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Russia adapting to new role as Middle East power broker

With the US having destroyed its regional leadership position through decisions on Syria and Jerusalem, Russia is filling the vacuum as mediator

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(Al-Monitor) – US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel naturally stirred the Middle East, but it also inflamed public opinion in a number of Western countries. Russia has not been left untouched, either. The announcement prompted a strong backlash from the Russian Muslim community, and major media hype around Trump’s rationale over the Jerusalem move was unleashed. The two most burning issues for Moscow were possible implications of the US decision for Russia and whether it could entail a change in the role Moscow has been playing in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict settlement.

At the expert level in Russia, there is some consensus that the Trump decision will provide Moscow with additional opportunities to strengthen its influence on this process, where it already has good working relations with all parties to the conflict. Yet opinions differ between experts and policymakers on whether Moscow needs to step up its peacemaking efforts now. Some believe Russia should take advantage of what they see as favorable political conditions and try to revive the settlement process — this time managed by Moscow. Others consider it necessary to keep monitoring the latest developments on Jerusalem, but be modest in actions given that the parties’ own readiness to negotiate is at best minimal.

On Dec. 18, the UN Security Council voted on an Egyptian-drafted resolution opposing unilateral change in the status of Jerusalem. Fourteen Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, with the United States expectedly vetoing the document. Displeased with this move, Security Council members convened a General Assembly emergency session Dec. 21. The voting results came as no surprise, as 128 states supported the resolution denouncing Trump’s decision.

When mulling over prospects for Russia’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, it is important to scrutinize two aspects: Moscow’s present position and the options it may consider.

When it comes to the first aspect, the country’s leadership today feels confident about its position in the Middle East and is ready to play a more proactive role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indicative of this confidence is the idea of Moscow-led — but direct — bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which have been discussed for quite some time, albeit with little tangible progress.

In May, Al-Monitor looked into the official Russian position on the status of Jerusalem, stated April 6 by the Foreign Ministry. The position has not changed: Russia is ready to consider recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Arab state and West Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. Principal in this position is that for the first time at the official level Russia has started to talk about the possibility of recognizing at least part of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. This position looks much more balanced and pragmatic than that of the current US administration. It reflects Russia’s policy in the Middle East as a whole, one of forming relations with regional states that enable Russia to play an “honest broker” in settling the conflicts tearing up the Middle East.

The second aspect, however — considering new options — looks more complicated. It is unlikely that Russia will be stepping up its diplomatic efforts on the conflict through an old option — the Quartet on the Middle East, a negotiation format for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bringing together Russia, the United States, the European Union and the UN. There is a sense that this form of mediation is not effective at this point, possibly because of the parties’ own direct efforts.

Three newer options, however, show varying prospects for success:

  • The first option would be to attempt to force the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down at the negotiating table under the auspices of Moscow, pointing to Washington’s now-obvious inconsistency as an intermediary in this delicate matter. This approach may look interesting, since merely beginning such talks would clearly demonstrate Russia’s influence in the Middle East. Deeper examination of the option, however, reveals some shortcomings. The failure to resolve Israeli-Palestinian tensions can’t really be blamed on this or previous US administrations, as it is questionable whether the two sides are or have been willing and able to settle the conflict. Even if Moscow can organize the bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks formally, the odds are slim that negotiations would produce an acceptable — or even intermediate — success. The current political environment also is not sufficiently pressuring the parties to sit down at the negotiating table. In recent weeks, the Palestinians dispatched high-ranking delegations to Moscow and Beijing. The visits are expected to continue, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expected to visit Russia soon.
  • The second option could employ a “Syria First” strategy. If Russia successfully navigates a process of political normalization in this Arab state, the experience gained there would allow Moscow to be more effective in mediating the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, and the emergence of a new political reality in the region might create new prerequisites to settle this protracted conflict. The problem with this option is, despite Russia’s obvious military successes in this area, it is hard to envisage how successful Syria’s own political transformation will be, given the great number of stakeholders — inside and outside the region — and all the complexities of their relationships with one another.
  • As for the third option, Trump’s decision on Jerusalem has brought the issue front and center internationally, but Moscow, on the contrary, could set up a low-profile trilateral group of experts to brainstorm proposals to solve the Jerusalem issue. The group might include experts on the region representing Israel, Palestine and Russia. The group should come up with several approaches to a solution that would embrace the interests of both parties in the conflict. Since the group would consist solely of experts, it should not feel politically constrained from being as creative as possible. In this case, there is a chance that some fresh approach could develop. If this were to happen, the proposal could be brought to the political level. If not, political risks would be minimal, and the group’s work would remain a useful experience because of the experts’ cooperation.

Whatever scenario Moscow eventually chooses, Russia is likely to remain steadfast in developing good relations with both parties and will continue to pursue a prudent policy so it can play a significant, if not central, role in the settlement. But it should also be mindful that as more time passes, there is less hope that such a settlement can be reached at all.

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops occupying Idlib will take control over that land, and have responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet.

Eric Zuesse

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As I recommended in a post on September 10th, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width. I had had in mind the Korean experience, but obviously Putin and Erdogan are much better-informed about the situation than I am, and they have chosen a DMZ that’s four to five times wider. In any case, the consequences of such a decision will be momentous, unless U.S. President Donald Trump is so determined for there to be World War III as to stop at nothing in order to force it to happen no matter what Russia does or doesn’t do.

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops who now are occupying Idlib province of Syria will take control over that land, and will thus have the responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet: Idlib. It contains the surviving Syrian Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters, including all of the ones throughout Syria who surrendered to the Syrian Army rather than be shot dead on the spot by Government forces.

For its part, the U.S. Government, backed by its allies and supported in this by high officials of the United Nations, had repeatedly threatened that if there occurs any chemical-weapons attack, or even any claimed chemical-weapons attack, inside Idlib, the U.S. and its allies will instantaneously blame the Syrian Government and bomb Syria, and will shoot down the planes of Syria and of Russia that oppose this bombing-campaign to conquer or ‘liberate’ Syria from its Government. The U.S. has announced its determination to protect what one high U.S. official — who is endorsing what Trump is doing there — “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” He admits it, but he wants to protect them from being bombed by Syria and by Russia.

During recent weeks, the U.S. military has increasingly said that even if the jihadists they’ve been assisting to assemble the materials for a chemical-weapons attack fail to carry it out or to stage one, any attempt by Syrian and Russian forces to destroy the jihadists (which the U.S. side calls ‘rebels’) in Idlib will be met with overwhelming U.S.-and-allied firepower. That would spark WW III, because whichever side — Russia or U.S. — loses in the Syrian battlefield will nuclear-blitz-attack the other side so as to have the lesser damage from the nuclear war and thus (in military terms) ‘win’ WW III, because the blitz-attack will destroy many of the opposite side’s retaliatory weapons. In a nuclear war, the first side to attack will have a considerable advantage — reducing the number of weapons the other side can launch.

If, on the other hand, the DMZ-plan works, then Turkey’s forces will be responsible for vetting any of Idlib’s residents who try to leave, in order to prohibit jihadists and their supporters from leaving. Once that task (filtering out the non-dangerous inhabitants and retaining in Idlib only the jihadists and their supporters) is done, the entire world might be consulted on whether to exterminate the remaining residents or to set them free to return to the countries from which they came or to other countries. Presumably, no country would want those ‘refugees’. That would answer the question.

America’s Arab allies, the oil monarchies such as the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia and the Thanis who own Qatar, and which have funded Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, would then be put on a spot, because if they say “Exterminate them!” then their clergy who have provided the moral imprimatur upon those families’ ownership of those nations, will either be in rebellion or else will themselves become overthrown either by their own followers or else by their monarch — overthrown from below or from above.

Alternatively, after Turkey’s forces in Idlib will have allowed release from Idlib of all who will be allowed out, Syria’s and Russia’s bombers will simply go in and slaughter the then-surrounded jihadists and take upon themselves the responsibility for that, regardless of what the leaders of the U.S. and its allied governments might say.

On the night of September 17th in Syria, there were missile-attacks “from the sea” against several Syrian cities; and those attacks could have come from either Israel’s or America’s ships, or from other U.S.-allied ships. Russian Television bannered, “Russian plane disappears from radars during Israeli attack on Syria’s Latakia – MoD” and reported:

A Russian military Il-20 aircraft with 14 service members on board went off the radars during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Air traffic controllers at the Khmeimim Air Base “lost contact” with the aircraft on Wednesday evening, during the attack of Israeli F-16 fighters on Latakia, said the MOD.Russian radars also registered the launch of missiles from a French frigate in the Mediterranean on the evening of September 17. …
The attack on Latakia came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of the Idlib province

If the missiles were authorized by President Trump, then WW III has already begun in its pre-nuclear stage. However, if the attacks were launched by Israel’s Netanyahu, and/or by France’s Macron, without U.S. authorization, then the U.S. President might respond to them by siding against that aggressor(s) (and also against what he used to call “Radical Islamic Terrorists”), so as to prevent a nuclear war.

Late on September 17th, Al Masdar News bannered “NATO warships move towards Syrian coast” and reported “The NATO flotilla cruising off the Syrian coast reportedly consists of a Dutch frigate, the De Ruyter, a Canadian frigate, the Ville de Quebec, and a Greek cruiser, the Elli.” Al Qaeda and ISIS have influential protectors.

Ultimately, the decision will be U.S. President Trump’s as to whether he is willing to subject the planet to WW III and to its following nuclear winter and consequent die-off of agriculture and of everyone, in order to ‘win’ a nuclear war, such as America’s aristocracy has especially championed since the year 2006. The nuclear-victory concept is called “Nuclear Primacy” — the use of nuclear weapons so as to win a nuclear war against Russia, instead of to prevent a nuclear war. That concept’s predecessor, the “Mutually Assured Destruction” or “M.A.D.” meta-strategy, predominated even in the U.S. until 2006. Trump will have to decide whether the purpose of America’s nuclear-weapons stockpiles is to prevent WW III, or is to win WW III.

In Russia, the purpose has always been to have nuclear weapons in order to prevent WW III. But America’s President will be the person who will make the ultimate decision on this. And Idlib might be the spark. Netanyahu or Macron might be wanting to drag the U.S. into war even against Russia, but the final decision will be Trump’s.

The ultimate question is: How far will the U.S. go in order to continue the U.S. dollar as being the overwhelmingly dominant global currency?

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Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Russian MoD: Il-20 downed by Syrian missile after attacking Israel’s F-16s used it as cover

Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces.

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Russia has stated that it “reserves right to response” after claiming that Israel’s actions led to downing of Il-20 by Syrian S-200 missiles.

The Russian military accused their Israeli counterparts for causing the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrian air defense forces, which were responding to an Israeli air raid on Latakia.

Via RT


The Russian military say the Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events, which led to the shooting down of a Russian Il-20 plane by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

On Monday evening four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean, a statement by the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday. The Israeli warplanes came at a small altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region”, it said.

The military said the French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area of the Israeli operation.

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” the statement said.

The Russian ministry stressed that the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, which didn’t stop them from “the provocation”. Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,” the statement said.

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