Steppe on Fire: Kazakhstan’s Color Revolution

January 6, 2022

A view shows a burning police car during a protest against LPG cost rise following the Kazakh authorities’ decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev – RC2KSR9GWQCN
Independent geopolitical analyst, writer and journalist

Pepe Escobar

Maidan in Almaty? Oh yeah. But it’s complicated.

So is that much fear and loathing all about gas? Not really.

Kazakhstan was rocked into chaos virtually overnight, in principle, because of the doubling of prices for liquefied gas, which reached the (Russian) equivalent of 20 rubles per liter (compare it to an average of 30 rubles in Russia itself).

That was the spark for nationwide protests spanning every latitude from top business hub Almaty to the Caspian Sea ports of Aktau and Atyrau and even the capital Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana.

The central government was forced to roll back the gas price to the equivalent of 8 rubles a liter. Yet that only prompted the next stage of the protests, demanding lower food prices, an end of the vaccination campaign, a lower retirement age for mothers with many children and – last but not least – regime change, complete with its own slogan: Shal, ket! (“Down with the old man.”)

The “old man” is none other than national leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who even as he stepped down from the presidency after 29 years in power, in 2019, for all practical purposes remains the Kazakh gray eminence as head of the Security Council and the arbiter of domestic and foreign policy.

The prospect of yet another color revolution inevitably comes to mind: perhaps Turquoise-Yellow – reflecting the colors of the Kazakh national flag. Especially because right on cue, sharp observers found out that the usual suspects – the American embassy – was already “warning” about mass protests as early as in December 16, 2021.

Maidan in Almaty? Oh yeah. But it’s complicated.

Almaty in chaos

For the outside world, it’s hard to understand why a major energy exporting power such as Kazakhstan needs to increase gas prices for its own population.

The reason is – what else – unbridled neoliberalism and the proverbial free market shenanigans. Since 2019 liquefied gas is electronically traded in Kazakhstan. So keeping price caps – a decades-long custom – soon became impossible, as producers were constantly faced with selling their product below cost as consumption skyrocketed.

Everybody in Kazakhstan was expecting a price hike, as much as everybody in Kazakhstan uses liquefied gas, especially in their converted cars. And everybody in Kazakhstan has a car, as I was told, ruefully, during my last visit to Almaty, in late 2019, when I was trying in vain to find a taxi to head downtown.

It’s quite telling that the protests started in the city of Zhanaozen, smack into the oil/gas hub of Mangystau. And it’s also telling that Unrest Central immediately turned to car-addicted Almaty, the nation’s real business hub, and not the isolated, government infrastructure-heavy capital in the middle of the steppes.

At first President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev seemed to have been caught in a deer facing the headlights situation. He promised the return of price caps, installed a state of emergency/curfew both in Almaty and Mangystau (then nationwide) while accepting the current government’s resignation en masse and appointing a faceless Deputy Prime Minister, Alikhan Smailov, as interim PM until the formation of a new cabinet.

Yet that could not possibly contain the unrest. In lightning fast succession, we had the storming of the Almaty Akimat (mayor’s office); protesters shooting at the Army; a Nazarbayev monument demolished in Taldykorgan; his former residence in Almaty taken over; Kazakhtelecom disconnecting the whole country from the internet; several members of the National Guard – armored vehicles included – joining the protesters in Aktau; ATMs gone dead.

And then Almaty, plunged into complete chaos, was virtually seized by the protesters, including its international airport, which on Wednesday morning was under extra security, and in the evening had become occupied territory.

Kazakh airspace, meanwhile, had to contend with an extended traffic jam of private jets leaving to Moscow and Western Europe. Even though the Kremlin noted that Nur-Sultan had not asked for any Russian help, a “special delegation” was soon flying out of Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cautiously stressed, “we are convinced that our Kazakh friends can independently solve their internal problems”, adding, “it is important that no one interferes from the outside.”

Geostrategy talks

How could it all derail so fast?

Up to now, the succession game in Kazakhstan had been seen mostly as a hit across Northern Eurasia. Local honchos, oligarchs and the comprador elites all kept their fiefdoms and sources of income. And yet, off the record, I was told in Nur-Sultan in late 2019 there would be serious problems ahead when some regional clans would come to collect – as in confronting “the old man” Nazarbayev and the system he put in place.

Tokayev did issue the proverbial call “not to succumb to internal and external provocations” – which makes sense – yet also assured that the government “will not fall”. Well, it was already falling, even after an emergency meeting trying to address the tangled web of socioeconomic problems with a promise that all “legitimate demands” by the protesters will be met.

This did not play out as a classic regime change scenario – at least initially. The configuration was of a fluid, amorphous state of chaos, as the – fragile – Kazakh institutions of power were simply incapable of comprehending the wider social malaise. A competent political opposition is non-existent: there’s no political exchange. Civil society has no channels to express itself.

So yes: there’s a riot goin’ on – to quote American rhythm’n blues. And everyone is a loser. What is still not exactly clear is which conflicting clans are flaming the protests – and what is their agenda in case they’d have a shot at power. After all, no “spontaneous” protests can pop up simultaneously all over this vast nation virtually overnight.

Kazakhstan was the last republic to leave the collapsing USSR over three decades ago, in December 1991. Under Nazarbayev, it immediately engaged in a self-described “multi-vector” foreign policy. Up to now, Nur-Sultan was skillfully positioning itself as a prime diplomatic mediator – from discussions on the Iranian nuclear program as early as 2013 to the war in/on Syria from 2016. The target: to solidify itself as the quintessential bridge between Europe and Asia.

The Chinese-driven New Silk Roads, or BRI, were officially launched by Xi Jinping at Nazarbayev University in September 2013. That happened to swiftly dovetail with the Kazakh concept of Eurasian economic integration, crafted after Nazarbayev’s own government spending project, Nurly Zhol (“Bright Path”), designed to turbo-charge the economy after the 2008-9 financial crisis.

In September 2015, in Beijing, Nazarbayev aligned Nurly Zhol with BRI, de facto propelling Kazakhstan to the heart of the new Eurasian integration order. Geostrategically, the largest landlocked nation on the planet became the prime interplay territory of the Chinese and Russian visions, BRI and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).

A diversionary tactic

For Russia, Kazakhstan is even more strategic than for China. Nur-Sultan signed the CSTO treaty in 2003. It’s a key member of the EAEU. Both nations have massive military-technical ties and conduct strategic space cooperation in Baikonur. Russian has the status of an official language, spoken by 51% of the republic’s citizens.

At least 3.5 million Russians live in Kazakhstan. It’s still early to speculate about a possible “revolution” tinged with national liberation colors were the old system to eventually collapse. And even if that happened, Moscow will never lose all of its considerable political influence.

So the immediate problem is to assure Kazakhstan’s stability. The protests must be dispersed. There will be plenty of economic concessions. Permanent destabilizing chaos simply cannot be tolerated – and Moscow knows it by heart. Another – rolling – Maidan is out of the question.

The Belarus equation has shown how a strong hand can operate miracles. Still, the CSTO agreements do not cover assistance in case of internal political crises – and Tokayev did not seem to be inclined to make such a request.

Until he did. He called for the CSTO to intervene to restore order. There will be a military enforced curfew. And Nur-Sultan may even confiscate the assets of US and UK companies which are allegedly sponsoring the protests.

This is how Nikol Pashinyan, chairman of the CSTO Collective Security Council and Prime Minister of Armenia, framed it: Tokayev invoked a “threat to national security” and the “sovereignty” of Kazakhstan, “caused, inter alia, by outside interference.” So the CSTO “decided to send peacekeeping forces” to normalize the situation, “for a limited period of time”.

The usual destabilizing suspects are well known. They may not have the reach, the political influence, and the necessary amount of Trojan horses to keep Kazakhstan on fire indefinitely.

At least the Trojan horses themselves are being very explicit. They want an immediate release of all political prisoners; regime change; a provisional government of “reputable” citizens; and – what else – “withdrawal of all alliances with Russia.”

And then it all gets down to the level of ridiculous farce, as the EU starts calling on Kazakh authorities to “respect the right to peaceful protests.” As in allowing total anarchy, robbery, looting, hundreds of vehicles destroyed, attacks with assault rifles, ATMs and even the Duty Free at Almaty airport completely plundered.

This analysis (in Russian) covers some key points, mentioning, “the internet is full of pre-arranged propaganda posters and memos to the rebels” and the fact that “the authorities are not cleaning up the mess, as Lukashenko did in Belarus.”

Slogans so far seem to originate from plenty of sources – extolling everything from a “western path” to Kazakhstan to polygamy and Sharia law: “There is no single goal yet, it has not been identified. The result will come later. It is usually the same. The elimination of sovereignty, external management and, finally, as a rule, the formation of an anti-Russian political party.”

Putin, Lukashenko and Tokayev spent a long time over the phone, at the initiative of Lukashenko. The leaders of all CSTO members are in close contact. A master game plan – as in a massive “anti-terrorist operation” – has already been hatched. Gen. Gerasimov will personally supervise it.

Now compare it to what I learned from two different, high-ranking intel sources.

The first source was explicit: the whole Kazakh adventure is being sponsored by MI6 to create a new Maidan right before the Russia/US-NATO talks in Geneva and Brussels next week, to prevent any kind of agreement. Significantly, the “rebels” maintained their national coordination even after the internet was disconnected.

The second source is more nuanced: the usual suspects are trying to force Russia to back down against the collective West by creating a major distraction in their Eastern front, as part of a rolling strategy of chaos all along Russia’s borders. That may be a clever diversionary tactic, but Russian military intel is watching. Closely. And for the sake of the usual suspects, this better may not be interpreted – ominously – was a war provocation.

China, Russia and India: Foreign Ministers Joint Communique

November 27, 2021

Joint Communique of the 18th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China

November 26, 2021

1. The 18th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China was held in the digital video-conference format on 26 November 2021. The meeting took place in the backdrop of negative impacts of the global Covid-19 pandemic, on-going economic recovery as well as continuing threats of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, trans-national organized crime, natural and man-made disasters, food security and climate change.

2. The Ministers exchanged views on further strengthening the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral cooperation and also discussed various regional and international issues of importance. The Ministers recalled their last meeting in Moscow in September 2020 as well as the RIC Leaders’ Informal Summit in Osaka (Japan) in June 2019 and noted the need for regular high level meetings to foster closer cooperation among the RIC countries.

3. Expressing their solidarity with those who were negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministers underlined the importance of a timely, transparent, effective and non-discriminatory international response to global health challenges including pandemics, with equitable and affordable access to medicines, vaccines and critical health supplies. They reiterated the need for continued cooperation in this fight inter-alia through sharing of vaccine doses, transfer of technology, development of local production capacities, promotion of supply chains for medical products. In this context, they noted the ongoing discussions in the WTO on COVID-19 vaccine Intellectual Property Rights waiver and the use of flexibilities of the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.

4. Emphasizing the need for collective cooperation in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministers noted the measures being taken by the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, non-profit organisations, academia, business and industry in combating the pandemic. In this context, the Ministers called for strengthening the policy responses of WHO in the fight against Covid-19 and other global health challenges. They also called for making Covid-19 vaccination a global public good.

5. The Ministers agreed that cooperation among the RIC countries will contribute not only to their own growth but also to global peace, security, stability and development. The Ministers underlined the importance of strengthening of an open, transparent, just, inclusive, equitable and representative multi-polar international system based on respect for international law and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and central coordinating role of the United Nations in the international system.

6. The Ministers reiterated that a multi-polar and rebalanced world based on sovereign equality of nations and respect for international law and reflecting contemporary realities requires strengthening and reforming of the multilateral system. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to upholding international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The Ministers acknowledged that the current interconnected international challenges should be addressed through reinvigorated and reformed multilateral system, especially of the UN and its principal organs, and other multilateral institutions such as International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), with a view to enhancing its capacity to effectively address the diverse challenges of our time and to adapt them to 21st century realities. The Ministers recalled the 2005 World Summit Outcome document and reaffirmed the need for comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council, with a view to making it more representative, effective and efficient, and to increase the representation of the developing countries so that it can adequately respond to global challenges. Foreign Ministers of China and Russia reiterated the importance they attached to the status of India in international affairs and supported its aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations.Foreign Ministers of Russia and China congratulated India for its successful Presidency of the UNSC in August 2021.

7. Underlining the significance they attach to the intra-BRICS cooperation, the Ministers welcomed the outcomes of the 13th BRICS Summit held under India’s chairmanship on 9 September 2021. They agreed to work actively to implement the decisions of the successive BRICS Summits, deepen BRICS strategic partnership, strengthen cooperation in its three pillars namely political and security cooperation; economic and finance; and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Russia and India extend full support to China for its BRICS Chairship in 2022 and hosting the XIV BRICS Summit.

8. In the year of the 20th Anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) the Ministers underlined that the SCO as an influential and responsible member of the modern system of international relations plays a constructive role in securing peace and sustainable development, advancing regional cooperation and consolidating ties of good-neighbourliness and mutual trust. In this context, they emphasized the importance of further strengthening the Organization’s multifaceted potential with a view to promote multilateral political, security, economic and people-to-people exchanges cooperation. The Ministers intend to pay special attention to ensuring stability in the SCO space, including to step up efforts in jointly countering terrorism, illicit drug trafficking and trans-border organized crime under the framework of SCO-Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. They appreciated the Ministerial meeting in the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan format held on 14th July 2021 in Dushanbe.

9. The Ministers supported the G-20’s leading role in global economic governance and international economic cooperation. They expressed their readiness to enhance communication and cooperation including through G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and other means, through consultations and mutual support in areas of respective interest.

10. The Ministers stand for maintaining and strengthening of ASEAN Centrality and the role of ASEAN-led mechanisms in the evolving regional architecture, including through fostering ties between ASEAN and other regional organizations such as the SCO, IORA, BIMSTEC. The Ministers reiterated the importance of the need for closer cooperation and consultations in various regional fora and organizations, East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), to jointly contribute to regional peace, security and stability.

11. The Ministers consider it important to utilize the potential of the countries of the region, international organizations and multilateral associations in order to create a space in Eurasia for broad, open, mutually beneficial and equal interaction in accordance with international law and taking into account national interests. In that regard, they noted the idea of establishing a Greater Eurasian Partnership involving the SCO countries, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other interested States and multilateral associations.

12. The Ministers condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The Ministers reaffirmed that terrorism must be comprehensively countered to achieve a world free of terrorism. They called on the international community to strengthen UN-led global counter-terrorism cooperation by fully implementing the relevant UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. In this context, they called for early adoption of the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. The Ministers stressed that those committing, orchestrating, inciting or supporting, financing terrorist acts must be held accountable and brought to justice in accordance with existing international commitments on countering terrorism, including the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the FATF standards, international treaties, including on the basis of the principle “extradite or prosecute” and relevant international and bilateral obligations and in compliance with applicable domestic legislation.

13. The Ministers emphasized the importance of the three international drug control conventions and other relevant legal instruments which form the edifice of the drug control system. They reiterated their firm resolve to address the world drug problem, on a basis of common and shared responsibility. The Ministers expressed their determination to counter the spread of illicit drug trafficking in opiates and methamphetamine from Afghanistan and beyond, which poses a serious threat to regional security and stability and provides funding for terrorist organizations.

14. The Ministers reiterated the need for a holistic approach to development and security of ICTs, including technical progress, business development, safeguarding the security of States and public interests, and respecting the right to privacy of individuals. The Ministers noted that technology should be used responsibly in a human-centric manner. They underscored the leading role of the United Nations in promoting a dialogue to forge common understandings on the security of and in the use of ICTs and development of universally agreed norms, rules and principles for responsible behaviour of States in the area of ICTs and recognized the importance of strengthening its international cooperation. The Ministers recalled that the development of ICT capabilities for military purposes and the malicious use of ICTs by State and non-State actors including terrorists and criminal groups is a disturbing trend. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to principles of preventing conflicts stemming from the use of ICTs, as well as ensuring use of these technologies for peaceful purposes. In this context, they welcomed the work of recently concluded UN-mandated groups namely Open Ended Working Group on the developments in the fields of Information and Telecommunications in the context of international security (OEWG) and the Sixth United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE) on Advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security and their consensual final reports. The Ministers supported the OEWG on the security of and in the use of ICTs 2021-2025.

15. The Ministers, while emphasizing the important role of the ICTs for growth and development, acknowledged the potential misuse of ICTs for criminal activities and threats. The Ministers expressed concern over the increasing level and complexity of criminal misuse of ICTs as well as the absence of a UN-led framework to counter the use of ICTs for criminal purposes. Noting that new challenges and threats in this respect require international cooperation, the Ministers appreciated the launch of the UN Open-Ended Ad-Hoc Intergovernmental Committee of Experts to elaborate a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of ICTs for criminal purposes under the auspices of the United Nations, pursuant to the United Nations General Assembly resolution 74/247.

16. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to broadening and strengthening the participation of emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs) in the international economic decision-making and norm-setting processes, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this regard, they emphasized the importance of constant efforts to reform the international financial architecture. They expressed concern that enhancing the voice and participation of EMDCs in the Bretton Woods institutions remains far from realization.

17. The Ministers reaffirmed their support for a transparent, open, inclusive and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core. In this context, they reiterated their support for the necessary reform which would preserve the centrality, core values and fundamental principles of the WTO while taking into account the interests of all members, especially developing countries and Least Developing Countries (LDCs). They emphasized the primary importance of ensuring the restoration and preservation of the normal functioning of a two-stage WTO Dispute Settlement system, including the expeditious appointment of all Appellate Body members. The post-pandemic world requires diversified global value chains that are based on resilience and reliability.

18. The Ministers agreed that the imposition of unilateral sanctions beyond those adopted by the UNSC as well as “long-arm jurisdiction” were inconsistent with the principles of international law, have reduced the effectiveness and legitimacy of the UNSC sanction regime, and had a negative impact on third States and international economic and trade relations. They called for a further consolidation and strengthening of the working methods of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee to ensure their effectiveness, responsiveness and transparency.

19. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in its three dimensions- economic, social and environmental in a balanced and integrated manner – and reiterated that the Sustainable Development Goals are integrated and indivisible and must be achieved ‘leaving no one behind’. The Ministers called upon the international community to foster a more equitable and balanced global development partnership to address the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and to accelerate the implementation of 2030 Agenda while giving special attention to the difficulties and needs of the developing countries. The Ministers urged developed countries to honour their Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments, including the commitment to achieve the target of 0.7 percent of gross national income for official development assistance (ODA/GNI) to developing countries and to facilitate capacity building and the transfer of technology to developing countries together with additional development resources, in line with national policy objectives of the recipients.

20. The Ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to Climate action by implementation of Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement adopted under the principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including the principle of Equity, Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, the criticality of adequate finance and technology flows, judicious use of resources and the need for sustainable lifestyles. They recognized that peaking of Greenhouse Gas Emissions will take longer for developing countries, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty. They stressed the importance of a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that addresses the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in a balanced way. They welcomed the outcomes of the 26th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-26) and the 15th Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-15).

21. The Ministers underlined the imperative of dialogue to strengthen international peace and security through political and diplomatic means. The Ministers confirmed their commitment to ensure prevention of an arms race in outer space and its weaponization, through the adoption of a relevant multilateral legally binding instrument. In this regard, they noted the relevance of the draft treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space and of the threat or use of force against outer space objects. They emphasized that the Conference on Disarmament, as the single multilateral negotiating forum on this subject, has the primary role in the negotiation of a multilateral agreement, or agreements, as appropriate, on the prevention of an arms race in outer space in all its aspects. They expressed concern over the possibility of outer space turning into an arena of military confrontation. They stressed that practical transparency and confidence building measures, such as the No First Placement initiative may also contribute towards the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The Ministers reaffirmed their support for enhancing international cooperation in outer space in accordance with international law, based on the Outer Space Treaty. They recognized, in that regard, the leading role of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). They agreed to stand together for enhancing the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and safety of space operations through deliberations under UNCOPUOS.

22. The Ministers reiterated the importance of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC) as a key pillar of the global disarmament and security architecture. They highlighted the need for BTWC States Parties to comply with BTWC, and actively consult one another on addressing issues through cooperation in relation to the implementation of the Convention and strengthening it, including by negotiating a legally binding Protocol for the Convention that provides for, inter alia, an efficient verification mechanism. The BTWC functions should not be duplicated by other mechanisms. They also reaffirmed support for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and called upon the State Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to uphold the Convention and the integrity of the CWC and engage in a constructive dialogue with a view to restoring the spirit of consensus in the OPCW.

23. The Ministers showed deep concern about the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) falling into the hands of terrorist groups, including the use of chemicals and biological agents for terrorist purposes. To address the threat of chemical and biological terrorism, they emphasized the need to launch multilateral negotiations on an international convention for the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism at the Conference on Disarmament. They urged all States to take and strengthen national measures, as appropriate, to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and materials and technologies related to their manufacture.

24. The Ministers noted rising concerns regarding dramatic change of the situation in Afghanistan. They reaffirmed their support for basic principle of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and called for formation of a truly inclusive government that represents all the major ethnic and political groups of the country. The Ministers advocated a peaceful, secure, united, sovereign, stable and prosperous inclusive Afghanistan that exists in harmony with its neighbors. They called on the Taliban to take actions in accordance with the results of all the recently held international and regional formats of interaction on Afghanistan, including the UN Resolutions on Afghanistan. Expressing concern over deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the Ministers called for immediate and unhindered humanitarian assistance to be provided to Afghanistan. The Ministers also emphasized on the central role of UN in Afghanistan.

25. They stressed the necessity of urgent elimination of UNSC proscribed terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIL and others for lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region. The Ministers acknowledged the widespread and sincere demand of the Afghan people for lasting peace. They reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used to threaten or attack any other country, and that no Afghan group or individual should support terrorists operating on the territory of any other country.

26. The Ministers reiterated the importance of full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UNSC Resolution 2231 and expressed their support to the relevant efforts to ensure the earliest reinvigoration of the JCPOA which is a landmark achievement for multilateral diplomacy and the nuclear non-proliferation.

27. The Ministers reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and unity of Myanmar. They expressed support to the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) aimed at implementation of its Five-Point Consensus in cooperation with Myanmar. They called on all sides to refrain from violence.

28. The Ministers underlined the importance of lasting peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. They expressed their support for a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to resolve all issues pertaining to the Korean Peninsula.

29. The Ministers welcomed the announcement of the Gaza ceasefire beginning 21 May 2021 and stressed the importance of the restoration of general stabilization. They recognized the efforts made by the UN and regional countries to prevent the hostilities from escalating. They mourned the loss of civilian lives resulting from the violence, called for the full respect of international humanitarian law and urged the international community’s immediate attention to providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population, particularly in Gaza. They supported in this regard the Secretary General’s call for the international community to work with the United Nations, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), on developing an integrated, robust package of support for a swift and sustainable reconstruction and recovery as well as for appropriate use of such aid. The Ministers reiterated their support for a two-State solution guided by the international legal framework previously in place, resulting in creating an independent and viable Palestinian State and based on the vision of a region where Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace within secure and recognised borders.

30. The Ministers reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. They expressed their conviction that there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict. They also reaffirmed their support to a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated political process in full compliance with UNSC Resolution 2254. They welcomed in this context the importance of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, launched with the decisive participation of the countries-guarantors of the Astana Process and other states engaged in efforts to address the conflict through political means, and expressed their support to the efforts of Mr. Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria, to ensure the sustainable and effective work of the Committee. They reiterated their conviction that in order to reach general agreement, members of the Constitutional Committee should be governed by a sense of compromise and constructive engagement without foreign interference and externally imposed timelines. They emphasized the fundamental importance of allowing unhindered humanitarian aid to all Syrians in accordance with the UN humanitarian principles and the post-conflict reconstruction of Syria that would contribute to the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to their places of origin thus paving the way to achieving long-term stability and security in Syria and the region in general.

31. The Ministers expressed grave concern over the ongoing conflict in Yemen which affects the security and stability not only of Yemen, but also of the entire region, and has caused what is being called by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis currently in the world. They called for a complete cessation of hostilities and the establishment of an inclusive, Yemeni-led negotiation process mediated by the UN. They also stressed the importance of providing urgent humanitarian access and assistance to all Yemenis.

32. The Ministers welcomed the formation of the new transitional Presidency Council and Government of National Unity in Libya as a positive development and hoped that it would promote reconciliation among all political parties and Libyan society, work towards restoration of peace and stability and conduct elections on 24 December 2021 to hand over power to the new government as per the wishes of the Libyan people. They also noted the important role of UN in this regard.

33. The Ministers noted that some of the planned activities under the RIC format could not take place in the physical format due to the global Covid-19 pandemic situation. They welcomed the outcomes of the 18th RIC Trilateral Academic Conference organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi (ICWA) in the video-conference format on 22-23 April 2021. In this context, they also commended the contribution of the Institute of Chinese Studies (New Delhi), Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow) and China Institute of International Studies (Beijing) in establishing the RIC Academic Conference as the premier annual analytical forum for deepening RIC cooperation in diverse fields.

34. The Ministers expressed their support to China to host Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

35. Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China and the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation thanked the External Affairs Minister of India for successful organization of the RIC Foreign Ministers Meeting. External Affairs Minister of India passed on the chairmanship in the RIC format to the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China. The date and venue of the next RIC Foreign Ministers Meeting will be agreed upon through the diplomatic channels.

New Great Game in the Caucasus and Central Asia (Updated: Maps)

NOVEMBER 12, 2021

New Great Game in the Caucasus and Central Asia - Asia Times
New Great Game in the Caucasus and Central Asia (Updated: Maps)

Players unite and face off so fast Eurasian integration’s chessboard feels like musical chairs prestissimo

by Pepe Escobar for the Saker Blog and cross-posted with Asia Times

The Eurasian chessboard is in non-stop motion at dizzying speed.

After the Afghanistan shock, we’re all aware of the progressive interconnection of the Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and of the preeminent roles played by Russia, China and Iran. These are the pillars of the New Great Game.

Let’s now focus on some relatively overlooked but no less important aspects of the game – ranging from the South Caucasus to Central Asia.

Iran under the new Raisi administration is now on the path of increased trade and economic integration with the EAEU, after its admission as a full member of the SCO. Tehran’s “Go East” pivot implies strengthened political security as well as food security.

That’s where the Caspian Sea plays a key role – as inter-Caspian sea trade routes completely bypass American sanctions or blockade attempts.

An inevitable consequence, medium to long term, is that Iran’s renewed strategic security anchored in the Caspian will also extend to and bring benefits to Afghanistan, which borders two of the five Caspian neighbors: Iran and Turkmenistan.

The ongoing Eurasian integration process features a Trans-Caspian corridor as a key node, from Xinjiang in China across Central Asia, then Turkey, all the way to Eastern Europe. The corridor is a work in progress.

Some of it is being conducted by CAREC (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation), which strategically includes China, Mongolia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the five Central Asian “stans” and Afghanistan. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) coordinates the secretariat.

CAREC is not a Chinese-driven Belt and Road and Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIIB) body. Yet the Chinese do interact constructively with the Western-leaning, Manila-based ADB.

Belt and Road is developing its own corridors via the Central Asian “stans” and especially all the way to Iran, now strategically linked to China via the long-term, $400 billion energy-and-development deal.

Practically, the Trans-Caspian will run in parallel to and will be complementary to the existing BRI corridors – where we have, for instance, German auto industry components loading cargo trains in the Trans-Siberian bound all the way to joint ventures in China while Foxconn and HP’s laptops and printers made in Chongqing travel the other way to Western Europe.

The Caspian Sea is becoming a key Eurasian trade player since its status was finally defined in 2018 in Aktau, in Kazakhstan. After all, the Caspian is a major crossroads simultaneously connecting Central Asia and the South Caucasus, Central Asia and West Asia, and northern and southern Eurasia.

It’s a strategic neighbor to the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) – which includes Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and India –while also connecting Belt and Road and the EAEU.

Watch the Turkic Council

All of the above interactions are routinely discussed and planned at the annual St Petersburg Economic Forum and the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia’s top economic meetings alongside the Valdai discussions.

But then there are also interpolations between players – some of them leading to possible partnerships that are not exactly appreciated by the three leading members of Eurasia integration: Russia, China and Iran.

For instance, four months ago Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Ruslan Kazakbaev visited Baku to propose a strategic partnership – dubbed 5+3 – between Central Asia and South Caucasus states.

Ay, there’s the rub. A specific problem is that both Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace – which is a military gig – and also of the Turkic Council, which has embarked on a resolute expansion drive. To complicate matters, Russia also has a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan.

The Turkic Council has the potential to act as a monkey wrench dropped into the – Eurasian – works. There are five members: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

This is pan-Turkism – or pan-Turanism – in action, with a special emphasis on the Turk-Azeri “one nation, two states.” Ambition is the norm: The Turkic Council has been actively trying to seduce Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Hungary to become members.

Assuming the 5+3 idea gets traction that would lead to the formation of a single entity from the Black Sea all the way to the borders of Xinjiang, in thesis under Turkish preeminence. And that means NATO preeminence.

Russia, China and Iran will not exactly welcome it. All of the 8 members of the 5+3 are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, while half (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia) are also members of the counterweight, the Russia-led CSTO.

Eurasian players are very much aware that in early 2021 NATO switched the command of its quite strategic Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to Turkey. Subsequently, Ankara has embarked on a serious diplomatic drive – with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Aka visiting Libya, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Translation: That’s Turkey – and not the Europeans – projecting NATO power across Eurasia.

Add to it two recent military exercises, Anatolian 21 and Anatolian Eagle 2021, focused on special ops and air combat. Anatolian 21 was conducted by Turkish special forces. The list of attendants was quite something, in terms of a geopolitical arc. Apart from Turkey, we had Albania, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Qatar, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – with Mongolia and Kosovo as observers.

Once again, that was Pan-Turkism – as well as neo-Ottomanism – in action.

Watch the new Intermarium

Speculation by Brzezinski nostalgia denizens that a successful 5+3, plus an expanded Turkic Council, would lead to the isolation of Russia in vast swaths of Eurasia are idle.

There’s no evidence that Ankara would be able to control oil and gas corridors (this is prime Russian and Iran territory) or influence the opening up of the Caspian to Western interests (that’s a matter for the Caspian neighbors, which include, once again, Russia and Iran). Tehran and Moscow are very much aware of the lively Erdogan/Aliyev spy games constantly enacted in Baku.

Pakistan for its part may have close relations with Turkey – and the Turk-Azeri combo. Yet that did not prevent Islamabad from striking a huge military deal with Tehran.

According to the deal, Pakistan will train Iranian fighter pilots and Iran will train Pakistani anti-terrorism special ops. The Pakistani Air Force has a world-class training program – while Tehran has first-class experience in anti-terror ops in Iraq/Syria as well as in its sensitive borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Turk-Azeri combo should be aware that Baku’s dream of becoming a trade/transportation corridor hub in the Caucasus may only happen in close coordination with regional players.

The possibility still exists of a trade/connectivity Turk-Azeri corridor to be extended into the Turkic-based heartland of Central Asia. Yet Baku’s recent heavy-handedness after the military victory in Nagorno-Karabakh predictably engineered blowback. Iran and India are developing their own corridor ideas going East and West.

It was up to the chairman of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, Alireza Peymanpak, to clarify that “two alternative Iran-Eurasia transit routes will replace Azerbaijan’s route.” The first should open soon, “via Armenia” and the second “via sea by purchasing and renting vessels.”

That was a direct reference, once again, to the inevitable International North-South Transportation Corridor: rail, road and water routes crisscrossing 7,200 kilometers and interlinking  Russia, Iran, Central Asia, the Caucasus, India and Western Europe. The INSTC is at least 30% cheaper and 40% shorter than existing, tortuous routes.

Baku – and Ankara – have to be ultra-savvy diplomatically not to find themselves excluded from the inter-connection, even considering that the original INSTC route linked India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia.

Two camps seem to be irreconcilable at this particular juncture: Turkey-Azerbaijan on the one hand and India-Iran on the other, with Pakistan in the uncomfortable middle.

The key development is that New Delhi and Tehran have decided that the INSTC will go through Armenia – and not Azerbaijan – all the way to Russia.

That’s terrible news for Ankara – a wound that even an expanded Turkic Council would not heal. Baku, for its part, may have to deal with the unpleasant consequences of being regarded by top Eurasian players as an unreliable partner.

Anyway, we’re still far from the finality expressed by the legendary casino mantra, “The chips are down.” This is a chessboard in non-stop movement.

We should not forget, for instance, the Bucharest Nine: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. That concerns a prime NATO wet dream: the latest remix of the Intermarium – as in de facto blocking Russia out of Europe. A dominating team of 5 +3 and Bucharest Nine would be the ultimate pincer in terms of  “isolating” Russia.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

Central Eurasia Pipelines
Iranian Canal Proposed
Eurasian Transport Corridors

Afghanistan: Between Pipelines and ISIS-K, the Americans Are Still in Play

US trained and armed Afghan security forces are joining ISIS-K, which makes the US ‘withdrawal’ from Afghanistan look more like an American ‘repositioning’ to keep chaos humming

By Pepe Escobar

Afghanistan: between pipelines and ISIS-K, the Americans are still in play

Global Research,

November 11, 2021

The Cradle 10 November 2021

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***

Something quite extraordinary happened in early November in Kabul.

Taliban interim-Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov got together to discuss a range of political and economic issues. Most importantly, they resurrected the legendary soap opera which in the early 2000s I dubbed Pipelineistan: the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

Call it yet another remarkable, historical twist in the post-jihad Afghan saga, going back as far as the mid-1990s when the Taliban first took power in Kabul.

In 1997, the Taliban even visited Houston to discuss the pipeline, then known as TAP, as reported in Part 1 of my e-book Forever Wars.

During the second Clinton administration, a consortium led by Unocal – now part of Chevron – was about to embark on what would have been an extremely costly proposition (nearly $8 billion) to undercut Russia in the intersection of Central and South Asia; as well as to smash the competition: the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline.

The Taliban were duly courted – in Houston and in Kabul. A key go-between was the ubiquitous Zalmay Khalilzad, aka ‘Bush’s Afghan,’ in one of his earlier incarnations as Unocal lobbyist-cum-Taliban interlocutor. But then, low oil prices and non-stop haggling over transit fees stalled the project. That was the situation in the run-up to 9/11.

In early 2002, shortly after the Taliban were expelled from power by the American “bombing to democracy” ethos, an agreement to build what was then still billed as TAP (without India), was signed by Ashgabat, Kabul and Islamabad.

The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline route

As years went by, it was clear that TAPI, which runs for roughly 800 km across Afghan lands and could yield as much as $400 million annually in transit revenue for Kabul’s coffers, would never be built while hostage to a guerrilla environment.

Still, five years ago, Kabul decided to revive TAPI and work started in 2018 – under massive security in Herat, Farah, Nimruz and Helmand provinces, already largely under Taliban control.

At the time, the Taliban said they would not attack TAPI and would even provide their own security. The gas pipeline was to be paired with fiber optic cables – as with the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan – and a railway line from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan.

History never stops playing tricks in the graveyard of empires. Believe it or not, we’re now back to the same situation on the ground as in 1996.

The spanner in the works

If we pay attention to the plot twists in this never-ending Pipelineistan saga, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that TAPI will finally be built. It’s certainly a quadruple win for all involved – including India – and a massive step towards Eurasia’s integration in its Central-South Asian node.Afghanistan Takes Center Stage in the New Great Game

Enter the spanner in the works: ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), the subsidiary of Daesh in Afghanistan.

Russian intel has known for over a year that the usual suspects have been providing help to ISIS-K, at least indirectly.

Yet now there’s a new element, confirmed by Taliban sources, that quite a few US-trained soldiers of the previous Afghan National Army are incorporating themselves into ISIS-K to fight against the Taliban.

ISIS-K, which sports a global jihadi mindset, has typically viewed the Taliban as a group of dirty nationalists. Earlier jihadi members used to be recruited from the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Yet now, apart from former soldiers, they are mostly young, disaffected urban Afghans, westernized by trashy pop culture.

It’s been hard for ISIS-K to establish the narrative that the Taliban are western collaborators – considering that the NATO galaxy continues to antagonize and/or dismiss the new rulers of Kabul.

So the new ISIS-K spin is monomaniac: basically, a strategy of chaos to discredit the Taliban, with an emphasis on the latter being unable to provide security for average Afghans. That is what underlies the recent horrific attacks on Shia mosques and government infrastructure, including hospitals.

In parallel, US President Joe Biden’s “over the horizon” spin, meant to define the alleged American strategy to fight ISIS-K, has not convinced anyone, apart from NATO vassals.

Since its creation in 2015, ISIS-K continues to be financed by the same dodgy sources that fueled chaos in Syria and Iraq. The moniker itself is an attempt to misdirect, a divisive ploy straight out of the CIA’s playbook.

Historic ‘Khorasan’ comes from successive Persian empires, a vast area ranging from Persia and the Caspian all the way to northwest Afghanistan – and has nothing whatsoever to do with Salafi-jihadism and the Wahhabi lunatics who make up the terrorist group’s ranks. Furthermore, these ISIS-K jihadis are based in south-eastern Afghanistan, away from Iran’s borders, so the ‘Khorasan’ label makes zero sense.

Russian, Chinese and Iranian intel operate on the basis that the US ‘withdrawal’ from Afghanistan, as in Syria and Iraq, was not a withdrawal but a repositioning. What’s left is the trademark, undiluted American strategy of chaos executed via both direct (troops stealing Syrian oil) and indirect (ISIS-K) actors.

The scenario is self-evident when one considers that Afghanistan was the precious missing link of China’s New Silk Roads. After the US exit, Afghanistan is not only primed to fully engage with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but also to become a key node of Eurasia integration as a future full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).

To hedge against these positive developments, the routine practices of the Pentagon and its NATO subsidiary remain in wait in Afghanistan, ready to disrupt political, diplomatic, economic and security progress in the country. We may be now entering a new chapter in the US Hegemony playbook: Closet Forever Wars.

The closely connected SCO

Fifth columnists are tasked with carrying the new imperial message to the West. That’s the case of Rahmatullah Nabil, former head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), “the Afghan intelligence service with close ties to the CIA,” as described by Foreign Policy magazine..

In an interview presented with a series of trademark imperial lies – “law and order is disintegrating,” “Afghanistan has no friends in the international community,” “the Taliban have no diplomatic partners” – Nabil, at least, does not make a complete fool of himself.

He confirms that ISIS-K keeps recruiting, and adds that former Afghan defense/security ops are joining ISIS-K because “they see the Islamic State as a better platform for themselves.”

He’s also correct that the Taliban leadership in Kabul is “afraid the extreme and young generation of their fighters” may join ISIS-K, “which has a regional agenda.”

Russia “playing a double game” is just silly. In presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov, Moscow maintains a first-class interlocutor in constant touch with the Taliban, and would never allow the “resistance,” as in CIA assets, to be based in Tajikistan with an Afghan destabilization agenda.

On Pakistan, it’s correct that Islamabad is “trying to convince the Taliban to include pro-Pakistan technocrats in their system.” But that’s not “in return for lobbying for international recognition.” It’s a matter of responding to the Taliban’s own management needs.

The SCO is very closely connected on what they collectively expect from the Taliban. That includes an inclusive government and no influx of refugees. Uzbekistan, for instance, as the main gateway to Central Asia for Afghanistan, has committed to participating in the reconstruction business.

For its part, Tajikistan announced that China will build a $10 million military base in the geologically spectacular Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Countering western hysteria, Dushanbe made sure that the base will essentially host a special rapid reaction unit of the Regional Department for Organized Crime Control, subordinated to Tajikistan’s Minister of Internal Affairs.

That will include around 500 servicemen, several light armored vehicles, and drones. The base is part of a deal between Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry and China’s Ministry of State Security.

The base is a necessary compromise. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has a serious problem with the Taliban: he refuses to recognize them, and insists on better Tajik representation in a new government in Kabul.

Beijing, for its part, never deviates from its number one priority: preventing Uighurs from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) by all means from crossing Tajik borders to wreak havoc in Xinjiang.

So all the major SCO players are acting in tandem towards a stable Afghanistan. As for US Think Tankland, predictably, they don’t have much of a strategy, apart from praying for chaos.

*

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil, is a correspondent and editor-at-large at Asia Times and columnist for Consortium News and Strategic Culture in Moscow. Since the mid-1980s he’s lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Singapore, Bangkok. He has extensively covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia to China, Iran, Iraq and the wider Middle East. Pepe is the author of Globalistan – How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War; Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad during the Surge. He was contributing editor to The Empire and The Crescent and Tutto in Vendita in Italy. His last two books are Empire of Chaos and 2030. Pepe is also associated with the Paris-based European Academy of Geopolitics. When not on the road he lives between Paris and Bangkok.

He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Featured image: American-trained Afghan forces are defecting to join ISIS-K, in what increasingly looks like a US plan to subvert the war-torn country’s recovery. (Source: The Cradle)The original source of this article is The CradleCopyright © Pepe EscobarThe Cradle, 2021

Sochi probes the Utopia of a multipolar world

October 20, 2021

Sochi probes the Utopia of a multipolar world

by Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The annual Valdai Club meeting has always been positioned as absolutely essential when it comes to understanding the non-stop movement of geopolitical tectonic plates across Eurasia.

The ongoing 18th meeting in Sochi once again lives up to expectations. The overall theme is Global Shake-Up in the 21st Century: The Individual, Values, and the State. It expands on the theme of a “crumbling world” that Valdai had been analyzing since 2018: as the organizers highlight, this “has ceased to be a metaphor and turned into a palpable reality before our own eyes.”

Framing the discussions in Sochi, Valdai released two intriguing reports capable of offering prime food for thought especially for the Global South: The Age of the Pandemic: Year Two. The Future is Back, and History, to be Continued: The Utopia of a Diverse World.

The “Future is Back” concept essentially means that, after the Covid-19 shock, the notion of a linear one-sided future, complete with “progress” defined as globalized democracy enshrining the “end of history”, is dead and buried.

Globalization, as framed by neoliberalism, proved to be finite.

The slide towards medical totalitarianism and the trappings of a maximum security penitentiary are self-evident. As some Valdai participants noted, Foucault’s concept of “biopower” is no longer abstract philosophy.

The first session in Sochi went a long way in terms of framing our current predicament, starting with how the current – incandescent – US-China clash is unfolding.

Thomas Graham, from the Council on Foreign Relations – the conceptual matrix of the US establishment – recited the proverbial “indispensable nation” platitudes and how it’s “prepared to defend Taiwan”, even as he admitted “the Biden administration is still articulating its policy”.

It was up to Zhou Bo, from the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, to ask the hard questions: if the US and China are in competition, “how far are we from conflict?” He stressed “cooperation” instead of a slide into confrontation; yet China “will cooperate from a position of strength.”

Zhou Bo also clarified how Beijing is “not interested in bipolarity”, in terms of China “replacing the USSR during the Cold War”: after all, “China is not competing with the US elsewhere in the world.” Yet even as “the center of gravity is moving irreversibly to the East”, he admitted the current situation “is more dangerous than during the Cold War.”

Surveying the global chessboard, Former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stressed “the absurdity of the UN Security Council deciding even matters related to the pandemic.” Amorim voiced one of the Global South’s key demands: the “need for a new institutional framework. The closer we get would be the G-20 – a little more African, a little less European.” This G-20 would command the authority the current UNSC lacks.

So Amorim had to tie it all to the centrality of inequality: his quip about “coming from a forgotten region”, Latin America, was very much on point. He also had to stress, “we didn’t want a Pax Americana”. A real, “concrete step” towards multipolarity would be “a big conference” which could be led by this “modified G-20.”

Togtbaatar Damdin, a Member of the Parliament of Mongolia, as he evoked “my great great great grandfather”, Genghis Khan, and how he built “that huge empire and called it Pax Mongolica”, focused on what matters to the here and now: “peaceful trade and economic integration in Greater Eurasia”. Damdin stressed, “we [Mongolians] no longer believe in war. It’s much more profitable to be involved in trade.”

A constant theme in this and other Valdai sessions has been Hybrid War and Shadow War, the new imperial instruments deployed against parts of Latin America, the “Greater Middle East” and Russia-China, in contrast to “a transparent system under the rule of law – and kept by international law”, as noted by Oksana Sinyavskaya from the Institute for Social Policy at the Higher School of Economics.

The discussions in Sochi essentially focused on the twilight of the current hegemonic socio-economic system – essentially neoliberalism; the crisis of alliance systems – as in the rot within NATO; and the toxic confluence of Hybrid War and the pandemic – stressing billions of people. An inevitable conclusion: the current dysfunctional international system in incapable of dealing with crisis management.

Enter rock star Lavrov

In the roundtable presenting the Valdai report on Year Two of the Age of Pandemic, Thomas Gomart, a director of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), stressed how hard it still is to analyze the geopolitics of data. With the Chinese privileging the concept of “ecological civilization”, questions of technological monitoring – as in how social credit is framed – are now on the forefront.

And as we delve deeper into “invisible wars” – Gomart’s own terminology – we face a toxic convergence of environmental degradation and hyper-concentration of digital platforms.

Gomart also made two crucial points that escape many analyses across the Global South: Washington has decided to remain the primus inter pares, and won’t abdicate from this position no matter what. This is happening even as Global Capital – heavily slanted towards the US – wants to find the new China.

That set the stage for Nelson Wong, the Vice Chairman of the Shanghai Center for RimPac Strategic and International Studies, to diplomatically shatter Divide and Rule tactics, and the US obsession with a zero-sum game. Wong stressed how China “does not hold a hostile attitude towards the US”; its aim is a “peaceful rise”.

But most significantly, Wong made sure that “the post-pandemic world will not be determined by the outcome of the confrontation between the US and China, or by splitting the world into two competing camps.” This hopeful perspective implies the Global South will eventually have its say – aligned with Amorim’s proposal of a tweaked G-20.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov could not but shine as the Valdai rock star, during a special Q%A session.

The Valdai discussions in Sochi significantly take place just as Moscow decided to suspend the work of its mission to NATO from November 1, and close the NATO information office in Moscow. Lavrov had already stressed that Russia no longer pretends that changes in the relationship with NATO are possible in the near future: from now on, if they want to talk, they should contact the Russian ambassador to Belgium.

So one of the questions at Sochi had to revolve on whether Moscow should expect NATO to take the first step to improve relations. Lavrov had, once again, to repeat the obvious: “Yes, we proceed from this. We have never started the deterioration of our relations with NATO, the European Union, or any other country in the West or any other region of the world. Everyone knows this story well. When Saakashvili in August 2008 gave the criminal order to bomb the city of Tskhinval and the positions of peacekeepers (including Russian ones), Russia insisted on convening the Russia-NATO Council to consider this situation. The then US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice categorically refused, although when creating the Russia-NATO Council, the Founding Act emphasized that it should act in any “weather”, especially when crisis situations occur. This is one example that marked the beginning of the current state of affairs between the US and NATO.”

So Russia has established the new game in (Atlanticist) town: we only talk to the masters, and ignore the lackeys. As for NATO now geared to create “capabilities” to be used against China, the Global South may collectively engage in rolls of laughter – considering the fresh NATO humiliation in Afghanistan.

With the inevitability of a EU more and more geoeconomically intertwined with China, dysfunctional NATO at best may keep on prowling as a bunch of zombie rabid dogs. Now that’s a Utopia theme for Valdai 2022.

Pepe Escobar’s new ebook: Forever Wars, recaptured in real time

October 14, 2021

Pepe Escobar’s new ebook:  Forever Wars, recaptured in real time

About 20 days ago, Pepe Escobar let us know that part 2 of his Forever Wars series is now available for purchase and download as an e-book.  I sat down to read it in order to write a book review for The Saker Blog.  It is now 20 days later and I am still in awe, comparing the historical with the recent.   It is as if the same bells are ringing once again, yet they are more muted and discordant.  So my book report is that I am still on part 1, which starts before 9/11 and to 2004.  I don’t want to miss one moment of Pepe’s evocative word sketches of the War on Terror, which he calls the War on Terra, and want to take my own sweet time to read Forever Wars I and II.  Because I am reading slowly, let us then not hold up the announcement of the new book.


It is my great pleasure and honor to announce that Pepe Escobar, our friend, our colleague, fellow warrior, and outstanding journalist, has published the second part in the series, Forever Wars.

Now Pepe will take the podium:

(Amarynth exists, stage left, spots on Pepe!)


Forever Wars, recaptured in real-time

By Pepe Escobar

The 21st century, geopolitically, so far has been shaped by the U.S.- engineered Forever Wars.

Forever Wars: Afghanistan-Iraq, part 2, ranging from 2004 to 2021, is the fourth in a series of e-books recovering the Pepe Escobar archives on Asia Times.

The archives track a period of 20 years – starting with the columns and stories published under The Roving Eye sign in the previous Asia Times Online from 2001 all the way to early 2015.

The first e-book, Shadow Play, tracked the interplay between China, Russia and the U.S. between 2017-2020.

The second, Persian Miniatures, tracked the Islamic Republic of Iran throughout the “axis of evil” era, the Ahmadinejad years, the nuclear deal, and “maximum pressure” imposed by the Trump administration.

Forever Wars is divided in two parts, closely tracking Afghanistan and Iraq.

Forever Wars, part 1 starts one month before 9/11 in the heart of Afghanistan, and goes all the way to 2004.

Part 2, edited by my Asia Times colleague Bradley Martin, starts with the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Taliban adventures in Texas and goes all the way to the “Saigon moment” and the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The unifying idea behind this e-book series is quite a challenge: to recover the excitement of what is written as “the first draft of History”.

You may read the whole two-volume compilation chronologically, as a thriller, following in detail all the plot twists and cliffhangers.

Or you may read it in a self-service way, picking a date or a particular theme.

On part 1, you will find the last interview by commander Massoud in the Panjshir before he was killed two days before 9/11; the expansion of jihad as a “thermonuclear bomb”; life in “liberated” Kabul; life in Iraq in the last year under Saddam Hussein; on the trail of al-Qaeda in the Afghan badlands; who brought us the war on Iraq.

On part 2, you will revive, among other themes:

Abu Ghraib as an American tragedy.

Fallujah as a new Guernica.

Iraq as the new Afghanistan.

The myth of Talibanistan.

The counter-insurgency absurdities in “AfPak”.

How we all remain hostages of 9/11.

The Pipelineistan Great Game.

The failing surges – in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

How was life in Talibanistan in the year 2000.

NATO designing our future already in 2010.

Afghanistan courted as a player in Eurasian connectivity.

And since July 7, the chronicle of the astonishing end of the 20-year-long Forever War in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.

The majority of the articles, essays and interviews selected for this two-part e-book were written in Afghanistan and in Iraq and/or before and after multiple visits to both countries.

So welcome to a unique geopolitical road trip – depicting in detail the slings and arrows of outrageous (mis)fortune that will continue to shape the young 21st century.

Ride the snake.

Muqtada The Conqueror gains ground in Iraqi poll

October 12, 2021

In recent elections, Muqtada al-Sadr’s popularity was confirmed, but the infighting in Iraq is just starting

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IraqElections-300x192.jpg
Muqtada The Conqueror gains ground in Iraqi poll

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

It would be tempting to picture the Iraqi parliamentary elections last Sunday as a geopolitical game-changer. Well, it’s complicated – in more ways than one.

Let’s start with the abstention rate. Of the 22 million eligible voters able to choose 329 members of Parliament from 3,227 candidates and 167 parties, only 41% chose to cast their ballots, according to the Iraq High Electoral Commission (IHEC)

Then there’s the notorious fragmentation of the Iraqi political chessboard. Initial results offer a fascinating glimpse. Of the 329 seats, the Sadrists – led by Muqtada al-Sadr – captured 73, a Sunni coalition has 43, a Shi’ite coalition – led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – has 41 and the Kurd faction led by Barzani has 32.

In the current electoral setup, apart from Shi’ite coalitions, Sunnis have two main blocks and the Kurds have two main parties ruling autonomous Kurdistan: the Barzani gang – which do an array of shady deals with the Turks – and the Talabani clan, which is not much cleaner.

What happens next are extremely protracted negotiations, not to mention infighting. Once the results are certified, President Barham Saleh, in theory, has 15 days to choose the next Parliament speaker, and Parliament has one month to choose a President. Yet the whole process could last months.

The question is already in everyone’s minds in Baghdad: true to most forecasts, the Sadrists may eventually come up with the largest number of seats in Parliament. But will they be able to strike a solid alliance to nominate the next prime minister?

Then there’s the strong possibility they may actually prefer to remain in the background, considering the next few years will be extremely challenging for Iraq all across the spectrum: on the security and counter-terrorism front; on the ghastly economic front; on the corruption and abysmal management front; and last but not least, on what exactly the expected US troop withdrawal really means.

The takeover of nearly one-third of Iraqi territory by Daesh from 2014 to 2017 may be a distant memory by now, but the fact remains that out of 40 million Iraqis, untold numbers have to deal on a daily basis with rampant unemployment, no healthcare, meager education opportunities and even no electricity.

The American “withdrawal” in December is a euphemism: 2,500 combat troops will actually be repositioned into unspecified “non-combat” roles. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis – Sunni and Shi’ite – won’t accept it. A solid intel source – Western, not West Asian – assured me assorted Shi’ite outfits have the capability to overrun all American assets in Iraq in only six days, the Green Zone included.

Sistani rules

To paint the main players in the Iraqi political scene as merely a “Shi’ite Islamist-dominated ruling elite” is crass Orientalism. They are not “Islamist” – in a Salafi-jihadi sense.

Neither they have set up a political coalition “tied to militias backed by Iran”: that’s a crass reductionism. These “militias” are in fact the People’s Mobilization Units (PMUs), which were encouraged from the start by Grand Ayatollah Sistani to defend the nation against takfiris and Salafi-jihadis of the Daesh kind, and are legally incorporated into the Ministry of Defense.

What is definitely correct is that Muqtada al-Sadr is in a direct clash with the main Shi’ite political parties – and especially those members involved in massive corruption.

Muqtada is a very complex character. He’s essentially an Iraqi nationalist. He’s opposed to any form of foreign interference, especially any lingering American troop presence – in whatever shape or form. As a Shi’ite, he has to be an enemy of politicized, corrupt Shi’ite profiteers.

Elijah Magnier has done a sterling job focusing on the importance of a new fatwa on the elections issued by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, even more important than the “Fatwa of Reform and Changes” which addressed the occupation of northern Iraq by Daesh in 2014 and led to the creation of the PMUs.

In this new fatwa Sistani, based in the holy city of Najaf, compels voters to search for an “honest candidate” capable of “bringing about real change” and removing “old and habitually corrupt candidates.” Sistani believes “the path of reform is possible” and “hope … must be exploited to remove the incompetent” from ruling Iraq.

The conclusion is inescapable: vast swathes of the dispossessed in Iraq chose to identify this “honest candidate” as Muqtada al-Sadr.

That’s hardly surprising. Muqtada is the youngest son of the late, immensely respected Marja’, Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by the Saddam Hussein apparatus. Muqtada’s immensely popular base, inherited from his father, congregates the poor and the downtrodden, as I saw for myself numerous times, especially in Sadr City in Baghdad and in Najaf and Karbala.

During the Petraeus surge in 2007, I was received with open arms in Sadr City, talked to quite a few Sadrist politicians, saw how the Mahdi army operates both in the military and social realm and observed on the spot many of the Sadrist social projects.

In the Shi’ite collective unconscious Muqtada, at the time based in Najaf, made his mark in early 2004 as the first prominent Shi’ite religious leader cum politician to confront the US occupation head-on, and tell them to leave. The CIA put a price on his head. The Pentagon wanted to whack him – in Najaf. Grand Ayatollah Sistani – and his tens of millions of followers – supported him.

Afterward, he spent a long time perfecting his theological chops in Qom – while remaining in the background, always extremely popular and learning a thing or two about becoming politically savvy. That’s reflected in his current positioning: always opposed to the US occupation forces, but willing to work with Washington to expedite their departure.

Old (imperial) habits die hard. Out of his status of sworn enemy, routinely dismissed as a “volatile cleric” by Western media, at least now Muqtada is recognized in Washington as a key player and even an interlocutor.

Yet that’s not the case of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group, which was born of the Sadrist base. The Americans still don’t understand that this is not a militia but a party: they are branded by the US as a terrorist organization.

US occupation actors also conveniently forget that the way Iraq’s “dysfunctional” Parliament is configured, along confessional lines, is inextricably linked to the project of Western liberal democracy being bombed into Iraq.

Geopolitically, looking ahead, Iraq’s future in West Asia from now on will be inextricably linked to Eurasian integration. Not surprisingly, Iran and Russia were among the first actors to officially congratulate Baghdad for running a smooth election.

Muqtada and the Sadrists will be very much aware that the Axis of Resistance – Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah in Lebanon – is strengthening by the minute. And that is directly linked to the Iran-Russia-China partnership strengthening Eurasia integration. But first things first:  let’s get an “honest” prime minister and Parliament in place.

The Iran-Azerbaijan standoff is a contest for the region’s transportation corridors

October 05, 2021

Sides are forming around the Iran vs Azerbaijan squabble. But this fight is not about ethnicity, religion or tribe – it is mainly about who gets to forge the region’s new transportation routes.

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and cross-posted with The Cradle

The Iran-Azerbaijan standoff is a contest for the region’s transportation corridors

The last thing the complex, work-in-progress drive towards Eurasian integration needs at this stage is this messy affair between Iran and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus.

Let’s start with the Conquerors of Khaybar – the largest Iranian military exercise in two decades held on its northwestern border with Azerbaijan.

Among the deployed Iranian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units there are some serious players, such as the 21st Tabriz Infantry Division, the IRGC Ashura 31 battalion, the 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade and an array of missile systems, including the Fateh-313 and Zulfiqar ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 700 kilometers.

The official explanation is that the drills are a warning to enemies plotting anything against the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pointedly tweeted that “those who are under the illusion of relying on others, think that they can provide their own security, should know that they will soon take a slap, they will regret this.”

The message was unmistakable: this was about Azerbaijan relying on Turkey and especially Israel for its security, and about Tel Aviv instrumentalizing Baku for an intel drive leading to interference in northern Iran.

Further elaboration by Iranian experts went as far as Israel eventually using military bases in Azerbaijan to strike at Iranian nuclear installations.

The reaction to the Iranian military exercise so far is a predictable Turkey–Azerbaijani response: they are conducting a joint drill in Nakhchivan throughout this week.

But were Iran’s concerns off the mark? A close security collaboration between Baku and Tel Aviv has been developing for years now. Azerbaijan today possesses Israeli drones and is cozy with both the CIA and the Turkish military. Throw in the recent trilateral military drills involving Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan – these are developments bound to raise alarm bells in Tehran.

Baku, of course, spins it in a different manner: Our partnerships are not aimed at third countries.

So, essentially, while Tehran accuses Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev of making life easy for Takfiri terrorists and Zionists, Baku accuses Tehran of blindly supporting Armenia. Yes, the ghosts of the recent Karabakh war are all over the place.

As a matter of national security, Tehran simply cannot tolerate Israeli companies involved in the reconstruction of regions won in the war near the Iranian border: Fuzuli, Jabrayil, and Zangilan.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdullahian has tried to play it diplomatically: “Geopolitical issues around our borders are important for us. Azerbaijan is a dear neighbor to Iran and that’s why we don’t want it to be trapped between foreign terrorists who are turning their soil into a hotbed.”

As if this was not complicated enough, the heart of the matter – as with all things in Eurasia – actually revolves around economic connectivity.

An interconnected mess

Baku’s geoeconomic dreams are hefty: the capital city aims to position itself at the key crossroads of two of the most important Eurasian corridors: North-South and East-West.

And that’s where the Zangezur Corridor comes in – arguably essential for Baku to predominate over Iran’s East-West connectivity routes.

The corridor is intended to connect western Azerbaijan to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic via Armenia, with roads and railways passing through the Zangezur region.

Zangezur is also essential for Iran to connect itself with Armenia, Russia, and further on down the road, to Europe.

China and India will also rely on Zangezur for trade, as the corridor provides a significant shortcut in distance. Considering large Asian cargo ships cannot sail the Caspian Sea, they usually waste precious weeks just to reach Russia.

An extra problem is that Baku has recently started harassing Iranian truckers in transit through these new annexed regions on their way to Armenia.

It didn’t have to be this way. This detailed essay shows how Azerbaijan and Iran are linked by “deep historical, cultural, religious, and ethno-linguistic ties,” and how the four northwestern Iranian provinces – Gilan, Ardabil, East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan – have “common geographical borders with both the main part of Azerbaijan and its exclave, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic; they also have deep and close commonalities based on Islam and Shiism, as well as sharing the Azerbaijani culture and language. All this has provided the ground for closeness between the citizens of the regions on both sides of the border.”

During the Rouhani years, relations with Aliyev were actually quite good, including the Iran‑Azerbaijan‑Russia and Iran‑Azerbaijan‑Turkey trilateral cooperation.

A key connectivity at play ahead is the project of linking the Qazvin‑Rasht‑Astara railway in Iran to Azerbaijan: that’s part of the all-important International North‑South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

Geoeconomically, Azerbaijan is essential for the main railway that will eventually run from India to Russia. No only that; the Iran‑Azerbaijan‑Russia trilateral cooperation opens a direct road for Iran to fully connect with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

In an optimal scenario, Baku can even help Iranian ports in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman to connect to Georgian ports in the Black Sea.

The West is oblivious to the fact that virtually all sections of the INSTC are already working. Take, for instance, the exquisitely named Astara‑Astara railway connecting Iranian and Azerbaijani cities that share the same name. Or the Rasht‑Qazvin railway.

But then one important 130km stretch from Astara to Rasht, which is on the southern shore of the Caspian and is close to the Iranian–Azeri border, has not been built. The reason? Trump-era sanctions. That’s a graphic example of how much, in real-life practical terms, rides on a successful conclusion of the JCPOA talks in Vienna.

Who owns Zangezur?

Iran is positioned in a somewhat tricky patch along the southern periphery of the South Caucasus. The three major players in that hood are of course Iran, Russia, and Turkey. Iran borders the former Armenian – now Azeri – regions adjacent to Karabakh, including Zangilan, Jabrayil and Fuzuli.

It was clear that Iran’s flexibility on its northern border would be tied to the outcome of the Second Karabakh War. The northwestern border was a source of major concern, affecting the provinces of Ardabil and eastern Azerbaijan – which makes Tehran’s official position of supporting Azerbaijani over Armenian claims all the more confusing.

It is essential to remember that even in the Karabakh crisis in the early 1990s, Tehran recognized Nagorno‑Karabakh and the regions surrounding it as integral parts of Azerbaijan.

While both the CIA and Mossad appear oblivious to this recent regional history, it will never deter them from jumping into the fray to play Baku and Tehran against each other.

An extra complicating factor is that Zangezur is also mouth-watering from Ankara’s vantage point.

Arguably, Turkey’s neo-Ottoman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who never shies away from an opportunity to expands his Turkic-Muslim strategic depth, is looking to use the Azeri connection in Zangezur to reach the Caspian, then Turkmenistan, all the way to Xinjiang, the Uyghur Muslim populated western territory of China. This, in theory, could become a sort of Turkish Silk Road bypassing Iran – with the ominous possibility of also being used as a rat line to export Takfiris from Idlib all the way to Afghanistan.

Tehran, meanwhile, is totally INSTC-driven, focusing on two railway lines to be rehabilitated and upgraded from the Soviet era. One is South-North, from Jolfa connecting to Nakhchivan and then onwards to Yerevan and Tblisi. The other is West-East, again from Jolfa to Nakhchivan, crossing southern Armenia, mainland Azerbaijan, all the way to Baku and then onward to Russia.

And there’s the rub. The Azeris interpret the tripartite document resolving the Karabakh war as giving them the right to establish the Zangezur corridor. The Armenians for their part dispute exactly which ‘corridor’ applies to each particular region. Before they clear up these ambiguities, all those elaborate Iranian and Tukish connectivity plans are effectively suspended.

The fact, though, remains that Azerbaijan is geoeconomically bound to become a key crossroads of trans-regional connectivity as soon as Armenia unblocks the construction of these transport corridors.

So which ‘win-win’ is it?

Will diplomacy win in the South Caucasus? It must. The problem is both Baku and Tehran frame it in terms of exercising their sovereignty – and don’t seem particularly predisposed to offer concessions.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects are having a ball exploiting those differences. War, though, is out of the question, either between Azerbaijan and Armenia or between Azerbaijan and Iran. Tehran is more than aware that in this case both Ankara and Tel Aviv would support Baku. It is easy to see who would profit from it.

As recently as April, in a conference in Baku, Aliyev stressed that “Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia and Iran share the same approach to regional cooperation. The main area of concentration now is transportation, because it’s a situation which is called ‘win‑win.’ Everybody wins from that.”

And that brings us to the fact that if the current stalemate persists, the top victim will be the INSTC. In fact, everyone loses in terms of Eurasian integration, including India and Russia.

The Pakistan angle, floated by a few in hush-hush mode, is completely far-fetched. There’s no evidence Tehran would be supporting an anti-Taliban drive in Afghanistan just to undermine Pakistan’s ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The Russia–China strategic partnership looks at the current South Caucasus juncture as unnecessary trouble, especially after the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit. This badly hurts their complementary Eurasian integration strategies – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Greater Eurasian Partnership.

INSTC could, of course, go the trans-Caspian way and cut off Azerbaijan altogether. This is not likely though. China’s reaction, once again, will be the deciding factor. There could be more emphasis on the Persian corridor – from Xinjiang, via Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Iran. Or Beijing could equally bet on both East-West corridors, that is, bet on both Azerbaijan and Iran.

The bottom line is that neither Moscow nor Beijing wants this to fester. There will be serious diplomatic moves ahead, as they both know the only ones to profit will be the usual NATO-centric suspects, and the losers will be all the players who are seriously invested in Eurasian integration.

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Eurasian consolidation ends the US unipolar moment – Part 2 of 2

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021

Eurasian consolidation ends the US unipolar moment – Part 2 of 2

By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

Part 1 is here

The 20th anniversary summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, enshrined no less than a new geopolitical paradigm.

Iran, now a full SCO member, was restored to its traditionally prominent Eurasian role, following the recent $400 billion-worth trade and development deal struck with China. Afghanistan was the main topic – with all players agreeing on the path ahead, as detailed in the Dushanbe Declaration. And all Eurasian integration paths are now converging, in unison, towards the new geopolitical – and geoeconomic – paradigm.

Call it a multipolar development dynamic in synergy with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Dushanbe Declaration was quite explicit on what Eurasian players are aiming at: “a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order based on universally recognized principles of international law, cultural and civilizational diversity, mutually beneficial and equal cooperation of states under the central coordinating role of the UN.”

For all the immense challenges inherent to the Afghan jigsaw puzzle, hopeful signs emerged this Tuesday, when Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah met in Kabul with the Russian presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov, China’s special envoy Yue Xiaoyong, and Pakistan’s special envoy Mohammad Sadiq Khan.

This troika – Russia, China, Pakistan – is at the diplomatic forefront. The SCO reached a consensus that Islamabad will be coordinating with the Taliban the formation of a government also including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

The most glaring, immediate consequence of the SCO not only incorporating Iran but also taking the Afghan bull by the horns, fully supported by the Central Asian “stans”, is that the Empire of Chaos has been completely marginalized.

From Southwest Asia to Central Asia, a real reset has as protagonists the SCO, the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), BRI and the Russia-China strategic partnership. The missing links so far, for different reasons – Iran and Afghanistan – are now fully incorporated to the chessboard.

In my frequent conversations with Alastair Crooke, one of the world’s foremost political analysts, he evoked once again Lampedusa’s The Leopard: everything must change so everything must remain the same. In this case, imperial hegemony, as interpreted by Washington: “In its growing confrontation with China, a ruthless Washington has demonstrated that what matters to it now is not Europe, but the Indo-Pacific region.” That’s Cold War 2.0 prime terrain.

With very little potential to contain China now that it’s been all but expelled from the Eurasia heartland, the fallback position had to be a classic maritime power play: the “free and open Indo-Pacific”, complete with Quad and AUKUS, the whole set up spun to death as an “effort” attempting to preserve dwindling American supremacy.

The sharp contrast between the SCO continental integration drive and the “we all live in an Aussie submarine” gambit (my excuses to Lennon-McCartney) speaks for itself. A toxic mix of hubris and desperation is in the air, with not even a whiff of pathos to alleviate the downfall.

The Global South is not impressed. Addressing the forum in Dushanbe, President Putin remarked that the portfolio of nations knocking on the SCO’s door was huge, and that was not surprising at all. Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now SCO dialogue partners, on the same level with Afghanistan and Turkey. It’s quite feasible they may be joined next year by Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Serbia and a cast of dozens.

And it doesn’t stop in Eurasia. In his meticulously timed address to CELAC, Xi Jinping no less than invited 33 Latin American nations to be part of the Eurasia-Africa-Americas New Silk Roads.

Remember the Scythians

Iran as a SCO protagonist and at the center of the New Silk Roads restores it to a rightful historic role. By the middle of the first millennium B.C., Northern Iranians ruled the core of the steppes in Central Eurasia. By that time the Scythians had migrated into the Western steppe, while other steppe Iranians made inroads as far away as China.

Scythians – a Northern (or “East”) Iranian people – were not necessarily just fierce warriors. That’s a crude stereotype. Very few in the West know that the Scythians developed a sophisticated trade system, as described by Herodotus among others, linking Greece, Persia and China.

And why’s that? Because trade was an essential means to support their sociopolitical infrastructure. Herodotus got the picture because he actually visited the city of Olbia and other places in Scythia.

The Scythians were called Saka by the Persians – and that leads us to another fascinating territory: the Sakas may have been one of the prime ancestors of the Pashtun in Afghanistan.

What’s in a name – Scythian? Well, multitudes. The Greek form Scytha meant Northern Iranian “archer”. So that was the denomination of all the Northern Iranian peoples living between Greece in the West and China in the East.

Now imagine a very busy international commerce network developed across the heartland, with the focus on Central Eurasia, by the Scythians, the Sogdians, and even the Xiongnu – who kept battling the Chinese on and off, as detailed by early Greek and Chinese historical sources.

These Central Eurasians traded with all the peoples living on their borders: that meant Europeans, Southwest Asians, South Asians and East Asians. They were the precursors of the multiple Ancient Silk Roads.

The Sogdians followed the Scythians; Sogdiana was an independent Greco-Bactrian state in the 3rd century B.C. – encompassing areas of northern Afghanistan – before it was conquered by nomads from the east that ended up establishing the Kushan empire, which soon expanded south into India.

Zoroaster was born in Sogdiana; Zoroastrianism was huge in Central Asia for centuries. The Kushans for their part adopted Buddhism: and that’s how Buddhism eventually arrived in China.

By the fist century A.D. all these Central Asian empires were linked – via long-distance trade – to Iran, India and China. That was the historical basis of the multiple, Ancient Silk Roads – which linked China to the West for several centuries until the Age of Discovery configured the fateful Western maritime trade dominance.

Arguably, even more than a series of interlinked historical phenomena, the denomination “Silk Road” works best as a metaphor of cross-cultural connectivity. That’s what is at the heart of the Chinese concept of New Silk Roads. And average people across the heartland feel it, because that’s imprinted in the collective unconscious in Iran, China and all Central Asian “stans”.

The Revenge of the Heartland

Glenn Diesen, Professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal, is among the very few top scholars who are analyzing the process of Eurasia integration in depth.

His latest book practically spells out the whole story in its title: Europe as the Western Peninsula of Greater Eurasia: Geoeconomic Regions in a Multipolar World.

Diesen shows, in detail, how a “Greater Eurasia region, that integrates Asia and Europe, is currently being negotiated and organized with a Chinese-Russian partnership at the center. Eurasian geoeconomic instruments of power are gradually forming the foundation of a super-region with new strategic industries, transportation corridors and financial instruments. Across the Eurasian continent, states as different as South Korea, India, Kazakhstan and Iran are all advancing various formats for Eurasia integration.”

The Greater Eurasia Partnership has been at the center of Russian foreign policy at least since the St. Petersburg forum in 2016. Diesen duly notes that, “while Beijing and Moscow share the ambition to construct a larger Eurasian region, their formats differ. The common denominator of both formats is the necessity of a Sino-Russian partnership to integrate Eurasia.” That’s what was made very clear at the SCO summit.

It’s no wonder the process irks the Empire immensely, because Greater Eurasia, led by Russia-China, is a mortal attack against the geoeconomic architecture of Atlanticism. And that leads us to the nest of vipers debate around the EU concept of “strategic autonomy” from the US; that would be essential to establish true European sovereignty – and eventually, closer integration within Eurasia.

European sovereignty is simply non-existent when its foreign policy means submission to dominatrix NATO. The humiliating, unilateral withdrawal of Afghanistan coupled with Anglo-only AUKUS was a graphic illustration that the Empire doesn’t give a damn about its European vassals.

Throughout the book Diesen shows, in detail, how the concept of Eurasia unifying Europe and Asia “has through history been an alternative to the dominance of maritime powers in the oceanic-centric world economy”, and how “British and American strategies have been deeply influenced” by the ghost of an emerging Eurasia, “a direct threat to their advantageous position in the oceanic world order”.

Now, the crucial factor seems to be the fragmentation of Atlanticism. Diesen identifies three levels: the de facto decoupling of Europe and the US propelled by Chinese ascendancy; the mind-boggling internal divisions in the EU, enhanced by the parallel universe inhabited by Brussels eurocrats; and last but not least, “polarization within Western states” caused by the excesses of neoliberalism.

Well, just as we think we’re out, Mackinder and Spykman pull us back in. It’s always the same story: the Anglo-American obsession in preventing the rise of a “peer competitor” (Brzezinski) in Eurasia, or an alliance (Russia-Germany in the Mackinder era, now the Russia-China strategic partnership) capable, as Diesen puts it, “of wrestling geoeconomic control away from the oceanic powers.”

As much as imperial strategists remain hostages of Spykman – who ruled that the US must control the maritime periphery of Eurasia – definitely it’s not AUKUS/Quad that is going to pull it off.

Very few people, East and West, may remember that Washington had developed its own Silk Road concept during the Bill Clinton years – later co-opted by Dick Cheney with a Pipelineistan twist, and then circling all back to Hillary Clinton, announcing her own Silk Road dream in India in 2011.

Diesen reminds us how Hillary sounded remarkably like a proto-Xi: “Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road. Not a single thoroughfare like its namesake, but an international web and network of economic and transit connections. That means building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure, like the proposed pipeline to run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan and India.”

Hillary does Pipelineistan! Well, in the end, she didn’t. Reality dictates that Russia is connecting its European and Pacific regions, while China connects its developed east coast with Xinjiang, and both connect Central Asia. Diesen interprets it as Russia “completing its historical conversion from a European/Slavic empire to a Eurasian civilizational state.”

So in the end we’re back to…the Scythians. The prevailing neo-Eurasia concept revives the mobility of nomadic civilizations – via top transportation infrastructure – to connect everything between Europe and Asia. We could call it the Revenge of the Heartland: they are the powers building this new, interconnected Eurasia. Say goodbye to the ephemeral, post-Cold War US unipolar moment.

Eurasia takes shape: How the SCO just flipped the world order

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With Iran’s arrival, the SCO member-states now number nine, and they’re focused on fixing Afghanistan and consolidating Eurasia.Photo Credit: The Cradle
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SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and cross-posted with The Cradle

Part 1 of 2 on Eurasia

With Iran’s arrival, the SCO member-states now number nine, and they’re focused on fixing Afghanistan and consolidating Eurasia.

As a rudderless West watched on, the 20th anniversary meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was laser-focused on two key deliverables: shaping up Afghanistan and kicking off a full-spectrum Eurasian integration.

The two defining moments of the historic 20th anniversary Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan had to come from the keynote speeches of – who else – the leaders of the Russia-China strategic partnership.

Xi Jinping: “Today we will launch procedures to admit Iran as a full member of the SCO.”

Vladimir Putin: “I would like to highlight the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed today between the SCO Secretariat and the Eurasian Economic Commission. It is clearly designed to further Russia’s idea of establishing a Greater Eurasia Partnership covering the SCO, the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).”

In short, over the weekend, Iran was enshrined in its rightful, prime Eurasian role, and all Eurasian integration paths converged toward a new global geopolitical – and geoeconomic – paradigm, with a sonic boom bound to echo for the rest of the century.

That was the killer one-two punch immediately following the Atlantic alliance’s ignominious imperial retreat from Afghanistan. Right as the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, the redoubtable Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, told his Iranian colleague Admiral Ali Shamkhani that “the Islamic Republic will become a full member of the SCO.”

Dushanbe revealed itself as the ultimate diplomatic crossover. President Xi firmly rejected any “condescending lecturing” and emphasized development paths and governance models compatible with national conditions. Just like Putin, he stressed the complementary focus of BRI and the EAEU, and in fact summarized a true multilateralist Manifesto for the Global South.

Right on point, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan noted that the SCO should advance “the development of a regional macro-economy.” This is reflected in the SCO’s drive to start using local currencies for trade, bypassing the US dollar.

Watch that quadrilateral

Dushanbe was not just a bed of roses. Tajikistan’s Emomali Rahmon, a staunch, secular Muslim and former member of the Communist Party of the USSR – in power for no less than 29 years, reelected for the 5th time in 2020 with 90 percent of the vote – right off the bat denounced the “medieval sharia” of Taliban 2.0 and said they had already “abandoned their previous promise to form an inclusive  government.”

Rahmon, who has never been caught smiling on camera, was already in power when the Taliban conquered Kabul in 1996. He was bound to publicly support his Tajik cousins against the “expansion of extremist ideology” in Afghanistan – which in fact worries all SCO member-states when it comes to smashing dodgy jihadi outfits of the ISIS-K mold .

The meat of the matter in Dushanbe was in the bilaterals – and one quadrilateral.

Take the bilateral between Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese FM Wang Yi. Jaishankar said that China should not view “its relations with India through the lens of a third country,” and took pains to stress that India “does not subscribe to any clash of civilizations theory.”

That was quite a tough sell considering that the first in-person Quad summit takes place this week in Washington, DC, hosted by that “third country” which is now knee deep in clash-of-civilizations mode against China.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was on a bilateral roll, meeting the presidents of Iran, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The official Pakistani diplomatic position is that Afghanistan should not be abandoned, but engaged.

That position added nuance to what Russian Special Presidential Envoy for SCO Affairs Bakhtiyer Khakimov had explained about Kabul’s absence at the SCO table: “At this stage, all member states have an understanding that there are no reasons for an invitation until there is a legitimate, generally recognized government in Afghanistan.”

And that, arguably, leads us to the key SCO meeting: a quadrilateral with the Foreign Ministers of Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi affirmed: “We are monitoring whether all the groups are included in the government or not.” The heart of the matter is that, from now on, Islamabad coordinates the SCO strategy on Afghanistan, and will broker Taliban negotiations with senior Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders. This will eventually lead the way towards an inclusive government regionally recognized by SCO member-nations.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was warmly received by all – especially after his forceful keynote speech, an Axis of Resistance classic. His bilateral with Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko revolved around a discussion on “sanctions confrontation.” According to Lukashenko: “If the sanctions did any harm to Belarus, Iran, other countries, it was only because we ourselves are to blame for this. We were not always negotiable, we did not always find the path we had to take under the pressure of sanctions.”

Considering Tehran is fully briefed on Islamabad’s SCO role in terms of Afghanistan, there will be no need to deploy the Fatemiyoun brigade – informally known as the Afghan Hezbollah – to defend the Hazaras. Fatemiyoun was formed in 2012 and was instrumental in Syria in the fight against Daesh, especially in Palmyra. But if ISIS-K does not go away, that’s a completely different story.

Particular important for SCO members Iran and India will be the future of Chabahar port. That remains India’s crypto-Silk Road gambit to connect it to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The geoeconomic success of Chabahar more than ever depends on a stable Afghanistan – and this is where Tehran’s interests fully converge with Russia-China’s SCO drive.

What the 2021 SCO Dushanbe Declaration spelled out about Afghanistan is quite revealing:

1. Afghanistan should be an independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful state, free of terrorism, war and drugs.

2. It is critical to have an inclusive government in Afghanistan, with representatives from all ethnic, religious and political groups of Afghan society.

3. SCO member states, emphasizing the significance of the many years of hospitality and effective assistance provided by regional and neighboring countries to Afghan refugees, consider it important for the international community to make active efforts to facilitate their dignified, safe and sustainable return to their homeland.

As much as it may sound like an impossible dream, this is the unified message of Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan and the Central Asian “stans.” One hopes that Pakistani PM Imran Khan is up to the task and ready for his SCO close-up.

That troubled Western peninsula

The New Silk Roads were officially launched eight years ago by Xi Jinping, first in Astana – now Nur-Sultan – and then in Jakarta.

This is how I reported it at the time.

The announcement came close to a SCO summit – then in Bishkek. The SCO, widely dismissed in Washington and Brussels as a mere talk shop, was already surpassing its original mandate of fighting the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism and extremism – and encompassing politics and geoeconomics.

In 2013, there was a Xi-Putin-Rouhani trilateral. Beijing expressed full support for Iran’s peaceful nuclear program (remember, this was two years before the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the JCPOA).

Despite many experts dismissing it at the time, there was indeed a common China-Russia-Iran front on Syria (Axis of Resistance in action). Xinjiang was being promoted as the key hub for the Eurasian Land Bridge. Pipelineistan was at the heart of the Chinese strategy – from Kazakhstan oil to Turkmenistan gas. Some people may even remember when Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was waxing lyrical about an American-propelled New Silk Road.

Now compare it to Xi’s Multilateralism Manifesto in Dushanbe eight years later, reminiscing on how the SCO “has proved to be an excellent example of multilateralism in the 21stcentury,” and “has played an important role in enhancing the voice of developing countries.”

The strategic importance of this SCO summit taking place right after the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok cannot be overstated enough. The EEF focuses of course on the Russian Far East – and essentially advances interconnectivity between Russia and Asia. It is an absolutely key hub of Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership.

A cornucopia of deals is on the horizon – expanding from the Far East to the Arctic and the development of the Northern Sea Route, and involving everything from precious metals and green energy to digital sovereignty flowing through logistics corridors between Asia and Europe via Russia.

As Putin hinted in his keynote speech, this is what the Greater Eurasia Partnership is all about: the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), BRI, India’s initiative, ASEAN, and now the SCO, developing in a harmonized network, crucially operated by “sovereign decision-making centers.”

So if the BRI proposes a very Taoist “community of shared future for human kind,” the Russian project, conceptually, proposes a dialogue of civilizations (already evoked by the Khatami years in Iran) and sovereign economic-political projects. They are, indeed, complementary.

Glenn Diesen, Professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal, is among the very few top scholars who are analyzing this process in depth. His latest book remarkably tells the whole story in its title:  Europe as the Western Peninsula of Greater Eurasia: Geoeconomic Regions in a Multipolar World. It’s not clear whether Eurocrats in Brussels – slaves of Atlanticism and incapable of grasping the potential of Greater Eurasia – will end up exercising real strategic autonomy.

Diesen evokes in detail the parallels between the Russian and the Chinese strategies. He notes how China “is pursuing a three-pillared geoeconomic initiative by developing technological leadership via its China 2025 plan, new transportation corridors via its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, and establishing new financial instruments such as banks, payment systems and the internationalization of the yuan. Russia is similarly pursuing technological sovereignty, both in the digital sphere and beyond, as well as new transportation corridors such as the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic, and, primarily, new financial instruments.”

The whole Global South, stunned by the accelerated collapse of the western Empire and its unilateral “rules-based order, now seems to be ready to embrace the new groove, fully displayed in Dushanbe: a multipolar Greater Eurasia of sovereign equals.

9/9 and 9/11, 20 years later

September 09, 2021

9/9 and 9/11, 20 years later

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

It’s impossible not to start with the latest tremor in a series of stunning geopolitical earthquakes.

Exactly 20 years after 9/11 and the subsequent onset of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), the Taliban will hold a ceremony in Kabul to celebrate their victory in that misguided Forever War.

Four key exponents of Eurasia integration – China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan – as well as Turkey and Qatar, will be officially represented, witnessing the official return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. As blowbacks go, this one is nothing short of intergalactic.

Massoud leaving Bazarak in the Panjshir after our interview in August 2001, roughly three weeks before his assassination. Photo: Pepe Escobar

The plot thickens when we have Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid firmly stressing “there is no proof” Osama bin Laden was involved in 9/11. So “there was no justification for war, it was an excuse for war,” he claimed.

Only a few days after 9/11, Osama bin Laden, never publicity-shy, released a statement to Al Jazeera: “I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons (…) I have been living in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and following its leaders’ rules. The current leader does not allow me to exercise such operations.”

On September 28, Osama bin Laden was interviewed by the Urdu newspaper Karachi Ummat. I remember it well, as I was commuting non-stop between Islamabad and Peshawar, and my colleague Saleem Shahzad, in Karachi, called it to my attention.

Saudi-born alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in a video taken ‘recently’ at a secret site in Afghanistan. This was aired by Al Jazeera on October 7, 2001, the day the US launched retaliatory bombing of terrorist camps, airbases and air defense installations in the first stage of its campaign against the Taliban regime for sheltering bin Laden. Photo: AFP / Al Jazeera screen grab

This is an approximate translation by the CIA-linked Foreign Broadcast Information Service: “I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. Neither I had any knowledge of these attacks nor I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people.

“I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, the common American people have been killed. The United States should try to trace the perpetrators of these attacks within itself; the people who are a part of the US system, but are dissenting against it.

“Or those who are working for some other system; persons who want to make the present century as a century of conflict between Islam and Christianity so that their own civilization, nation, country or ideology could survive. Then there are intelligence agencies in the US, which require billions of dollars worth of funds from the Congress and the government every year (…) They need an enemy.”

This was the last time Osama bin Laden went public, substantially, about his alleged role in 9/11. Afterward, he vanished, and seemingly forever by early December 2001 in Tora Bora: I was there, and revisited the full context years later.

And yet, like an Islamic James Bond, Osama kept performing the miracle of dying another day, over and over again, starting in – where else – Tora Bora in mid-December, as reported by the Pakistani Observer and then Fox News.

So 9/11 remained a riddle inside an enigma. And what about 9/9, which might have been the prologue to 9/11?

Arriving in the Panjshir valley in one of Massoud’s Soviet helicopters in August 2001. Photo: Pepe Escobar  

A green light from a blind sheikh

“The commander has been shot.”

The terse email, on 9/9, offered no details. Contacting the Panjshir was impossible – sat-phone reception is spotty. Only the next day it was possible to establish Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary Lion of the Panjshir, had been assassinated – by two al-Qaeda jihadis posing as a camera crew.

In our Asia Times interview with Massoud, by August 20, he had told me he was fighting a triad: al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Pakistani ISI. After the interview, he left in a Land Cruiser and then went by helicopter to Kwaja-Bahauddin, where he would finish the details of a counter-offensive against the Taliban.

This was his second-to-last interview before the assassination and arguably the last images – shot by photographer Jason Florio and with my mini-DV camera – of Massoud alive.

One year after the assassination, I was back in the Panjshir for an on-site investigation, relying only on local sources and confirmation on some details from Peshawar. The investigation is featured in the first part of my Asia Times e-book Forever Wars.

The conclusion was that the green light for the fake camera crew to meet Massoud came via a letter sponsored by CIA crypto-asset warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf – as a “gift” to al-Qaeda.

In December 2020, inestimable Canadian diplomat Peter Dale Scott, author among others of the seminal The Road to 9/11 (2007), and Aaron Good, editor at CovertAction magazine, published a remarkable investigation about the killing of Massoud, following a different trail and relying mostly on American sources.

They established that arguably more than Sayyaf, the mastermind of the killing was notorious Egyptian blind sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, then serving a life sentence in a US federal prison for his involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Among other nuggets, Dale Scott and Good also confirmed what former Pakistani foreign minister Niaz Naik had told Pakistani media already in 2001: the Americans had everything in place to attack Afghanistan way before 9/11.

In Naik’s words: “We asked them [the American delegates], when do you think you will attack Afghanistan? … And they said, before the snow falls in Kabul. That means September, October, something like that.”

As many of us established over the years after 9/11, everything was about the US imposing itself as the undisputed ruler of the New Great Game in Central Asia. Peter Dale Scott now notes, “the two US invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were both grounded in pretexts that were doubtful to begin with and more discredited as years go by.

“Underlying both wars was America’s perceived need to control the fossil fuel economic system that was the underpinning for the US petrodollar.”

Deceased Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar in a file photo. Photo: Wikimedia

Massoud versus Mullah Omar

Mullah Omar did welcome Jihad Inc to Afghanistan in the late 1990s: not only the al-Qaeda Arabs but also Uzbeks, Chechens, Indonesians, Yemenis – some of them I met in Massoud’s riverside prison in the Panjshir in August 2001.

The Taliban at the time did provide them with bases – and some encouraging rhetoric – but deeply ethnocentric as they were, never manifested any interest in global jihad, in the mold of the “Declaration of Jihad” issued by Osama in 1996.

The official Taliban position was that jihad was their guests’ business, and that had nothing to do with the Taliban and Afghanistan. There were virtually no Afghans in Jihad Inc. Very few Afghans speak Arabic. They were not seduced by the spin on martyrdom and a paradise full of virgins: they preferred to be a ghazi – a living victor in a jihad.

Mullah Omar could not possibly send Osama bin Laden packing because of Pashtunwali – the Pashtun code of honor – where the notion of hospitality is sacred. When 9/11 happened, Mullah Omar once again refused American threats as well as Pakistani pleas. He then called a tribal jirga of 300 top mullahs to ratify his position.

Their verdict was quite nuanced: he had to protect his guest, of course, but a guest should not cause him problems. Thus Osama would have to leave, voluntarily.

The Taliban also pursued a parallel track, asking the Americans for evidence of Osama’s culpability. None was provided. The decision to bomb and invade had already been taken.

That would have never been possible with Massoud alive. A classic intellectual warrior, he was a certified Afghan nationalist and pop hero – because of his spectacular military feats in the anti-USSR jihad and his non-stop fight against the Taliban.

Jihadis captured by Massoud’s forces in a riverside prison in the Panjshir in August 2001. Photo: Pepe Escobar

When the PDPA socialist government in Afghanistan collapsed three years after the end of the jihad, in 1992, Massoud could easily have become a prime minister or an absolute ruler in the old Turco-Persian style.

But then he made a terrible mistake: afraid of an ethnic conflagration, he let the mujahideen gang based in Peshawar have too much power, and that led to the civil war of 1992-1995 – complete with the merciless bombing of Kabul by virtually every faction – that paved the way for the emergence of the “law and order” Taliban.

So in the end he was a much more effective military commander than politician. An example is what happened in 1996, when the Taliban made their move to conquer Kabul, attacking from eastern Afghanistan.

Massoud was caught completely unprepared, but he still managed to retreat to the Panjshir without a major battle and without losing his troops – quite a feat – while severely smashing the Taliban that went after him.

He established a line of defense in the Shomali plain north of Kabul. That was the frontline I visited a few weeks before 9/11, on the way to Bagram, which was a – virtually empty and degraded – Northern Alliance airbase at the time.

All of the above is a sorry contrast to the role of Masoud Jr, who’s in theory the leader of the “resistance” against Taliban 2.0 in the Panjshir, now completely smashed.

Masoud Jr has zero experience either as a military commander or politician, and although praised in Paris by President Macron or publishing an op-ed in Western mainstream media, made the terrible mistake of being led by CIA asset Amrullah Saleh, who as the former head of the National Directory of Security (NDS), supervised the de facto Afghan death squads.

Masoud Jr could have easily carved a role for himself in a Taliban 2.0 government. But he blew it, refusing serious negotiations with a delegation of 40 Islamic clerics sent to the Panjshir, and demanding at least 30% of posts in the government.

In the end, Saleh fled by helicopter – he may be now in Tashkent – and Masoud Jr as it stands is holed up somewhere in the northern Panjshir.

In this file photo taken on September 11, 2001, a hijacked commercial aircraft approaches the twin towers of the World Trade Center shortly before crashing into the landmark skyscraper in New York. Photo: AFP / Seth McAllister

The 9/11 propaganda machine is about to reach fever pitch this Saturday – now profiting from the narrative twist of the “terrorist” Taliban back in power, something perfect to snuff out the utter humiliation of the Empire of Chaos.

The Deep State is going no holds barred to protect the official narrative – which exhibits more holes than the dark side of the moon.

This is a geopolitical Ouroboros for the ages. 9/11 used to be the foundation myth of the 21st century – but not anymore. It has been displaced by blowback: the imperial debacle allowing for the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to the exact position it was 20 years ago.

We may now know that the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11. We may now know that Osama bin Laden, in an Afghan cave, may not have been the master perpetrator of 9/11. We may now know that the assassination of Massoud was a prelude to 9/11, but in a twisted way: to facilitate a pre-planned invasion of Afghanistan.

And yet, like with the assassination of JFK, we may never know the full contours of the whole riddle inside an enigma. As Fitzgerald immortalized, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” probing like mad this philosophical and existential Ground Zero, never ceasing from asking the ultimate question: Cui Bono?


Ed Note:  Pepe Escobar started a new Twitter Stream:  https://twitter.com/RealPepeEscobar

 

What to expect from Taliban 2.0

September 08, 2021

What to expect from Taliban 2.0

A wiser, better-traveled and social media-savvy Taliban will strive to avoid the many dire mistakes of its 1996-2001 rule

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The announcement by Taliban spokesman Zahibullah Mujahid in Kabul of the acting cabinet ministers in the new caretaker government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan already produced a big bang: it managed to enrage both woke NATOstan and the US Deep State.

This is an all-male, overwhelmingly Pashtun (there’s one Uzbek and one Tajik) cabinet essentially rewarding the Taliban old guard. All 33 appointees are Taliban members.

Mohammad Hasan Akhund – the head of the Taliban Rehbari Shura, or leadership council, for 20 years – will be the Acting Prime Minister. For all practical purposes, Akhund is branded a terrorist by the UN and the EU, and under sanctions by the UN Security Council. It’s no secret Washington brands some Taliban factions as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and sanctions the whole of the Taliban as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” organization.

It’s crucial to stress Himatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban Supreme Leader since 2016, is Amir al-Momineen (“Commander of the Faithful”). He can’t be a Prime Minister; his role is that of a supreme spiritual leader, setting the guidelines for the Islamic Emirate and mediating disputes – politics included.

Akhunzada has released a statement, noting that the new government “will work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and sharia law in the country” and will ensure “lasting peace, prosperity and development”. He added, “people should not try to leave the country”.

Spokesman Mujahid took pains to stress this new cabinet is just an “acting” government. This implies one of the next big steps will be to set up a new constitution. The Taliban will “try to take people from other parts of the country” – implying positions for women and Shi’ites may still be open, but not at top level.

Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, who so far had been very busy diplomatically as the head of the political office in Doha, will be deputy Prime Minister. He was a Taliban co-founder in 1994 and close friend of Mullah Omar, who called him “Baradar” (“brother”) in the first place.

A predictable torrent of hysteria greeted the appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani as Acting Minister of Interior. After all the son of Haqqani founder Jalaluddin, one of three deputy emirs and the Taliban military commander, with a fierce reputation, has a $5 million FBI bounty on his head. His FBI “wanted” page is not exactly a prodigy of intel: they don’t know when he was born, and where, and that he speaks Pashto and Arabic.

This may be the new government’s top challenge: to prevent Sirajuddin and his wild boys from acting medieval in non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, and most of all to make sure the Haqqanis cut off any connections with jihadi outfits. That’s a sine qua non condition established by the China-Russia strategic partnership for political, diplomatic and economic development support.

Foreign policy will be much more accommodating. Amir Khan Muttaqi, also a member of the political office in Doha, will be the Acting Foreign Minister, and his deputy will be Abas Stanikzai, who’s in favor of cordial relations with Washington and the rights of Afghan religious minorities.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar, will be the Acting Defense Minister.

So far, the only non-Pashtuns are Abdul Salam Hanafi, an Uzbek, appointed as second deputy to the Prime Minister, and Qari Muhammad Hanif, a Tajik, the acting Minister of Economic Affairs, a very important post.

The Tao of staying patient

The Taliban Revolution has already hit the Walls of Kabul – who are fast being painted white with Kufic letter inscriptions. One of these reads, “For an Islamic system and independence, you have to go through tests and stay patient.”

That’s quite a Taoist statement: striving for balance towards a real “Islamic system”. It offers a crucial glimpse of what the Taliban leadership may be after: as Islamic theory allows for evolution, the new Afghanistan system will be necessarily unique, quite different from Qatar’s or Iran’s, for instance.

In the Islamic legal tradition, followed directly or indirectly by rulers of Turko-Persian states for centuries, to rebel against a Muslim ruler is illegitimate because it creates fitna (sedition, conflict). That was already the rationale behind the crushing of the fake “resistance” in the Panjshir – led by former Vice-President and CIA asset Amrullah Saleh. The Taliban even tried serious negotiations, sending a delegation of 40 Islamic scholars to the Panjshir.

But then Taliban intel established that Ahmad Masoud – son of the legendary Lion of the Panjshir, assassinated two days before 9/11 – was operating under orders of French and Israeli intel. And that sealed his fate: not only he was creating fitna, he was a foreign agent. His partner Saleh, the “resistance” de facto leader, fled by helicopter to Tajikistan.

It’s fascinating to note a parallel between Islamic legal tradition and Hobbes’s Leviathan, which justifies absolute rulers. The Hobbesian Taliban: here’s a hefty research topic for US Think Tankland.

The Taliban also follow the rule that a war victory – and nothing more spectacular than defeating combined NATO power – allows for undisputed political power, although that does not discard strategic alliances. We’ve already seen it in terms of how the moderate, Doha-based political Taliban are accommodating the Haqqanis – an extremely sensitive business.

Abdul Haqqani will be the Acting Minister for Higher Education; Najibullah Haqqani will be Minister of Communications; and Khalil Haqqani, so far ultra-active as interim head of security in Kabul, will be Minister for Refugees.

The next step will be much harder: to convince the urban, educated populations in the big cities – Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif – not only of their legitimacy, acquired in the frontlines, but that they will crush the corrupt urban elite that plundered the nation for the past 20 years. All that while engaging in a credible, national interest process of improving the lives of average Afghans under a new Islamic system. It will be crucial to watch what kind of practical and financial help the emir of Qatar will offer.

The new cabinet has elements of a Pashtun jirga (tribal assembly). I’ve been to a few, and it’s fascinating to see how it works. Everyone sits on a circle to avoid a hierarchy – even if symbolic. Everyone is entitled to express their opinion. This leads to alliances necessarily being forged.

The negotiations to form a government were being conducted in Kabul by former President Hamid Karzai – crucially, a Pashtun from a minor Durrani clan, the Popalzai – and Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, and former head of the Council for National Reconciliation. The Taliban did listen to them, but in the end they de facto chose what their own jirga had decided.

Pashtuns are extremely fierce when it comes to defending their Islamic credentials. They believe their legendary founding ancestor, Qais Abdul Rasheed, converted to Islam in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, and then Pashtuns became the strongest defender of the faith anywhere.

Yet that’s not exactly how it played out in history. From the 7th century onwards, Islam was predominant only from Herat in the west to legendary Balkh in the north all the way to Central Asia, and south between Sistan and Kandahar. The mountains of the Hindu Kush and the corridor from Kabul to Peshawar resisted Islam for centuries. Kabul in fact was a Hindu kingdom as late as the 11th century. It took as many as five centuries for the core Pashtun lands to convert to Islam.

Islam with Afghan characteristics

To cut an immensely complex story short, the Taliban was born in 1994 across the – artificial – border of Afghanistan and Pakistani Balochistan as a movement by Pashtuns who studied in Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan.

All the Afghan Taliban leaders had very close connections with Pakistani religious parties. During the 1980s anti-USSR jihad, many of these Taliban (“students”) in several madrassas worked side by side with the mujahideen to defend Islam in Afghanistan against the infidel. The whole process was channeled through the Peshawar political establishment: -overseen by the Pakistani ISI, with enormous CIA input, and a tsunami of cash and would-be jihadis flowing from Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab world.

When they finally seized power in 1994 in Kandahar and 1996 in Kabul, the Taliban emerged as a motley crew of minor clerics and refugees invested in a sort of wacky Afghan reformation – religious and cultural – as they set up what they saw as a pure Salafist Islamic Emirate.

I saw how it worked on the spot, and as demented as it was, it amounted to a new political force in Afghanistan. The Taliban were very popular in the south because they promised security after the bloody 1992-1995 civil war. The totally radical Islamist ideology came later – with disastrous results, especially in the big cities. But not in the subsistence agriculture countryside, because the Taliban social outlook merely reflected rural Afghan practice.

The Taliban installed a 7th century-style Salafi Islam crisscrossed with the Pashtunwali code. A huge mistake was their aversion to Sufism and the veneration of shrines – something extremely popular in Islamic Afghanistan for centuries.

It’s too early to tell how Taliban 2.0 will play out in the dizzyingly complex, emerging Eurasian integration chessboard. But internally, a wiser, more traveled, social media-savvy Taliban seem aware they cannot allow themselves to repeat the dire 1996-2001 mistakes.

Deng Xiaoping set the framework for socialism with Chinese characteristics . One of the greatest geopolitical challenges ahead will be whether Taliban 2.0 are able to shape a sustainable development Islam with Afghan characteristics.

ايران الجديدة من شانغهاي إلى ما بعد عصر الدولار

أغسطس 14 2021

 محمد صادق الحسيني

علامات ومؤشرات عديدة تفيد بقوة بأن ايران باتت تتجه بقوة نحو خيار الشرق اولاً.

وانّ عهد الرئيس الإيراني الجديد، سيكون عهد الإفلات والانفكاك من الحصار الغربي لا سيما الاميركي.

 وطبقاً  لمصادر متطابقة من طهران وموسكو ودوشنبه فان تاريخ 16 و 17 ايلول/ سبتمر المقبل سيكون نقطة تحول جديدة في العلاقات الايرانية الاوراسيوية حيث ستحضر إيران رسمياً كعضو كامل الصلاحية قمة منظمة شانغهاي للتعاون، بحضور السيد ابراهيم رئيسي في العاصمة الطاجيكية دوشنبه، وذلك بعد تلقي الأخير دعوة رسمية بهذا الخصوص.

وتأتي هذه الخطوة المتقدمة للتعاون بين ايران ودول المنظمة، باقتراح رسمي من القيادة الروسية لتكون البند الاول على جدول اعمال القمة المقبلة.

تجدر الاشارة الى ان منظمة شانغهاي للتعاون منظمة دولية سياسية اقتصادية امنية لعموم منطقة اوراسيا، تأسست في 15 حزيران/ يونيو العام 2001 في  مدينة شانغهاي الصينية، وتضم في عضويتها اضافة للصين وروسيا كلا من الهند والباكستان وكازاخستان وقرقيزستان وطاجيكستان واوزبكستان، وكانت ايران حتى الآن عضواً مراقباً فيها.

ويأتي اقتراح الرئيس الروسي فلاديمير بوتين اعتماد إيران كعضو كامل العضوية في قمة طاجيكستان المقبلة، في اطار تعزيز التعاون الاقليمي الذي تسعى اليه كل من موسكو وحليفاتها وطهران، وهو ما من شأنه ان يغيّر الكثير من معادلات الصراع والمواجهة بين طهران والغرب على الصعد المختلفة، من بينها الاطاحة بما تبقى لواشنطن من خيارات الحصار او استخدام سلاح الدولار لتركيع الارادة الايرانية المستقلة…!

ولعلّ النقطة الاكثر حساسية هي التوافق المنتظر بين دول منظمة شانغهاي للاستغناء التدريجي عن عملة الدولار في تعاملاتهم البينية تماماً كما هو الوضع حالياً بين موسكو وبكين. ..!

هذا الانتقال النوعي للعلاقة بين طهران ودول منظمة شانغهاي للتعاون سيفتح الباب واسعاً امام تطبيق الاتفاقيات المتعددة بين طهران وبكين في إطار التعاون الاستراتيجي الشهير لمدة ٢٥ عاماً، وكذلك للاتفاقية الاستراتيجية الطويلة الأمد بين طهران وموسكو لمدة ٢٠ عاماً والتي تشمل اتفاقيات المعلوماتية المتطورة وصولاً الى اتفاقيات التسلح من الصواريخ الى الفضاء الى الفرط صوتية وما بينهما من مشاريع عابرة للقارات مثل التعاون في المحيطات ومشروع طريق واحد حزام واحد الصيني الشهير…!

مراقبون متابعون لهذا الملف يعتقدون بقوة بان العالم يتقدم بسرعة نحو عصر ما بعد الدولار، وان مركز ثقل التوازن الدولي ينتقل رويداً رويداً  من الغرب الى الشرق.

بعدنا طيبين قولوا الله..

A Sovereign Iran will Move Closer to Russia-China

22/06/2021

A Sovereign Iran will Move Closer to Russia-China

Iran’s president-elect will ‘Look East’ while seeking to exit ‘strategic patience’ when dealing with the US

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at AsiaTimes

In his first press conference as President-Elect with 62% of the votes, Ebrahim Raeisi, facing a forest of microphones, came out swinging and leaving nothing to the imagination.

On the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal, the dossier that completely obsesses the West, Raeisi was clear:

– the US must immediately return to the JCPOA that Washington unilaterally violated, and lift all sanctions.

– The JCPOA negotiations in Vienna will proceed, but they do not condition anything in terms of Iran’s future.

– The Iranian ballistic missile program is absolutely non-negotiable in the framework of the JCPOA, and will not be curbed.

Asked by a Russian journalist whether he would meet President Biden if a deal was struck in Vienna and all sanctions lifted – a major “if” – Raeisi’s answer was a straight “No”.

It’s crucial to stress that Raeisi, in principle, favors the restoration of the JCPOA as its was signed in 2015 – following the guidelines of Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. But if the Vienna charade goes on forever and the Americans keep insisting on rewriting the deal towards other areas of Iranian national security, that’s a definitive red line.

Raeisi acknowledged the immense internal challenges he faces, in terms of putting the Iranian economy back on track, getting rid of the neoliberal drive of outgoing Team Rouhani, and fighting widespread corruption. The fact that election turnout was only 48.7%, compared to the average 70% in the prior three presidential contests will make it even more difficult.

Yet in foreign policy Iran’s path ahead is unmistakable, centered on the “Look East” strategy, which means closer cooperation with China and Russia, with Iran developing as a key node of Eurasian integration or, according to the Russian vision, the Greater Eurasia Partnership.

As Professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran told me “there’s going to be a tilt eastward and to the Global South. Iran will improve relations with China and Russia, also because of US pressure and sanctions. President-elect Raeisi will be better positioned to strengthen these ties than the outgoing administration.”

Marandi added, “Iran won’t intentionally hurt the nuclear deal if the Americans – and the Europeans – move towards full implementation. The Iranians will reciprocate. Neighbors and regional countries will also be a priority. So Iran will no longer be waiting for the West.”

Marandi also made a quite nuanced distinction that the current policy was “a major mistake” by Team Rouhani, yet “not the fault of Dr. Zarif or the Foreign Ministry, but the government as a whole.” That implies the Rouhani administration placed all its bets on the JCPOA and was completely unprepared for Trump’s “maximum pressure” offensive, which de facto decimated the reformist-minded Iranian middle class.

In a nutshell: in the Raeisi era, exit “strategic patience” when dealing with the US. Enter “active deterrence”.

A key node of BRI and EAEU

Raeisi was met by those who control the “international community” narrative with proverbially derisive and/or demonizing epithets: loyal to the “repressive machinery” of the Islamic Republic, “hardliner”, a violator of human rights, mass executioner, anti-Western fanatic, or simply “killer”. Amnesty International even called for him to be investigated as perpetrator of crimes against humanity.

Facts are more prosaic. Raeisi, born in Mashhad, has a PhD in jurisprudence and fundamentals of Islamic law and a further jurisprudence degree from the Qom seminary. His previous positions include member of the Assembly of Experts and chief of the Judiciary.

He may not have been exposed to the Western way of life, but he’s not “anti-Western” – as he believes Iran must interact with all nations. Yet foreign policy must follow Khamenei’s guidelines, which are very clear. Without understanding Khamenei’s worldview, any analysis of Iranian complexities is an idle sport. For essential background, please refer to my Asia Times e-book Persian Miniatures.

It all starts with Ayatollah Khomeini’s founding concept of an Islamic Republic, which was indeed influenced by Plato’s Republic as well as Muslim political philosopher al-Farabi’s Virtuous City (also Plato-influenced).

On the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Khamenei updated his concept of foreign policy, as part of a clear map for the future. This is absolutely required reading to understand what Iran is all about. An excellent analysis by Mansoureh Tajik emphasizes the ways the system strives for balance and justice. Khamenei could not be more straightforward when he writes,

Today, the challenge for the US is Iran’s presence at the borders surrounding the Zionist regime and dismantling the illegitimate influence and presence of America from West Asia, Islamic Republic’s defense of Palestinian fighters at the heart of the occupied territories, and defense of holy flag of Hizbullah and the Resistance in the entire region. If in those days, the West’s problem was preventing Iran from buying even the most primitive forms of arms for its defense, today, its challenge is to prevent the Iranian arms, military equipment, and drones reaching Hizbullah and the Resistance everywhere in the region. If in those days, America imagined it can overcome the Islamic System and the Iranian nation with the help of a few self-selling Iranian traitors, today, it is finding itself in need of a large coalition of tens of hostile yet impotent governments to fight Iran. Yet, it fails.”

In terms of Big Power politics, Iran’s “Look East” policy was devised by Khamenei – who fully vetted the $400 billion-worth Iran-China comprehensive strategic partnership, which is directly linked to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and also supports Iran joining the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).

So it’s Iran as a key Eurasian connectivity hub that is going to shape its geopolitical and geoeconomic future. And not the West, as Marandi stressed.

China will be investing in Iranian banking, telecom, ports, railways, public health and information technology – not to mention striking bilateral deals in weapons development and intel sharing.

On the Russian front, the impetus will come from the development of the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), which directly competes with an East to West overland corridor that can be hit anytime with extra-territorial American sanctions.

Iran has already struck an interim free trade agreement with the EAEU, active since October 2019. A full-fledged deal – with Iran as a full member – may be struck in the first few months of the Raeisi era, with important consequences for trade from the South Caucasus to wider Southwest Asia and even Southeast Asia: Vietnam and Singapore already have free trade zones with the EAEU.

The American rhetoric about Iran’s “isolation” does not fool anyone in Southwest Asia – as the developing interaction with China-Russia attests. Add to it Moscow’s reading of the “mood for deepening dialogue and developing contacts in the defense sphere”.

So this is what the Raeisi era is leading to: a more solid union of Iranian Shi’ism, socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Greater Eurasia Partnership. And it doesn’t hurt that state of the art Russian military technology is quietly surveying the evolving chessboard.

Putin delivers annual address to Federal Assembly

 Source

Putin delivers annual address to Federal Assembly

April 21, 2021

Putin’s speech comes amid a period of diplomatic confrontation with Western nations and a stand-off over the situation in Ukraine and Russian troop movements.

The address to the Federal Assembly is often used to announce major changes in Russian domestic and foreign policy.

This is the current live stream.

The full and complete transcript is now posted.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly

The President of Russia delivered the Address to the Federal Assembly. The ceremony took place at the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall.

April 21, 202113:20

Moscow

The ceremony was attended by members of the Federation CouncilState Duma deputies, members of the Government, the heads of the Constitutional and Supreme courts, regional governors, speakers of regional legislatures, the heads of traditional religious denominations and public activists.

* *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies,

Citizens of Russia,

Today’s Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly will be dedicated mostly to internal issues. These include, naturally, healthcare, social policy and the economy. Of course, I will say a few words about external affairs and literally a few words about security issues.

It stands to reason that I will begin with last year’s events, when our country and, actually, the entire world faced a new, previously unknown and extremely dangerous infection.

It that period, including during our meetings with experts and conversations with the leaders of many states, I often heard the following description of the situation: we are faced with total uncertainty. And this is how it really was.

I could see this from the information I received from the regions. The number of people who contracted the disease and needed to be rushed to hospital kept growing. Actually, all of you are very well aware of this. Many hospitals were filled to capacity and reported that they could run out of oxygen soon, including in intensive care units. Ventilators, protective masks and PPE were actually distributed by the piece. Shops were running out of basic products, such as cereals, butter and sugar, due to increased demand.

The epidemic was on the offensive. But although there was great concern, I personally had no doubt that we would pull through.

Citizens, society and the state acted responsibly and in unison. We rallied, managed to take preventive action, to create conditions that would reduce the risk of infection, and to provide medical personnel and citizens with personal protective equipment. We increased the number of hospital beds for coronavirus patients more than five times over, to 280,000 beds.

The brief outline of measures conceals the tremendous and intensive work of millions of people in all regions of the Russian Federation. I would like to cordially thank all of you for this. Everyone worked quickly, efficiently and conscientiously.

At that time and later on, we were analysing the situation practically non-stop. I recall vividly my visit to the hospital in Kommunarka. It was necessary to experience, to see at first hand the danger facing us and to assess the working conditions of medical specialists. They immediately found themselves in the thick of events and fought for every life, while risking their own.

Today, doctors, paramedics, medical nurses and members of ambulance teams are sitting here in this hall. Once again my heartfelt thanks to you and your colleagues from all the Russian regions.

Russian researchers made a real breakthrough, and Russia now has three reliable coronavirus vaccines. These and many other achievements of the past few years highlight the country’s growing science and technological potential.

I would like to thank everyone, every person who contributed to the fight against infection, including the workers at the plants manufacturing medications, medical equipment, personal protective equipment, and enterprises working 24 hours a day, housing and utility agencies, trade companies, the Russian business community that quickly converted entire sectors so that they could manufacture essential goods, civilian and military builders, agriculture workers who gathered a record-breaking harvest, one of the biggest in the country’s history, that is, over 130 million tonnes.

The personnel of law enforcement agencies and the special services continued to carry out their duty, and the Russian Armed Forces reliably ensured our country’s security.

I would like to underscore the selfless behaviour of people working for social services, orphanages, boarding schools, retirement homes and hospices who stayed and who continue to stay with their charges. You will certainly agree with me that, while analysing developments at these institutions, one feels proud of people who are carrying out their duty there in such a responsible manner. It could move you to tears. I would like to thank them once again.

I would also like to convey my sincere gratitude to school teachers and the lecturers at universities and other education institutions. You did everything possible to enable your students and pupils to gain knowledge and successfully pass their exams, with the involvement and support of their parents.

Russia’s cultural life continued unabated. Theatres, museums and concert halls remained open to audiences online thanks to modern technology. Everyone who works in this crucial sphere rose to the occasion.

Our people showed discipline and managed to observe, let’s face it, quite exhausting, but vital precautions. Thus, acting together, we have put up an effective barrier to the pandemic.

The people’s solidarity showed in concrete actions, in caring for the loved ones and in willingness to help people in need. Millions became volunteers and engaged in building person-to-person help routes. The nationwide We Are Together campaign brought together people from different walks of life and ages. As always during challenging times, our traditional religions stepped up to provide spiritual support to the society. I see the leaders of our religions here and I would like to bow deeply to you, thank you very much

Throughout history, our people have come out victorious and overcome trials thanks to unity. Today, family, friendship, mutual assistance, graciousness and unity have come to the fore as well.

Spiritual and moral values, which are already being forgotten in some countries, have, on the contrary, made us stronger. And we will always uphold and defend these values.

Colleagues,

The pandemic broke out at a time when the aftermath of the demographic shocks of the 1940s and 1990s converged. We realise that the current demographic situation is an emergency. Unfortunately, this is how things are. We must accept and admit it and do something about it based on our understanding of this situation.

Saving the people of Russia is our top national priority. This priority underlies the stipulations of the updated Constitution concerning the protection of the family, the important role parents play in bringing up their children, strengthening social guarantees, and further developing the economy, education and culture.

Our strategy is to return to sustainable population growth to make sure that the average life expectancy in Russia increases to 78 years in 2030.

Unfortunately, the statistics show us sad and disappointing numbers. We are even seeing a certain decline. It is clear what is happening because of the pandemic, but we will keep our strategic goals in this critical sphere unchanged.

I fully realise that this is no small feat, the more so as the coronavirus has not yet been completely defeated and remains a direct threat. We see the dramatic developments in many countries where the cases of infection continue to grow. We need to keep in check the defence barriers designed to slow down the spread of the virus along our external borders and within our country.

I would like to address all citizens of Russia once again. Friends, please stay alert. I am asking you to take care of yourselves and your loved ones and to comply with the doctors’ and sanitary services’ recommendations as closely as possible.

Vaccination is of crucial importance. I would like to ask the Government, the Healthcare Ministry and the heads of the regions to monitor this process on a daily basis. The opportunity to take the jab must be available everywhere, so that we achieve the so-called herd immunity by the autumn.

The attainment of this goal depends on everyone, on all our citizens. Please, I am asking all citizens of Russia once again to get vaccinated. This is the only way to stop this deadly epidemic. There is no alternative. The other choice is much worse: to contract the disease with unpredictable consequences.

I would like to say once again that the disease is still with us. But we must start thinking already now about healing the wounds it has inflicted and restoring people’s health.

During the peak periods, our hospitals and outpatient clinics had to reduce or even suspend scheduled visits. This increased the risk of the aggravation of chronic illnesses or the risk of missing the first signs of or correctly diagnosing new illnesses.

I would like to ask the Government, the Healthcare Ministry and the constituent entities of the Russian Federation to expand the system of medical check-ups and periodic screenings, taking into account the current epidemiological situation, and to relaunch them in full measure on July 1, 2021 for people of all ages. They must involve the largest number of people possible. This is why we will increase the supply of mobile medical diagnostic systems to the regions in the near future.

One of the targets of the coronavirus is the cardiovascular system. These diseases have always been the leading cause of death. Therefore, special attention during periodic screenings must be given to people with cardiovascular diseases. I would like to instruct the Government to take additional measures to prevent the diseases that are the main causes of premature death. As I have already mentioned, these are cardiovascular diseases plus malignant tumours and respiratory system diseases.

Hepatitis C claims many young lives. Decisions must be made to reduce this threat to the health of the nation to a minimum within 10 years.

To ensure that as many people as possible can restore their health at sanatoriums and health resorts, I propose that the 20 percent rebate programme for domestic travel is extended at least until the end of the year.

Children’s health is our special priority. Indeed, the foundation for good health for many years to come is laid during childhood. Children’s rest and recreation activities must be made as affordable as possible. In this regard, this year, I propose reimbursing half of what parents spend on their children’s summer camps.

In addition, we need to expand opportunities for student tourism. Already this year, we must launch several pilot projects, including accommodation on university campuses and in dormitories in other regions for students who travel around the country during the summer.

And, of course, we must reward the young people who have done well in academic competitions and in volunteer and creative initiatives as well as the projects operated by the Russia – Land of Opportunity platform. For them, the partial reimbursement programme for tourist vouchers will remain valid during the holidays, aka the high season. This is a ground-breaking decision.

I wish to thank all the parliamentary groups which supported the decision on the taxation of high incomes, or rather, a portion of high incomes. These proceeds will go to the dedicated Circle of Kindness fund and have already been released to help children affected by rare and serious diseases, to purchase expensive medicines and medical equipment, and to cover the costs of surgeries.

On April 28, we will celebrate Ambulance Worker Day which was established as a show of respect to those who arrive first to save lives. These specialists must be provided with all necessary supplies. Within the next three years, we will make another 5,000 new ambulances available to rural communities, urban-type localities and small towns, which will replace the ambulance fleet almost in full.

I want to emphasise that public healthcare authorities in many leading countries – we are well aware of it and, in fact, they themselves are saying so – were unable to deal with the challenges of the pandemic as effectively as we did in Russia. At the same time, global health care is on the cusp of a genuine revolution. This must be recognised and clearly seen. We cannot miss it.

The pandemic has exponentially sped up the introduction of telemedicine, artificial intelligence and new approaches in diagnostics, surgery, rehabilitation and the production of medicines everywhere. We must put these technologies at the service of the people of our country.

We must build our healthcare system around this ground-breaking technology, and keep an eye on pressing everyday problems in the process. As we are all aware, they abound, mostly in primary care. There must be no such thing as waiting lines, no hassle making a diagnostics appointment or a specialist doctor appointment, or obtaining prescriptions and sick leaves, for that matter. This has often come up in our discussions lately. The funds have been set side and allocated. It is time to move quickly and efficiently to make it happen.

We have a backlog to deal with in healthcare and other social sectors, including many technical, financial and managerial challenges. However, what people need is qualified and timely medical help. I propose reviewing public healthcare problems from this perspective at an expanded meeting of the State Council some time soon. We will prepare for it and hold it shortly.

I repeat: we have gained some fundamentally new experience in fulfilling our social commitments. During the pandemic, we made direct payments to families bringing up almost 28 million children, and they received their benefits without any unnecessary paperwork or other kinds of red tape – they got the money they needed and were entitled to automatically. I know Government members have been working on this, focusing deliberately, not without some failures, but they have made every effort to accomplish this task, and coped with it. This is great, this is a good example. This approach should become the norm at all levels of government.

This is the essence of the National Social Initiative, which was discussed at a recent joint meeting of the State Council Presidium and the Agency for Strategic Initiatives.

I am calling on the regional governors: it is your direct responsibility to organise the work of local clinics, daycare nurseries and schools, and employment centres, based on the daily needs of families, of each and every person. In many regions, I have seen with my own eyes that such work has already been launched in certain areas. This needs to be done everywhere and in all social sectors.

As soon as in 2022, we must introduce the ‘social treasury’ principles. This means that all federal benefits, pensions and other social payments and services will be provided and paid in a one-stop mode, without having to visit dozens of different agencies, but simply upon marriage, the birth of a child, retirement or other life milestones. Within three years, the vast majority of public and municipal services should be provided to Russian citizens remotely, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that is, on an ongoing basis.

Separately, we will have to discuss child-support payments, which are a sensitive topic for many families. Unfortunately, this is a problem in our country. This procedure should not be humiliating for anyone. Most issues here need to be resolved remotely and, most importantly, in the interests of the affected party. A mother with a child should not have to camp on the doorstep of various authorities to collect official documents, carrying her baby in her arms, and this is what usually happens. A system of interagency communication needs to be built, with banks included, in such a way as to ensure the unconditional execution of court decisions on the recovery of child-support payments. The state is obliged to protect the rights of the child; this is what we are talking about. I will return to this topic again later.

Colleagues,

We understand the heavy toll that the pandemic has taken on people’s welfare. Statistics show the aggravating effects of this outbreak on social inequality and poverty. It has been a challenge for all countries around the world – remember, all countries, not only Russia, are experiencing the same consequences. Certainly, we should be primarily concerned about the situation in our own country.

We are now facing price hikes that are undercutting people’s incomes. Some urgent decisions have been made, of course, but we cannot solely rely on targeted and essentially directive measures. We remember potential outcomes. Back in the late 1980s and the 1990s in the Soviet Union, they resulted in empty store shelves. But today, even when the pandemic was at its worst, we did not allow the same thing to happen.

The Government’s goal is to create conditions that will be long-term and which, I want to stress this part, colleagues, can, thanks to market mechanisms (which we have), guarantee the predictability of prices and quality replenishment of the domestic market. Nobody is saying that we will be setting prices from the top. There’s no need to muddy the waters and scare people. There are market regulatory mechanisms and they must be employed – promptly and to the extent required and appropriate to a specific situation in the economy and social sphere. We need to stimulate investment activity by reducing business risks. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Surely, the main goal right now is to ensure that people’s real incomes grow – that is, to restore them and secure their further growth. As I said, we need tangible changes in our fight against poverty.

Before anything else, the Government must provide direct support to families with children who are experiencing hardships. This has been our consistent policy and we will continue to pursue it.

We already have a system of benefits paid to parents of one or two children from the time the children are born and until they reach the age of three. Families with incomes below two subsistence minimums per family member are entitled to such benefits. The average monthly amount paid across the country is 11,300 rubles per child. Seventy-eight Russian regions pay benefits for the third child, also 11,300 rubles on average.

Please note that we are making consistent progress in this area, step by step. Last year, we introduced benefits for children aged three to seven. They range from 5,650 to 11,300 rubles per month depending on the region.

I instruct the Government to develop, by July 1, a comprehensive system of support for families with children. Our goal is to minimise the risk of poverty for such families.

But a number of new decisions need to be taken immediately, already today. It is always difficult for a single parent to raise a child. There are plenty of reasons for that. And this is not about the reasons but about supporting children. It is particularly difficult when a single-parent family is having financial problems, especially when children start going to school and family expenses objectively rise.

In particular, we must support single-parent families, where a mother or a father is bringing up a child alone, and only one of the parents is registered on the birth certificate – sorry to be speaking of such mundane things, but this is a fact of life – or the parents have divorced and one of them has the right to child-support payments. Therefore, as of July 1 this year, all children in such families aged between 8 and 16, inclusively, will receive a benefit. The national average of such benefit will be 5,650 rubles.

Of course, we must also help women who are expecting a baby and who have financial problems. It is extremely important for a mother-to-be to get support from the state and society, so that they can keep their pregnancy and know that they will receive help in raising and bringing up their child.

I propose approving a monthly subsidy for women who register at a maternity centre during early pregnancy and who have financial problems. The average subsidy for them will be 6,350 rubles a month.

Next, the sick pay for taking care of a child who falls ill depends on the employment record, which is correct, on the whole, and fair. However, young women receive much smaller sick leave payments. We have discussed this issue at the State Council, and it has been raised by the United Russia. We need to adopt legal decisions on this matter without delay, so that payments for taking care of a sick child aged up to 7 years inclusively are approved at 100 percent of the parent’s salary as soon as this year.

You understand what this means. The majority of those in this room know that the longer the employment record the larger the sick pay. Women who have a long work record usually receive full sick pay, but they usually do not have children at their age. Those who have children do not receive full pay. We must definitely help those who are expecting a baby.

I would also like to remind you that we have expanded and extended the maternity capital programme up until 2026. This benefit will now be paid already for the first child. We could not afford this before. The maternity capital has been adjusted to inflation and is almost 640,000 rubles

Free hot meals for all primary school children were approved as of January 1, 2020, and this measure has become a great help for families.

I would like to point out that all our decisions were designed to support our people. I know that many and very many people have financial problems now. The labour market and real disposable income of the people will be certainly restored, and we will move on. This has not happened yet. Therefore, I suggest approving one more one-off payment for the families that have school children, namely, 10,000 rubles per schoolchild. Moreover, this payment will also be made for the children who will only start school this year. We will transfer the money in mid-August, so that parents can get their children ready for school.

The updated Constitution of Russia includes clauses on demographic development, and protection of the family and childhood. They should be implemented in practice at all levels of government. I propose including a section aimed at supporting young people in each national project.

Friends,

During the pandemic, many young doctors and nurses, recent graduates as well as residents and students of medical universities worked courageously in the so-called red zones, joining their senior colleagues. In that extraordinary situation, teachers, schoolchildren, college and university students continued to teach and study, to have exams. Young family members supported their parents and older relatives. The youth of Russia proved to be extremely worthy during that period of trials. We can be proud of them.

We will do everything to open up as many life opportunities as possible for the younger generation. Their journey certainly begins at school, and I am sure that school will always be a second home for children; a new home, comfortable and modern.

Under the existing federal programme and with additional resources provided by the VEB Development Bank, we will build at least 1,300 new schools for more than a million children by the end of 2024. We will also purchase at least 16,000 school buses over the next four years. All school buses must be modern and safe.

Classroom teachers have been receiving a monthly addition to their salaries since last year. A very necessary and, I am sure, fair decision. I remember how we held discussions on this matter last year.

However, I have received requests, letters from teachers in secondary vocational institutions who say they have been forgotten. This is actually true. Justice must be restored. We have to fix this and establish the same additional payment of 5,000 rubles for supervisors of educational groups at technical schools and colleges.

I propose allocating an additional 10 billion rubles in the next two years for major repairs and technical equipment of our pedagogical universities. I ask the Government to pay close attention to up-to-date training of future teachers. The future of Russia largely depends on them.

Furthermore, school teaching teams should be expanded with teaching assistants, mentors and counsellors, whose job will be to organise exciting projects for children at schools.

It is very important that our young people should look to and be inspired by the achievements and victories of our outstanding ancestors and contemporaries, by their love for our Motherland and aspiration to make a personal contribution to its development. Children should have the opportunity to explore the national history and the multinational culture, our achievements in science and technology, literature and art in advanced formats. You know, I still open certain school textbooks occasionally and am surprised at what I see there – as if what is written there has nothing to do with us at all. Who writes such textbooks? Who approves them? It is unbelievable. They mention everything, the ‘second front’ and a lot of other facts, but not the Battle of Stalingrad – how is that possible? Amazing! I do not even want to comment.

I propose allocating an additional 24 billion rubles within the next three years to renovate cultural centres, libraries and museums in rural areas and small historical towns. This is another crucial area.

It is important to resume the activities of the Knowledge Society – we all remember well what it is – based on a modern digital platform. It seems to have been operational lately, but no one seems to notice it is there, either. Also, in order to support projects in culture, art and creative activities, we will set up a Presidential fund for cultural initiatives. Already this year, we will use its competitive grants to finance over 1,500 creative teams.

Colleagues,

A month from now, 11th grade students will be taking exams. Based on the results, most of them, about 60 percent, will enrol in universities and have their tuition covered from the budget. It can be safely stated that practically no country in the world apart from Russia has this kind of broad and free access to higher education.

In the next two years, we will make an additional 45,000 state-funded places available at our universities. At least 70 percent of them will go to the regions which need university graduates.

Starting this year, at least 100 universities in the constituent entities of our Federation will receive grants in the amount of 100 million rubles or more for opening student technoparks and business incubators, upgrading academic and laboratory facilities, and running training programmes. All state universities will be eligible for this support, including the ones that train future teachers, medical doctors, transport and culture workers. I am confident that the young generation of Russians, Russian scientists, will make their names known in the meaningful research projects that are yet to come.

This year was declared Science and Technology Year in our country. We realise that science is absolutely key in the modern world. Until 2024, Russia will allocate 1.63 trillion rubles from the federal budget alone for civil, including fundamental, research. But that is not all.

We are about to launch ground-breaking programmes in areas that are critical to our country. They will be given the status of nationwide projects. I would like to discuss some of them separately just to give you a sense.

First, we must have a solid and reliable shield to give us sanitary and biological safety. We now understand what it is about. It is imperative to ensure Russia’s independence in the production of the entire range of vaccines and pharmaceutical substances, including medications against infections that are resistant to the current generation of antibiotics. Importantly, this must be achieved with the maximum engagement of Russian-made equipment and domestic components.

In the event of an infection as dangerous as the coronavirus, or, God forbid, even more dangerous, Russia must be prepared to develop its own test systems within four days, precisely four days, and to create an efficacious domestic vaccine and start its mass production as soon as possible. These are the goals that we are setting for ourselves. The timeframe for achieving these goals is 2030. But the sooner we get there, the better.

Second, we need new comprehensive approaches to the development of our energy sector, including new solutions for nuclear generation in the promising areas of hydrogen energy and energy storage.

Third, we must find answers to the climate change challenges, adjust our agriculture, industry, the housing and utilities sector and the entire infrastructure to them, create a carbon utilisation sector, bring down emissions and introduce strict control and monitoring measures.

Over the next 30 years, the cumulative emissions in Russia must be smaller than in the EU. It is an ambitious goal, considering the size of our country and the specific features of its geography, climate and economic structure. However, I have no doubt whatsoever that it is a perfectly realistic goal in light of our research and technological potential.

Our new energy and pharmaceutical sectors and the solution of climate problems must provide a powerful boost to a comprehensive modernisation of all economic sectors and the social sphere. It is a direct path to the creation of modern and well-paid jobs.

The efforts taken by each level of government, business, development institutions and the Russian Academy of Sciences must have in view the main, central task: to improve the quality of life for our people. I would like to point out that our position on environmental protection is a matter of principle in this respect, and it will definitely remain unchanged.

The dangers of the alternative position have been recently exemplified by the events in Norilsk, Usolye-Sibirskoye and several other places. We will certainly help the people who live there, but we must also preclude a repetition of such environmental disasters.

I would like to ask those responsible to accelerate the adoption of a law on the financial responsibility of enterprise owners for clearing up the accumulated pollution and for the reclamation of industrial sites. This is a very simple approach. Here it is: if you have benefited from polluting the environment, clean up after yourself. We must act harshly. Rosprirodnadoz [the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources] and other regulatory authorities must do their jobs.

I would like to add that the “polluter pays” principle must also be employed in full in the waste disposal sector to ensure transition to the so-called closed-loop economy. With this aim in view, we must launch a mechanism of extended producers and importers’ responsibility for the management of products and packaging wastes as soon as this year.

I also propose marking environmental payments to the federal budget. I know that experts and financial specialists do not like such special marks, but I see this as a vital sphere of our activity. We can make an exception in this case, and invest these funds in clearing up accumulated pollution and improving the environment.

Also, as I said, the amount of hazardous emissions in Russia’s 12 largest industrial centres must be reduced by 20 percent by 2024. We have already discussed this. Obviously, this goal must be accomplished through a comprehensive modernisation of the industrial sector, the housing and utilities sector, transport and energy.

Moreover, I propose expanding the emission quota system to all Russian cities with major air quality problems and introduce strict liability for non-compliance with environmental regulations. Of course, this requires transparent monitoring.

We will definitely support the efforts of businesses to upgrade their facilities up to current environmental standards. For example, upgrading will begin this year at aluminium plants in Bratsk, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Novokuznetsk based on the state guarantee mechanism. I will later name other cities and towns in other contexts but it does not mean that our work is limited to those areas. They only serve as examples.

Colleagues,

Last year, we allocated unprecedented resources for supporting the economy. Among other things, we managed to preserve over 5 million jobs through subsidised loans for wage payments. I want to stress that this programme succeeded but it succeeded precisely because businesses acted responsibly and did everything they could to keep their employees. We could see that.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to prevent layoffs completely. I understand how hard it is for those who lost their jobs. The Government was instructed to ensure that the labour market recovers by the end of the year. Still, this problem must be solved sooner so that people can have a stable income again. The Government will be encouraging entrepreneurial initiatives and stimulate private investments that create new jobs.

As you know, last year, social insurance contributions for small and medium-sized businesses were reduced by half, from 30 to 15 percent. This decision will remain in force permanently and is not subject to review.

I instruct the Government to present, within the next month, additional proposals on supporting small and medium-sized businesses, such as tax incentives, accessible loans and expanding product distribution and sales, including to major state-run companies.

As for other decisions in the economic sphere, I would like to mention the following.

First, we have already scrapped many archaic norms and requirements in construction and other fields and discontinued many unnecessary control inspections, but we also need to increase the momentum to achieve substantive, clear and tangible results in improving the business climate. For example, building a turnkey factory in Russia should be faster, more economically efficient and easier than in other regions of the world, including countries with developed economies.

Furthermore, we need to simplify the working conditions for non-commodity exporters. We have certainly been pursuing this policy line for a few years now, but we still need to remove all excessive restrictions in forex control for these exporters. This is one of the problems. The new procedure should start functioning in July. We have discussed this matter more than once. All amendments to the legislation must be adopted as quickly as possible during the spring session.

Secondly, the talent of an entrepreneur is primarily the talent of a creator, an aspiration to change life for the better, to create new jobs. The state will definitely support this attitude.

In the modern world where the market situation sometimes changes almost every day, businesses have to deal with high risks, especially when investing in long-term projects. To address this, we will be adjusting the entire private investment support system. We will evaluate how effective the projects are by the new products, services, and technologies they provide people with and how they improve the potential of Russia and each individual region.

The Special Investment Contract mechanism has already been improved; we have implemented a new instrument – Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements. We have consolidated development institutions on the basis of VEB. Their job is to reduce the risks for investing private capital, to help in the creation of new markets and investment mechanisms, the same as with the Project Finance Factory mechanism already in place. It is currently supporting more than 40 commercial projects with a total investment of 3 trillion rubles.

I am waiting for proposals from the Government on the implementation of the ideas proposed in March at a meeting with Russian businesses. Colleagues, you are well aware of this.

Third, we are making all major decisions concerning the economy through a dialogue with the business community. This is the practice established over many years. Of course, we have the right to expect that the auxiliary financial instruments and support mechanisms will bring the most desired result, which is converting profit into investment and development.

There is an important thing I want to say although it is nothing new to businesses. They know it already. The corporate sector is expected to make a record profit this year, despite all the problems that we are dealing with. Despite these problems, this is the real picture. We will take note of how this profit will be used and, based on the annual results, we may decide to calibrate the tax legislation. I want to see specific proposals from the Government. Off the record, I should note: some withdraw dividends while others invest in the development of their companies and entire industries. We will be encouraging those who invest.

Last year, we substantially increased budget expenditure while managing to maintain the stability of state finances. The Government and the Central Bank must continue to pursue a responsible financial policy. Ensuring macroeconomic stability and containing inflation within set parameters is an extremely important task. I assume that it will definitely be accomplished.

At the same time, thanks to our budget capacity and our reserves, we can allocate more funds to support investment in infrastructure and provide regions with new development instruments. Launching these instruments will require the law to be amended. I expect that all parliamentary parties – A Just Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Communist Party and United Russia – will uphold these amendments.

In this regard, I want to thank all constructive public forces in the country for their responsible and patriotic attitude during this difficult epidemic. These are not just meaningless words because it was this attitude and its practical significance that helped all of us preserve the balance and stability of Russia’s government and political system. This is always important but it is especially relevant because we are preparing for the elections to the State Duma and other government bodies, considering the extensive work we will have to carry out. I hope that this competitive mindset that unites us in the face of common goals will persist.

Colleagues,

The country is developing and moving forward, but this is only taking place when the regions of the Russian Federation are developing. A striving of the heads of constituent entities to make their regions successful and self-sufficient must be and will be encouraged in every way.

We will support those who assume responsibility and launch constructive projects. I am confident that every Russian region has huge potential. To help make positive and productive use of this potential, what must we reduce first of all? The governors know what I am referring to: we must reduce the debt burden. These topics must be thoroughly discussed once again.

I ask the Government to submit by June 1 the proposals on ensuring long-term stability of regional and municipal finance and on increasing the regions’ self-sufficiency. We will discuss them in summer at a State Council meeting, and we will do so with due regard for the priority decisions about which I will tell you now.

First of all, we must help regions with large commercial debts. Here is what I suggest: the amount of a region’s commercial debt that exceeds 25 percent of the given region’s own revenues will be replaced with budgetary loans that will mature in 2029.

In addition, I propose restructuring the budgetary loans, yes, budgetary loans that were issued to the regions last year for taking measures to combat the pandemic. I believe that this would be fair. I would like to remind everyone that these loans will mature in two months, on July 1. I suggest extending them to 2029 as well.

I would like to emphasise that the restructuring of accumulated debts should be used as a mechanism of increasing the self-sufficiency of regional economies, especially considering that we will be offering a fundamentally new development tool to our constituent entities. I am referring to the so-called budgetary infrastructure loans with an interest rate of not more than 3 percent per annum and with maturity in 15 years. We intend to allocate a total of at least 0.5 trillion rubles, that is, 500 billion rubles of such infrastructure loans by the end of 2023.

Regional debt restructuring must be based on the concept of justice, which has always been the case, actually. Some constituent entities have large accumulated commercial debts, while other entities did not take out many loans. The latter may feel neglected in this case. This will not do, and we will not permit this. We will support those who have always pursued and continue to pursue a balanced financial policy. The principle of the distribution of infrastructure loans will be as follows: the fewer debts a region had, the more it will be able to receive in infrastructure loans.

We are one country. All levels of government and business must work to one end. Debt restructuring and an innovative investment resource in the form of infrastructure loans will allow us to expand the planning horizon and to launch new solutions that are tied in with the implementation of national projects, sector-specific strategies and a comprehensive plan for upgrading the backbone infrastructure.

Federal infrastructure loans are a powerful resource, but whether they will help us get ahead or attract private investment hugely depends on what regional management teams do and on their ability to conduct an open and candid dialogue with businesses, investors, and, of course, primarily, individuals.

The infrastructure projects in the regions must be implemented, primarily, in the interests of the people, and serve as investment in the creation of new jobs and in promoting the well-being of millions of Russian households and securing the future of our children. The priorities will be building motorways and bypasses in urban areas, upgrading the housing and utilities sector infrastructure and the public transport system, as well as conducting integrated development of territories and building tourist facilities.

Please note that the infrastructure and budget loans will be fully under the control of the Federal Treasury and will be provided exclusively for specific projects that have been thoroughly analysed by experts at the federal level. While we are at it, I would like to say something to regional leaders and the Government: listen, let’s work in a rhythmic and business-like manner. I do not want to use harsh or rude language at this rostrum, but things must be done on time and projects must be prepared, not just pictures shown to the Government. In turn, the Government must quickly process the projects and help the regions deal with things they have problems dealing with. You must help your colleagues, you understand that? Not trash what they have brought to you and say they did a bad job. Some of them are unable to do what you ask of them. Help them, and then things will be on the path forwards.

The scale of the projects may vary, but most importantly, as I said, they must benefit our people and open up new opportunities. For example, in conjunction with our major companies and using the proposed mechanism, the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area will begin the construction of the Northern Latitudinal Railway. This is the railway that will spur the development of the richest resources of the Arctic. This project has been in the works for a long time now, and it’s time to launch it, since we can do so now. For example, as a result, Nizhny Novgorod will be able to continue building the metro and to start renovating the city centre. Chelyabinsk, another city with a million-plus residents, will also have the opportunity to upgrade its transport system through a long-standing metro construction project. I am aware of other similar projects in Krasnoyarsk and other regions.

And, of course, the construction of new facilities must be at a qualitatively higher level. I want the Government to draft a clear step-by-step plan for the end-to-end and widespread use of digital design, and the production and introduction of cutting-edge energy-efficient materials. This is also important if we want to tackle the climate and environmental challenges.

Large-scale infrastructure development sets fundamentally new tasks before the construction industry. In the difficult past year, it worked smoothly and built over 80 million square metres of housing. This is a good result. The more we build, the more affordable housing will there be for Russian families.

Therefore, we have an ambitious goal. We have already discussed it as well and this ambitious goal has not disappeared– we plan to build 120 million square metres of housing every year. That said, we must certainly envisage a special mechanism for supporting private housing construction.

As for large-scale construction, the DOM.RF development institute will attract financial resources through the placement of bonds. This is a tried and tested mechanism that generally works well. These resources must go to developers as targeted loans.

I would like to emphasise that federal budget subsidies will allow DOM.RF to issue loans to developers at a minimal annual rate of about 3–4 percent. The construction of residential neighbourhoods in Tula, Tyumen, the Sakhalin Region and Kuzbass will be pilot projects for developing this model.

Improvement of cities and towns and housing construction growth play a major role in the development of the regions. We must take care of the urgent, daily problems of local residents. Quite a few Russian families live in areas connected to gas networks but their homes still have no access to gas for some reason. It seems the pipe is there but there is no gas at home.

I would like to ask the Government to work out, in cooperation with the regions, a clear-cut plan for bringing gas to such households. In this context, I support United Russia’s initiative, notably, that people do not have to pay for laying gas pipes directly to the border of their land plots in a residential area.

As I have already said, the Government must analyse all details in cooperation with Gazprom and other companies and agencies that work in this area to prevent any setbacks. Otherwise, I will say something from this rostrum and people will be waiting for it but because you don’t put some squiggles or commas in the right place everything will get bogged down again. This is unacceptable, and I will check on it myself, so please pay attention. Mosoblgaz and other companies must understand what they must do, in what timeframe and how much money they have at their disposal.

The goal is certainly more extensive. We must offer every region our solutions on public access to reliable and clean energy sources. This may be electricity, including from renewable sources, or environmentally friendly use of coal, which is also an option in the modern world, pipeline or liquefied gas. I instruct the regional heads to prepare, in coordination with the Government, detailed plans of action and start implementing them next year.

For example, in Kamchatka we must envisage the creation of local gas-receiving infrastructure to ensure reliable long-term gas supplies to the residents and companies of the Kamchatka Territory.

Colleagues,

We will not only give fundamentally new development tools to the regions, but will also directly invest federal resources into the settlement of the worst systemic problems, which will have a compound effect on boosting the regions’ growth and improving the quality of people’s lives.

We will begin with allocations from the National Welfare Fund for building mainline motorways. First of all, we should finance the ongoing construction of the Moscow-Kazan high-speed road and, more than that, extend it all the way to Yekaterinburg, completing this project within three years.

This way, together with the existing Moscow-St Petersburg high-speed road and the Central Ring Road, this will ensure safe high-speed motorway transit across the entire European part of Russia, from the Baltic Sea to the Urals, by 2024.

However, it is not enough to simply connect the end-of-line destinations. What good will this do, if it does not change anything about life in villages or small towns but only gives the people there an opportunity to watch high-speed trains and vehicles rush past? The backbone infrastructure must definitely lead to the development of all the territories where it has been built, giving rise to the development of a modern regional network.

The constituent entities will now be able to use infrastructure loans to speed up the implementation of these construction projects. But in their development plans, our colleagues should remember and take into account that the federal and regional mainlines must function as a unified system in the interests of our citizens, businesses and regions. In this way, the infrastructure loans and the resources of the National Welfare Fund will be working for the benefit of all Russian regions.

The same goes for our new national project in the tourist sphere. A programme of easy loans will be launched soon to finance the construction and renovation of hotels and other tourist infrastructure. The interest rate on these loans will be 3–5 percent as well, and the loans will mature in 15 years.

There are many other pilot projects. I will only mention some of them: the development of Sheregesh, the leading mountain ski resort in Kuzbass; the creation of a yachting resort in the Bay of Balaklava in Sevastopol; and the development of the tourist industry on the Altai and in the Kaliningrad Region.

The infrastructure loans project will give a new impetus to entire tourist clusters. In particular, several regions in Central Russia will be able to modernise and expand the Golden Ring route at a fundamentally new level, realising the tourist potential of small towns such as Tarusa, Palekh, Murom, Gorokhovets, Tutayev and Borovsk. Development projects will be launched in the Volga Region cities, the Crimean resorts, the Black Sea and Pacific coast areas, as well as in our resort towns such as Staraya Russa in the Novgorod Region and Kavkazskiye Mineralnye Vody in the Caucasus, including its gem, Kislovodsk.

Russia is a hospitable country that is open to its good friends. You surely remember what happened during the 2018 football championships. As soon as the epidemiological situation allows, we will lift the remaining restrictions and millions of tourists from all over the world will come to Russia again. We have a practical task at hand: to ensure that e-visas for travel to Russia are available remotely and without undue formalities within a matter of four days in the majority of countries.

Colleagues,

The meaning and purpose of Russia’s policy in the international arena – I will just say a few words about this to conclude my address – is to ensure peace and security for the well-being of our citizens, for the stable development of our country. Russia certainly has its own interests we defend and will continue to defend within the framework of international law, as all other states do. And if someone refuses to understand this obvious thing or does not want to conduct a dialogue and chooses a selfish and arrogant tone with us, Russia will always find a way to defend its stance.

At the same time, unfortunately, everyone in the world seems to be used to the practice of politically motivated, illegal economic sanctions and to certain actors’ brutal attempts to impose their will on others by force. But today, this practice is degenerating into something even more dangerous – I am referring to the recently exposed direct interference in Belarus in an attempt to orchestrate a coup d’état and assassinate the President of that country. At the same time, it is typical that even such flagrant actions have not been condemned by the so-called collective West. Nobody seemed to notice. Everyone pretends nothing is happening.

But listen, you can think whatever you like of, say, Ukrainian President [Viktor] Yanukovych or [Nicolas] Maduro in Venezuela. I repeat, you can like or dislike them, including Yanukovych who almost got killed, too, and removed from power via an armed coup. You can have your own opinion of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko’s policy. But the practice of staging coups d’état and planning political assassinations, including those of high-ranking officials – well, this goes too far. This is beyond any limits.

Suffice it to mention the admission made by the detained participants in the conspiracy about a planned siege of Minsk, including plans to block the city infrastructure and communications, and a complete shutdown of the entire power system in the capital of Belarus! This actually means they were preparing a massive cyberattack. What else could it be? You know, you cannot just do it all with one switch.

Clearly, there is a reason why our Western colleagues have been stubbornly rejecting Russia’s numerous proposals to establish an international dialogue on information and cyber security. We have come up with these proposals many times. They avoid even discussing this matter.

What if there had been a real attempt at a coup d’état in Belarus? After all, this was the ultimate goal. How many people would have been hurt? What would have become of Belarus? Nobody is thinking about this.

Just as no one was thinking about the future of Ukraine during the coup in that country.

All the while, unfriendly moves towards Russia have also continued unabated. Some countries have taken up an unseemly routine where they pick on Russia for any reason, most often, for no reason at all. It is some kind of new sport of who shouts the loudest.

In this regard, we behave in an extremely restrained manner, I would even say, modestly, and I am saying this without irony. Often, we prefer not to respond at all, not just to unfriendly moves, but even to outright rudeness. We want to maintain good relations with everyone who participates in the international dialogue. But we see what is happening in real life. As I said, every now and then they are picking on Russia, for no reason. And of course, all sorts of petty Tabaquis are running around them like Tabaqui ran around Shere Khan – everything is like in Kipling’s book – howling along in order to make their sovereign happy. Kipling was a great writer.

We really want to maintain good relations with all those engaged in international communication, including, by the way, those with whom we have not been getting along lately, to put it mildly. We really do not want to burn bridges. But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn or even blow up these bridges, they must know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and tough.

Those behind provocations that threaten the core interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time.

At the same time, I just have to make it clear, we have enough patience, responsibility, professionalism, self-confidence and certainty in our cause, as well as common sense, when making a decision of any kind. But I hope that no one will think about crossing the “red line” with regard to Russia. We ourselves will determine in each specific case where it will be drawn.

I will now say, just as I always do during the annual addresses to the Federal Assembly, that the improvement and qualitative strengthening of Russia’s Armed Forces continues on a regular basis. In particular, special attention will be given to the development of military education both at military school and academies and at military training centres at civilian universities.

By 2024, the share of modern weapons and military equipment in the armed forces will reach nearly 76 percent, which is a very good indicator. This share in the nuclear triad will be over 88 percent before this year is out.

Standing on combat duty are the latest Avangard hypersonic intercontinental missile systems and the Peresvet combat laser systems, and the first regiment armed with Sarmat super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles is scheduled to go on combat duty in late 2022.

The number of combat air systems with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, and warships armed with precision hypersonic weapons such as Kinzhal that I mentioned, and with the Kalibr missiles, is increasing. The Tsirkon hypersonic missiles will be put on combat duty soon. Work is underway on other modern combat systems, including Poseidon and Burevestnik, in accordance with the development plans of the Armed Forces.

As the leader in the creation of new-generation combat systems and in the development of modern nuclear forces, Russia is urging its partners once again to discuss the issues related to strategic armaments and to ensuring global stability. The subject matter and the goal of these talks could be the creation of an environment for a conflict-free coexistence based on the security equation, which would include not only the traditional strategic armaments, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, heavy bombers and submarines, but – I would like to emphasise this – all offensive and defensive systems capable of attaining strategic goals regardless of the armament.

The five nuclear countries bear special responsibility. I hope that the initiative on a personal meeting of the heads of state of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, which we proposed last year, will materialise and will be held as soon as the epidemiological situation allows.

Russia is always open to broad international cooperation. We have consistently advocated the preservation and strengthening of the key role of the United Nations in international affairs, and we try to provide assistance to the settlement of regional conflicts and have already done a great deal to stabilise the situation in Syria and to launch a political dialogue in Libya. As you know, Russia played the main role in stopping the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

It is on the basis of mutual respect that we are building relations with the absolute majority of the world’s countries: in Asia, Latin America, Africa and many European countries. We are consistently expanding as a priority contacts with our closest partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and our allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.

Our common projects in the Eurasian Economic Union are aimed at ensuring economic growth and the wellbeing of our people. There are new, interesting projects here, such as the development of transport-and-logistics corridors. I am sure they will become a reliable infrastructure backbone for large-scale Eurasian partnership. The Russian ideas of this broad, open association are already being put into practice, in part, via alignment with other integration processes.

All these projects are not just geopolitical ideas but strictly practical instruments for resolving national development tasks.

Colleagues,

I began today’s Address with urgent healthcare issues, and concluding it, I would like to say the following. Nobody in the world knew what misfortune we would have to face. However, we, citizens of Russia, have already done much and will do all we can to counter the threat of the epidemic. Our country has reliable resources for this. We created them in healthcare, science, education and industry in previous years.

However, we must definitely move forward. We have mapped out national development tasks. Naturally, the challenge of the epidemic has made objective adjustments to our work. Today’s Address contains instructions on demography and family support, as well as on efforts to fight poverty, increase incomes, create jobs, improve the business environment and raise state management to a new level.

I would like to ask the Government to focus on these tasks in preparing new initiatives on Russia’s socioeconomic development and instruct it to present them by July 1 of this year.

What do I have in mind? Doing everyday work, we must certainly not forget about our strategic development goals and our national development goals, and we must improve the mechanisms for reaching them.

We will discuss the Government’s proposals with the participation of the relevant State Council commissions, our business associations, experts and the Civic Chamber. Following such a broad discussion, we will make final decisions on further financial and organisational actions at the meeting of the Council for Strategic Development and National Projects.

Now I would like to address all citizens of Russia once again to say that we will do everything in our power to achieve the goals set. I am sure we will move forward together and accomplish all the tasks that we have set for ourselves.

Thank you very much for your attention.

The National Anthem of the Russian Federation is played.

US/NATO vs. Russia-China in a hybrid war to the finish

US/NATO vs. Russia-China in a hybrid war to the finish

March 27, 2021

The unipolar moment is six feet under, the hegemon will try to break Eurasian integration and there’s no grownup in the room to counsel restraint

By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

Let’s start with comic relief: the “leader of the free world” has pledged to prevent China from becoming the “leading” nation on the planet. And to fulfill such an exceptional mission, his “expectation” is to run again for president in 2024. Not as a hologram. And fielding the same running mate.

Now that the “free world” has breathed a sigh of relief, let’s return to serious matters – as in the contours of the Shocked and Awed 21st Century Geopolitics.

What happened in the past few days between Anchorage and Guilin continues to reverberate. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that Brussels “destroyed” the relationship between Russia and the EU, he focused on how the Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership is getting stronger and stronger.

Not so casual synchronicity revealed that as Lavrov was being properly hosted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Guilin – scenic lunch in the Li river included -, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken was visiting NATO’s James-Bondish HQ outside Brussels.

Lavrov made it quite clear that the core of Russia-China revolves around establishing an economic and financial axis to counterpunch the Bretton Woods arrangement. That implies doing everything to protect Moscow and Beijing from “threats of sanctions by other states”; progressive de-dollarization; and advances in crypto-currency.

This “triple threat” is what is unleashing the Hegemon’s unbounded fury.

On a broader spectrum, the Russia-China strategy also implies that the progressive interaction between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) will keep apace across Central Asia, Southeast Asia, parts of South Asia, and Southwest Asia – necessary steps towards an ultimately unified Eurasian market under a sort of strategic Sino-Russo management.

In Alaska, the Blinken-Sullivan team learned, at their expense, that you don’t mess with a Yoda such as Yang Jiechi with impunity. Now they’re about to learn what it means to mess with Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council.

Patrushev, as much a Yoda as Yang Jiechi, and a master of understatement, delivered a not so cryptic message: if the US created “though days” for Russia, as they “are planning that, they can implement that”, Washington “would be responsible for the steps that they would take”.

What NATO is really up to

Meanwhile, in Brussels, Blinken was enacting a Perfect Couple  routine with spectacularly inefficient head of the European Commission (EC) Ursula von der Leyen. The script went something like this. “Nord Stream 2 is really bad for you. A trade/investment deal with China is really bad for you. Now sit. Good girl.”

Then came NATO, which put on quite a show, complete with an all-Foreign Minister tough guy pose in front of the HQ. That was part of a summit – which predictably did not “celebrate” the 10th anniversary of NATO’s destruction of Libya or the major ass-kicking NATO “endured” in Afghanistan.

In June 2020, NATO’s cardboard secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg – actually his US military handlers – laid out what is now known as the NATO 2030 strategy, which boils down to a Global Robocop politico-military mandate. The Global South has (not) been warned.

In Afghanistan, according to a Stoltenberg impervious to irony, NATO supports infusing “fresh energy into the peace process”. At the summit, NATO ministers also discussed Middle East and Northern Africa and – with a straight face – looked into “what more NATO could do to build stability in the region”. Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Libyans, Malians would love to learn something about that.

Post-summit, Stoltenberg delivered a proverbially somnolent press conference where the main focus was – what else – Russia, and its “pattern for repressive behavior at home, aggressive behavior abroad”.

All the rhetoric about NATO “building stability” vanishes when one examines what’s really behind NATO 2030, via a meaty “recommendation” report written by a bunch of “experts”

Here we learn the three essentials:

1. “The Alliance must respond to Russian threats and hostile actions (…) without a return to ‘business as usual’ barring alterations in Russia’s aggressive behavior and its return to full compliance with international law.”

2. China is depicted as a tsunami of “security challenges”: “The Alliance should infuse the China challenge throughout existing structures and consider establishing a consultative body to discuss all aspects of Allies’ security interests vis-à-vis China”. The emphasis is to “defend against any Chinese activities that could impact collective defense, military readiness or resilience in the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s (SACEUR) Area of Responsibility.”

3. “NATO should outline a global blueprint (italics mine) for better utilizing its partnerships to advance NATO strategic interests. It should shift from the current demand-driven approach to an interest-driven approach (italics mine) and consider providing more stable and predictable resource streams for partnership activities. NATO’s Open Door Policy should be upheld and reinvigorated. NATO should expand and strengthen partnerships with Ukraine and Georgia.”

Here’s to The Triple Threat. Yet the Top of the Pops – as in fat, juicy industrial-military complex contracts – is really here:

The most profound geopolitical challenge is posed by Russia. While Russia is by economic and social measures a declining power, it has proven itself capable of territorial aggression and is likely to remain a chief threat facing NATO over the coming decade.

NATO may be redacting, but the master script comes straight from the Deep State – complete with Russia “seeking hegemony”; expanding Hybrid War (the concept was actually invented by the Deep State); and manipulating “cyber, state-sanctioned assassinations, and poisonings – using chemical weapons, political coercion, and other methods to violate the sovereignty of Allies.”

Beijing for its part is using “force against its neighbors, as well as economic coercion and intimidatory diplomacy well beyond the Indo-Pacific region. Over the coming decade, China will likely also challenge NATO’s ability to build collective resilience.”

The Global South should be very much aware of NATO’s pledge to save the “free world” from these autocratic evils.

The NATO interpretation of “South” encompasses North Africa and the Middle East, in fact everywhere from sub-Saharan Africa to Afghanistan. Any similarity with the presumably defunct “Greater Middle East” concept of the Dubya era is not an accident.

NATO insists this vast expanse is characterized by “fragility, instability, and insecurity” – of course refusing to disclose its own role as serial instability perpetrator in Libya, Iraq, parts of Syria and Afghanistan.

Because ultimately…it’s all Russia’s fault: “To the South, the challenge includes the presence of Russia and to a lesser extent China, exploiting regional fragilities. Russia has reinserted itself in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. In 2015, it intervened in the Syrian Civil War and remains there. Russia’s Middle East policy is likely to exacerbate tensions and political strife across the region as it extends an increasing amount of political, financial, operational, and logistical assets to its partners. China’s influence across the Middle East is also growing. It signed a strategic partnership with Iran, is the largest importer of crude oil from Iraq, wedged itself into the Afghanistan peace process, and is the biggest foreign investor in the region.”

Here, in a nutshell, and not exactly in code, is the NATO road map all the way to 2030 to harass and try to dismantle every relevant nook and cranny of Eurasia integration, especially those directly linked to New Silk Roads infrastructure/connectivity projects (investment in Iran, reconstruction of Syria, reconstruction of Iraq, reconstruction of Afghanistan).

The spin is on a “360-degree approach to security” that will “become an imperative”. Translation: NATO is coming for large swathes of the Global South, big time, under the pretense of “addressing both the traditional threats emanating from this region like terrorism and new risks, including the growing presence of Russia, and to a lesser extent China.”

Hybrid war on two fronts

And to think that in a not so distant past there used to be some flashes of lucidity emanating from the US establishment.

Very few will remember that in 1993 James Baker, former Secretary of State under Daddy Bush, advanced the idea of expanding NATO to Russia, which at the time, under Yeltsin and a gang of Milton Friedmanesque free marketeers, was devastated, but ruled by “democracy”. Yet Bill Clinton was already in power, and the idea was duly discarded.

Six years later, no less than George Kennan – who invented the containment of the USSR in the first place – determined that the NATO annexation of former Soviet satellites was “the beginning of a new Cold War” and “a tragic mistake”.

It’s immensely enlightening to relieve and re-study the whole decade between the fall of the USSR and the election of Putin to the presidency through the venerable Yevgeny Primakov’s book Russian Crossroads: Toward the New Millenium, published in the US by Yale University Press.

Primakov, the ultimate intel insider who started as a Pravda correspondent in the Middle East, former Foreign Minister and also Prime Minister, looked closely into Putin’s soul, repeatedly, and liked what he saw: a man of integrity and a consummate professional. Primakov was a multilateralist avant la lettre, the conceptual instigator of RIC (Russia-India-China) which in the next decade evolved towards BRICS.

Those were the days – exactly 22 years ago – when Primakov was on a plane to Washington when he picked up a call by then Vice-President Al Gore: the US was about to start bombing Yugoslavia, a slav-orthodox Russian ally, and there was nothing the former superpower could do about it. Primakov ordered the pilot to turn around and fly back to Moscow.

Now Russia is powerful enough to advance its own Greater Eurasia concept, which moving forward should be balancing – and complementing – China’s New Silk Roads. It’s the power of this Double Helix – which is bound to inevitably attract key sectors of Western Europe – that is driving the Hegemon’s ruling class dazed and confused.

Glenn Diesen, author of Russian Conservatism: Managing Change Under Permanent Revolution, which I analyzed in Why Russia is Driving the West Crazy , and one of the best global analysts of Eurasia integration, summed it all up: “The US has had great difficulties in terms of converting the security dependence of the allies into geoeconomic loyalty, as evident by the Europeans still buying Chinese technologies and Russian energy.

Hence permanent Divide and Rule, featuring one of its key targets: cajole, force, bribe and all of the above for the European Parliament to scotch the China-EU trade/investment deal.

Wang Yiwei, director of the Center for European Studies at Renmin University and author of the best made in China book about the New Silk Roads, clearly sees through the “America is back” bluster: “China is not isolated by the US, the West or even the whole international community. The more hostility they show, the more anxiety they have. When the US travels around the globe to frequently ask for support, unity and help from its allies, this means US hegemony is weakening.”

Wang even forecasts what may happen if the current “leader of the free world” is prevented from fulfilling his exceptional mission: “Don’t be fooled by the sanctions between China and the EU, which is harmless to trade and economic ties, and EU leaders won’t be that stupid to totally abandon the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, because they know they would never get such a good deal when Trump or Trumpism returns to the White House.”

Shocked and Awed 21st Century Geopolitics, as configured in these crucial past two weeks, spells out the Unipolar Moment is six feet under. The Hegemon will never admit it; hence the NATO counterpunch, which was pre-designed. Ultimately, the Hegemon has decided not to engage in diplomatic accommodation, but to wage a hybrid war on two fronts against a relentlessly demonized strategic partnership of peer competitors.

And as a sign of these sorry times, there’s no James Baker or George Kennan to advise against such folly.

Sitrep: The Unipolar moment is over; the Multipolar moment is here.

March 22, 2021

By Chris Faure for the Saker Blog

Shortly after Mr.Biden characterising Mr.Putin as a killer and more, Mr.Putin invited Biden for a public and live online  discussion, saying that it would be beneficial for both the N.American as well as the Russian people.

This morning we find this bluntly devastating shot across the bows from the Russian Foreign Affairs ministry.

The final sentence, not included in the image, reads as follows:  “Responsibility for this lies entirely with the United States.

Setting this in context, the contrast between Mr.Lavov’s ongoing visit to China, and the so-called ‘strategic’ meeting between the United States and China at the end of last week, cannot be more stark.

 #PhotoOfTheDay –  Sergey #Lavrov on his way to greet FM #WangYi in  China 
 #Lavrov: #China  is a truly strategic partner and a like-minded country for #Russia  Our cooperation on the international stage is having a stabilising effect on the global and regional situation.
#Lavrov: #Russia believes that our dialogue with #China based on trust and mutual respect should provide an example for other nations, including those that are trying to develop ties on different principles not based on equality.

At the very same time, Mr.Putin and Mr Shoigu are taking the air on the Taiga in Siberia.  I wonder if the western governments have figured out why now?

“ Vladimir #Putin is spending the weekend in #Siberia.  The President together with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu enjoys walking in the #taiga forest and riding an all-terrain vehicle.  Also, Sergei Shoigu showed the President his workshop.”

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/65178

In the next few hours we will receive Mr.Lavrov’s translated speeches from his China visit.  Some of it is already published.  Take a look at what Mr.Lavrov described as ‘dynamic cooperation“:

“We regard the new era of Russian-Chinese relations, which you have mentioned, primarily in the context of the broader situation on the international stage. It is undergoing a very deep transformation and the strengthening of the new centres of economic growth, financial might and political influence. Regrettably, the objective trend for a rise of a truly multipolar democratic world is being hindered by some Western countries led by the United States, which would like to preserve their domination of the global economy and international politics at all costs and to force their will and their demands on each and all. In response to this, Russia and China are promoting a constructive unification agenda. We want the architecture of international relations to be fair, democratic, capable of ensuring stability and based on broad interaction of states and their integration associations, just as we are doing together with our Chinese friends by promoting integration in Eurasia.

China is a truly strategic partner and a like-minded country for us. Our cooperation on the international stage is having a stabilising effect on the global and regional situation. Russia believes that our dialogue with China based on trust and mutual respect should provide an example for other countries, including those that are trying to develop ties with Russia and China on different principles that are not based on equality. This is not acceptable to us or our Chinese friends. We will continue developing our foreign policy constructively and flexibly, showing readiness for compromise but exclusively on the basis of mutual respect and a balance of interests.”

There is however a twist in this lovely tale and it is the one of economic influence and we know now which direction both Russia and China (and a host of other countries) will take in the short term.  They will remove the sanctions weapon from the hands of the United States including Europe.  Let’s take a look at a few more of Mr.Lavrov’s comments.

“The US sanctions risks need to be alleviated by switching to alternative currencies and moving away from using the dollar, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.”

“The minister said the US is aiming to limit the technological development of Russia and China, so the two countries need to strengthen their independence.”

“According to the Russian Foreign Minister, the US and other western countries are no longer capable of using classical diplomacy and only resort to one tool on the international arena: sanctions.”

“We must form the widest possible coalition of countries that will fundamentally oppose this illegal practice,” the Russian Foreign Minister concluded.”

As geopolitical watchers and analysts, we’re always looking for the signals that frequently just go up in smoke.   This time however the signals from Russia and China are not going up in smoke but being presented in pictures in photo essays, and in clear language.  From the last few days we can learn a few things:

  • China and Russia are friends and will remain friends and will work together where their interests coalesce.  Their interests coalesce right here in Lavrov’s words:  “….. architecture of international relations to be fair, democratic, capable of ensuring stability and based on broad interaction of states.”  If that statement confuses you, in short, it means right across our world.
  • Sanctions will be removed as a weapon.
  • The petrodollar is on its last legs.
  • The clock for the final battle is ringing.  The only weapons remaining that will be allowed to the failing hegemon will be NATO (which, according to many of our serious analysts, is a paper tiger) and the ability to use nuclear and conventional weapons.  I will not comment on that as I am not qualified in the field.   The ability of the current and failing hegemon to do damage economically, is being curtailed.   We can look forward to a different economic reset, with countries taking their power back using their own currencies and other alternatives.   (This is not the reset from the WEF).  Then we will see what happens to the sphere of weapons because they may become a last resort.

(On a humorous note, it looks like the Russian Foreign Affairs ministry has resorted to photos with captions, hoping they can reach the failing hegemon with pictures, because there is such a great problem to reach them with diplomatic words.  The growth of the adult coloring book industry in the West may have been the deciding factor lol. )

Xi reads the Multilateral Riot Act at Davos

Xi reads the Multilateral Riot Act at Davos

January 26, 2021

by Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The virtual Davos Agenda is finally on, from Monday to Friday this week, promoted by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

No, this is not The Great Reset. At least not yet. The Agenda is the aperitivo towards the Great Reset apotheosis at the WEF’s Special Annual Meeting, which will take place this coming spring in Singapore.

The Agenda’s theme for 2021 is “A Crucial Year to Rebuild Trust.”

Oops. Davos, we got a problem: trust is always earned, never built.

Trust, anyway, in Davos speak, must always lead towards – what else – the Great Reset, introduced here in a Tik Tok-ready clip crammed with catchy slogans such as “a new dashboard for the new economy” or “right people, right place, right time”.

The message clincher is “tune in, turn on, get involved”, borrowing shamelessly from 1960s Timothy Leary (but ditching “drop out”).

It obviously escaped the clip’s producers that their P.R. opus indirectly admits to rigged elections and blanket censorship on social media.

The Agenda’s P.R. blitz must have a hard time dismissing the predominant perception this is all about Davos Man – and Woman – losing their sleep over global wealth inequality while enthusiastically applauded by a bunch of glitterati sociopaths.

Onwards with the sessions.

Here’s your new social contract

On day one, a “Leadership Panel” examined

How to restore growth, advising the public and private sectors on how to build a “new economic agenda”. Sleep-inducing platitudes were the norm.

WEF’s Agenda sessions cannot possibly address the iron imperative: the implosion of the old economic order under a Green camouflage, conducted by self-appointed, sub-Platonic sages which belong to the world’s wealthiest, will only benefit this 0.0001%.

The Great Reset is not an organic grassroots movement coordinated and benefitting the over 99%. It will lead, inevitably, to techno-feudalism, as I previously argued. Herr Schwab, the Oracle of Ravensburg and Davos supremo, insists in his writings “you will own nothing”.

A WEF graph – Top Ten Most Likely Fall Out for the World – should in fact be interpreted as The Great Reset’s ultimate targets. This is not a warning: it’s the road map ahead.

A session on advancing the new social contract neatly merged with a discussion about “stakeholder capitalism”. That’s a clever P.R. advertisement – what else – for Herr Schwab’s new book: Stakeholder Capitalism, which advances a “more sustainable, resilient and inclusive” global economy and argues for – what else – a “clearly defined social contract” which will allow “governments, business and individuals to produce the most optimal outcomes.”

So here’s how it works. You don’t earn trust: you rebuild it (italics mine). This trust metastasizes into the social contract – which is absolutely necessary for The Great Reset. Selling this new social contract is a matter of rebranding turbo-capitalism globally as “stakeholder capitalism”, or capitalism with a human face.

Not a peep about the Great Reset as a mechanism of unbridled expansion of mega-corporate power, hermetically securing/serving the 0.0001%, which are not, and will never be, suffering The Great Depression.

Stripped to the bone, that’s also one of the key themes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: consolidating, crushing and shepherding the working class masses into the unstable gig economy, commanded by “emotionally intelligent” leaders.

The Who nailed it half a century ago: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

A realpolitik stunner

It’s still unclear what China, Russia and Iran – the real Three Sovereigns in this Brave New World, and the key nodes of progressive Eurasia integration – will counter-propose when faced with the Great Reset.

Into this toxic mix steps in none other than President Xi Jinping, the leader of the global superpower in the making. Instead of Reset platitudes, his Davos Agenda address was quite a realpolitik stunner.

Xi stressed, “to build small circles or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to willfully impose decoupling, supply disruptions or sanctions, and to create isolation or estrangement will only push the world into division and even confrontation (…) We cannot tackle common challenges in a divided world, and confrontation will lead us to a dead end.”

Xi might be interpreted as aligning with Herr Schwab. Not really. Xi stressed solutions to our current plight must be multilateral; but the key is how to implement them geopolitically.

It’s unclear how the new dispensation in the US – humanitarian imperialists, Dem oligarchs, Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Media – will react to Xi’s call: “The misguided approach of antagonism and confrontation, be it in the form of a Cold War, hot war, trade war or tech war, would eventually hurt all countries’ interests (…) “Difference in itself is no cause for alarm. What is alarming are arrogance, prejudice and hatred.”

Xi emphasized a straight to the point definition of multilateralism as

“having international affairs addressed through consultation and the future of the world decided by everyone working together (…) To beggar thy neighbor, to go it alone, and to slip into arrogant isolation will always fail.”

What Xi has made it crystal clear, once again, is the acute contrast between relative Asian serenity and stability and the volcanic chaos engulfing the West’s top power centers. How this intertwines – in realpolitik terms – with Her Schwab’s Brave New World will be a work in progress. For the moment, Xi has just read the Multilateral Riot Act at Davos. The whole Global South is paying attention.

Eurasian Economic Union Enjoying Broader Cooperation

By Vladimir Odintsov
Source: New Eastern Outlook

EUR8311

Noteworthy events to do with increased integration within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) took place in the first half of December 2020.

On December 7, representatives of the EAEU and China met during the special negotiation session called “Towards a bigger Eurasia via the integration of nations, businesses and people”, which was organized by the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) within the framework of the First Eurasian Congress. The head of the PRC delegation, Deputy Minister of Commerce Yu Jianhua, made a number of fairly interesting proposals aimed at expanding cooperation between China and the EAEU member states. For instance, he suggested adding an economic dimension (a feasibility study) to it so that a free trade zone agreement between the PRC and the EAEU could be implemented. Such a deal will, unquestionably, promote all aspects of mutual cooperation, strengthen the foundations of global trade, foster bilateral dialogue and lead to more unified standards. A joint commission for implementing the agreement between the EAEU and China will facilitate the adoption of measures that will ease global trade involving e-commerce to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods.

Participants at the joint session discussed another proposal made by the Chinese delegation regarding the creation of a steel caravan of the Eurasian continent in order to establish joint logistics and warehouse hubs comprising networks of cross-border railways, which will cover the entire Eurasia with trade routes for cargo transportations, thus encouraging the construction of economic corridors, similar to the New Eurasian Land Bridge. Yu Jianhua emphasized that to ensure the trade ties between the PRC and the EAEU continued to strengthen and all the participants of the initiative derived benefits from the process of integration, it was important to facilitate the smooth functioning of green transport corridors and to streamline customs procedures at relevant border harbors.

At present, Central Asia has the necessary infrastructure on the basis of which a broad range of opportunities for continent-wide collaboration could be created. That is why, the session participants actively discussed all the proposals on increased integration. Kairat Kelimbetov, the head of Astana International Financial Centre and the Chairman of the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms, pointed out that it would be easy to create a framework for cooperation within the nations of the region, which would, for instance, provide access to sea routes to those countries (such as Kazakhstan) that did not have it.

During the session, Vladimir Chizhov, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union (EU), stated that there could be a reshuffle among the global players. Such processes occur naturally, which means that the ever-expanding and transforming Greater Eurasia may become one the new global centers as a result.

Another important event in the region, from the point of view of further Eurasian integration, was the online meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC) on December 11, which not only leaders of the 5 core member-states took part in but so did heads of observer states (Moldova) and of nations vying for such a status (Uzbekistan and Cuba). The agenda included more than 20 issues that directly dealt with the resolution of outstanding integration-related problems and the provision of economic support to member-states still facing socio-economic hardships, such as Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

During the SEEC discussion of the points tied to integration, the participants backed an initiative on strategic directions for promoting EAEU integration by 2025, focusing on completing the creation of a common market for goods, services, capital, workers as well as an integrated digital environment. Essentially, the aim is to stimulate the growth of member states’ economies, and to improve the well-being and quality of life of these nations’ inhabitants.

Another important achievement of the recent SEEC video conference, aside from the approval of strategic directions to encourage integration by year 2025, was Uzbekistan and Cuba obtaining observer status within the EAEU.

According to Article 109 of the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union, observer states can, upon invitation, attend meetings of EAEU bodies but without the right to participate in decision-making processes and receive any documents approved by the Union that are not confidential in nature.

Incidentally, the EAEU began its life on January 1, 2015, and its member states include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. In year 2020, Belarus has the chairmanship within the EAEU. Moldova has been an observer state within the organization since May 2018. The EAEU is an economic union only.

Uzbekistan has been fostering ties with its member states for a long time. As a result of these joined efforts, bilateral trade worth $4.5 billion in 2016 increased two-fold by the end of 2019 to more than $9 billion. In fact, transactions with the Eurasian Economic Union account for one third of all of Uzbekistan’s external trade in value, while their share in the agricultural sector exceeds 75%.

Uzbekistan gaining the observer status with the EAEU was the result of ongoing policies, pursued by the its government and its President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, aimed at promoting an open national economy and at utilizing the country’s transport corridors and logistics networks. Hence, at present, the common EAEU market with its 180 million consumers is increasingly becoming the target for products from Uzbekistan, and of all of this is, in turn, laying the groundwork for closer collaboration and mutual cooperation within Eurasia. The observer status will enable Uzbekistan to build up capabilities in its economy to better meet the demands of the EAEU common market and to increase the share within it taken up by Uzbek manufacturers and suppliers.

Similarly, Cuba also became an observer state in the EAEU. Thus, the organization is expanding not only its economic but also its geopolitical reach. This new status within the Eurasian Economic Union allows Cuba to foster closer economic ties and cooperation not only with Russia and Belarus (which it already collaborates with) but also with other EAEU member states. Cuba needs to increase revenues it earns from its global exports, particularly, from the products and services of the economy’s medical sector. Sugar production is a key sphere of Cuba’s economy, and sugar cane is a crucial agricultural commodity. Recently, the Cuban economy has been experiencing a two-fold crisis: due to the COVID-19 pandemic and tightening US sanctions. In 2020, the nation’s economy will have contracted for the first time in 26 years. Its government has put forward an economic strategy focused on opening up the country to international travelers, stimulating Cuba’s food production sector and introducing economic reforms faster. Hence, a closer relationship between this nation and the EAEU could, in the opinion of the Cuban government, help, in large part, to resolve the country’s current economic woes.

Vladimir Odintsov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Behold the dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Behold the dawning of the Age of Aquarius

December 21, 2020

An astrological reading for Planet Earth at a time of Great Mutation

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is upon us and there is no looking back. Image: Twitter

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. – Oscar Wilde

Today all radio stations on Planet Earth should be playing this song. What the aptly named Fifth Dimension immortalized in their spring of 1969 psychedelic soul classic is now literally true: This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius – the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21st at 𝟬° in Aquarius.

Aquarius starts just as some dodgy, self-important elites gear up to impose a Great Reset on most of the planet – following a very specific, reductionist and exclusionist political agenda. Yet the real deal is not the Reset; it’s the Mutation.

So we’re all into something much bigger than any neo-Orwellian scenario. To shed much needed light into what seems our current, interminable darkness, I posed selected questions to Vanessa Guazzelli, a respected astrologer, writer and speaker in astrology conferences worldwide, as well as a practicing psychoanalyst and psychologist.

Let astrology fertilize geopolitics. Let the sunshine in.

PE: Arguably not many people around the world are aware that a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction this December 21st seems to represent the ultimate game-changer – defined by serious astrology scholars as the Great Mutation.

Could you please elaborate on what this Mutation really means, astrologically, as it seems to take place every 200 years? And bringing it back to everyday life and politics, are we permitted to infer geopolitical parallels from what the stars are telling us?

VG: By Great Mutation we refer to when the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions change elements, which happens every 200 years as you mentioned. Jupiter and Saturn are in conjunction, astrologically, by ecliptic longitude, every 20 years, not that long a period. However, they keep on intersecting in signs of the same element for 200 years, with the possibility of another 40 years of transition, indicating a greater cycle.

Jupiter and Saturn are what we call social planets and are to be considered in regards to politics and geopolitics. When the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction starts to effectively happen in the next element, it marks the Great Mutation, denoting important socioeconomic and cultural changes. That’s what is happening now.

We come from a two-century period of conjunctions in Earth signs. The emphasis has been on matter and the more tangible dimension of life – material boys and girls in a material world. As we now move on into the element of air, as they conjoin at 0º of Aquarius, a call for sublimation takes place.

All that is solid mutates into air. Things and procedures can be less material and more digital and, to some extent, virtual. But not only that. Shared ideas and ideals gain yet more importance. More then what we materially have, with whom and what for is what matters most. Collaboration and cooperation are, now more than ever, the winds which make the world go around.

This is indeed a highly significant astrological aspect and configuration happening on December 21, at 18h20 UTC. In parts of Asia and Oceania, it will be already past midnight, on December 22.

This is not only the Great Mutation but a Great Conjunction, when the two farthest visible planets conjoin not merely by longitude but also by latitude (ecliptic coordinates), by both right ascension and declination (equatorial coordinates). That means they are not just aligned in the same direction but really, really close to each other in the sky as seen from Earth, almost as if they were one and the same star.

Last time the two heavenly bodies have been that close was in 1623, but that was not a Great Mutation, just a regular conjunction in terms of ecliptic longitude. Astrologically, the fact that all these enhancements happen together at this time intensifies the significance of what this conjunction now indicates, how powerful a mutation it marks.

In everyday life, it also speaks of an increase in technological development, digitalization of things and procedures, including crypto-currencies and digital money as a sort of “sublimed” money, from matter to a lighter, less material “substance” which can quickly circulate through air.

At a more personal level, we tend to lose interest in social contexts which are not in tune with our ideas and ideals, and we’re pulled towards groups, associations and projects in the same wavelength as we are. It is not a time to merely rely on institutions to take care of people, but a time to discern for oneself and then connect with others with shared interests, ideals, purposes.

The air element is where we open space and make room for the Other, be it in respect for differences or to collaborate and cooperate towards shared interests and projects. Co-op’s, where every participant gets a fair, proportional share, in a joint enterprise, is surely a way to go.

Aquarius is opposite to the centralizing sign of Leo. Geopolitically, that is to say, it is not the time for a hegemonic single star to rule the world, but a time of many stars illuminating the entire sky. It is not a time for a single empire. There can be empires, if in plural. The strength of powerful nations now lies, more than ever, in the quality of their partnerships and alliances in mutual respect, as equals.

Any power which loses sight of that crucial key will see it, in the short or long run, backfire. Some are more powerful than others and some will be more prominent than others. Nonetheless, they are not alone. It is time for a multipolar world – now that is the Mandate of Heaven.

Regarding the Great Mutation’s astro-cartographic map, which shows the lines of planetary positions on the face of the Earth, it is interesting to notice that the IC lines of Jupiter and Saturn go through Beijing, indicating the relevance of China in the foundation of this 200-year cycle, for the IC is the root of an astrological chart.

On the other side of the globe, we see the MC lines of the two planets going through South America (Venezuela, Brazilian Amazon, Bolivia, Argentina), showing the value of the continent’s resources in this new cycle.

What the Davos crew is up to

PE: Our current, turbulent juncture seems to be pointing towards increased bio-security and what some serious systemic analysis defines as techno-feudalism. All this implies hyper-concentration of power – and not only power exercised by the geopolitical hegemon, the United States. Should we now expect a serious mutation of the world-system – as studied by Immanuel Wallerstein, in the sense of serious changes to our capitalist system?

Immanuel Wallerstein. Source: Wikimedia Commons

VG: Yes, we should. We are at the very turning point of the world-system. Along with the Great Mutation, another immensely significant aspect in the 2020s is the Saturn-Neptune conjunction, in February 2026, at 0º of Aries. This is precisely the first degree of the whole Zodiac, also called the Vernal Point – crucial in astrological interpretation.

Saturn and Neptune conjoin every 36 years, which is a relatively short historical cycle. However, as with the Great Mutation, the way it occurs and where in occurs in the Zodiac can lead us to broader historical perspectives and indicate more expressive historical moments.

If we go back up to 7,000 years ago, this conjunction has occurred at the Vernal Point only in 4361 B.C. and 1742 B.C. If we look up three thousand years ahead, the closest it gets to the Vernal Point is 3º of Aries in 3172. Quite rare. So this conjunction at the first degree of the Zodiac, 0º of Aries – the very beginning – is not that small a deal.

Neptune impregnates and conceives; Saturn refers to the concrete structure of reality; and 0º of Aries means new, springing up. Saturn-Neptune on 0º Aries means a new conception of reality.

Aspects between Saturn and Neptune, by historical observation, are associated with socialism and communism – these movements on Earth coincide with the transiting contacts between these two planets in the sky. It has already been proven in mundane astrology historically. Moreover, this does not just tell us about the past, for it is in fact just about to begin – upgrading and advancing, reconfiguring itself in yet new forms of socialism.

According to Wallerstein, during the structural crisis which characterizes the final period of a world-system, a bifurcation of the system can tilt to one of either directions, or to multiple systems. Before passing away last year, he did consider us to be right in the middle of the structural crisis of capitalism, which lasts 60 to 80 years.

I’d say at this moment we are past the mid-point. It could, initially, go towards multiple systems in two branches: on the one hand, the freshness of the Eastern winds inspiring socialism and multipolarity through the Belt and Road Initiative and the integration of Eurasia and its partners; on the other hand, the whirlwind of the collapsing empire and its Western allies as a terminator cyborg operated by the perverse 0.0001% who are so lifeless they cannot conceive other people’s right to exist.

When I first heard about it in June 2020, it astonished me how they set the “Great Reset” for January 2021, so close to the Great Mutation at the end of December 2020. I doubt this is a mere coincidence or “synchronicity.” J P Morgan is known to have affirmed that millionaires don’t need astrologers, but billionaires do.

Possibly aware of this great transition, the Davos crew seem to be actually trying to reset the system they already rule with their own settings and revive the dying system as a cyborg from hell.

‘Wall Street Bubbles – always the same,’ 1901 cartoon by Keppler, depicts J.P. Morgan as a bull blowing soap bubbles for eager investors. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The nefarious potential of the Aquarian emphasis is the control of society through technology, be it techno-feudalism or, gods forbid, techno-slavery. On the brighter side of the Force, Aquarius is about a social project to sustain life and meet the needs of the people. Both dimensions or systems might co-exist on Earth for a while.

Western powers – not to mention the Masters of the Universe, as you say, who pull their strings – seem to have a long way to go before reaching a state of real and respectful cooperation. Perhaps more ancient civilizations found in the East have a deeper, more consistent root from which to draw the wisdom and maturity necessary in such challenging times for humanity.

Often remembered for the food and goods traded along the route, the Silk Roads involved in the past and involve nowadays the exchange of ideas. It is interesting to observe the strong Aquarian edge activated in China’s astrological progressions when the Belt and Road Initiative was first proposed by Xi Jinping in Astana, in 2013, and how it connected to the degree of the Great Mutation (progressed Venus and Jupiter conjunct AC at 1º Aquarius).

When some years before that Vladimir Putin gave his historical speech in Munich, proposing the Eurasian Integration, in February 2007, there was a Saturn-Neptune aspect – an opposition. When at the 70th UN Assembly, both Putin and Xi delivered long, strong and synchronized speeches affirming the multipolarity of the world, in 2015, there was also a Saturn-Neptune aspect – a square.

The next Saturn-Neptune aspect will be the conjunction, in February 2026, inaugurating a brand new cycle and we can expect it to be related to these previous movements, keeping in mind the cycle points towards multipolarity and new forms of socialism.

The Black Moon spell

PE: Could Covid-19, on a certain level, be interpreted as the – unpleasant – preamble towards a Great Mutation? After all the new social (un)reality represents a system upside down: near-total economic devastation, especially of small businesses; canceling of constitutional rights; governments practically ruling by decree, with no popular consultation; global corporations censoring any manner of informed dissent; whole societies practically under house arrest; most of the planet reduced to a sort of totalitarian theme park.

VG: Oh, Covid-19 – we could have a whole conversation just on the implications of it at so many dimensions, and how it can be, to some extent, astrologically tracked. It definitely can be interpreted as the unpleasant preamble, perhaps aiming to the Great Reset, one could ponder.

An unprecedented worldwide collective experience – and experiment. Nevertheless, serving to shake it all up, transforming our very perception of time, preparing for the conception of a new time. To all those paying attention, a call to be yet more alive, more vivid, against all odds.

A nearly black moon. Image: Unsplash

The very dichotomy which has been so emphasized between “either caring for life or caring for the economy” in and of itself shows how absurd a world it already was. How many people so easily got caught into separating one thing from the other, as if it was a means to resist the system and finally say no to the demands of capital accumulation. To eventually see, indeed, small businesses devastated, poverty increasing drastically, whilst billionaires concentrate wealth to yet more bizarre levels.

Something fundamental to consider is how it has affected the human body. The pandemic was declared with Black Moon (the lunar apogee) in Aries and that indicates the importance of being sharply present and responsive as Michael Jackson danced, Bruce Lee moved and Maria Zakharova responds.

In October, Black Moon, this astrological point representing the visceral and instinctive dimension of existence, moved into Taurus, highlighting the importance of being aware of how the life force in us is conditioned or channeled, shaping how we perceive our own existence. For instance, how the confinement of the body might – or might not – confine our psyche.

What are the psychological effects of the lack of touch or the physical experience of constantly having our mouths covered? How those situations affect our psyche is not irrelevant. Both René Descartes and Wilhelm Reich had Black Moon in Taurus. How are mind and body related? Are they a cartesian dichotomy or are they intertwined as bio-energetic unity moved by libido?

This is an important underlying issue in our collective until July 2021.

The fate of the American empire

PE: Astrology in History is full of fascinating stories about celestial interpretations opening the way to a crucial political or military move. For instance, right before the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258, the Great Khan, Hulegu, asked the court astrologer about the prospects ahead. The astrologer, Husam al-Din, said that if he followed his generals and invaded Baghdad, the consequences would be ominous.

But then Hulegu turned to a Shi’a astronomer, Tusi, a polymath. Tusi said the invasion would be a major success. That’s what happened – and Tusi was admitted into Hulegu’s inner circle. So the Mongols – who built the largest empire in history – were big fans of “celestial insurance.” Could “celestial insurance” in our times end up predicting the fate of another empire – the US?

VG: That’s true, there are so many fascinating stories. The end of the Byzantine Empire and conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II of the Ottoman Empire was also marked by an astrological prediction of the Ottoman victory related to an eclipse.

The US Pluto return happens in 2022. That’s massive. It’s a cycle of approximately 247 years. Pluto has a sense of fate to it. The return of the lord of the underworld also speaks of the return of that which was repressed, hidden or rejected. It will have three exact hits throughout 2022, and the final and definitive of the next Pluto cycle has the planet of death and regeneration facing Black Moon Lilith in Cancer, in opposition. Karma is a bitch and hits home.

It is also a cycle related to power and power status. It won’t all be bad and some victorious moments will be there, but there is a change in the country’s position in the balance of powers in the world which is not so easy to digest. The power struggle will be intense, both externally and internally, with considerable risks of destructive manifestations. The best way to go through such a moment would be to purge – although it’s hard to believe “the swamp” can be so easily drained.

It is a call for a deep transformation, when all things under the rug and corpses out of the basement are to be dealt with. For the nation’s people it is a call for maturity (Saturn conjoins Moon), compassion and a more humanly receptive disposition (Neptune opposition), letting illusions dissolve and realizing the empire is losing its hegemony and status, but the nation will continue. What nation should it be for its people – as opposed to against other peoples?

This doesn’t mean the American Empire will fall by 2022, but it is collapsing and will undergo dramatic transformations in the coming decade.

A Dystopian Renaissance

PE: Amid so much gloom, looks like you are introducing a very hopeful concept: “Dystopian Renaissance”. That’s the exact opposite of what is being largely interpreted as our inevitable neo-Orwellian future. How would you characterize this Dystopian Renaissance – in terms of individual, collective, political and cultural struggle?

VG: The concept emerges precisely to elucidate the extreme complexity of our times. Well, the renaissance part seems very hopeful, doesn’t it? But, there’s the dystopian part to it too. It is not a utopian renaissance, as we well know. Perhaps in 200 years, when we reach the Great Mutation into water, the same element as the magnificent Italian Renaissance, humanity might be able to feel and better comprehend deeper dimensions of life. Why not aim for Utopia next? But whatsoever may be possible by then passes through right now.

It is now that, along with this special Great Mutation, a few significant astrological aspects point to a real change of the world-system. It takes this crucial moment in time and this period of air to elevate perspectives, to share ideas and ideals and understand how enriching it can be to build “a community with a shared future for mankind,” as Xi Jinping puts it.

A highly enhanced turning point, opening new horizons, offering the possibility of enriching exchanges in a multipolar world, and with a call for socialism like we haven’t known before.

Catalan Atlas, detail showing family Of Marco Polo 1254-1324 traveling by camel caravan, 1375, drawing by Spanish School. Source: Wikimedia

Let’s not forget this moment in time also resonates with the 13th century, when Venetian Marco Polo, traveling through the Silk Roads to Asia, brought back to Europe the freshness of the Eastern winds, with news from Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty, including the “sublimation” of money into a lighter form, from coin to paper.

At that time, there was a stellium (a concentration of planets) in Capricorn just as we had in 2020, with the following Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in Aquarius (although not as a Great Mutation), and Pluto’s ingress into Aquarius as we will also have in 2023/2024. It is an absurdly dystopian context, but a turning point for a new conception of reality and the possibility for surprising new horizons.

A new world system is in the air

PE: Giorgio Agamben has referred to that famous Foucault intuition in Les Mots et les Choses, when Foucault writes that humankind may disappear like a figure drawn in the sand being erased by waves hitting the shore. The striking image may apply to our present, mutating condition, as we are about to enter a trans-human and even post-human era, dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) and genetic engineering.

Agamben argues that Covid-19, global warming and, more radically, direct digital access to our psychic life – all these elements are destroying humanity. Would the Great Mutation install a different paradigm – and lead us away from post-humanity?

FG: The rapid development in technology will be something seriously complex to deal with. It will be amazing in many ways, but not all pretty, presenting undeniable challenges, some of which are already here and about to intensify.

What are the effects of technology and artificial intelligence in both our organic and our subjective bodies? Mind control with bidirectional devices, both collecting information and inducing commands is a work in progress.

Perverse levels of technological control of society are a serious concern as Pluto, aka Hades, lord of the underworld, will also transit in technological and futuristic Aquarius from 2023/24 on, up until 2043/44 – times of intense social transformation, when technological advancements will blow our minds and the very conception of science will change considerably, but with serious risks of trans-human and post-human madness.

We cannot disregard our organicity. We cannot disregard our subjectivity, either. Pluto is about transformation or domination – in other words, quoting a recent article of yours: “Here’s our future: hackers or slaves.”

We’ve got to go hacking not only in the objective sense – which surely becomes more and more a desirable skill – but in the subjective sense as well, finding lines of flight and keeping Eros alive, the life force in us vivid.

Considering we’re already here, living through dystopian times, we might as well make the best out of this undeniably epic adventure. Instead of succumbing to fear and isolation, overtaken by the doom and gloom, let’s not forget Wallerstein’s observation on destiny versus free will – a very cool take, by the way, which my experience as an astrologer observing collective and individual cycles very much confirms: Both exist.

During the stable period of a world-system, its normal life when its structure is functioning well, even if there are some fluctuations in it, it is very hard to change things in the system, it tends to stabilization. It’s destiny: you gotta put a whole lot of effort to get perhaps very little change trying to escape destiny.

But when the world-system has reached its final phase, it can no longer be rescued and there is a lot of instability. The crisis is not going away and the only possibility is change, in one way or another – it’s free will time. In the structural crisis, Wallerstein says we have more free will, our actions have a stronger impact and every little move counts to decide in which direction the change of the system will go.

In our personal lives at this turning point in time, as Foucault questions, we may also ask ourselves: As humans, are we an obstacle or obstruction? Are we a way of imprisoning life – or are we an opening, a line of flight?

In regard to Foucault’s words you and Agamben bring to light, please allow me to refer to the previous paragraph, just before that final one in Les Mots et les Choses, when he states that by “taking a relatively short chronological sample within a restricted geographical area – European culture since the sixteenth century – one can be certain that man is a recent invention within it.”

The “man” he is referring to as the effect of a change in the fundamental arrangements of knowledge a couple of centuries ago, with the newer arrangements perhaps about to end, is within European references. That is neither the beginning nor the end of man, nor its only interesting expression. With huge, deep appreciation for so much of European culture, perhaps one of the things coming to a necessary end is Eurocentrism.

Nonetheless, of course, it is deeply worrying how faces are being at the same time digitally traced by machines and hidden from other humans by masks – especially the effects of that in children. The current transition is not without epistemological effects and effects on how we conceive man, humans. But it’s not all said and done.

To counter the objectification of humans, it may be timely to draw from the Tupis’ conception of human beings: tu + pi , seated sound. A human being is a sound which has taken a seat, has taken place and vibrates. We gotta keep our bodies, faces and words vibrant. For the native South American Tupis, each human being is a new music, a new word vibrating and co-creating life with others and nature.

Albert Eckhout painting of a Tupi man. Source: Wikipedia

It seems that the deeper roots of aboriginal-indigenous wisdom still need to be more fully acknowledged and reintegrated in the Americas before the reinvention of the world in the West can take place.

Now winds blow from the East and from Eurasia, inspiring new forms of co-existence. But the controllers of capital, wealth and worldly power won’t give it up without a fight – or a few wars and a heavy load of social control via technology, capturing bodies and minds. What will it be – Great Reset or Great Mutation?

Is there a way out? Yes. And it seems to go along the New Silk Roads and the Eurasia Integration – literally to some important extent, but symbolically as well. The West can gain a lot from opening up to the Eastern winds, the news and the ideas they bring, stories of a community of shared future for mankind. A new world-system is in the air.

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