spokesperson said the social media giant wanted the pages to become more transparent by disclosing their funding and “Russian affiliations.”

Facebook never contacted Maffick Media directly, though. In fact, it did not even answer the company’s emails and stayed conspicuously silent about the ways that would allow the accounts to be reinstated. “We have not heard a word from Facebook and it has been over three days now,” Naouai said.

The whole situation makes one think that the suspension is in fact connected to the pages’ popularity as well as their critical stance towards US policies, the Maffick CEO said. “We have hosts that talk about things that are not allowed to talk about on other networks like CNN,” she explained.

“If a video that says that gets hundreds of thousands of views on a page that has millions of views, people [in Washington] start to notice that and they get upset. I believe that is why we were targeted: because of our success and because of, as CNN said, high quality of our videos,” Naouai added.

The Maffick CEO also assumed that a recent piece on the US-sponsored coup attempt in Venezuela might have become a trigger for this drastic measure taken by Facebook. “There is a very … divisive and obnoxious policy taking place right now against Venezuela,” she said, “we do not know if this was the segment that triggered [the suspension] but the timing is convenient.”

“When someone calls out what is happening in Venezuela as a blatant coup it ruffles the feathers of think tanks that spent millions if not billions of dollars to persuade [the audience otherwise] and lobby their interests.”

‘Interrogation’ by CNN

Some details of this whole case may indeed seem odd. Just about an hour after the pages were blocked, CNN published a report on the issue as if they broke the news. “CNN knew that we were going to be blocked before we did,” Naouai said, explaining that, when she found out her company’s pages were suspended, CNN had already published its piece.

Weeks before the blocking, CNN sought to interview some freelancers working with Maffick in an apparent attempt to “dig up some dirt,” Rania Khalek, the American host of Soapbox – one of the video shows Maffick ran on Facebook – recalled.

When the company’s leadership “got wind of it” and offered CNN an interview, it all ended up with a 45-minute “interrogation” loaded with “unethical” questions that “almost any other media organization would even think to answer.”

It felt like a police interrogation: very invasive questions about Maffick and our editorial policies. It was clear that they were doing a hit-piece.

“A CNN journalist repeatedly asked me about my political viewpoints. He was in complete disbelief that I have editorial control over my scripts. He could not understand how it was possible,” Khalek, who was one of those, who gave the interview to CNN, said.

Maffick Media assumed that CNN might in fact pressure Facebook into blocking the accounts. “It is a very competitive market existing in a very political atmosphere that is toxic right now in the US,” Naouai said.

Loophole for state censorship?

CNN itself admits in its piece that it did not just stumble upon the Facebook pages in question independently. Instead, this issue was brought to its attention by the Alliance for Securing Democracy – a part of the German Marshall Fund. This fund is a think tank, which is financed by the US and German governments and has such people as Michael Morell, the former CIA deputy head, and Jacob Sullivan, former Vice President Joe Biden’s top security aide, on its advisory board.

Now, CNN, which stepped on a slippery slope by scrutinizing other media outlets’ funding, had to go to some extraordinary lengths to persuade its audience that the Alliance for Securing Democracy “does not receive any funding” from the German Marshall Fund, while still being a part of it at the same time. However, all these facts just added a new layer to the story.

“You have this US-funded think tank prompting CNN to pressure Facebook to ban our pages. That is an act of censorship,”Khalek said. She thinks the whole scheme was used to circumvent the First Amendment banning the US authorities from directly censoring free speech. “So, they use a middleman to pressure private companies to censor us,” she added, calling it a “legal loophole.”

‘Beginning of an end’

Regardless of who is really behind the ploy, Facebook banning some media pages without any explanation sets a tremendously dangerous precedent, Maffick Media believes. “We had a verified page, which had billions of views, just disappear from online without any kind of comment, any kind of requirement, without breaking any rules. That is unprecedented,” Naouai said.

You have Facebook dictating what people can and cannot see and judging what is good content and bad content. And it is all based on the accusations and criticism coming from a government-funded outlet. If Facebook does it to us, it can do it to anyone,” Khalek warned.

This is because of the political content that challenges the US wars. It is absolutely an act of censorship.

The US establishment apparently seeks to suppress the outlets that “offer a platform to alternative voices that can speak out against US wars and the corporate control over our government in a way that you just do not hear in our corporate media,” the Soapbox host believes.

However, if the social media giant and the likes of it will just continue to randomly block media resources while having “no grounds” to do so, it could create very serious problems for society, Naouai believes.

That would be the beginning of an end of free speech.

 

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Warsaw And Munich: Whistling Past NATO’s Graveyard

Sanctions cut both ways.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


If the Anti-Iran conference in Warsaw was the opening act, the annual Munich Security Conference was the main event. Both produced a lot of speeches, grandstanding and virtue-signaling, as well as a lot of shuffling of feet and looking at the ground.

The message from the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia was clear, “We are still committed to the destruction of Syria as a functional state to end the growing influence of Iran.”

Europe, for the most part, doesn’t buy that argument anymore. Germany certainly doesn’t. France is only interested in how they can curry favor with the U.S. to wrest control of the EU from Germany. The U.K. is a hopeless has-been, living on Deep State inertia and money laundered through City of London.

The Poles just want to stick it to the Russians.

Everyone else has a bad case of, “been there, done that, ain’t doin’ it again.”

They know supporting the fiction that the War in Syria was a war against the evil President Bashar al-Assad is counter-productive.

The geopolitical landscape is changing quickly. And these countries, like Hungary, Italy, and the Czech Republic, know that the current policy trajectory of the Trump administration vis a vis Russia, Iran and China is a suicide pact for them.

So they show up when called, receive our ‘diplomats’ and then pretty much ignore everything they said. This is what happened, ultimately, in Munich.

Even the EU leadership has no illusions about the goals of the U.S./Israeli/Saudi policy on Syria. And that’s why they refused to shut Russia and Iran out of the Munich Security Conference despite the hyperventilating of Pompeo’s amateur-hour State Dept.

The Syria Hangover

These countries are struggling with the after-effects of eight years of war displacing millions who Angela Merkel invited into Europe for her own political purposes.

The resultant chaos now threatens every major political power center in Europe, which could culminate in a Euroskeptic win at the European Parliamentary elections in May.

Continuing on this road will only lead to Russia, Iran, Turkey and China forming a bloc with India to challenge the economic and political might of the West over the next two decades.

So it was no surprise to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu glad-handing looking for support to beam back home for his re-election campaign.

It was also no surprise to see NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg grovel at the feet of the U.S. over the shared mission because he knows that’s where the gravy flows from.

But there was no statement of purpose coming out of Munich after two days of talks. Warsaw already set the stage for that. Vice-President Mike Pence fell completely flat as the substitute Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked sad and confused as to why no one applauded him for his cheap and empty rhetoric about how evil Iran is.

The Syria operation was put together by the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the expressed purpose of creating a failed state of ungoverned fiefdoms. Syria was to be carved up piecemeal with a great land grab for all major partners getting a piece.

Israel gets a buffer zone east of the Golan Heights, Turkey gets Idlib, Afrin and Aleppo. The Kurds get everything east of the Euphrates. And Europe gets pipelines from the Arabian peninsula.

Meanwhile Iran loses Syria and Lebanon, Russia gets pushed out of the European gas market (along with the putsch in Ukraine) and the center of the country is a hot mess of terrorism which can be exported all around the region and further directed against Russia and Iran.

It all looked so good on paper.

But, as I’ve described multiple times, it was an operation built on perception and the false premise that no one would stand up to it.

In came Russia in October 2015 and the rest, unfortunately for the neocons, is just a chase scene.

Sanctions Cut Both Ways

Because for Europe, once it became clear what the costs would be to continue this project, there was little to no incentive to do so. That’s why they sued for peace with Iran by negotiating the JCPOA.

For every MAGApede and Fox News neocon who excoriates Obama for giving Iran $150 billion dollars (of their own money back which we stole) I remind you that it was Obama in 2012 that signed the sanctions which froze that money in the first place.

The JCPOA was signed because in 2014 the Syria operation looked like it was on auto-pilot to success. Iran could have their money back because it wouldn’t matter. They would be vassals and the money wouldn’t buy them anything of substance.

It was Russia and China’s making the move into Syria that changed that calculus.

That’s why the only ones who keep pushing for this balkanization strategy are the ones who still stand to gain from it. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel. It was clear in Munich that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the man everyone wanted to talk to.

Everyone has cut bait. Even the Saudis are hedging their best cozying up to Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. still needs to project power globally to support the dollar and its obscene fiscal debauchery. Israel is staring at a future in which its myriad enemies have won and the Saudis need to rule the Sunni Arab world by leading them in a war against Iran.

The Warsaw Summit was a triumph only insofar as the U.S. can still call its allies to attention and they’ll do so. But that’s about it. But it was clear at Munich that Europe isn’t buying what the U.S. is selling about its relationship anymore.

It’s an not only an abusive one with Trump applying maximal economic pressure but also a wholly unrealistic one. Foreign policy midgets like Pompeo and Pence were literally pleading with everyone to not undermine their latest plan to make the world safe for Israel and Trump’s moronic Energy Dominance plan.

Whistling in Munich

In the end, the whole Munich affair looked like a bunch of people gathering to whistle past the graveyard of the fraying post-WWII institutional order. Trump wants Europe to pay for NATO so we don’t but Europe doesn’t want NATO on Trump’s terms which put them in the cross-hairs of his power play with Russia and China over the INF treaty.

Putin has built a version of fortress Russia that is for all practical purposes impregnable, short-of an all-out nuclear conflict which no one except maybe the most ideologically possessed in D.C. and Tel Aviv wants.

The naysayers have had their day but the weapons unveiled by Putin at last March’s State of the Union address changed the board state in a way that requires different tactics. I said so last March and it identified a shift narrative for all of us as to what Putin’s long-game was.

These new weapons represent a state change in weapons technology but, at the same time, are cheap deterrents to further escalation.  They fit within Russia’s budget, again limited by demographic and, as I pointed out in a recent article, domestic realities

…[They highlight] we’re not winning in technology.  So, all we can do is employ meat-grinder policies and force Russia and her allies to spend money countering the money we spend.

It’s a game that hollows everyone out.  And it’s easier for Putin to sell the defensive nature of his position to Russians than it is to sell our backing Al-Qaeda and ISIS to defeat them.  Because that reality has broken through the barrier to it.

And that’s why Europe is so unwilling to go along with Trump on the INF Treaty, Iranian regime change and even his Arab NATO plan. They are the ones being asked to be on the front lines, pay for and fight a war against their best interests.

And that’s why no one was willing to join the latest ‘coalition of the willing’ in Munich to perpetuate the conflict in Asia. They’ll go along with Trump’s plans in Venezuela, it doesn’t cost them anything strategically.

But even Merkel knows that in light of the events of the past three and a half years, the right move for Europe is to cut a deal with Russia and Iran while keeping their head down as the U.S. loses its mind.


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Venezuela Under Washington’s Gun

It is discouraging to see Trump participate in the attempt to chase Maduro out of office.

Paul Craig Roberts

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Via Paul Craig Roberts…


A full court press is taking place in Florida today (Presidents Day) with Republicans, Democrats, expatriates from Cuba and Venezuela and the fascist warmonger ministry of propaganda that constitutes the US media all denouncing Maduro and blaming him for the hardships imposed on Venezuelans by Washington’s sanctions and attacks on Venezuela’s currency . Even “liberal” NPR is reading off the same fascist warmonger script. NPR managed to report on Venezuela without mentioning the sanctions, without mentioning the theft of Venezuela’s gold foolishly entrusted to the US and British central banks, or the orchestrated protests funded by US-financed NGOs that are small in comparison with the crowds that support Maduro that are never mentioned in the US media. In other words, NPR is just another part of the whorehouse brigade.

What Americans forget, or never knew, is that the Cuban expatriates are the descendents of the corrupt Batista crowd that had looted Cuba for years and were thrown out of Cuba by Castro. The Venezuelan expatriates are from the rich elite that couldn’t adjust to Chavez running the country for the people instead of for them, and some of these expatriates were involved in the failed CIA coup against Chavez. All of these expatriates are nothing but shills for Washington’s takeover so that they can get back in on the take.

It is discouraging to see Trump, who the Democrats, the media, and the military/security complex are attempting to chase out of office participate in the attempt to chase Maduro out of office.

It is discouraging to see Washington’s vassals in Europe and in the Organization of American States throw all truth to the wind and line up with Washington’s lies.

It is discouraging that within Western civilization lies dominate all aspects of domestic and international policy. Truth has been stamped out.

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