Trials and tribulations of Central Asia integration

Trials and tribulations of Central Asia integration

A man leads a horse on the Suu-Samyr plateau along the ancient Great Silk Road from Bishkek to Osh, some 200 km from Bishkek. Photo: Vyacheslav Oseledko / AFP

The pros and cons of being the Heartland in the 21st century

By PEPE ESCOBAR, NUR-SULTAN, KAZAKHSTAN

Trials and tribulations of Central Asia integration

Crossing Tajikistan from west to northeast – Dushanbe to the Tajik-Kyrgyz border – and then Kyrgyzstan from south to north all the way to Bishkek via Osh, is one of the most extraordinary road trips on earth. Not only this is prime Ancient Silk Road territory but now is being propelled as a significant stretch of the 21st century New Silk Roads.

In addition to its cultural, historical and anthropological pull, this road trip also lays bare some of the key issues related to the development of Central Asia. It was particularly enlightening to hit the road as previously, at the 5th Astana Club meeting in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, I had had the pleasure of moderating a panel titled Central Asia at the Intersection of Global Interests: pros and cons of being Heartland.

The Heartland in the 21st century could not but be a major draw. Any serious analyst knows that Central Asia is the privileged corridor for both Europe and Asia at the heart of the New Silk Roads, as the Chinese-led BRI converges with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

Banking experts such as Jacob Frenkel, chairman of JP Morgan Chase International, insist that the path towards inclusive growth in Central Asia entails access for financial services and financial tech; Nur-Sultan, incidentally, happens to be the only financial center within a 3,000-mile radius. Only a few years ago it was basically a potato field.

So it will be up to Kazakhs to capitalize on the financial ramifications of their independent, multi-vector foreign policy. After all, aware that his young nation was a “child of complicated history,” First President Nursultan Nazabayev from the beginning, in the early 1990s, wanted to prevent a Balkans scenario in Central Asia – as proposed as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy by Zbigniew Brzezinski in The Grand Chessboard. Recently Kazakhstan mediated quite successfully between Turkey and Russia. And then there’s the Kazakh hosting of the Astana process, which quickly evolved as the privileged road map for the pacification of Syria.

A link or a bridge?

Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, made a crucial point in the sidelines of our debate: the UN recently passed a unanimous resolution recognizing Central Asia as a world region. And yet, there is no structure for cooperation inside Central Asia. Tricky national border issues between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers may have been solved. There are very few pending questions between, for instance, the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz. Most “Stans” are SCO members, some are EAEU members and all want to profit from BRI.

But as I later saw for myself on the road as I crossed Tajikistan and then Kyrgyzstan, tariff barriers still apply. Industrial cooperation is developing very slowly. Corruption is rife. Distrust against “foreigners” is inbred. And on top of it, the fallout of the US-China trade war affects mostly developing nations – such as the Central Asians. A solution, Starr argues, would be to boost the work of an established commission, and aim towards setting up a single market by 2025.

At the Nur-Sultan debate, my friend Bruno Macaes, former Minister for Europe in Portugal and author of the excellent The Dawn of Eurasia, argued that the thrust for the New Silk Roads remains sea transportation, and investment in ports. As Central Asia is landlocked, the emphasis should be on soft infrastructure. Kazakhstan is uniquely positioned to understand differences between trading bocks. Macaes argues that Nur-Sultan should aim to replicate the role of Singapore as a bridge.

Peter Burian, the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, chose to stress the positives: how Central Asia has managed to survive its new Heartland incarnation without conflict, and how it’s engaged in institutional building from scratch. The Baltics should be taken as an example. Burian insists the EU does not want to impose ready-made concepts, and would rather work as a link, not as a bridge. More EU economic presence in Central Asia means, in practice, an investment commitment of $1.2 billion in seven years, which may not amount to much but targets very specific, practical-minded projects.

Evgeny Vinokurov, chief economist of the Eurasian Fund for Stabilization and Development, touched on a real success story: the 15 day-only transportation/connectivity rail between China’s central provinces, Central Asia and the EU – now running at 400,000 cargo containers a year, and rising, and used by anyone from BMW to all manner of Chinese manufacturers. Over 10 million tons of merchandise a year is already moving West while six million tons are moving East. Vinokurov is adamant that the next step for Central Asia is to build industrial parks.

Svante Cornell, from the Institute for Security and Development Policy, emphasized a voluntary process, possibly with six nations (Afghanistan also included), and well-coordinated in practice (way beyond mere political integration). Models should be result-oriented ASEAN and Mercosur (presumably before Bolsonaro’s disruptive practices). Key issues involve facilitating smoother border crossings and for Central Asia to position itself as not just a corridor.

Essentially, Central Asia should think eastwards – in an SCO/ASEAN symbiosis, keeping in mind the role Singapore developed for itself as a global hub.

What about tech transfer?

As I saw for myself days later, when for instance, visiting the University of Central Asia in Khorog, in the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, set up by the Aga Khan foundation, there is a serious drive across Central Asia to invest in universities and techno centers. In terms of Chinese investment, for instance, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is financing hydropower in Kyrgyzstan. The EU is engaged in what it defines as a “trilateral project” – supporting education for Afghan women and universities in both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

This may all be discussed and deepened in an upcoming, first-time-ever summit of Central Asian presidents. Not bad as a first step.

Arguably the most intriguing intervention in the debate in Nur-Sultan was by former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev. He remarked that the GDP of four “Stans,” excluding Kazakhstan, is still smaller than Singapore’s. He insisted the road map ahead is to unite – mostly geoeconomically. He emphasized that both Russia and China “are officially complementary” and that’s “great for us.” Now it’s time to invest in human capital and thus generate more demand.

But once again, the inescapable factor is always China. Otorbaev, referring to BRI, insisted, “you must offer to us the highest technological solutions.” I asked him point-blank whether he could name a project with inbuilt, top technological transfer to Kyrgyzstan. He answered, “I didn’t see any added value so far.” Beijing better go back to the drawing board – seriously.

Iran Overcomes the US-led Plot to Destabilize the Country

Iran riots

Iran riots

 

Iran has overcome the US plot to destabilize the country using ‘Peaceful Protests’ as a pretext, these peaceful protests have become a synonym to riots in our region, what was known in the early days as 5th column useful cannon fodders also known now as the 4th generation wars, it only targets countries independent of the US hegemony, and it becomes immediately bloody and violent.

What makes it very obvious in the latest developments in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran at the same time is the timing of it upon two major steps by the Iraqi government to defy the US policies by

  • 1) Opening the Bu Kamal border crossing with Syria which would connect Iran to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria, and also connect to Lebanon which would help the economies of all these countries, this would also stretch the Chinese reach to the Mediterranean as well. Remarkably, the oldest civilizations in the world blocked by the newest countries and satellite regimes: the USA, Saudi, and Israel!
  • 2) The Iraqi Prime Minister visited China and signed a number of economic contracts worth over 200 billion US dollars. Suddenly, the US and Saudi moved their agents on the ground to protest against the same corruption that was sponsored by the US and Saudi in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran.

This also comes as the Syrian Arab Army started its military operation on a small scale to clean the last al-Qaeda stronghold in Idlib province and liberate 3 million Syrians from the control of this human garbage.

The Iranian protests immediately turned violent leaving dozens killed and massive losses in public and private properties destroyed in a number of cities ignited by a government decision to help the poor segments of the society by increasing the fuel price and using the increase in direct payments to these segments, but the plot was already in place.

The following report by Melhem Rayya, Iran’s office manager for the Lebanese Al Mayadeen news channel gives a balanced outlook on the events and the Iranian government’s response to the riots:

The video is also available on BitChute: https://www.bitchute.com/video/hNdIAISN1HxH/

Transcript of the English translation of the above report:

Let everyone know, friends and enemies that we have forced our enemies to retreat in the military war and in the political and security wars, we have forced enemies to retreat in all areas, and, with God’s blessing, we will make them retreat unequivocally in the arena of economic warfare as well.

It was not a popular act but a wish, this is how the Iranian leader points to the riots that accompanied the protests over the price of gasoline in Iran days ago.

A position that bears responsibility for what happened to external hands is clearly reflected in President Rouhani’s words, he declared victory over what some here call sedition in Iranian society and seeks to destabilize Iran.

The numbers of rioters are small and they are organized, armed and programmed on plans prepared by retard states in the region, the Zionist entity (Israel), and America. The people have triumphed over enemy schemes aimed at striking the country’s security.

Calm returns to areas and cities where protests and riots have occurred started after the supreme leader stressed the importance of the decision to raise the price of gasoline economically, and when the president clarified that this decision was the only possible option to support the middle and poor segments, and after the distribution of the proceeds of the increase in gasoline to citizens.

Iran riots a US plot to destabilize the country

Attacks on public and private property also provoked opposition in many areas of Iran, denouncing the riots and supporting the authorities.

The rioters are few who were fooled and are not ordinary citizens because the objection has its legal methods until the voice arrives, but what happened is planned in advance.

Their riots were not right, the real objection must be legal and everyone must cooperate to build the nation.

Iranian newspapers pointed to the role of citizens in putting out the flames of sedition that the US administration tried to ignite, taking advantage of the difficult economic conditions experienced by the citizen here because of the US sanctions imposed on him, which officials here assert that they are able to overcome successfully despite the difficulties and obstacles.

From protests against the hike on gasoline price turned into riots turned into plans to target security in multiple areas, thus, the crisis in Iran rolled within days in the midst of a volatile regional atmosphere that many see as an American attempt to pressure Iran after the failure of the options of war and sanctions.

End of the transcript.

The Iranian government has revealed today it foiled a sabotage attempt against the largest gas facility in the country. The plot is ongoing and targeting the countries that continue to resist the US hegemonic policies in our region.

Within the same context, we see the insisting of the protests in both Lebanon and Iraq to disturb and harm the economic cycle in their countries, and the Israeli – Turkish – US alliance in increasing the military and terror efforts against Syria trying to disperse the Syrian Arab Army’s efforts among large fronts in the 3 corners of the country.

Israel bombing Syria

Israel Bombs Damascus Vicinity Killing 2 Civilians Injuring Others

At 1:20 am Wednesday 20 November 2019 Damascus local time Israeli warplanes targeted the vicinity of Damascus from both over the occupied Golan and from over Lebanese town of Marj Oyoun. Desperate war criminal and … Continue readingIsrael Bombs Damascus Vicinity Killing 2 Civilians Injuring Others

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The Chinese Silk Road to Lebanon Blocked by US Allies

The Chinese Silk Road to Lebanon Blocked by US Allies

By Mona Issa

Beirut – That the political class in Lebanon profits off of the sectarian system is old news. Sectarianism poses as a blockade against class consciousness and solidarity, which in turn wades the necessary conditions for popular struggle against the power structure.

Lebanon was one of the earliest experiments for sectarianism by France and other imperial powers. While it suffers from corruption and sectarianism, it also suffers from accumulated financial burden. The economic basis of the country is founded on the fiscal terms of the old aristocrats, who are what we call the “international financial class” today. This class, according to the Economist, monopolizes 18 out of 20 of all major banks in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese banking sector is hardly ever Lebanese. Engineered and driven by IMF, neoliberal fiscal policy, and their Lebanese billionaire minister-proxies, the West bloc in the Lebanese parliament barely ever passed up an opportunity to benefit off of the sectarian nature of their workplace. What is good for the banks, is good for them – the imperialism business is a thriving one.

The international financial class – the Lebanese West bloc – which is inherently capitalist, then inherently imperialist, functions on finance and militarism, entailing that it functions on the oppression and abuse of human capital and conflict. In a post-colonial state like Lebanon, conflict just might be on its way with the right amount of mass manipulation, play on identity politics, and painful economic conditions. The latest painful imposition is the high dollarization rate, which struck as a shock to the already-collapsing economy in Lebanon. This ultimately weakens the country much further than it already is, instills financial fragility and draconian living expenses.

However, another narrative threatens US interests on the ground today. The escalating threat of Chinese influence to replace US power in the region makes America’s friends anxious. The recent economic war on China is based on this anxiety, that they could soon be proposing investments in countries plagued by colonial theft. For this reason, there has been increasing efforts to contain Chinese influence in the Middle East by the United States; the only thing blocking Lebanon from making trade with the East is the West bloc, which is one of the many ways the Lebanese parliament engages in self-defeating behavior. China, through the reconstruction initiatives in Syria, has offered substantial infrastructural deals to the Lebanese government. This year, they’ve offered not only to build a conservatory in Dbayeh, but also a railway which connects Beirut to Tripoli, Tripoli to Aleppo, then Aleppo to Damascus.  Historically speaking, any sort of connectivity in the Arab world let alone the country stands as a threat to sectarian profit. Such projects, furthermore, would jeopardize the WB’s relationship with Washington.

The same West bloc, namely Jumblatt, Hariri, Geagea – are making said profit from the protests. The consecutive resignation of Geagea and Hariri opens up the sectarian vein among the Lebanese who already are geopolitically divided, and fuels protesters to stay in the streets, calling for complete overthrow. They have been using their key positions to serve their superiors, while the people bathe in the illusion that Geagea and Hariri’s resignations were an overthrow.

The threat of civil conflict through sectarian strife and complete overthrow all push Hezbollah into a balancing act they could do without – they become torn between keeping the situation under control and succumbing to the pressures of the protesters and the international community. The protests have attained most of their legitimacy from the working class who today face an economic war as a result from suffocating neoliberal foreign policy instantiated by Hariri the father, whose legacy lives on into a nation sunken by billions of dollars in debt. However, it would only be naive and shortsighted to see that the economic crisis is merely a direct result of corruption. The plight of the working class comes from the direct and eventual effects of US foreign and economic policy. With the lethal combination of corruption and US ambition, the parliamentary West-bloc have managed to “blend in” with the protests, express solidarity with popular grievance, while serve as proxies for the US to drive Hezbollah into resignation and overthrow.

In parallel, Chinese influence has been kept at bay simultaneously keeping socialist ideological influence – such as those of Iran and Syria – marginalized and within limited power.

The world is witnessing a new political horizon; a post-post-Cold War, where US hegemony is challenged by other powers [not to mention also “illegitimate”, “terrorist” groups] and is very desperate.

A blue dot barely visible from New Silk Roads

A blue dot barely visible from New Silk Roads

NOVEMBER 07, 2019

by Pepe Escobar : posted with permission

US-Australia-Japan alternative to Belt and Road helps explain why the US sent a junior delegation to Thailand and why India opted out of RCEP

China’s President Xi Jinping waves during the opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on November 5. Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal

Chinese President Xi Jinping six years ago launched New Silk Roads, now better known as the Belt and Road Initiative, the largest, most ambitious, pan-Eurasian infrastructure project of the 21st century.

Under the Trump administration, Belt and Road has been utterly demonized 24/7: a toxic cocktail of fear and doubt, with Beijing blamed for everything from plunging poor nations into a “debt trap” to evil designs of world domination.

Now finally comes what might be described as the institutional American response to Belt and Road: the Blue Dot Network.

Blue Dot is described, officially, as promoting global, multi-stakeholder “sustainable infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.”

It is a joint project of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation, in partnership with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Now compare it with what just happened this same week at the inauguration of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.

As Xi stressed: “To date, China has signed 197 documents on Belt and Road cooperation with 137 countries and 30 international organizations.”

This is what Blue Dot is up against – especially across the Global South. Well, not really. Global South diplomats, informally contacted, are not exactly impressed. They might see Blue Dot as an aspiring competitor to BRI, but one that’s moved by private finance – mostly, in theory, American.

They scoff at the prospect that Blue Dot will include some sort of ratings mechanism that will be positioned to vet and downgrade Belt and Road projects. Washington will spin it as a “certification” process setting “international standards” – implying Belt and Road is sub-standard. Whether Global South nations will pay attention to these new ratings is an open question.

The Japanese example

Blue Dot should also be understood in direct comparison with what just happened at the summit-fest in Thailand centered on the meetings of East Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The advent of Blue Dot explains why the US sent only a junior delegation to Thailand, and also, to a great extent, why India missed the RCEP train as it left the pan-Asian station.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still between a rock – Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy – and a hard place – Eurasia integration. They are mutually incompatible.

Blue Dot is a de facto business extension of Indo-Pacific, which congregates the US, Japan, Australia – and India: the Quad members. It’s a mirror image of the – defunct – Obama administration Trans-Pacific Partnership in relation to the – also defunct – “pivot to Asia.”

It’s unclear whether New Delhi will join Blue Dot. It has rejected Belt and Road, but not, finally and irrevocably, RCEP. ASEAN has tried to put on a brave face and insist differences will be smoothed out and all 16 RCEP members will sign a deal in Vietnam in 2020.

Yet the bottom line remains: Washington will continue to manipulate India by all means deemed necessary to torpedo – at least in the South Asian theater – the potential of Belt and Road as well as larger Eurasia integration.

And still, after all these years of non-stop demonization, the best thing Washington could come up with was to steal Belt and Road’s idea and dress it up in private bank financing.

Now compare it, for instance, with the work of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia. They privilege the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, an original Indonesian idea, instead of the American version. The institute’s president, Hidetoshi Nishimura, describes it as “a guideline for dialogue partners” and stresses that “Japan’s own vision of the Indo-Pacific fits very well with that of ASEAN.”

As much as Nishimura notes how “it is well known that Japan has been the key donor and a real partner in the economic development of Southeast Asia throughout the past five decades,” he also extols RCEP as “the symbol of free trade.” Both China and Japan are firmly behind RCEP. And Beijing is also firmly stressing the direct connection between RCEP and Belt and Road projects.

In the end, Blue Dot may be no more than a PR exercise, too little, too late. It won’t stop Belt and Road expansion. It won’t prevent China-Japan investment partnerships. It won’t stop awareness all across the Global South about the weaponization of the US dollar for geopolitical purposes.

And it won’t bury prevailing skepticism about the development project skills of a hyperpower engaged on a mission to steal other nation’s oil reserves as part of an illegal Syrian occupation.

Rebuilding Syria – without Syria’s oil

November 01, 2019

Rebuilding Syria – without Syria’s oil

By Pepe Escobar – Posted with permission

Compare US pillaging with Russia-Iran-Turkey’s active involvement in a political solution to normalize Syria

What happened in Geneva this Wednesday, in terms of finally bringing peace to Syria, could not be more significant: the first session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.

The Syrian Constitutional Committee sprang out of a resolution passed in January 2018 in Sochi, Russia, by a body called the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.

The 150-strong committee breaks down as 50 members of the Syrian opposition, 50 representing the government in Damascus and 50 representatives of civil society. Each group named 15 experts for the meetings in Geneva, held behind closed doors.

This development is a direct consequence of the laborious Astana process – articulated by Russia, Iran and Turkey. Essential initial input came from former UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Now UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is working as a sort of mediator.

The committee started its deliberations in Geneva in early 2019.

Crucially, there are no senior members of the administration in Damascus nor from the opposition – apart from Ahmed Farouk Arnus, who is a low-ranking diplomat with the Syrian Foreign Ministry.

Among the opposition, predictably, there are no former leaders of weaponized factions. And no “moderate rebels.” The delegates include several former and current parliament members, university rectors and journalists.

After this first round, significantly, the committee’s co-chair, Ahmad Kuzbari, said: “We hope that our next meeting could take place in our native land, in our beloved Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited capital in history.”

Even the opposition, which is part of the committee, hopes that a political deal will be clinched next year. According to co-chair Hadi al-Bahra: “I hope that the 75th anniversary of the United Nations next year will be an opportunity to celebrate another achievement by the universal organization, namely the success of efforts under the auspices of a special envoy for political process, who will bring peace and justice to all Syrians.”

Join the patrol

The committee’s work in Geneva proceeds in parallel to ever-changing facts on the ground. These will certainly force more face-to-face negotiations between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, as Erdogan himself confirmed: “A conversation with Putin can take place any time. Everything depends on the course of events.”

“Events” seem not to be that incandescent, so far, even as Erdogan, predictably, releases the whiff of a threat in the air: “We reserve the right to resume military operation in Syria if terrorists approach at the distance of 30km to Turkey’s borders or continue attacks from any other Syrian area.”

Erdogan also said the de facto safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border could be “expanded,” something that he would have to clear in minute detail with Moscow.

Those threats have already manifested on the ground. On Wednesday, Turkey and allied Islamist factions launched an attack against Tal Tamr, a historic Assyrian Christian enclave 50km deep inside Syrian territory – far beyond the scope of the 10km patrol zone or the 30km “safe” zone.

Poorly-armed Syrian troops pulled out under fierce attack, and with no apparent Russian cover. The Syrian military on the same day issued a public statement calling on the Syrian Democratic Forces to reintegrate under its command. The SDF has said a compromise must be reached first over semi-autonomy for the northeastern region. Thousands of residents in the meantime fled farther south to the more protected city of Hasakeh.

Two facts are absolutely crucial. The Syrian Kurds have completed their pull out ahead of schedule, as confirmed by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. And, this Friday, Russia and Turkey start their joint military patrols to the depth of 7km away from the border, part of the de facto safe zone in northeast Syria.

The devil in the immense details is how Ankara is going to manage the territories that it now actually controls, and to which it plans to relocate as many as 2 million Syrian refugees.

Your oil? Mine

Then there’s the nagging issue that simply won’t go away: the American drive to “secure the oil” (Trump) and “protect” Syrian oilfields (the Pentagon), for all practical purposes from Syria.

In Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – alongside Iran’s Javad Zarif and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu – could not have been more scathing. Lavrov said Washington’s plan is “arrogant,” and violates international law. The very American presence on Syrian soil is “illegal,” he said.

All across the Global South, especially among countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, this is being interpreted, stripped to the bone, for what it is: the United States government illegally taking possession of natural resources of a third country via a military occupation.

And the Pentagon is warning that anyone attempting to contest it will be shot on sight. It remains to be seen whether the US Deep State would be willing to engage in a hot war with Russia over a few Syrian oilfields.

Under international law, the whole “securing the oil” scam is a euphemism for pillaging, pure and simple. Every single takfiri or jihadi outfit operating across the “Greater Middle East” will converge, perversely, to the same conclusion: US “efforts” across the lands of Islam are all about the oil.

Now compare that with Russia-Iran-Turkey’s active involvement in a political solution and normalization of Syria – not to mention, behind the scenes, China, which quietly donates rice and aims for widespread investment in a pacified Syria positioned as a key Eastern Mediterranean node of the New Silk Roads.

 

The Middle East’s New Post-Regime Change Future

Image result for The Middle East’s New Post-Regime Change Future

Matthew Ehret
November 1, 2019

With the transformation of the rules of the “Great Game” in the Middle East emerging out of President Trump’s recent Syrian surprise pullout and Putin’s brilliant manoeuvres since 2015, a sweeping set of development/reconstruction programs led by China now have a chance to become hegemonic across the formerly hopeless, terrorist-infested region.

The fact that the Arab states of the Middle East were targeted for destruction by western geopoliticians over the last 40 years is not un-connected to the region’s historic role as “cross-roads of civilizations” which were once the bridge between East and West along the ancient Silk Road (c. 250 BC). Today’s New Silk Road has brought 150 countries into a multipolar model of cooperation and civilization-building which necessitates a stabilized Middle East in order to function.

When asking “how could a reconstruction of the Middle East be possible after so many years of hell” I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both great projects once derailed have been given new life with the new prospects for peace and also new projects never before dreamed possible have been created as part of the New Silk Road (Aka: One Belt One Road).

Just to get a sense of this incredible potential that is keeping western oligarchs up at night, I want to quickly review just a few of the greatest China-led reconstruction projects which are now taking hold in four of the most decimated areas of the Middle East: Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Iraq Joins the New Silk Road

After decades of foreign manipulation, the Iraqi government was able to declare victory over Da’esh in 2017- just 3 years after the western-sponsored insurgents had gained control of one third of the territory. This new stability created by Russia’s intervention into Syria, unleashed a vast potential for China-led reconstruction to not only re-build the war-torn nation, but launch it into the 21st century.

In September 2019, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdu-Mahdi announced Iraq’s participation in the New Silk Road standing alongside Xi Jinping in Beijing. Mahdi said: “Iraq has gone through war and civil strife and is grateful to China for its valuable support… Iraq is willing to work in the ‘One Belt One Road’ framework”.  President Xi then said: “China would like, from a new starting point together with Iraq, to push for the China-Iraq Strategic Partnership”.

Part of this Strategic Partnership involves an Oil for Reconstruction program which will see Chinese firms exchange infrastructure-building for oil (100 000 barrels/day to be exact). Already Iraq is China’s 2nd largest supplier of overseas oil while China has become Iraq’s #1 trade partner. Abdul Hussein al-Hanin (Advisor to the Prime Minister) explained that rather than giving money for Iraqi oil, China would build its projects defined by 3 priorities which al-Hanin said “first is building and modernizing the highways and internal roads with their sewage systems. Second is the construction of schools, hospitals and residential and industrial cities, and third is the construction of railways, ports, airports and other projects”. Atop the list of “other projects” include water treatment systems and power plants.

While Iraq’s economy is dependant on oil (making up 65% of its GDP, 100% of its export revenue), China’s New Silk Road focuses upon diversifying Iraq into a more complex full spectrum economy which is vital to enhance its sovereignty.

While great strides have been made towards a new system, anti-government protests threaten to disrupt this program having left 100 dead and thousands wounded since they began in July 2018.

A New Hope for Syria

The wounds Syria has inflicted since the crisis erupted in 2011 will take generations to heal, with over half a million deaths, a loss of 5.6 million civilians who have fled the country and approximately 6.1 million displaced within Syria itself. China has made clear its intentions to bring the BRI to Syria as fast as possible since 2017 with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying:

“Too many people in the Middle East are suffering at the brutal hands of terrorists. We support regional countries in forming synergy, consolidating the momentum of anti-terrorism and striving to restore regional stability and order. We support countries in the region in exploring a development path suited to their national conditions and are ready to share governance experience and jointly build the Belt and Road and promote peace and stability through common development.”

After committing $23 billion in aid in 2018, BRI projects in Syria have taken many forms which can now begin as a viable peace process is finally underway, including East-West rail and road connections between Asia and Europe passing through Iran, to Iraq and into Syria where goods can be sent to the Basra Port in Iraq, the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus on the Mediterranean as well as the incredibly important Port of Tripoli in Lebanon called a “pearl on the New Silk Road” by the Chinese.

Discussion of a North South route connecting transport routs through Syria to Lebanon, Israel and Egypt into Africa are now underway and the timing of the chaotic anti-government protests in Lebanon makes one wonder if western meddling is behind it.

Many of the beautiful possibilities for Syrian reconstruction were laid out in great detail in a 2016 Schiller Institute video entitled Project Phoenix which has circulated widely across the Arab world.

Assad’s Five Seas Strategy Revived

Little known in the western world, President Bashar al-Assad had already advanced this vision as early as 2004 when he first announced his “Five Seas Strategy”. In an August 1, 2009 interview, President Assad described his program beautifully:

“Once the economic space between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran becomes integrated, we would link the Mediterranean, Caspian, Black Sea, and the [Persian] Gulf . . . we aren’t just important in the Middle East. . . Once we link these four seas, we become the unavoidable intersection of the whole world in investment, transport, and more.”

Going beyond mere words, President Assad had led delegations signing agreements with Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon to begin Five Seas projects. This was done at a moment that President Qadaffi was well underway building the Great Manmade River as the largest water project in history alongside a coalition of nations of Sudan and Egypt.

In a powerful report Extending the New Silk Road to West Asia and Africa, BRI expert Hussein Askary wrote:

“Through the BRI, China is offering the rest of the world its know-how, experience and technology, backed by a $3 trillion financial arsenal. This is a great opportunity for West Asia and Africa to realize the dreams of the post-World War II independence era, dreams that have unfortunately been sabotaged for decades. The dramatic deficit in infrastructure both nationally and inter-regionally in West Asia and Africa can, ironically, be considered in this new light as a great opportunity.”

It is now becoming obvious, that the Syrian project that was derailed in 2011 can now get back on track.

Yemen as Keystone of the Maritime Silk Road

The four year Saudi war on Yemen has been a humanitarian disaster of our times. However in spite of insurmountable odds, the Yemenis have managed to not only defend themselves but have pulled off one of the most brilliant military flanking maneuvers in history crippling the Saudi economy on September 29th. This victory has both forced the Saudis to eat yet-another mouthful of humble pie and created a breathing space for a serious discussion for Yemen’s reconstruction through participation in the New Silk Road. Sitting upon the entry of the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea, Yemen is today as it was 2000 years ago: a vital node in both Maritime Silk Road and the land-based Silk Road connecting Asia with Africa and Europe.

Already several Yemeni organizations have been created endorsing this vision led by the Yemeni Advisory Office for Coordination with the BRICS, Yemeni Youth BRICS Cabinet and the New Silk Road Party which has gained the support of leading government officials since their founding by Yemeni poet/statesman Fouad al-Ghaffari in 2016. Courageous efforts such as these have resulted in the government’s signing an MOU to join the BRI in June 2019.

A word on Turkey and Afghanistan

The Middle Corridor linking Turkey to Georgia and Azerbaijan via rail and to China via Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan was hailed by Erdogan to “be at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative.” In July 2019, Erdogan said the BRI “has emerged as the greatest development project of the 21st century”. After citing the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge over the Bosporus, Eurasian tunnel and Marmaray system across the Dardanelles and its vast high speed rail, Erdogan continued by saying: “Turkey shares China’s vision when it comes to serving world peace, preserving global security, stability, promoting multilateralism… the world seeks a new multipolar balance today”. It is no secret that Turkey has come to the realization that its destiny relies on China, whose trade rose from $230 million in 1990 to a staggering $28 billion in 2017!

President Trump’s efforts to bring the Taliban to the discussion table with the Afghan government of Ahmadzai have resulted in a renewed potential for China’s desire to extend the $57 billion China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Kabul. While this diplomatic opportunity is very fragile, it is the closest the region has yet come to a viable resolution to the post 2001 insanity (including the replacement of its opium-based economy towards a viable full spectrum nation).

It goes without saying that the entire Arab world is looking at a new future of hope and development through the combined efforts of Russia and China. The USA, under Trump’s efforts to undo the decades of Gordian Knots in the Middle East have resulted in the most absurd campaign from republican and democratic tools in Washington to impeach the president. Obviously, a US-Russia-China alliance would be a wonderful blessing for the world, but for this to occur, the matter of the deep state infestation of America must first be dealt with.

Kurds face stark options after US pullback

Forget an independent Kurdistan: They may have to do a deal with Damascus on sharing their area with Sunni Arab refugees

October 14, 2019

By Pepe Escobar : Posted with Permission

Kurds face stark options after US pullback

Forget an independent Kurdistan: They may have to do a deal with Damascus on sharing their area with Sunni Arab refugees

In the annals of bombastic Trump tweets, this one is simply astonishing: here we have a President of the United States, on the record, unmasking the whole $8-trillion intervention in the Middle East as an endless war based on a “false premise.” No wonder the Pentagon is not amused.
Trump’s tweet bisects the surreal geopolitical spectacle of Turkey attacking a 120-kilometer-long stretch of Syrian territory east of the Euphrates to essentially expel Syrian Kurds. Even after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cleared with Trump the terms of the Orwellian-named “Operation Peace Spring,” Ankara may now face the risk of US economic sanctions.

The predominant Western narrative credits the Syrian Democratic Forces, mostly Kurdish, for fighting and defeating Islamic State, also known as Daesh. The SDF is essentially a collection of mercenaries working for the Pentagon against Damascus. But many Syrian citizens argue that ISIS was in fact defeated by the Syrian Arab Army, Russian aerial and technical expertise plus advisers and special forces from Iran and Hezbollah.

As much as Ankara may regard the YPG Kurds – the “People’s protection units” – and the PKK as mere “terrorists” (in the PKK’s case aligned with Washington), Operation Peace Spring has in principle nothing to do with a massacre of Kurds.

Facts on the ground will reveal whether ethnic cleansing is inbuilt in the Turkish offensive. A century ago few Kurds lived in these parts, which were populated mostly by Arabs, Armenians and Assyrians. So this won’t qualify as ethnic cleansing on ancestral lands. But if the town of Afrin is anything to go by the consequences could be severe.

Into this heady mix, enter a possible, uneasy pacifier: Russia. Moscow previously encouraged the Syrian Kurds to talk to Damascus to prevent a Turkish campaign – to no avail. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov never gives up. He has now said: “Moscow will ask for the start of talks between Damascus and Ankara.” Diplomatic ties between Syria and Turkey have been severed for seven years now.

With Peace Spring rolling virtually unopposed, Kurdish Gen. Mazloum Kobani Abdi did raise the stakes, telling the Americans he will have to make a deal with Moscow for a no-fly zone to protect Kurdish towns and villages against the Turkish Armed Forces. Russian diplomats, off the record, say this is not going to happen. For Moscow, Peace Spring is regarded as “Turkey’s right to ensure its security,” in the words of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. As long as it does not turn into a humanitarian disaster.

No independent Kurdistan

From Washington’s perspective, everything happening in the volatile Iran-Iraq-Syria-Turkey spectrum is subject to two imperatives: 1) geopolitically, breaking what is regionally regarded as the axis of resistance: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah; and 2) geostrategically, breaking the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative from being incorporated in both Iraq and Syria, not to mention Turkey.

When Erdogan remarked that the trilateral Ankara summit last month was “productive,” he was essentially saying that the Kurdish question was settled by an agreement among Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Diplomats confirmed that the Syrian Constitutional Committee will work hard towards implementing a federation – implying that the Kurds will have to go back to the Damascus fold. Tehran may even play a role to smooth things over, as Iranian Kurds have also become very active in the YPG command.

The bottom line: there will be no independent Kurdistan – as detailed in a map previously published by the Anadolu news agency.

From Ankara’s point of view, the objective of Operation Peace Spring follows what Erdogan had already announced to the Turkish Parliament – that is, organizing the repatriation of no fewer than two million Syrian refugees to a collection of villages and towns spread over a 30km-wide security zone supervised by the Turkish army.

Yet there has been no word about what happens to an extra, alleged 1.6 million refugees also in Turkey.

Kurdish threats to release control of 50 jails holding at least 11,000 ISIS/Daesh jihadis are just that. The same applies to the al-Hol detention camp, holding a staggering 80,000 ISIS family members. If let loose, these jihadis would go after the Kurds in a flash.

Veteran war correspondent and risk analyst Elijah Magnier provides an excellent summary of the Kurds’ wishful thinking, compared with the priorities of Damascus, Tehran and Moscow:

The Kurds have asked Damascus, in the presence of Russian and Iranian negotiators, to allow them to retain control over the very rich oil and gas fields they occupy in a bit less than a quarter of Syrian territory. Furthermore, the Kurds have asked that they be given full control of the enclave on the borders with Turkey without any Syrian Army presence or activity. Damascus doesn’t want to act as border control guards and would like to regain control of all Syrian territory. The Syrian government wants to end the accommodations the Kurds are offering to the US and Israel, similar to what happened with the Kurds of Iraq.

The options for the YPG Kurds are stark. They are slowly realizing they were used by the Pentagon as mercenaries. Either they become a part of the Syrian federation, giving up some autonomy and their hyper-nationalist dreams, or they will have to share the region they live in with at least two million Sunni Arab refugees relocated under Turkish Army protection.

The end of the dream is nigh. On Sunday, Moscow brokered a deal according to which the key, Kurdish-dominated border towns of Manbij and Kobane go back under the control of Damascus. So Turkish forces will have to back off, otherwise, they will be directly facing the Syrian Arab Army. The game-changing deal should be interpreted as the first step towards the whole of northeast Syria eventually reverting to state control.

The geopolitical bottom line does expose a serious rift within the Ankara agreement. Tehran and Moscow – not to mention Damascus – will not accept Turkish occupation of nearly a quarter of sovereign, energy-rich Syrian territory, replacing what was a de facto American occupation. Diplomats confirm Putin has repeatedly emphasized to Erdogan the imperative of Syrian territorial integrity. SANA’s Syrian news agency slammed Peace Spring as “an act of aggression.”

Which brings us to Idlib. Idlib is a poor, rural province crammed with ultra-hardcore Salafi jihadis – most linked in myriad levels with successive incarnations of Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Qaeda in Syria. Eventually, Damascus, backed by Russian airpower, will clear what is in effect the Idlib cauldron, generating an extra wave of refugees. As much as he’s investing in his Syrian Kurdistan safe zone, what Erdogan is trying to prevent is an extra exodus of potentially 3.5 million mostly hardcore Sunnis to Turkey.

Turkish historian Cam Erimtan told me, as he argues in this essay, that it’s all about the clash between the post-Marxist “libertarian municipalism” of the Turkish-Syrian PKK/PYD/YPG/YPJ axis and the brand of Islam defended by Erdogan’s AKP party: “The heady fusion of Islamism and Turkish nationalism that has become the AKP’s hallmark and common currency in the New Turkey, results in the fact that as a social group the Kurds in Syria have now been universally identified as the enemies of Islam.” Thus, Erimtan adds, “the ‘Kurds’ have now taken the place of ‘Assad’ as providing a godless enemy that needs to be defeated next door.”

Geopolitically, the crucial point remains that Erdogan cannot afford to alienate Moscow for a series of strategic and economic reasons, ranging from the Turk Stream gas pipeline to Ankara’s interest in being an active node of the Belt & Road as well as the Eurasia Economic Union and becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, all geared towards Eurasian integration.

‘Win-win’

And as Syria boils, Iraq simmers down.

Iraqi Kurdistan lives a world apart, and was not touched by the Iraqi protests, which were motivated by genuine grievances against the swamp of corrupt-to-the-core Baghdad politics. Subsequent hijacking for a specific geopolitical agenda was inevitable. The government says Iraqi security forces did not shoot at protesters. That was the work of snipers.

Gunmen in balaclavas did attack the offices of plenty of TV stations in Baghdad, destroying equipment and broadcast facilities. Additionally, Iraqi sources told me, armed groups targeted vital infrastructure, as in electricity grids and plants especially in Diwaniyah in the south. This would have plunged the whole of southern Iraq, all the way to Basra, into darkness, thus sparking more protests.

Pakistani analyst Hassan Abbas spent 12 days in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala. He said heavily militarized police dealt with the protests, “opting for the use of force from the word go – a poor strategy.” He added: “There are 11 different law enforcement forces in Baghdad with various uniforms – coordination between them is extremely poor under normal circumstances.”

But most of all, Abbas stressed: “Many people I talked to in Karbala think this is the American response to the Iraqi tilt towards China.”

That totally fits with this comprehensive analysis.

Iraq did not follow the – illegal – Trump administration sanctions on Iran. In fact it continues to buy electricity from Iran. Baghdad finally opened the crucial Iraq-Syria border post of al-Qaem. Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi wants to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia.

He also explicitly declared Israel responsible for the bombing of five warehouses belonging to the Hashd al-Shaabi, the people mobilization units. And he not only rejected the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” between Israel and Palestine but also has been trying to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

And then there’s – what else? – China. On a state visit to Beijing on September 23, Mahdi clinched a proverbial win-win deal: plenty of oil supplies traded with investment in rebuilding infrastructure. And Iraq will be a certified Belt & Road node, with President Xi Jinping extolling a new “China-Iraq strategic partnership”. China is also looking to do post-reconstruction work in Syria to make it a key node in the New Silk Roads.

It ain’t over till the fat (Chinese) lady sings while doing deals. Meanwhile, Erdogan can always sing about sending 3.6 million refugees to Europe.

What’s happening is a quadruple win. The US performs a face saving withdrawal, which Trump can sell as avoiding a conflict with NATO alley Turkey. Turkey has the guarantee – by the Russians – that the Syrian Army will be in control of the Turkish-Syrian border. Russia prevents a war escalation and keeps the Russia-Iran-Turkey peace process alive.  And Syria will eventually regain control of its oilfields and the entire northeast.

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