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Ukraine wins in gas dispute in Stockholm tribunal against Russia; but victory may be hollow

Russia’s Gazprom rejects award, cancels Ukraine’s gas supply and transit contracts; stops supplying gas to Ukraine

Alexander Mercouris

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In a conflict in which Ukraine repeatedly claims victories which in reality turn out to be defeats, Ukraine did win finally win a genuine victory over Russia at the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal on Wednesday 28th February 2018.

The victory came in the litigation between Russia’s monopoly gas exporter gas exporter Gazprom and Ukraine’s national gas company Naftogaz.

After having previously rejected all of Naftogaz’s arguments against the legality of its gas supply contracts with Gazprom, and after having ordered Naftogaz to pay Gazprom $2 billion for unpaid gas, the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal ordered on Wednesday 28th February 2018 that Gazprom owed Naftogaz $4.7 billion for its failure to supply agreed volumes for transit.

The $2 billion Naftogaz was previously ordered to Gazprom is set off against the $4.7 billion Gazprom is ordered to pay Naftogaz, ending the litigation with an overall award to Naftogaz of $2.54 billion.

The Russian news agency TASS has provided an account of the issues in the litigation

Gazprom vs Naftogaz dispute

Gazprom and Naftogaz signed the current contract for the supply of gas to Ukraine in January 2009 and it is valid until December 31, 2019. Under the contract, the volume of supplies was to be 40 billion cubic meters of gas in 2009, and starting from 2010 – 52 billion cubic meters annually. However, since 2012, Naftogaz failed to fully intake the contracted volume. Since November 2015, Kiev has not bought Russian gas, replacing it with reverse gas from Europe.

In 2014, Gazprom and Naftogaz filed lawsuits against each other in the Stockholm Arbitration.

Ukraine sought a retroactive price change, recovery of overpayment for gas and cancellation of the “take or pay” principle.

Gazprom demanded that Naftogaz should pay arrears for gas that had been supplied earlier. Gazprom’s demands for Naftogaz amounted to more than $37 bln.

The Stockholm Arbitration satisfied the requirements of the companies only partially.

In December 2017, the court ordered Naftogaz to pay Gazprom $2 bln for the deliveries, but reduced the annual contractual volume of purchases to 5 billion cubic meters.At the same time, the “take or pay” condition was preserved for 80% of this volume. This condition will be effective only in 2018.

The court also rejected most of Naftohaz’s claims to Gazprom which concerned overpayment for gas. Only the price of gas received by the Ukrainian company in the second quarter of 2014 was lowered (from $485 to $352 per 1,000 cubic meters). Naftogaz wanted a retroactive price change starting from May 2011.

In the gas transit contract, Naftogaz and Gazprom agreed that the Russian holding will pump 110 billion cubic meters of gas through Ukraine annually. However, the contract notes that the annual volume is specified in additional agreements to the contract, depending on the obligations of Gazprom to European consumers.

Naftogaz demanded that Gazprom should pay $17 bln for the failure to supply the agreed volumes for transit. It also sought the revision of tariffs and conditions for the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine.

The Stockholm court ruled that Gazprom should pay about $ 4.7 bln to Naftogaz (taking into account the satisfied counter claims, Gazprom has to pay $ 2.56 bln). At the same time, Gazprom said that the arbitration court rejected Naftogaz’s demands to increase the tariff for gas transit and change the contract in accordance with Ukrainian legislation.

This account does not give reasons for the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal’s decision.  Alexey Miller, Gazprom’s CEO, has however explained it in this way

The Stockholm arbitration, guided by double standards, adopted an asymmetric decision on our contracts with Naftogaz of Ukraine regarding supply and transit of gas. The decision seriously violates the balance of interests of the parties under these contracts. The arbitrators ground their decision by the fact that the situation with the Ukrainian economy has drastically worsened. We are totally against the situation when Ukraine’s economic problems are solved at our expense. In this situation, the continuation of the contracts’ validity is not economically feasible and unprofitable for Gazprom

(bold italics added)

As a general principle, European commercial law tends to take a more interventionist and paternalist approach to commercial disputes than is the case in common law jurisdictions such as those of England and (most of) the US.

A decision which in effect rewrites a contract for the benefit of a weaker party would not therefore be wholly unprecedented, and an arbitration panel – which is not technically speaking a court – has more liberty to be flexible than a court does.

Having said this, if it is in fact the case that the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal made such a large award in Naftogaz’s favour simply because Ukraine’s economy has deteriorated since 2009, then that would indeed be a very remarkable thing indeed, and Gazprom would in that case be justified in complaining about it.

After all, as Alexey Miller says, it is not Gazprom’s job to support Ukraine’s economy, and it is absurd to suggest that Ukraine’s economic problems – many of which are self-inflicted – should be solved at Gazprom’s expense.

Having said this, without publication of the actual reasons for the award – which is unlikely to happen – it is impossible to say for certain whether Miller is describing them properly.

Irrespective of what the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal’s reasons for its decision were, Gazprom has has wasted no time in responding to it.

Firstly, it has rejected the decision.

This Gazprom is able to do because the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal is an arbitration panel not a court.  If Ukraine wishes to enforce the award it must therefore convert the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal’s decision into a court Judgment.

In most cases that is purely a formality.  However in this case it might not be straightforward if Miller’s account of the reasons for the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal’s decision is true.  Many courts might balk at a decision which appeared to rewrite a contract in so radical a way and for such a reason.

There is also the issue of which courts would have jurisdiction in the case to convert the award into a court Judgment.

I do not know the answer to that question.  In order to answer it I would need to see the relevant contracts between Gazprom and Naftogaz.  I doubt that will ever happen because as I understand it the contracts are secret.

All I will say on the jurisdiction is that it is interesting that Ukrainian President Poroshenko is saying that if Gazprom refuses to pay the award Ukraine will enforce the award by seizing Gazprom’s assets in Ukraine itself.

That suggests either that Poroshenko believes that it is the Ukrainian courts which have jurisdiction in the matter, or that he is not confident that whichever other courts do have jurisdiction in the matter would agree to enforce the award by converting it into a judgment.

More to the point, Gazprom has signalled its total loss of confidence in the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal by cancelling all its gas supply and transit contracts with Naftogaz, and by informing the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal that it no longer considers it to have any further role in the matter.

In keeping with this decision, Gazprom has stopped supplying gas to Naftogaz, and has returned Naftogaz’s prepayment for the future supply of gas.

This has in turn triggered a short term gas crisis in Ukraine, which can no longer import gas from Russia to cover its own needs, but which is struggling to find alternative sources of gas in Europe, which is currently experiencing a gas shortage because of the recent cold weather.

In my opinion it is unlikely Naftogaz will ever see the $2.56 billion it has been awarded.

However against that Naftogaz and Ukraine have escaped paying the $2 billion it looked like they would have to pay to Gazprom just a few weeks ago.

Given Ukraine’s deteriorating financial and economic position the Ukrainian government probably calculates that a few days or even weeks of gas shortages is a small price to pay for escaping payment of the $2 billion to Gazprom, which in its present condition Naftogaz and Ukraine would struggle to pay.

As for the Russians, I suspect that privately they believe that Ukraine’s friends in the West applied backstairs pressure on the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal when it looked like Naftogaz was about to lose the case to make what the Russians say is an illogical decision.

That will reinforce their decision to cut Ukraine out entirely as a transit state for their gas, regardless of whatever public assurances Putin may be currently giving to the contrary.

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The real reason Western media & CIA turned against Saudi MBS

The problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

RT

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Via RT…


Forces are aligning against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, lead by elements within the CIA and strong players in the mainstream media. But what is really behind this deterioration in relationship, and what are its implications?

Following the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, western media and various entities, including the CIA, appear to have turned their back on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). In response to the scandal, the Guardian released a video which its celebutante, Owen Jones, captioned“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest threats on Earth. Time to stop propping up its repulsive regime.”

The Guardian was not alone in its condemnation. “It’s high time to end Saudi impunity,” wrote Hana Al-Khamri in Al-Jazeera. “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to tell the truth on Jamal Khashoggi,” the Washington Post’s Editorial Board argued. Politico called it “the tragedy of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Even shadowy think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Atlantic Council released articles criticising Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

A number of companies began backing away from Saudi money after the journalist’s death, including the world’s largest media companies such as the New York Times, the Economist’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, Arianna Huffington, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Google Cloud CEO, just to name a few.

The CIA concluded that MBS personally ordered Khashoggi’s death, and was reportedly quite open in its provision of this assessment. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, also took time out of his schedule to express concern over Saudi Arabia’s confirmation of the killing.

At the time of the scandal, former CIA director John Brennan went on MSNBC to state that the Khashoggi’s death would be the downfall of MBS. Furthermore, the US Senate just voted in favour of ending American involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (a somewhat symbolic victory, though this is a topic for another article), but nonetheless was a clear stab at MBS personally.

The only person who appeared to continue to uphold America’s unfaltering support for MBS, even after all the publicly made evidence against MBS, was the US president himself. So after years of bombarding Yemen, sponsoring terror groups across the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific and beyond, why is it only now that there has been mounting opposition to Saudi Arabia’s leadership? Let’s just bear in mind that western media had spent years investing in a heavy PR campaign to paint MBS as a “reformer.”

Former national security adviser under Barack Obama’s second term, Susan Rice, wrote an article in the New York Times, in which she called MBS a “partner we can’t depend on.” Rice concludes that MBS is “not and can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner of the United States and our allies.” But why is this? Is it because MBS is responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses inside his own kingdom as well as in Yemen? Is it because of MBS’ support for groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda? No, according to Rice, we “should not rupture our important relationship with the kingdom, but we must make it clear it cannot be business as usual so long as Prince Mohammad continues to wield unlimited power.”

One will observe that the latter segment of Rice’s article almost mirrors former CIA director Brennan’s word on MSNBC word for word who stated that:

“I think ultimately this is going to come out. And it’s very important for us to maintain the relations with Saudi Arabia. And if it’s Mohammed bin Salman who’s the cancer here, well, we need to be able to find ways to eliminate the cancer and to move forward with this relationship that is critical to regional stability and our national interests.”

In reality, this is probably the issue that western media and government advisors have taken up with MBS. Aside from the fact he allegedly held a huge hand in the brutal murder of one of their own establishment journalists (Saudi Arabia reportedly tortured and killed another journalist not long after Khashoggi, but western media was eerily silent on this incident) MBS is not opposed for his reckless disregard for human rights. With insight into Rice’s mindset, we actually learn that if the US were to punish MBS, he would be likely to “behave more irresponsibly to demonstrate his independence and exact retribution against his erstwhile Western partners.”

You see, the problem with MBS isn’t that he is a mass murdering war criminal, it is that he is too “independent” for the United States’ liking.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and the other major oil producers met in Vienna at the year’s final big OPEC meeting of the year. As Foreign Policy notes, Saudi Arabia remains the largest oil producer inside OPEC but has to contend with the US and Russia who are “pumping oil at record levels.” Together, the three countries are the world’s biggest oil producers, meaning any coordinated decision made between these three nations can be somewhat monumental.

However, it appears that one of these three nations will end up drawing the short end of the stick as the other two begin forming a closer alliance. As Foreign Policy explains:

“But Saudi Arabia has bigger game in mind at Vienna than just stabilizing oil prices. Recognizing that it can’t shape the global oil market by itself anymore but rather needs the cooperation of Russia, Saudi Arabia is hoping to formalize an ad hoc agreement between OPEC and Moscow that began in 2016, a time when dirt-cheap oil also posed a threat to oil-dependent regimes. That informal agreement expires at the end of the year, but the Saudis would like to make Russia’s participation with the cartel more permanent.”

Russian officials have been signalling their intention to formalise this agreement for quite some time now. Given the hysteria in western media about any and all things Russian, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is the kind of news that is not sitting too well with the powers-that-be.

Earlier this year, Russia and Saudi Arabia announced that it would “institutionalize” the two-year-old bilateral agreement to coordinate oil production targets in order to maintain an edge on the global market.

While US president Trump has been supportive and incredibly defensive of MBS during this “crisis”, the truth is that the US only has itself to blame. It was not all too long ago that Trump announced that he had told Saudi King Salman that his kingdom would not last two weeks without US support.

Saudi Arabia is learning for themselves quite quickly that, ultimately, it may pay not to have all its eggs in one geopolitical superpower basket.

Saudi Arabia has been increasingly interested in Moscow since King Salman made a historic visit to Moscow in October 2017. While Trump has openly bragged about his record-breaking arms deals with the Saudis, the blunt truth is that the $110 billion arms agreements were reportedly only ever letters of interest or intent, but not actual contracts. As such, the US-Saudi arms deal is still yet to be locked in, all the while Saudi Arabia is negotiating with Russia for its S-400 air defence system. This is, as the Washington Post notes, despite repeated US requests to Saudi Arabia for it disavow its interest in Russia’s arms.

The economic threat that an “independent” Saudi Arabia under MBS’ leadership poses to Washington runs deeper than meets the eye and may indeed have a domino effect. According to CNN, Russia and Saudi Arabia “are engaged in an intense battle over who will be the top supplier to China, a major energy importer with an insatiable appetite for crude.”

The unveiling of China’s petro-yuan poses a major headache for Washington and its control over Saudi Arabia as well.According to Carl Weinberg, chief economist and managing director at High-Frequency Economics, China will “compel”Saudi Arabia to trade oil in Chinese yuan instead of US dollars. One must bear in mind that China has now surpassed the US as the “biggest oil importer on the planet,” these direct attacks on the US dollar will have huge implications for its current world reserve status.

If Saudi Arabia jumps on board China’s petro-yuan, the rest of OPEC will eventually follow, and the US might be left with no choice but to declare all of these countries in need of some vital freedom and democracy.

Therefore, ousting MBS and replacing him with a Crown Prince who doesn’t stray too far from the tree that is US imperialism may put a dent in pending relationships with Saudi Arabia and Washington’s adversaries, Russia and China.

Once we get over the certainty that the US media and the CIA are not against MBS for his long-list of human rights abuses, the question then becomes: why – why now, and in this manner, have they decided to put the spotlight on MBS and expose him exactly for what he is.

Clearly, the driving force behind this media outrage is a bit more complex than first meets the eye.

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The Indiscreet Charm of the Gilets Jaunes

Nothing scares the Identity Politics Left quite like an actual working class uprising.

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Authored (satirically) by CJ Hopkins via The Unz Review:


So it appears the privatization of France isn’t going quite as smoothly as planned. As I assume you are aware, for over a month now, the gilets jaunes (or “yellow vests”), a multiplicitous, leaderless, extremely pissed off, confederation of working class persons, have been conducting a series of lively protests in cities and towns throughout the country to express their displeasure with Emmanuel Macron and his efforts to transform their society into an American-style neo-feudal dystopia. Highways have been blocked, toll booths commandeered, luxury automobiles set on fire, and shopping on the Champs-Élysées disrupted. What began as a suburban tax revolt has morphed into a bona fide working class uprising.

It took a while for “the Golden Boy of Europe” to fully appreciate what was happening. In the tradition of his predecessor, Louis XVI, Macron initially responded to the gilets jaunes by inviting a delegation of Le Monde reporters to laud his renovation of the Elysée Palace, making the occasional condescending comment, and otherwise completely ignoring them. That was back in late November. Last Saturday, he locked down central Paris, mobilized a literal army of riot cops, “preventatively arrested” hundreds of citizens, including suspected “extremist students,” and sent in the armored military vehicles.

The English-language corporate media, after doing their best not to cover these protests (and, instead, to keep the American and British publics focused on imaginary Russians), have been forced to now begin the delicate process of delegitimizing the gilets jaunes without infuriating the the entire population of France and inciting the British and American proletariats to go out and start setting cars on fire. They got off to a bit of an awkward start.

For example, this piece by Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian‘s Paris Bureau Chief, and her Twitter feed from the protests last Saturday. Somehow (probably a cock-up at headquarters), The Guardian honchos allowed Chrisafis to do some actual propaganda-free reporting (and some interviews with actual protesters) before they caught themselves and replaced her with Kim Willsher, who resumed The Guardian‘s usual neoliberal establishment-friendly narrative, which, in this case, entailed dividing the protesters into “real” gilets jaunes and “fake” gilet jaunes, and referring to the latter fictional group as “thuggish, extremist political agitators.”

By Sunday, the corporate media were insinuating that diabolical Russian Facebook bots had brainwashed the French into running amok, because who else could possibly be responsible? Certainly not the French people themselves! The French, as every American knows, are by nature a cowardly, cheese-eating people, who have never overthrown their rightful rulers, or publicly beheaded the aristocracy. No, the French were just sitting there, smoking like chimneys, and otherwise enjoying their debt-enslavement and the privatization of their social democracy, until they unsuspectingly logged onto Facebook and … BLAMMO, the Russian hackers got them!

Bloomberg is reporting that French authorities have opened a probe into Russian interference (in the middle of which report, for no apparent reason, a gigantic photo of Le Pen is featured, presumably just to give it that “Nazi” flavor). According to “analysis seen by The Times,” Russia-linked social media accounts have been “amplifying” the “chaos” and “violence” by tweeting photos of gilets jaunes who the French police have savagely beaten or gratuitiously shot with “less-than-lethal projectiles.” “Are nationalists infiltrating the yellow vests?” the BBC Newsnight producers are wondering. According to Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick, “a beast born almost entirely from Facebook” is slouching toward … well, I’m not quite sure, the UK or even, God help us, America! And then there’s Max Boot, who is convinced he is being personally persecuted by Russian agents like Katie Hopkins, James Woods, Glenn Greenwald, and other high-ranking members of a worldwide conspiracy Boot refers to as the “Illiberal International” (but which regular readers of my column will recognize as the “Putin-Nazis“).

And, see, this is the problem the corporate media (and other staunch defenders of global neoliberalism) are facing with these gilets jaunes protests. They can’t get away with simply claiming that what is happening is not a working class uprising, so they have been forced to resort to these blatant absurdities. They know they need to delegitimize the gilets jaunes as soon as possible — the movement is already starting to spread — but the “Putin-Nazi” narrative they’ve been using on Trump, Corbyn, and other “populists” is just not working.

No one believes the Russians are behind this, not even the hacks who are paid to pretend they do. And the “fascism” hysteria is also bombing. Attempts to portray the gilets jaunes as Le Pen-sponsored fascists blew up in their faces. Obviously, the far-Right are part of these protests, as they would be in any broad working class uprising, but there are far too many socialists and anarchists (and just regular pissed-off working class people) involved for the media to paint them all as “Nazis.”

Which is not to say that the corporate media and prominent public intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Lévy will not continue to hammer away at the “fascism” hysteria, and demand that the “good” and “real” gilets jaunes suspend their protests against Macron until they have completely purged their movement of “fascists,” and “extremists,” and other dangerous elements, and have splintered it into a number of smaller, antagonistic ideological factions that can be more easily neutralized by the French authorities … because that’s what establishment intellectuals do.

We can expect to hear this line of reasoning, not just from establishment intellectuals like Lévy, but also from members of the Identity Politics Left, who are determined to prevent the working classes from rising up against global neoliberalism until they have cleansed their ranks of every last vestige of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so on. These leftist gatekeepers have been struggling a bit to come up with a response to the gilets jaunes … a response that doesn’t make them sound like hypocrites. See, as leftists, they kind of need to express their support for a bona fide working class uprising. At the same time, they need to delegitimize it, because their primary adversaries are fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and assorted other isms and phobias, not the neoliberal ruling classes.

Nothing scares the Identity Politics Left quite like an actual working class uprising. Witnessing the furious unwashed masses operating out there on their own, with no decent human restraint whatsoever, Identity Politics Leftists feel a sudden overwhelming urge to analyze, categorize, organize, sanitize, and otherwise correct and control them.

They can’t accept the fact that the actual, living, breathing working classes are messy, multiplicitous, inconsistent, and irreducible to any one ideology. Some of them are racists. Some are fascists. Others are communists, socialists, and anarchists. Many have no idea what they are, and don’t particularly care for any of these labels.This is what the actual working classes are … a big, contradictory collection of people who, in spite of all their differences, share one thing in common, that they are being screwed over by the ruling classes. I don’t know about you, but I consider myself one of them.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. According to The Guardian, as I am sitting here writing this, the whole of Europe is holding its breath in anticipation of the gilets jaunes’ response to Macron’s most recent attempt to appease them, this time with an extra hundred Euros a month, some minor tax concessions, and a Christmas bonus.

Something tells me it’s not going to work, but even if it does, and the gilets jaunes uprising ends, this messy, Western “populist” insurgency against global neoliberalism has clearly entered a new phase. Count on the global capitalist ruling classes to intensify their ongoing War on Dissent and their demonization of anyone opposing them (or contradicting their official narrative) as an “extremist,” a “fascist,” a “Russian agent,” and so on. I’m certainly looking forward to that, personally.

Oh… yeah, and I almost forgot, if you were wondering what you could get me for Christmas, I did some checking, and there appears to be a wide selection of yellow safety vests online for just a couple Euros.

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Washington Is Changing The World Order Against Its Own Interests

Any country sufficiently stupid to ally with the US is allied with a dead man walking.

Paul Craig Roberts

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Authored by Paul Craig Roberts:


The hubris and arrogance of Washington have been at work since the Clinton regime to destroy the power and relevance of the United States.

This website has an international audience. The most asked question from this audience is the world order. There is a realization that Washington’s control might weaken, a development people abroad see as hopeful. They ask me for verification of their hope.

Here is my answer:

The world order has already changed.  China has a larger and more powerful industrial and manufacturing based economy than the US, and China’s potential domestic consumer market is four times larger than that of the US. As economies are consumer based, China’s potential is an economy four times larger than that of the US.

Russia has a far more capable military with weapon systems unmatched by the US. The US is drowning in debt, and the illegal and irresponsible sanctions that Washington tries to impose on others are driving the world’s largest countries away from the use of the US dollar as world reserve currency and away from Western clearance systems such as SWIFT.  The United States already has one foot in the grave.  Any country sufficiently stupid to ally with the US is allied with a dead man walking.

President Eisenhower, a five-star general, warned Americans 57 years ago to no effect that the military/security complex was already a threat to the American people’s ability to control their government. Today the military/security complex is the Government. As Udo Ulfkotte documented in his book, Journalists for Hire: How the CIA buys the News—no you can’t buy a copy unless you can find a used copy in German in a German book store, the CIA has seen to that—journalism independent of official explanations no longer exists in the Western world.

Much of the world does not understand this. Aside from the material interests of Russian and Chinese capitalists, a portion of the youth of both superpowers, and also even in Iran, have succumbed to brainwashing by American propaganda. Gullible beyond belief, they are more loyal to America than they are to their own countries.

The United States itself is extremely unsuccessful, but its propaganda still rules the world. The consequence is that, based on its propagandistic success, Washington thinks it still holds the balance of economic and military power. This is a delusion that is leading Washington to nuclear war.

Considering the hypersonic speed, trajectory changeability and massive power of Russian nuclear weapons, war with Russia will result in nothing whatsoever being left of the US and its vassals, who sold out European peoples for Washington’s money.

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