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Vladimir Putin takes spotlight as Eurasia connector

At his year-end press conference, the Russian president let drop nuggets essential to understanding what lies ahead on the Eurasian geopolitical chessboard

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(Asia Times) – At his trademark annual year-end press conference in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again let drop selected foreign-policy nuggets essential to understanding what lies ahead on the turbulent Eurasian geopolitical chessboard.

By now it’s well known that Putin will run again in the presidential elections scheduled for March 18 (“it will be self-nomination” and “I hope for the overall support from the public”). The Man in Charge might as well continue to be in charge. So it’s always enlightening to bring down the (spin) noise: sit back, relax, and just listen.

On President Trump: “I am on first-name terms with Trump; yes, we would probably use the familiar ‘you.’ I hope he’ll get the opportunity to improve relations with Russia. Look at the markets, how they have grown. This means that investors trust the US economy, this means they trust what he [Donald Trump] is doing in this field.”

On Russiagate: “What’s so strange about this [diplomats speaking with officials in their host country]? Why do you have this ‘Russian spy’ hysteria?” On accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential race, Putin said, “They have been invented by those aiming to delegitimize Trump. These people don’t understand they are undermining their own country – they aren’t showing respect for the Americans [who] voted for Trump.”

On working together with Washington: “Russia and the US can work closely on a range of issues” even given the “well-known limitations” on Trump.

On potential US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty: “We hear about the problems with the INF Treaty. Apparently conditions are being created and an information-propaganda campaign is being run for a possible US withdrawal from the treaty. There is nothing good about a US withdrawal, that [would] be highly detrimental to international security. The US has de facto left the INF Treaty already, with the deployment of the Aegis ashore, but Russia is not going to leave the treaty. We will not be dragged into an arms race.”

Putin stressed that Russia’s defense spending was US$46 billion a year, while the US plans to spend $700 billion in 2018.

On the Arctic: “I have visited [the Arctic archipelago] Franz Josef Land; several years ago foreign guides, accompanying foreign tourist groups, would say that these islands ‘recently’ belonged to Russia. They had forgotten that [Franz Josef Land] is a Russian archipelago, but we reminded them, and at the moment everything is fine. We shouldn’t forget it. Developing all those resources in the Arctic should take place in sync with taking care of the environment … we should not impinge on economic activities of ethnic minorities.”

On Ukraine: “The Kiev authorities have no desire to implement the Minsk agreements, no desire to launch a real political process, the completion of which could be the implementation of an agreement on the special status of the Donbass, which is enshrined in the relevant law of Ukraine, adopted by the Rada [Ukraine’s parliament]. Russians and Ukrainians are basically one people” (the audience is audibly pleased).

On Syria: “The US is not contributing enough to the successful resolution of the Syrian crisis. It is important that none of the participants in this [Syrian peace] process have the desire or temptation to use various terrorist or quasi-terrorist radical groups to achieve their immediate political goals.”

On Iraq: “Let’s say, militants are parting for Iraq. We are telling our US colleagues, ‘Militants have gone this or that way.’ There is no reaction, they [militants] are just leaving. Why? Due to thinking that they could be used in the fight with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad. That’s very dangerous.”

On Russia possibly influencing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program: “Your congressmen, senators look so good, they have beautiful suits, shirts, they are seemingly clever people. They put us alongside North Korea and Iran. At the same time they push the [US] president to persuade us to solve the problems of North Korea and Iran together with you.”

On a nuclear DPRK: “On North Korea, we don’t accept it as a nuclear country. As for the US, it has gone beyond previous deals [with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] … and has provoked North Korea to withdraw from agreements.  I think we heard the US would stop military drills, but no … they didn’t. It is vital to act very carefully when dealing with the DPRK’s nuclear program.”

On China: “I have full confidence that cooperation with China is beyond any political agenda. We will always remain strategic partners, for a long period of time. We have similar approaches to the development of the international system. We are both interested in joint [economic] projects, including integration of OBOR [One Belt One Road] and the Eurasian Union.”

Crafting the integration soundtrack

And that takes us to the heart of the geopolitical New Great Game in Eurasia: the Russia-China strategic partnership, once again reaffirmed, and the deepening of integration between the New Silk Roads, formerly OBOR, now Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAUA).

Putin is clearly positive about the benefits for Russia from this economic interpenetration. He noted how “Russia was able to overcome major crises: the collapse of prices for energy carriers and trade sanctions. But the country is moving in the right direction with a greater focus on domestic production. Our internal trade grew by 3%. This has to mean something.”

As much as Beijing in relation to its BRI, Moscow has been on a charm offensive to enlarge the Eurasian Economic Union. Turkey is a possible EAEU candidate for the near future, as well as India and Pakistan

Stressing how Moscow is totally on board the BRI, Putin implied how this cooperation extrapolates to both the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) spheres as well; and that’s where we should place Moscow’s current efforts to convince New Delhi – also a BRICS and SCO member – that betting on the BRI favors India’s interests.

As recently as early this week in New Delhi, after a trilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been adamant: “I know India has problems, we discussed it today, with the concept of One Belt and One Road, but the specific problem in this regard should not make everything else conditional to resolving political issues.”

New Delhi has to be listening, as it was one of Moscow’s staunchest allies during the Cold War.

In a parallel development, Iran is bound to join the EAEU as early as February, according to Behrouz Hassanolfat, director of the Europe and Americas Department of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, as quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

As Asia Times has reported, India and Iran are getting more in sync economically via a parallel Silk Road to Central Asia centered on the port of Chabahar. Iran is also an essential BRI hub, and now will become an EAEU hub as well.

As much as Beijing in relation to its BRI, Moscow has been on a charm offensive to enlarge the EAEU. Turkey – already on board the BRI – is a possible EAEU candidate for the near future, as well as India and Pakistan.

Even as Putin at his presser once again advanced the cause of these multiple cross-pollinations of Eurasian integration, India sometimes may give the impression of being the odd partner out. New Delhi has just hosted the first ASEAN-India Connectivity Summit, which can be interpreted as an attempt to go against the BRI. Yet the emergence of an anti-China bloc across Southeast Asia seems far-fetched.

In parallel, Moscow certainly does not welcome a somewhat evolving “Indo-Pacific” US/India/Japan alliance. The undercurrent narrative in Putin’s script could not be more crystal clear: The roadmap for Eurasia integration is all about the coming together of the BRI, EAEU, the SCO and BRICS.

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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?

—————

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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