HISTORIC SHIFT IN GEOPOLITICAL ALIGNMENTS: INDIA AND PAKISTAN JOIN SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANIZATION (SCO)

South Front

03.08.2017

Written by Prof Michel Chossudovsky; Originally appeared at GlobalResearch

On June 9, both India and Pakistan became simultaneously members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian economic, political and mutual security organization largely dominated by China and Russia. 

While the SCO with headquarters in Beijing is not officially a “military alliance”, it nonetheless serves as a geopolitical and strategic “counterweight” to US-NATO and its allies. It also plays a significant role in the development of  Eurasian trade, e.g. in support of China’s Belt and Road initiative, oil and gas pipeline corridors linking SCO member states, etc. 

In the course of the last few years, the SCO has extended its cooperation in military affairs and intelligence. War games were held under the auspices of the SCO. 

The members of  the SCO include China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Pakistan and India are now full members since June 9, 2017. Iran is an Observer Member slated to shortly become a full member.

The SCO now encompasses an extensive region which now comprises approximately half of the World’s population.

Historic Shift in Geopolitical Alignments: India and Pakistan Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

SCO Enlargement

While the Western media casually acknowledged that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif had met in Astana, Kazakhstan, ahead of the SCO summit (June 9), the geopolitical implications of India and Pakistan’s full membership of the SCO was barely  addressed.

With both countries now full members of the SCO, conditions have emerged which favor the normalization of relations between Delhi and Islamabad. In the words of Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif, who congratulated his Indian counterpart:

“As leaders, we should leave a legacy of peace and amity for our future generations, not a toxic harvest of conflict and animosity. Instead of talking about counter-weights and containment, let us create shared spaces for all,”

Sharif also endorsed the proposal of China’s President Xi Jinping to establish “a five-year treaty for good neighbourliness among SCO members”.

Historic Shift in Geopolitical Alignments: India and Pakistan Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

Historic Shift in Geopolitical Alignments

The simultaneous instatement of both countries as full members of the SCO is not only symbolic, it marks a historic shift in geopolitical alignments, which has a de facto bearing on the structure of economic and military agreements. Moreover, it has also a bearing on the inner-conflict between India and Pakistan which dates back to the countries’ Independence.

Inevitably, this historic shift constitutes a blow against Washington, which has defense and trade agreements with both Pakistan and India.

While India remains firmly aligned with Washington, America’s political stranglehold on Pakistan (through military and intelligence agreements) has been weakened as a result of Pakistan’s trade and investment deals with China, not to mention the accession of both India and Pakistan to the SCO, which favors bilateral relations between both countries as well as cooperation with Russia, China and Central Asia at the expense of  their historical links with US.

In other words, this enlargement of the SCO weakens America’s hegemonic ambitions in both South Asia and the broader Eurasian region. It has a bearing on energy pipeline routes, transport corridors, borders and mutual security, maritime rights.

US-Pakistan Relations

This ongoing Pak-India conflict has been carefully nurtured by Washington since the Cold War era. Moreover, Washington had envisaged a scenario of political disintegration in Pakistan for more than ten years. According to a 2005 report by the US National Intelligence Council and the CIA, Pakistan was slated to become a “failed state” by 2015.

The US –with the support of Britain had favored the geographical and political fracture of Pakistan. The separatist movement in Baluchistan had been supported covertly by British intelligence. (For further details see Michel Chossudovsky, The Destabilization of Pakistan, Global Research, December 2007).

Military scholar Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters writing in the June 2006 issue of The Armed Forces Journal, suggests, in no uncertain terms that Pakistan should be broken up, leading to the formation of  a separate country: “Greater Balochistan” or “Free Balochistan” (see Map below). The latter would incorporate the Pakistani and Iranian Baloch  provinces into a single political entity.

In turn, according to Peters, Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) should be incorporated into Afghanistan “because of its linguistic and ethnic affinity”. This proposed fragmentation, which broadly reflects US foreign policy, would reduce Pakistani territory to approximately 50 percent of its present land area. (See map). Pakistan would also loose a large part of its coastline on the Arabian Sea.

Although the map does not officially reflect Pentagon doctrine, it has been used in a training program at NATO’s Defense College for senior military officers. This map, as well as other similar maps, have  most probably been used at the National War Academy as well as in military planning circles. Michel Chossudovsky, The Destabilization of Pakistan,Global Research, December 2007)

Historic Shift in Geopolitical Alignments: India and Pakistan Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

Ralph Peters Map: The Project for the New Middle East

With the development of Pakistan’s bilateral relations with China, since 2007, the US clutch on Pakistan politics — which largely relied on America’s military presence as well as Washington’s links to Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment– has indelibly been weakened.

Pakistan’s full membership of the SCO, its links with China and Iran should contribute to weakening secessionist movements, while reinforcing the powers of the Islamabad government.

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Pakistan and China have implemented a so-called “Economic Corridor” which is part of Beijing’s Eurasian Belt and Road trade and investment project. In many regards, the CPEC is a slap in the face for Washington and its failed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which sought to integrate Asia and the Pacific into a hegemonic economic project.

The CPEC is a 2400km, economic corridor (including an extensive railway system) from Kashgarin the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian sea. The infrastructure of the Gwadar port was largely funded by China.

The CEPEC is part and parcel of China’s Belt and Road initiative. The CPEC was originally valued at $46 billion, it is estimated in 2017 at $62 billion. ​

Historic Shift in Geopolitical Alignments: India and Pakistan Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

Source: Interfax

The accession of  both Pakistan and India to full SCO membership is intended to reinforce the CPEC as well as, from Beijing’s standpoint, include India in a broader corridor which will ultimately favor trade and cooperation between Pakistan and India, leading also to the negotaiation of integrated economic corridors from Iran, through Pakistan and India onto China and Central Asia.

India

With regard to India, its historical links with Russia –which prevailed during the Cold War, were undermined in the early 1990s with the assassination of Prime minister Radjiv Gandhi in 1991.

A  Congress government largely committed to neoliberal economic reforms and the “Washington consensus” was installed in 1991 (with Manmohan Singh, a former World Bank official as Finance Minister who later became Prime Minister). In recent developments, Washington has developed a comprehensive military cooperation agreement with India.

The question is how will Indian politics evolve in relation to Washington and the West, now that India is a full member of the SCO. How will the conflict between India and Pakistan evolve now that both countries are full members of the SCO.

India-Iran

At present, India’s trade corridors with with Iran avoid transit through Pakistan. They are governed by an “India, Iran, Afghanistan” tripartite agreement which bypasses Pakistan, which links the  Iranian port of Chabahar on the Arabian into a “transit hub”, which bypasses Pakistan.

In turn the underwater gas pipeline project linking the Iranian port of Chabahar to Mumbai, which was the result of bilateral negotiations between Tehran and Delhi in March 2016:

In a decision of far-reaching strategic implications, India is all set to ink a deal to have a direct undersea gas pipeline from Iran, by circumventing Pakistan. Not only this, New Delhi has approved a three-pronged push towards Iran and Central Asia.

It will fund a rail link between the Iranian port city of Chabahar and city of Zahedan, located on the tri-junction of Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan. The rail link, when concluded, will join Chabahar port with International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to provide direct access to Central Asia. (Tribune India, March 14, 2016, emphasis added)

The question is whether this bilateral project circumventing Pakistan will go through, now that both India and Pakistan are full SCO members, involved in partner relations with China, Iran and Russia.

Historic Shift in Geopolitical Alignments: India and Pakistan Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

Will that tripartite agreement signed in May 2016 prevail unchanged now that both India and Pakistan are full members of the SCO? (and Iran and Afghanistan are Observer Members of the SCO).

Historic Shift in Geopolitical Alignments: India and Pakistan Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

Screenshot Al Jazeera, May 5, 2016

Regime Change in Pakistan?  The Political Demise of Nawaz Sharif ?

Barely two months following the SCO summit in Astana on July 28, 2017, Pakistan is experiencing a deep-seated political crisis.

PM Nawaz Sharif, who had negotiated his country’s membership in the SCO was obliged to step down as prime minister following a ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on corruption allegations.

Coming with less than a year to go in his term, his ouster adds to a grim and long list of civilian governments cut short in Pakistan — including two of his own previous terms as prime minister. And it will further roil the country’s tumultuous political balance, as his rivals vie to exploit his fall.

When Mr. Sharif returned to office in 2013, it was as a widely popular party leader with a deep grudge against the country’s powerful military establishment. He moved quickly to try to establish civilian authority in areas that had long been dominated by generals, especially foreign policy.

The latest reports from Pakistan confirms that parliament will elect a new interim prime minister on August 1, “Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expected to become interim leader until Sharif’s own brother is eligible.” (Independent, July 30, 2017).

What are the broad implications of this political crisis in Pakistan? What are its impacts on the SCO?

Putin and Trump stage-manage a win-win meeting

July 09, 2017

by Pepe Escobar for The Asia TimesPutin and Trump stage-manage a win-win meeting

From the start, the “positive chemistry” in the Mother of All Sit-Downs was a given. The format – with only the four principals, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and two translators – prevented any leaks. What was originally scheduled for 35 minutes went on for 2 hours and 16 minutes, and not even an impromptu appearance by First Lady Melania Trump – they were late for the Elbphilharmonie pomp and circumstance – managed to stop the flow.

They needed to deliver. They needed headlines. They got plenty. Including a possible first step at real cooperation; a ceasefire deal in southwestern Syria. Yet the real headline is that diplomacy beats demonization.

Still, from the toxic, overwhelmingly Russophobic Beltway point of view, that dystopia masquerading as a summit – the actual G-20 – was a mere backdrop; the only thing that mattered in this parallel G-2 was confirmation of an obsessive narrative; Russian interfered in the US elections.

Spin City gave us slightly conflicting views. Tillerson admitted “intractable” differences but stressed Trump was “rightly focused on how do we move forward”, while an uncharacteristically irritable Lavrov said Trump had accepted Putin’s denial, adding what is, in fact, the real clincher; Putin wants proof and evidence of Russian interference.

That won’t happen. The “Russian hacking” tsunami ebbs and flows, always following the same pattern; accusations by some proverbial “anonymous official” or “expert”, usually debunked. If the acronym jungle of US intel had concrete, definitive evidence, that would have been splashed on every single front page long ago.

The real test for a possible reset will be the US-Russia ceasefire in southwestern Syria. Tillerson and Lavrov had been discussing it for weeks now. And it’s a Russian idea.

Essentially, that would lead towards American/Jordanian peacekeeping forces near the Golan; Damascus allowing Iranian and Russian peacekeeping forces around the capital; Turkey ensconced between Jarablus and Al-Bab in the north with Russians around them; and the Americans in the northeast all the way to Raqqa alongside the Kurdish YPG.

In a nutshell; a regional balance of power which, assuming it holds, might slowly lead towards a final all-Syria settlement.

Jordan – and Israel – are not warring parties in Syria, and yet the deal directly concerns them. It’s not clear whether US forces will have to be back to Jordan. It’s not clear how the ceasefire will complement the Astana negotiation – the actual top frontline decider – involving Russia, Iran and Turkey. It’s not clear whether Daesh will be eradicated for good. It’s not clear whether the Pentagon will stop sporadically attacking the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

The real big story

And then, there’s the big story of the G-20 in Hamburg, which actually started three days earlier in Moscow, in a full-fledged official summit between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi repeatedly extolled the “strategic alliance”, or “the fast-growing, pragmatic cooperation”, or even the “special character” of China’s ties with Russia.

Putin once again pledged to support the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road initiative (Obor), “by all means”, which includes its interpenetration with the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU).

The Russian Direct Investment Fund and the China Development Bank established a joint $10 billion investment fund.

Gazprom and China’s CNPC signed a key agreement for the starting date of gas deliveries via the Power of Siberia pipeline; December 20, 2019, according to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller. And that will be followed by the construction of Power of Siberia-2.

They kept discussing a military cooperation roadmap.

And at a closed Kremlin meeting the night before their official summit, in which they clinched yet another proverbial raft of deals worth billions of dollars, Putin and Xi developed a common North Korea strategy; “dialogue and negotiation”, coupled with firm opposition to the THAAD missile system being installed in South Korea.

Xi, in an interview to TASS, had already expounded on US missile defense – an absolute top priority for the Kremlin – “disrupting the strategic balance in the region”.

This was Putin and Xi’s third meeting in 2017 alone. At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Astana, Putin had already hinted that this one, in Moscow, would be “a major event in bilateral relations.”

The giveaway: that’s where they not only deepened their joint strategy for Eurasia integration but also coordinated their common approach to Trump at the G-20. This is what a strategic partnership is all about.

How to restart a reset

Considering the toxicity levels in the Beltway, Putin and Lavrov went to the G-20 harboring no expectations that a package deal could be achieved between Russia and the US.

They knew this would be a strictly political meeting – and not economic; an easing of sanctions was out of the cards.

They also knew there’s not much Trump could offer to the Russian economy. This exhaustive report sets the record straight.

Even under sanctions, Russia should expect a “handsome recovery”, with an expected growth of 3% to 4% in 2017. There has been an “extraordinary decrease in the share of oil & gas revenue in Russia’s GDP.” Russia has “the lowest level of imports (as a share of the GDP) of all major countries.” And the clincher; Russia “must focus on China, the East, and the rest of the world.”

That’s already happening. At the BRICS meeting on the sidelines of the G-20, they called for a more open global economy and for a “rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system.”

Putin and Lavrov faced Trump and Tillerson knowing full well that

political factions in the US won’t waiver in their mission to keep the tension with “peer competitors” Russia and China at a very dangerous level.

At the same time, they knew Trump and Tillerson really aim for a reset – incipient as it may be at the start.

Syria is an ultra-complex case where the sphere of influence is mostly Iranian but the hard, cold facts on the ground and in the skies are mostly Russian. With this ceasefire deal, it’s as if Putin and Lavrov are inviting a losing Washington to be part of a solution that satisfies – sort of – all parties, including Israel and Turkey.

Trump did not make any substantial concessions in Hamburg, at least according to what both Tillerson and Lavrov volunteered to disclose. The Beltway is barking that Trump gave Putin a win. As usual, they’re wrong; Putin and Trump stage-managed a win-win.

President Putin holds press conference at G20 in Hamburg

President of Russia Vladimir Putin answered journalists’ questions on the results of the two-day G20 Summit.

July 8, 2017

17:20

Hamburg

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55017

 

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,

Allow me to skip any statements and monologues. You have seen and heard everything, a great deal. Let us get straight to questions.

Go ahead, please.

Question: Mr President, both experts and ordinary people, some of whom are rampaging near this building now, are known to have different opinions on the usefulness of G20 summits. At this summit, for example, there was more talk about your meeting with Mr Trump. And yet which of the issues discussed by the G20 is most relevant for Russia? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: G20 is primarily an economic forum, even though many political and similar issues emerge. Nevertheless, the main issue is the development of the global economy, and this is what received the greatest attention.

We agreed on determining global economy sustainability principles, and this is vitally important for working along the same standards.

Then we continued with the issue which in fact had been launched in St Petersburg: money laundering and everything connected with tax havens and tax evasion. It is a crucial matter with practical implications.

Next, no less important and also connected with the economy, a related but very important issue – the fight against terror, tracking money flows to prevent the funding of terrorism.

Finally, a very big and very sensitive issue is climate change. I think in this respect the Federal Republic of Germany chairing the G20 has managed to reach the best compromise in a difficult situation the chairing nation has found itself in, namely due to the US quitting the Paris Climate Agreement. An agreement was reached, a compromise, when all the countries have recorded that the United States pulled out of the agreement but they are ready to continue cooperating in certain areas and with certain countries on addressing climate change challenges. I think this is a positive result in itself, which can be credited to Chancellor Merkel.

There are other issues we looked into. For example, digital economy. Here we proposed adopting common rules in the area of digital economy, defining cyber security and designing a comprehensive system of behaviour rules in this sphere.

We said today – the President of the South African Republic spoke very convincingly about it; in fact, this issue was touched upon in practically everyone’s speech and in some way it is reflected in the final documents – that we must be ready for the release of the labour force, we must make joint efforts, we must figure out what should be done with the workers who have lost their jobs, how to arrange retraining, what the deadlines are and what rules should be put in place.

Among other things I drew attention to the fact that trade unions will have to be engaged because they will protect not only the workers but also the self-employed individuals operating in the digital economy, and the number of such jobs is increasing. This is connected in one way or another with women’s rights and education for girls. This is being discussed at many forums but we talked about it today in the context of digital economy.

Overall, this forum is definitely effective, and I believe it will play a role in stabilising the global economy in general.

Question: Mr President, I would like to follow up on my colleague’s topic. Even though there were many political issues at the summit, they keep on surfacing at the G20 summits more and more often, yet you listed economic issues, which remain the priority anyway. Many speakers, ministers from different countries responsible for the economy, said that 2017 could become the year of global economic growth. How feasible is that and will this growth be seen in Russia in view of the current unfavourable trends – sanctions, restrictions and other factors?

Vladimir Putin: We have not seen any unfavourable trends so far, or they have almost disappeared at any rate. Certain factors are having a negative impact on economic development, including in the global economy, the economy in the Euro zone and in Russia, those same illegitimate restrictions you have mentioned. We call for lifting any restrictions, for free trade, for working within the World Trade Organisation, in line the WTO rules. By the way, one of the topics discussed here was free trade and countering protectionism. This is also one of the crucial areas that should be mentioned.

On the whole, there is some progress. However, the initial optimistic growth forecasts have been downgraded. Nevertheless, there is growth, and it is apparent, including in Russia.

I said recently and repeated it here that Russian economic growth is tangible, the Russian economy, and we can say this with certainty, has recovered from the recession. We have been growing for the third quarter in a row, and soon it will be the fourth quarter in a row. Growth exceeded 3 percent in May: it was 3.1 percent. I think we will have an average of 2 percent in 2017. This is also a significant contribution to the global economic growth.

Let me remind you that we also have low unemployment of 5.2 percent, our reserves are growing, including the reserves of the Central Bank and the Government. The Central Bank reserves have already reached $412 billion. The federal budget revenues grew by 40 percent, and all this is happening against the background of fairly low inflation of 4.4 percent. All this taken together certainly gives us optimism; however, one cannot say with certainty that this is a long-term trend. We must take care to sustain this growth trend. I have every reason to believe that we will manage to do it.

Question: Mr President, your meeting with President Trump was literally the focus of everyone’s attention at the summit. How do you access the results of this meeting? It is no secret that US President had voiced a rather tough rhetoric in Poland, and there had even been unfriendly statements from US media in the run-up to the summit. Did Mr Trump ask you directly about Russia’s interference in the US [presidential] election? Did you like him personally? Do you think you will get along?

Vladimir Putin: The US President asked me this question directly, and we discussed it. And this was not a single question, there were many, and he gave much attention to this issue. Russia’s stance is well-known and I reiterated it. There is no reason to believe that Russia interfered in the US election process.

But what is important is that we have agreed that there should not be any uncertainty in this sphere, especially in the future. By the way, I mentioned at the latest summit session that this directly concerns cyberspace, web resources and so on.

The US President and I have agreed to establish a working group and make joint efforts to monitor security in the cyberspace, ensure full compliance with international laws in this area, and to prevent interference in countries’ internal affairs. Primarily this concerns Russia and the United States. We believe that if we succeed in organising this work – and I have no doubt that we will – there will be no more speculation over this matter.

As regards personal relations, I believe that they have been established. This is how I see it: Mr Trump’s television image is very different from the real person; he is a very down to earth and direct person, and he has an absolutely adequate attitude towards the person he is talking with; he analyses things pretty fast and answers the questions he is asked or new ones that arise in the course of the discussion. So I think that if we build our relations in the vein of our yesterday’s meeting, there are good reasons to believe that we will be able to revive, at least partially, the level of interaction that we need.

Question: To follow up on of your answer, could you please say if President Trump has accepted your denial of Russia’s involvement, Russia’s interference in the US election?

Vladimir Putin: I repeat, he asked many question on this matter. I answered all of his questions as far as I could. I think he took note and agreed. But it would be better if you asked him about what he thinks about it.

Question: One more question about the domestic policy, if I may. Actually, it is unrelated to the G20 but the question is about Russia’s domestic policy. I would like to ask what you think of Alexei Navalny and his activities. And why you do not say his name and surname when you answer questions about him.

Vladimir Putin: I think we can engage in dialogue, especially at the level of the President or the Government, with the people who propose a constructive agenda, even if they voice criticism. But if the point is to attract publicity, this does not encourage dialogue.

Question: Earlier this morning you had a meeting with the French President and the German Chancellor. I assume you had an in-depth discussion on the situation in Ukraine. Did a new vision emerge, and is there any hope that Donbass will come out of the ordeal gripping it right now? Can the discussion of the issue launched with the US President play its role, or do the interests of Russia and the United States still diverge in Ukraine, or may be even oppose each other in some matters? Which, by the way, can be presumed from the background of the US diplomat who was appointed special envoy.

Vladimir Putin: The interests of Russia and Ukraine, the interests of the Russian and Ukraine people – and I am fully and profoundly confident of this – coincide. Our interests fully coincide. The only thing that does not coincide is the interests of the current Ukrainian authorities and some of Ukraine’s political circles. If we are to be objective, of course, both Ukraine and Russia are interested in cooperating with each other, joining their competitive advantages and developing their economies just because we have inherited much from the Soviet era – I am speaking about cooperation, the unified infrastructure and the energy industry, transport, and so on.

But regrettably, today our Ukrainian colleagues believe this can be neglected. They have only one ”product“ left – Russophobia, and they are selling it successfully. Another thing they are selling is the policy of dividing Russia and Ukraine and pulling the two peoples and two nations apart. Some in the West like this; they believe that Russia and Ukraine must not be allowed to get closer in any areas. That is why the current Ukrainian authorities are making active and successful efforts to sell this ”product.“

But I think this will eventually come to an end. Russia, at any rate, wants for this situation to be over as soon as possible.

As regards the United States’ involvement in settling the situation in Ukraine, President Trump and I have talked about this and we agreed – and actually, this has already been done – that a special representative of the administration would be appointed to handle this issue on a permanent basis and to be in constant contact both with Russia and Ukraine, with all the parties interested in settling this conflict.

Question: Mr President, I have a question about the Middle East, which is seething at the moment: Syria, Qatar and other countries. You must have had discussions on Syria at the G20 Summit. How do you assess the prospects for the Syrian settlement after those discussions and after the recent meeting in Astana? Has the stance of the new US Administration on this issue changed or become more constructive, especially in view of yesterday’s agreements?

And also about Qatar, if I may. How do you assess the situation? Was it discussed at the G20 Summit?

And one more question, if I may…

Vladimir Putin: I will have to make a full report to you. (Laughter.)

Question: Well, one does not often get this chance. On the terrorism issue: as far as I know, agreeing on the Statement on Countering Terrorism was a difficult process. If it is not a secret, what were the major contradictions?

Vladimir Putin: To be honest, I am not aware of the difficulties, you had better ask the Sherpa. In my view, there were no basic objections from anyone. Maybe some of the wording. But, to be honest, I am not aware of that. I know that the text was agreed on. At any rate, at the level of delegation heads, heads of state, there were no problems or tensions. Everyone admits that this is a common threat and everyone states their readiness to fight this threat.

As for Qatar, the problem was not discussed. It is a fairly burning regional issue, and can impact certain processes, by the way, including in the economy, in the energy area and in terms of security in the region, but I did not discuss this issue with anybody during the Summit.

About Syria. Yes, we discussed this issue with almost all of my interlocutors. As for whether the US stance has changed or not – I would say it has become more pragmatic. It does not seem to have changed in general, but there is an understanding now that by combining efforts, we can achieve a lot. Yesterday’s deal on the southern de-escalation zone is clearly the result of this change. You know, others may react as they like, but I can tell you, this is one of the breakthroughs we have made in our work with President Trump. This is a real result of cooperation, including with the United States. Jordan has joined in the effort, and so have several other countries in the region. We have held consultations with Israel and will continue them in the near future. Still, this is a very good result, a breakthrough of a kind. Therefore, if we move the same way in other directions, towards other de-escalation areas…

We have discussed this very thoroughly with the President of Turkey today. This does not entirely depend on us, of course, as much has to do with the controversy between the countries in the region. Everyone has their own concerns, everyone has their own preferences, their own interests, I mean legitimate interests, so this is the way we must treat these – as their legitimate interests; we need to look for compromises.

You know, sometimes we find them. In any case, the fact that active military operations have ceased, the fact that we are now discussing de-escalation zones is a huge step forward.

Now we need to agree on the exact boundaries of these zones, and how security will be ensured there. This is a painstaking, even tedious effort, and it is extremely important and responsible work. Based on the recent positive experience, relying on the good will of Iran, Turkey, and of course, the Syrian Government and President al-Assad, we can take further steps.

The most important thing is – we have actually reaffirmed this, also in the documents establishing this zone in the south on the border with Jordan, and the area that borders on the Golan Heights – the most important thing is to ensure Syria’s territorial integrity, eventually, so that these de-escalation zones become the prototype of regions that could cooperate with each other and with the official Damascus. If we manage to do this, we will lay the groundwork, create the prerequisites for resolving the entire Syrian problem by political means.

Question: We have already talked about interfering in the elections but we have new elections coming up in Germany.

Vladimir Putin: Here in Germany?

Question: These days we say “we have elections in Germany” in September. Is Russia planning to interfere in them? Did you notify Angela Merkel about how we are going to do it? Maybe you will give me a hunch as well? (Laughter in the audience.)

Vladimir Putin: You are asking rather provocative questions. But I told you that we had not interfered in the United States either. Why should we make trouble here as well? We have very good relations with the Federal Republic. It is our largest trade and economic partner in Europe country-wise, one of our leading trade partners in the world. We have large joint projects on the agenda that we support, for example, Nord Stream 2. There are a lot of tales being told about it, arguments and even resistance but it is absolutely evident that it is in the interests of the European economy and in the interests of the German economy, which wants to abandon nuclear power.

Why would we do it? Interfering in domestic political processes is the last thing we would wish to do.

If you look at the press, the German press or the European press in general, the French press, it is they who keep on interfering in our domestic affairs. But we are not concerned about it because we feel confident.

Question: Thank you very much, Mr President, for the opportunity to ask you a question on behalf of my television network. We meant to ask you about your meeting with President Trump, but my colleague has already asked the same question. And you said we should ask President Trump about what had happened.

Vladimir Putin: No, I did not. You should ask him about how he sees it, what he thinks about my answers. As to what happened – nothing happened, we did not interfere.

Remark: Unfortunately, the White House offers practically no information about what is going on.

Vladimir Putin: We will give them a piece of our minds. (Laughter.)

Remark: Could you just share what President Trump said during your meeting when you told him that Russia had not interfered in the political process?

Vladimir Putin: He started asking probing questions, he was really interested in some details. I gave him fairly detailed answers as much as I could. I told him about my dialogues with the previous administration, including with President Obama. But I do not feel that I have the right to give details of my conversations, say, with President Obama, it is not an accepted practice at this level. I think it would not be quite appropriate of me to give details of our conversation with President Trump. He asked me and I answered him. He asked probing questions, and I offered explanations. I think he was satisfied with those answers.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: You are welcome.

Question: Going back to the issue of boosting economic growth, to the measures that could be taken, the Government has already drafted a plan, and as far as we know, you have read it but for some reason the plan is classified. We know some parts of it from what you said about them.

Vladimir Putin: Let me explain. As you must know, we have several groups working on this issue: a group headed by Mr Titov with the involvement of the business community, and a group headed by Mr Kudrin, who has gathered a large number of respected experts. The Government is also working. But we should make a plan that will be acceptable, optimal for the next steps to be taken in the economy starting in 2018. And we must review all the proposals, assess them and in the end, make the final decision.

It may not be one of the proposals submitted; it may be something based on all three proposals. But work is currently underway, and we do not talk about it in advance.

But the Government has certainly done a great deal in this area, and we will rely largely on the Government’s proposals. We cannot ignore the results of Mr Kudrin’s work, and Mr Titov also has some sensible suggestions. This is why we are working at present to decide what the final variant will be out of the proposals for the development of the Russian economy from 2018 onward.

That is all. There are no secrets. What is the point? The point is that it is wrong to announce what has not been adopted yet. We could just send the wrong signals to the economy, and that is it. It all comes down to that.

Question: I have a question about domestic policy. I have learned that you have been briefed on the [limo] car of the Cortege project, which is to be used at the 2018 presidential inauguration.

Vladimir Putin: You seem to know this better than me: this is the first time I have heard about it.

Question: Have you thought of going for a drive in this car at the official event, that is, at the inauguration?

Vladimir Putin: No, I have not, because the car is not ready yet. You can go for a drive in it yourself, I will see how it goes, and later we can test it out together.

Question: You have spoken about the meeting with Mr Erdogan. Could you please elaborate – when you touched upon the issue of the first zone, the northern one, did you discuss the issue of the Kurds and particularly the territory of Afrin, where representatives of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides are present? The Turkish media are already preparing the ground for the Turkish army’s intervention to this area. Also, did you discuss the future of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad with Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan? For instance, Mr Tillerson said yesterday that this person has no future in the Syrian politics. He did not say how and when, but that was what he said.

Vladimir Putin: Let me answer the second question first. Mr Tillerson is a well-regarded man, he received the Russian Order of Friendship, and we feel great respect for him and we like him. But he is not a Syrian citizen, and the future of Syria and President al-Assad as a political figure has to be determined by the Syrian people.

As regards the Kurdish issue, this is a very big and complicated problem. We keep in contact with many Kurdish groups and make no secret of this. But with regard to military support of their activities, here our US colleagues are far ahead of the game; they are making much greater efforts in this regard.

Our servicemen – not advisers – who are monitoring the ceasefire are indeed present in many regions of Syria, where the truce agreement has been reached. But speaking of the regions you have mentioned, there are one or two of them there, they are not military units. They are performing the task that everyone is interested in fulfilling. But so far, we are not witnessing any preparations for military action; quite the opposite, we expect that our preliminary developments on establishing the de-escalation zones in several regions – in the Idlib area, in the north – will be accomplished. And this cannot be done without Turkey’s support.

Question: My colleagues here have already recalled the words President Trump said in Warsaw. He made yet another statement about the United States being ready to begin direct supplies of liquefied natural gas to Poland and Central Europe. What do you think of these plans, especially in the context of our plans for the Nord Stream? What if gas becomes a new cause of tension in US-Russian relations?

Vladimir Putin: I view these plans highly positively because healthy competition is good for everyone. We support an open market and healthy competition.

The US President said yesterday during the discussion that the United States stands for open, fair competition. And, by the way, when I spoke, I supported his point. So, we are absolutely all right with this; if it is so, if there is open and fair competition, no political motives or political resources involved, it would be quite acceptable for us. Because to date, it is an obvious fact that any specialist would tell you: the cost of production and delivery of liquefied natural gas from the United States is much higher than our LNG – even LNG – and is not even comparable to Russian pipeline gas. So, there is no doubt that we have an absolute competitive advantage. But to keep it, our market participants must work hard. They need to retain these competitive advantages.

Let us wrap this up. Go ahead, please.

Question: After the first meeting with President Trump, do you think it would be possible to gradually pull Russian-US relations out of deep crisis they are in, or is it difficult to say anything at all yet?

Vladimir Putin: I very much hope so, and it seems to me that we have built certain prerequisites for this.

Thank you very much. All the best.

——————————————

G20 Leaders ́ Declaration

Shaping an interconnected world

Hamburg, 7/8 July 2017

Blood on the tracks of the New Silk Roads: Qatar chaos sends ripples of economic anxiety across the region

by Pepe Escobar for the Asia Times

hina’s cardinal foreign policy imperative is to refrain from interfering abroad while advancing the proverbial good relations with key political actors – even when they may be at each other’s throats.

Still, it’s nothing but gut-wrenching for Beijing to watch the current, unpredictable, Saudi-Qatari standoff. There’s no endgame in sight, as plausible scenarios include even regime change and a seismic geopolitical shift in Southwest Asia – what a Western-centric view calls the Middle East.

And blood on the tracks in Southwest Asia cannot but translate into major trouble ahead for the New Silk Roads, now rebranded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

When he said, on the record, “I decided … the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding [of terrorism]”, President Trump essentially took credit for the Saudi/UAE-orchestrated excommunication of Doha, the aftermath of his now notorious sword dance in Riyadh.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) attend the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attend the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. Photo: Reuters

Trump’s senior staff though maintains that Qatar never came up in discussions with the Saudis. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Exxon-Mobil CEO and a certified old Middle East hand, has done his best to defuse the drama – conscious there would be no reason for Qatar to continue hosting Al Udeid Air Base and Centcom to a hostile superpower.

Meanwhile, Russia – the Beltway’s favorite evil entity – is getting closer and closer to Qatar, ever since the game-changing acquisition in early December by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) of 19.5% of the crown energy giant Rosneft.

That translates into an economic/political alliance of the world’s top two gas exporters; and that explains why Doha – still holding a permanent office at NATO’s HQ – has abruptly thrown its “moderate rebels” in Syria under the (economic) bus.

Russia and China are bound by a complex, multi-vector strategic partnership. Beijing, privileging economic interests, takes a pragmatic view and is never inclined to play a political role. As the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter, Beijing’s motto is crystal clear: Make Trade, Not War.

But what if Southwest Asia is mired in the foreseeable future in a permanent pre-war footing?

China and BRI’s best pal Iran

China is Qatar’s top trading partner. Beijing was actively negotiating a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) before the current standoff. Moving forward, a possible scenario is Qatar even pulling out of the GCC.

Qatar is also China’s second-largest source of liquefied natural gas (LNG), while Saudi Arabia is China’s third-largest source of oil. Since 2010 China is ahead of the US as the biggest exporter to Southwest Asia while solidifying its position as the top importer of Southwest Asia energy.

When King Salman recently visited Beijing, the House of Saud ecstatically spun a “Sino-Saudi strategic partnership” based on the signing of deals worth $65 billion. The partnership, in fact, hinges on a five-year Saudi Arabia-China security cooperation agreement that includes counter-terrorism and joint military drills. Much will have to do with keeping the profitable Red Sea-Gulf of Aden corridor free of political turmoil.

Of course, eyebrows may be raised over the fact that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism is the ideological matrix of Salafi-jihadism threatening not only Southwest Asia and the West but also China itself.

The New Silk Roads/BRI imply a key role for the GCC – in a mutual investment, trademark Chinese “win-win” way. In an ideal world, the Saudi “Vision 2030” modernizing plan breathlessly being sold by Warrior Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) could, in theory, even reign in the appeal of Salafi-jihadism of the Daesh variety all across Southwest Asia.

What the Iranophobic MBS seems not to understand is that Beijing actually privileges its BRI-based economic relationship with Tehran.

Early last year, when President Xi Jinping visited Tehran, he and President Rouhani pledged to raise Chinese-Iranian bilateral trade to a whopping $600 billion in 10 years, most of it related to BRI expansion.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tehran, Iran January 23, 2016. REUTERS/President.ir/Handout via Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tehran, Iran January 23, 2016. Photo: Reuters

China and Iran have been doing serious business. For over a year now, direct China-Iran cargo trains have been crossing Central Asia in only 12 days. That’s just the appetizer for high-speed rail connectivity spanning the arc from China to Turkey via Iran in the early 2020s.

And in a (distant?) future, a pacified Syria will also be configured as a BRI node; before the war, Syrian merchants were a top fixture in the trading-in-small-goods Silk Road running from the Levant to Yiwu in eastern China.

BRI does Turkey, Egypt and Israel

China’s Maritime Silk Road is not about a threatening “string of pearls” – but mostly about port infrastructure, built by Chinese companies, configuring key BRI stops from the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and Suez all the way to Piraeus port in the Greek Mediterranean. Piraeus is owned and operated by China’s COSCO since August 2016; this upgraded, modern container hub for trade between East Asia and the West is already the fastest-growing port in Europe.

For his part, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already made it clear that Turkey’s national interests involve “the Suez Canal, the adjacent seas, and from there extending to the Indian Ocean.” As much as Ankara has set up a base in Qatar – with soldiers now flowing in – it has also established a Turkish-Saudi Strategic Cooperation Council.

Ankara may have been slowly and surely engaged in a strategic pivoting to Russia – as in the go-ahead for Turkish Stream. Yet that also qualifies as a pivot to China – expected to develop, bumps included, in all key areas, from membership of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Both Turkey and Iran – a possible full member of the SCO as early as next year – are actively supporting Qatar in the current standoff, including via regular food shipments. That shows once again how Beijing simply cannot allow itself to be dragged politically into what is essentially the vicious, intractable Iran-Saudi regional power war. Once again; BRI trumps everything.

Egypt poses an extra problem. It aligns with Riyadh in the current standoff; after all Field Marshall President Al-Sisi depends on the House of Saud “largesse”.

In Egypt, the new Singapore-sized capital east of Cairo is essentially being financed by Chinese investment; $35 billion by the end of last year, and counting. Extra bonuses include Beijing facilitating currency swap deals – providing a much-needed boost to the Egyptian economy. Ahmed Darwish, chairman of the Suez Canal Economic Zone, has nothing but praise to the top investor in the Suez Canal Corridor, which happens to be Beijing.

And then there’s the budding Israeli-Chinese connection. Israel backs the Saudi-UAE anti-Qatar blitzkrieg essentially as yet another proxy war front against Iran.

China is bidding to build the Red-Med high-speed rail connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. If the proverbial sea of containers can be accommodated near Eilat, the Chinese will be able to transship cargo via the Red-Med railway directly to Piraeus – an alternative route adding to the already Chinese-involved Suez Canal Corridor.

FILE PHOTO - A man looks as the world's biggest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tanker, Qatari-flagged DUHAIL as she crosses through the Suez Canal April 1, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

A Qatari-flagged LNG tanker crosses through the Suez Canal. Photo: Reuters

Connectivity is frantic on all fronts. Shanghai International Port Group is running Haifa port. China Harbor Engineering will build a new $876 million port in Ashdod. Israel is already China’s top supplier of advanced agricultural technology – as in water desalination, aquaculture and cattle farming, for instance. Beijing wants more biomedical, clean energy and telecom technology Israeli imports. And the clincher is Israel’s imminent membership of the AIIB.

It’s fair to argue that from now on everything that happens across Southwest Asia will be conditioned by, and interlocked with, BRI’s land-sea superhighway emporium from East Asia and Southeast Asia to southeastern Europe.

Focused on BRI’s comprehensive drive for multipolarization, “inclusive” globalization 2.0, and the rapid spread of information technology, the last thing Beijing needs is a throwback to the past; a foolish, manufactured standoff as the new front in an existential proxy war between the House of Saud and Iran, and with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel pitted against Qatar, Turkey, Iran – and Russia.

Talk about sleepless nights in the Zhongnanhai these days.

The crisis in Qatar: yet another clumsy attempt by the Three Rogue States to weaken Iran (UPDATED)

June 09, 2017

The crisis in Qatar: yet another clumsy attempt by the Three Rogue States to weaken Iran (UPDATED)

This column was written for the Unz Review

First, a quick who’s who

We will probably never find out what truly was discussed between Trump, the Saudis and the Israelis, but there is little doubt that the recent Saudi move against Qatar is the direct results of these negotiations. How do I know that? Because Trump himself said so! As I mentioned in a recent column, Trump’s catastrophic submission to the Neoconsand their policies have left him stuck with the KSA and Israel, two other rogue states whose power and, frankly, mental sanity, are dwindling away by the minute.

While the KSA and Qatar have had their differences and problems in the past, this time around the magnitude of the crisis is much bigger than anything the past. This is a tentative and necessarily rough outline of who is supporting whom:

Supporting the Saudis (according to Wikipedia) Supporting Qatar (according to me)
United Arab Emirates , Bahrain , Egypt , Maldives , Yemen (they mean the pro-Saudi regime in exile), Mauritania , Comoros , Libya (Tobruk government), Jordan , Chad , Djibouti , Senegal , United States , Gabon. Turkey, Germany, Iran.

The numbers are on the Saudi side, but the quality?

Questions, many questions

The situation is very fluid and all this might change soon, but do you notice something weird in the list above? Turkey and Germany are supporting Qatar even though the US is supporting the KSA. That’s to major NATO member states taking a position against the USA.

Next, look at the list supporting the Saudis: except for the USA and Egypt they are all militarily irrelevant (and the Egyptians won’t get militarily involved anyway). Not so for those opposing the Saudis, especially not Iran and Turkey. So if money is on the side of the Saudis, firepower is on the side of Qatar here.

Then, Gabon? Senegal? Since when are those two involved in Persian Gulf politics? Why are they taking sides in this faraway conflict? A quick look at the 10 conditions the Saudis demand that the Qataris fullfil does not help us understand their involvement either:

  1. Immediate severance of diplomatic relations with Iran,
  2. Expulsion of all members of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas from Qatar,
  3. Freezing all bank accounts of Hamas members and refraining from any deal with them,
  4. Expulsion of all Muslim Brotherhood members from Qatar,
  5. Expulsion of anti-[P]GCC elements,
  6. Ending support for ‘terrorist organizations’,
  7. Stopping interference in Egyptian affairs,
  8. Ceasing the broadcast of the Al Jazeera news channel,
  9. Apologizing to all [Persian] Gulf governments for ‘abuses’ by Al Jazeera,
  10. Pledging that it (Qatar) will not carry out any actions that contradict the policies of the [P]GCC and adhering to its charter.

The Saudis also handed over a list of individuals and organizations they want banned (see here).

Looking at these conditions it becomes pretty clear that Iran and the Palestinians (especially Hamas) are high on the list of demands. But why would Gabon or Senegal care about this?

More interestingly, why is ISRAEL not listed as a country supporting the KSA?

As always, the Israelis themselves are much more honest about their role in all this. Well, maybe they don’t quite say “we done it” but they write articles like “Five reasons why Israel should care about the Qatar crisis” which lists all the reasons why the Israelis are delighted:

  1. It hurts Hamas
  2. It brings Israel closer to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf
  3. It shows US influence is back in the region
  4. It delegitimizes terrorism
  5. It bolsters Israel’s hand in general and Israel’s government in particular

That kind of honesty is quite refreshing, even if it is primarily for internal, Israeli, consumption. Quick check with a Palestinian source – yup, the Israelis are backing the KSA. This is hardly surprising, no matter how hard the western corporate media tries to not notice this.

What about the USA? Do they really benefit from this crisis?

The USA has what might possibly the largest USAF base worldwide in Qatar, the Al Udeid Air Base. Furthermore, the forward headquarters of United States CENTCOM are also located in Qatar. To say that these are crucial US infrastructures is an understatement – one could argue that these are the most important US military facilities anywhere in the world outside the United States. Thus one would logically conclude that the very last thing the US would want is any type of crisis or even tensions anywhere near such vital facilities yet it quite clear that the Saudis and the Americans are acting in unison against Qatar. This makes no sense, right? Correct. But now that the US has embarked on a futile policy of military escalation in Syria it should come as no surprise that the two main US allies in the region are doing the same thing.

Besides, was there ever a time with the Trump Administration’s policies in the Middle-East made any logical sense at all? During the election campaign they were, shall we say, 50/50 (excellent on ISIS, plain stupid about Iran). But ever since the January coup against Flynn and Trump’s surrender to the Neocons all we have seen in one form of delusional stupidity after another.

Objectively, the crisis around Qatar is not good at all for the USA. But that does not mean that an Administration which has been taken over by hardcore ideologues is willing to accept this objective reality. What we have here is a very weak Administration running a rapidly weakening country desperately trying to prove that it has still a lot of weight to throw around. And if that is, indeed, the plan, it is a very bad one, one bound to fail and one which will result in a lot of unintended consequences.

Back to the real world

What he have here is a severe case of smoke and mirrors and what is really taking place is, yet again, a clumsy attempt by the Three Rogue States (USA, Saudi Arabia, Israel) to weaken Iran.

Of course, there are other contributing factors here, but the big deal, the core of the problem, is what I would call the rapidly growing “gravitational pull of Iran” and the corresponding “orbital decay” of the entire region closer and closer to Iran. And just to make things worse, the Three Rogue States are visibly and inexorably losing their influence over the region: the USA in Iraq and Syria, Israel in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia in Yemen – all three have embarked on military operations which ended up being abject failures and which, far from showing that these countries were powerful, showed how weak they really are. Even worse is the fact that Saudis are facing a severe economic crisis with no end in sight, while Qatar has become the richest country on the planet, mostly thanks to an immense gas field Qatar it shares with Iran.

It could appear that Qatar is not such a big threat to Saudi Arabia after all, being – unlike Iran – another Salafi country, but in reality this is very much part of the problem: over the past couple of decades the Qataris have felt their new wealth give them means completely out of proportion with their physical size: not only did they create the most influential media empire of the Middle-East, al-Jazeera, but they even embarked on a foreign policy of their own which made them key players in the crises in Libya, Egypt and Syria. And yes, Qatar did become a prime supporter of terrorism, but so are the United States, Saudi Arabia or Israel, so that is just a hollow pretext. The real Qatari ‘crime’ was to refuse, on purely pragmatic reasons, to join into the massive anti-Iranian campaign imposed on the region by Saudi Arabia and Israel. Unlike the long list of countries who had to voice their support for the Saudi position, the Qataris could had the means to simply say “no” and chart its own course.

What the Saudis now are hoping for is that Qatar will yield to the threats and that the Saudi-lead coalition will prevail without having a “hot” war against Qatar. How likely they are to achieve this result is anyone’s guess, but I am personally rather dubious (more about this later).

What about Russia in all that?

The Russians and the Qataris have butted heads many times over, especially over Syria and Libya where Qatar played an extremely toxic role being the prime financiers of various takfiri terrorist groups. Furthermore, Qatar is Russia’s number one competitor in many LNG (liquefied natural gas) markets. There were also other crises between the two countries, including what appears to be a Russian assassination of the Chechen terrorist Leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and the subsequent torture and trial of two Russian Embassy employees accused of being involved in the assassination (they were sentenced to life in prison and eventually sent back to Russia). Still, the Russians and the Qataris are eminently pragmatic peoples and the two countries mostly maintained a cordial, if careful, relationship which even included some joint economic ventures.

It is highly unlikely that Russia will intervene directly in this crisis unless, of course, Iran is directly attacked. The good news is that such a direct attack on Iran is unlikely as none of the Three Rogue States really have any stomach to take on Iran (and Hezbollah). What Russia will do is use her soft power, political and economic, to try slowly reel in Qatar into the Russian orbit according to the semi-official strategy of the Russian Foreign Ministry which is to “turn enemies into neutrals, neutrals into friends, friends into allies”. Just like with Turkey, the Russians will gladly help, especially since they know that this help will buy them some very precious influence in the region.

Iran, the real target of it all

The Iranians are now openly saying that the recent terrorist attack in Tehran was ordered by Saudi Arabia. Technically speaking, that means that Iran is now at war. In reality, of course, Iran being the real local superpower is acting with calm and restraint: the Iranians fully understand that this latest terrorist attack is a sign of weakness, if not desperation, and that the best reaction to it is to act the same way the Russians reacted to the bombings in Saint Petersburg: stay focused, calm and determined. Just like the Russians, the Iranians have now also offered to send food to Qatar but it is unlikely that they will intervene militarily unless the Saudis really go crazy. Besides, with Turkish forces soon deployed in Qatar, the Iranians have no real need for any displays of military might. I would argue that the simple fact that neither the USA nor Israel have dared to directly attack Iran since 1988 (since shooting down by the US Navy of the Iran Air Flight 655 Airbus) is the best proof of the real Iranian military power.

So where are we heading?

That is truly impossible to predict, if only because the actions of the Three Rogue States can hardly be described as “rational”. Still, assuming nobody goes crazy, my personal feeling is that Qatar will prevail and that the latest Saudi attempt to prove how powerful the Kingdom still is will fail, just like all the previous ones (in Bahrain 2011, Syria 2012 or Yemen 2015). Time is also not on the side of the Saudis. As for the Qataris, they have already clearly indicated that they are unwilling to surrender and that they will fight. The Saudis have already taken the outrageous decision to impose a blockade of a fellow Muslim country during the holy month of Ramadan. Will they really now further escalate and commit an act of aggression against a fellow Muslim country during that month? They might, but it is hard to believe that even they could be that ignorant of the Muslim public opinion. But if they don’t, then their operation will lose a lot of momentum while the Qataris will be given time to prepare politically, economically, socially and militarily. Qatar might be small, and the Qataris themselves not very numerous, but their immense pockets allow them to quickly line up any amount of suppliers and contractors willing to help them out. This is case where the famous “market forces” will act to Qatar’s advantage.

The Qatari Foreign Minister is expected in Moscow on Saturday and it is pretty obvious what the talks will be about: while Russia will not put all her political weight to support the Qataris, the Kremlin might accept to become a mediator between the KSA and Qatar. If that happens, that would be the ultimate irony: the main outcome of the Saudi-Israeli-US operation will make Russia an even more influential player in the region. As for Qatar itself, the outcome of this crisis will probably articulate itself along Nietzschean lines: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

Conclusion

I see this latest crisis as yet another desperate attempt by the Three Rogue States to prove that they are still the biggest and baddest guy on the block and, just like the previous ones, I think that it will fail. For example, I just don’t see the Qataris shutting down al-Jazeera, one of their most powerful “weapons”. Nor do I see them breaking all diplomatic relations with Iran as those two states are joined at the hip by the immense South Pars gas condensate field. The immense wealth of the Qataris also means that they have very powerful supporters worldwide who right now, as I write these lines, are probably on the phone making calls to very influential people and indicating to them in no unclear terms that Qatar is not to be messed with.

If anything this crisis will only serve to push Qatar further into the warm embrace of other countries, including Russia and Iran, and it will further weaken the Saudis.

The Three Rogue States have the same problem: their military capability to threaten, bully or punish is rapidly eroding and fewer and fewer countries out there fear them. Their biggest mistake is that instead of trying to adapt their policies to this new reality, they always chose to double-down over and over again even though they fail each time, making them look even weaker and their initial predicament even worse. This is a very dangerous downward spiral and yet the Three Rogue States seem unable to devise any other policy.

I will end this column by comparing what Presidents Putin and Trump are doing these days as I find this comparison highly symbolic of the new era we are living in:

Trump, after bombing a few “technicals” (4×4 trucks with a machine gun) and trucks in Syria, the proceeded to tweet that Comey was a liar and a leaker.

As for Putin, he participated the latest meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which welcomed both Pakistan and India as full members. The SCO now represents over half of all the people living on our planet and one quarter of the world’s GDP. You can think of it as the “other G8”, or the “G8 that matters”.

The Russian version of the G8: the SCO, the “G8 that matters”

I submit that this quick comparison of agenda really says I all.

The Saker

Shaping the Future: Moscow and Beijing’s Multipolar World Order

Shaping the Future: Moscow and Beijing’s Multipolar World Order

Shaping the Future: Moscow and Beijing’s Multipolar World Order

Once in a while, think tanks such as the Brookings Institute are able to deal with highly strategic and current issues. Often, the conferences held by such organizations are based on false pretences and copious banality, the sole intention being to undermine and downplay the efforts of strategic opponents of the US. Recently, the Brookings Institute’s International Strategy and Strategy Project held a lecture on May 9, 2017 where it invited Bobo Lo, an analyst at Lowy Institute for International Policy, to speak. The topic of the subject, extremely interesting to the author and mentioned in the past, is the strategic partnership between China and Russia.

The main assumption Bobo Lo starts with to define relations between Moscow and Beijing is that the two countries base their collaboration on convenience and a convergence of interests rather than on an alliance. He goes on to say that the major frictions in the relationship concern the fate that Putin and Xi hold for Europe, in particular for the European Union, in addition to differences of opinions surrounding the Chinese role in the Pacific. In the first case, Lo states that Russia wants to end the European project while China hopes for a strong and prosperous Europe. With regard to the situation in the Pacific, according to this report, Moscow wants a balance of power between powers without hegemonic domination being transferred from Washington to Beijing.

The only merit in Lo’s analysis is his identification of the United States as the major cause of the strategic proximity between Moscow and Beijing, certainly a hypothesis that is little questioned by US policy makers. Lo believes Washington’s obsession with China-Russia cooperation is counterproductive, though he also believes that the United States doesn’t actually possess capabilities to sabotage or delimit the many areas of cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.

What is missing in Lo’s analysis are two essential factors governing how Moscow and Beijing have structured their relationship. China and Russia have different tasks in ushering in their world order, namely, by preserving global stability through military and economic means. Their overall relationship of mutual cooperation goes beyond the region of Eurasia and focuses on the whole process of a sustainable globalization as well as on how to create an environment where everyone can prosper in a viable and sustainable way. Doing this entails a departure from the current belligerent and chaotic unipolar world order.

Moscow and Beijing: Security and Economy

Beijing has been the world’s economic engine for over two decades and shows no signs of slowing down, at least not too much. Moscow, contrary to western media propaganda, has returned to play a role not only on a regional scale but as a global power. Both of these paths of military and economic growth for China and Russia have set things on a collision course with the United States, the current global superpower that tends to dominate international relations with economic, political and military bullying thanks to a complicit media and corrupt politicians.

In the case of Beijing, the process of globalization has immensely enhanced the country, allowing the Asian giant to become the world’s factory, enabling Western countries to outsource to low-cost labor. In this process of economic growth, Beijing has over the years gone from being a simple paradise for low-cost outsourcing for private companies to being a global leader in investment and long-term projects. The dividends of years of wealth accumulation at the expense of Western nations has allowed Beijing to be more than just a strategic partner for other nations. China drives the process of globalization, as recently pointed out by Xi Jinping in Davos in a historic speech. China’s transition from a harmless partner of the West to regional power with enormous foreign economic investments place the country on a collision course with Washington. Inevitably, Beijing will become the Asian hegemon, something US policymakers have always guaranteed will not be tolerated.

The danger Washington sees is that of China emerging as a regional superpower that will call the shots in the Pacific, the most important region of the planet. The United States has many vested interests in the region and undeniably sees its future as the leader of the world order in jeopardy. Obama’s pivot to Asia was precisely for the purposes of containing China and limiting its economic power so as to attenuate Beijing’s ambitions.

Unsurprisingly, Washington’s concerns with Moscow relate to its resurgence in military capabilities. Russia is able to oppose certain objectives of the United States (see Ukraine or Syria) by military means. The possibility of the Kremlin limiting American influence in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Eurasia in general is cause for concern for American policy makers, who continue to fail to contain Russia and limit Moscow’s spheres of influence.

In this context, the strategic division of labor between Russia and China comes into play to ensure the stability of the Eurasian region as a whole; in Asia, in the Middle East and in Europe. To succeed in this task, Moscow has mainly assumed the military burden, shared with other friendly nations belonging to the affected areas. In the Middle East, for example, Tehran’s partnership with Moscow is viewed positively by Beijing, given its intention to stabilize the region and to eradicate the problem of terrorism, something about which nations like China and Russia are particularly concerned.

The influence of Islamist extremists in the Caucasian regions in Russia or in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in China are something that both Putin and Xi are aware can be exploited by opposing Western countries. In North Africa, Egypt has signed several contracts for the purchase of military vehicles from Moscow, as well as having bought the two Mistral ships from France, thereby relying on military supplies from Moscow. It is therefore not surprising that Moscow and Egypt cooperated with the situation in Libya and in North Africa in general.

In Southeast Asia, Moscow seeks to coordinate efforts to reach an agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) of New Delhi and Islamabad (Tehran will be next), with the blessing of Beijing as the protagonist of the 2017 SCO meeting, is a keystone achievement and the right prism through which to observe the evolution of the region. Moscow is essentially acting as a mediator between the parties and is also able to engage with India in spite of the dominating presence of China. The ultimate goal of Moscow and Beijing is to eradicate the terrorist phenomenon in the Asian region with a view to what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East with Iran and Egypt.

Heading to a Multipolar World Order

The turning point in relations between Moscow and Beijing concerns the ability to engage third countries in military or economic ways, depending on these countries’ needs and objectives. Clearly in the military field it is Moscow that is leading, with arms sold to current and future partners and security cooperation (such as with ex-Soviet Central-Asian republics or in the Donbass) and targeted interventions if needed, as in Syria. Beijing, on the other hand, acts in a different way, focusing on the economic arena, in particular with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) at its center.

Initiatives such as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and the Maritime Silk Road have the same strategic aim of the Russian military initiative, namely, ensuring the independence of the region from a geo-economic perspective, reaching win-win arrangements for all partners involved. Naturally, the win-win agreement does not mean that China wins and then wins again; rather, a series of bilateral concessions can come to satisfy all actors involved. An important example in this regard that explains the Sino-Russian partnership concerns the integration of the Eurasian Union with the Chinese Silk Road. The Russian concerns over the predominant status of the Chinese colossus in Central Asia have been assuaged by a number of solutions, such as the support of the OBOR infrastructure program to that of the Eurasian Union. Beijing is not interested in replacing Moscow’s leading role the post-Soviet nations in Central Asia but rather with providing significant energy and economic development to particularly underdeveloped nations that are in need of important economic investment, something only Beijing is able to guarantee.

The linking of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with the One Belt One Road initiative guarantees Moscow a primary role in the transit of goods from east to west, thereby becoming the connecting point between China and Europe while expanding the role and function of the EEU. All participants in these initiatives have a unique opportunity to expand their economic condition through this whole range of connections. Beijing guarantees the money for troubled countries, and Moscow the security. The SCO will play a major role in reducing and preventing terrorist influence in the region, a prerequisite for the success of any projects. Also, the AIIB, and to some extent the BRICS Development Bank, will also have to step in and offer alternative economic guarantees to countries potentially involved in these projects, in order to free them from the existing international financial institutions.

One Belt One Road, and all the related projects, represent a unique occasion whereby all relevant players share common goals and benefits from such transformative geo-economic relationships. This security-economy relationship between Moscow and Beijing is  the heart of the evolution of the current world order, from the unipolar to the multipolar world. The US cannot oppose China on the economic front and Russia on the military front. It all comes down to how much China and Russia can continue to provide and guarantee economic and security umbrellas for the rest of the world.

India, Pakistan to Become Full Fledged SCO Members

India, Pakistan to Become Full Fledged SCO Members

PETER KORZUN | 26.04.2017 | WORLD

India, Pakistan to Become Full Fledged SCO Members

The meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states wrapped up in Astana on April 21. The participants confirmed the unanimous decision to grant full-fledged membership to India and Pakistan at the SCO Astana summit on June 8-9, 2017.

The SCO was established in 2001 as a multi-purpose regional organization active in three main fields: economic, military-political and humanitarian. The SCO members now are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Mongolia and Belarus are the SCO observer-countries, while Azerbaijan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal are dialogue partners. Although Russia and China are the most important SCO members, the organization operates by consensus.

Since its formation, it annually brings together heads of states to discuss regional security issues and inter-regional cooperation. The SCO is gradually moving to the establishment of an economic integration union, including the creation of a free trade zone, bank and fund for development and strengthening of transport cooperation. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Silk Road Fund and Silk Road Economic Belt projects have been launched to this end. Since its establishment, the SCO has concluded several wide-ranging agreements on security, trade and investment, connectivity, energy, the SCO Bank, culture, etc.

Meanwhile, Iran looks to be the next candidate in line for the full SCO membership. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for Iran’s speedy accession to the organization. He expressed hope that the upcoming summit would launch the procedure to admit Iran into the organization as a full member. If Iran joins the group, the SCO would control around a fifth of the world’s oil and represent nearly a half of the global population.

With the Iran nuclear deal in place and international sanctions lifted, there is no hurdle on the way to membership. The move would make Iran a partner of Russia and China, the two leading powers in the organization. The move is opposed by Tajikistan. Russia-mediated talks are on the way to remove the reasons for the objections.

Membership of India will add significant heft and muscle to the SCO, particularly in the backdrop of the global economic slowdown. India is the fastest expanding global economy today with an annual GDP growth of 7.5 percent. It represents the third largest economy ($8 trillion dollars) in PPP terms and 7th largest ($2.3 trillion dollars) in nominal dollar terms.

The Pakistani economy is the 24th-largest in the world in terms of purchasing power and the 41st-largest in terms of nominal GDP (World Bank). It is ranked among the emerging and growth-leading economies, and is backed by one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing middle classes.

Granting New Delhi and Islamabad the status of full SCO member states in the near future will make the organization a global (Trans-Asian) political structure. It will boost the group’s potential and provide a fresh impetus to further securing its role on the regional and international arena. The accession will bring together three largest and most powerful Eurasian states and four nuclear powers. With the integration of new members, the group will unite 50 percent of Eurasian territory, 43 percent of the population on the planet and 24 percent of global GDP. Just think about it! The SCO will become a regional organization covering the widest land area with the biggest population in the world.

True, India and Pakistan have a history of conflict and are at loggerheads over security issues. The membership will help build bridges. The territorial disputes and nuclear arms will remain, but the very fact of being united in the same organization pursuing common goals will help them start a dialogue. For instance, all SCO members are interested in addressing the problem of Afghanistan. India and Pakistan can make a big contribution to finding proper solutions.

The fantasy of Indian and Pakistani military participating together in a joint SCO military exercise would become reality and a landmark event. Having joined, both countries will enjoy greater access to resources and energy import projects within the grouping’s framework. They will play their cards strongly with other multilateral donors including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank.

The two nations are seeking greater engagement in the Eurasian region. Central Asian countries are rich in hydrocarbons to make them attractive for energy-starved India and Pakistan. Both New Delhi and Islamabad are pushing ahead with infrastructure projects aimed at deepening their connectivity to the region. India is developing the Chabahar port in Iran that would grant it land access to Afghanistan and Eurasia. Islamabad is resting its hopes on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a plan to develop Pakistani infrastructure and broaden economic links with the help of China.

The new members’ accession could be a prelude to the formation of large Eurasian partnership. Over the 16 years of its existence, the SCO has become a consolidated, full-fledged, and very influential international association fully independent from the influence of the West, offering an alternative to the outdated vision of a unipolar world dominated by the US.

The Double-Triple-Quadruple-Crossing Trump:

April 18, 2017

by Ghassan Kadi

Trumps recent and sudden 180 degree turn on a number of international issues is mind-boggling, to say the least. But, if we connect the dots it becomes easier to get into the mind of the pragmatic billionaire-turned-President.

First and foremost, we must thank Obama for the “if” state of mind he gave us about Trump. Many analysts, including myself, felt hopeful when Clinton was defeated and Trump won. Given the Obama disappointment, we all learnt to reserve our enthusiasm and make optimistic statements on the condition of “if” Trump kept his promises; which we now know he obviously did not. Whether he did not, could not or did not want to in the first place, makes no difference at all because, at the end of the day, he did not keep his promises of reducing world tension and conflict.

When analysts sit and try to explain why was it that the Trump administration suddenly decided to bomb Syria, with the “chemical attack” as aside, they have been forgetting that, out of the blue, and for no reason at all, and just a few days before this incident, the Trump administration made very strong pro-Assad statements.

That was a prelude for the upcoming Xi Jinping visit. Trump wanted to present to the rest of the world that he was working against ISIS primarily, with Russia and even with Assad.

That was all meant to change the moment the Chinese Tiger laid foot on American soil.

The scenario that I am speculating on involves a direct American role in the Chemical attack, otherwise the timing would have been an almost impossible feat.

Let’s wind back the clock a bit. Soon after his inauguration, Trump told the Russians to tell the Syrians that he was prepared to stop total support for ISIS and have it eradicated on condition that Syria and Russia guarantee that they will reciprocate by kicking Iran and Hezbollah off Syrian soil. I have written a whole article about this called “The Race for Raqqa”.

The Russians and the Syrians were not either prepared to back-stab their allies or prepared to give America a central and pivotal role in the Levant. In other words, Trump’s outcries fell on deaf ears to his sheer dismay, the accomplished business man, who is not used to taking “no” for an answer. That “no” that Trump received from Russia marked a pivotal point in as far as his future relationship with Russia is concerned. For a simple minded person who judges complex international events and diplomats as being “bad”, “good” and “tough” amongst other school playground expressions, he had to make a stand to prove that he was “tough”.

Trump’s message to Xi Jinping was clear, stop supporting Russia and the USA will give you a “better deal”. The Chinese leader’s response was even clearer; don’t blame America’s problems on China and don’t interfere with our international diplomacy.

In the middle of the negotiations between the two leaders, Trump wanted to give his Chinese counterpart a clear preparedness on his part to dump Russia and any future collaboration with Russia as a prelude for closer and better relationships with China. What better way did he have than do a 180 degree turn and attack Syria, with Russian troops on the ground, and only a few days after endorsing Assad’s Presidency and fate?

The Tomahawks that hit Syria were not launched to inflict major damage because Trump clearly cannot afford to escalate the situation there between America and Russia to the point of no return. Trump’s attack on Syria was simply a message for China, telling China

“for me to gain your support I am prepared to do crazy things, including dumping Russia”.

When Tillerson went to Moscow a few days after the attack on a pre-scheduled visit, he had nothing to say in defense of that attack and left Moscow “agreeing” that this should not happen again in a manner as if he was saying it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

The big fish that Trump wants to fry is not Syria. Even though in his stumbling, awkward arrogance, he may attack Syria again if he feels he needs to.

It is as if Trump is courting two potential partners; Russia and China. He tried to strike a military deal with Russia on Syria but he failed. But he also tried to strike a much more complex deal with China but this is also failing.

Ideally, Trump wants China to let go of its Island development program in the South China Sea and abandon its BRICS based economic and other strategic alliances with Russia. China is not biting.

Comes the MOAB.

There was no strategic or logical explanation or gain behind Trump’s orders to drop a MOAB on Afghanistan. It was a simple show of force and determined mentality of aggression at any cost.

Trump now wants to bring the war closer to China’s borders. He wants to turn Korea into Obama’s Ukraine. The stalemate in Ukraine will eventually give way. If NATO was going to do something against Russia it would have done it already. The new hotspot is Korea.

What Trump hopes for is a that a war against North Korea will give him enough justification to blockade China’s sea trade routes all the way down to the South China Sea under the guise of military necessity.

Trump seems confident that he can blow a devastating strike on North Korea and then follow this up with a blockade that covers the entire China Sea, north, middle and south. In his short-sightedness and arrogance, he thinks that nuclear North Korea is not going to be able to retaliate and that China will sit idle.

What is to happen in the next few days, weeks or months is going to be pivotal in deciding the short term future of humanity on this planet.

At best, the bottom line behind Trump’s new moves, if he is truly continuing to uphold the slogan of “make America great again”, is that he realized now that the American economy has been destroyed beyond repair and that he needs drastic measures, including limited nuclear wars, to restore America’s dominion. By the same token, by now, Trump would have realized that it is really the Deep State that is in charge and for him to secure his survival as President, he has to tow the line.

Irrespective of what is driving Trump; the Deep State, financial pragmatism, the shrinking global influence of the United States or any other factor or combination of the above, Trump is playing a very dangerous game which may prove to be a decisive game of Russian Roulette of global reach.

Trump is up against Russia and China, not to forget the smaller powers of North Korea and Iran. In the Levant you can add the Syrian Army and Hezbollah to the equation. Is the ailing USA up to the task? Rational thinking implies the contrary. Irrespective, the consequences of the interaction of all of those powers at play is something that we as citizens of the world have no other option but to sit back and watch.

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