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Shock for Erdogan as US and Russian troops jointly defend Kurdish controlled Manbij

US and Russian troops patrol Kurdish controlled Manbij preventing an attack by the Turkish army.

Alexander Mercouris

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In an extraordinary twist illustrating the fantastic complexity of the Syria conflict, news agency reports confirm the presence of both US and Russian troops in the Kurdish controlled Syrian town of Manbij.

These reports come just months after the US and Russian militaries faced off against each other in Syria, as previously reported by The Duran (see here and here), and as again recently confirmed in an extraordinary interview given a few weeks ago by Lieutenant General Leonid Reshetnikov, former head of Russia’s chief centre of foreign intelligence analysis, a complete transcript of which can be found in The Saker

Savvy people likely noticed that there was a period in October-November of last year when we were a step away from a military conflict with the United States.

The US military has, somewhat provocatively, published pictures of its Special Forces in Manbij.

Meanwhile the Russian General Staff has confirmed the presence of Russian military personnel accompanying a Syrian humanitarian convoy in Manjib.

Here is a video showing US troops moving into Manbij

And here is a picture of Russian vehicles forming part of the humanitarian convoy

russian humanitarian convoy

It seems that by tacit agreement there has been no actual meeting of US and Russian troops in Manbij.   Instead each are patrolling neighbouring districts and villages.

The London Times, which is also reporting the parallel US and Russian deployments to the same area, describes the situation in this way

US and Russian troops have been patrolling the outskirts of the same Syrian town in the closest co-operation between the superpowers on the battlefield since the Second World War.

In April 1945 the armies shook hands over the River Elbe in Germany. Last Saturday they avoided contact but were only five miles apart, patrolling villages to the west of the city of Manbij, 15 miles south of the Turkish border, in an effort to keep warring factions apart.

Both flew their national flags in a show of strength. Although in theory they were acting as a visible buffer between rival Kurdish and Turkish-backed militias…..

On Saturday photographs showed armoured vehicles flying the Stars and Stripes in the western outskirts of Manbij, which is held by the American-backed militias. Their presence was confirmed in a tweet by Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition against Isis. Meanwhile, that same militia grouping agreed to hand over villages west of the town to the regime. Turkey had been threatening to attack the town to dislodge the Kurds in its attempt to ensure a loyal buffer zone near the border. By handing these villages over, the Kurds hope to prevent a Turkish attack.

As regime troops entered the area, Russian forces accompanied them, carrying aid for residents. Mohammad al-Hamadeh, a doctor, said that it was ironic to see Russian troops in his village of Abu al-Kahf delivering aid when they had been bombing it last month. “The Russian jets had bombed our village and killed my ten-year-old daughter on February 26, when Isis controlled it,” he said.

The transfer of territory by the Kurdish militia the YPG to the Syrian army mentioned by The London Times in its report was first reported five days ago by the Al-Masdar news agency.  The reason for this transfer is explained in a statement by the YPG published in the Al-Masdar news agency report

To reach these objectives [the defense of Manbij] we have transferred, after reaching a new alliance with Russia, the defence of the line to the west of Manbij – where the villages between us and the gang groups [FSA, Ahrar al-Sham] affiliated to the Turkish army are – to Syrian state forces

(bold italics added)

In other words the military movements by the US and Russian militaries in and around Manbij are intended to achieve the same objective: to prevent the Turkish military and its Jihadi allies from seizing Manbij from the Kurds following Turkey’s recent capture of Al-Bab.

The strategy behind these moves has been carefully explained by the Moon of Alabama news site (see here and here).  Effectively the US and Russia have blocked the Turkish army from advancing unilaterally towards ISIS held Raqqa, and from attacking the Kurds, who for different reasons are for the moment allied to both the US and Russia.

Turkish President Erdogan’s aggressive moves in Syria have therefore achieved the extraordinary feat of uniting the US, the Russians, the Syrians and the Kurds, however temporarily, against him.

The US and Russian militaries have almost certainly coordinated their moves with each other, though this was almost certainly done by the local military commanders on the ground rather than through direct talks between Washington and Moscow.  However the top political and military leaderships of the US and Russia (including Trump and Mattis in the US, and Putin and Shoigu in Russia) were undoubtedly informed, and must have agreed to these moves in advance.

These parallel moves by the US and Russian militaries to block Erdogan and Turkey from advancing on Manbij and Raqqa should be construed as an improvisation to deal with the temporary crisis caused by the Turkish military advances in Syria.  They do not imply an alliance between the US and Russia, whether against ISIS, or other Jihadi terrorists, or indeed against Turkey.  For any of these things to happen there would have to be a formal agreement between the US and Russian governments, which realistically can only happen after Presidents Trump and Putin meet with each other, which does not now look to be before the G20 summit in July.

In the meantime we have the extraordinary spectacle of the US, if only temporarily, in de facto alliance with Russia against its NATO ally Turkey, at the same time as Turkey has been reaching out to Russia, and is Russia’s partner in the peace talks in Astana, and in brokering together with Russia a ceasefire in Syria.

Clearly Presidents Putin and Erdogan will have a lot to talk about when Erdogan finally comes to Moscow in a few days time.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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The United States Of Empire: “We’re Getting Close To The End Now”

There comes a time when hard choices must be made…when it is no longer possible to remain aloof or amused, because the barbarians have arrived at the gate.

The Duran

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Authored by Jonathan via LesTraveledRoad.com:


We’re getting close to the end now. Can you feel it?  I do.  It’s in the news, on the streets, and in your face every day. You can’t tune it out anymore, even if you wanted to.

Where once there was civil debate in the court of public opinion, we now have censorshipmonopolyscreaminginsultsdemonization, and, finally, the use of force to silence the opposition. There is no turning back now. The political extremes are going to war, and you will be dragged into it even if you consider yourself apolitical.

There are great pivot points in history, and we’ve arrived at one. The United States, ruptured by a thousand grievance groups, torn by shadowy agencies drunk on a gross excess of powerrobbed blind by oligarchs and their treasonous henchmen and decimated by frivolous wars of choice, has finally come to a point where the end begins in earnest. The center isn’t holding… indeed, finding a center is no longer even conceivable. We are the schizophrenic nation, bound by no societal norms, constrained by no religion, with no shared sense of history, myth, language, art, philosophy, music, or culture, rushing toward an uncertain future fueled by nothing more than easy money, hubris, and sheer momentum.

There comes a time when hard choices must be made…when it is no longer possible to remain aloof or amused, because the barbarians have arrived at the gate. Indeed, they are here now, and they often look a whole lot like deracinated, conflicted, yet bellicose fellow Americans, certain of only one thing, and that is that they possess “rights”, even though they could scarcely form an intelligible sentence explaining exactly what those rights secure or how they came into being. But that isn’t necessary, from their point of view, you see. All they need is a “voice” and membership in an approved victim class to enrich themselves at someone else’s expense. If you are thinking to yourself right now that this does not describe you, then guess what? The joke’s on you, and you are going to be expected to pay the bill…that “someone else” is you.

In reality, though, who can blame the minions, when the elites have their hand in the till as well? In fact, they are even more hostile to reasoned discourse than Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, or Antifa. Witness the complete meltdown of the privileged classes when President Trump mildly suggested that perhaps our “intelligence community” isn’t to be trusted, which is after all a fairly sober assessment when one considers the track record of the CIAFBINSA, BATF, and the other assorted Stasi agencies. Burning cop cars or bum-rushing the odd Trump supporter seems kind of tame in comparison to the weeping and gnashing of teeth when that hoary old MIC “intelligence” vampire was dragged screaming into the light. Yet Trump did not drive a stake into its heart, nor at this point likely can anyone…and that is exactly the point. We are now Thelma and Louise writ large. We are on cruise control, happily speeding towards the cliff, and few seem to notice that our not so distant future involves bankruptcy, totalitarianism, and/or nuclear annihilation. Even though most of us couldn’t identify the band, we nonetheless surely live the lyrics of the Grass Roots: “Live for today, and don’t worry about tomorrow.”

The “Defense” Department, “Homeland” Security, big pharma, big oil, big education, civil rights groups, blacks, Indians, Jews, the Deep State, government workers, labor unions, Neocons, Populists, fundamentalist Christians, atheists, pro life and pro death advocates, environmentalists, lawyers, homosexuals, women, Millenials, Baby Boomers, blue collar/white collar, illegal aliens…the list goes on and on, but the point is that the conflicting agendas of these disparate groups have been irreconcilable for some time. The difference today is that we are de facto at war with each other, and whether it is a war of words or of actual combat doesn’t matter at the moment. What matters is that we no longer communicate, and when that happens it is easy to demonize the other side. Violence is never far behind ignorance.

I am writing this from the bar at the Intercontinental Hotel in Vienna, Austria. I have seen with my own eyes the inundation of Europe with an influx of hostile aliens bent on the destruction of Old Christendom, yet I have some hope for the eastern European countries because they have finally recognized the threat and are working to neutralize it. Foreign malcontents can never be successfully integrated into a civilized society because they don’t even intend to try; they intend to conquer their host instead. Yet even though our own discontents are domestic for the most part, we have a much harder row to hoe than Old Europe because our own “invaders” are well entrenched and have been for decades, all the way up to the highest levels of government. That there are signs Austria is finally waking up is a good thing, but it serves to illustrate the folly of expecting the hostile cultures within our own country to get along with each other without rupturing the republic. Indeed, that republic died long ago, and it has been replaced by a metastasizing mass of amorphous humanity called the American Empire, and it is at war with itself and consuming itself from within.

Long ago, we once knew that as American citizens each of us had a great responsibility. We were expected to work hard, play fair, do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and serve our country when called upon to do so. Today, we don’t speak of duty, except in so much as a slogan to promote war, but we certainly do speak of benefits for ourselves and our “group” of entitled peeps. We will fail because of our greed and avarice. The United States of Empire has become quite simply too big, too diverse, and too “exceptional” to survive.

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