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Turkey’s twisting the truth: There won’t be a joint anti-Kurdish op with Russia

Turkey is engaging in a cunning display of perception management techniques in hinting that it might coordinate a joint anti-Kurdish operation with Russia because it wants to put maximum pressure on the PYD-YPG Syrian Kurds in the run-up to next year’s “Syrian National Dialogue Congress”

Andrew Korybko

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Smashing “Political Correctness” In The War On Syria

The international media was hit with a bombshell earlier today when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that his government no longer considers Damascus as a “threat”, thereby opening the door for a possible rapprochement between these once-close partners. The announcement comes less than 24 hours after President Putin traveled to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan, implying that Moscow had some role in convincing Ankara over the necessity in making this statement. After all, President Putin’s whirlwind three-country tour of the Mideast yesterday was largely designed to pave the way for next year’s “Syrian National Dialogue Congress”, the Russian leader’s personal initiative to bring about a “political solution” to the War on Syria.

Keeping in line with President Putin’s active diplomacy in laying the groundwork for this landmark event next year, it’s reasonable to presume that he did indeed convince his Turkish counterpart to publicly announce what keen observers were already well aware of ever since the failed pro-American coup attempt last summer and especially following the January commencement of the Astana peace process, namely that Ankara no longer has any real issues with Damascus. Of course, it was difficult for Turkey to openly admit this over the past 18 months due to domestic and international political reasons, but all the same, this “open secret” is now officially public knowledge. By making such an overture towards Syria, Turkey – likely in coordination with Russia – is now implicitly pressuring Damascus to reciprocate in taking the next step by legally accepting the presence of Turkish military forces in the “de-escalation zones” (DEZs).

The Chain Of “Compromises”

In accordance with Russia’s presumed plans for promoting a “political solution”, Syria absolutely has to “compromise” in accepting the Turkish troops that are active on its territory because they were deployed there as part of the Astana peace process. It’s possible that Damascus already held this position in secret, but just like Turkey, it was reluctant to express itself publicly for domestic and international political reasons, as well as to “save face” before both audiences just like Turkey was trying to do. Now, however, it will be increasingly difficult for Syria to keep this a secret because Turkey’s announcement pressures it to go public in return and therefore advance President Putin’s peacemaking vision. If successful, then there’s a chance that the same model could be applied to the US forces in northeastern Syria if Washington ever officially accepts that President Assad can remain in office until the country’s next presidential elections in 2021, which is what unconfirmed sources are reporting that Trump is ready to “compromise” on.

It shouldn’t be seen as a coincidence that these reports are only now just emerging one day after President Putin’s Mideast tour, since not only are they a reaction to this move, but they could have even been secretly coordinated with Russia per a “gentlemen’s agreement” that the Russian and American leaders may have clinched during their last personal meeting on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Vietnam. One should keep in mind that Russia is the most active and efficient mediating (or “balancing”) partner in Syria and the Greater Mideast right now, and in line with President Putin’s previous statement during the Sochi Summit with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts last month that all sides must “compromise”, it’s possible that he may have convinced the US of the need to accept the obvious fact that President Assad still solidly remains in office. In exchange for this superficial volte-face (as it was long ago presumed to be part of American calculations since the Russian intervention began), Syria could “compromise” by accepting the presence of American troops in the northeast.

The diplomatic deal-making spree that Russia convincingly seems to be on was catalyzed by its own decision to “compromise” in ordering the withdrawal of most of its Aerospace Forces from Syria, as it was this move which kicked into motion the preplanned statement given by the Turkish Foreign Minister a day afterwards and the news reports about the Trump Administration’s “compromise” (which could be interpreted as being in response to Russia’s). All of this is fine and dandy, so to speak, except that one actor is attempting to exploit the situation for its own advantage and inadvertently jeopardize this very delicate dance that Russia has begun with all parties, and the problem comes down to what the Turkish Foreign Minister misleadingly implied in his bombshell statement about Syria.

Kurdish Confusion

Overlooked by most commentators, Sputnik importantly reported that Turkey’s chief diplomat “has clarified that [his] country will coordinate an operation against Syria’s Kurds with Russia if it is necessary (and that) the minister explained that Turkey does not oppose the Kurds’ participation in the Syrian peace settlement, adding that the country has handed Russia a list of Kurdish forces it was ready to work with.” There are two parts to this passage that need to be analyzed separately before they can be understood together. About the first one, it’s unclear if President Putin did indeed consider a joint anti-Kurdish operation with Turkey, but the Foreign Minister is suggesting as much because of the presumption that his speech was prompted by the Russian leader’s meeting with President Erdogan yesterday evening. Turkey is masterfully attempting to utilize perception management techniques in order to put maximum pressure on its PYD-YPG Syrian Kurdish enemies by making it seem as though Russia is read to “backstab” them.

Nothing of the sort seems to be in the cards, however, as the author explained in his analysis last week about the evolving relations between Russia and the Syrian Kurds, but Turkey wants to sow distrust between these two parties in order to weaken the position of his foes and therefore allow them to be replaced by their Kurdish National Council (KNC) rivals. This group is originally from northeastern Syria but was driven out by the PYD-YPG Syrian Kurds and is now thought to be based in southern Turkey. The author wrote back in March how Ankara is training this pro-Turkish militia to take over the self-proclaimed region of “Rojava” in the event that an anti-“federalist” successor mission to “Operation Euphrates Shield” is ever launched. Though the speculative military campaign never transpired (at least not yet), it now appears as though Turkey is trying to win Russia’s ear in having Moscow host the KNC instead of the PYD in the forthcoming “Syrian National Dialogue Congress”.

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu’s twisting of the truth in hinting that Russia is planning an anti-Kurdish operation alongside Turkey is designed to get the PYD to concede into allowing the KNC to return to their homeland and enter into a political coalition with it, which could be the “face-saving” “compromise” that Turkey needs to have happen in order to accept the “decentralization” of northeastern Syria. There doesn’t seem to be any other way that Turkey would allow the PYD to remain in power there except if they reconciled with the KNC and had their new “partners” go to Astana and Sochi on their behalf. Anything less than that would be understood as an egregious affront to President Erdogan and a violation of the red line that he had sworn to his countrymen that he would protect, but at the same time, Ankara probably isn’t going to risk becoming the “global bad guy” by invading northeastern Syria, expelling the PYD-YPG, and being responsible for destroying President Putin’s personal peacemaking initiative there.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

That being said, the unintended consequence of Cavusoglu including his provocative statement about allegedly coordinating an anti-Kurdish operation with Russia in northeastern Syria in the same context as announcing his government’s change of policy towards Damascus, which itself came less than a full day after President Putin’s visit and is widely assumed to have been brought about by his personal diplomatic intervention, is that Moscow’s Mideast mediation efforts might fail if Ankara succeeds in driving a wedge between the Syrian Kurds and Russia. Moscow needs this group to behave constructively during this very sensitive time in transitioning the War on Syria from its fading military phase to the future political one, and if they or their US patrons come to believe that Russia isn’t “trustworthy” due to the Turkish Foreign Minister’s twisting of the truth, then they might get “cold feet” and refuse to continue with this process.

Russian Reassurances

To that end, it’s necessary for Russia to reassure its two partners behind closed doors and convey to them the self-interested reasons why Ankara alleged that such an operation is supposedly being considered. Some points in favor of Russia’s position is that it has already demonstrated that it has no desire whatsoever to directly confront the US in Syria and risk entering into a dangerous spiral that could lead to a nuclear standoff, which could inevitably happen if the 2000 US troops in the region and their 10 or so bases there come under threat in the course of a joint Russian-Turkish anti-Kurdish operation. In addition, Russia’s large-scale withdrawal of its Aerospace Forces signifies that it doesn’t intend to provide any significant in-field support to its allies anytime soon, further negating the Foreign Minister’s words to the contrary.

Finally, the most reassuring move that Russia could make right now to its American and Kurdish partners is for it to convince President Assad to reciprocate Turkey’s outreach but also extend it to the aforementioned two actors in order to strengthen the chain of “compromises” and make the upcoming “Syrian National Dialogue Congress” a success. That, however, might not be possible except under the condition of enormous pressure being put on President Assad, as he would essentially be backtracking on his government’s previous statements on the topics of uninvited foreign military forces in his country and “decentralization”, possibly representing a “bridge too far” for even for Russia to attempt to cross and potentially setting into motion the very same “law of unintended consequences” that it so desperately seeks to avoid.

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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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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