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The NATO-Russia face off in Syria

Российская боевая авиагруппа на аэродроме "Хмеймим" в Сирииgc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Российская боевая авиагруппа на аэродроме "Хмеймим" в Сирии

© Russian Su-30 aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. © Dmitriy Vinogradov / RIA Novosti

Originally published in Ron October 6, 2015

 


So a Su-30 enters a few hundred meters into Turkish airspace for only two minutes over Hatay province, and returns to Syrian airspace after being warned by a couple of Turkish F-16s.

Then all hell breaks loose as if this was the ultimate pretext for a NATO-Russia war.

NATO, predictably, went out all rhetorical guns blazing. Russia is causing“extreme danger” and should immediately stop bombing those cute“moderate rebels” the coalition of the dodgy opportunists refuses to bomb.

But wait; NATO is actually too busy to go to war. The priority, until at least November, is the epic Trident Juncture 2015; 36,000 troops from 30 states, more than 60 warships, around 200 aircraft, all are seriously practicing how to defend from the proverbial “The Russians are Coming!”

Still, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – he of the former “zero problems with our neighbors” doctrine – actually“warned” Moscow that next time Ankara would respond “militarily”.

Until, of course, he backed down; “What we have received from Russia …is that this was a mistake and that they respect Turkey's borders and this will not happen again.”

The incident could have been easily defused – via military to military communication – without the posturing.

But Ankara – NATO’s eastern flank – is under immense pressure from ‘Exceptionalistan’. It’s no accident Pentagon supremo and notorious neocon Ash Carter “conferred” with Ankara about the incident. Carter of course is the most stellar practitioner of the official Beltway diktat; “By taking military action in Syria against moderate groups’ targets, Russia has escalated the civil war.”

Syria's northern Raqqa province. © Reuters

 

 

 

 

‘Sultan’ Erdogan, right on cue, and straight from Strasbourg (no, he was not campaigning for the European Parliament) doubled down: “Assad has committed state terrorism, and unfortunately you find Russia and Iran defending (him).”

And yet ‘Sultan’ Erdogan won’t go down in history as the catalyst for the much-awaited NATO-Russia Hot War 2.0. At least not yet.

 

Only bomb if we say so

Enter Dr. Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski, growling in a FT Op-Ed that Washington should “retaliate” if Moscow does not stop attacking US assets in Syria. “US assets” means CIA-trained “moderate rebels”. And after all, “American credibility” is at stake.

Dr. Zbig – Obama’s prime foreign policy mentor – insists bombing CIA-trained “rebels” accounts for “Russian military incompetence”. And the American counter-attack should be to “disarm” the “Russian naval and air presence.” Now that’s how you go for a NATO-Russia Hot War 2.0.  

Dr. Zbig admitted though that “regional chaos could easily spread northeastward,” and then “both Russia and then China could be adversely affected.” Who cares? What matters is that “American interests and America’s friends…would also suffer.”

This is what passes for prime geopolitical analysis in the ‘Empire of Chaos’.  

‘Sultan’ Erdogan, for his part, remains restless. Moscow has already evaporated his so cherished three-year-old dream of a no-fly zone over northern Syria. There is an actual no-fly zone all over Syria now in effect. But it’s managed by Russia.

And that explains why there’s already full spectrum hysteria for more US Congress sanctions on Russia. How can a no-fly zone be imposed over Syria when Russia got there first?

And it was all going so swimmingly for the ‘Sultan’. Ankara – at the insistence of Washington – had finally thrown open its air bases to fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, but as long as this was part of a regime change operation in Damascus. And for that, Ankara would get its no-fly zone.  

Enter ‘The Sultan’s’ recurrent nightmare; the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its sister organization, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

‘The Sultan’ simply cannot accept the PYD advancing to the western bank of the Euphrates to help in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. ‘The Sultan’ wants to “contain” the PYD in Kobani.

The problem is the PYD – supported by the PKK – is the only reliable ‘Empire of Chaos’ ally in Syria. Yet ‘the Sultan’ could not help himself; he got into a war – again – against the PKK. Washington was not exactly amused.

And then there’s the key corridor from the Bab al-Salam border crossing down to Aleppo – controlled by Ankara-supported goon squads. That’s Ankara’s bridge to Aleppo; without it, not the slightest chance of regime change, ever. The fake“Caliphate” was threatening to take over the corridor. So action was imperative.

Russia’s spectacular entry into the war theatre threw all these elaborate plans into disarray. Imagine a complete liberation of northeast Syria as soon as the PYD – with help from PKK fighters – is weaponized enough to smash the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons. And imagine the Russian Air Force providing air cover for such an operation, with extra coordination by the Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran central in Baghdad.

‘The Sultan’, in desperation, would have to maneuver his F-16s against such an offensive. And then we might really have a NATO-Russia five seconds to midnight scenario – with terrifying consequences. ‘The Sultan’ would blink first. And NATO would collapse into the ignominy it never left – back to its elaborate “Russia is invading” drills.

 

Say hello to my geopolitical jihadi tool

Next steps for the Russian campaign would be to pay close attention to the road linking ISIS/ISIL/Daesh’s capital, Al-Raqqah, around which jihadis are fighting for the control of oil and gas in Sha’ir and Jazal. And then there are pockets east of both Homs and Hama, and in al-Qaryatayn. Moscow – slowly, surely, methodically – is getting there.

What the Russian air campaign has already graphically exposed is the whole rotten core myth of the new Jihad International.

ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra and assorted Salafi-jihadi goon squads have been kept up and running by a massive financial/logistical/weaponizing “effort” – which includes all sorts of key nodes, from arms factories in Bulgaria and Croatia to transportation routes via Turkey and Jordan.  

As for those Syrian “moderate rebels” – and most of them are not even Syrian, they’re mercenaries – every pebble in the ravaged Sykes-Picot desert sands knows they were trained by the CIA in Jordan. The desert pebbles are also aware that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons have been infiltrated into Syria from Turkey – once again, across Hatay province; and vast swathes of ‘the Sultan’s’ Army and police were into the game.

As for who pays the bills for the lavish weaponizing, talk to the proverbial “pious wealthy donors” – incited by their clerics – in the GCC, the petrodollar arm of NATO. None of these goon squads could possibly thrive for so long without full, multidisciplinary “support” from the usual suspects.

So the hysterical/apoplectic/paroxystic rage enveloping the ‘Empire of Chaos’ betrays the utter failure, once again, of the same old “policy” (remember Afghanistan) of using jihadis as geopolitical tools. Fake “Caliphate” or “rebels”, they are all NATO-GCC’s bitches.

To add insult to injury, a frustrated ‘Sultan’ has also been forced to annex himself to a slightly changing Washington position – which now rules that “Assad must go,” yes, but it may take some time, as part of a yet to be defined “transition”.

‘The Sultan’ will remain a pile of nerves. He does not give a damn about ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Washington now does – sort of. He wants to smash the PYD and the PKK. For Washington, the PYD is a helpful ally. As for Moscow, ‘the Sultan’ better watch his neo-Ottoman step.

‘The Sultan’ simply cannot afford to antagonize ‘The Bear’. Gazprom will expand the Blue Stream pipeline into Turkey. It would be by 3 billion cubic meters; instead it will be by 1 billion cubic meters. According to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, it’s due to technical capabilities.

Yet Ankara better get its act together, because even that extension may evaporate if there’s no agreement on the commercial terms of TurkStream, the former Turkish Stream. Ankara is under tremendous pressure from the Obama administration. And ‘the Sultan’ knows very well that without Russia all his elaborate plans to position Turkey as the key energy transit hub from East to West will vanish in Anatolian scrub. In the end, he may even get regime-changed himself.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Historic Iran Nuke Deal a Huge Win for Everyone

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iran deal

Originally published in Russia Insider on July 16, 2015

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This is it. It is indeed historic. And diplomacy eventually wins. In terms of the New Great Game in Eurasia, and the ongoing tectonic shifts reorganizing Eurasia, this is huge: Iran — supported by Russia and China — has finally, successfully, called the long, winding 12-year-long Atlanticist bluff on its “nuclear weapons.”

And this only happened because the Obama administration needed 1) a lone foreign policy success, and 2) a go at trying to influence at least laterally the onset of the new Eurasia-centered geopolitical order.

So here it is – the 159-page, as detailed as possible, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); the actual P5+1/Iran nuclear deal.

As Iranian diplomats have stressed, the JCPOA will be presented to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which will then adopt a resolution within 7 to 10 days making it an official international document.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has described the deal — significantly — as a very Chinese “win-win” solution. But not perfect; “I believe this is a historic moment. We are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody but is what we could accomplish. Today could have been the end of hope, but now we are starting a new chapter of hope.”

Zarif also had to stress — correctly — this was a long-sought solution for an “unnecessary crisis”; the politicization — essentially by the US — of a scientific, technical dossier.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Steinmeier, for his part, was euphoric; “A historic day! We leave 35 years of speechlessness + more than 12 years of a dangerous conflict behind us.”

Looking ahead, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted now there can be “a focus on shared challenges” – referring to the real fight that NATO, and Iran, should pursue together; against the fake Caliphate of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, whose ideological matrix is intolerant Wahhabism and whose attacks are directed against both Shi’ites and westerners.

Right on cue, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the deal will contribute to fighting terrorism in the Middle East, not to mention “assisting in strengthening global and regional security, global nuclear non-proliferation” and — perhaps wishful thinking? — “the creation in the Middle East of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed the deal “fully corresponds” with Russia’s negotiating points. The fact is no deal would have been possible without extensive Russian involvement — and the Obama administration knows it (but cannot admit it publicly).

The real problem started when Lavrov added that Moscow expects the cancellation of Washington’s missile defense plans, after the Iran deal proves that Tehran is not, and won’t be, a nuclear “threat.”

There’s the rub. The Pentagon simply won’t cancel an essential part of its Full Spectrum Dominance military doctrine simply because of mere “diplomacy.”

Every security analyst not blinded by ideology knows that missile defense was never about Iran, but about Russia. The Pentagon’s new military review still states — not by accident — major Eurasian players Iran, China and Russia as “threats” to U.S. national security.

Now from the brighter side on Iran-Russia relations. Trade is bound to increase, especially in nanotechnology, machinery parts and agriculture. And on the all-pervasive energy front, Iran will indeed compete with Russia in major markets such as Turkey and soon Western Europe, but there’s plenty of leeway for Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) to coordinate their market share. NIOC executive Mohsen Qamsari advances that Iran will prioritize exporting to Asia, and will try to regain the at least 42% of the European market share that it had before sanctions.

Compared to so many uplifting perspectives, Washington’s reaction was quite pedestrian. US President Barack Obama preferred to stress — correctly — that every pathway to an Iranian nuclear weapon has been cut off. And he vowed to veto any legislation in the US Congress that blocks the deal. When I was in Vienna last week I had surefire confirmation — from a European source — that the Obama administration feels confident it has the votes it needs in Capitol Hill.

And what about all that oil?

Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy at the IAEA and currently Director of the Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), hailed the deal as “the most significant multilateral nuclear agreement in two decades – the last such agreement was the 1996 nuclear test ban treaty.” Rauf even advanced that the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize should go to US Secretary of State Jon Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif.

Rebuilding trust between the US and Iran, though, will be a long and winding road.

Tehran agreed to a 15-year moratorium on enriching uranium beyond 3.67 percent; this means it has agreed to reduce its enrichment capacity by two-thirds. Only Natanz will conduct enrichment; and Fordo, additionally, won’t store fissile material.

Iran agreed to store no more than 300 kg of low-enriched uranium — a 96% reduction compared to current levels. The Arak reactor will be reconfigured, and won’t be used to produce plutonium. The spent fuel will be handled by an international team.

The IAEA and Iran signed a roadmap in Tehran also this Tuesday; that was already decided last week in Vienna. By December 15, all past and present outstanding issues — that amount to 12 items — should be clarified, and the IAEA will deliver a final assessment. IAEA access to the Parchin military site — always a very contentious issue — is part of a separate arrangement.

One of the major sticking points these last few days in Vienna was solved — with Tehran allowing UN inspectors to visit virtually any site. But it may object to a particular visit. A Joint Commission — the P5+1 + Iran — will be able to override any objections with a simple majority vote. After that Iran has three days to comply — in case it loses the vote. There won’t be American inspectors — shades of the run-up towards the war on Iraq; only from countries with diplomatic relations with Iran.

So implementation of the deal will take at least the next five months. Sanctions will be lifted only by early 2016.

What’s certain is that Iran will become a magnet for foreign investment. Major western and Asian multinationals are already positioned to start cracking this practically virgin market with over 70 million people, including a very well educated middle class. There will be a boom in sectors such as consumer electronics, the auto industry and hospitality and leisure.

And then there’s, once again, oil. Iran has as much as a whopping 50 million barrels of oil stored at sea — and that’s about ready to hit the global market. The purchaser of choice will be, inevitably, China — as the West remains mired in recession. Iran’s first order of work is to regain lost market share to Persian Gulf producers. Yet the trend is for oil prices to go down – so Iran cannot count on much profit in the short to medium term.

 

Now for a real war on terror?

The conventional arms embargo on Iran essentially stays, for five years. That’s absurd, compared to Israel and the House of Saud arming themselves to their teeth.

Last May the US Congress approved a $1.9 billion arms sale to Israel. That includes 50 BLU-113 bunker-buster bombs — to do what? Bomb Natanz? — and 3,000 Hellfire missiles. As for Saudi Arabia, according to SIPRI, the House of Saud spent a whopping $80 billion on weapons last year; more than nuclear powers France or Britain. The House of Saud is waging an — illegal — war on Yemen.

Qatar is not far behind. It clinched an $11 billion deal to buy Apache helicopters and Javelin and Patriot air defense systems, and is bound to buy loads of F-15 fighters.

Trita Parsi, president of the National American-Iranian Council, went straight to the point; “Saudi Arabia spends 13 times more money on its defense than Iran does. But somehow Iran, and not Saudi Arabia, is seen by the US as the potential aggressor.”

So, whatever happens, expect tough days ahead. Two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Zarif told a small group of independent journalists in Vienna, including this correspondent, that the negotiations would be a success because the US and Iran had agreed on “no humiliation of one another.”

He stressed he paid “a high domestic price for not blaming the Americans,” and he praised Kerry as “a reasonable man.” But he was wary of the US establishment, which to a great extent, according to his best information, was dead set against the lifting of sanctions.

Zarif also praised the Russian idea that after a deal, it will be time to form a real counter-terrorism coalition, featuring Americans, Iranians, Russians, Chinese and Europeans — even as Putin and Obama had agreed to work together on “regional issues.” And Iranian diplomacy was giving signs that the Obama administration had finally understood that the alternative to Assad in Syria was ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, not the “Free” Syrian Army.

That degree of collaboration, post-Wall of Mistrust, remains to be seen. Then it will be possible to clearly evaluate whether the Obama administration has made a major strategic decision, and whether “normalizing” its relation with Iran involves much more than meets the eye.

 


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Russia, China, Iran: In sync

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S-300 (RIA Novosti / Alexey Danichev)

Originally published in RT on April 16, 2015


Over past decades, the pre-fabricated myth of an elusive “Iranian bomb” was never the real issue between the US and Iran; the issue was how to subdue – or “isolate” – a powerful, independent nation that refused to toe the exceptionalist line.

Now that the “rehabilitation” of Iran – at least for some exceptionalists and their minions – may be imminent, pending a nuclear deal to be clinched in June, various Washington factions still can’t get their act together.

The Pentagon has all but admitted the perennial wet dream of neocons and corporate media remains on the table; the military option.

The US Congress will go no holds barred in trying to scotch the deal. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed a bill that would give Congress the right to interfere with anything related to the removal of sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif faces an even more uphill battle as the “fact sheet” the Obama administration insisted it needed to release to make the case in Washington complicates how the nuclear deal may be received in Iran. To top it off, “fact sheet” or not, the case was not made in Washington after all.

And now the usual suspects – from the State Department to Congress and the Israel lobby – are predictably going bonkers on a demented “Putin selling missiles to the ayatollahs” narrative.

Got “S”, will sell

What Russian President Vladimir Putin has just done is to get back to business as usual; even before sanctions are lifted, he signed a decree lifting Moscow’s own ban on the delivery of the S-300 surface-to-air anti-missile system to Tehran, following an $800 million 2010 contract that was not fulfilled due to relentless US pressure. Tehran expects to receive the S-300 by the end of the year.

Moscow’s official line has always been that the arms embargo on Iran must be lifted as soon as a final nuclear deal is clinched. The Obama administration insists that sanctions must be removed gradually. Tehran, from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on down, is adamant that sanctions must be lifted“on the day of the deal”, in Khamenei’s words.

The Supreme Leader had added a conciliatory note though, remarking that, “if the other side avoids its ambiguity in the [nuclear] talks, it’ll be an experience showing it’s possible to negotiate with them on other issues.” That remains a galaxy-sized “if”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif during a meeting in Moscow (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif during a meeting in Moscow (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

Meanwhile, and in sync, the director-general of Russia’s top weapons exporting company Rosoborobexport, Anatoly Isaykin, confirmed China has just bought S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. Beijing is the first in a long list of foreign buyers – as the Russian defense industry is obliged to give priority on the S-400s to the Russian Defense Ministry

Each S-400 is capable of launching up to 72 missiles, engaging up to 36 targets simultaneously, and shield territory from air strikes, strategic, cruise, tactical and operating tactical ballistic missiles, and medium-range ballistic missiles. It’s been operational since 2007, replacing the S-300 systems now sold to Iran.

The crucial issue is that the S-300s will render Iran’s air defenses virtually secure against anything the Pentagon may throw at them, except fifth-generation stealth fighters. And these – the S-300 and S-400 – are not even Russian state-of-art; that would be the S-500 system, which I’ve referred to here, capable of definitely sealing Russian – and any other – territory from anything the Pentagon may come up with.

Strategically in sync

The simultaneous rolling out of the S-300s and S-400s to Iran and China are yet one more graphic example of the strategic partnership involving the three Eurasian nations that actively contest the hyperpower’s hegemony. They are certainly in sync.

In parallel, discreetly, Moscow has already started, in practice, a $20 billion oil-for-goods swap with Tehran – exchanging grain, equipment and construction materials for up to 500,000 barrels of Iranian crude a day. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, “this is not banned or limited under the current sanctions regime.”

Ryabkov only stated the obvious; “It takes two to tango. We are ready to provide our services and I am sure they will be pretty advantageous compared to other countries…We never gave up on Iran in a difficult situation…”

Tehran responded in sync, via the Chairman for the Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran, Alaeddin Boroujerdi; Iran is ready to expand cooperation with Russia in all spheres at the highest level. Crucially, “this is also the opinion of our supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about development of relations with Russia.”

The usual suspects, as usual, are clinging to any argument that “proves” Russia-Iran cooperation is doomed. For instance, “rehabilitated” Iran will doom Russia’s energy industry because of the “serious impact” on the oil market from Iran’s increased supply and competition with gas exporter Gazprom.

Ryabkov dismissed it by going straight to the point; “I am not confident as yet that the Iranian side would be ready to carry out supplies of natural gas from its fields quickly and in large quantities to Europe. This requires infrastructure that is difficult to build.”

This infrastructure upgrade is costly and will take years; it may happen, but with help from – once again – the Russians and the Chinese. Russia will be back in play in full force in Iran’s energy sector, as Gazprom, its oil arm, Gazprom Neft, and Lukoil had to put on hold many projects because of sanctions. Rosatom, for its part, will be able to clinch further contracts at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

The EU – and especially the US – are betting on Iran’s “rehabilitation” as an economic/political bonanza; the first real benefit would be Tehran becoming a supplier to yet another troublesome ‘Pipelineistan’ gambit, the Trans-Anatolian (TAP) gas pipeline, which may – or may not – be finished by 2018. TAP will supply gas to the EU via Turkey, but it’s still unclear how much gas potential suppliers – Azerbaijan or Iran – are able to commit.

TAP coming online does not mean Gazprom’s exports to the EU must be cut down. In fact, what Russian and Iranian officials have been discussing for a while now is how profitable exporting to the EU may be for both nations. Besides, Russia has still another key ‘Pipelineistan’ card to play – Turkish Stream, which will channel Russian gas to Turkey and Greece.

And yes, Gazprom is getting ready to be a key provider to two essential markets at the same time. Here’s what Gazprom’s CEO Alexei Miller told Rossiya-24: “The resource base of Western Siberia is a resource that is used for delivering gas for exports to Europe. In other words, at this point we are on the cutting edge when actual competitiveness will begin for our energy resources between two mega-markets: Asian and European.”

SWIFT business

Beijing, meanwhile, has also been on the offensive. As a top energy supplier – of both oil and gas – Iran is a matter of Chinese national security. So even with sanctions after sanctions, the US government was always forced to renew waivers for China, as Beijing kept importing energy from Iran at will.

Reuters / Petar Kujundzic

Reuters / Petar Kujundzic

Iran is an absolutely key node of the Chinese-led New Silk Road(s) – be it as part of the land route or as part of the Maritime Silk Road, which will touch the port of Chabahar. And the China-Iran partnership does not span only close ties on energy and trade/commerce; it also includes advanced Chinese defense technology, and Chinese input in Iran’s ballistic missile program.

China created a parallel SWIFT system to pay Iran for energy; Tehran, after the nuclear deal, will be free to access these funds in yuan. Iranian energy executives have already been to Beijing to discuss Chinese investment in the Iranian energy industry. Sinopec and CNPC will be instrumental in developing projects in the South Pars gas fields – the largest in the world – and in the monster Yadavaran and North Azadegan oil fields.

For Iran, all this will happen in parallel with European energy giants investing in liquefied natural gas (LNG) development and technology.

Investing in multiple fronts, China will also be instrumental in its push to finally help complete the much-troubled Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, which in the future may even include an extension to Xinjiang.

Xi does Tehran

The icing in this vast energy cake is how both Russia and China are deeply committed to integrating Iran into their Eurasian vision. Iran may finally be admitted as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the upcoming summer summit in Russia. That implies a full-fledged security/commercial/political partnership involving Russia, China, Iran and most Central Asian’stans’.

Iran is already a founding member of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); that means financing for an array of New Silk Road-related projects bound to benefit the Iranian economy. AIIB funding will certainly merge with loans and other assistance for infrastructure development related to the Chinese-established Silk Road Fund.

And last but not least, the China-Iran strategic partnership will be discussed in detail as Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Tehran next month.

It’s easy to remember how Iran was relentlessly derided as “isolated” by the exceptionalist crowd only a few months ago. Yet the fact is it was never isolated – but painstakingly building blocks towards Eurasian integration.

European firms are of course itching to unleash an avalanche of investment in the Iranian market post-sanctions, and most of all the energy giants badly yearn to lessen EU’s dependency on Gazprom. But they’ll be facing formidable competition, as it was up to Moscow and Beijing to identify, a long time ago, which way the wind was blowing; the inevitable (re)emergence of Iran as a key Eurasian power.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Russia, Turkey pivot across Eurasia

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THE ROVING EYE

Putin-chess

Originally published in Asia Times on December 8, 2014
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The latest, spectacular “Exit South Stream, Enter Turk Stream” Pipelinistan gambit will be sending big geopolitical shockwaves all across Eurasia for quite some time. This is what the New Great Game in Eurasia is all about.

In a nutshell, a few years ago Russia devised North Stream – fully operational – and South Stream – still a project – to bypass unreliable Ukraine as a gas transit nation. Now Russia devises a new sweet deal with Turkey to bypass the “non-constructive” (Putin’s words) approach of the European Commission (EC) concerning the European “Third Energy Package”, which prohibits one company from controlling the full cycle of extraction, transportation and sale of energy resources.

Background is essential to understand the current game. Already five years ago I was following in detail Pipelineistan’s ultimateopera – the war between rival pipelines South Stream and Nabucco. Nabucco eventually became road kill. South Stream may eventually be resurrected, but only if the EC comes to its senses (don’t bet on it.)

The 3,600 kilometer South Stream should be in place by 2016, branching out to Austria and the Balkans/Italy. Gazprom owns it with a 50% stake – along with Italy’s ENI (20%), French EDF (15%) and German Wintershall, a subsidiary of BASF (15%). As it stands, these European energy majors are not exactly beaming – to say the least. For months, Gazprom and the EC were haggling about a solution, but in the end Brussels predictably succumbed to its own mediocrity – and relentless US pressure over weak-link and European Union member Bulgaria.

Russia still gets to build a pipeline under the Black Sea, but one now redirected to Turkey and, crucially, pumping the same amount of gas South Stream would. Not to mention Russia gets to build a new LNG (liquefied natural gas) central hub in the Mediterranean. Thus Gazprom has not spent US$5 billion in vain (finance, engineering costs). The redirection makes total business sense. Turkey is Gazprom’s second-biggest customer after Germany; much bigger than Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria combined.

Russia also advances a unified gas distribution network capable of delivering natural gas from anywhere in Russia to any hub alongside Russia’s borders.

And as if it was needed, Russia gets yet another graphic proof that its real growth market in the future is Asia, especially China – not a fearful, stagnated, austerity-devastated, politically paralyzed EU. The evolving Russia-China strategic partnership implies Russia as complementary to China, excelling in major infrastructure projects from building of dams to laying out pipelines. This is trans-Eurasia business with a sharp geopolitical reach and not subjected to ideology-drenched politics.

Russian “defeat”? Really?
Turkey also made a killing. It’s not only the deal with Gazprom; Moscow will build no less than Turkey’s entire nuclear industry, and there will be increased soft power interaction (more trade and tourism). Most of all, Turkey is now increasingly on the verge of becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); Moscow is actively lobbying for it.

This means Turkey acceding to a privileged position as a major hub simultaneously in the Eurasian Economic Belt and of course the Chinese New Silk Road(s). The EU blocks Turkey? Turkey looks East. That’s Eurasian integration on the move.

Washington has tried very hard to create a New Berlin Wall from the Baltics to the Black Sea to “isolate” Russia. And yet Team “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” in Washington never saw it coming – yet another Putin judo/chess/go counterpunch applied exactly across the Black Sea.

Asia Times Online has been reporting for years how Turkey’s key strategic imperative is to configure itself as the indispensable energy crossroads from East to West – transiting everything from Iraqi oil to Caspian Sea gas. Oil from Azerbaijan already transits Turkey via the Bill Clinton/Zbig Brzezinski-propelled BTC (Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan) pipeline. Turkey would also be the crossroads if a Trans-Caspian pipeline is ever built (slim chances as it stands), pumping natural gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, then transported to Turkey and finally Europe.

So what Putin’s judo/chess/go counterpunch accomplished with a single move is to have stupid EU sanctions once again hurt the EU. The German economy is already hurting badly because of lost Russia business.

The EC brilliant “strategy” revolves around the EU’s Third Energy Package, which requires that pipelines and the natural gas flowing inside them must be owned by separate companies. The target of this package has always been Gazprom – which owns pipelines in many Central and Eastern European nations. The target within the target has always been South Stream.

Now it’s up to Bulgaria and Hungary, which have always fought the EC “strategy”, to explain the fiasco to their own populations, and to keep pressing Brussels; after all they are bound to lose a fortune, not to mention get no gas, with South Stream out of the picture. Bulgaria alone reportedly has lost more than 6,000 new jobs and over $3 billion of investment due to the loss of South Stream.

So here’s the bottom line; Russia sells even more gas – to Turkey; Turkey gets much-needed gas with a cool discount; and the EU, pressured by the Empire of Chaos, is reduced to dance, dance, dance like a bunch of headless chickens in dark Brussels corridors wondering what hit them. And while the Atlanticists are back to default mode – cooking up yet more sanctions – Russia is set to keep buying more and more gold.

Watch those spears
This is not the endgame – far from it. In the near future, many variables will intersect.

Ankara’s game may change – but that’s far from a given. President Recep Erdogan – the Sultan of Constantinople – has certainly identified a rival, Caliph Ibrahim of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh fame, trying to steal his mojo. Thus the sultan may flirt with mollifying his neo-Ottoman dreams and contemplate steering Turkey back to its previously ditched “zero problems with our neighbors” foreign policy doctrine.

Not so fast. Erdogan’s game so far was the same as that of the House of Saud and Qatar’s House of Thani; get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to allow an oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia and a gas pipeline from the South Pars/North Dome mega-field in Qatar. This pipeline would be Qatar-Iraq-Syria-Turkey, rivaling the already proposed, $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline. Final customers: the EU, of course, desperate in its “escape from Gazprom” offensive.

So what now? Will Erdogan abandon his “Assad must go” obsession? It’s too early to tell. The Turkish Foreign Ministry is spinning to the media that Washington and Ankara are about to agree on a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syria border – even as the White House, earlier this week, insisted the idea had been scrapped.

The House of Saud is like a camel lost in the Arctic. The House of Saud’s lethal game in Syria always boiled down to regime change so that the Saudi-sponsored oil pipeline from Syria to Turkey might be built. Now the Saudis see Russia about to supply all of Turkey’s energy needs – and still be positioned to sell more gas to the EU in the near future. And Assad still won’t go.

But it is US neo-cons who are sharpening their poisonous spears with gusto. As soon as early 2015 there may be a Ukrainian Freedom Act in the US House of Representatives. Translation: Ukraine being dubbed a “major US non-NATO ally”, which means, in practice, a virtual NATO annexation. Next step: more turbo-charged neo-con provocation of Russia.

A possible scenario is vassal/puppies such as Romania or Bulgaria, pressed by Washington, deciding to allow full access of NATO vessels into the Black Sea. Who cares that this would violate current Black Sea agreements that affect both Russia and Turkey?

And then there’s a dangerous Rumsfeldian “known unknown”: how the fragile Balkans will feel subordinated to the whims of Ankara. As much as Brussels keeps Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia in a strait jacket, in energy terms they will start depending on Turkey’s goodwill.

For the moment, let’s appreciate the magnitude of the geopolitical shockwaves after Putin’s latest judo/chess/go combo. And get ready for another chapter of Russia’s “pivoting across Eurasia”. Putin hits Delhi next weekend. Expect another geopolitical bombshell.

Pepe Escobar’s new book, just out, is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook.

 

 

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Washington plays Russian roulette

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

first on the ground

Originally published in Asia Times on November 21, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

These are bleak times. I’ve been in serious conversation with some deep sources and interlocutors – those who know but don’t need to show off, privileging discretion. They are all deeply worried. This is what one of them, a New York strategic planner, sent me:

The propaganda attack against Putin equating him with Hitler is so extreme that you have to think that the Russians cannot believe their ears and cannot trust the United States anymore under any circumstances.

I cannot believe how we could have gotten ourselves into this situation to protect the looters in the Ukraine that Putin would have rid the Ukraine of, and even had the gall to place in a leadership role one of the worst of the thieves. But that is history. What is certain is that MAD [mutually assured destruction] is not a deterrent today when both sides believe the other will use nuclear weapons once they have the advantage and that the side that gains a decisive advantage will use them. MAD is now over.

That may sound somewhat extreme – but it’s a perfectly logical extension, further on down the road, of what the Russian president intimated in his already legendary interview with Germany’s ARD in Vladivostok last week: the West is provoking Russia into a new Cold War. [1]

Mikhail Gorbachev just stressed a few days ago the new Cold War is already on. Princeton’s Stephen Cohen says the Cold War in fact never left. The Roving Eye reported about Cold War 2.0 months ago. Brits – still stranded in the 19th century new Great Game – prefer to spin the “strident toxic personality” of “diminutive Putin”; [2] he is the “ruthless, charming and ultimately reckless” man who “put the cold war back in vogue”. The Council on Foreign Relations, predictably, mourns the end of the post-Cold War world, blasts the current “disorder”, and dreams of the good ol’ unchallenged exceptionalist days. [3]

For arguably the best detailed background on how we came to this perilous state of affairs, it’s hard to beat Vladimir Kozin of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. [4] Read him carefully. And yes, it’s Cold War 2.0, the double trouble remix; between the US and Russia, and between NATO and Russia.

Seeing red
In his ARD interview, Putin stuck to actual facts on the ground: “NATO and the United States have military bases scattered all over the globe, including in areas close to our borders, and their number is growing ? Moreover, just recently it was decided to deploy special operations forces, again in close proximity to our borders. You have mentioned various [Russian] exercises, flights, ship movements and so on. Is all of this going on? Yes, it is indeed.”

For the Russia-demonizing hordes, it’s always convenient to forget that NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine was clinched at a NATO meeting in Bucharest in April 2008. The Georgia op spectacularly failed in the summer of 2008. Ukraine is a work in progress.

Crucially, in the ARD interview, Putin also told the EU coalition of the clueless/vassals/puppets/ that Russia can bring down the Ukraine House of Cards in a flash; Moscow just needs to emphasize it’s time to collect the humongous amounts of cash it is legally owed.

Putin also made it very clear Moscow won’t allow – and that was categorical: won’t allow – Donbass to be overrun/smashed/ethnic-cleansed by Kiev: “Today there is fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian central authorities have sent the armed forces there and they even use ballistic missiles. Does anybody speak about it? Not a single word. And what does it mean? What does it tell us? This points to the fact, that you want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents. You want that? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.” [5]

According to Kiev’s own figures, no less than 65% of residential buildings and 10% of schools and kindergartens in Donbass have been destroyed. Over 40,000 medium-sized companies are paralyzed. Unemployment – Ukraine-wide, is over 40%. External debt may reach US$80 billion – and don’t expect the International Monetary Fund, which now owns Ukraine, to go philanthropic. Most of all, Kiev can’t pay its billionaire gas bills to Gazprom because it spends a fortune terrorizing eastern Ukraine citizens. This Poroshenko rant sums it all up – with the US and EU fully complicit.

So NATO has been warned about Russia’s real red lines. Still, substantial sectors of the Washington/Wall Street elites can’t get enough of war. And they like it hot. [6] No one should ever underestimate the unlimited stupidity of the Return of the Living Neo-con Dead using their favorite pulpit, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

The “logic” behind Cold War 2.0 – now in full swing – couldn’t give a damn about European stability. The Obama administration launched it – with NATO as the spearhead – to in fact prevent Eurasian integration, building a New Berlin Wall in Kiev. The immediate target is to undermine Russia’s economy; in the long run, regime change would be the ultimate bonus.

So the logic of escalation is on. The economically devastated EU is a joke; the only thing that counts for the US is NATO – and the overwhelming majority of its members are in the bag, sharing the prevailing mood in Washington of treating Putin as if he were Milosevic, Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi. There are no signs whatsoever Team Obama is willing to de-escalate. And when the Hillarator President-in-Waiting ascends to the throne, all bets are off.

Notes:
1. Putin’s Sunday Interview on German TV (Dubbed + Transcript), Russian Insider, November 19, 2014.
2. The new cold war: are we going back to the bad old days?, The Guardian, November 19, 2014.
3. The Unraveling: How to Respond to a Disordered World, foreignaffairs.com, December 2014 issue.
4. See here.
5. The broken-down beauty of Eastern Ukraine, 25 years after the end of the USSR, Quartz, November 15, 2014.
6. The Wall Street Journal Wants the US to Go To War in Ukraine, Russia Insider, November 18, 2014.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Arctic Oil and Hong Kong Riots

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on September 28, 2014

Discuss this article at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

Snippet:

http://cdn.pjmedia.com/lifestyle/files/2013/09/duck-and-cover-drill.jpg…I’ll start today’s Rant with a personal story, we got a 6.2 magnitude Quake in Willow a couple of days ago, just about 80 miles or so from where I am located, which was the cause of much excitement and conversation around here, but very little in the way of damage. Preppers may have lost a few Pickle Jars off the shelves and a few paintings may have dropped off some walls, but not much more than that.

Still, it was the biggest Quake here since I moved to Alaska, and you definitely felt it. The cabin did some nice shaking for around 30 seconds or so. Kidz were in skule, and they got the opportunity to do a Duck & Cover Drill under their desks. There was enough time while it was going on for me to think, “Is this gonna get bigger? How long will it go?” Then it stopped.

For me, it gave me my first physical Benchmark feeling for what 6 on the Richter Scale feels like. It’s a logarithmic scale, so a 7 is 10X as severe, 8 100x etc. Anchorage did experience one of the few 9s ever recorded, a 9.2 in 1964, that is 1000X the 6 we just got. Yowza.

10X definitely would have caused damage in the cabin, and 100X would have brought it down for sure. 1000X is overkill here…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Lying or Just Stupid?

Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Las Vegas
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  May 5, 2014

It’s not always easy to define what exactly is wrong with America, but what ever it is, it’s huge.

— Roel Ilargi Meijer, The Automatic Earth.com

Nobody knows, from sea to shining sea, why we’re having all this trouble with our Republic.

— Tom McGuane, Ninety-Two in the Shade

Despite its Valley Girl origins, the simple term clueless turns out to be the most accurate descriptor for America’s degenerate zeitgeist. Nobody gets it — the “it” being a rather hefty bundle of issues ranging from our energy bind to the official mismanagement of money, the manipulation of markets, the crimes in banking, the blundering foreign misadventures, the revolving door corruption in governance, the abandonment of the rule-of-law, the ominous wind-down of the Happy Motoring fiasco and the related tragedy of obsolete suburbia, the contemptuous disregard for the futures of young people, the immersive Kardashian celebrity twerking sleaze, the downward spiral of the floundering classes into pizza and Pepsi induced obesity, methedrine psychosis, and tattooed savagery, and the thick patina of public relations dishonesty that coats all of it like some toxic bacterial overgrowth. The dwindling life of our nation, where anything goes and nothing matters.

It’s not just the individual cluelessness of ordinary people leading lives too frantic for a moment’s reflection about anything, but the appalling institutional cluelessness of enterprises where you’d think combined intellects might tend toward a more faithful view of reality. But these days all we get is a low-order of wishful and clownish group-think, such as this item from today’s New York Times discussing a proposed reversal of Gazprom pipelines along the Ukraine / Slovakian frontier as the solution to the Kiev government’s fuel problem:

 

Nearly all the gas Washington and Brussels would like to get moving into Ukraine from Europe originally came from Russia, which pumps gas westward across Ukraine, into Slovakia and then on to customers in Germany and elsewhere. Once the gas is sold, however, Gazprom ceases to be its owner and loses its power to set the terms of its sale.

 

Get that? To avoid depending on Russian gas, they’re going to buy Russian gas from sources other than Russia. What New York Times editor can read this story without spraying her video display with coffee? What genius in John Kerry’s “Haircut-in-Search-of-a-Brain” State Department dreamed up this dodge? Who would think that you could improve a Chinese fire drill by tacking on a Polish blanket trick (i.e. trying to make your blanket longer by cutting a foot from the top and sewing it onto the bottom).

The only conclusion the casual observer can come to is, to put it mildly, these institutions have gone completely meshugga. Since I follow the behavior of these organizations, I know that this is not an isolated example. For the State Department, the entire gambit in Ukraine has been a chain of obvious bungles and miscalculations, starting with our sponsored overthrow of the original elected Kiev government, and the absurd presumption that Russia had no legitimate interest in that region’s stability to the strategy of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot financial sanctions. The New York Times (once America’s “Newspaper of Record”), is now a completely unreliable conduit for un-parsed White House backgrounder propaganda and raw State Department spin, with an overlay of editorial PMS brain fog.

Another humdinger on a somewhat different issue caught my attention the other day in the formerly eminent, now degenerate journal Foreign Affairs (May / June 2014): The United States of Gas, by Robert Hefner III . This idiotic article in the current issue hits on all the usual wishful thinking delusions du jour concerning this country’s energy prospects, namely: due to fracking in shale deposits we’ve entered an energy-and-manufacturing renaissance, we’re soon-to-be the premier energy exporter to the world, and US “consumers” (i.e. citizens) can be assured of driving to WalMart forever — in other words, all economic problems solved. These idiots (editors and fact-checkers included) must get all their information straight out of the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) PR handouts. CERA, of course, is the official public relations shop of the oil and gas industry.

It’s one thing that this article is patently misleading. What’s worse is the complete absence of any understanding of the fundamental dynamic between the high cost of unconventional oil and gas and its effect on capital formation. In other words, the capital investment for continued future drilling will simply not exist. What a surprise that will be to the people who run this land.

There comes a point in the destiny of a failing nation when official lying is no longer distinct from official stupidity. We’ve crossed that boundary in the USA. It pays to remember that societies get what they deserve, not what they expect.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

 

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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