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Alleged Chemical Weapons Use in Syria Needs to be Investigated – Moscow

Sputnik – May 22, 2019

MOSCOW – Russia stands for investigating all reported cases of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday, adding that this investigation should aim to find the truth rather than bring new accusations against Damascus.

“We have the information that provocations using chemical substances are constantly being prepared by militants and terrorists. Our US colleagues and their allies remain unresponsive to this information. In the OPCW [the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons], a so-called attributive mechanism has been created in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which now has to act, apparently, taking into account the principles that are politically formulated by Western countries in this field. We advocate the investigation of all cases with the use of poisonous weapons, but this must be an investigation and not just the pinning of labels,” Ryabkov told reporters.

He noted that the investigation should entail visits to the scene of the incident, interviews with witnesses and collection of uncontaminated evidence.

Previous such incidents only resulted in accusations against Damascus and no probes of this kind, the diplomat stressed.

“As a result, trust in the OPCW, once the most effective, successful international organization, which is universal in this area, has been undermined”, Ryabkov added.

US Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Tuesday that Washington was collecting information regarding an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria over the weekend and warned the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad that it would quickly respond if Damascus’ involvement was confirmed.The Russian Defence Ministry said earlier in May that militants of al-Nusra Front terror group were preparing to stage a false-flag provocation in Syria’s Idlib province to frame the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian army for allegedly attacking civilians with chemical weapons.

Last year, the United States, United Kingdom and France used claims of chemical attacks in Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun, Duma and Eastern Ghouta to justify missile strikes on Syria, without waiting for the results of an independent investigation. The Syrian government has denied any role in the attacks.

May 22, 2019 Posted by | False Flag Terrorism | , , | 1 Comment

US, Russia engage on Venezuela

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | May 12, 2019

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov remarked last Thursday in Moscow that no contacts between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump are expected at the G20 summit in Japan on June 28-29. “An encounter is not planned so far and there is no talk about a meeting,” Peskov said.

This remark was made in the run-up to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s forthcoming visit to Russia on April 12-14. There has been much speculation in the US media that a summit meeting between Trump and Putin was likely among Pompeo’s talking points with the Russian leadership.

The ‘pull asides’ that Trump has been resorting to on the sidelines of international events to have a quick word with Putin have fallen into a pattern. Firstly, things remained strictly between the two statesmen at a personal level and secondly, Trump had to take care no feathers were ruffled back home while the Robert Mueller inquiry on ‘Russia collusion’ was going on. The arrangement left the Russian side unhappy, since the unstructured informal conversations eventually led to nothing. Russian-American relations continued to deteriorate.

Unsurprisingly, it has taken over one year for Pompeo to schedule his first visit to Moscow after he took over as state secretary in April 2018. (No US secretary of defence has yet visited Russia during the Trump presidency, either.) The proposal on Pompeo’s visit was hurriedly mooted by Washington just a few days ago, earlier this month. Therefore, if Pompeo’s visit is being treated on a low key, it could be that Moscow doesn’t expect anything much to come out of it.

The point is, although the Mueller inquiry could not prove any ‘collusion’ between Trump and the Kremlin, Russia still remains a toxic subject domestically in the US. For Trump’s detractors, he and Russia are often synonymous. The narrative that Trump and people around him were engaged in improper activities with Russia is not about to wither away and there are further moves likely in the Washington Beltway to find out about any other possible links between the Trump organisation and even his family and Russian entities or oligarchs.

Then, there is the vexed issue of the US sanctions against Russia, which inherently curb the scope for any meaningful expansion of ties. The post-2016 sanctions do not stem from executive orders but emanate out of laws passed by the US Congress, which takes away from Trump’s hands the powers to remove them — and, equally, they  are not even tied to specific Russian behaviours. The Russians understand well enough that the sanctions won’t be lifted for a long time.

Within such constraints, what is it that Pompeo’s visit hopes to achieve? At a state department briefing on May 10, an unnamed senior US official disclosed that arms control will top Pompeo’s agenda during the Russia visit. He said Trump seeks new agreements with Russia “that reflect modern reality. These agreements must include a broader range of countries and account for a broader range of weapon systems than our current bilateral treaties with Russia.” Besides, he said, “There will be a full range of global challenges to discuss, including Ukraine, Venezuela, Iran, Syria, and North Korea.”

However, there are enough signs that the main thing to watch could be whether a US-Russia deal on Venezuela becomes possible. Three weeks back, Fiona Hill, senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council in the White House, had visited Moscow for consultations. Amongst others, she met Putin’s foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov. According to media reports, Hill prioritised Venezuela as the most important topic in the US-Russia relations at the moment.

Arguably, more than oil or the Monroe Doctrine, what motivates Trump could be the impact of a regime change in Venezuela on the Hispanic voters in the 2020 presidential race in Florida. This impression would only have been reinforced last week when Pompeo met Lavrov on the sidelines of the Arctic Council meeting in Helsinki when, again, Venezuela figured prominently in their discussion.

With the recent US-backed coup attempt in Venezuela on April 30 having failed spectacularly, the probability of an outright US intervention is low — almost non-existent.  Trump would be reaching out for Russian help for a constitutional transition in Caracas that he could project as a ‘win’. Both Washington and Moscow are highly experienced in adopting a transactional approach to their relationship.

For Russia, on the other hand, its support for the Maduro government in Caracas is driven as much by financial and energy interests as by Moscow’s vision of a multipolar world order that is based on international law. As the Moscow-based analyst Fred Weir wrote recently, “while it may look and sound like a Cold War standoff, for Russia it is really about the simpler issue of establishing rules for competing big powers in a post-Cold War world. In Venezuela, and between the US and Russia generally, there is no sharp ideological divide over world-shaping doctrines like communism versus capitalism.”

Simply put, the Russian-American discord over Venezuela boils down to this: Washington wants Russia to stop ‘meddling’ in the Western Hemisphere, while Moscow would expect that the US also should stop fomenting anti-Moscow revolutions in Russia’s backyard. Otherwise, Russian experts acknowledge, it matters little to Moscow who rules in Caracas.

The influential strategic thinker in Moscow Fyodor Lukyanov told Weir, “The relationship that emerged between Russia and Venezuela was an accident. It was mainly the initiative of Hugo Chávez, who was seeking counterbalances to his country’s dependence on the US. Of course this was enthusiastically supported in Moscow. But it should be pointed out that at that time, the early 2000s, Chávez was rich and could pay for Russian arms and advice. Since Chávez died, and his successor has not proven so adept or popular, many in Moscow have been worried about our heavy investments in a potentially unstable regime.”

It is entirely conceivable that this complicated Russian-American tango of ‘meddling’ in the other side’s region could be in the first instance what prompted Washington to schedule Pompeo’s hurried visit to Russia to meet Lavrov and Putin in Sochi on April 14. Evidently, the Trump administration’s resuscitation of the Monroe Doctrine provides a diplomatic opening to Moscow, which of course continues to cherish the territories of the former Soviet republics as its own ‘sphere of influence’, too.

To quote Lukyanov again, “This citing of the Monroe Doctrine is something quite intriguing, and it would be warmly welcomed in Moscow if we thought the Americans took it seriously.” Indeed, some reports on Fiona Hill’s talks in Moscow last month hinted that she made a proposal to what roughly involved Russia letting up on Venezuela in exchange for some US concessions on Ukraine.

Be that as it may, significantly, Russian and Venezuelan foreign ministers met in Moscow on the eve of Lavrov’s meeting with Pompeo in Helsinki last week. What needs to be factored in is that although the coup attempt of April 30 failed, the situation in Venezuela is fluid. According to the Russian media, President Maduro has expelled dozens of army officers for their involvement in the coup, including high ranking officers.

To be sure, Moscow would know that a political solution is needed. The good part is that regime change is off the table as of now, which gives the respite to negotiate. After the meeting with Pompeo in Helsinki, Lavrov told the media that he’d rule out any foreign military intervention in Venezuela.

But the problem is that trust is lacking between Washington and Moscow. Russia cannot be sure that the American side will keep its side of the bargain — that is, assuming there is a will to negotiate at all. Again, there is the issue of US sanctions, which has crippled the Venezuelan economy over recent years. This is important because Russia’s exposure to Venezuela is huge. At the very least, Russian investments (loans) to Venezuela since 2005 amount to $17 billion.

May 12, 2019 Posted by | Russophobia | , , , | Leave a comment

US responsible for ‘unacceptable’ deadlock on JCPOA – Lavrov

RT | May 8, 2019

The irresponsible policies of the US have put the multilateral pact on Iran’s nuclear program at risk of failure, the Russian foreign minister said, adding that Washington should try diplomacy instead of threats for a change.

Sergey Lavrov criticized the US during a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, who personally brought a letter from his government informing Russia about Tehran’s latest decision on the nuclear agreement. Russia is one of the signatories of the 2015 document, also known as JCPOA, which offered Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for accepting restriction on its nuclear industry.

“As I understand, our main task here is to discuss the unacceptable situation, which has unfolded around the JCPOA as a result of irresponsible behavior by the United States,” the Russian diplomat said before negotiations with the Iranians.

The Iranian minister said Tehran’s actions came in response to the US withdrawal from the deal, and were not meant to destroy the agreement. “[They] can be reversed. There is a 60-day windows of opportunity for diplomacy,” he said.

Later in the day, Lavrov lamented the current US administration’s habit of coercing other nations with threats of sanctions or direct use of military force, be it in the Middle East or Venezuela.

“The day before yesterday, I met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland and called on him to use instruments of diplomacy instead of threats when dealing with all issues of contention, and to stick to international law and UN principles, which require the peaceful resolution of conflicts,” he said. “One has to have a taste for diplomacy, which probably not everyone has today.”

Iran on Wednesday announced that it will no longer observe the limits on reserves of enriched uranium and heavy water established by the deal, calling it a response to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA exactly a year ago. Unless European signatories of the agreement deliver on their promise to protect the Iranian economy from unilateral sanctions reimposed by the US over the last 12 months, Iran would take further action, President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address.

All signatories were formally notified about Tehran’s decision, with Zarif using his coinciding visit to Moscow to offer personal explanations about why it was taken.

Lavrov stressed that Russia appreciated Iran’s continued compliance with the JCPOA even after the US broke its side of the bargain.

May 8, 2019 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , | Leave a comment

Will China engage in arms control?

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | May 5, 2019

US President Donald Trump’s phone call to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday comes within 3 weeks of the release of the redacted report of the Robert Mueller inquiry into his ‘Russia collusion’. It was a 90-minute phone conversation, which underscored Trump’s determination to foster good relations with Putin notwithstanding the narrative that he and the people around him were engaged in improper activities with Russia.

The Kremlin readout listed economic ties, ’strategic stability’, North Korea, Ukraine and Venezuela as topics that figured in the conversation.

But the headline-hogging news is that Trump proposed to Putin the idea of expanded arms control talks that would also include China. Trump claimed that China is on board. Talking to the media at the White House, he said:

“We’re talking about a nuclear agreement where we make less and they make less, and maybe even where we get rid of some of the tremendous firepower that we have right now. We’re spending billions of dollars on nuclear weapons, numbers like we’ve never spent before. We need that, but they are also — and China is, frankly, also — we discussed the possibility of a three-way deal instead of a two-way deal. And China — I’ve already spoken to them; they very much would like to be a part of that deal. In fact, during the trade talks, we started talking about that. They were excited about that.  Maybe even more excited than about trade.  But they felt very strongly about it.”

“So I think we’re going to probably start up something very shortly between Russia and ourselves, maybe to start off. And I think China will be added down the road. We’ll be talking about nonproliferation. We’ll be talking about a nuclear deal of some kind.  And I think it will be a very comprehensive one.”

Trump sees a potential signature foreign policy achievement. Trump is known to have a penchant for big deals. The Washington Post reported last week that Trump “has ordered his administration to prepare a push for new arms-control agreements with Russia and China after bristling at the cost of a 21st-century nuclear arms race.” The reports from Washington indicate that the White House is conducting intense interagency talks to develop options for the president to pursue such a deal.

The CNN quoted a senior White House official as saying, “The President has made clear that he thinks that arms control should include Russia and China and should include all the weapons, all the warheads, all the missiles. We have an ambition to give the President options as quickly as possible to give him as much space on the calendar as possible.”

Trump is giving conflicting signals. Even as he talks about arms control, Trump has backed the $500 billion Obama-era project to modernize the US atomic arsenal, pulled out of the INF Treaty with Russia, and updated the US nuclear posture to be more aggressive. But then, earlier last month, in a meeting with Chinese trade envoy and vice premier Liu He, Trump bemoaned the levels of military spending by major powers, suggesting all that money could be better spent on other things.

Clearly, in any emergent scenario, the broader context of relations will be the key factor. Bringing China on board arms control talks is a common Russian-American agenda. To understand this, we need to go back in time to the negotiation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Fundamentally, China’s approach to arms control has been different from the US or Russia’s. Washington and Moscow have been historically driven by the strategic imperative of parity that generated in turn the Cold-War era arms race and its ‘anti-thesis’ — arms control and reductions. And the concept of mutual nuclear deterrence and stability was shared and interdependent.

China, on the contrary, never sought parity and had no reason to enter into an arms race or to engage in arms control. Today, China reportedly has an arsenal of less than 300 strategy warheads (as against 1550 that the New START Treaty of 2010 allows the US and Russia to keep.) Simply put, China stayed on the sidelines, maintaining that the US and Russia need to reduce their arsenals first before its participation in limitations and reductions.

When the INF Treaty was negotiated in the 1980s, although its leitmotif was European security, the pact also had implications for East Asian security. China was on adversarial terms with Russia at that time and joined hands with the western powers to ensure two things: a) Britain and France were kept out of the INF Treaty (lest that set precedent for China’s inclusion), and, b) INF Treaty also included Soviet deployments east of the Urals.

China scored a big diplomatic coup when the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made the unilateral announcement in July 1987 agreeing to the so-called global ‘zero option’ by the Soviet Union (ie., elimination of Soviet INF missiles in both Europe and Asia.)  In essence, China ensured the complete elimination of Soviet missile threat to its nuclear arsenal.

Moscow never quite reconciled with Gorbachev’s compromise. Meanwhile, the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union imploded. Yet, by the beginning of 2005, Moscow began to voice unease that INF Treaty banned only the US and Russia from having INF missiles, while other countries were free to deploy them. In 2007, then Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov called the INF Treaty a relic of the Cold War, and President Putin thereafter proposed in October 2007 that the INF Treaty become multilateral—a global ban on INF missiles.

Now, the political-military relationship between Russia and China is vastly different today. China’s nuclear capability has dramatically improved, especially with submarine-launched ballistic missiles. On the other hand, US’ relations with both Russia and China have become tense while Sino-Russian partnership is at its highest level today in history. Equally, Russia and China have common shared threat perceptions regarding the US.

Since there are consultative mechanisms between Moscow and Beijing to mitigate substantive concerns regarding deployment or force projection, China is today more concerned with US missiles (and missile defence systems.) Nonetheless, China has to come to terms with the reality that any significant increase in its nuclear warhead numbers henceforth also concerns the security interests of Russia. It is entirely conceivable that Moscow will also strive to maintain its qualitative and quantitative nuclear predominance over China.

To be sure, China’s rapidly growing missile forces have long troubled the US. China now has the second largest defense budget behind the US – and China’s fire power is largely concentrated in one critical region, East Asia. The trends are worrisome for Washington, too. If in 2000 US defence expenditure was nine times that of China, by 2010, this was down to less than six times, and in 2017 to less than three times.

Russian officials have repeatedly stated that any future reductions of strategic weapons would have to be multilateral, including the UK, France, and China. Chinese officials have stated that the US and Russia would have to make much deeper cuts before China is prepared to join the process. However, we still don’t know the US position apropos extension of New START Treaty beyond 2021 and in further nuclear reductions.

May 5, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

‘Anything is possible’: Trump talks North Korea peace after phone call with Putin

RT | May 4, 2019

President Trump took to Twitter to declare his support for peace on the Korean Peninsula, after discussing the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin. North Korea, meanwhile, test-fired short-range missiles.

“Anything in this very interesting world is possible,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “But I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”

Trump’s tweet came after he spoke with Putin by phone on Friday. The two leaders discussed a range of geopolitical issues, including nuclear arms control and the Korean peace process.

The president touted the success of the call on Saturday, heralding the “tremendous potential for a good/great relationship with Russia, despite what you read and see in the Fake News Media.” After the phone call, certain media outlets chided Trump for not pressing Putin on supposed Russian election meddling.

Despite Trump’s insistence that a “deal will happen” with North Korea, results thus far have been lacking. A much-anticipated summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore last year ended with a vague promise from Kim to work towards denuclearization, while a follow-up summit in Hanoi, Vietnam this year collapsed with no agreement when Trump found Kim’s demands untenable.

Kim has since broadened his horizons, meeting with Putin in Vladivostok last month. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also reportedly considering a meeting with Kim, according to a Friday report in the Shankei newspaper.

Diplomacy aside, Pyongyang has reportedly reversed its dismantling of missile and rocket test sites in the wake of the failed Hanoi summit, and on Saturday morning fired a salvo of short-range projectiles out to sea from the city of Wonsan, on its east coast.

May 4, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

Russia FM Blasts US Illegal ‘Methods of Blackmail’ Against Cuba

teleSUR | May 4, 2019

Russia’s Foreign Ministry urged the international community to unite in condemning the United States’ new anti-Cuban blockade measure, which came about after President Donald Trump lifted the waiver on Title III of the once-dormant Helms-Burton Act.

“We emphasize again that the methods of blackmail and pressure used by Washington are absolutely illegal. We call on all responsible forces to defend the U.N. Charter and international law in order to jointly put an end to the anti-Cuba blockade,” the Russian ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also pointed out that Washington is threatening more sanctions on Cuba in the vein of the “Monroe Doctrine” in an “overt encroachment” on the sovereignty of the Latin American nation.

The new sanctions were made known when United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Title II would come into effect on May 2, permitting U.S. nationals to sue Cuban entities or foreign entities operating on the island prior to the Cuban Revolution for damages.

Moscow said the measures are excessive since Cuba has repeatedly expressed readiness to resolve existing contradictions with the United States regarding bilateral issues.

The Helms-Burton Act is a bill passed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1996. However, this is the first time that any U.S. administration has authorized its implementation.

“Through the devaluation of democratic principles and rejection of international legal norms, the U.S. neglects the values it promotes, creating obstacles for all countries leading a separate policy and refusing to follow Washington’s directions,” the Foreign Ministry noted.

Canada, the European Union as well as other countries have rejected the activation of the Helms-Burton Act, explaining that it violates the norms of international law.

May 4, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Trump Contradicts Pompeo and Bolton’s Venezuela Claims After Call With Putin

Sputnik – May 4, 2019

President Donald Trump appeared to contradict his own senior officials’ claims about Russian “involvement” in Venezuela on Friday following his telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We talked about many things. Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. And I feel the same way,” Trump said, speaking to reporters in Washington on Friday during a meeting with the Slovak prime minister.

According to Trump, the US wanted to help Venezuela on a “humanitarian basis,” including with the delivery of food and water to the country’s “starving” population. “I thought it was a very positive conversation I had with President Putin on Venezuela,” Trump said.

Trump’s remarks appeared to stand at odds with earlier claims by several of his key officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, about alleged Russian “interference” in Venezuela.

On Wednesday, Pompeo had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, telling him that Russia should “not interfere” in the Latin American country. Lavrov called the allegations of Russian involvement “rather surreal” and said that Russia’s “principled position” was to “never interfere in the affairs of others.”

Earlier, Bolton warned countries “external to the Western Hemisphere,” including Russia against deploying military forces in Venezuela, and signaled the US administration’s readiness to use the Monroe Doctrine in its policy toward Latin America. US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams similarly indicated that the US might impose sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s military assistance to Venezuela, telling reporters that “the Russians will pay a price for this” for their meddling earlier this year.

Pompeo, Bolton and acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan met at the pentagon on Friday to discuss military options in Venezuela, with Shanahan reiterating the White House’s oft-repeated claim that all options remained “on the table” in resolving the Venezuelan crisis and dismissing concerns about a lack of good intelligence on the Venezuelan country.

Later Friday, unnamed sources told CNN that President Trump had asked questions “about the reliability of US intelligence” on Venezuela, given that the expected military uprising hoped for by opposition leader Juan Guaido “and some US officials” earlier this week failed to pay off.

The long-standing crisis in Venezuela escalated on Tuesday, after Guaido announced the beginning of the “final phase” of the “Operation Freedom” campaign to topple the government, and urged members of the military to defect and join the opposition. The call to action led to clashes in the capital between security forces and the opposition, leaving dozens injured. A day later, Maduro appeared on television to announce that the coup had failed, and to say that a criminal investigation aiming to uncover its organisers had been launched.

May 4, 2019 Posted by | Russophobia | , , | 1 Comment

Russian and US Positions on Venezuelan Crisis are Incompatible – Lavrov

Sputnik – 02.05.2019

On Wednesday, the Russian foreign minister spoke to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, telling the top US diplomat that Washington’s interference in Venezuela’s affairs was a destructive approach fraught with “the most serious consequences.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the United States to refrain from returning to the imperious ‘Monroe Doctrine’ in its relations with Venezuela, and indicated that while the Russian and US positions on the crisis in the Latin American country remain incompatible, dialogue must continue.

“We agreed to maintain contacts, including on Venezuela, but I don’t see a way to reconcile our positions — ours, on the one hand, which is based on the UN Charter and the principles and norms of international law, and that of the United States, on the other, in which Washington assigns the acting president of another country,” Lavrov said, speaking to reporters in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Thursday.

“Our positions are incompatible, but we are ready to talk,” Lavrov stressed.

According to the foreign minister, during their conversation Wednesday, he told Pompeo that the return of the Monroe Doctrine approach to US foreign policy was a sign of disrespect to the people of Venezuela and Latin America as a whole.

Commenting on the possibility of a US military intervention of Venezuela, Lavrov said that Russia plans to create a bloc of countries to counter such plans. This group is already being formed at the UN, he indicated. “I hope that it will receive serious support from the organisation, because we’re talking about a very simple issue — one that’s hard to distort: the defence of the fundamental norms and principles of international law as they are defined in the UN Charter.”

Maduro Never Had Plans to ‘Flee’ Venezuela

Lavrov noted that earlier claims by Secretary of State Pompeo about Maduro’s supposed plans to escape the country and Russia’s efforts to dissuade him from doing so were simply not true. “If one were to review everything that officials in the US administration say about Venezuela, an endless series of questions would arise. And all of these questions, as a rule, have one and the same answer. Putting it diplomatically: this is not true,” Lavrov said.

Asked why Secretary of State Pompeo may have called him in the first place, Lavrov said that as he understood it, “he called so that he could later say publicly that he called me and urged Russia not to interfere. Well, he did so.” At the same time, Lavrov indicated that Russia does not interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs, calling Pompeo’s allegations to that effect “rather surreal.”

“I told him that based on our principled position, we never interfere in the affairs of others, and urge others to do the same,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov and Pompeo spoke by telephone by Wednesday, a day after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido announced the beginning of the “final phase” in the opposition’s bid to seize power in the Latin American country. Before the talks, Pompeo told US media that the US could still use military force against the country “if that’s what’s required.”

Guaido proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president on January 23, two weeks after Maduro’s inauguration for a second term following elections in May 2018. The opposition leader was immediately recognised by the US and its Latin American and European allies, as well as Canada, while Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other countries around the world voiced their support for the elected government, or urged non-interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

May 2, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump’s Arms Proposal Is Really All About The Space Race

By Andrew Korybko | EurasiaFuture | 2019-04-26

There’s nothing that anyone can argue about in principle concerning the spirit behind Trump’s arms proposal, but peel back a few strategic layers and it becomes clear that it’s really all about the Space Race and weakening the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership.

Trump’s arms proposal is making waves all across the world after officials in his administration told the media that “he thinks that arms control should include Russia and China and should include all the weapons, all the warheads, all the missiles”, suggesting a comprehensive global military pact that could in theory change the course of International Relations in the 21st century. On the surface, there’s nothing that anyone can argue about in principle concerning the spirit behind this idea, but peel back a few strategic layers and it becomes clear that it’s really all about the Space Race and weakening the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership.

The US evidently believes that its much-touted “Space Force” gives it a noticeable edge over its competitors and will eventually neutralize Earth-based weapons platforms, something that Russia already suspects is the case after First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Department Lt. Gen.Viktor Poznikhir told the Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) earlier this week that “the US had developed a concept of pre-launch interception and planned to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles of Russia, China and other countries while they are still in launchers”, strongly hinting at its strategic adversary’s impressive space-based military capabilities.

It’s likely for this reason why Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov cautiously welcomed this proposal but qualified his country’s support for it by saying that “further steps towards nuclear disarmament will require creating a number of prerequisites and taking into account many factors that have a direct impact on strategic stability – from the emergence of a missile defense system and the possibility of weapons deployment in space to fundamental changes in the sphere of conventional weapons, the emergence of cyber weapons and many other factors.” Evidently, Russia senses a trap, and not without good reason.

Trump knows that his proposal is misleading but will probably generate a lot of positive coverage in the global press, which not only boosts his re-election prospects next year but also improves the US’ international image to an extent. In addition, his strategists are aware that the proposal is more attractive to Russia than it is to China, which experts interviewed by CNN about this noted when they described the People’s Republic as not “even in the same ballpark” with those other two Great Powers and “not even playing the same game” when it comes to the weapons that Washington wants to limit.

Knowing that his proposal will probably flounder, Trump likely intends to use it for short-term soft power purposes and to exploit its likely failure as the long-term pretext for doubling down on the US’ military-industrial complex and specifically its missile defense and space-based component that will greatly offset the strategic stability that relatively stabilized International Relations up until this point. In the event that Russia plays along with the US for appearance’s sake in entering into some degree of negotiations about this topic while China predictably stays away, then Washington might seek to exploit this divergence between its two Great Power rivals in order to divide them further.

That, however, will probably only be as successful as Trump’s arms proposal (which is to say, that it’ll likely also fail) because President Putin just proudly proclaimed that Russia and China’s supercontinental integrational projects of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) will begin the process of merging into a multipolar megastructure during the speech that he gave at the ongoing BRI Forum in Beijing. Despite the occasional differences between these two strategic partners and their underwhelming real-sector economic cooperation so far, neither of them wants the US to get its way in dividing and ruling Eurasia at their expense.

April 26, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

Damascus should take control over northeast Syria: Russia FM

Press TV – April 18, 2019

Russia says the legitimate Syrian government should immediately take control over the country’s northeastern region, including the East Euphrates River, which is held by US-backed Kurdish militants.

“There is a need to resolve the issue concerning the country’s northeast and the left bank of the Euphrates River in order to achieve one of the priority tasks and ensure the restoration of the legitimate government’s control over the region,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The top Russian diplomat underlined the need to build dialog with Kurdish groups and secure the interests of Turkey “as far as security in Syria’s border areas is concerned.”

Northeastern Syria is currently controlled by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed anti-Damascus alliance of mainly Kurdish militants, which include the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

The United States is a key advocate of autonomy for Syrian Kurds which Damascus has roundly rejected.

Many observers believe Washington plans to carve out a foothold in the region through supporting Syrian Kurds.

In February, a senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flatly rejected the idea of giving Syrian Kurds a measure of autonomy, saying such a move would open the door to the partition of the country.

The Kurdish-led authority that runs much of north and east Syria has presented a roadmap for a deal with Assad in recent meetings with Russia.

Also in February, President Assad called on SDF militants to return to the Syrian army, warning them against reliance on the United States.

“We say to those groups who are betting on the Americans, the Americans will not protect you. The Americans will put you in their pockets so you can be tools in the barter, and they have started with it,” he said.

Russia has been helping Syrian forces in their fight against foreign-backed Takfiri militants. The military assistance began in September 2015 at the official request of the Syrian government.

Foreign-backed militancy, supported by the United States and many of its Western and regional allies, erupted in Syria in 2011.

The militants and Takfiri terrorists overran large swathes of Syria’s territory.

The Daesh terrorist group, which once held large swaths of land in Syria, has now been completely defeated in the Arab country and has lost almost all of its occupied territories.

Syria has now reestablished its reign over nearly its entire expanse.

April 18, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | 4 Comments

Russia expands ties in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector

Michal Kranz – Al Monitor – April 10, 2019

During a Middle East tour last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo focused primarily on Iran’s influence in the region, but on Mar. 20 in Jerusalem he also labeled Russia an adversary of US regional allies in addition to Iran and China when speaking about energy and security in the eastern Mediterranean. “Revisionist powers like Iran and Russia and China are all trying to take major footholds in the East and in the West,” Pompeo said, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of Greece and Cyprus.

Pompeo had also reportedly planned to set “red lines” on Russian projects in Lebanon while in Beirut March 22-23. Yet, whatever plans Pompeo may have had to counter Russia in Lebanon, they seem to have had little effect. Lebanese leaders have doubled down on working with Russian companies in their country’s expanding oil and gas sector in the weeks since Pompeo’s visit.

Although the United States maintains an important degree of diplomatic clout in Lebanese energy matters, Russian economic investments in the sector have far outpaced those of the Americans, and Russian officials and business leaders have expressed their desire to take further steps to cement roles as key players like the United States continue to lag behind.

“The Russians have an advantage over the Americans not only in Lebanon, but in the region as well,” Amal Abou Zeid, adviser for Lebanese-Russian affairs at Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry, told Al-Monitor.

Lebanon and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on oil and gas in October 2013, and since then cooperation between them has deepened. In December 2017, the Lebanese government awarded its first contracts for offshore oil and gas exploration to a consortium of three firms that included Novatek, Russia’s second-largest gas company.

This past January, Russia’s majority state-owned oil giant Rosneft signed a deal to manage, operate and potentially rehabilitate and expand part of the oil storage terminal in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, as part of a 20-year lease. Rosneft is also competing in a bidding process along with other consortiums, including an American company, for an offshore gas terminal off the Lebanese coast.

Days after Pompeo’s visit, Lebanese President Michel Aoun traveled to Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, who said the company is interested in “elevating the oil facilities in north Lebanon.” According to Abou Zeid, Sechin is interested in building up to three additional oil storage facilities in Tripoli and potentially investing in a future refinery in the north.

Cesar Abi Khalil, a parliamentarian who served as energy minister when Lebanon signed the Tripoli deal with Rosneft, told Al-Monitor that there is “high interest” in Lebanon to work with companies, including American ones, on refinery construction and rehabilitation. He added that ultimately, contracts will be awarded to companies that present the best proposals, as Rosneft did for the Tripoli terminal.

Russia’s interest in Lebanon is tied to its regional strategy. Since 2016, Rosneft has steadily expanded its operations into Iraq, Egypt and Libya, and Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, has been making inroads in Syria’s gas market during the civil war there. While Syria’s oil and gas reserves are dwarfed by those in neighboring Iraq, its location is highly strategic for Russia, which has been supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil conflict since 2015. Hundreds of Russian mercenaries have reportedly been killed securing oil fields in the country [actually that is a myth], and Russia has begun exploring for oil and gas off the Syrian coast.

Abou Zeid confirmed that the rehabilitation of a long-disused oil pipeline connecting Tripoli with oilfields in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Rosneft is active, was one of the topics discussed by Aoun and Sechin in Moscow. It is likely that gaining access to oil infrastructure in Lebanon in addition to offshore reserves in the country will enhance Russia’s strategic position in Syria and across the eastern Mediterranean, but it remains possible that it could also use the Tripoli facilities to try to bypass US sanctions on fuel shipments to Syria.

Meanwhile, American companies have been unable or unwilling to secure stakes in Lebanon’s new offshore prospects, which the US Department of Energy estimates will produce almost $254 billion between 2020 and 2039. Abou Zeid said that he had heard that ExxonMobil had entered into a consortium before the first bidding process for the offshore exploration contract began, but ultimately they and many other American companies failed to submit bids once they were eligible.

“I am certain that the Americans are interested, and they were not very happy with the Russian presence in this sector,” Abou Zeid said, speculating that political issues, like Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese politics, may have scared off potential American investors.

Mona Sukkarieh, a political risk consultant and co-founder of Middle East Strategic Perspectives, told Al-Monitor that other factors were more likely to be involved.

“Repeated delays resulting from frequent vacuums within the executive branch, an incomplete legal framework, changes in blocks offered and a change in market conditions all affected companies’ enthusiasm for the first licensing round,” she said.

Abi Khalil agreed that market forces were partially to blame for the lack of interest from the United States during the first round of bidding, but he also said that he had found ongoing interest by American firms in Lebanese oil and gas during his three official visits to the States, including in potential refinery projects across the country.

Despite these difficulties, the Novatek consortium followed through on its interest and secured rights to two blocks in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), one of which is in a disputed zone that Israel has claimed as part of its own EEZ since 2010. On April 4, Lebanese Energy Minister Nada Boustani announced the opening of a second round of bidding for contracts to five additional offshore blocks, two of which lie along the disputed border area. Lebanese leaders have long maintained that Israel is encroaching on Lebanon’s maritime boundary.

On April 1, parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said that Lebanon won’t give Israel “one cup” of its water. According Berri’s office, on March 22 the speaker and Pompeo discussed the issue of Lebanon’s southern maritime border and efforts to settle the dispute with Israel.

Abou Zeid claims that all the involved parties are interested in seeing the United States play a mediating role in the boundary issue. Regardless, US influence over matters related to energy in Lebanon are quickly diminishing given American companies’ absence in the country’s oil and gas sector and the lack of trust among Lebanese leaders, who believe Washington is biased toward Israel’s geopolitical positions.

“The US is really, one, not that interested, and two, the space that the US used to have in Lebanon in terms of influence and shaping decisions, it’s been lost,” Hanin Ghaddar, a researcher specializing in Lebanon and Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor. She added that in her view, it is unlikely that American firms will gain any offshore contracts.

So far, US efforts to counter Russian expansion in the eastern Mediterranean through diplomacy have proven inadequate. Unless American companies get serious about acquiring stakes in Lebanon’s offshore reserves, it will likely be almost impossible for the United States to overcome the head start Russia has gotten in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector, allowing Moscow to continue to strengthen its economic position across the Middle East.

Michal Kranz is a freelance journalist who has covered politics in the United States, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He was formerly based in New York City, where he wrote for Business Insider, and is currently reporting on politics and society in Lebanon for a variety of media outlets. On Twitter: @Michal_Kranz

April 14, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , | 1 Comment