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Saturday, July 21

Did NATO start a ratline to transfer Saudi weapon purchases to terrorists in Syria?

"Adis Ikanovic, managing director of the BNT-TMiH arms factory in Bosnia. Most of his arms exports, he said, went to Saudi Arabia"

Photo: Nelofer Pazira

I've excerpted the following passages from Robert Fisk's report for the (U.K.) Independent, "A Bosnian signs off weapons he says are going to Saudi Arabia – but how did his signature turn up in Aleppo?" published July 20, 2018. See the full report for some photographs of the evidence Fisk collected and oIfet Krnjic; the above photo and caption are also featured in the report.  

The lede:

Exclusive: The documents, some lying amid smashed guns and shrapnel, provided the most intriguing paper trail yet discovered of just who is producing the weapons that have armed the Assad regime’s most ferocious Islamist opponents
In the basement of a bombed-out al-Qaeda arms storage building in eastern Aleppo last year, I found a weapons log book from a mortar factory in Bosnia – with the handwritten name of one of their senior officials, Ifet Krnjic, on each page. It was dispatched from the Balkans with a cargo of 500 120mm mortars in January 2016. But now, in the forested heart of central Bosnia, I have found Mr Krnjic, who says his company sent the arms to Saudi Arabia.
Sitting on the lawn of his home south of the weapons-manufacturing town of Novi Travnik, he brings his finger down onto the first page of the log book which I showed him. “This is my signature! Yes, that’s me!” Krnjic exclaims loudly. “It’s a warranty for the 120mm mortar launcher – this is Nato standard. It [the shipment] went to Saudi Arabia. It was part of a supply of 500 mortars. I remember the Saudi shipment well. They [the Saudis] came to our factory to inspect the weapons at the beginning of 2016.”
Ifet Krnjic’s account of the mortar shipment from BNT-TMiH in Bosnia is both precise and detailed.
“When the Saudis came to our factory to inspect at the beginning of 2016, there was a Saudi ‘minister’... and some Saudi officers who also came to inspect the weapons before receiving them. The officers wore civilian clothes. The minister was in a robe.
All our production after the [Bosnian] war is under the control of the Americans and Nato who are always coming here… and they know each and every piece of our weapons which go outside our factory.”
Krnjic, who lives in the tiny village of Potok Krnjic (Bosnian hamlets sometimes carry the names of extended families) south of Novi Travnik, describes how he recognised Nato officers visiting the plant, one of them “a Canadian officer, a black guy whose name is Stephen”.
[Adis] Ikanovic, the BNT-TMiH boss, confirms that all weapons shipments, including those to Saudi Arabia, were checked by the European Union Force Althea (EUFOR), the successor to Nato’s SFOR, and set up under the 1995 Dayton accords which ended the Bosnian war.
Ikanovic says an Austrian general visits his factory for inspections, identified to me by other employees as Austrian two star Major General Martin Dorfer, the EUFOR commander.
Krnjic says weapons from the plant are exported by Tuzla airport or through Sarajevo.

The Saudis, Krnjic tells me, “were never complaining because we have had a very good reputation for a long time, not only for our weapons but for who can give the shortest delivery date … I know I should not say all of this, but Nato and the EU have given us the green light to do this.
This is astonishing. Not only does Krnjic, the 64-year old newly retired weapons control director of the BNT-TMiH factory at Novi Travnik, acknowledge his signature – but he says he recalls the visits of Saudi officials and military personnel to inspect the mortars before their shipment to Riyadh, and insists all such sales were strictly in accordance with the legal end-user certificates which his company obtained from all customers, stating that the weapons were to be used only by the armed forces of the nations which purchased them.
Five-hundred mortars is a massive shipment of weapons – most European armies don’t have that many in their individual inventories – and some of them at least appear to have ended up in the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s Islamist Nusrah Front/al-Qaeda enemies in northern Syria within six months of their dispatch from Bosnia 1,200 miles away. 
Because the mortars left Bosnia on 15 January 2016 under a BNT-TMiH factory guarantee for 24 months – numbered 779 and with a weapons series number of 3677 – the documents now in The Independent’s possession must have reached Aleppo by late July of 2016, when Syrian government troops totally surrounded the enclave held by armed factions including Nusrah, Isis and other Islamist groups condemned as “terrorists” by the United States.

The above excerpts don't cover all the important information in the report. But I focused on passages I think raise a question about whether NATO set up a ratline (backchannel 'highway') to transfer large amounts of Saudi-purchased  weapons to terrorist groups in Syria.

It seems to me that Krnjic and Ikanovic were telling Fisk that BNT-TMiH did everything strictly by the book, and if he wanted to know how weapons the company sold to the Saudi regime ended up in a terror group's storage depot, he should contact the Saudis; if that was a brick wall, try NATO and the European Commission. I note there was no mention of the U.S. or 'Washington.'

Fisk reports that staff at the Independent did contact the Saudi regime about his evidence and got stonewalled. As to NATO -- I'd say his published report and the 'companion' one, "The Syrian war is a 'shame to mankind' says Serbia's top weapons maker – but I found his instruction books in eastern Aleppo," are the best way to contact NATO.

No word back yet it doesn't seem, at least not in public. 


"Biggest conference of businessmen, investors in Middle East to be held in Syria this month"

ICI Director Musan Nahhas expects the Conference to be "the biggest in the Middle East where the largest presence since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria of businessmen from Europe, the U.S. and Asia is due to be assembled."

Damascus, SANA - July 14 - Director-General of the Syrian Investment Authority Madian Diab announced that the ‘Businessmen and Investors in Syria and the World’ Conference is slated to be held between July 26-28 at the Conference Palace and Damascus Fairground City.

The announcement came during a press conference held jointly by the Authority and the International Company for Investment (ICI).

Diab used the conference to signal the Authority’s readiness to offer all necessary services and facilitations to investors, answer their queries and ease the procedures needed for them to jump-start their enterprises.

The Conference reflects the government’s efforts to attract local and foreign funds to establish investment projects that serve the construction and development process during the upcoming rebuilding stage in the country, and constitutes a platform to highlight investment opportunities, the Authority’s Director clarified.

ICI Director Musan Nahhas expected the Conference to be ‘the biggest in the Middle East where the largest presence since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria of businessmen from Europe, the US and Asia is due to be assembled.’

He pointed out that as many as 150 businessmen from Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Japan, Venezuela, the US, Russia, Iran and Arab countries are due to take part.


Pundita note: What? No Chinese businessmen? The fellow in the far right of the above presser photo looks as if he could be Chinese. If he is, that could suggest Beijing is helping organize the conference, couldn't it? And is India not to be represented at the conference? Or did Mahhas leave out exactly why the conference was to be the biggest in the Middle East?] 


Almost 2 million refugees can return to Syria "very soon"

Moscow, SANA - June 20 – The Russian Defense Ministry said that 1.7 million displaced Syrians will be able to return to Syria very soon, and that the return of displaced people to their areas is the first task in order to restore normal life and rebuild Syria.

Chief of National Centre for State Defense Control Lt. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a press conference on Friday that the prices of food and medical supplies are decreasing in the areas that are being liberated from terrorists, and locals are getting healthcare services.

Mizintsev said that a special coordination center had been established to help the Syrian government in returning the displaced to their country.


He also said that Russia presented specific suggestions to the US side during the recent summit in Helsinki regarding organizing the return of displaced Syrians, particularly those currently staying in Lebanon and Jordan.


See also Lebanon's Hezbollah to work with Syrian state on refugee returns; June 29, Reuters. 

Meanwhile internally displaced Syrians have been returning to their homes in Daraa as fast as the Syrian military can secure their neighborhoods. See Dozens of families return to their homes in Alma town in Daraa; July 10, SANA, and Hundreds of displaced families return to Dael and Ebtaa, Daraa; July 12, SANA.


Oumou Sangaré, "Giving Voice to Those Who Often Go Unheard"

And the song’s intent was complicated: half party, half protest, invoking the joy of a voluntary wedding while inveighing against forced ones. It spoke to fathers: “I say that if a girl is not mature, she should not get married,” run its lyrics in the Bambara language. “She starts to understand life when puberty arrives and her breasts start to grow/Before then, you’re only destroying her life.” [NYT review 2009]
That's Oumou Sangaré -- always the light touch with serious subjects but a great polemicist with song; years ago she refused to go into politics in Mali saying she had more influence by staying with singing.

I can't remember which year I discovered Oumou and posted some of her songs here but a few months ago I went looking for my top favorite video recordings of her songs at YouTube and found they'd all been removed. Copyright issues, perhaps. Then last night I started thinking of her rendition of "Senkele" performed in Berlin in 2009 at the House of World Cultures; listening to it would be a great way to depressurize from a chaotic news week. 

So here is "Senkele" again before it too disappears. As to the meaning of the lyrics -- Mariam Conde, a YouTube viewer, explained the gist:
she's right - no matter what you do, either good or bad, there'll be someone to say something about it. ...  not everyone is going to like you and you're not going to like everyone.
And yes, as another YouTube viewer excitedly pointed out, one of the backup singers is indeed Fatoumata Diawara, which I might have mentioned the last time I posted the rendition. Anyhow, she's the singer on the far right of the stage. 


Friday, July 20

500 Idlib Regions Join Gov't Peace Plan, Thousands of Idlib Tribal Forces to Coordinate with Syrian Army

Both reports are from FARs; the first one, published Monday, quotes Sputnik's Arabic-language news agency as does the second report, published yesterday. 

With the Southern offensive wrapping up, the SAA must now move as quickly as possible to retake Ilib because of the large number of atrocities against civilians that terrorist groups have committed in the effort to derail peace talks, most recently in Daraa. As the second report mentions the groups are stuffed with imported foreign fighters, who don't hesitate to massacre unarmed Syrian civilians. 

But there has been progress with the peace talks in Idlib, as the FARS/Sputnik reports indicate and if the cooperation between Syria's government and Idlib civilians continues to increase, this can avert considerable bloodshed during the Idlib offensive. I suspect the civilians were told lies in earlier years about how the government would treat them if they cooperated -- and most certainly those civilians risked their lives, and still do, to reach out the government.    

500 Regions in Idlib Join Gov't Peace Plan; July 16, FARS:

TEHRAN (FNA)- Hundreds of towns and villages in Idlib province have joined the Syrian government's peace plan as the army is terminating military operations in Dara'a and plans to start the battle against the terrorists in Idlib.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik news agency quoted Sheikh Saud al-Mobarak, a member of Idlib's peace committee, as saying that 500 villages and towns have joined the national peace plan in coordination with the Syrian government and supervision of the Russian delegation and after continued talks and contacts with the residents of different towns in Idlib province.

He added that the process of peace negotiations had started 1.5 years ago in several regions of Idlib, saying that residents of several villages and towns in Idlib have held protest rallies against the presence of the terrorists, specially the foreigners who have looted their properties and lands.

Sheikh Saud said that implementation of the peace plan in the province is aimed at preventing clashes and protecting the residents of the two towns of Fua'a and Kafrya which have repeatedly been targeted by terrorists in the past few years.

The Syrian army has earned control over a sum of 90% of Dara'a province and started military operations in Quneitra.

Commanders of the terrorist groups in Northern Syria are showing clear signs of concerns over the growing number of the militants who are demanding endorsement of peace with the Damascus government.

Abdullah Muhammad al-Muhaysini, the former commander of Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front), cautioned on Wednesday against the growing number of the militants asking for the endorsement of the peace plan in Northern Syria, calling for their trial and punishment.

Also, Abdolrazaq al-Mahdi, the Mufti (religious leader) of another terrorist group in Northern Syria, warned of the dire situation in Northern Syria, calling on the militants to unite to stand against the Syrian army's imminent operations in the region.

The Syrian army will soon start military operations in Idlib after fully cleansing Southern Syria of terrorists, reports said.


Thousands of Tribal Forces in Idlib Ready to Cooperate with Syrian Army; July 19, FARS:

TEHRAN (FNA)- Thousands of tribal forces in Idlib have declared preparedness to collaborate with the Syrian army in its imminent military operations in Idlib after the end of battle in Southern Syria.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik news agency quoted Commander of Bani Izz tribal forces Sheikh Ahmed al-Mobarak as saying on Thursday that thousands of trained forces are waiting for the start of the Syrian army's operations against the terrorist groups in Idlib.

He added that thousands of residents of Idlib have supported the Syrian army since the start of the war in the country, and said all tribal forces have received military training for the battle, specially against the foreign terrorist groups including the Chechens, Uzbeks and Uyghurs stationed in Idlib province.

Al-Mobarak said that the tribal forces have participated so far in several battles, including in Southeastern Idlib, and foiled the terrorists' attacks despite the fact that the militants used armored Turkish vehicles and resorted to suicide attacks and bomb-laden vehicles.

Hundreds of towns and villages in Idlib province have joined the Syrian government's peace plan as the army is terminating military operations in Dara'a and plans to start the battle against the terrorists in Idlib.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik also quoted Sheikh Saud al-Mobarak, a member of Idlib's peace committee, as saying on Monday that 500 villages and towns have joined the national peace plan in coordination with the Syrian government and supervision of the Russian delegation and after continued talks and contacts with the residents of different towns in Idlib province.

He added that the process of peace negotiations had started 1.5 years ago in several regions of Idlib, saying that residents of several villages and towns in Idlib have held protest rallies against the presence of the terrorists, specially the foreigners who have looted their properties and lands.

Sheikh Saud said that implementation of the peace plan in the province is aimed at preventing clashes and protecting the residents of the two towns of Fua'a and Kafrya, which have repeatedly been targeted by terrorists in the past few years.



Because Saudia doesn't want Lebanon to regain crucial revenue

Headline today from Reuters: "Lebanon must strike deal with Syria to use export crossing." But why must a deal be worked out, given how important Syria's restored M5 highway and 
border crossing is to the Lebanese economy not to mention Jordan's economy and the Turkish one as well?  

Because the Saudis want Lebanon to remain economically crippled, and for the same reason they want Jordan to stay on its knees. The Saudis want complete control of the governments in both countries (and I doubt they've given up trying to control Syria). 

So while Reuters doesn't directly mention the Saudi role, there's a political battle between the Lebanese faction controlled by the Saudis and factions controlled by everybody else in Lebanon, now that the Lebanon-Syria border crossing is safe for commercial international trucking:
One complicating factor for Lebanon is the political row over whether or not the country should have official ties with Damascus, with Lebanese politicians bitterly divided over the issue.
Before I return to the Reuters report some background; by the time you get through it, you might ask, 'So how much of foreign interference in Syria has been to keep the M5 highway from going into key commercial points in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey?'

I've been meaning to ring up the Saudi regime and its flunkies in the U.S., U.K, French, and Israeli regimes and ask them just that question. 

While I'm at it, I might as well ask what percentage of criminal activity by Hezbollah and other Lebanese in Latin America they think is due to Lebanon being in desperate economic straits.  

[muttering to herself] How did it become my lot to spend my life studying the machinations of scoundrels and fiends?  Pundita don't whine it's bad for your blood pressure.
Syria Sitrep - Liberating The M5 Highway, Syria's Economic LifelineMay 19, 2018, Moon of Alabama
Until two weeks ago a large area around al-Rastan between Homs and Hama was still held by mostly local "rebel" forces. The Syrian government sent its Tiger forces and an ultimatum - give up or die. The "rebels" decided to avoid a fight which they would surely have lost. They agreed to be evacuated and were dumped into Idlib. Al-Rastan is back in government hands. This move freed the M5 highway between Homs and Hama.
The M5 highway is the main north-south artery of Syria. It connects Gaziantep in Turkey with Amman in Jordan. The highway runs through the main Syrian cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus. Before the war started all transit traffic between Turkey and the rich Gulf countries as well as most of the internal Syrian commerce ran along this road. 
Turkey, Syria and Jordan have a common economic interest in securing and reopening this important lifeline. [Pundita note: True for Lebanon as well]
M5 Highway  
The next strategic task for the Syrian army is therefore to secure the M5 highway in its full length.
In the south of Syria the M5 connection to Jordan runs through the eastern part of the "rebel" held area (green) towards al-Mafraq in Jordan.
The border to Jordan is closed for the "rebels" and tightly controlled. There have been talks between Jordan and some of the "rebel" groups with the aim of ending the conflict in the south but they have so far failed.
Since the MoA sitrep in May the Syria-Jordan border area has been cleared of "rebels," the Syria-Iraq border has been cleared, and as I write these words the Syria-Israel frontier area is being cleared except for a pocket of Islamic State fighters, who will be leaving soon one way or another. 

Lebanon must strike deal with Syria to use export crossing-minister
July 20, 2018 - 12:05 PM ET
Reuters (U.K.-based news outlet]

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon must seek a deal with Syria so Lebanese exporters can reach wider Middle East markets via the Syrian border with Jordan now that Damascus has recovered state control of that frontier, Lebanon’s caretaker economy minister said on Friday.
Raed Khoury said it was vital that Lebanese exporters be able once again to send their produce overland through Syria to the Nassib crossing with Jordan and onwards to the wider region, calling it “a vital artery” for the Lebanese economy that had been closed because of the war.
“God willing, with the negotiations that will happen between the Lebanese and Syrian parties, and Jordan, this route will open because our (total) exports fell by 35 percent after the war in Syria erupted,” Khoury told Reuters in an interview.
Syrian government forces recovered control of the Nassib crossing in a Russia-backed offensive that has swept insurgents from a swathe of territory near the borders with Jordan and Israel since it began one month ago.
Khoury’s comments point to the significance of the Nassib crossing’s reopening for economies in the region. Before the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, it served as a major transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Turkey and the Gulf in multi-billion dollar annual trade.
“In my opinion, it is in the Syrians’ interest that this crossing is opened, and in the Jordanians’ interest,” Khoury said. “Let’s see what the conditions and other factors are that must be taken into consideration,” he said.
One complicating factor for Lebanon is the political row over whether or not the country should have official ties with Damascus, with Lebanese politicians bitterly divided over the issue.



Troops plant Syrian flag on on al-Haara hill in Quneitra region

Syria Regains Control Over Frontier With Israel In Russia-Brokered Deal
July 20, 2018 02:18 GMT
RFE/RL with reporting by Reuters, TASS, AP, and AFP
[and editing by Pundita to keep RFE/RL on the actual subject of the report]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is set to regain control of his country's frontier with Israel in a major victory over rebels who have agreed to surrender in negotiations with Russia, sources on both sides say. 

A copy of the surrender agreement sent to Reuters by a rebel source said insurgents had negotiated the deal with Russia. The surrender deal seen by Reuters included a provision saying Russian military police would accompany the Syrian Army to the frontier area in a bid to ensure Damascus adheres to the 1974 cease-fire agreement.
Echoing surrender terms imposed on rebels elsewhere in the country, opposition fighters agreed to give up their heavy and medium-sized weapons. Those wishing to stay in the area agreed to "settle" their status with the state, meaning accept the return of Assad's rule.
Rebels who rejected the surrender terms were given safe passage and transport to the opposition-held province of Idlib in the northwest.
The terms of the surrender deal were also reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based war monitor, and a military news outlet run by Lebanon's Hizballah.
Reports said an affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group continued to hold a sliver of the Golan frontier and it is not party to the agreement.
The United States may have also been involved in the deal. U.S. President Donald Trump said at a news conference after his summit with Putin on July 16 in Helsinki that the two leaders had agreed to work together to help ensure Israel's security. The resumption of Syrian control over areas bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in the country, appears to be part of a larger Russian plan to reinstate Syrian control in the border region while clearing the area of pro-Iranian militias, as sought repeatedly by Israel and the United States in talks with Moscow this year.
Russia's ambassador to Syria, Aleksandr Kinshchak, told Russian news services in Moscow on July 19 that the south of Syria near Israel had now been cleared of Iranian-allied groups.
"This issue has already been settled. I have repeatedly heard from different sources that there are no pro-Iranian, Shi'ite units in the south of Syria," he was quoted as saying by state-run news agency TASS.
The latest surrender deal by rebels puts the Syrian government face-to-face with Israel along most of its frontier for the first time since 2011, when an uprising against Assad's rule ushered in the civil war.


They also hate Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, if it's any comfort to Christians

Further to my July 19 post, "Hatred of Christianity a factor in Western elite's hatred of Putin and today's Russia."

They hate every religion, every religious sect, even though they pretend not to hate ones promoted by fabulously rich Muslims who contribute to their political campaigns and deposit obscenely large sums of money in their banks and invest billions USD in their businesses.

They hate the idea of religious faith, they hate the idea of an unfathomable power. They hate above all that complete nobodies consider themselves on speaking terms with an unfathomable power.


Thursday, July 19

Hatred of Christianity a factor in Western elite's hatred of Putin and today's Russia

... following the demise of communism as a global power bloc there has been an eerie spiritual role reversal between East and West. While it’s true that during the original Cold War the nonreligious ruling cliques in Washington and Moscow held basically compatible progressive values, ordinary Christian Americans (mainly Protestants, with a large number of Roman Catholics) perceived communism as a murderous, godless machine of oppression ... 
Conversely, today it is western elites who rely upon an ideological imperative of “democracy” and “human rights” promotion to justify a materialist global empire and endless wars, much like the old Soviet nomenklatura depended on Marxism-Leninism both as a working methodology and as a justification for their prerogatives and privileges.
In that regard promotion of nihilist, post-Christian morality – especially in sexual matters – has become a major item in the West’s [policy] toolkit.
This has a special importance with regard to Russia, where under Putin the Orthodox Church has largely resumed its pre-1917 role as the moral anchor of society. 
This elicits not only political opposition but a genuine and heartfelt hatred from the postmodern elites of an increasingly post-Christian West, not only for Putin personally and Russia generally but against the Russian Orthodox Church – and by extension against Orthodox Christianity itself.
The above passages are from A Two-Pronged Attack on Orthodoxy and Russia by James George Jatras for Strategic Culture Foundation, July 7, 2018.


Wednesday, July 18

Putting paid to the "Gerasimov Doctrine" Ya mean the Ruskis ain't plotting to undermine us?

Thank you to Col. Pat Lang and David Habakkuk, who on occasion graces the comment section at Col. Lang's Sic Semper Tyrannis and sometimes, I suppose when he's in the mood, writes an essay for SST that 'general' readers can actually understand. This fortunate circumstance happened today when Col. Lang published Habakkuk on metadata

Here are a few passages from the essay. I added the link to Wikipedia's article about the GRU, which the military/intel types who regularly read SST don't need explained:  
Also relevant here is the fact that, rather transparently, this placing of the GRU centre stage is bound up with the attempt to suggest that there is some kind of ‘Gerasimov doctrine’, designed to undermine the West by ‘hybrid warfare.’
Unfortunately, the original author of this claptrap, Mark Galeotti, who, I regret to say, is, like Tait, British, has now recanted and confessed. In March, he published a piece on the ‘Foreign Policy’ site, under the title: ‘I’m Sorry for Creating the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’; I was the first to write about Russia’s infamous high-tech military strategy. One small problem: it doesn't exist.’
(See https://foreignpolicy.com/2... .)
If anyone wants to grasp what the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General Valery Gerasimov, was actually saying in the crucial February 2013 article which Galeotti was discussing, and how his thinking has developed subsequently, the place to look is, as so often, the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth.
Informed discussions by Charles Bartles and Roger McDermott are at
https://www.armyupress.army... ;
http://www.worldinwar.eu/wp... ; and
https://jamestown.org/progr... .
In relation to the ongoing attempt to frame the GRU, it is material that, in his 2013 piece, Gerasimov harks back to two pivotal figures in the arguments of the interwar years.
David Habakkuk is British, thus his regret.


If there was a secret deal in Helsinki it was to help Netanyahu save face

Hello, DEBKAfile, the Syrian government now has the "controlling role" along those borders. But DEBKAfile continues to pretend the Syrian government does not exist. Better to pretend than to admit the U.S. finally agreed with Russia that it wasn't a good idea to use terrorist groups to maintain a buffer zone.

Secret Helsinki deal: US & Israel hand Russia controlling role along Syria’s Israeli, Jordanian borders
Jul 18, 2018

[see website for map of border region under discussion]
The scandal over President Donald Trump’s defense of President Vladimir Putin against US intelligence at the Helsinki press conference – for which he, sort of, apologized – served him too as a distraction from a momentous military-intelligence deal the two presidents secretly contracted at their summit with Israel’s approval.
DEBKAfile has obtained exclusive access to this deal and can reveal for the first time that it provides for the handover to Russian responsibility of all parts of southern and southwestern Syria abutting on the Israeli and Jordanian borders, including, most importantly, surveillance and observation elevations that oversee all parts of Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and the eastern Mediterranean.

Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu thereby gave Putin a valuable asset for boosting Russia’s military presence in Syria and the region at large. This complicated, wide-ranging Trump-Putin-Netanyahu deal is revealed in detail in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out this Friday, July 20. Don’t miss this epic story. ...


I'm sure it's an epic tale. 


US to rest of world: Nobody buys Russian energy, nobody gets hurt

Note how the American regime is determined to pressure  NATO into increasing U.S. energy imports. For the moment the organization's secretary general is having none of the American machinations, saying that decisions about purchasing Russian energy are a national issue for each member country of NATO. We'll see how long he maintains the independent stance if the U.S. levies sanctions on all nations participating in Nord Stream 2.

"Nord Stream 2 is a joint venture of Russia's Gazprom, France's Engie, Austria’s OMV AG, UK-Denmark’s Royal Dutch Shell, and Germany's Uniper and Wintershall."

"US Draft Law to Sanction Russian Energy Projects Introduced in Senate - Lawmaker"
July 18, 2018 - 20:36

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - A new draft law introduced in the US Senate would impose sanctions on Russian energy projects including Nord Stream 2 in a bid to protect the United States' allies, Senator Bill Barrasso said in a press release on Wednesday.

"Russian President Vladimir Putin uses Russia’s natural gas to extort and threaten our allies and our partners,” Barrasso said in the release. “The ESCAPE Act will take this geopolitical weapon away from Russia by sanctioning the Nord Stream II gas pipeline and facilitating the export of more American natural gas to our allies."

The Energy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe (ESCAPE) Act would authorize mandatory US sanctions on any development of Russian energy pipeline projects including Nord Stream 2, according to the text of the legislation.

It would also require the energy secretary to speed up approvals for US natural gas exports to NATO countries or other allies such as Japan in order to promote American national security interests.

If passed, the legislation would also require the US administration to develop a comprehensive strategy to increase the energy security of the United States' NATO allies and partners, Barrasso said.

The US has repeatedly stated its opposition towards the Moscow-initiated Nord Stream 2 project. Earlier in June, the US State Department noted that companies working in Russian energy export can face restrictive measures, insisting that Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline threatens the EU's energy security and stability.

At the NATO summit in Brussels last week, US President Donald Trump lambasted Germany, saying that its heavy reliance on Russian oil and gas supplies was "inappropriate," and called Berlin "a captive" of Russia.

Germany, however, disagreed with Trump's stance, stressing that Berlin was not a prisoner of Russia or of the United States but "one of the guarantors of the free world."

Russia, in turn, stressed that US liquefied gas (LNG) suppliers were trying to force European consumers to buy more expensive gas, calling it a manifestation of "unfair competition."

Nord Stream 2 is a joint venture of Russian energy giant Gazprom and France's Engie, Austria’s OMV AG, UK-Denmark’s Royal Dutch Shell, and Germany's Uniper and Wintershall.

The pipeline will run under the Baltic Sea from the Russian coast to a hub in Germany and have an annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters. The pipeline is expected to be put into operation by the end of 2019.


See also this report from Sputnik:

After Helsinki Summit Trump Admits Germany's Right to Take Part in Nord Stream 2

On July 11 Moon of Alabama's German author "b" untangled President Trump's muddled statements about German participation in Nord Stream 2:
The big advantage for Germany is that the [Nord Stream 2] pipeline does not run through any other country. Other pipelines from Russia, built in the 1970s, run through the Ukraine and Poland to Germany. They are used by all three countries to receive gas from Russia.
Whenever Ukraine has no money to pay Russia for gas and does not pay its dues, Russia will send less gas through the pipeline. The gas for Germany and Poland is supposed to continue to flow without Ukraine taking any of it.
But Ukrainians cheat. They steal the gas that is supposed to pass through without paying for it. In the end Germany has to give money to Ukraine so that Ukraine can pay Russia. This happened in 2006, in 2008 and again in 2014.
Enough is enough. Nord Stream [2] prevents such blackmail of Germany by Ukraine. That is the main reason why Ukraine lobbies against it.

Poland is not rejecting gas from Russia even as it claims to do so. It has a long term contract with Russia and will receive plenty of gas through the Ukraine pipeline up to at least 2022. Since 2014 it also imports gas from Germany through the new bi-directional pipeline pumping station at Mallnow.
Germany receives the gas its exports to Poland through the Nord Stream system from Russia and pumps it through the Opal pipeline and Mallnow to Poland. It is extremely hypocritical for Poland to lobby against Nord Stream when it significantly contributes to Poland's energy security.
Trump claims that Germany "will be getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline". Of the primary energy Germany uses only some 20% comes from natural gas. Less than 40% of the natural gas Germany uses comes from Russia.
Thus Russia delivers 7-8% of the primary energy Germany uses. If need be Germany can do without this. It is not a strategic issue.

Trump also claims of Germany: "They got rid of their coal plants. They got rid of their nuclear." Germany did not get rid of its coal plants. It builds new ones with higher efficiencies. Germany is phasing out nuclear energy. It will not build new nuclear plants. But there are currently still nine nuclear plants running. Their planned shutdown date is 2022 but this will likely be extended. Without nuclear power it will be extremely difficult to reach the set greenhouse gas limit.
As usual Trump has the facts all wrong. But the U.S. is producing more natural gas than it needs and wants to export it. Compressing U.S. natural gas into liquefied form for sea transport takes so much energy that the price is inevitably much higher than Russian gas delivered through pipelines. In Germany it will never be competitive to Russian gas.
It is understandable that Trump wants Germany to buy U.S. produced liquefied gas. But without competitive pricing and a more plausible sales argument he will have no luck.

John Bolton: U.S. will leave Syria when pigs fly AND all the cows come home

From rush transcript ABC News "This Week" July 15, 2018:
KARL: And withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria?
BOLTON: That whole -- the whole situation in Syria will be a discussion that the two leaders will have [in Helsinki] in large part because it’s getting more serious. But I think the president has made it clear that we are there until the ISIS territorial caliphate is removed and as long as the Iranian menace continues throughout the Middle East.
There is no Islamic State territorial caliphate; there's an IS insurgency. But note how the American regime keeps moving the goal posts. First the U.S. military wouldn't leave Syria until Islamic State was wiped out. Then the U.S. wouldn't leave Syria until Iranian militias were thrown out. Now the U.S. won't leave Syria until, well, Iran is wiped off the map.  

[shaking her head] Like father, like son. A minority of men stood up to the British colonialists and forged a new nation, one that eschewed colonizing. The present majority in that nation carries on in the steps of the British colonizers, and with far less excuse than the British. But how the supposed American patriot John Bolton can face himself in the mirror I do not know.


Yes, why would it be Russia if it was China?

July 17, 2018, CNN
Trump, facing fury, says he misspoke ...
... Trump said that when he returned Monday from the summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, he "realized there is some need for clarification" about his remarks on Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
"In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " the President said Tuesday. He explained he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks.
"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,' " he said. "Sort of a double negative."
During Monday's press conference in Helsinki, Trump said, "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia that interfered in the election. ...
July 17, 2018, True Pundit

FBI: Lisa Page Dimes Out Top FBI Officials During Classified House Testimony; Bureau Bosses Covered Up Evidence China Hacked Hillary’s Top Secret Emails
Former top FBI lawyer Lisa Page testified during two days of closed-door House [of Representatives] hearings, revealing shocking new Intel against her old bosses at the Bureau, according the well-placed FBI sources.
Alarming new details on allegations of a bureau-wide cover up. Or should we say another bureau-wide cover up.

The embattled Page tossed James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok [her former lover] and Bill Priestap among others under the Congressional bus, alleging the upper echelon of the FBI concealed intelligence confirming Chinese state-backed ‘assets’ had illegally acquired former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 30,000+ “missing” emails, federal sources said.
The Russians didn’t do it. The Chinese did, according to well-placed FBI sources.
And while Democratic lawmakers and the mainstream media prop up Russia as America’s boogeyman, it was ironically the  Chinese who acquired Hillary’s treasure trove of classified and top secret intelligence from her home-brewed private server.

And a public revelation of that magnitude — publicizing that a communist world power intercepted Hillary’s sensitive and top secret emails — would have derailed Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes. Overnight. But it didn’t simply because it was concealed.
A hat tip to Sic Semper Tyrannis for the True Pundit report. On the previous day SST's Col Pat Lang (ret.) had given a head's up about China's involvement with the Clinton emails. He wrote that he had "inside information" that surely related to Page's testimony, leaked the next day.

Whether the emails were hacked or copied to a Chinese agent by someone working in the Clinton camp is still unclear (at least to the public), as Stephen F. Cohen pointed out during a recap of events around the time that Trump nominated Rex Tillerson to head the state department. 

(The recap preceded Steve and John Batchelor's July 17 analysis of the Helsinki Summit. The two-part podcast is here and here.)

Either way, the revelation about Chinese spying on Hillary Clinton's emails is just one among countless instances of China's spying in the U.S. As to whether the spying in the Clinton email case extended to actual "meddling" in American politics is unknown or unrevealed by U.S. officials. What is known is that there's still no evidence to support the accusation that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Not unless the very existence of Russia's Sputnik and RT news agencies can be considered meddling.

Trump knew all this when he spoke at the Helsinki Summit press conference, and which is why he'd earlier voiced  skepticism about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.


Tuesday, July 17

Trump-Putin Summit: A disaster for those who hate the human race

President Trump, for once minus his Game Face, sharing a light moment with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto while waiting for the summit to get underway 

An exhausted President Putin, for once minus his Game Face, as he arrives an hour late for the summit after the wrap-up of the Russian government's wildly successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup tournament, which the Get Russia crowd sabotaged right up to the end

Game Faces back on, presidents Trump and Putin prepare to launch their discussions

At the end of it all:

"I am here today to begin a proud tradition of bold American diplomacy. Diplomacy and engagement are preferable to conflict and hostility ... Not only good for the United States and Russia but good for the world. If we are going to solve many of the problems facing our world, we will have to find ways to cooperate ... We have seen the consequences when diplomacy is left on the table. Our relationship has never been worse than it is now, however that changed as of about four hours ago. ..."

-  U.S. President Donald John Trump, July 16, 2018

All right. The journey of a thousand miles has begun, so now the human race has a chance to escape nuclear annihilation. 

The greatest and most realistic threat is not so much from a deliberate first strike as from one made in haste -- a nuclear response to a perceived or assumed nuclear first strike that didn't actually happen. In other words, an accident, a mistake, a phantom attack.  

But whether real or a phantom strike, the human race has only 14 minutes while both governments try to discover whether a mistake has been made before launching a retaliatory strike.

A retaliatory strike -- actually a first strike in the case of a phantom launching of a nuclear weapon -- would lead to a counter-strike within perhaps as little as 6 minutes. 

If the counter-strike is a decapitation strike on a government, a procedure known colloquially as "the dead hand" goes into effect. The dead hand automatically launches a barrage of nuclear weapons. It's a little less automatic on the American side; the procedure is for any survivors to at random pick a survivor to give orders to launch nuclear missiles.

The Russian version of the dead hand is quite literal; it doesn't matter if no one in the Russian government survives a decapitation strike. The Russian retaliatory procedure for launching barrages of nuclear weapon counterstrikes is automated -- not in the hands of humans. That might be how the expression 'the dead hand' came to be associated with nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  

Despite the procedural differences basically both sides fire off everything they have in their nuclear arsenal, thus bringing the human race to an end.

That last is for readers who assume the movie "Dr Strangelove" is a satire. Only in some aspects.

Is there any way to ward off the dead hand? There is a way to prevent knee-jerk nuclear strikes in response to a phantom strike or accident. The way is to make it impossible to launch a nuclear armed missile within 14 minutes. This, as Dr Stephen Cohen explained during his most recent talk with John Batchelor, can be done simply by removing nuclear warheads from the missiles. This means it would take several hours before the nuclear warheads could be properly re-attached to the missiles for launch.

When we do a little weighing motion with our hands we can appreciate the advantage for humanity of having several hours to straighten out a snafu instead of only 14 minutes.

As to warding off a deliberate strike -- that's what all those negotiations and summits were about during the Cold War. The idea is to compromise just enough with the other side so it doesn't think that the only way to avoid being wiped out is to fire off nuclear warheads.

Americans, whose risk of armed invasion and conquest from across their southern or northern borders is virtually nil, have talked themselves since the end of the Cold War into believing that the Russians wouldn't nuke Europe. Yes they will nuke Europe if their military commanders assess that the only way to prevent a NATO armed conquest of Russia is to use nuclear weapons.

Wouldn't that be suicidal of the Russians? To ask that question is not to know much about Russian history and the Russian temperament.

Then wouldn't it be suicidal of NATO to invade Russia? You'd be asking that question of men who are so compartmentalized in their thinking that they actually blamed Edward Snowden when the Russian military's entry into Crimea came as a complete surprise to them. They accused Snowden of using his computer expertise on behalf of the Russians to blind the NATO satellites.  

What did you need a satellite for, to spy columns of tanks crossing a border? Just the dust kicked up was visible to the naked eye from miles away.  So think what NATO could have seen if they'd used a pair of binoculars to watch Crimea!

That is today's NATO. It's a bunch of bureaucrats in military uniform who can't see past the end of their noses without a computer program. Yet those bureaucrats have expanded NATO right up to Russia's border. 

And now the U.S., determined to keep NATO together, has created a phantom threat to Europe -- a preemptive Russian invasion of Eastern Europe -- and on the basis of the threat is pouring weapons into Eastern Europe. But the idea of Russia preemptively invading Europe is preposterous if one knows anything about Russia-European relations.  

The vast majority of Americans, however, don't know anything about Russia, much less its relations with Europe. That's because there's been a curious reversal of the Soviet Iron Curtain. It's Americans who now live behind a kind of iron curtain -- one not enforced by tyranny but by a news media that have very effectively blinded their audiences to what is actually going on outside America's shores.  

One consequence is that the world is now closer to nuclear war than it was during the Reagan era.

Thus, President Trump's summit with President Putin. Words will have to be matched with deeds, but their discussions on July 16 were the first real step in a long journey back to sanity in U.S.-Russia relations. 

Against this monumental achievement all other aspects of the summit were negligible, including President Trump's banter with the press and refusal to publicly confront President Putin, which outraged even many of his most ardent supporters. Such supporters are blinder than a bat when it comes to ordering priorities.   


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