Russia, India, China, Iran: the Quad that really matters

Tuesday, 15 November 2022 3:55 PM 

By Pepe Escobar

Southeast Asia is right at the center of international relations for a whole week viz a viz three consecutive summits: Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Phnom Penh, the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Bali, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok.  

Eighteen nations accounting for roughly half of the global economy represented at the first in-person ASEAN summit since the Covid-19 pandemic in Cambodia: the ASEAN 10, Japan, South Korea, China, India, US, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand. 

With characteristic Asian politeness, the summit chair, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (or “Colombian”, according to the so-called “leader of the free world”), said the plenary meeting was somewhat heated, but the atmosphere was not tense: “Leaders talked in a mature way, no one left.”

It was up to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to express what was really significant at the end of the summit.

While praising the “inclusive, open, equal structure of security and cooperation at ASEAN”, Lavrov stressed how Europe and NATO “want to militarize the region in order to contain Russia and China’s interests in the Indo-Pacific.”

A manifestation of this policy is how “AUKUS is openly aiming at confrontation in the South China Sea,” he said.

Lavrov also stressed how the West, via the NATO military alliance, is accepting ASEAN “only nominally” while promoting a completely “unclear” agenda. 

What’s clear though is how NATO “has moved towards Russian borders several times and now declared at the Madrid summit that they have taken global responsibility.”

This leads us to the clincher: “NATO is moving their line of defense to the South China Sea.” And, Lavrov added, Beijing holds the same assessment.

Here, concisely, is the open “secret” of our current geopolitical incandescence. Washington’s number one priority is the containment of China. That implies blocking the EU from getting closer to the key Eurasia drivers  – China, Russia, and Iran – engaged in building the world’s largest free trade/connectivity environment.

Adding to the decades-long hybrid war against Iran, the infinite weaponizing of the Ukrainian black hole fits into the initial stages of the battle.

For the Empire, Iran cannot profit from becoming a provider of cheap, quality energy to the EU. And in parallel, Russia must be cut off from the EU. The next step is to force the EU to cut itself off from China.

All that fits into the wildest, warped Straussian/neo-con wet dreams: to attack China, by emboldening Taiwan, first Russia must be weakened, via the instrumentalization (and destruction) of Ukraine.

And all along the scenario, Europe simply has no agency.     

Putin, Raeisi and the Erdogan track

Real life across key Eurasia nodes reveals a completely different picture. Take the relaxed get-together in Tehran between Russia’s top security official Nikolai Patrushev and his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani last week.

They discussed not only security matters but also serious business – as in turbo-charged trade.

The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) will sign a $40 billion deal next month with Gazprom, bypassing US sanctions, and encompassing the development of two gas fields and six oilfields, swaps in natural gas and oil products, LNG projects, and the construction of gas pipelines.

Immediately after the Patrushev-Shamkhani meeting, President Putin called President Ebrahim Raeisi to keep up the “interaction in politics, trade and the economy, including transport and logistics,” according to the Kremlin.

Iranian president reportedly more than “welcomed” the “strengthening” of Moscow-Tehran ties.

Patrushev unequivocally supported Tehran over the latest color revolution adventure perpetrated under the framework of the Empire’s endless hybrid war.

Iran and the EAEU are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in parallel to the swap deals with Russian oil. Soon, SWIFT may be completely bypassed. The whole Global South is watching.

Simultaneous to Putin’s phone call, Turkiye’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan – conducting his own diplomatic overdrive, and just back from a summit of Turkic nations in Samarkand – stressed that the US and the collective West are attacking Russia “almost without limits”. 

Erdogan made it clear that Russia is a “powerful” state and commended its “great resistance”.

The response came exactly 24 hours later. Turkish intelligence cut to the chase, pointing out that the terrorist bombing in the perpetually busy Istiklal pedestrian street in Istanbul was designed in Kobane in northern Syria, which essentially responds to the US.

That constitutes a de-facto act of war and may unleash serious consequences, including a profound revision of Turkiye’s presence inside NATO.

Iran’s multi-track strategy

A Russia-Iran strategic alliance manifests itself practically as a historical inevitability. It recalls the time when the erstwhile USSR helped Iran militarily via North Korea, after an enforced US/Europe blockade.

Putin and Raeisi are taking it to the next level. Moscow and Tehran are developing a joint strategy to defeat the weaponization of sanctions by the collective West.

Iran, after all, has an absolutely stellar record of smashing variants of “maximum pressure” to bits. Also, it is now linked to a strategic nuclear umbrella offered by the “RICs” in BRICS (Russia, India, China).

So, Tehran may now plan to develop its massive economic potential within the framework of BRI, SCO, INSTC, the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), and the Russian-led Greater Eurasia Partnership.

Moscow’s game is pure sophistication: engaging in a high-level strategic oil alliance with Saudi Arabia while deepening its strategic partnership with Iran.

Immediately after Patrushev’s visit, Tehran announced the development of an indigenously built hypersonic ballistic missile, quite similar to the Russian KH-47 M2 Khinzal.

And the other significant news was connectivity-wise: the completion of part of a railway from strategic Chabahar Port to the border with Turkmenistan. That means imminent direct rail connectivity to the Central Asian, Russian and Chinese spheres. 

Add to it the predominant role of OPEC+, the development of BRICS+, and the pan-Eurasian drive to pricing trade, insurance, security, investments in the ruble, yuan, rial, etc.

There’s also the fact that Tehran could not care less about the endless collective West procrastination on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as Iran nuclear deal: what really matters now is the deepening relationship with the “RICs” in BRICS. 

Tehran refused to sign a tampered-with EU draft nuclear deal in Vienna. Brussels was enraged; no Iranian oil will “save” Europe, replacing Russian oil under a nonsensical cap to be imposed next month.

And Washington was enraged because it was betting on internal tensions to split OPEC.  

Considering all of the above, no wonder US ‘Think Tankland’ is behaving like a bunch of headless chickens.  

The queue to join BRICS

During the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand last September, it was already tacit to all players how the Empire is cannibalizing its closest allies.

And how, simultaneously, the shrinking NATO-sphere is turning inwards, with a focus on The Enemy Within, relentlessly corralling average citizens to march in lockstep behind total compliance with a two-pronged war – hybrid and otherwise – against imperial peer competitors Russia and China.

Now compare it with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Samarkand presenting China and Russia, together, as the top “responsible global powers” bent on securing the emergence of multipolarity.

Samarkand also reaffirmed the strategic political partnership between Russia and India (Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it an unbreakable friendship).

That was corroborated by the meeting between Lavrov and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar last week in Moscow.

Lavrov praised the strategic partnership in every crucial area – politics, trade and economics, investment, and technology, as well as “closely coordinated actions” at the UN Security Council, BRICS, SCO and the G20.

On BRICS, crucially, Lavrov confirmed that “over a dozen countries” are lining up for membership, including Iran: “We expect the work on coordinating the criteria and principles that should underlie BRICS expansion to not take much time”.

But first, the five members need to analyze the ground-breaking repercussions of an expanded BRICS+. 

Once again: contrast. What is the EU’s “response” to these developments? Coming up with yet another sanctions package against Iran, targeting officials and entities “connected with security affairs” as well as companies, for their alleged “violence and repressions”.

“Diplomacy”, collective West-style, barely registers as bullying.

Back to the real economy – as in the gas front – the national interests of Russia, Iran and Turkiye are increasingly intertwined; and that is bound to influence developments in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and will be a key factor to facilitate Erdogan’s re-election next year.

As it stands, Riyadh for all practical purposes has performed a stunning 180-degree maneuver against Washington via OPEC+. That may signify, even in a twisted way, the onset of a process of unification of Arab interests, guided by Moscow.

Stranger things have happened in modern history. Now appears to be the time for the Arab world to be finally ready to join the Quad that really matters: Russia, India, China, and Iran.

(The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)


Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

www.presstv.ir

www.presstv.co.uk

MORE STORIES

Rewiring Eurasia: Mr. Patrushev goes to Tehran

The meeting this week between two Eurasian security bosses is a further step toward dusting away the west’s oversized Asian footprint.

November 10 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Pepe Escobar

Two guys are hanging out in a cozy room in Tehran with a tantalizing new map of the world in the background.

Nothing to see here? On the contrary. These two Eurasian security giants are no less than the – unusually relaxed – Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

And why are they so relaxed? Because the future prospects revolving around the main theme of their conversation – the Russia-Iran strategic partnership – could not be more exciting.

This was a very serious business affair: an official visit, at the invitation of Shamkhani.

Patrushev was in Tehran on the exact same day that Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu – following a recommendation from General Sergey Surovikin, the overall commander of the Special Military Operation – ordered a Russian retreat from Kherson.

Patrushev knew it for days – so he had no problem to step on a plane to take care of business in Tehran. After all, the Kherson drama is part of the Patrushev negotiations with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Ukraine, which have been going on for weeks, with Saudi Arabia as eventual go-between.

Besides Ukraine, the two discussed “information security, as well as measures to counter interference in the internal affairs of both countries by western special services,” according to a report by Russia’s TASS news agency.

Both countries, as we know, are particular targets of western information warfare and sabotage, with Iran currently the focus of one of these no-holds-barred, foreign-backed, destabilization campaign.

Patrushev was officially received by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who went straight to the point: “The cooperation of independent countries is the strongest response to the sanctions and destabilization policies of the US and its allies.”

Patrushev, for his part, assured Raisi that for the Russian Federation, strategic relations with Iran are essential for Russian national security.

So that goes way beyond Geranium-2 kamikaze drones – the Russian cousins of the Shahed-136 – wreaking havoc in the Ukrainian battlefield. Which, by the way, elicited a direct mention later on by Shamkhani: “Iran welcomes a peaceful settlement in Ukraine and is in favor of peace based on dialogue between Moscow and Kiev.”

Patrushev and Shamkhani of course discussed security issues and the proverbial “cooperation in the international arena.” But what may be more significant is that the Russian delegation included officials from several key economic agencies.

There were no leaks – but that suggests serious economic connectivity remains at the heart of the strategic partnership between the two top sanctioned nations in Eurasia.

Key in the discussions was the Iranian focus on fast expansion of bilateral trade in national currencies – ruble and rial. That happens to be at the center of the drive by both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS towards multipolarity. Iran is now a full SCO member – the only West Asian nation to be part of the Asian strategic behemoth – and will apply to become part of BRICS+.

Have swap, will travel

The Patrushev-Shamkhani get together happened ahead of the signing, next month, of a whopping $40 billion energy deal with Gazprom, as previously announced by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari.

The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) has already clinched an initial $6.5 billion deal. All that revolves around the development of two gas deposits and six oilfields; swaps in natural gas and oil products; LNG projects; and building more gas pipelines.

Last month, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak announced a swap of 5 million tons of oil and 10 billion cubic meters of gas, to be finished by the end of 2022. And he confirmed that “the amount of Russian investment in Iran’s oil fields will increase.”

Barter of course is ideal for Moscow and Tehran to jointly bypass interminably problematic sanctions and payment settlement issues – linked to the western financial system. On top of it, Russia and Iran are able to invest in direct trade links via the Caspian Sea.

At the recent Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, Raisi forcefully proposed that a successful “new Asia” must necessarily develop an endogenous model for independent states.

As an SCO member, and playing a very important role, alongside Russia and India, in the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), Raisi is positioning Iran in a key vector of multilateralism.

Since Tehran entered the SCO, cooperation with both Russia and China, predictably, is on overdrive. Patrushev’s visit is part of that process. Tehran is leaving behind decades of Iranophobia and every possible declination of American “maximum pressure” – from sanctions to attempts at color revolution – to dynamically connect across Eurasia.

BRI, SCO, INSTC

Iran is a key Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partner for China’s grand infrastructure project to connect Eurasia via road, sea, and train. In parallel, the multimodal Russian-led INSTC is essential to promote trade between the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia – at the same time solidifying Russia’s presence in the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region.

Iran and India have committed to offer part of Chabahar port in Iran to Central Asian nations, complete with access to exclusive economic zones.

At the recent SCO summit in Samarkand, both Russia and China made it quite clear – especially for the collective west – that Iran is no longer going to be treated as a pariah state.

So it is no wonder Iran that is entering a new business era with all members of the SCO under the sign of an emerging financial order being designed mostly by Russia, China and India. As far as strategic partnerships go, the ties between Russia and India (President Narendra Modi called it an unbreakable friendship) is as strong as those between Russia and China. And when it comes to Russia, that’s what Iran is aiming at.

The Patrushev-Shamkhani strategic meeting will hurl western hysteria to unseen levels – as it completely smashes Iranophobia and Russophobia in one fell swoop. Iran as a close ally is an unparalleled strategic asset for Russia in the drive towards multipolarity.

Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are already negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in parallel to those swaps involving Russian oil. The west’s reliance on the SWIFT banking messaging system hardly makes any difference to Russia and Iran. The Global South is watching it closely, especially in Iran’s neighborhood where oil is commonly traded in US dollars.

It is starting to become clear to anyone in the west with an IQ above room temperature that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal), in the end, does not matter anymore. Iran’s future is directly connected to the success of three of the BRICS: Russia, China and India. Iran itself may soon become a BRICS+ member.

There’s more: Iran is even becoming a role model for the Persian Gulf: witness the lengthy queue of regional states aspiring toward gaining SCO membership. The Trumpian “Abraham Accords?” What’s that? BRICS/SCO/BRI is the only way to go in West Asia today.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Russia courts Muslim countries as strategic Eurasian partners

Thursday, 13 October 2022 7:10 PM  [ Last Update: Friday, 14 October 2022 9:14 AM ]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) attend the CICA summit in Astana, Kazakhstan on October 13, 2022.

By Pepe Escobar

Everything that matters in the complex process of Eurasia integration was once again at play in Astana, as the – renamed – Kazakh capital hosted the 6th Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

The roll call was a Eurasian thing of beauty – featuring the leaders of Russia and Belarus (EAEU), West Asia (Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Palestine) and Central Asia (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan).

China and Vietnam (East and Southeast Asia) attended at the level of vice presidents.

CICA is a multinational forum focused on cooperation toward peace, security, and stability across Asia.,Kazakh President Tokayev revealed that CICA has just adopted a declaration to turn the forum into an international organization.  

CICA has already established a partnership with the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). So in practice, it will soon be working together side-by-side with the SCO, the EAEU and certainly BRICS+.

The Russia-Iran strategic partnership was prominently featured at CICA, especially after Iran being welcomed to the SCO as a full member.

President Raeisi, addressing the forum, stressed the crucial notion of an emerging  “new Asia”, where “convergence and security” are “not compatible with the interests of hegemonic countries and any attempt to destabilize independent nations has goals and consequences beyond national geographies, and in fact, aims to target the stability and prosperity of regional countries.”

For Tehran, being a partner in the integration of CICA, within a maze of pan-Asia institutions, is essential after all these decades of”maximum pressure” unleashed by the Hegemon.

Moreover, it opens an opportunity, as Raeisi noted, for Iran to profit from “Asia’s economic infrastructure.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, predictably, was the star of the show in Astana. It’s essential to note that Putin is supported by “all”nations represented at CICA.

High-level bilaterals with Putin included the Emir of Qatar: everyone that matters in West Asia wants to talk to “isolated” Russia.      

Putin called for “compensation for the damage caused to the Afghans during the years of occupation” (we all know the Empire of Chaos, Lies and Plunder will refuse it), and emphasized the key role of the SCO to develop Afghanistan.

He stated that Asia, “where new centers of power are growing stronger, plays a big role in the transition to a multipolar world order”.

He warned, “there is a real threat of famine and large-scale shocks against the backdrop of volatility in energy and food prices in the world.”

Hefurther called for the end of a financial system that benefits the “Golden billion” – who “live at the expense of others” (there’s nothing “golden” about this “billion”: at best such definition of wealth applies to 10 million.)

And he stressed that Russia is doing everything to “form a system of equal and indivisible security”. Exactly what drives the hegemonic imperial elites completely berserk.

“Offer you can’t refuse” bites the dust

The imminent juxtaposition between CICA and the SCO and EAEU is yet another instance of how the pieces of the complex Eurasia jigsaw puzzle are coming together.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia – in theory, staunch imperial military allies – are itching to join the SCO, which has recently welcomed Iran as a full member. 

That spells out Ankara and Riyadh’s geopolitical choice of forcefully eschewing the imperial Russophobia cum Sinophobia offensive.  

Erdogan, as an observer at the recent SCO summit in Samarkand, sent out exactly this message. The SCO is fast reaching the point where we may have, sitting at the same table, and taking important consensual decisions, not only the “RICs” (Russia, India, China) in BRICS (soon to be expanded to BRICS+) but arguably the top players inMuslim countries: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar.

This evolving process, not without its serious challenges, testifies to the concerted Russia-China drive to incorporate the lands of Islam as essential strategic partners in forging the post-Western multipolar world. Call it a soft Islamization of multipolarity.  

No wonder the Anglo-American axis is absolutely petrified.

Now cut to a graphic illustration of all of the above – the way it’s being played in the energy markets: the already legendary Opec+ meeting in Vienna a week ago.

A tectonic geopolitical shift was inbuilt in the – collective – decision to slash oil production by 2 million barrels a day.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a very diplomatic note with a stunning piece of information for those equipped to read between the lines.

For all practical purposes, the combo behind the teleprompter reader in Washington had issued a trademark Mafia threat to stop “protection” to Riyadh if the decision on the oil cuts was taken before the US mid-term elections. 

Only this time the “offer you can’t refuse” didn’t bite. OPEC+ made a collective decision, led by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

Following Putin and MBS famously getting along, it was up to Putin to host UAE President Sheikh Zayed – or MBZ, MBS’s mentor – at the stunning Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg, which datesback to Peter the Great.

That was a sort of informal celebration of how OPEC+ had provoked, with a single move, a superpower strategic debacle when it comes to the geopolitics of oil, which the Empire had controlled for a century. 

Everyone remembers, after the bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, how US neo-cons bragged, “we are the new OPEC”.

Well, not anymore. And the move had to come from the Russians and US Persian Gulf “allies” when everyone expected that would happen the day a Chinese delegation lands in Riyadh and asks for payment of all the energy they need in yuan.

OPEC+ called the American bluff and left the superpower high’n dry. So what are they going to do to “punish” Riyadh and Abu Dhabi? Call CENTCOM in Qatar and Bahrain to mobilize their aircraft carriers and unleash regime change?

What’s certain is that the Straussian/neocon psychos in charge in Washington will double down on hybrid war.

The art of “spreading instability”

In St. Petersburg, as he addressed MBZ, Putin made it clear that it’s OPEC+ – led by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – that is now setting the pace to “stabilize global energy markets” so consumers and suppliers would “feel calm, stable and confident” and supply and demand “would be balanced”.

On the gas front, at Russian Energy Week, Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller made it clear that Russia may still “save” Europe from an energy black hole.

Nord Stream (NS) and Nord Stream 2 (NS2) may become operational: but all political roadblocks must be removed before any repairing work starts on the pipelines.

And on West Asia, Miller said additions to Turk Stream have already been planned, much to the delight of Ankara, keen to become a key energy hub. 

In a parallel track, it’s absolutely clear that the G7’s desperate gambit of imposing an oil price cap – which translates as the weaponization of sanctions extended to the global energy market – is a losing proposition.

Slightly over a month before hosting the G20 in Bali, Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati could not make it clearer: “When the United States is imposing sanctions using economic instruments, that creates a precedent for everything”, spreading instability “not only for Indonesia but for all other countries.”

Meanwhile, allMuslim-majority countries are paying very close attention to Russia. The Russia-Iran strategic partnership is now advancing in parallel to the Russia-Saudi-UAE entente as crucial vectors of multipolarity.

In the near future, all these vectors are bound to unite in what ideally should be a supra-organization capable of managing the top story of the 21st century: Eurasia integration.    

Pepe Escobar is a veteran journalist, author and independent geopolitical analyst focused on Eurasia.

(The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)


Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

www.presstv.ir

www.presstv.co.uk

‘Samarkand Spirit’ to be driven by ‘responsible powers’ Russia and China

The SCO summit of Asian power players delineated a road map for strengthening the multipolar world

September 16 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Pepe Escobar

Amidst serious tremors in the world of geopolitics, it is so fitting that this year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) heads of state summit should have taken place in Samarkand – the ultimate Silk Road crossroads for 2,500 years.

When in 329 BC Alexander the Great reached the then Sogdian city of Marakanda, part of the Achaemenid empire, he was stunned: “Everything I have heard about Samarkand it’s true, except it is even more beautiful than I had imagined.”

Fast forward to an Op-Ed by Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev published ahead of the SCO summit, where he stresses how Samarkand now “can become a platform that is able to unite and reconcile states with various foreign policy priorities.”

After all, historically, the world from the point of view of the Silk Road landmark has always been “perceived as one and indivisible, not divided. This is the essence of a unique phenomenon – the ‘Samarkand spirit’.”

And here Mirziyoyev ties the “Samarkand Spirit” to the original SCO “Shanghai Spirit” established in early 2001, a few months before the events of September 11, when the world was forced into strife and endless war, almost overnight.

All these years, the culture of the SCO has been evolving in a distinctive Chinese way. Initially, the Shanghai Five were focused on fighting terrorism – months before the US war of terror (italics mine) metastasized from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond.

Over the years, the initial “three no’s” – no alliance, no confrontation, no targeting any third party – ended up equipping a fast, hybrid vehicle whose ‘four wheels’ are ‘politics, security, economy, and humanities,’ complete with a Global Development Initiative, all of which contrast sharply with the priorities of a hegemonic, confrontational west.

Arguably the biggest takeaway of this week’s Samarkand summit is that Chinese President Xi Jinping presented China and Russia, together, as “responsible global powers” bent on securing the emergence of multipolarity, and refusing the arbitrary “order” imposed by the United States and its unipolar worldview.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pronounced Xi’s bilateral conversation with President Vladimir Putin as “excellent.” Xi Jinping, previous to their meeting, and addressing Putin directly, had already stressed the common Russia-China objectives:

“In the face of the colossal changes of our time on a global scale, unprecedented in history, we are ready with our Russian colleagues to set an example of a responsible world power and play a leading role in order to put such a rapidly changing world on the trajectory of sustainable and positive development.”

Later, in the preamble to the heads of state meeting, Xi went straight to the point: it is important to “prevent attempts by external forces to organize ‘color revolutions’ in the SCO countries.” Well, Europe wouldn’t be able to tell, because it has been color-revolutionized non-stop since 1945.

Putin, for his part, sent a message that will be ringing all across the Global South: “Fundamental transformations have been outlined in world politics and economics, and they are irreversible.” (italics mine)

Iran: it’s showtime

Iran was the guest star of the Samarkand show, officially embraced as the 9th member of the SCO. President Ebrahim Raisi, significantly, stressed before meeting Putin that “Iran does not recognize sanctions against Russia.” Their strategic partnership will be enhanced. On the business front, a hefty delegation comprising leaders of 80 large Russian companies will be visiting Tehran next week.

The increasing Russia-China-Iran interpolation – the three top drivers of Eurasia integration – scares the hell out of the usual suspects, who may be starting to grasp how the SCO represents, in the long run, a serious challenge to their geoeconomic game. So, as every grain of sand in every Heartland desert is already aware, the geopolitical pressure against the trio will increase exponentially.

And then there was the mega-crucial Samarkand trilateral: Russia-China-Mongolia. There were no official leaks, but this trio arguably discussed the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline – the interconnector to be built across Mongolia; and Mongolia’s enhanced role in a crucial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connectivity corridor, now that China is not using the Trans-Siberian route for exports to Europe because of sanctions.

Putin briefed Xi on all aspects of Russia’s Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine, and arguably answered some really tough questions, many of them circulating wildly on the Chinese web for months now.

Which brings us to Putin’s presser at the end of the summit – with virtually all questions predictably revolving around the military theater in Ukraine.

The key takeaway from the Russian president: “There are no changes on the SMO plan. The main tasks are being implemented.” On peace prospects, it is Ukraine that “is not ready to talk to Russia.” And overall, “it is regrettable that the west had the idea to use Ukraine to try to collapse Russia.”

On the fertilizer soap opera, Putin remarked, “food supply, energy supply, they (the west) created these problems, and now are trying to resolve them at the expense of someone else” – meaning the poorest nations. “European countries are former colonial powers and they still have this paradigm of colonial philosophy. The time has come to change their behavior, to become more civilized.”

On his meeting with Xi Jinping: “It was just a regular meeting, it’s been quite some time we haven’t had a meeting face to face.” They talked about how to “expand trade turnover” and circumvent the “trade wars caused by our so-called partners,” with “expansion of settlements in national currencies not progressing as fast as we want.”

Strenghtening multipolarity

Putin’s bilateral with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not have been more cordial – on a “very special friendship” register – with Modi calling for serious solutions to the food and fuel crises, actually addressing the west. Meanwhile, the State Bank of India will be opening special rupee accounts to handle Russia-related trade.

This is Xi’s first foreign trip since the Covid pandemic. He could do it because he’s totally confident of being awarded a third term during the Communist Party Congress next month in Beijing. Xi now controls and/or has allies placed in at least 90 percent of the Politburo.

The other serious reason was to recharge the appeal of BRI in close connection to the SCO. China’s ambitious BRI project was officially launched by Xi in Astana (now Nur-Sultan) nine years ago. It will remain the overarching Chinese foreign policy concept for decades ahead.

BRI’s emphasis on trade and connectivity ties in with the SCO’s evolving multilateral cooperation mechanisms, congregating nations focusing on economic development independent from the hazy, hegemonic “rules-based order.” Even India under Modi is having second thoughts about relying on western blocs, where New Delhi is at best a neo-colonized “partner.”

So Xi and Putin, in Samarkand, for all practical purposes delineated a road map for strengthening multipolarity – as stressed by the final  Samarkand declaration  signed by all SCO members.

The Kazakh puzzle 

There will be bumps on the road aplenty. It’s no accident that Xi started his trip in Kazakhstan – China’s mega-strategic western rear, sharing a very long border with Xinjiang. The tri-border at the dry port of Khorgos – for lorries, buses and trains, separately – is quite something, an absolutely key BRI node.

The administration of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Nur-Sultan (soon to be re-named Astana again) is quite tricky, swinging between eastern and western political orientations, and infiltrated by Americans as much as during the era of predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first post-USSR president.

Earlier this month, for instance, Nur-Sultan, in partnership with Ankara and British Petroleum (BP) – which virtually rules Azerbaijan – agreed to increase the volume of oil on the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline to up to 4 million tons a month by the end of this year. Chevron and ExxonMobil, very active in Kazakhstan, are part of the deal.

The avowed agenda of the usual suspects is to “ultimately disconnect the economies of Central Asian countries from the Russian economy.” As Kazakhstan is a member not only of the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), but also the BRI, it is fair to assume that Xi – as well as Putin – discussed some pretty serious issues with Tokayev, told him to grasp which way the wind is blowing, and advised him to keep the internal political situation under control (see the aborted coup in January, when Tokayev was de facto saved by the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO]).

There’s no question Central Asia, historically known as a “box of gems” at the center of the Heartland, striding the Ancient Silk Roads and blessed with immense natural wealth – fossil fuels, rare earth metals, fertile agrarian lands – will be used by the usual suspects as a Pandora’s box, releasing all manner of toxic tricks against legitimate Eurasian integration.

That’s in sharp contrast with West Asia, where Iran in the SCO will turbo-charge its key role of crossroads connectivity between Eurasia and Africa, in connection with the BRI and the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC).

So it’s no wonder that the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, all in West Asia, do recognize which way the wind is blowing. The three Persian Gulf states received official SCO ‘partner status’ in Samarkand, alongside the Maldives and Myanmar.

A cohesion of goals

Samarkand also gave an extra impulse to integration along the Russian-conceptualized Greater Eurasia Partnership  – which includes the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) – and that, just two weeks after the game-changing Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) held in Vladivostok, on Russia’s strategic Pacific coast.

Moscow’s priority at the EAEU is to implement a union-state with Belarus (which looks bound to become a new SCO member before 2024), side-by-side with closer integration with the BRI. Serbia, Singapore and Iran have trade agreements with the EAEU too.

The Greater Eurasian Partnership was proposed by Putin in 2015 – and it’s getting sharper as the EAEU commission, led by Sergey Glazyev, actively designs a new financial system, based on gold and natural resources and counter-acting the Bretton Woods system. Once the new framework is ready to be tested, the key disseminator is likely to be the SCO.

So here we see in play the full cohesion of goals – and the interaction mechanisms – deployed by the Greater Eurasia Partnership, BRI, EAEU, SCO, BRICS+ and the INSTC. It’s a titanic struggle to unite all these organizations and take into account the geoeconomic priorities of each member and associate partner, but that’s exactly what’s happening, at breakneck speed.

In this connectivity feast, practical imperatives range from fighting local bottlenecks to setting up complex multi-party corridors – from the Caucasus to Central Asia, from Iran to India, everything discussed in multiple roundtables.

Successes are already notable: from Russia and Iran introducing direct settlements in rubles and rials, to Russia and China increasing their trade in rubles and yuan to 20 percent – and counting. An Eastern Commodity Exchange may be soon established in Vladivostok to facilitate trade in futures and derivatives with the Asia-Pacific.

China is the undisputed primary creditor/investor in infrastructure across Central Asia. Beijing’s priorities may be importing gas from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and oil from Kazakhstan, but connectivity is not far behind.

The $5 billion construction of the 600 km-long Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (Pakafuz) railway will deliver cargo from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean in only three days instead of 30. And that railway will be linked to Kazakhstan and the already in progress 4,380 km-long Chinese-built railway from Lanzhou to Tashkent, a BRI project.

Nur-Sultan is also interested in a Turkmenistan-Iran-Türkiye railway, which would connect its port of Aktau on the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea.

Türkiye, meanwhile, still a SCO observer and constantly hedging its bets, slowly but surely is trying to strategically advance its own Pax Turcica, from technological development to defense cooperation, all that under a sort of politico-economic-security package. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did discuss it in Samarkand with Putin, as the latter later announced that 25 percent of Russian gas bought by Ankara will be paid in rubles.    

Welcome to Great Game 2.0

Russia, even more than China, knows that the usual suspects are going for broke. In 2022 alone, there was a failed coup in Kazakhstan in January; troubles in Badakhshan, in Tajikistan, in May; troubles in Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan in June; the non-stop border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (both presidents, in Samarkand, at least agreed on a ceasefire and to remove troops from their borders).

And then there is recently-liberated Afghanistan – with no less than 11 provinces crisscrossed by ISIS-Khorasan and its Tajik and Uzbek associates. Thousands of would-be Heartland jihadis have made the trip to Idlib in Syria and then back to Afghanistan – ‘encouraged’ by the usual suspects, who will use every trick under the sun to harass and ‘isolate’ Russia from Central Asia.

So Russia and China should be ready to be involved in a sort of immensely complex, rolling Great Game 2.0 on steroids, with the US/NATO fighting united Eurasia and Turkiye in the middle.

On a brighter note, Samarkand proved that at least consensus exists among all the players at different institutional organizations that: technological sovereignty will determine sovereignty; and that regionalization – in this case Eurasian – is bound to replace US-ruled globalization.

These players also understand that the Mackinder and Spykman era is coming to a close – when Eurasia was ‘contained’ in a semi-disassembled shape so western maritime powers could exercise total domination, contrary to the national interests of Global South actors.

It’s now a completely different ball game. As much as the Greater Eurasia Partnership is fully supported by China, both favor the interconnection of BRI and EAEU projects, while the SCO shapes a common environment.

Yes, this is an Eurasian civilizational project for the 21st century and beyond. Under the aegis of the ‘Spirit of Samarkand.’

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Asia’s future takes shape in Vladivostok, the Russian Pacific

September 08, 2022

by Pepe Escobar, posted with the author’s permission and widely cross-posted

Sixty-eight countries gathered on Russia’s far eastern coast to listen to Moscow’s economic and political vision for the Asia-Pacific

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok is one of the indispensable annual milestones for keeping up not only with the complex development process of the Russian Far East but major plays for Eurasia integration.

Mirroring an immensely turbulent 2022, the current theme in Vladivostok is ‘On the Path to a Multipolar World.’ Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, in a short message to business and government participants from 68 nations, set the stage:

“The obsolete unipolar model is being replaced by a new world order based on the fundamental principles of justice and equality, as well as the recognition of the right of each state and people to their own sovereign path of development. Powerful political and economic centers are taking shape right here in the Asia-Pacific region, acting as a driving force in this irreversible process.”

In his speech to the EEF plenary session, Ukraine was barely mentioned. Putin’s response when asked about it: “Is this country part of Asia-Pacific?”

The speech was largely structured as a serious message to the collective west, as well as to what top analyst Sergey Karaganov calls the “global majority.” Among several takeaways, these may be the most relevant:

  • Russia as a sovereign state will defend its interests.
  • Western sanctions ‘fever’ is threatening the world – and economic crises are not going away after the pandemic.
  • The entire system of international relations has changed. There is an attempt to maintain world order by changing the rules.
  • Sanctions on Russia are closing down businesses in Europe. Russia is coping with economic and tech aggression from the west.
  • Inflation is breaking records in developed countries. Russia is looking at around 12 percent.
  • Russia has played its part in grain exports leaving Ukraine, but most shipments went to EU nations and not developing countries.
  • The “welfare of the ‘Golden Billion’ is being ignored.”
  • The west is in no position to dictate energy prices to Russia.
  • Ruble and yuan will be used for gas payments.
  • The role of Asia-Pacific has significantly increased.

In a nutshell: Asia is the new epicenter of technological progress and productivity.

No more an ‘object of colonization’ 

Taking place only two weeks before another essential annual gathering – the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand – it is no wonder some of the top discussions at the EEF revolve around the increasing economic interpolation between the SCO and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

This theme is as crucial as the development of the Russian Arctic: at 41 percent of total territory, that’s the largest resource base in the federation, spread out over nine regions, and encompassing the largest Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on the planet, linked to the free port of Vladivostok. The Arctic is being developed via several strategically important projects processing mineral, energy, water and biological natural resources.

So it’s perfectly fitting that Austria’s former foreign minister Karin Kneissel, self-described as “a passionate historian,” quipped about her fascination at how Russia and its Asian partners are tackling the development of the Northern Sea Route: “One of my favorite expressions is that airlines and pipelines are moving east. And I keep saying this for twenty years.”

Amidst a wealth of roundtables exploring everything from the power of territory, supply chains and global education to “the three whales” (science, nature, human), arguably the top discussion this Tuesday at the forum was centered on the role of the SCO.

Apart from the current full members – Russia, China, India, Pakistan, four Central Asians (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan), plus the recent accession of Iran – no less than 11 further nations want to join, from observer Afghanistan to dialogue partner Turkey.

Grigory Logvinov, the SCO’s deputy secretary general, stressed how the economic, political and scientific potential of players comprising “the center of gravity” for Asia – over a quarter of the world’s GDP, 50 percent of the world’s population – has not been fully harvested yet.

Kirill Barsky, from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, explained how the SCO is actually the model of multipolarity, according to its charter, compared to the backdrop of “destructive processes” launched by the west.

And that leads to the economic agenda in the Eurasian integration progress, with the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) configured as the SCO’s most important partner.

Barsky identifies the SCO as “the core Eurasian structure, forming the agenda of Greater Eurasia within a network of partnership organizations.” That’s where the importance of the cooperation with ASEAN comes in.

Barsky could not but evoke Mackinder, Spykman and Brzezinski – who regarded Eurasia “as an object to be acted upon the wishes of western states, confined within the continent, away from the ocean shores, so the western world could dominate in a global confrontation of land and sea. The SCO as it developed can triumph over these negative concepts.”

And here we hit a notion widely shared from Tehran to Vladivostok:

Eurasia no longer as “an object of colonization by ‘civilized Europe’ but again an agent of global policy.”

‘India wants a 21st Asian century’

Sun Zuangnzhi from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) elaborated on China’s interest in the SCO. He focused on achievements: In the 21 years since its founding, a mechanism to establish security between China, Russia and Central Asian states evolved into “multi-tiered, multi-sector cooperation mechanisms.”

Instead of “turning into a political instrument,” the SCO should capitalize on its role of dialogue forum for states with a difficult history of conflicts – “interactions are sometimes difficult” – and focus on economic cooperation “on health, energy, food security, reduction of poverty.”

Rashid Alimov, a former SCO secretary general, now a professor at the Taihe Institute, stressed the “high expectations” from Central Asian nations, the core of the organization. The original idea remains – based on the indivisibility of security on a trans-regional level in Eurasia.

Well, we all know how the US and NATO reacted when Russia late last year proposed a serious dialogue on “indivisibility of security.”

As Central Asia does not have an outlet to the sea, it is inevitable, as Alimov stressed, that Uzbekistan’s foreign policy privileges involvement in accelerated intra-SCO trade. Russia and China may be the leading investors, and now “Iran also plays an important role. Over 1,200 Iranian companies are working in Central Asia.”

Connectivity, once again, must increase: “The World Bank rates Central Asia as one of the least connected economies in the world.”

Sergey Storchak of Russian bank VEB explained the workings of the “SCO interbank consortium.” Partners have used “a credit line from the Bank of China” and want to sign a deal with Uzbekistan. The SCO interbank consortium will be led by the Indians on a rotation basis – and they want to step up its game. At the upcoming summit in Samarkand, Storchak expects a road map for the transition towards the use of national currencies in regional trade.

Kumar Rajan from the School of International Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University articulated the Indian position. He went straight to the point: “India wants a 21st Asian century. Close cooperation between India and China is necessary. They can make the Asian century happen.”

Rajan remarked how India does not see the SCO as an alliance, but committed to the development and political stability of Eurasia.

He made the crucial point about connectivity revolving around India “working with Russia and Central Asia with the INSTC” – the International North South Transportation Corridor, and one of its key hubs, the Chabahar port in Iran: “India does not have direct physical connectivity with Central Asia. The INSTC has the participation of an Iranian shipping line with 300 vessels, connecting to Mumbai. President Putin, in the [recent] Caspian meeting, referred directly to the INSTC.”

Crucially, India not only supports the Russian concept of Greater Eurasia Partnership but is engaged in setting up a free trade agreement with the EAEU: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, incidentally, came to the Vladivostok forum last year.

In all of the above nuanced interventions, some themes are constant. After the Afghanistan disaster and the end of the US occupation there, the stabilizing role of the SCO cannot be overstated enough. An ambitious road map for cooperation is a must – probably to be approved at the Samarkand summit. All players will be gradually changing to trade in bilateral currencies. And creation of transit corridors is leading to the progressive integration of national transit systems.

Let there be light

A key roundtable on the ‘Gateway to a Multipolar World’ expanded on the SCO role, outlining how most Asian nations are “friendly” or “benevolently neutral” when it comes to Russia after the start of the Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine.

So the possibilities for expanding cooperation across Eurasia remain practically unlimited. Complementarity of economies is the main factor. That would lead, among other developments, to the Russian Far East, as a multipolar hub, turning into “Russia’s gateway to Asia” by the 2030s.

Wang Wen from the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies stressed the need for Russia to rediscover China – finding “mutual trust in the middle level and elites level”. At the same time, there’s a sort of global rush to join BRICS, from Saudi Arabia and Iran to Afghanistan and Argentina:

“That means a new civilization model for emerging economies like China and Argentina because they want to rise up peacefully (…) I think we are in the new civilization age.”

B. K. Sharma from the United Service Institution of India got back to Spykman pigeonholing the nation as a rimland state. Not anymore: India now has multiple strategies, from connecting to Central Asia to the ‘Act East’ policy. Overall, it’s an outreach to Eurasia, as India “is not competitive and needs to diversify to get better access to Eurasia, with logistical help from Russia.“

Sharma stresses how India takes SCO, BRICS and RICs very seriously while seeing Russia playing “an important role in the Indian Ocean.” He nuances the Indo-Pacific outlook: India does not want Quad as a military alliance, privileging instead “interdependence and complementarity between India, Russia and China.”

All of these discussions interconnect with the two overarching themes in several Vladivostok roundtables: energy and the development of the Arctic’s natural resources.

Pavel Sorokin, Russian First Deputy Minister of Energy, dismissed the notion of a storm or typhoon in the energy markets: “It’s a far cry from a natural process. It’s a man-made situation.” The Russian economy, in contrast, is seen by most analysts as slowly but surely designing its Arctic/Asian cooperation future – including, for instance, the creation of a sophisticated trans-shipment infrastructure for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG).

Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov made sure that Russia will actually increase its gas production, considering the rise of LNG deliveries and the construction of Power of Siberia-2 to China: “We will not merely scale up the pipeline capacity but we will also expand LNG production: it has mobility and excellent purchases on the global market.”

On the Northern Sea Route, the emphasis is on building a powerful, modern icebreaker fleet – including nuclear. Gadzhimagomed Guseynov, First Deputy Minister for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic, is adamant: “What Russia has to do is to make the Northern Sea Route a sustainable and important transit route.”

There is a long-term plan up to 2035 to create infrastructure for safe shipping navigation, following an ‘Arctic best practices’ of learning step by step. NOVATEK, according to its deputy chairman Evgeniy Ambrosov, has been conducting no less than a revolution in terms of Arctic navigation and shipbuilding in the last few years.

Kniessel, the former Austrian minister, recalled that she always missed the larger geopolitical picture in her discussions when she was active in European politics (she now lives in Lebanon): “I wrote about the passing of the torch from Atlanticism to the Pacific. Airlines, pipelines and waterways are moving East. The Far East is actually Pacific Russia.”

Whatever Atlanticists may think of it, the last word for the moment might belong to Vitaly Markelov, from the board of directors of Gazprom: Russia is ready for winter. There will be warmth and light everywhere.”

Ukraine: Somewhere between Afghanization and Syrianization

Ukraine is finished as a nation – neither side will rest in this war. The only question is whether it will be an Afghan or Syrian style finale.

August 30 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Pepe Escobar

One year after the astounding US humiliation in Kabul – and on the verge of another serious comeuppance in Donbass – there is reason to believe Moscow is wary of Washington seeking vengeance: in the form of the ‘Afghanization’ of Ukraine.

With no end in sight to western weapons and finance flowing into Kiev, it must be recognized that the Ukrainian battle is likely to disintegrate into yet another endless war. Like the Afghan jihad in the 1980s which employed US-armed and funded guerrillas to drag Russia into its depths, Ukraine’s backers will employ those war-tested methods to run a protracted battle that can spill into bordering Russian lands.

Yet this US attempt at crypto-Afghanization will at best accelerate the completion of what Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu describes as the “tasks” of its Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine. For Moscow right now, that road leads all the way to Odessa.

It didn’t have to be this way. Until the recent assassination of Darya Dugina at Moscow’s gates, the battlefield in Ukraine was in fact under a ‘Syrianization’ process.

Like the foreign proxy war in Syria this past decade, frontlines around significant Ukrainian cities had roughly stabilized. Losing on the larger battlefields, Kiev had increasingly moved to employ terrorist tactics. Neither side could completely master the immense war theater at hand. So the Russian military opted to keep minimal forces in battle – contrary to the strategy it employed in 1980s Afghanistan.

Let’s remind ourselves of a few Syrian facts: Palmyra was liberated in March 2016, then lost and retaken in 2017. Aleppo was liberated only in December 2016. Deir Ezzor in September 2017. A slice of northern Hama in December and January 2018. The outskirts of Damascus in the Spring of 2018. Idlib – and significantly, over 25 percent of Syrian territory – are still not liberated. That tells a lot about rhythm in a war theater.

The Russian military never made a conscious decision to interrupt the multi-channel flow of western weapons to Kiev. Methodically destroying those weapons once they’re in Ukrainian territory – with plenty of success – is another matter. The same applies to smashing mercenary networks.

Moscow is well aware that any negotiation with those pulling the strings in Washington – and dictating all terms to puppets in Brussels and Kiev – is futile. The fight in Donbass and beyond is a do or die affair.

So the battle will go on, destroying what’s left of Ukraine, just as it destroyed much of Syria. The difference is that economically, much more than in Syria, what’s left of Ukraine will plunge into a black void. Only territory under Russian control will be rebuilt, and that includes, significantly, the bulk of Ukraine’s industrial infrastructure.

What’s left – rump Ukraine – has already been plundered anyway, as Monsanto, Cargill and Dupont have already bagged 17 million hectares of prime, fertile arable land – over half of what Ukraine still possesses. That translates de facto as BlackRock, Blackstone and Vanguard, top agro-business shareholders, owning whatever lands that really matter in non-sovereign Ukraine.

Going forward, by next year the Russians will be applying themselves to cutting off Kiev from NATO weapons supplies. As that unfolds, the Anglo-Americans will eventually move whatever puppet regime remains to Lviv. And Kiev terrorism – conducted by Bandera worshippers – will continue to be the new normal in the capital.

The Kazakh double game

By now it’s abundantly clear this is not a mere war of territorial conquest. It’s certainly part of a War of Economic Corridors – as the US spares no effort to sabotage and smash the multiple connectivity channels of Eurasia’s integration projects, be they Chinese-led (Belt and Road Initiative, BRI) or Russian-led (Eurasian Economic Union, EAEU).

Just like the proxy war in Syria remade large swathes of West Asia (witness, for instance, Erdogan about to meet Assad), the fight in Ukraine, in a microcosm, is a war for the reconfiguration of the current world order, where Europe is a mere self-inflicted victim in a minor subplot. The Big Picture is the emergence of multipolarity.

The proxy war in Syria lasted a decade, and it’s not over yet. The same may happen to the proxy war in Ukraine. As it stands, Russia has taken an area that is roughly equivalent to Hungary and Slovakia combined. That’s still far from “task” fulfillment – and it’s bound to go on until Russia has taken all the land right up to the Dnieper as well as Odessa, connecting it to the breakaway Republic of Transnistria.

It’s enlightening to see how important Eurasian actors are reacting to such geopolitical turbulence. And that brings us to the cases of Kazakhstan and Turkey.

The Telegram channel Rybar (with over 640k followers) and hacker group Beregini revealed in an investigation that Kazakhstan was selling weapons to Ukraine, which translates as de facto treason against their own Russian allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Consider too that Kazakhstan is also part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the EAEU, the two hubs of the Eurasian-led multipolar order.

As a consequence of the scandal, Kazakhstan was forced to officially announce the suspension of all weapons exports until the end of 2023.

It began with hackers unveiling how Technoexport – a Kazakh company – was selling armed personnel carriers, anti-tank systems and munitions to Kiev via Jordanian intermediaries, under the orders of the United Kingdom. The deal itself was supervised by the British military attaché in Nur-Sultan, the Kazakh capital.

Nur-Sultan predictably tried to dismiss the allegations, arguing that Technoexport had not asked for export licenses. That was essentially false: the Rybar team discovered that Technoexport instead used Blue Water Supplies, a Jordanian firm, for those. And the story gets even juicier. All the contract documents ended up being found in the computers of Ukrainian intel.

Moreover, the hackers found out about another deal involving Kazspetsexport, via a Bulgarian buyer, for the sale of Kazakh Su-27s, airplane turbines and Mi-24 helicopters. These would have been delivered to the US, but their final destination was Ukraine.

The icing on this Central Asian cake is that Kazakhstan also sells significant amounts of Russian – not Kazakh – oil to Kiev.

So it seems that Nur-Sultan, perhaps unofficially, somehow contributes to the ‘Afghanization’ in the war in Ukraine. No diplomatic leaks confirm it, of course, but bets can be made Putin had a few things to say about that to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in their recent – cordial – meeting.

The Sultan’s balancing act

Turkey is a way more complex case. Ankara is not a member of the SCO, the CSTO or the EAEU. It is still hedging its bets, calculating on which terms it will join the high-speed rail of Eurasian integration. And yet, via several schemes, Ankara allows Moscow to evade the avalanche of western sanctions and embargoes.

Turkish businesses – literally all of them with close connections to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) – are making a killing, and relishing their new role as crossroads warehouse between Russia and the west. It’s an open boast in Istanbul that what Russia cannot buy from Germany or France they buy “from us.” And in fact several EU companies are in on it.

Ankara’s balancing act is as sweet as a good baklava. It gathers    economic support from a very important partner right in the middle of the endless, very serious Turkish economic debacle. They agree on nearly everything: Russian gas, S-400 missile systems, the building of the Russian nuclear power plant, tourism – Istanbul is crammed with Russians – Turkish fruits and vegetables.

Ankara-Moscow employ sound textbook geopolitics. They play it openly, in full transparence. That does not mean they are allies. It’s just pragmatic business between states. For instance, an economic response may alleviate a geopolitical problem, and vice-versa.

Obviously the collective west has completely forgotten how that normal state-to-state behavior works. It’s pathetic. Turkey gets “denounced” by the west as traitorous – as much as China.

Of course Erdogan also needs to play to the galleries, so every once in a while he says that Crimea should be retaken by Kiev. After all, his companies also do business with Ukraine – Bayraktar drones and otherwise.

And then there’s proselytizing: Crimea remains theoretically ripe for Turkish influence, where Ankara may exploit the notions of pan-Islamism and mostly pan-Turkism, capitalizing on the historical relations between the peninsula and the Ottoman Empire.

Is Moscow worried? Not really. As for those Bayraktar TB2s sold to Kiev, they will continue to be relentlessly reduced to ashes. Nothing personal. Just business.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

A Eurasian jigsaw: BRI and INSTC interconnectivity will complete the puzzle

Shrugging off western obstacles, Eurasia’s ambitious connectivity projects helmed by China and Russia are now progressing deep into Asia’s Heartland

August 17 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Pepe Escobar

SAMARKAND – Interconnecting Inner Eurasia is an exercise in Taoist equilibrium: adding piece by piece, patiently, to a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. It takes time, skill, vision, and of course major breakthroughs.

A key piece was added to the puzzle recently in Uzbekistan, bolstering the links between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC).

The Mirzoyoyev government in Tashkent is deeply engaged in turbo-driving yet another Central Asian transportation corridor: a China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan railway.

That was at the center of a meeting between the chairman of the board of Temir Yullari – the Uzbek national railways – and his counterparts in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, as well as managers of the Chinese Wakhan Corridor logistics company.

In terms of the complex intersection of Xinjiang with Central and South Asia, this is as groundbreaking as it gets, as part of what I call the War of Economic Corridors.

The Uzbeks have pragmatically spun the new corridor as essential to cargo transport under low tariffs – but that goes way beyond mere trade calculations.

Imagine, in practice, cargo containers coming by train from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Osh in Kyrgyzstan and then to Hairatan in Afghanistan. Annual volume is planned to reach 60,000 containers in the first year alone.

That would be crucial to develop Afghanistan’s productive trade – away from the “aid” obsession of the US occupation. Afghan products will finally be able to be easily exported to Central Asian neighbors and also China, for instance to the bustling Kashgar market.

And that stabilizing factor would bolster the Taliban’s coffers, now that the leadership in Kabul is very much interested in buying Russian oil, gas and wheat under vastly attractive discounts.

How to get Afghanistan back in the game

There’s also the possibility of spinning off a road project from this railway that would cross the ultra-strategic Wakhan corridor – something that Beijing has already been contemplating for a few years.

The Wakhan is shared by northern Afghanistan and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan: a long, barren, spectacular geological strip, advancing all the way to Xinjiang.

By now it’s clear not only to Kabul, but also to members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), that the humiliated Americans will not restitute the billions of dollars ‘confiscated’ from the Afghan Central Bank’s reserves – something that would at least mitigate Afghanistan’s current, dire economic crisis and imminent mass famine.

So Plan B is to bolster the – for the moment devastated – Afghan supply and trade chains. Russia will be in charge of security for the whole Central-South Asian crossroads. China will provide the bulk of the financing. And that’s where the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan railway fits in.

China sees a road across the Wakhan – a very complicated proposition – as an extra BRI corridor, linking to the China-repaved Pamir highway in Tajikistan and China-rebuilt Kyrgyzstan roads.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already built an 80 km access road from the Chinese stretch of the Karakoram Highway – before it reaches the Pakistan border – to a mountain pass in the Wakhan, currently only available for cars and jeeps.

The next Chinese move would be to proceed further on down that road by 450 km, all the way to Fayzabad, the provincial capital of Afghan Badakhshan. That would constitute the roadside back-up corridor to the China-Central Asia-Afghanistan railway.

The key point is that the Chinese, as much as the Uzbeks, fully understand the extremely strategic location of Afghanistan: not only as a Central/South Asian crossroads, connecting to key ocean ports in Pakistan and Iran (Karachi, Gwadar, Chabahar) and to the Caspian Sea via Turkmenistan, but also helping landlocked Uzbekistan to connect to markets in South Asia.

That’s all part of the BRI corridor maze; and at the same time interlocks with the INSTC because of the key role of Iran (itself increasingly linked with Russia).

Tehran is already engaged in building a railway to Herat, in western Afghanistan (it already rebuilt the road). Then we will have Afghanistan inbuilt in both BRI (as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC) and the INSTC, giving momentum to yet another project: a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway, to be linked to Iran and thus the INSTC.

From the Karakoram to Pakafuz

The Karakoram highway – the northern part of which was rebuilt by the Chinese – may sooner or later get a railway sister. The Chinese have been thinking about it since 2014.

By 2016, a railway from the China-Pakistan border to Gilgit, in the northern areas and then further down to Peshawar, was enshrined as part of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) blueprint. But then nothing happened: the railway is not included  in the 2017-2030 CPEC Long Term Plan.

That may eventually happen in the next decade: the engineering and logistics are an enormous challenge, as they were for the building of the Karakoram highway.

And then there’s the “follow the money” angle. The top two Chinese banks financing BRI – and thus CPEC – projects are the China Development Bank and the Export Import Bank. Even before Covid they were already toning down their loans. And with Covid, they now have to balance foreign projects with domestic loans for the Chinese economy.

The connectivity priority instead shifted to the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (Pakafuz) railway.

The key stretch of Pakafuz links Peshawar (the capital of the tribal areas) to Kabul. When it’s finished, we’ll see Pakafuz directly interacting with the upcoming China-Central Asia-Afghanistan railway: a new BRI maze directly connected with the INSTC.

All of the above developments reveal their true complexity when we see they are simultaneously inserted into the interaction of BRI and the INSTC and the harmonization between BRI and the Eurasia Economic Union  (EAEU).

Essentially, in geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the relation between BRI and EAEU projects allows Russia and China to cooperate across Eurasia while avoiding a race to reach a dominant position in the Heartland.

For instance, both Beijing and Moscow agree on the supreme need to stabilize Afghanistan and help it to run a sustainable economy.

In parallel, some important BRI members – like Uzbekistan – are not members of the EAEU, but that is compensated by their membership in the SCO. At the same time, the BRI-EAEU entente facilitates economic cooperation between EAEU members such as Kyrgyzstan and China.

Beijing de facto got full approval from Moscow to invest in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, all EAEU members. A future currency or basket of currencies bypassing the US dollar is being jointly discussed between the EAEU – led by Sergei Glazyev – and China.

China focuses on Central/West Asia

There’s no question that the proxy war in Ukraine between the US and Russia has been creating serious problems for BRI expansion. After all, the US war on Russia is also a war against BRI.

The top three BRI corridors from Xinjiang to Europe are the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, and the China-Russia-Mongolia Economic Corridor.

The New Eurasian Land Bridge uses the Trans-Siberian and a second link through Xinjiang-Kazakhstan (via the dry land port of Khorgos) and then Russia. The corridor via Mongolia is in fact two corridors: one from Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei to Inner Mongolia and then Russia; and the other from Dalian and Shenyang and then to Chita in Russia, near the Chinese border.

As it stands, the Chinese are not using Land Bridge and the Mongolian corridor as much as before, mainly because of western sanctions on Russia. The current BRI emphasis is via Central Asia and West Asia, with one branch then bisecting toward the Persian Gulf and on the Mediterranean.

And this is where we see another – highly complex – level of intersection quickly developing: how the increasing importance for China of Central Asia and West Asia mixes with the increasing importance of the INSTC for both Russia and Iran in their trade with India.

Call it the friendly vector of the War of Transportation Corridors.

The hardcore vector – real war – is already being deployed by the usual suspects. They are predictably bent on destabilizing and/or smashing any node of BRI/INSTC/EAEU/SCO Eurasia integration, by any means necessary: be it in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Balochistan, the Central Asian “stans” or Xinjiang.

As far as the major Eurasian actors are concerned, that’s bound to be an Anglo-American train to nowhere.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

The Second Coming of the Heartland

August 14, 2022

by Pepe Escobar, posted with the author’s permission and widely cross-posted

It’s tempting to visualize the overwhelming collective West debacle as a rocket, faster than free fall, plunging into the black void maelstrom of complete socio-political breakdown.

The End of (Their) History turns out to be a fast-forward historical process bearing staggering ramifications: way more profound than mere self-appointed “elites” – via their messenger boys/girls – dictating a Dystopia engineered by austerity and financialization: what they chose to brand as a Great Reset and then, major fail intervening, The Great Narrative.

Financialization of everything means total marketization of Life itself. In his latest book, No-Cosas: Quiebras del Mundo de Hoy (in Spanish, no English translation yet), the foremost German contemporary philosopher (Byung-Chul Han, who happens to be Korean), analyzes how Information Capitalism, unlike industrial capitalism, converts also the immaterial into merchandise: “Life itself acquires the form of merchandise (…) the difference between culture and commerce disappears. Institutions of culture are presented as profitable brands.”

The most toxic consequence is that “total commercialization and mercantilization of culture had the effect of destroying the community (…) Community as merchandise is the end of community.”

China’s foreign policy under Xi Jinping proposes the idea of a community of shared future for mankind, essentially a geopolitical and geoeconomic project. Yet China still has not amassed enough soft power to translate that culturally, and seduce vast swathes of the world into it: that especially concerns the West, for which Chinese culture, history and philosophies are virtually incomprehensible.

In Inner Asia, where I am now, a revived glorious past may offer other instances of “shared community”. A glittering example is the Shaki Zinda necropolis in Samarkand.

Afrasiab – the ancient settlement, pre-Samarkand – had been destroyed by the Genghis Khan hordes in 1221. The only building that was preserved was the city’s main shrine: Shaki Zinda.

Much later, in the mid-15th century, star astronomer Ulugh Beg, himself the grandson of Turkic-Mongol “Conqueror of the World” Timur, unleashed no less than a Cultural Renaissance: he summoned architects and craftsmen from all corners of the Timurid empire and the Islamic world to work into what became a de facto creative artistic lab.

The Avenue of 44 Tombs at Shaki Zinda represents the masters of different schools harmoniously creating a unique synthesis of styles in Islamic architecture.

The most remarkable décor at Shaki Zinda are stalactites, hung in clusters in the upper parts of portal niches. An early 18th century traveler described them as “magnificent stalactites, hanging like stars above the mausoleum, make it clear about the eternity of the sky and our frailty.” Stalactites in the 15th century were called “muqarnas”: that means, figuratively, “starry sky”.

The Sheltering (Community) Sky

The Shaki Zinda complex is now at the center of a willful push by the Uzbekistan government to restore Samarkand to its former glory. The centerpiece, trans-historical concepts are “harmony” and “community” – and that reaches way beyond Islam.

As a sharp contrast, the inestimable Alastair Crooke has illustrated the death of Eurocentrism alluding to Lewis Carroll and Yeats: only through the looking glass we can see the full contours of the tawdry spectacle of narcissistic self-obsession and self-justification offered by “the worst”, still so “full of passionate intensity”, as depicted by Yeats.

And yet, unlike Yeats, the best now do not “lack all conviction”. They may be few, ostracized by cancel culture, but they do see the “rough beast, its hour come out at last, slouching towards…” Brussels (not Jerusalem) “to be born”.

This unelected gaggle of insufferable mediocrities – from von der Leyden and Borrell to that piece of Norwegian wood Stoltenberg – may dream they live in the pre-1914 era, when Europe was at the political center. Yet now not only “the center cannot hold” (Yeats) but Eurocrat-infested Europe has been definitely engulfed by the maelstrom, an irrelevant political backwater seriously flirting with reversion to 12th century status.

The physical aspects of the Fall – austerity, inflation, no hot showers, freezing to death to support neo-Nazis in Kiev – has been preceded, and no Christianized imagery need apply, by the fires of sulphur and brimstone of a Spiritual Fall. The transatlantic masters of those parrots posing as “elites” could never come up with any idea to sell to the Global South centered on harmony and much less “community”.

What they sell, via their Unanimous Narrative, actually their take on “We Are the World”, is variations of “you will own nothing and be happy”. Worse: you will have to pay for it – dearly. And you have no right to dream of any transcendence – irrespective if you’re a follower of Rumi, the Tao, shamanism or Prophet Muhammad.

The most visible shock troops of this reductionist Western neo-nihilism – obscured by the fog of “equality”, “human rights” and “democracy” – are the thugs being swiftly denazified in Ukraine, sporting their tattoos and pentagrams.

The dawn of a new Enlightenment

The Collective West Self-Justification Show staged to obliterate its ritualized suicide offers no hint of transcending sacrifice implied in a ceremonial seppuku. All they do is to wallow in the adamant refusal to admit they could be seriously mistaken.

How would anyone dare to deride the set of “values” derived from the Enlightenment? If you don’t prostrate yourself in front of this glittering cultural altar, you’re just a barbarian set to be slandered, law-fared, canceled, persecuted, sanctioned and – HIMARS to the rescue – bombed.

We still do not have a post-Tik Tok Tintoretto to depict the collective West’s multi-wallowing in Dante-esque chambers of pop Hell. What we do have, and must endure, day after day, is the kinetic battle between their “Great Narrative”, or narratives, and pure and simple reality. Their obsession with the need for virtual reality to always “win” is pathological: after all the only activity they excel in is manufacturing fake reality. Such a pity that Baudrillard and Umberto Eco are not among us anymore to unmask their tawdry shenanigans.

Does that make any difference across vast swathes of Eurasia? Of course not. We just need to keep up with the dizzying succession of bilateral meetings, deals, and progressive interaction of BRI, SCO, EAEU, BRICS+ and other multilateral organizations to get a glimpse of how the new world-system is being configured.

In Samarkand, surrounded by mesmerizing instances of Timurid art coupled with a development boom that brings to mind the East Asian miracle of the early 1990s, it’s plain to see how the heart of the Heartland is back with a vengeance – and is bound to dispatch the pleonexia-afflicted West to the swamp of Irrelevancy.

I leave you with a psychedelic sunset facing the Registan, at the razor’s edge of a new sort of Enlightenment that is leading the Heartland towards a reality-based version of Shangri-La, privileging harmony, tolerance and most of all, the sense of community.

How a missile in Kabul connects to a Speaker in Taipei

August 03 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

Source

By Pepe Escobar

This is the way the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) ends, over and over again: not with a bang, but a whimper.

Two Hellfire R9-X missiles launched from a MQ9 Reaper drone on the balcony of a house in Kabul. The target was Ayman Al-Zawahiri with a $25 million bounty on his head. The once invisible leader of ‘historic’ Al-Qaeda since 2011, is finally terminated.

All of us who spent years of our lives, especially throughout the 2000s, writing about and tracking Al-Zawahiri know how US ‘intel’ played every trick in the book – and outside the book – to find him. Well, he never exposed himself on the balcony of a house, much less in Kabul.

Another disposable asset

Why now? Simple. Not useful anymore – and way past his expiration date. His fate was sealed as a tawdry foreign policy ‘victory’ – the remixed Obama ‘Osama bin Laden moment’ that won’t even register across most of the Global South. After all, a perception reigns that George W. Bush’s GWOT has long metastasized into the “rules-based,” actually “economic sanctions-based” international order.

Cue to 48 hours later, when hundreds of thousands across the west were glued to the screen of flighradar24.com (until the website was hacked), tracking “SPAR19” – the US Air Force jet carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – as it slowly crossed Kalimantan from east to west, the Celebes Sea, went northward parallel to the eastern Philippines, and then made a sharp swing westwards towards Taiwan, in a spectacular waste of jet fuel to evade the South China Sea.

No “Pearl Harbor moment”

Now compare it with hundreds of millions of Chinese who are not on Twitter but on Weibo, and a leadership in Beijing that is impervious to western-manufactured pre-war, post-modern hysteria.

Anyone who understands Chinese culture knew there would never be a “missile on a Kabul balcony” moment over Taiwanese airspace. There would never be a replay of the perennial neocon wet dream: a “Pearl Harbor moment.” That’s simply not the Chinese way.

The day after, as the narcissist Speaker, so proud of accomplishing her stunt, was awarded the Order of Auspicious Clouds for her promotion of bilateral US-Taiwan relations, the Chinese Foreign Minister issued a sobering comment: the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland is a historical inevitability.

That’s how you focus, strategically, in the long game.

What happens next had already been telegraphed, somewhat hidden in a Global Times report. Here are the two key points:

Point 1: “China will see it as a provocative action permitted by the Biden administration rather than a personal decision made by Pelosi.”

That’s exactly what President Xi Jinping had personally told the teleprompt-reading White House tenant during a tense phone call last week. And that concerns the ultimate red line.

Xi is now reaching the exact same conclusion reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year: the United States is “non-agreement capable,” and there’s no point in expecting it to respect diplomacy and/or rule of law in international relations.

Point 2 concerns the consequences, reflecting a consensus among top Chinese analysts that mirrors the consensus at the Politburo: “The Russia-Ukraine crisis has just let the world see the consequence of pushing a major power into a corner… China will steadily speed up its process of reunification and declare the end of US domination of the world order.”

Chess, not checkers

The Sinophobic matrix predictably dismissed Xi’s reaction to the fact on the ground – and in the skies – in Taiwan, complete with rhetoric exposing the “provocation by American reactionaries” and the “uncivilized campaign of the imperialists.”

This may be seen as Xi playing Chairman Mao. He may have a point, but the rhetoric is pro forma. The crucial fact is that Xi was personally humiliated by Washington and so was the Communist Party of China (CPC), a major loss of face – something that in Chinese culture is unforgivable. And all that compounded with a US tactical victory.

So the response will be inevitable, and it will be classic Sun Tzu: calculated, precise, tough, long-term and strategic – not tactical. That takes time because Beijing is not ready yet in an array of mostly technological domains. Putin had to wait years for Russia to act decisively. China’s time will come.

For now, what’s clear is that as much as with Russia-US relations last February, the Rubicon has been crossed in the US-China sphere.

The price of collateral damage

The Central Bank of Afghanistan bagged a paltry $40 million in cash as ‘humanitarian aid’ soon after that missile on a balcony in Kabul.

So that was the price of the Al-Zawahiri operation, intermediated by the currently US-aligned Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). So cheap.

The MQ-9 Reaper drone carrying the two Hellfire R9X that killed Al-Zawahiri had to fly over Pakistani airspace – taking off from a US base in the Persian Gulf, traversing the Arabian Sea, and flying over Balochistan to enter Afghanistan from the south. The Americans may have also got human intelligence as a bonus.

A 2003 deal, according to which Islamabad facilitates air corridors for US military flights, may have expired with the American withdrawal debacle last August, but could always be revived.

No one should expect a deep dive investigation on what exactly the ISI – historically very close to the Taliban – gave to Washington on a silver platter.

Dodgy dealings

Cue to an intriguing phone call last week between the all-powerful Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, and US deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Bajwa was lobbying for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to release a crucial loan at the soonest, otherwise Pakistan will default on its foreign debt.

Were deposed former Prime Minister Imran Khan still in power, he would never have allowed that phone call.

The plot thickens, as Al-Zawahiri’s Kabul digs in a posh neighborhood is owned by a close advisor to Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the “terrorist” (US-defined) Haqqani network and currently Taliban Interior Minister. The Haqqani network, needless to add, was always very cozy with the ISI.

And then, three months ago, we had the head of ISI, Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, meeting with Biden’s National Security Advisor  Jake Sullivan in Washington – allegedly to get their former, joint, covert, counter-terrorism machinery back on track.

Once again, the only question revolves around the terms of the “offer you can’t refuse” – and that may be connected to IMF relief. Under these circumstances, Al-Zawahiri was just paltry collateral damage.

Sun Tzu deploys his six blades

Following Speaker Pelosi’s caper in Taiwan, collateral damage is bound to multiply like the blades of a R9-X missile.

The first stage is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) already having engaged in live fire drills, with massive shelling in the direction of the Taiwan Strait out of Fujian province.

The first sanctions are on too, against two Taiwanese funds. Export of sable to Taiwan is forbidden; sable is an essential commodity for the electronics industry – so that will ratchet up the pain dial in high-tech sectors of the global economy.

Chinese CATL, the world’s largest fuel cell and lithium-ion battery maker, is indefinitely postponing the building of a massive $5 billion, 10,000-employee factory that would manufacture batteries for electric vehicles across North America, supplying Tesla and Ford among others.

So the Sun Tzu maneuvering ahead will essentially concentrate on a progressive economic blockade of Taiwan, the imposition of a partial no-fly zone, severe restrictions of maritime traffic, cyber warfare, and the Big Prize: inflicting pain on the US economy.

The War on Eurasia

For Beijing, playing the long game means the acceleration of the process involving an array of nations across Eurasia and beyond, trading in commodities and manufactured products in their own currencies. They will be progressively testing a new system that will see the advent of a BRICS+/SCO/Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) basket of currencies, and in the near future, a new reserve currency.

The Speaker’s escapade was concomitant to the definitive burial of the “war on terror” cycle and its metastasis into the “war on Eurasia” era.

It may have unwittingly provided the last missing cog to turbo-charge the complex machinery of the Russia-China strategic partnership. That’s all there is to know about the ‘strategic’ capability of the US political ruling class. And this time no missile on a balcony will be able to erase the new era.

Going to Samarkand

July 31, 2022

By Pepe Escobar, posted with the author’s permission and widely cross-posted

The SCO and other pan-Eurasian organizations play a completely different – respectful, consensual – ball game. And that’s why they are catching the full attention of most of the Global South.

The meeting of the SCO Ministerial Council  in Tashkent this past Friday involved some very serious business. That was the key preparatory reunion previous to the SCO summit in mid-September in fabled Samarkand, where the SCO will release a much-awaited “Declaration of Samarkand”.

What happened in Tashkent was predictably unreported across the collective West and still not digested across great swathes of the East.

So once again it’s up to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to cut to the chase. The world’s foremost diplomat – amidst the tragic drama of the American-concocted Era of Non-Diplomacy, Threats and Sanctions – has singled out the two overlapping main themes propelling the SCO as one of the key organizations on the path towards Eurasia integration.

  1. Interconnectivity and “the creation of efficient transport corridors”. The War of Economic Corridors is one of the key features of the 21st
  2. Drawing “the roadmap for the gradual increase in the share of national currencies in mutual settlements.”

Yet it was in the Q@A session that Lavrov for all practical purposes detailed all the major trends in the current, incandescent state of international relations. These are the key takeaways.

How comfortable are you with the US dollar?

Africa: “We agreed that we will submit to the leaders for consideration proposals on specific actions to switch to settlements in national currencies. I think that everyone will now think about it. Africa already has a similar experience: common currencies in some sub-regional structures, which, nevertheless, by and large, are pegged to Western ones. From 2023, a continental free trade zone will start functioning on the African continent. A logical step would be to reinforce it with currency agreements.”

Belarus – and many others – eager to join the SCO: “There is a broad consensus on the Belarusian candidacy (…) I felt it today. There are a number of contenders for the status of observer, dialogue partner. Some Arab countries show such interest, as do Armenia, Azerbaijan and a number of Asian states.”

Grain diplomacy: “In regard to the issue of Russian grain, it was the American sanctions that did not allow the full implementation of the signed contracts due to the restrictions imposed: Russian ships are prohibited from entering a number of ports, there is a ban on foreign ships entering Russian ports to pick up export cargo, and insurance rates have gone up (…) Financial chains are also interrupted by illegitimate US and EU sanctions. In particular, Rosselkhozbank, through which all the main settlements for food exports pass, was one of the first to be included in the sanctions list. UN Secretary General A. Guterres has committed to removing these barriers to addressing the global food crisis. Let’s see.”

Taiwan: “We do not discuss this with our Chinese colleague. Russia’s position on having only one China remains unchanged. The United States periodically confirms the same line in words, but in practice their ‘deeds’ do not always coincide with words. We have no problem upholding the principle of Chinese sovereignty.”

Should the SCO abandon the US dollar? “Each SCO country must decide for itself how comfortable it feels to rely on the dollar, taking into account the absolute unreliability of this currency for possible abuses. The Americans have used this more than once in relation to a number of states.”

Why the SCO matters: “There are no leaders and followers in the SCO. There are no situations in the organization like in NATO, when the US and its closest allies impose one line or another on all other members of the alliance. In the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the situation that we are currently seeing in the EU does not arise: sovereign countries are literally being ‘knocked out’, demanding that they either stop buying gas or reduce its consumption in violation of national plans and interests.”

Lavrov was also keen to stress how “other structures in the Eurasian space, for example, the EAEU and BRICS, are based and operate on the same principles” of the SCO. And he referred to the crucial cooperation with the 10 member-nations of ASEAN.

Thus he set the stage for the clincher: “All these processes, in interconnection, help to form the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly spoken about. We see in them a benefit for the entire population of the Eurasian continent.”

Those Afghan and Arab lives

The real big story of the Raging Twenties  is how the special military operation (SMO) in Ukraine de facto kick-started “all these processes”, as Lavrov mentioned, simultaneously leading towards inexorable Eurasia integration.

Once again he had to recall two basic facts that continue to escape any serious analysis across the collective West:

Fact 1: “All our proposals for their removal [referring to NATO-expansion assets] on the basis of the principle of mutual respect for security interests were ignored by the US, the EU, and NATO.”

Fact 2: “When the Russian language was banned in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian government promoted neo-Nazi theories and practices, the West did not oppose, but, on the contrary, encouraged the actions of the Kyiv regime and admired Ukraine as a ‘stronghold of democracy.’ Western countries supplied the Kyiv regime with weapons and planned the construction of naval bases on Ukrainian territory. All these actions were openly aimed at containing the Russian Federation. We have been warning for 10 years that this is unacceptable.”

It’s also fitting that Lavrov would once again put Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in context: “Let us recall the example of Afghanistan, when even wedding ceremonies were subjected to air strikes, or Iraq and Libya, where statehood was completely destroyed, and many human lives were sacrificed. When states that easily pursued such a policy are now making a fuss about Ukraine, I can conclude that the lives of Afghans and Arabs mean nothing to Western governments. It’s unfortunate. Double standards, these racist and colonial instincts must be eliminated.”

Putin, Lavrov, Patrushev, Madvedev have all been stressing lately the racist, neocolonial character of the NATOstan matrix. The SCO and other pan-Eurasian organizations play a completely different – respectful, consensual – ball game. And that’s why they are catching the full attention of most of the Global South. Next stop: Samarkand.

The power troika trumps Biden in West Asia

The presidents of Russia, Iran, and Turkey convened to discuss critical issues pertaining to West Asia, with the illegal US occupation of Syria a key talking point

July 20 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

Oil and gas, wheat and grains, missiles and drones – the hottest topics in global geopolitics today – were all on the agenda in Tehran this week.

By Pepe Escobar

The Tehran summit uniting Iran-Russia-Turkey was a fascinating affair in more ways than one. Ostensibly about the Astana peace process in Syria, launched in 2017, the summit joint statement duly noted that Iran, Russia and (recently rebranded) Turkiye will continue, “cooperating to eliminate terrorists” in Syria and “won’t accept new facts in Syria in the name of defeating terrorism.”

That’s a wholesale rejection of the “war on terror” exceptionalist unipolarity that once ruled West Asia.

Standing up to the global sheriff

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his own speech, was even more explicit. He stressed “specific steps to promote the intra-Syrian inclusive political dialogue” and most of called a spade a spade: “The western states led by the US are strongly encouraging separatist sentiment in some areas of the country and plundering its natural resources with a view to ultimately pulling the Syrian state apart.”

So there will be “extra steps in our trilateral format” aimed at “stabilizing the situation in those areas” and crucially, “returning control to the legitimate government of Syria.” For better or for worse, the days of imperial plunder will be over.

The bilateral meetings on the summit’s sidelines – Putin/Raisi and Putin/Erdogan – were even more intriguing. Context is key here: the Tehran gathering took place after Putin’s visit to Turkmenistan in late June for the 6th Caspian summit, where all the littoral nations, Iran included, were present, and after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s travels in Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, where he met all his Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) counterparts.

Moscow’s moment

So we see Russian diplomacy carefully weaving its geopolitical tapestry from West Asia to Central Asia – with everybody and his neighbor eager to talk and to listen to Moscow. As it stands, the Russia-Turkey entente cordiale tends to lean towards conflict management, and is strong on trade relations. Iran-Russia is a completely different ball game: much more of a strategic partnership.

So it’s hardly a coincidence that the National Oil Company of Iran (NIOC), timed to the Tehran summit, announced the signing of a $40 billion strategic cooperation agreement with Russia’s Gazprom. That’s the largest foreign investment in the history of Iran’s energy industry – badly needed since the early 2000s. Seven deals worth $4 billion apply to the development of oil fields; others focus on the construction of new export gas pipelines and LNG projects.

Kremlin advisor Yury Ushakov deliciously leaked that Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in their private meeting, “discussed conceptual issues.” Translation: he means grand strategy, as in the evolving, complex process of Eurasia integration, in which the three key nodes are Russia, Iran and China, now intensifying their interconnection. The Russia-Iran strategic partnership largely mirrors the key points of the China-Iran strategic partnership.

Iran says ‘no’ to NATO

Khamenei, on NATO, did tell it like it is: “If the road is open for NATO, then the organization sees no borders. If it had not been stopped in Ukraine, then after a while the alliance would have started a war under the pretext of Crimea.”

There were no leaks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) impasse between the US and Iran – but it’s clear, based on the recent negotiations in Vienna, that Moscow will not interfere with Tehran’s nuclear decisions. Not only are Tehran-Moscow-Beijing fully aware of who’s preventing the JCPOA from getting back on track, they also see how this counter-productive stalling process prevents the collective west from badly needed access to Iranian oil.

Then there’s the weapons front. Iran is one of the world’s leaders in drone production: Pelican, Arash, Homa, Chamrosh, Jubin, Ababil, Bavar, recon drones, attack drones, even kamikaze drones, cheap and effective, mostly deployed from naval platforms in West Asia.

Tehran’s official position is not to supply weapons to nations at war – which would in principle invalidate dodgy US “intel” on their supply to Russia in Ukraine. Yet that could always happen under the radar, considering that Tehran is very much interested in buying Russian aerial defense systems and state of the art fighter jets. After the end of the UN Security Council-enforced embargo, Russia can sell whatever conventional weapons to Iran it sees fit.

Russian military analysts are fascinated by the conclusions Iranians reached when it was established they would stand no chance against a NATO armada; essentially they bet on pro-level guerrilla war (a lesson learned from Afghanistan). In Syria, Iraq and Yemen they deployed trainers to guide villagers in their fight against Salafi-jihadis; produced tens of thousands of large-caliber sniper rifles, ATGMs, and thermals; and of course perfected their drone assembly lines (with excellent cameras to surveil US positions).

Not to mention that simultaneously the Iranians were building quite capable long-range missiles. No wonder Russian military analysts estimate there’s much to learn tactically from the Iranians – and not only on the drone front.

The Putin-Sultan ballet

Now to the Putin-Erdogan get together – always an attention-grabbing geopolitical ballet, especially considering the Sultan has not yet decided to hop on the Eurasia integration high-speed train.

Putin diplomatically “expressed gratitude” for the discussions on food and grain issues, while reiterating that “not all issues on the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports are resolved, but progress is made.”

Putin was referring to Turkiye’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who earlier this week assured that setting up an operations center in Istanbul, establishing joint controls at the port exit and arrival points, and carefully monitoring the navigational safety on the transfer routes are issues that may be solved in the next few days.

Apparently Putin-Erdogan also discussed Nagorno-Karabakh (no details).

What a few leaks certainly did not reveal is that on Syria, for all practical purposes, the situation is blocked. That favors Russia – whose main priority as it stands is Donbass. Wily Erdogan knows it – and that’s why he may have tried to extract some “concessions” on “the Kurdish question” and Nagorno-Karabakh. Whatever Putin, Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev may really think about Erdogan, they certainly evaluate how priceless is to cultivate such an erratic partner capable of driving the collective west totally bonkers.

Istanbul this summer has been turned into a sort of Third Rome, at least for expelled-from-Europe Russian tourists: they are everywhere. Yet the most crucial geoeconomic development these past few months is that the western-provoked collapse of trade/supply lines along the borders between Russia and the EU – from the Baltic to the Black Sea – finally highlighted the wisdom and economic sense of the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INTSC): a major Russia-Iran-India geopolitical and geoeconomic integration success.

When Moscow talks to Kiev, it talks via Istanbul. NATO, as the Global South well knows, does not do diplomacy. So any possibility of dialogue between Russians and a few educated westerners takes place in Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the UAE. West Asia as well as the Caucasus, incidentally, did not subscribe to the western sanctions hysteria against Russia.

Say farewell to the ‘teleprompter guy’

Now compare all of the above with the recent visit to the region by the so-called “leader of the free world,” who merrily alternates between shaking hands with invisible people to reading – literally – whatever is scrolling on a teleprompter. We’re talking of US President Joe Biden, of course.

Fact: Biden threatened Iran with military strikes and as a mere supplicant, begged the Saudis to pump more oil to offset the “turbulence” in the global energy markets caused by the collective west’s sanction hysteria. Context: the glaring absence of any vision or anything even resembling a draft of foreign policy plan for West Asia.

So oil prices duly jumped upward after Biden’s trip: Brent crude rose more than four percent to $105 a barrel, bringing prices back to above $100 after a lull of several months.

The heart of the matter is that if OPEC or OPEC+ (which includes Russia) ever decide to increase their oil supplies, they will do it based on their internal deliberations, and not under exceptionalist pressure.

As for the imperial threat of military strikes on Iran, it qualifies as pure dementia. The whole Persian Gulf – not to mention the whole of West Asia – knows that were US/Israel to attack Iran, fierce retaliation would simply evaporate with the region’s energy production, with apocalyptic consequences including the collapse of trillions of dollars in derivatives.

Biden then had the gall to say, “We have made progress in strengthening our relations with the Gulf states. We will not leave a vacuum for Russia and China to fill in the Middle East”.

Well, in real life it is the “indispensable nation” that has self-morphed into a vacuum. Only bought-and-paid for Arab vassals – most of them monarchs – believe in the building of an “Arab NATO” (copyright Jordan’s King Abdullah) to take on Iran. Russia and China are already all over the place in West Asia and beyond.

De-Dollarization, not just Eurasian integration

It’s not only the new logistical corridor from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Astrakhan and then, via the Caspian, to Enzeli in Iran and on to Mumbai that is shaking things up. It’s about increasing bilateral trade that bypasses the US dollar. It’s about BRICS+, which Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are dying to be part of. It’s about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which formally accepts Iran as a full member this coming September (and soon Belarus as well). It’s about BRICS+, the SCO, China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) interconnected in their path towards a Greater Eurasia Partnership.

West Asia may still harbor a small collection of imperial vassals with zero sovereignty who depend on the west’s financial and military ‘assistance,’ but that’s the past. The future is now – with Top Three BRICS (Russia, India, China) slowly but surely coordinating their overlapping strategies across West Asia, with Iran involved in all of them.

And then there’s the Big Global Picture: whatever the circumvolutions and silly schemes of the US-concocted “oil price cap” variety, the fact is that Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela – the top powerful energy-producing nations – are absolutely in sync: on Russia, on the collective west, and on the needs of a real multipolar world.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

To Hell or Not to Hell?

July 16, 2022

Source

By Batiushka

The Barbarian West

By the fifth century AD the barbarians had moved into Western Europe in significant numbers, bringing about the fall of Old Rome in what is now Italy in 410. Curiously, the barbarianism they brought with them, combined with the systematic brutality of Old Rome by the most brutal of them, the Franks, survives today. Indeed, we can state quite clearly that many in Western Europe have remained barbarians, knowingly or unknowingly supporting the ‘Frankish’ warlord aristocracy/ oligarchy which administrates (but not controls –control is from elsewhere) the Western world till this day. At first the barbarians took over only Western Europe, but then they expanded to its immediate neighbours in Eastern Europe, the Near East and along the African coasts. However, from 1492 on there began the Western European occupation and exploitation of the New Worlds. Barbarianism had literally gone global.

As we have said, the Franks (literally meaning ‘freemen’, that is, not slaves) (1) led the field among the barbarians, even renaming one country, Gaul, after themselves, as ‘France’. The word ‘Frank’ was generalised after Charlemagne who in the late eighth century massacred other less violent barbarians, the Saxons. Charlemagne founded a ‘Holy Roman Empire’ (in reality an Unholy Frankish Empire), whose intellectuals had been trained by Jews in Spain. Thus, tenth-century Muslims used the word ‘Frank’ to mean an ‘aggressive Western European’, as did eleventh-century Orthodox Christians in New Rome. In 1100 Baldwin I was enthroned in Jerusalem as the ‘first King of the Franks’. In the late eleventh century, Welsh chroniclers called the invading Normans ‘Franks’, as did the Irish and the Scots in the twelfth century, as did the Spanish and Portuguese French invaders, and did Poles and Czechs German settlers. In the sixteenth century the Chinese called marauding Portuguese and Spanish ‘Fo-lang-ki’, taken from the Arabic ‘Faranga’, from the selfsame word ‘Frank’.

Soon after 1492 the second of the two Spanish Borgia/Borja Popes, Rodrigo Borgia, alias Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503), defined Non-Catholic European men as non-humans, permitting them to be robbed, enslaved and killed. In the twentieth century, this misogynistic and racist Western culture graciously extended its ‘superiority’ to Western women, then to the Jews, calling their ‘Western civilisation’ ‘Judeo-Christian’, and then extended it to all races (2), but on one condition: that these newcomers accept ‘Western values’ such as ‘democracy’ = a new word for Western supremacy, that is, Nazism. Thus, today Kiev’s barbarian troops, the New Vandals, are doing the same as Western barbarian marauders, the Old Vandals, genociding all who do not accept their Nazi ideology. Russia is fighting the West today, because the barbarians are at its gates in the Ukraine – again, just as they were eighty years ago.

In the Ukraine

In recent months, here and there in various Western European countries, I have seen two or three flags being flown together, the EU One Ring ‘to rule them all’, sometimes the local national flag, and beneath it the Ukrainian one. This represents Western supremacism, the Nazi ideology which proclaims the long-desired Westernisation of the Ukraine. It says that any who do not accept ‘Western values’ are to be destroyed or, as they say now, ’cancelled’ – with Western fake news, Western arms and Western death.

Who are today’s aristocratic warlords, today’s Franks, Lombards, Goths, Vandals and Vikings? They are Stoltenberg, Biden, Johnson, von der Leyen, Blinken, Nuland, Kagan, Scholz, Macron and all the other knowing and unknowing neocons who fly these flags together. The barbarians were there sacking civilisation in August 476 and in August 1914, they were there sacking civilisation in late 1492 and in early 2022. However, the world that started on 12 October 1492 died on 24 February 2022 and a new era has begun.

On 14 July 2022 the Serbian President Vucic said: ‘Now the whole Western world is at war with Russia through Ukrainian intermediaries and today’s armed conflict can almost be called a world war’. ‘I know what awaits us. As soon as Vladimir Putin has finished his work in Seversk, Bakhmut and Soledar and then reaches the second line in Slaviansk-Kramatorsk-Avdeevka, he will make an offer. And if they (the West) don’t accept – and they don’t intend to – we shall take the road to hell’.

After the Barbarians

So what happens if the Western world chooses not to go to hell? What happens after the barbarians, after the final demise of the myths of ‘The West and the Rest’ and ‘The West is Best’? At the moment, the alternative is an alphabet soup of BRI, BRICS, EAEU, SCO etc. BRICS itself is becoming old-fashioned, as it may well soon be joined by Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and maybe Argentina and then, who knows? Does that make BRICSITESAA? An alternative name like ‘The Anti-West’ is purely reactive, negative and refers to the 530 years before 24 February 2022. It is especially inappropriate since the EU is clearly collapsing and it is obvious that, at the very least, countries like Serbia, Hungary (whom the EU elite wishes to expel from the EU) and Germany, if it is to survive, will be joining the to-be-renamed BRICS.

Perhaps we could call the future bloc ‘The Free World’, but that also makes too close a reference to the past. We of course do not know the future name. But we could suggest some more realistic names like ‘The International Alliance’ (IA), or, ‘The Free Alliance of Sovereign Peoples’ (FASP). Such a bloc could help settle long-standing historic injustices, through the formation of new countries, new borders, new constitutions and new prosperity. The fact is that the world has not yet been decolonised. You can still see straight lines on maps, usually the work of tidy-minded colonial bureaucrats a century or so ago in London and Paris, who had little concept of history and geography, of rivers, mountains and the languages of different ethnicities, let alone of humanity, justice and prosperity.

There are still dispossessed peoples waiting to get or get back their own sovereign homelands, such as those in Scotland, Wales, Carpatho-Russia, Abkhazia, Ossetia, Kurdistan, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico. There are still peoples waiting to return to their real homelands, such as those in Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, Taiwan, American Samoa, Belize, French Guiana, the Falklands. There are still artificial countries which may well disappear entirely or else be federated, such as: USA, UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Kosovo, Ukraine, Morocco, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Israel, Lebanon, Kuwait, North Korea, South Korea. Finally, there are countries with disputed borders, not least in Europe, such as Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, the Jordan, Yemen, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India. If we are to go not towards Hell, let us go to Free and Sovereign Nations, lands for native peoples, and not for colonial powers, and let there be a World Alliance of Free and Sovereign Peoples.

Notes:

1. We are reminded of the anthem of eighteenth-century British slave-traders and slave-owners that they, at least, would ‘never, never, never be slaves’. Of course they would never be slaves, they were ‘Franks’, aggressive Western Europeans.

2. Just as most in the twenty-first century had no problem with Obama (a pale brown, definitely not a black, man and the useful and self-obsessed idiot who started all the problems in the Ukraine) becoming US President, so few have a problem with the idea that a man of Indian extraction is the current frontrunner to be the next UK Prime Minister. After all, the candidacy of Rishi (called by some ‘Richy’) Sunak, until recently UK Chancellor/Minister of Finance, from an Indian/East African merchant family, worked appropriately for Goldman Sachs, married the daughter of the sixth richest billionaire in India, their combined fortune approaching $1 billion, Member of Parliament for a town called, strangely enough, ‘Richmond’, is unsurprisingly supported by the British Establishment’s ‘Financial Times’.

In Eurasia, the War of Economic Corridors is in full swing

July 15, 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

Source

Mega Eurasian organizations and their respective projects are now converging at record speed, with one global pole way ahead of the other.

By Pepe Escobar

The War of Economic Corridors is now proceeding full speed ahead, with the game-changing first cargo flow of goods from Russia to India via the International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) already in effect.

Very few, both in the east and west, are aware of how this actually has long been in the making: the Russia-Iran-India agreement for implementing a shorter and cheaper Eurasian trade route via the Caspian Sea (compared to the Suez Canal), was first signed in 2000, in the pre-9/11 era.

The INSTC in full operational mode signals a powerful hallmark of Eurasian integration – alongside the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and last but not least, what I described as “Pipelineistan” two decades ago.

Caspian is key

Let’s have a first look on how these vectors are interacting.

The genesis of the current acceleration lies in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital, for the 6th Caspian Summit. This event not only brought the evolving Russia-Iran strategic partnership to a deeper level, but crucially, all five Caspian Sea littoral states agreed that no NATO warships or bases will be allowed on site.

That essentially configures the Caspian as a virtual Russian lake, and in a minor sense, Iranian – without compromising the interests of the three “stans,” Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. For all practical purposes, Moscow has tightened its grip on Central Asia a notch.

As the Caspian Sea is connected to the Black Sea by canals off the Volga built by the former USSR, Moscow can always count on a reserve navy of small vessels – invariably equipped with powerful missiles – that may be transferred to the Black Sea in no time if necessary.

Stronger trade and financial links with Iran now proceed in tandem with binding the three “stans” to the Russian matrix. Gas-rich republic Turkmenistan for its part has been historically idiosyncratic – apart from committing most of its exports to China.

Under an arguably more pragmatic young new leader, President Serdar Berdimuhamedow, Ashgabat may eventually opt to become a member of the SCO and/or the EAEU.

Caspian littoral state Azerbaijan on the other hand presents a complex case: an oil and gas producer eyed by the European Union (EU) to become an alternative energy supplier to Russia – although this is not happening anytime soon.

The West Asia connection

Iran’s foreign policy under President Ebrahim Raisi is clearly on a Eurasian and Global South trajectory. Tehran will be formally incorporated into the SCO as a full member in the upcoming summit in Samarkand in September, while its formal application to join the BRICS has been filed.

Purnima Anand, head of the BRICS International Forum, has stated that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also very much keen on joining BRICS. Should that happen, by 2024 we could be on our way to a powerful West Asia, North Africa hub firmly installed inside one of the key institutions of the multipolar world.

As Putin heads to Tehran next week for trilateral Russia, Iran, Turkey talks, ostensibly about Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is bound to bring up the subject of BRICS.

Tehran is operating on two parallel vectors. In the event the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is revived – a quite dim possibility as it stands, considering the latest shenanigans in Vienna and Doha – that would represent a tactical victory. Yet moving towards Eurasia is on a whole new strategic level.

In the INSTC framework, Iran will make maximum good use of the geostrategically crucial port of Bandar Abbas – straddling the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

Yet as much as it may be portrayed as a major diplomatic victory, it’s clear that Tehran will not be able to make full use of BRICS membership if western – especially US – sanctions are not totally lifted.

Pipelines and the “stans”

A compelling argument can be made that Russia and China might eventually fill the western technology void in the Iranian development process. But there’s a lot more that platforms such as the INSTC, the EAEU and even BRICS can accomplish.

Across “Pipelineistan,” the War of Economic Corridors gets even more complex. Western propaganda simply cannot admit that Azerbaijan, Algeria, Libya, Russia’s allies at OPEC, and even Kazakhstan are not exactly keen on increasing their oil production to help Europe.

Kazakhstan is a tricky case: it is the largest oil producer in Central Asia and set to be a major natural gas supplier, right after Russia and Turkmenistan. More than 250 oil and gas fields are operated in Kazakhstan by 104 companies, including western energy giants such as Chevron, Total, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

While exports of oil, natural gas and petroleum products comprise 57 percent of Kazakhstan’s exports, natural gas is responsible for 85 percent of Turkmenistan’s budget (with 80 percent of exports committed to China). Interestingly, Galkynysh is the second largest gas field on the planet.

Compared to the other “stans,” Azerbaijan is a relatively minor producer (despite oil accounting for 86 percent of its total exports) and basically a transit nation. Baku’s super-wealth aspirations center on the Southern Gas Corridor, which includes no less than three pipelines: Baku-Tblisi-Erzurum (BTE); the Turkish-driven Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP); and the Trans-Adriatic (TAP).

The problem with this acronym festival – BTE, TANAP, TAP – is that they all need massive foreign investment to increase capacity, which the EU sorely lacks because every single euro is committed by unelected Brussels Eurocrats to “support” the black hole that is Ukraine. The same financial woes apply to a possible Trans-Caspian Pipeline which would further link to both TANAP and TAP.

In the War of Economic Corridors – the “Pipelineistan” chapter – a crucial aspect is that most Kazakh oil exports to the EU go through Russia, via the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC). As an alternative, the Europeans are mulling on a still fuzzy Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, also known as the Middle Corridor (Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey). They actively discussed it in Brussels last month.

The bottom line is that Russia remains in full control of the Eurasia pipeline chessboard (and we’re not even talking about the Gazprom-operated pipelines Power of Siberia 1 and 2 leading to China).

Gazprom executives know all too well that a fast increase of energy exports to the EU is out of the question. They also factor the Tehran Convention – that helps prevent and control pollution and maintain the environmental integrity of the Caspian Sea, signed by all five littoral members.

Breaking BRI in Russia

China, for its part, is confident that one of its prime strategic nightmares may eventually disappear. The notorious “escape from Malacca” is bound to materialize, in cooperation with Russia, via the Northern Sea Route, which will shorten the trade and connectivity corridor from East Asia to Northern Europe from 11,200 nautical miles to only 6,500 nautical miles. Call it the polar twin of the INSTC.

This also explains why Russia has been busy building a vast array of state-of-the-art icebreakers.

So here we have an interconnection of New Silk Roads (the INSTC proceeds in parallel with BRI and the EAEU), Pipelineistan, and the Northern Sea Route on the way to turn western trade domination completely upside down.

Of course, the Chinese have had it planned for quite a while. The first White Paper on China’s Arctic policy, in January 2018, already showed how Beijing is aiming, “jointly with other states” (that means Russia), to implement sea trade routes in the Arctic within the framework of the Polar Silk Road.

And like clockwork, Putin subsequently confirmed that the Northern Sea Route should interact and complement the Chinese Maritime Silk Road.

Russia-China Economic cooperation is evolving on so many complex, convergent levels that just to keep track of it all is a dizzying experience.

A more detailed analysis will reveal some of the finer points, for instance how BRI and SCO interact, and how BRI projects will have to adapt to the heady consequences of Moscow’s Operation Z in Ukraine, with more emphasis being placed on developing Central and West Asian corridors.

It’s always crucial to consider that one of Washington’s key strategic objectives in the relentless hybrid war against Russia was always to break BRI corridors that crisscross Russian territory.

As it stands, it’s important to realize that dozens of BRI projects in industry and investment and cross-border inter-regional cooperation will end up consolidating the Russian concept of the Greater Eurasia Partnership – which essentially revolves around establishing multilateral cooperation with a vast range of nations belonging to organizations such as the EAEU, the SCO, BRICS and ASEAN.

Welcome to the new Eurasian mantra: Make Economic Corridors, Not War.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Russia and China haven’t even started to ratchet up the pain dial

July 13, 2022

by Pepe Escobar and posted with the author’s permission

The Suicide Spectacular Summer Show, currently on screen across Europe, proceeds in full regalia, much to the astonishment of virtually the whole Global South: a trashy, woke Gotterdammerung remake, with Wagnerian grandeur replaced by twerking.

Decadent Roman Emperors at least exhibited some degree of pathos. Here we’re just faced by a toxic mix of hubris, abhorrent mediocrity, delusion, crude ideological sheep-think and outright irrationality wallowing in white man’s burden racist/supremacist slush – all symptoms of a profound sickness of the soul.

To call it the Biden-Leyen-Blinken West or so would be too reductionist: after all these are puny politico/functionaries merely parroting orders. This is a historical process: physical, psychic and moral cognitive degeneration embedded in NATOstan’s manifest desperation in trying to contain Eurasia, allowing occasional tragicomic sketches such as a NATO summit proclaiming Woke War against virtually the whole non-West.

So when President Putin addresses the collective West in front of Duma leaders and heads of political parties, it does feel like a comet striking an inert planet. It’s not even a case of “lost in translation”. “They” simply aren’t equipped to get it.

The “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” part was at least formulated to be understood even by simpletons:

“Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield, well, what can I say, let them try. We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian – this is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. But it looks like it’s all coming to this. But everyone should know that, by and large, we haven’t really started anything yet.”

Fact. On Operation Z, Russia is using a fraction of its military potential, resources and state of the art weapons.

Then we come to the most probable path ahead in the war theater:

“We do not refuse peace negotiations, but those who refuse should know that the longer it drags, the more difficult it will be for them to negotiate with us.”

As in the pain dial will be ratcheted up, slowly but surely, on all fronts.

Yet the meat of the matter had been delivered earlier in the speech: “ratcheting up the pain dial” applies in fact to dismantling the whole “rules-based international order” edifice. The geopolitical world has changed. Forever.

Here’s the arguably key passage:

“They should have understood that they have already lost from the very beginning of our special military operation, because its beginning means the beginning of a radical breakdown of the World Order in the American way. This is the beginning of the transition from liberal-globalist American egocentrism to a truly multipolar world – a world based not on selfish rules invented by someone for themselves, behind which there is nothing but the desire for hegemony, not on hypocritical double-standards, but on international law, on the true sovereignty of peoples and civilizations, on their will to live their historical destiny, their values and traditions and build cooperation on the basis of democracy, justice and equality. And we must understand that this process can no longer be stopped.”

Meet the trifecta

A case can be made that Putin and Russia’s Security Council are implementing a tactical trifecta that has reduced the collective West to an amorphous bunch of bio headless chickens.

The trifecta mixes the promise of negotiations – but only when considering Russia’s steady advances on the ground in Novorossiya; the fact that Russia’s global “isolation” has been proved in practice to be nonsense; and tweaking the most visible pain dial of them all: Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

The main reason for the graphic, thundering failure of the G20 Foreign Ministers summit in Bali is that the G7 – or NATOstan plus American colony Japan – could not force the BRICS plus major Global South players to isolate, sanction and/or demonize Russia.

On the contrary: multiple interpolations outside of the G20 spell out even more Eurasia-wide integration. Here are a few examples.

The first transit of Russian products to India via the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) is now in effect, crisscrossing Eurasia from Mumbai to the Baltic via Iranian ports (Chabahar or Bandar Abbas), the Caspian Sea, and Southern and Central Russia. Crucially, the route is shorter and cheaper than going through the Suez Canal.

In parallel, the head of the Iranian Central Bank, Ali Salehabadi, confirmed that a memorandum of interbank cooperation was signed between Tehran and Moscow.

That means a viable alternative to SWIFT, and a direct consequence of Iran’s application to become a full BRICS member, announced at the recent summit in Beijing. The BRICS, since 2014, when the New Development Bank (NDB) was founded, have been busy building their own financial infrastructure, including the near future creation of a single reserve currency. As part of the process, the harmonization of Russian and Iranian banking systems is inevitable.

Iran is also about to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the upcoming summit in Samarkand in September.

In parallel, Russia and Kazakhstan are solidifying their strategic partnership: Kazakhstan is a key member of BRI, EAEU and SCO.

India gets even closer to Russia across the whole spectrum of trade – including energy.

And next Tuesday, Tehran will be the stage for a crucial face-to-face meeting between Putin and Erdogan.

Isolation? Really?

On the energy front, it’s only summer, but demented paranoia is already raging across multiple EU latitudes, especially Germany. Comic relief is provided by the fact that Gazprom can always point out to Berlin that eventual supplying problems on Nord Stream 1 – after the cliffhanger return of that notorious repaired turbine from Canada – can always be solved by implementing Nord Stream 2.

As the whole European Suicide Spectacular Summer Show is nothing but a tawdry self-inflicted torture ordered by His Master’s Voice, the only serious question is which pain dial level will force Berlin to actually sit down and negotiate on behalf of legitimate German industrial and social interests.

Rough and tumble will be the norm. Foreign Minister Lavrov summed it all up when commenting on the Declining Collective West Ministers striking poses like infantile brats in Bali to avoid being seen with him: that was up to “their understanding of the protocols and politeness.”

That’s diplo-talk for “bunch of jerks”. Or worse: cultural barbarians, as they were even unable to respect the hyper-polite Indonesian hosts, who abhor confrontation.

Lavrov preferred to extol the “joint strategic and constructive” Russian-Chinese work when faced with a very aggressive West. And that brings us to the prime masterpiece of shadowplay in Bali – complete with several layers of geopolitical fog.

Chinese media, always flirting with the opaque, tried to put its bravest face ever depicting the over 5-hour meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary Blinken as “constructive”.

What’s fascinating here is that the Chinese ended up letting something crucial out of the bag to slip into the final draft of their report – obviously approved by the powers that be.

Lu Xiang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences went through previous readouts – especially of “Yoda” Yang Jiechi routinely turning Jake Sullivan into roasted duck – and stressed that this time Wang’s “warnings” to the Americans were “the sternest one in wording”.

That’s diplo-code for “You Better Watch Out”: Wang telling Little Blinkie, “just look at what the Russians did when they lost their patience with your antics.”

The expression ”dead end” was recurrent during the Wang-Blinken meeting. So in the end the Global Times had to tell it like it really is:  “The two sides are close to a showdown.”

“Showdown” is what End of Days fanatic and Tony Soprano wannabe Mike Pompeo is fervently preaching from his hate pulpit, while the combo behind the senile “leader of the free world” who literally reads teleprompters actively work for the crashing of the EU – in more ways than one.

The combo in power in Washington actually “supports” the unification of Britain, Poland, Ukraine and The Three Baltic Midgets as a separate alliance from NATO/EU – aiming at “strengthening the defense potential.” That’s the official position of US Ambassador to NATO Julian Smith.

So the real imperial aim is to split the already shattering EU into mini-union pieces, all of them quite fragile and evidently more “manageable”, as Brussels Eurocrats, blinded by boundless mediocrity, obviously can’t see it coming.

What the Global South is buying

Putin always makes it very clear that the decision to launch Operation Z – as a sort of pre-emptive “combined arms and police operation”, as defined by Andrei Martyanov – was carefully calculated, considering an array of material and socio-psychological vectors.

Anglo-American strategy, for its part, lasers on a single obsession: damn any possible reframing of the current “rules-based international order”. No holds are barred to ensure the perpetuity of this order. This is in fact Totalen Krieg – featuring several hybrid layers, and quite worrying, with only a few seconds to midnight.

And there’s the rub. Desolation Row is fast becoming Desperation Row, as the whole Russophobic matrix is shown to be naked, devoid of any extra ideological – and even financial – firepower to “win”, apart from shipping a collection of HIMARS to a black hole.

Geopolitically and geoeconomically, Russia and China are in the process of eating NATOstan alive – in more ways than one. Here, for instance, is a synthetic road map of how Beijing will address the next stage of high-quality development via capital-driven industrial upgrading, focused on optimization of supply chains, import substitution of hard technologies, and “invisible champions” of industry.

If the collective West is blinded by Russophobia, the governing success of the Chinese Communist Party – which in a matter of a few decades improved the lives of more people than anyone, anytime in History – drives it completely nuts.

All along the Russia-China watchtower, it’s been not such a long time coming. BRI was launched by Xi Jinping in 2013. After Maidan in 2014, Putin launched the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) in 2015. Crucially, in May 2015, a Russia-China joint statement sealed the cooperation between BRI and EAEU, with a significant role assigned to the SCO.

Closer integration advanced via the St. Petersburg forum in 2016 and the BRI forum in 2017. The overall target: to create a new order in Asia, and across Eurasia, according to international law while maintaining the individual development strategies of each concerned country and respecting their national sovereignty.

That, in essence, is what most of the Global South is buying. It’s as if there’s a cross-border instinctual understanding that Russia-China, against serious odds and facing serious challenges, proceeding by trial and error, are at the vanguard of the Shock of the New, while the collective West, naked, dazed and confused, their masses completely zombified, is sucked into the maelstrom of psychological, moral and material disintegration.

No question the pain dial will be ratcheted up, in more ways than one.

Iran in South Caucasus: Turning losses into wins

Determined not to be cut out of the South Caucasus, Iran is forging strategic ties with both Baku and Yerevan

July 11 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Yeghia Tashjian

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have averted conflict through geo-economic compromise

At the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war – which Azerbaijan won with Turkish support and Russian diplomacy – Iran was widely seen by analysts as the conflict’s biggest loser, in terms of its regional strategic interests.

Without wasting much time, however, Tehran flipped those fortunes by very proactively engaging its soft power in the South Caucasus to advance its geo-economic interests. This is arguably due to Iran’s concerns over Turkish-Azerbaijani expansionist designs in the region.

In the main, Iran has sought to revitalize its relations with Azerbaijan to mitigate Turkey’s push for control over the Zangezur Corridor, a strategic transportation route bypassing Armenian territory close to the Iranian border.

The corridor’s opening is said to be dependent upon the development of a comprehensive Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement. In this regard, Tehran is engaging with both countries simultaneously, and in doing so has helped reduce Baku’s political pressure on Yerevan.

Resetting relations with Azerbaijan

On March 11, 2022, Azerbaijan and Iran signed an agreement to establish new railway, highway, and energy supply lines connecting the southern territories of the disputed Karabakh region (captured by Azerbaijan) to the Azerbaijani Nakhichevan exclave.

According to the agreement, the new highway will be 55 km long and will pass through northern Iran, eventually connecting to Nakhichevan. In addition to the highway, two railway bridges and a road bridge will be constructed over the bordering Arax River.

Iranian political analyst Vali Kaleji says these projects have geo-economic significance for both Azerbaijan and Iran.

For Baku, the construction of this highway is essential for several reasons. First, it is a continuation of an already existing highway in Azerbaijan and will draw investment into the southern regions of Karabakh currently under the control of Baku.

Second, the 55-km highway through Iran will offer an alternative to the Zangezur corridor that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was pushing for after the trilateral statement, which put an end to hostilities – for now – between Baku and Yerevan.

Despite the fact that the trilateral statement called for the opening of trade routes and communication, it did not mention anything about a ‘corridor.’ President Aliyev has largely promoted the Zangezur Corridor idea for domestic consumption while adding political pressure on Armenia to sign a peace treaty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

To date, Russia, Armenia and Iran have disregarded Baku’s Zangezur Corridor claims.

Peacekeeping policies

To prevent another war between Baku and Yerevan, Tehran came up with an alternative solution by providing this alternative route that will lift some pressure from Armenia’s shoulders, as Azerbaijan was threatening to gain the corridor by any means necessary.

Moreover, Baku is also concerned that if the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government falls and the opposition comes to power, the successive government will not provide any corridor to Azerbaijan through the Armenian territories. Hence, as Keleji noted, “Baku is deliberately pursuing another option should the Zangezur Corridor not come to fruition.”

Finally, Azerbaijan will establish a link with Nakhichevan through Iran, providing additional Iranian leverage over Baku in the future.

Iranian interests

Iran, in turn, has its own considerations for allowing the construction of a highway and railway across its territory that would connect Azerbaijan proper to Nakhchivan.

In reaction to the expansionist narrative pushed by Azerbaijan over the Zangezur Corridor and Azerbaijani incursions into bordering villages in Syunik (southern Armenia), Iran drew its red lines and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) threatened to use military force if necessary to prevent any territorial change in its 44 km border with Armenia.

As such, Tehran sees the construction of a new highway and railway line via Iran as an appropriate alternative to the Zangezur corridor that will alleviate the military pressure on southern Armenia.

For this reason, Ahmad Kazemi, an Iranian expert on the South Caucasus region, in his article “Baku’s reconciliation with geopolitical realities” wrote that Baku is pushing a “fake Zangezur corridor” to appease Turkey, Israel, NATO while following pan-Turkic dreams.

It was only last year that Aliyev declared: “The corridor that is going to pass through here is going to unite the whole Turkic world.”

For Kazemi, this “Turanic corridor” will go against the interests of Iran, Russia, and China. It is therefore inevitable that these three states will not allow geopolitical changes on Armenia’s southern borders.

Isolating Iran

Meanwhile, with the ongoing war in Ukraine, Moscow has focused its attention on the importance of the North-South trade route. According to Kaleji, strengthening this transit route will aid in countering the tightening economic sanctions and transit restrictions imposed on Russia by the west.

In this regard, the Iranian Roads and Urban Development Minister Rostam Qasemi visited Moscow on 30 April to sign a comprehensive agreement on cooperation in the field of transportation. Both countries agreed to accelerate the construction of Azerbaijani-Iranian railway to connect Moscow to the strategic Persian Gulf – a security concern of western powers since the Cold War era.

In February, during an Iranian-Armenian conference held in Yerevan, an Iranian diplomatic source told The Cradle that “Iran will take all the necessary measures to prevent the loss of the strategic Armenian-Iranian border and will do all it can to prevent a new war.

Tehran realizes that any such loss will further increase Turkish influence in the region and that Iran was an indirect target of the 2020 war in Karabakh, with the aim of isolating Iran regionally.

Within this context, the Iranian-Armenian railway line from Meghri, Armenia’s Syunik province, could have been an alternative route connecting Iran to Russia, but it suffers from high costs and has not seen any progress since 2009.

Armenia’s poor infrastructure, its conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan, and its slow progress in the construction of the North-South highway (over the past twelve years, it has implemented only five percent of the 556-kilometer highway connecting Georgia with Iran) has further isolated and slowed down Armenia’s participation in the regional economic project.

Armenia’s gateway to Asia

However, over the past four months, Iran and India have been pushing Armenia to take crucial steps to reinvigorate the north-south transport project. As a result, important meetings between Iranian and Armenian officials have been organized to address trade, transit, and energy issues.

On 2 March, leading a high-ranking delegation of trade officials and private entrepreneurs, Iranian Minister of Industry, Mining, and Trade, Reza Fatemi-Amin paid a visit to Armenia as part of Tehran’s efforts to strengthen trade ties with its neighbors.

This was the first visit to Armenia by senior Iranian officials since President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August 2021. Accompanying the delegation were the CEOs of 35 Iranian private companies.

The Iranian side stated that Tehran attaches great importance not only to the development of economic relations with Armenia but also considers it as a “gateway” to the markets of Russia and other Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member countries.

For the rail connection, Miad Salehi, head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, pointed to three possibilities for rail transit between Iran and Armenia. The first two rail connections are:

  • The Jolfa-Nakhchivan-Yerevan.
  • The Jolfa-Nurduz (in Iran) and Yerevan-Nurduz (in Armenia) railroads, which were agreed upon seven years ago though not realized.

Iran has also proposed a multi-modal transit route from Yerevan to Jolfa by road, and then southward to the port of Bandar Abbas by rail, essentially opening the gates of Asian markets for Armenia.

Iran hasn’t been pushed out of the South Caucasus  

After the trilateral statement in 2020, Iran felt isolated from the South Caucasus, though its absence did not last long. Following the election of President Raisi, Tehran adopted a proactive balanced foreign policy in its neighborhood to secure its primary geo-economic interests.

The Iranians have realized that the Zangezur Corridor poses a threat to their national security as it bypasses Iranian territory and prevents Iran from gaining transit fees from Azerbaijani trucks. But it also threatens to reshape the strategic international borders between Iran and Armenia to the benefit of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and by extension, their mutual ally, Israel.

Tehran recognizes that were Azerbaijan to succeed in imposing the Zangzur Corridor on Yerevan, Baku could connect to Turkey, Israel, and the European Union by land. Crucially, Iran also interprets this as an expanding presence of Israel and NATO on its borders.

During his Caucasian tour this month, Iran’s national security chief, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, held talks in Yerevan with his Armenian counterpart and Prime Minister Pashinyan, where he stressed that Tehran was against any actions leading to a geopolitical change in the region.

Rather than accepting a lesser role, Iran has successfully deployed its economic soft power to recalibrate the field and increase its leverage over Azerbaijan. On one hand, Tehran fostered the construction of a railway with Azerbaijan to connect with Russia; on the other hand, it strengthened its trade, energy, and communication projects with Baku’s archenemy, Armenia.

For now, though, Iran’s engagement with Azerbaijan over the alternative corridor has lifted the military and political pressure on Armenia, thus preventing another war near its northern borders.

Iran’s dialogue with both countries has – for now – arguably lifted Azerbaijan’s military and political pressure on Armenia, safeguarded its national interests, and prevented another war near its northern borders.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Sergey Lavrov: Presser following talks with Vladimir Makei, Belarus

July 02, 2022

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei following talks, Minsk, June 30, 2022

Esteemed Mr Makei,
Ladies and gentlemen,
As my colleague and friend has just said, our talks took place in a truly friendly atmosphere of trust and were very substantial, as they should be between allies and strategic partners. First, I would like to thank our Belarusian friends once again for their traditional hospitality in the wonderful city of Minsk and for the brilliant, streamlined organisation of our work.

The visit is timed to an important historical date – 30 years of diplomatic relations (June 25). Of course, this is just one more, albeit important, landmark in the centuries-old history of our truly fraternal nations. To mark this occasion, we have just cancelled postal envelopes specially issued for this date and signed an anniversary joint statement that I hope you will read. It is worth it.

We emphasised that in the past few years we have traversed a long road in developing our integration. The foreign ministries of Russia and Belarus provide diplomatic support for implementing 28 union economic integration programmes endorsed by the Supreme State Council of the Union State in November 2021.
Today, we reviewed topical bilateral issues. We also discussed the schedule of forthcoming contacts, including preparations for a joint meeting of the foreign ministry collegiums of Russia and Belarus, scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year. We reviewed implementation of the plan for foreign ministry consultations in 2022-2023.

We believe we have managed to achieve remarkable success in trade, and economic and investment cooperation. Last year, bilateral trade reached about $40 billion. Major joint projects, such as, for example, the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, are underway. Industrial cooperation is on the up and up, paving the way for new industrial and logistics chains.

We have a high opinion of the vigorous and broad development of interregional ties. Today, the 9th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions is to kick off in Grodno, where contracts worth an estimated $1 billion, a record-high amount, are expected to be signed.

We spoke at length about regional and international matters and agreed to continue enhancing foreign policy coordination and stand up together for the interests of our two countries in the world arena, in keeping with the two-year programmes on coordinating our actions in foreign policy.

We supported further steps towards more active cooperation in multilateral associations, primarily, in the EAEU, CSTO and the CIS. We have almost identical views on how Eurasian cooperation should develop in the future.

We agreed that we would also continue to coordinate our approaches in other multilateral formats, first and foremost, at the UN and the OSCE. We discussed the progress on the projects that are being carried out in Belarus under the auspices of the United Nations, many of which are being funded by the Russian side. We will vigorously continue to oppose any attempts to politicise human rights issues. We see hopeless attempts like this being made at the UN and the OSCE. The West keeps making them with enviable persistence.

We are seriously concerned about NATO’s activities in close vicinity to our borders, primarily in the Baltic states and Poland. We share the opinion that these activities are openly confrontational and tend to lead to more tensions, as well as the division of the European security and cooperation space, that is, they are producing the results which the establishment of the OSCE was supposed to help prevent. Now they are dismantling all this with their own hands, waiving, among other things, the principle of indivisible security, which was publicly declared at the highest level in the OSCE in the late 1990s and in 2010, when it was said that no country should enhance its security at the expense of others. The West’s actions have buried this principle.

In the light of the manifestly unfriendly steps taken by the United States and its satellites towards our countries, we reaffirmed that we are firmly determined to further preclude any attempts by the West to interfere in our domestic affairs. We agreed to continue to join efforts to oppose illegitimate unilateral actions by Washington, Brussels and their allies in the international arena.

We advised our colleagues of our assessments of the special military operation in Ukraine. We maintain regular dialogue on these issues. Our presidents discussed this topic at a top-level meeting in St Petersburg on June 25.

We are grateful to our Belarusian allies for completely understanding the causes, goals and tasks of the special military operation. President Vladimir Putin discussed these issues in his remarks yesterday concerning the results of the Caspian Five Summit in Ashgabat.

We focused on biological security, while exchanging opinions on strategic stability and arms control. We agree that US activities on post-Soviet space are quite dangerous and non-transparent. The activities of Pentagon’s biolabs in Ukraine highlight the risks they bear. We exposed these facts but failed to obtain a US response. 

[Biological Security] … we initiated a process, stipulated by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention …

We sent inquiries to countries, parties to this important international treaty. We perceive threats to the national security of Russia and Belarus, the reluctance of the United States to ensure the transparency of its military-biological activities in many countries on post-Soviet space, primarily those around Russia and Belarus. We have an agreement, within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, to establish close and transparent interaction on these issues, in order to counter attempts to advance such projects (that cause concern in our countries) behind the scenes and without due transparency.

We are also cooperating in order to counter the dirty information war unleashed by the collective West against our countries. We agreed to expand and upgrade Russian-Belarusian media cooperation, and you should be particularly interested in this issue.

We are satisfied with the results of the talks. They help advance our foreign policy coordination still further on the basis of allied and strategic partnership for the benefit of our countries and fraternal nations.

Question:  A risky redivision of the world’s energy sector is taking place. What are the United States and the EU counting on, while renouncing Russian imports?

Sergey Lavrov: I believe that everyone understands what they are counting on. They have no misgivings about openly discussing this issue. They noted this once again yesterday, at the NATO summit in Madrid. They are expecting all other states to unfailingly obey their will, reflecting their selfish interests, primarily those of the United States. We have repeatedly been convinced that modern Europe, in the form of the EU, is losing its independence or even the signs of independence that it once had. Europe completely obeys positions that the United States imposes on it, including those in the sphere of economic sanctions. It is renouncing Russian imports and demolishing logistic and financial chains that had taken decades to create.

Look at the current list of sanctions. I suggest that you conduct this interesting analysis. Compare restrictions that European countries are imposing on Russia and Belarus with the relevant US restrictions. The United States is sparing itself and is trying not to encroach on various spheres that could seriously damage its own economy. Yes, the United States is also experiencing negative effects from this activity, but Europe is suffering much more. I believe that, apart from “punishing” our countries, the United States wants to weaken the European Union as its rival.

Question: At the Madrid summit, NATO stated that Russia was the main threat to the Alliance according to its new strategic concept. Following this statement and their decision to fortify the eastern flank, does Moscow consider itself bound by its commitments under the Russia-NATO Founding Act, or has this document lost its validity?

Sergey Lavrov: In the legal sense, the Founding Act continues to exist. We did not initiate the procedure for terminating this agreement. In the run-up to the summit, NATO had lengthy and vocal discussions about whether they still needed the Act or whether they would be better off abandoning it. As a result, they decided to let this matter be, but 

[NATO] … their decisions grossly violate the Founding Act …,

primarily with regard to NATO’s commitment not to permanently deploy significant combat forces on the territory of new (Eastern European) Alliance members.

We will analyse the situation and decide on our further moves depending on how and in what form NATO will move forward with the decisions it adopted and announced.

Question: Will it be possible to restore more or less acceptable political and diplomatic relations with EU countries in the future? Will there be another Iron Curtain? Do we have a bloc like NATO or the EU?

Sergey Lavrov (adding after Vladimir Makei): I agree with almost all of that. As for our relations with the EU, Russia has not had them since 2014. Brussels swallowed the humiliating move by the opposition forces which perpetrated a coup in Ukraine in defiance of EU guarantees. In response, the Crimea residents refused to live in a neo-Nazi state. Ukraine’s eastern regions did the same, and the European Union failed to muster enough courage to talk sense into the putschists who carried out an illegal power grab, and in fact began to support them in their attack, including physical, on the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. When the referendum took place in Crimea and the DPR and the LPR were proclaimed, the European Union, instead of pushing for compliance with the agreements between President Yanukovych and the opposition it had co-sponsored, sided with the ultranationalist and deep down neo-Nazi regime which proclaimed fighting the Russian language and culture as its goal. In the years that followed, the regimes led by Poroshenko and Zelensky proved Kiev’s loyalty to this particular course.

In 2014, when it all happened, the EU, feeling powerless and aware of its own inability to enforce implementation of its own proposals, said the Russian Federation was to blame. It imposed sanctions on our country and cancelled the Russia-EU summit planned for June 2014, destroyed every other mechanism that it took us decades to create, such as biannual summits, annual meetings between the Russian Government and the European Commission, four common spaces that underlay four road maps, 20 sector-specific dialogues, including a dialogue on visa-free travel and much more. All of that was ruined overnight. Relations have been non-existent since then. There were occasional technical contacts, but nothing major. No wonder there are no relations now, but we never close ourselves off. From now on, we will never trust the Americans or the EU. We are doing our best not to depend on them in the sectors that are critically important for survival of the state, the people and our security. When and if they get over their obsession and come back with some kind of a proposal, we will see what exactly it is about. We will not play along with their self-serving plans. If it comes to resuming the dialogue, we will push for a level playing field for everyone and a focus on balancing the interests of all participants on an equal footing.

With regard to the Iron Curtain, it is already on its way down. They should make sure they don’t get anything caught in it as it goes down.

In all other matters, we have a straightforward position: we are for things being fair.

In 2014, our “partners” refused to hold a summit amid serious events, including a coup, a referendum in Crimea, and a radical change in the situation in the Black Sea region. If you were serious about searching for solutions, this meeting was the way forward. It could have been used to have a candid discussion about the complaints and the counter questions the partners in the Russian Federation had for the EU. The withdrawal from all contacts that took place after March 2014 only goes to show that the EU is not interested in a dialogue, and does not want to understand our interests or listen to what we have to say. What it wants is for everyone to agree with the Brussels’ decisions which are a carbon copy of the decisions made in Washington. We have been able to see that in recent years.

Question: Norway has refused to allow Russian cargo, including food, medicines, and necessary equipment, to Spitsbergen. What steps will be taken to resolve this issue? What might our response be, if any?

Sergey Lavrov: First, we want to see Norway respond to our reaction that immediately followed the incident. We sent an official request demanding clarification as to how this move aligns with Norway’s commitments under the Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920. I hope they will respond promptly. Then, we will analyse the situation. And we will act quickly.

Behind the Tin Curtain: BRICS+ vs NATO/G7

June 28, 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

The west is nostalgically caught up with outdated ‘containment’ policies, this time against Global South integration. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the world is moving on, together.

The Cradle

Once upon a time, there existed an Iron Curtain which divided the continent of Europe. Coined by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the term was in reference to the then-Soviet Union’s efforts to create a physical and ideological boundary with the west. The latter, for its part, pursued a policy of containment against the spread and influence of communism.

Fast forward to the contemporary era of techno-feudalism, and there now exists what should be called a Tin Curtain, fabricated by the fearful, clueless, collective west, via G7 and NATO: this time, to essentially contain the integration of the Global South.

BRICS against G7

The most recent and significant example of this integration has been the coming out of BRICS+ at last week’s online summit hosted by Beijing. This went far beyond establishing the lineaments of a ‘new G8,’ let alone an alternative to the G7.

Just look at the interlocutors of the five historical BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa): we find a microcosm of the Global South, encompassing Southeast Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, Africa and South America – truly putting the “Global” in the Global South.

Revealingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s clear messages during the Beijing summit, in sharp contrast to G7 propaganda, were actually addressed to the whole Global South:

– Russia will fulfill its obligations to supply energy and fertilizers.

– Russia expects a good grain harvest – and to supply up to 50 million tons to world markets.

– Russia will ensure passage of grain ships into international waters even as Kiev mined Ukrainian ports.

– The negative situation on Ukrainian grain is artificially inflated.

– The sharp increase in inflation around the world is the result of the irresponsibility of G7 countries, not Operation Z in Ukraine.

– The imbalance of world relations has been brewing for a long time and has become an inevitable result of the erosion of international law.

An alternative system

Putin also directly addressed one of the key themes that the BRICS have been discussing in depth since the 2000s — the design and implementation of an international reserve currency.

“The Russian Financial Messaging System is open for connection with banks of the BRICS countries.”

“The Russian MIR payment system is expanding its presence. We are exploring the possibility of creating an international reserve currency based on the basket of BRICS currencies,” the Russian leader said.

This is inevitable after the hysterical western sanctions post-Operation Z; the total de-dollarization imposed upon Moscow; and increasing trade between BRICS nations. For instance, by 2030, a quarter of the planet’s oil demand will come from China and India, with Russia as the major supplier.

The “RIC” in BRICS simply cannot risk being locked out of a G7-dominated financial system. Even tightrope-walking India is starting to catch the drift.

Who speaks for the ‘international community?’

At its current stage, BRICS represent 40 percent of world population, 25 percent of the global economy, 18 percent of world trade, and contribute over 50 percent for world economic growth. All indicators are on the way up.

Sergey Storchak, CEO of Russian bank VEG, framed it quite diplomatically: “If the voices of emerging markets are not being heard in the coming years, we need to think very seriously about setting up a parallel regional system, or maybe a global system.”

A “parallel regional system” is already being actively discussed between the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) and China, coordinated by Minister of Integration and Macroeconomics Sergey Glazyev, who has recently authored a stunning manifesto amplifying his ideas about world economic sovereignty.

Developing the ‘developing world’

What happens in the trans-Eurasian financial front will proceed in parallel with a so far little known Chinese development strategy: the Global Development Initiative (GDI), announced by President Xi Jinping at the UN General Assembly last year.

GDI can be seen as a support mechanism of the overarching strategy – which remains the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), consisting of economic corridors interlinking Eurasia all the way to its western peninsula, Europe.

At the High-level Dialogue on Global Development, part of the BRICS summit, the Global South learned a little more about the GDI, an organization set up in 2015.

In a nutshell, the GDI aims to turbo-charge international development cooperation by supplementing financing to a plethora of bodies, for instance the South-South Cooperation Fund, the International Development Association (IDA), the Asian Development Fund (ADF), and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Priorities include “poverty reduction, food security, COVID-19 response and vaccines,” industrialization, and digital infrastructure. Subsequently, a Friends of the GDI group was established in early 2022 and has already attracted over 50 nations.

BRI and GDI should be advancing in tandem, even as Xi himself made it clear during the BRICS summit that “some countries are politicizing and marginalizing the developmental agenda by building up walls and slapping crippling sanctions on others.”

Then again, sustainable development is not exactly the G7’s cup of tea, much less NATO’s.

Seven against the world

The avowed top aim of the G7 summit in Schloss Elmau at the Bavarian Alps is to “project unity” – as in the stalwarts of the collective west (Japan included) united in sustainable and indefinite “support” for the irretrievably failed Ukrainian state.

That’s part of the “struggle against Putin’s imperialism,” but then there’s also “the fight against hunger and poverty, health crisis and climate change,” as German chancellor Scholz told the Bundestag.

In Bavaria, Scholz pushed for a Marshall Plan for Ukraine – a ludicrous concept considering Kiev and its environs might as well be reduced to a puny rump state by the end of 2022. The notion that the G7 may work to “prevent a catastrophic famine,” according to Scholz, reaches a paroxysm of ludicrousness, as the looming famine is a direct consequence of the G7-imposed sanctions hysteria.

The fact that Berlin invited India, Indonesia, South Africa and Senegal as add-ons to the G7, served as additional comic relief.

The Tin Curtain is up

It would be futile to expect from the astonishing collection of mediocrities “united” in Bavaria, under de facto leader of the European Commission (EC), Fuehrer Ursula von der Leyen, any substantial analysis about the breakdown of global supply chains and the reasons that forced Moscow to reduce gas flows to Europe. Instead, they blamed Putin and Xi.

Welcome to the Tin Curtain – a 21st century reinvention of the Intermarium from the Baltic to the Black Sea, masterminded by the Empire of Lies, complete with western Ukraine absorbed by Poland, the Three Baltic Midgets: Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Czechia and even NATO-aspiring Sweden and Finland, all of whom will be protected from “the Russian threat.”

An EU out of control

The role of the EU, lording over Germany, France and Italy inside the G7 is particularly instructive, especially now that Britain is back to the status of an inconsequential island-state.

As many as 60 European ‘directives’ are issued every year. They must be imperatively transposed into internal law of each EU member-state. In most cases, there’s no debate whatsoever.

Then there are more than 10,000 European ‘rulings,’ where ‘experts’ at the European Commission (EC) in Brussels issue ‘recommendations’ to every government, straight out of the neoliberal canon, regarding their expenses, their income and ‘reforms’ (on health care, education, pensions) that must be obeyed.

Thus elections in every single EU member-nation are absolutely meaningless. Heads of national governments – Macron, Scholz, Draghi – are mere executants. No democratic debate is allowed: ‘democracy,’ as with ‘EU values,’ are nothing than smokescreens.

The real government is exercised by a bunch of apparatchiks chosen by compromise between executive powers, acting in a supremely opaque manner.

The EC is totally outside of any sort of control. That’s how a stunning mediocrity like Ursula von der Leyen – previously the worst Minister of Defense of modern Germany – was catapulted upwards to become the current EC Fuhrer, dictating their foreign, energy and even economic policy.

What do they stand for?

From the perspective of the west, the Tin Curtain, for all its ominous Cold War 2.0 overtones, is merely a starter before the main course: hardcore confrontation across Asia-Pacific – renamed “Indo-Pacific” – a carbon copy of the Ukraine racket designed to contain China’s BRI and GDI.

As a countercoup, it’s enlightening to observe how the Chinese foreign ministry now highlights in detail the contrast between BRICS – and BRICS+ – and the imperial AUKUS/Quad/IPEF combo.

BRICS stand for de facto multilateralism; focus on global development; cooperation for economic recovery; and improving global governance.

The US-concocted racket on the other hand, stands for Cold War mentality; exploiting developing countries; ganging up to contain China; and an America-first policy that enshrines the monopolistic “rules-based international order.”

It would be misguided to expect those G7 luminaries gathered in Bavaria to understand the absurdity of imposing a price cap on Russian oil and gas exports, for instance. Were that to really happen, Moscow will have no problems fully cutting energy supply to the G7. And if other nations are excluded, the price of the oil and gas they import would drastically increase.

BRICS paving the way forward

So no wonder the future is ominous. In a stunning interview to Belarus state TV, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov summarized how “the west fears honest competition.”

Hence, the apex of cancel culture, and “suppression of everything that contradicts in some way the neoliberal vision and arrangement of the world.” Lavrov also summarized the roadmap ahead, for the benefit of the whole Global South:

“We don’t need a new G8. We already have structures…primarily in Eurasia. The EAEU is actively promoting integration processes with the PRC, aligning China’s Belt and Road Initiative with the Eurasian integration plans. Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are taking a close look at these plans. A number of them are signing free trade zone agreements with the EAEU. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is also part of these processes… There is one more structure beyond the geographic borders of Eurasia.”

“It is BRICS. This association is relying less and less on the Western style of doing business, and on Western rules for international currency, financial and trade institutions. They prefer more equitable methods that do not make any processes depend on the dominant role of the dollar or some other currency. The G20 fully represents BRICS and five more countries that share the positions of BRICS, while the G7 and its supporters are on the other side of the barricades.”

“This is a serious balance. The G20 may deteriorate if the West uses it for fanning up confrontation. The structures I mentioned (SCO, BRICS, ASEAN, EAEU and CIS) rely on consensus, mutual respect and a balance of interests, rather than a demand to accept unipolar world realities.”

Tin Curtain? More like Torn Curtain.

St. Petersburg sets the stage for the War of Economic Corridors

In St. Petersburg, the world’s new powers gather to upend the US-concocted “rules-based order” and reconnect the globe their way

June 18 2022

The Cradle

By Pepe Escobar

At St. Petersburg on Friday, backers of multipolarity pushed forward integration of their networksPhoto Credit: The Cradle

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum  has been configured for years now as absolutely essential to understand the evolving dynamics and the trials and tribulations of Eurasia integration.

St. Petersburg in 2022 is even more crucial as it directly connects to three simultaneous developments I had previously outlined, in no particular order:

First, the coming of the “new G8” – four BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China), plus Iran, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico, whose GDP per purchasing parity power (PPP) already dwarfs the old, western-dominated G8.

Second, the Chinese “Three Rings” strategy of developing geoeconomic relations with its neighbors and partners.

Third, the development of BRICS+, or extended BRICS, including some members of the “new G8,” to be discussed at the upcoming summit in China.

There was hardly any doubt President Putin would be the star of St. Petersburg 2022, delivering a sharp, detailed speech to the plenary session.

Among the highlights, Putin smashed the illusions of the so-called ‘golden billion’ who live in the industrialized west (only 12 percent of the global population) and the “irresponsible macroeconomic policies of the G7 countries.”

The Russian president noted how “EU losses due to sanctions against Russia” could exceed $400 billion per year, and that Europe’s high energy prices – something that actually started “in the third quarter of last year” – are due to “blindly believing in renewable sources.”

He also duly dismissed the west’s ‘Putin price hike’ propaganda, saying the food and energy crisis is linked to misguided western economic policies, i.e., “Russian grain and fertilizers are being sanctioned” to the detriment of the west.

In a nutshell: the west misjudged Russia’s sovereignty when sanctioning it, and now is paying a very heavy price.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, addressing the forum by video, sent a message to the whole Global South. He evoked “true multilateralism,” insisting that emerging markets must have “a say in global economic management,” and called for “improved North-South and South-South dialogue.”

It was up to Kazakh President Tokayev, the ruler of a deeply strategic partner of both Russia and China, to deliver the punch line in person: Eurasia integration should progress hand in hand with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Here it is, full circle.

Building a long-term strategy “in weeks”

St. Petersburg offered several engrossing discussions on key themes and sub-themes of Eurasia integration, such as business within the scope of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); aspects of the Russia-China strategic partnership; what’s ahead for the BRICS; and prospects for the Russian financial sector.

One of the most important discussions was focused on the increasing interaction between the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) and ASEAN, a key example of what the Chinese would define as ‘South-South cooperation.’

And that connected to the still long and winding road leading to deeper integration of the EAEU itself.

This implies steps towards more self-sufficient economic development for members; establishing the priorities for import substitution; harnessing all the transport and logistical potential; developing trans-Eurasian corporations; and imprinting the EAEU ‘brand’ in a new system of global economic relations.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk was particularly sharp on the pressing matters at hand: implementing a full free trade customs and economic union – plus a unified payment system – with simplified direct settlements using the Mir payment card to reach new markets in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Persian Gulf.

In a new era defined by Russian business circles as “the game with no rules” – debunking the US-coined “rules-based international order” – another relevant discussion, featuring key Putin adviser Maxim Oreshkin, focused on what should be the priorities for big business and the financial sector in connection to the state’s economic and foreign policy.

The consensus is that the current ‘rules’ have been written by the west. Russia could only connect to existing mechanisms, underpinned by international law and institutions. But then the west tried to  “squeeze us out” and even “to cancel Russia.” So it’s time to “replace the no-rules rules.” That’s a key theme underlying the concept of ‘sovereignty’ developed by Putin in his plenary address.

In another important discussion chaired by the CEO of western-sanctioned Sberbank Herman Gref, there was much hand-wringing about the fact that the Russian “evolutionary leap forward towards 2030” should have happened sooner. Now a “long-term strategy has to be built in weeks,” with supply chains breaking down all across the spectrum.

A question was posed to the audience – the crème de la crème of Russia’s business community: what would you recommend, increased trade with the east, or redirecting the structure of the Russian economy? A whopping 72 percent voted for the latter.

So now we come to the crunch, as all these themes interact when we look at what happened only a few days before St. Petersburg.

The Russia-Iran-India corridor

A key node of the International North South Transportation Corridor (INTSC) is now in play, linking northwest Russia to the Persian Gulf via the Caspian Sea and Iran. The transportation time between St. Petersburg and Indian ports is 25 days.

This logistical corridor with multimodal transportation carries an enormous geopolitical significance for two BRICs members and a prospective member of the “new G8” because it opens a key alternative route to the usual cargo trail from Asia to Europe via the Suez canal.

The International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC)

The INSTC corridor is a classic South-South integration project: a 7,200-km-long multimodal network of ship, rail, and road routes interlinking India, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia all the way to Finland in the Baltic Sea.

Technically, picture a set of containers going overland from St. Petersburg to Astrakhan. Then the cargo sails via the Caspian to the Iranian port of Bandar Anzeli. Then it’s transported overland to the port of Bandar Abbas. And then overseas to Nava Sheva, the largest seaport in India. The key operator is Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (the IRISL group), which has branches in both Russia and India.

And that brings us to what wars from now will be fought about: transportation corridors – and not territorial conquest.

Beijing’s fast-paced BRI is seen as an existential threat to the ‘rules-based international order.’ It develops along six overland corridors across Eurasia, plus the Maritime Silk Road from the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean, all the way to Europe.

One of the key targets of NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine is to interrupt BRI corridors across Russia. The Empire will go all out to interrupt not only BRI but also INSTC nodes. Afghanistan under US occupation was prevented from become a node for either BRI or INSTC.

With full access to the Sea of Azov – now a “Russian lake” – and arguably the whole Black Sea coastline further on down the road, Moscow will hugely increase its sea trading prospects (Putin: “The Black Sea was historically Russian territory”).

For the past two decades, energy corridors have been heavily politicized and are at the center of unforgiving global pipeline competitions – from BTC and South Stream to Nord Stream 1 and 2, and the never-ending soap operas, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipelines.

Then there’s the Northern Sea Route alongside the Russian coastline all the way to the Barents Sea. China and India are very much focused on the Northern Sea Route, not by accident also  discussed in detail in St. Petersburg.

The contrast between the St. Petersburg debates on a possible re-wiring of our world – and the Three Stooges Taking a Train to Nowhere to tell a mediocre Ukrainian comedian to calm down and negotiate his surrender (as confirmed by German intelligence) – could not be starker.

Almost imperceptibly – just as it re-incorporated Crimea and entered the Syrian theater – Russia as a military-energy superpower now shows it is potentially capable of driving a great deal of the industrialized west back into the Stone Age. The western elites are just helpless. If only they could ride a corridor on the Eurasian high-speed train, they might learn something.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Notes From Spief: St Petersburg International Economic Forum

June 16, 2022

Pepe Escobar is following various discussions at Spief:  https://twitter.com/spief?lang=en and here are some of his updates from his telegram channel:

THE ST. PETERSBURG FORUM IS ON A ROLL

I spent the morning back and forth following some fab discussions at the forum – especially on Russia-China, SCO business, BRICS, the Russian financial sector, the Northern Sea Route and this one linked below, with Glazyev, on the Eurasia Economic Union and ASEAN.

This afternoon there are some extra killers, including a Triple Treat EAEU-SCO-ASEAN.

I’ll have a detailed column out – ideally to be published for the weekend. Putin’s address is tomorrow, and should be a howler.

https://forumspb.com/en/programme/business-programme/..

The contrast with The Three Stooges in their train to nowhere – country 404 – could not be more graphic.

ST. PETERSBURG UPDATE

Key facts rollin’ out of the forum – officially and after discussions:

– Dollars and euros will continue to circulate in Russia.

– There will be NO return to a Soviet economy.

– Import substitution will be only partial.

– The ruble under 60 per dollar is not a good thing for the Russian economy. The government will intervene.

– Changes on the global economy are irreversible. There’s no going back.

– A significant part of the Russian economy will be reoriented to the internal market.

– Because NATOstan will continue to weaponize Kiev, the Donetsk People’s Republic’s troops will NOT stop at the border.

It came out last night, before the St. Petersburg forum: it’s all interconnected.

Here you will see how…

the new G8…

interconnects with China’s Three Rings…

and with BRICS +…

and all that interconnects with what they are discussing in St. Petersburg: EAEU, SCO, ASEAN.

The ‘New G8’ Meets China’s ‘Three Rings’

June 15, 2022

The coming of the new G8 points to the inevitable advent of BRICS +, one of the key themes to be discussed in the upcoming BRICS summit in China.

By Pepe Escobar, posted with the author’s permission and widely cross-posted

The speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, may have created the defining acronym for the emerging multipolar world: “the new G8”.

As Volodin noted, “the United States has created conditions with its own hands so that countries wishing to build an equal dialogue and mutually beneficial relations will actually form a ‘new G8’ together with Russia.”

This non Russia-sanctioning G8, he added, is 24.4% ahead of the old one, which is in fact the G7, in terms of GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP), as G7 economies are on the verge of collapsing and the U.S. registers record inflation.

The power of the acronym was confirmed by one of the researchers on Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Sergei Fedorov: three BRICS members (Brazil, China and India) alongside Russia, plus Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and Mexico, all non adherents to the all-out Western economic war against Russia, will soon dominate global markets.

Fedorov stressed the power of the new G8 in population as well as economically: “If the West, which restricted all international organizations, follows its own policies, and pressures everyone, then why are these organizations necessary? Russia does not follow these rules.”

The new G8, instead, “does not impose anything on anyone, but tries to find common solutions.”

The coming of the new G8 points to the inevitable advent of BRICS +, one of the key themes to be discussed in the upcoming BRICS summit in China. Argentina is very much interested in becoming part of the extended BRICS and those (informal) members of the new G8 – Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Mexico – are all likely candidates.

The intersection of the new G8 and BRICS + will lead Beijing to turbo-charge what has already been conceptualized as the Three Rings strategy by Cheng Yawen, from the Institute of International Relations and Public Affairs at the Shanghai International Studies University.

Cheng argues that since the beginning of the 2018 U.S.-China trade war the Empire of Lies and its vassals have aimed to “decouple”; thus the Middle Kingdom should strategically downgrade its relations with the West and promote a new international system based on South-South cooperation.

Looks like if it walks and talks like the new G8, that’s because it’s the real deal.

The revolution reaches the “global countryside”

Cheng stresses how “the center-periphery hierarchy of the West has been perpetuated as an implicit rule” in international relations; and how China and Russia, “because of their strict capital controls, are the last two obstacles to further U.S. control of the global periphery”.

So how would the Three Rings – in fact a new global system – be deployed?

The first ring “is China’s neighboring countries in East Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East; the second ring is the vast number of developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; and the third ring extends to the traditional industrialized countries, mainly Europe and the United States.”

The basis for building the Three Rings is deeper Global South integration. Cheng notes how “between 1980-2021, the economic volume of developing countries rose from 21 to 42.2 percent of the world’s total output.”

And yet “current trade flows and mutual investments of developing countries are still heavily dependent on the financial and monetary institutions/networks controlled by the West. In order to break their dependence on the West and further enhance economic and political autonomy, a broader financial and monetary cooperation, and new sets of instruments among developing countries should be constructed”.

This is a veiled reference to the current discussions inside the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), with Chinese participation, designing an alternative financial-monetary system not only for Eurasia but for the Global South – bypassing possible American attempts to enforce a sort of Bretton Woods 3.0.

Cheng uses a Maoist metaphor to illustrate his point – referring to ‘the revolutionary path of ‘encircling the cities from the countryside’”. What is needed now, he argues, is for China and the Global South to “overcome the West’s preventive measures and cooperate with the ‘global countryside’ – the peripheral countries – in the same way.”

So what seems to be in the horizon, as conceptualized by Chinese academia, is a “new G8/BRICS+” interaction as the revolutionary vanguard of the emerging multipolar world, designed to expand to the whole Global South.

That of course will mean a deepened internationalization of Chinese geopolitical and geoeconomic power, including its currency. Cheng qualifies the creation of a “three ring “ international system as essential to “break through the [American] siege”.

It’s more than evident that the Empire won’t take that lying down.

The siege will continue. Enter the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), spun as yet another proverbial “effort” to – what else – contain China, but this time all the way from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia, with Oceania thrown in as a bonus.

The American spin on IPEF is heavy on “economic engagement”: fog of (hybrid) war disguising the real intent to divert as much trade as possible from China – which produces virtually everything – to the U.S. – which produces very little.

The Americans give away the game by heavily focusing their strategy on 7 of the 10 ASEAN nations – as part of yet another desperate dash to control the American-denominated “Indo-Pacific”. Their logic: ASEAN after all needs a “stable partner”; the American economy is “comparatively stable”; thus ASEAN must subject itself to American geopolitical aims.

IPEF, under the cover of trade and economics, plays the same old tune, with the U.S. going after China from three different angles.

– The South China Sea, instrumentalizing ASEAN.

– The Yellow and East China Seas, instrumentalizing Japan and South Korea to prevent direct Chinese access to the Pacific.

– The larger “Indo-Pacific” (that’s were India as a member of the Quad comes in).

It’s all labeled as a sweet apple pie of “stronger and more resilient Indo-Pacific with diversified trade.”

BRI corridors are back

Beijing is hardly losing any sleep thinking about IPEF: after all most of its multiple trade connections across ASEAN are rock solid. Taiwan though is a completely different story.

At the annual Shangri-La dialogue this past weekend in Singapore, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe went straight to the point, actually defining Beijing’s vision for an East Asia order (not “rules-based”, of course).

Taiwan independence is a “dead end”, said General Wei, as he asserted Beijing’s peaceful aims while vigorously slamming assorted U.S. “threats against China”. At any attempt at interference, “we will fight at all costs, and we will fight to the very end”. Wei also handily dismissed the U.S. drive to “hijack” Indo-Pacific nations, without even mentioning IPEF.

China at it stands is firmly concentrated on stabilizing its western borders – which will allow it to devote more time to the South China Sea and the “Indo-Pacific” further on down the road.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went on a crucial trip to Kazakhstan – a full member of both BRI and the EAEU – where he met President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and all his counterparts from the Central Asian “stans” in a summit in Nur-Sultan. The group – billed as C+C5 – discussed everything from security, energy and transportation to Afghanistan and vaccines.

In sum, this was all about developing much-needed corridors of BRI/ New Silk Roads – in sharp contrast to the proverbial Western lamentations about BRI reaching a dead end.

Two BRI-to-the-bone projects will go on overdrive: the China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline Line D, and the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway. Both have been years in the making, but now have become absolutely essential, and will be the flagship BRI projects in the Central Asian corridor.

The China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline Line D will link Turkmenistan’s gas fields to Xinjiang via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. That was the main theme of the discussions when Turkmen President Berdimuhamedow visited Beijing for the Winter Olympics.

The 523 km China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway for its part will crucially link the two Central Asian “stans” to the China-Europe freight rail network, via the existing rail networks in Turkmenistan.

Considering the current incandescent geopolitical scenario in Ukraine, this is a bombshell in itself, because it will enable freight from China to travel via Iran or via Caspian ports, bypassing sanctioned Russia. No hard feelings, in terms of the Russia-China strategic partnership: just business.

The Kyrgyz, predictably, were ecstatic. Construction begins next year. According to Kyrgyz President Zhaparov, “there will be jobs. Our economy will boom.”

Talk about China acting decisively in its “first ring”, in Central Asia. Don’t expect anything of such geoeconomic breadth and scope being “offered” by IPEF anywhere in ASEAN.

%d bloggers like this: