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.

Related Videos

Related Artiles

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

https://media.thecradle.co/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/22154938/Unknown-11.jpeg
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
https://media.thecradle.co/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/27165257/Unknown-13.jpeg

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.

Why China is NOT the Enemy of the West (Why British Psychological Warfare Must Now be Examined)

Why China is NOT the Enemy of the West (Why British Psychological Warfare Must Now be Examined)

December 17, 2020

By Matthew Ehret for the Saker Blog

Since many good people have found themselves susceptible to the narrative that China is the global supervillain conspiring to overthrow western Christian values by any means necessary, I believe some lessons should be brought to bear.

  1. Anti-Nation state fanatic George Soros stated at the 2020 Davos Summit that China has become the greatest threat to his vision for Open Society (right behind Trump’s USA). This was echoed by Lord Malloch Brown’s 2020 Global Government Speeches.
  2. China’s deep alliance with Russia and the increased integration of the Eurasian Economic Union with the 135 nation strong Belt and Road Initiative form the basis of an alternative multipolar paradigm has kept imperialists up at night for the past several years.
  3. The prospect of a US-China-Russia alliance has been one of the greatest threats to empire which peeked in the weeks before COVID-19 arose onto the scene as the US-China Trade Pact successfully entered its first phase (and has since fallen into shambles) as well as Trump’s repeated calls for “good relations with Russia.”

Amidst the surge of anti-China media psy ops published across Five Eyes nations, countless patriots of a conservative bent have found themselves absorbed into a red-scare manic hysteria while forgetting that the actual causal hand of British Intelligence has been caught blatantly running the overthrow of nation states for decades (including the 2016-2020 to run regime change within the USA itself).

Understanding the nature of the current psy ops, and new red scare deflection underway, it is necessary to review some seriously underappreciated facts of recent history, and since former secretary of State Sir Henry Kissinger (a genuine Knight of the British Empire), figures prominently in this story, it is wise to start with his relationship with China.

Although he is celebrated for being an “enlightened” liberal politician who helped China open up to the west after the dark days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution by extending western markets to China, the truth is very different.

A devout proponent of world government and population control, Kissinger had been the tool selected during a particularly important period of human history to advance a new ordering of world affairs.

The Division of the World Into Producers and Consumers

Since the world was taken off the gold reserve system way back in 1971, a new age of “post-industrialism” was unleashed onto a globalized world. Humanity was given a new type of system which presumed that both our nature and the cause of value itself were located in the act of consuming. The old idea that our nature was creative, and that our wealth was tied to producing, was assumed to be an obsolete thing of the past… a relic of a dirty old industrial age.

Under the new post-1971 operating system, we were told that the world would now be divided among producers and consumers.

The “have-not producers” would provide the cheap labor which first world consumers would increasingly rely on for the creation of goods they used to make for themselves. “First world” nations were told that according to the new post-industrial rules of de-regulation and market economics, that they should export their heavy industry, machine tools and other productive sectors abroad as they transitioned into “white collar” post-industrial consumer societies. The longer this outsourcing of industries went on, the less western nations found themselves capable of sustaining their own citizenries, building their own infrastructure or determining their own economic destinies.

In place of full spectrum economies that once saw over 40% of North America’s labor force employed in manufacturing, a new addiction to “buying cheap stuff” began, and a “service economies” took over like a cancer.

To make matters worse, the many newly independent nations struggling to liberate themselves from colonialism were told that they would have to abandon their dreams of development since those goals would render the formula of a producer-consumer stratified society impossible to create. Those leaders resisting this edict would face assassination or CIA overthrow. Those leaders who adapted to the new rules would become peons of the new age of “Economic Hitmen”.

China and the West: The Real Story

By the time Deng Xiaoping announced the “opening up” of China in 1978, Kissinger had already managed the economic paradigm shift of 1971, the artificial “oil shock therapy” of 1973 and authored his 1974 NSSM 200 Report which transformed U.S. Foreign Policy from a pro-development orientation towards a new policy of depopulation targeting the poor nations of the global south under the logic that the resources under their soil were the lawful possession of the USA.

The NSSM 200 (titled “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas Interests”) outlined its objective “Assistance for population moderation should give emphasis to the largest and fastest growing developing countries where there is a special US and strategic interest”.

Kissinger, and the hives of Trilateral Commission/CFR operatives to which he was beholden never looked on China as a true ally, but merely as a zone of abundant cheap labor which would feed cheap goods to the now post-industrial west under their new dystopic producer-consumer world order. It was in that same year that Kissinger’s fellow Trilateral Commission cohort Paul Volcker announced a “controlled disintegration of western society” which was begun in full with the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes to 20% that ensured a vast destruction of small and medium businesses across the board.

Believing China (then still largely an impoverished third world country) to be desperate enough to accept money and short-term salvation after years of trauma induced by the Cultural Revolution. Under Kissinger’s logic, China would receive just enough money to sustain a static existence but would never be able to stand on its own two feet.

Unbeknownst to Kissinger, China’s leaders under the direction of Zhou Enlai, and his disciple Deng Xiaoping had a much longer-term strategic perspective than their western partners imagined.

While receiving much needed revenue from foreign exports, China began to slowly create the foundations for a genuine renaissance which would be made possible by slowly learning the skills, leapfrogging technologies and acquiring means of production which the west had once pioneered. Zhou Enlai had first enunciated this visionary program as early as 1963 under his Four Modernizations mandate (Industrial, agricultural, national defense and science and technology) and then restated this program in January 1976 weeks before his death.

This program manifested itself in the July 6, 1978 State Council Forum on the “Principles to Guide the Four Modernizations” informed by the findings of international exploratory missions conducted by economist Gu Mu’s delegations around various advanced world economies (Japan, Hong Kong, Western Europe). The findings of Gu Mu’s reports laid out the concrete pathways for full spectrum economic sovereignty with a focus on cultivating the cognitive creative powers of a new generation of scientists that would drive the non linear breakthroughs needed for China to ultimately break free of the rules of closed-system economics which technocrats like Kissinger wished the world adhere to.

Deng Xiaoping broke from the radical Marxism prevalent among the intelligentsia by redefining “labor” from purely material constraints and elevating the concept rightfully to the higher domain of mind saying:

“We should select several thousand of our most qualified personnel within the scientific and technological establishment and create conditions that will allow them to devote their undivided attention to research. Those who have financial difficulties should be given allowances and subsidies… we must create within the party an atmosphere of respect for knowledge and respect for trained personnel. The erroneous attitude of not respecting intellectuals must be opposed. All work. Be it mental or manual, is labor.”

Over the course of the coming decades, China learned, and like any student, copied, reverse engineered and reconstructed western techniques as it slowly generated capacities that ultimately allowed them press on the limits of human knowledge outpacing all western models.

Scientific and technological progress became the driving force of its entire economy and by 1986, the “863 Project for Research and Development” was announced which focused on areas of space, lasers, energy, biotechnology, new materials, automation and information technology. This project became the driver for creative innovation guided by the National Science Foundation and was upgraded to the 973 Basic Research Program in 2009 to: “1) support multidisciplinary and fundamental research of relevance to national development; 2) Promote frontline basic research; 3) Support the cultivation of scientific talent capable of original research; and 4) Build high-quality interdisciplinary research centers.”

The fruits of these long term programs was beginning to be felt and by 1996, discussion for a New Silk Road reviving the ancient trade routes connecting China to Europe and Africa through the Middle East and Caucasus was beginning with conferences hosted by Beijing under President Jiang Zemin.

One of the few western participants at these Chinese events was the Schiller Institute, whose founders delivered a full day seminar in 1997 describing the program that would finally come back to life in 2013 when Xi Jinping made it the focus of China’s foreign policy outlook under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Why did this program wait until 2013 to blossom onto the world stage when obvious momentum was already in motion in 1997?

George Soros and the Attack on the Asian Markets

From May 1997, George Soros’ targeting of the Southeast Asian “Tigers economies” of Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Laos, and Malaysia with speculative short sales of their local currencies resulted months of vast anarchy across all of Asia and the world more broadly. Currencies collapsed from 10-80% over the next 8 months and took many years to begin to recover.

Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed was brave enough to call out Soros’ economic warfare and did much to help his nation weather the storm by imposing capital controls to maintain some semblance of stability calling out the speculator saying: “as much as people who produce and distribute drugs are criminals, because they destroy nations, the people who undermine the economies of poor nations are too.” Chinese President Jiang Zemin followed suit calling Soros “a financial sniper” and stated he would not let the speculator enter Chinese markets.

As analyst Michael Billington astutely wrote in his August 1997 EIR report:

“The ultimate target is China. The British are particularly worried about the increasingly close collaboration between China and the ASEAN nations, which are being integrated into the massive regional and continental development projects initiated by China under the umbrella of the Eurasian Continental Land-Bridge program. Such real development policies offer the alternative to the cheap-labor, colonial-style export industries of the “globalization” model- the model that has led to the financial bubbles now bursting worldwide.”

The Tumultuous Years of 1997-2013

With the advent of the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management (whose meltdown nearly took down the world economy in 1999 if not bailed out by central banks), followed by the Y2K/tech bubble explosion of 2000, the world markets nearly collapsed on several occasions. 9-11 unleashed a new era of warfare which deflected attention from the rot of the financial system while derivatives were deregulated, and ‘Too Big To Fail’ banking formed in short order growing far beyond the powers of any nation state to rein in.

Under this period of destabilization, wars, terrorism and easy money speculation, China and its Eurasian allies moved slower to rebuild the physical basis of their existence with the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, long term planning, and a slow but steady focus on real (vs speculative) economic activity. The fact that China was among the only nations of the world to keep national controls over their central bank and maintain Glass-Steagall bank separation were not lost on the enemies of humanity yearning for a bankers’ dictatorship.

This process continued until it became evident that the western unipolar agenda would stop at nothing including nuclear war in order to assure the total subservience of all nation states, with Obama unveiling his Asia Pivot (air-sea battle) plans against China along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) economic attack on China. The veil was now lifted to the true ugly face behind the liberal fascist smiles and it became clear that the full spectrum dominance military encirclement of Russia’s perimeter was being fully extended to China’s perimeter as well.

The Revival of the New Silk Road

It was in the face of this existential threat that Xi Jinping emerged as the new leader of China and a historic crackdown of party corruption on all levels Federal, Provincial and Municipal was begun in force while Xi’s 2013 announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan revived the New Silk Road/Eurasian land bridge policy of 15 years earlier.

Although China is often accused of intellectual theft, the reality is that it has begun to clearly outpace western nations becoming a pioneer on every level of science and technology. China now registers more patents than the USA, has become the cutting edge leader of high speed rail engineering with over 30 000 km, bridge building, tunneling, as well as water management, quantum computing, AI, 5G telecommunications, and even space science becoming the first nation to ever land on the far side of the moon with an intent to mine Helium 3 and develop permanent bases on the Moon in the coming decade.

All of these cutting edge fields of science and engineering are being organized by the ever-growing Belt and Road Initiative which has taken on global proportions and integrated itself into a deep alliance with Russia, Iran and over 135 nations who have signed onto the BRI Framework stretching from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Asia, and Europe.

This is the system which the USA and other western nations could have joined on multiple occasions, but which has instead been targeted as a global threat to western hegemony. According to the logic of those western utopians who refuse to let go of their old outdated 1971 script for a new world order, China’s New Silk Road must be subverted at all costs since it is very well understood that it would become the basis for a new world system as the old globalized paradigm comes crashing down faster than the Hindenburg.

The Real Perpetrators Laugh as a New Cold War Hysteria is Orchestrated

It is perhaps an irony that those figures who have been caught time and again attempting to destroy the foundations of both the USA, China and Russia have deflected attention from their own actions by promoting the idea that China is the USA’s natural enemy.

The reality is China is currently not only reviving the ancient silk road paradigm that focused on a harmony of interests and mutual self interest through economic and cultural exchange but they have also revived the spirit of President Sun Yat-sen’s International Development of China program in full. In this 1920 document China’s first President outlined the superiority of the American system of political economy which he studied deeply beginning in his early student days in the USA, and upon which he explicitly modelled his new republican China and his three Principles of the People (premised on Lincoln’s principle of a nation for, by and of the people). Sun Yat-sen (a Christian Confucian revolutionary) is not only the beloved founding father of the republic of China celebrated to this day, but stated his views pro-American views in the following terms

“The world has been greatly benefited by the development of America as an industrial and a commercial Nation. So a developed China with her four hundred millions of population, will be another New World in the economic sense. The nations which will take part in this development will reap immense advantages. Furthermore, international cooperation of this kind cannot but help to strengthen the Brotherhood of Man.”

Both mainstream and alternative media outlets that tend to be sympathetic to conservative values have bit the bait and are now blind to the fact that those oligarchical social engineers managing the World Economic Forum and drooling over a new era of World Government, population reduction and technocratic feudalism are laughing at all of those fish in their nets whose ignorance to history and other cultures are leading them to their own self-destruction.

Matthew Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Patriot Review , Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow, BRI Expert on Tactical talk, and has authored 3 volumes of ‘Untold History of Canada’ book series. In 2019 he co-founded the Montreal-based Rising Tide FoundationHe can be reached at matt.ehret@tutamail.com

When Deplorables Become Ungovernables

When Deplorables Become Ungovernables - TheAltWorld
 Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Pepe Escobar

Independent geopolitical analyst, writer and journalist

December 16, 2020

China, Russia and Iran are the top three existential “threats” to the U.S., according to the National Security Strategy. Three features distinguish the top three. They are all sovereign powers. They are under varying degrees of sanctions. And they are the top three nodes of the 21st century’s most important, evolving geopolitical process: Eurasia integration.

What do the three sovereigns see when they examine the dystopia that took over Exceptionalistan?

They see, once again, three – discombobulated – nodes in conflict: the post-historic Pacific and Atlantic coasts; the South – a sort of expanded Dixieland; and the Midwest – what would be the American heartland.

The hyper-modern Pacific-Atlantic nodes congregate high-tech and finance, profit from Pentagon techno-breakthroughs and benefit from the “America rules the waves” ethos that guarantees the global primacy of the U.S. dollar.

The rest of America is largely considered by the Pacific-Atlantic as just a collection of flyover states: the South – which regards itself as the real, authentic America; and the Midwest, largely disciplined and quite practical-minded, squeezed ideologically between the littoral powerhouses and the South.

Superstructure, tough, is key: no matter what happens, whatever the fractures, this remains an Empire, where only a tiny elite, a de facto plutocratic oligarchy, rules.

It would be too schematic, even though essentially correct, to assert that in the presidential election, invisible campaigner Joe Biden represented the Pacific-Atlantic nodes, and Trump represented the whole South. Assuming the election was not fraudulent – and that remains a big “if” – the Midwest eventually swung based on three issues.

  1. Trump, as much as he relied on a sanctions juggernaut, could not bring back manufacturing jobs home.
  2. He could not reduce the military footprint across the Greater Middle East.
  3. And, before Covid-19, he could not bring down immigration.

Everything that lies ahead points to the irreconcilable – pitting the absolute majority that voted Dem in the Atlantic-Pacific nodes versus the South and a deeply divided Midwest. As much as Biden-Harris is bound to isolate the South even more, their prospects of “pacifying” the Midwest are less than zero.

Whose ground control?

Beyond the raucous altercations on whether the presidential election was fraudulent, these are the key factual points.

  1. A series of rules in mostly swing states were changed, through courts, bypassing state legislatures, without transparence, before the election, paving the way to facilitate fraud schemes.
  2. Biden was de facto coronated by AP, Google and Twitter even before the final, official result, and weeks before the electoral college vote this past Monday.
  3. Every serious, professional audit to determine whether all received and tabulated votes were valid was de facto squashed.

In any Global South latitude where the empire did “interfere” in local elections, color revolution-style, this set of facts would be regarded by scores of imperial officials, in a relentless propaganda blitz, as evidence of a coup.

On the recent Supreme Court ruling, a Deep State intel source told me, “the Supreme Court did not like to see half the country rioting against them, and preferred the decision be made by each state in the House of Representatives. That is the only way to handle this without jeopardizing the union. Even prominent Democrats I know realize that the fix took place. The error was to steal too many votes. This grand theft indicts the whole system, that has always been corrupt.”

Dangers abound. On the propaganda front, for instance, far right nationalists are absolutely convinced that U.S. media can be brought to heel only by occupying the six main offices of the top conglomerates, plus Facebook, Google and Twitter: then you’d have full control of the U.S. propaganda mill.

Another Deep State source, now retired, adds that, “the U.S. Army does not want to intervene as their soldiers may not obey orders.

Many of these far right nationalists were officers in the armed forces. They know where the nuclear missiles and bombers are. There are many in sympathy with them as the U.S. falls apart in lockdowns.”

Meanwhile, Hunter Biden’s dodgy dealings simply will not be made to vanish from public scrutiny. He’s under four different federal investigations. The recent subpoena amounts to a very serious case pointing to a putative crime family. It’s been conveniently forgotten that Joe Biden bragged to the Council on Foreign Relations

that he forced Ukraine’s chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin to be fired exactly when he was investigating corruption by Burisma’s founder.

Of course, a massive army of shills will always invoke another army of omniscient and oh so impartial “fact checkers” to hammer the same message: “This is Trump’s version. Courts have said clearly all the evidence is baseless.”

District Attorney William Barr is now out of the picture (see his letter of resignation). Barr is a notorious Daddy Bush asset since the old days – and that means classic Deep State. Barr knew about all federal investigations on Hunter Biden dating back to 2018, covering potential money laundering and bribery.

And still, as the Wall Street Journal delightfully put it, he “worked to avoid their public disclosure during the heated election campaign”.

devastating report (Dems: a Republican attack report) has shown how the Biden family was connected to a vast financial network with multiple foreign ramifications.

Then there’s Barr not even daring to say there was enough reason for the Department of Justice to engage in a far-reaching investigation into voting fraud, finally putting to rest all “baseless” conspiracy theories.

Move on. Nothing to see here. Even if an evidence pile-up featured, among other instances, ballot stuffing, backdated ballots, statistical improbabilities, electronic machine tampering, software back doors, affidavits from poll workers, not to mention the by now legendary stopping the vote in the dead of night, with subsequent, huge batches of votes miraculously switching from Trump to Biden.

Once again an omniscient army of oh so impartial “fact checkers” will say everything is baseless.

A perverse blowback

A perverse form of blowback is already in effect as informed global citizens may now see, crystal clear, the astonishing depth and reach of Deep State power – the ultimate decider of what happens next in Dystopia Central.

Both options are dire.

  1. The election stands, even if considered fraudulent by nearly half of U.S. public opinion. To quote that peerless existentialist, The Dude, there’s no rug tying the room together anymore.
  2. Was the election to be somehow overturned before January 20, the Deep State would go Shock and Awe to finish the job.

In either case, The Deplorables will become The Ungovernables.

It gets worse. A possible implosion of the union – with internal convulsions leading to a paroxysm of violence – may even be coupled with an external explosion, as in a miscalculated imperial adventure.

For the Three Sovereigns – Russia, China and Iran – as well as the overwhelming majority of the Global South, the conclusion is inescapable: if the current, sorry spectacle is the best Western liberal “democracy” has to offer, it definitely does not need any enemies or “threats”.

RCEP hops on the New Silk Roads

Source

RCEP hops on the New Silk Roads

November 16, 2020

by Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted on Asia Times

Ho Chi Minh, in his eternal abode, will be savoring it with a heavenly smirk. Vietnam was the – virtual – host as the 10 Asean nations, plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, on the final day of the 37th Asean Summit.

RCEP, eight years in the making, binds together 30% of the global economy and 2.2 billion people. It’s the first auspicious landmark of the Raging Twenties, which started with an assassination (of Iran’s Gen. Soleimani) followed by a global pandemic and now ominous intimations of a dodgy Great Reset.

RCEP seals East Asia as the undisputed prime hub of geoeconomics. The Asian Century in fact was already in the making way back in the 1990s. Among those Asians as well as Western expats who identified it, in 1997 I published my book 21st: The Asian Century (excerpts here.)

RCEP may force the West to do some homework, and understand that the main story here is not that RCEP “excludes the US” or that it’s “designed by China”. RCEP is an East Asia-wide agreement, initiated by Asean, and debated among equals since 2012, including Japan, which for all practical purposes positions itself as part of the industrialized Global North. It’s the first-ever trade deal that unites Asian powerhouses China, Japan and South Korea.

By now it’s clear, at last in vast swathes of East Asia, that RCEP’s 20 chapters will reduce tariffs across the board; simplify customs, with at least 65% of service sectors fully open, with increased foreign shareholding limits; solidify supply chains by privileging common rules of origin; and codify new e-commerce regulations.

When it comes to the nitty gritty, companies will be saving and be able to export anywhere within the 15-nation spectrum without bothering with extra, separate requirements from each nation. That’s what an integrated market is all about.

When RCEP meets BRI

The same scratched CD will be playing non-stop on how RCEP facilitates China’s “geopolitical ambitions”. That’s not the point. The point is RCEP evolved as a natural companion to China’s role as the main trade partner of virtually every East Asian player.

Which brings us to the key geopolitical and geoeconomic angle: RCEP is a natural companion to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which as a trade/sustainable development strategy spans not only East Asia but delves deeper into Central and West Asia.

The Global Times analysis is correct: the West has not ceased to distort BRI, without acknowledging how “the initiative they have been slandering is actually so popular in the vast majority of countries along the BRI route.”

RCEP will refocus BRI – whose “implementation” stage, according to the official timetable, starts only in 2021. The low-cost financing and special foreign exchange loans offered by the China Development Bank will become much more selective.

There will be a lot of emphasis on the Health Silk Road – especially across Southeast Asia. Strategic projects will be the priority: they revolve around the development of a network of economic corridors, logistic zones, financial centers, 5G networks, key sea ports and, especially short and mid-term, public health-related high-tech.

The discussions that led to the final RCEP draft were focused on a mechanism of integration that can easily bypass the WTO in case Washington persists on sabotaging it, as was the case during the Trump administration.

The next step could be the constitution of an economic bloc even stronger than the EU – not a far-fetched possibility when we have China, Japan, South Korea and the Asean 10 working together. Geopolitically, the top incentive, beyond an array of imperative financial compromises, would be to solidify something like Make Trade, Not War.

RCEP marks the irredeemable failure of the Obama era TPP, which was the “NATO on trade” arm of the “pivot to Asia” dreamed up at the State Department. Trump squashed TPP in 2017. TPP was not about a “counterbalance” to China’s trade primacy in Asia: it was about a free for all encompassing the 600 multinational companies which were involved in its draft. Japan and Malaysia, especially, saw thought it from the start.

RCEP also inevitably marks the irredeemable failure of the decoupling fallacy, as well as all attempts to drive a wedge between China and its East Asian trade partners. All these Asian players will now privilege trade among themselves. Trade with non-Asian nations will be an afterthought. And every Asean economy will give full priority to China.

Still, American multinationals won’t be isolated, as they will be able to profit from RCEP via their subsidiaries within the 15-nation members.

What about Greater Eurasia?

And then there’s the proverbial Indian mess. The official spin from New Delhi is that RCEP would “affect the livelihoods” of vulnerable Indians. That’s code for an extra invasion of cheap and efficient Chinese products.

India was part of the RCEP negotiations from the start. Pulling out – with a “we may join later” conditional – is once again a spectacular case of stabbing themselves in the back. The fact is the Hindutva fanatics behind Modi-ism bet on the wrong horse: the US-fostered Quad partnership cum Indo-Pacific strategy, which spells out as containment of China and thus preclude closer trade ties.

No “Make in India” will compensate for the geoeconomic, and diplomatic, blunder – which crucially implies India distancing itself from the Asean 10. RCEP solidifies China, not India, as the undisputed engine of East Asian growth amid the re-positioning of supply chains post-Covid.

A very interesting geoeconomic follow-up is what will Russia do. For the moment, Moscow’s priority involves a Sisyphean struggle: manage the turbulent relationship with Germany, Russia’s largest import partner.

But then there’s the Russia-China strategic partnership –which should be enhanced economically. Moscow’s concept of Greater Eurasia involves deeper involvement both East and West, including the expansion of the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), which, for instance, has free trade deals with Asean nations such as Vietnam.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is not a geoeconomics mechanism. But it’s intriguing to see what President Xi Jinping said at his keynote speech at the Council of Heads of State of the SCO last week.

This is Xi’s key quote: “We must firmly support relevant countries in smoothly advancing major domestic political agendas in accordance with law; maintaining political security & social stability, and resolutely oppose external forces interfering in internal affairs of member states under any pretext.”

Apparently this has nothing to do with RCEP. But there are quite a few intersections. No interference of “external forces”. Beijing taking into consideration the Covid-19 vaccine needs of SCO members – and this could be extended to RCEP. The SCO – as well as RCEP – as a multilateral platform for member states to mediate disputes.

All of the above points to the inter-sectionality of BRI, EAEU, SCO, RCEP, BRICS+ and AIIB, which translates as closer Asia – and Eurasia – integration, geoeconomically and geopolitically. While the dogs of dystopia bark, the Asian – and Eurasian – caravan – keeps marching on.

There won’t be an Iran October Surprise

There won’t be an Iran October Surprise

October 18, 2020

by Pepe Escobar and first posted at Asia Times

No Washington-designed “maximum pressure” has been able to derail a crucial milestone this Sunday: the end of the UN arms embargo on Iran, in accordance with UN Security Council 2231, which has endorsed the 2015 JCPOA deal.

The JCPOA – or Iran nuclear deal – was unilaterally ditched by the Trump administration. But that, notoriously, did not prevent it from engaging in a massive campaign since April to convince the proverbial “allies” to extend the arms embargo and simultaneously trigger a snapback mechanism, thus re-imposing all UN sanctions on Tehran.

Foad Izadi, professor of International Studies at Tehran University, summed it all up: “The US wanted to overthrow the government in Iran but failed obviously, they wanted to get more concessions out of Iran, but they have not been successful and they actually lost concessions. So the policy of maximum pressure campaign has failed.”

Under the current US electoral shadow play, no one can tell what happens next. Trump 2 most certainly would turbo-charge “maximum pressure”, while Biden-Harris would go for re-incorporating Washington to the JCPOA. In both options, Persian Gulf oil monarchies are bound to increase the proverbial hysteria about “Iranian aggression”.

The end of the arms embargo does not imply a renewed arms race in Southwest Asia. The real story is how the Russia-China strategic partnership will be collaborating with their key geostrategic ally. It’s never enough to remember that this Eurasian integration trio is regarded as the top “existential threat” to Washington.

Tehran patiently waited for October 18. Now it’s free to import a full range of advanced weaponry, especially from Moscow and Beijing.

Moscow has hinted that as long as Tehran keeps buying Su-30s, Russia is ready to build a production line of these fighter jets for Iran. Tehran is very much interested in producing its own advanced fighters.

Iran’s own weapons industry is relatively advanced. According to Brigadier General Amir Hatami, Iran is among a select group of nations able to manufacture over 90% of its military equipment – including tanks, armored personnel carriers, radars, boats, submarines, drones, fighter jets and, crucially, land and seaborne cruise missiles with a respective range of 1000 km and 1400 km.

Professor Mohammad Marandi from the Faculty of Policy Studies at the University of Tehran confirms, “Iran’s military industry is the most advanced in the region and most of its needs are provided by the Ministry of Defense.”

So yes, Tehran will certainly buy military jets, “but Iranian made drones are the best in the region and they’re improving”, Marandi adds. “There is no urgency, and we don’t know what Iran has up its sleeves. What we see in public is not everything.”

A classic case of the public face of something that can’t be seen was just offered by the meeting last Sunday in Yunnan province in China, between excellent pals Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

That’s of course part of their own strategic partnership – to be sealed by the now notorious $400 billion, 25-year, trade, investment and energy deal.

Both China and Iran happen to be encircled by rings of the US Empire of Bases and have been targets of varying, relentless brands of Hybrid War. Needless to add, Zarif and Wang Yi reaffirmed the partnership evolves in direct contrast with US unilateralism. And they must have discussed weapons trade, but there were no leaks.

Crucially, Wang Yi wants to set up a new dialogue forum “with equal participation of all stakeholders” to deal with important security issues in West Asia. The top precondition for joining the forum is to support the JCPOA, which was always staunchly defended by the Russia-China strategic partnership.

There won’t be an October Surprise targeting Iran. But then there’s the crucial interregnum between the US presidential election and the inauguration. All bets remain off.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during the meeting with members of the Association of European Businesses in Russia, Moscow, October 5, 2020

Source

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during the meeting with members of the Association of European Businesses in Russia, Moscow, October 5, 2020

October 08, 2020

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Mr Vanderplaetse,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Colleagues,

Thank you for the opportunity to address once again the members of the Association of European Businesses in the Russian Federation. First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the 25th anniversary of your association. We appreciate your efforts to promote our economic, investment and trade ties, laying a solid foundation for building good relations between us and the countries you represent.

Here at the Foreign Ministry we value opportunities for dialogue with European entrepreneurs aimed at pushing forward a pragmatic, politics-free and mutually beneficial agenda. At the end of the day, these efforts are designed to improve the wellbeing of the people in Russia and in your countries. Holding regular meetings in this format has become a good tradition, testifying to our mutual commitment to keeping this dialogue going.

Since our previous meeting last year, in fact more than a year ago, the overall global environment has not become any easier, seriously affecting business activity. For many years now, the problems of international terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime have been escalating around the world. Regional conflicts continue unabated and their number is growing. Recently, the coronavirus infection emerged as a new and a very serious challenge for all of humanity. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it changed the lives of billions of people overnight. Today, no one can say with certainty when the pandemic will end. I will not elaborate here on how the interruption of global supply chains affects global trade. Unemployment is on the rise in many countries. All this weighs on the global economy, which will have to go through a lengthy and probably challenging recovery.

Speaking broadly, in the global context, the pandemic has yet again highlighted what we have long been talking about, that all countries without exception are interconnected, regardless of their geography, size and the level of economic development. All of them have been affected. This is how the pandemic has shown again that cross-border issues cannot be disregarded in this globalised world.

We believed that the conclusion was obvious, that the common tasks and challenges should bring all of us together based on the universally recognised norms of international law. Regrettably, this has not happened so far.  Quite to the contrary, some of our Western colleagues led by the United States have tried to take advantage of the novel coronavirus crisis to promote their narrow interests even more energetically and to settle scores with their geopolitical rivals. The appeals by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to suspend the illegitimate unilateral sanctions at least during the pandemic, primarily to allow the delivery of medicines and medical equipment as well as the necessary financial transactions, have fallen on deaf ears. Likewise, they have paid no heed to the initiative, put forth by President Vladimir Putin at the online G20 meeting, for setting up green corridors free from trade wars and sanctions to supply medications, food, equipment and technologies. This attitude to unifying initiatives is seriously poisoning the atmosphere of international cooperation and increasing the lack of mutual trust, damaging not only ordinary people, who have been affected first of all, but also the business circles. You know this better than anyone.

These alarming trends have also affected Russia-EU relations. There are hardly any positive achievements to speak about. Since 2014, when the European Union flagrantly violated its own pledge to guarantee the agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition, it has not just accepted the coup but has actually been encouraging those who seized power in Ukraine illegally and in violation of the Constitution. In particular, the EU has turned a blind eye to the fact that the coup plotters’ policy is based on Russophobia, and that they threatened to oust Russians from Crimea and tried to browbeat the Russian-speaking regions which refused to recognise the coup and said they wanted to sort out the situation. They were denounced as terrorists, even though they had not attacked anyone, and the army and Ukrainian security forces were sent to fight them. As I said, they have been designated terrorists for refusing to recognise the coup.

Since then, the EU, probably becoming aware of its negative role in these processes but still trying to shift the blame onto someone else. Since 2014, it has ruined the multilevel architecture of interaction between Brussels and Moscow, from summit meetings to over two dozen sectoral dialogues. The programme of four common spaces has been abandoned. To this very day, the normalisation of our relations is being artificially conditioned on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Moreover, they say openly that it is the Russian Federation that must do this. Meanwhile, our Ukrainian colleagues have announced once again through their leaders, as you probably know, that the Minsk agreements should be preserved as the basis of the EU and US sanctions against Russia. This is their logic.

Of course, we will insist on the implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures, which has been approved by the UN Security Council, but we will not do this because we want the EU to lift its sanctions. We will do this above all in the interests of the fraternal Ukrainian people, who are suffering from what has been recently going on in Kiev and other parts of their country.

Restrictions are still retained on Russian economic operators’ access to external financial markets. European producers, too, continue to sustain multi-billion losses. The other day, we became aware that Sweden has taken yet another discriminatory step. A Swedish company, Quintus Technologies AB, has refused to supply spare parts for GAZ Group’s industrial press, under an absolutely far-fetched pretext. Allegedly, the equipment is of a military nature and has a dual purpose. This is absolutely artificial logic. This press has been in use since 2009, and never before, including the entire period of crisis in our relations after the coup in Ukraine, have the Swedish regulators entertained any doubts. Judging by all appearances, this is by far not the last example, where the wish to curry favour with those who lay down the West’s geopolitical line prevails over commonsense and own interests. Of course, this will also affect Swedish businesses that cooperate with the GAZ Group and the company’s employees.

Regrettably, we have to state that the EU agencies continue their shortsighted policies. In particular, this refers to the EU member countries that have proclaimed themselves “frontline” states. Their mood is also “frontline” and they pursue “frontline” policies. Let me note that in July, the EU set into motion, under an absolutely far-fetched pretext, its 2019 framework for unilateral sanctions against violations of certain “rules” in the cyberspace, which rules have not yet been coordinated on a universal basis. Invented last year, this generic regime, as they decided, should be “test-driven” in practice over Russian citizens. Without providing any real evidence, they have accused them of launching a cyber attack against the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. Created in 2019, this regime is not the only one of its kind. The EU has spawned, also within its “inner circle,” yet another generic regime punishing violations in the field of employment of toxic chemicals, or, to put it in a nutshell, the use of prohibited types of chemicals that are chemical weapons. It is intended to be used in specific situations. I have no doubt that they will be attempting to apply this regime to the situation involving Alexey Navalny. Moreover, there is no need to “test-drive” or discuss the facts for this on a universal basis either.

Our French colleagues, again unilaterally, have established the so-called “partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons,” a structure outside of the UN or any universal and generally approved international legal framework. But a narrow circle of soul-mates will establish so called “facts,” whereupon a unilaterally created EU organisation intended to punish those who are allegedly guilty of violations will approve sanctions, based on these unilaterally established “facts.” All of this is sad and makes one think that our Western colleagues’ talk of the need for everyone to respect the rules-based order is not just a figure of speech or a synonym of the need to respect international law, but a conscious policy to substitute unilateral and illegitimate actions for the universal international legal framework that requires a consensus of all states in order to approve relevant conventions.

We are interested in establishing the truth regarding Alexey Navalny. That said, this is an outrageous situation that is unfolding following the exact same scenario as in the so-called Skripal case, when accusations were made without presenting any evidence. As you are aware, Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office sent requests under the 1959 European Convention for Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters to the relevant agencies in Germany, France and Sweden, where the required tests were allegedly carried out. Under the protocols to this convention they were asked to share information on the results of these tests. We were told that no action will be taken under this convention, which in itself is a violation, and that the results were handed over to the OPCW. They told us to wait for this organisation to release the results of its tests. However, the OPCW informed us that they continue investigating this matter and the samples they collected (it is unclear who collected them and when). We were told that once they are finished, they will communicate the results to Germany, since the request came from there, leaving it to Germany to decide whether to share this information with us. This is a travesty of common sense, and I believe that everyone understands this, including our Western colleagues who deny our requests that are based on a binding international convention. It seems that their Russophobic fervour is so strong that it prevents them from exercising good judgement.

We regret that trade and economic cooperation is becoming increasingly politicised. I have just cited some examples. Trade and economy have always been viewed as a safety net in relations among nations. Nowadays though, things seem to have shifted into a somewhat different phase. I remember so well that in 2014 German businesses called on the European Union and its agencies not to place politics above the economy in its approach to Ukrainian affairs. At the time it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said that there are cases when politics must be above economics. This is regrettable.

We are now witnessing another example. The European Commission has drafted a report with a long title: Report on Significant Distortions in the Economy of the Russian Federation for the Purpose of Trade Defence Investigations. You probably understand what this is all about. The document is clearly biased and can lead to new restrictions on the access of Russian goods to the EU market. You know that this will definitely prompt us to reply. In particular, this report presents regulatory measures that are totally legitimate, including in energy, transport and labour resources, as distortions in the Russian economy. We also have questions regarding another EU initiative. I am referring to the key element of the European Green Deal, the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism. Brussels said that it will be enacted not later than on January 1, 2023 in one form or another. For now, we are looking into what this initiative actually means. We do hope that this mechanism would not contradict the World Trade Organisation (WTO) norms and will not lead to “trade protectionism on climate issues.” We would like to avoid having to take retaliatory measures. I believe now is not the time for trade wars, even in the current politicised environment.

I will not elaborate too much on the games with Nord Stream 2. It all started quite a few years ago when the EU retrospectively amended the gas directive within its Third Energy Package just to make it harder to carry out this project. This ran counter to all legal norms and established practices approved by all countries. It was with great difficulty that compromises were found. This did not prevent things from going awry afterwards. When the end of the project was on the horizon, a new factor emerged in the form of the heavy hand of the United States that stated its open and unscrupulous intention to derail this project for Russia and the Europeans in order to force the US LNG on the Europeans. They are franticly creating LNG capabilities. Washington claims that these measures are designed to support US producers. This is a gloves-off approach free from any ethical boundaries. They do not seem to be concerned with the fact that higher costs for buying expensive gas will undermine the competitiveness of entire European manufacturing sectors. In fact, this suits the US.

Politicised energy cooperation is yet another blow at the foundations of what we call European security. Energy is the area of cooperation dating back over 50 years. We recently marked the anniversary with our Austrian colleagues. Energy was always left outside any forms of confrontation during the Cold War. Our joint energy programme and cooperation have survived the dissolution of some states and the formation of others; they have always served the long-term interests of all European nations, including the Russian Federation.

Protectionism and other barriers and restrictions will only aggravate the economic situation, which is already complicated. By the way, we noted that the BusinessEurope Confederation of European Business recently published recommendations aimed at protecting European businesses amidst sanctions-related restrictions. The document directly states that the weaponisation of the sanctions policy to pursue economic interests is unacceptable. It may seem obvious but as things go nowadays, it takes a lot of courage to say something as obvious as this.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Russian leadership is implementing measures to support the public and businesses in the face of COVID-19 related problems. We are doing everything we can, considering certain minimum requirements of the epidemiological authorities, to help return foreign workers to Russia, which you are well aware of. You have made respective requests and requests continue to come in. We will continue to process them promptly. We expect that, according to the forecasts made in Russia and foreign capitals (including multilateral institutions), the depth of the economic decline in our country will not be as significant as in many other countries, including the eurozone.

Our potential for countering infectious diseases is becoming increasingly more effective. We have learned a lot while taking practical measures to fight this challenge. Relying on our past experience in countering various pandemics, we managed to develop a series of test systems to diagnose the coronavirus and launch the production of drugs to treat it efficiently. As you know, we registered the Sputnik V vaccine. Registration of one or two more vaccines developed by the Vector Research Centre is being finalised. We support sharing experience in this area and cooperating with all interested countries because it is important for overcoming the consequences of our common emergency once and for all. As you know, speaking at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly via videoconference, President Vladimir Putin proposed an initiative of holding a high-level online conference involving the states interested in cooperation on developing coronavirus vaccines. We hope to receive a constructive response to this important proposal.

Before concluding my opening remarks, I would just like to say a few more words about the main subject on our agenda today: as we have already seen more than once, economic interdependence can be both a boon and a bane. I don’t really think that anything good will come out of this if the EU continues to see its partners as some “appendages” of the Eurocentric world. The world that was based on the central role of Europe has become history, not regrettably or happily but objectively. The drivers of economic growth and political influence are now in the East. The new polycentric reality calls for new approaches in politics and the economy. The “leader-follower” relationship is no longer tenable. What we need now is respect for the fundamental principle of equality.

Nowadays we must help the global economy through this difficult period and ensure its consistent post-COVID development. This goal should unite all of us, because this is about the welfare of all nations. We call for finding new growth points in order to overcome the global recession. It is crucial in this respect to combine the potentials of the various integration initiatives that are being implemented throughout Eurasia. This is the objective of President Putin’s initiative on the Greater Eurasian Partnership based on the universal principles of international law and transparency and open to all countries of our huge common continent without exception. You are aware that we are actively promoting dialogue on this subject within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as well as in relations with ASEAN nations. While doing so, we point out that we would like all countries of our common continent to join this process, both members of regional associations and the unaligned countries. This means that the EU countries could also take a look at this initiative with regard to their own interests, the interests of European businesses, including the possibility of easy access to the rapidly growing markets and new transit routes within the framework of this project. We have a starting point for launching this work in earnest. I am referring to the contacts created at the technical level between the European Commission and the Eurasian Economic Commission. We would like these contacts to break out of the restrictions of technical and regulatory issues. We would like our discussions to move over to a political level and to acquire a political vision of the development of Eurasia, which will become a global economic driver – there is no doubt about this.

We firmly believe that it is in our common interests to prevent the appearance of undesirable dividing lines in the new economic spheres created by the new technological paradigm. Energy and industry are becoming ever greener and all spheres of human activity, including the work of economic operators, are being digitalised. It is our strong conviction that this calls for combining efforts rather than trying to play zero sum games again, as was the case in the past. We are ready for cooperation on the broadest possible basis.

Thank you. I am now ready for the interactive part of our meeting.

Question: There is a saying in my native German language that smart people give way in a dispute. What steps would Russia be ready to make in this regard? What opportunities do you see for giving an impetus to this process and putting it back on a more constructive trajectory? What mechanisms and measures do you see for shielding small islands of cooperation from the collateral damage caused by geopolitical rivalry?

Sergey Lavrov: As far as I can see, the way you used this German saying (smart people giving way in a dispute) suggests that you are certain that the West will never give way.

I also see this in the way many of the ongoing developments are unfolding. In particular, this refers to the complaints we hear. Russia invariably owes something regardless of the international matter, be it Syria, Libya or Belarus. The same goes for Alexey Navalny, any cyber affairs and poisonings. But no evidence is presented. Moreover, when we question their claims and findings, in this case I am referring to the Bundeswehr laboratory, or to the Porton Down laboratory in the Skripal case, they see this as an insult. But no evidence was presented. Our German colleagues are now telling us that this is our problem and that the poisoning took place on Russian territory, so they don’t know anything. Go ahead and open a criminal case, but we will not give you anything, they tell us.

By the way, I remember a rather gruesome episode in our relations with Germany when there was a problem in 2016 with Yelizaveta Fesenko, a Russian underage girl. She disappeared and the search continued for quite a long time. She later resurfaced and said that she had been raped. It turned out that she had not been raped but Germany still opened a criminal case on child sexual abuse charges. One of the defendants received a suspended sentence. But when we tried to become involved to help the girl (apart from a German citizenship she also is a citizen of the Russian Federation) and asked our German colleagues to explain what happened, we faced an outpouring of resentment, including a statement by then German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said that Russia should not interfere in Germany’s domestic affairs or use this incident for propaganda purposes. This is a similar case. Something happened to a Russian national on German territory. When we asked to explain what had happened they told us that it’s not our business and asked us not to interfere in their domestic affairs. When now we asked our German colleagues to share their findings after analysing Alexey Navalny’s test samples, they referred us to the OPCW. The OPCW referred us to Germany, arguing that it was Germany that filed the request, while Russia should have had the same findings as Berlin. However, the doctors in Omsk passed on to the Germans the results of all the tests they ran and everything they did. When the Germans came to transport Alexey Navalny to Germany, they signed papers confirming that they received all the information. Moreover, Alexey Navalny’s spouse signed a document assuming responsibility for all the consequences of his transfer to Germany, since our doctors were not convinced that this was safe. It is true that they did not find any traces of weapon-grade toxic substances. They honestly said so. Let me draw your attention to the fact that the Charite clinic did not find any toxic agents from the so-called Novichok group in Navalny’s samples either. It was the Bundeswehr clinic that made these findings. We still do not know whether the French and the Swedes collected the samples themselves or the Germans simply passed on these samples to them. The fact that our partners are trying to keep this secret, muddying the waters, is a matter of serious concern for us. We want to get to the truth and will pursue this objective. I don’t know what to do with this. Now we are being accused of the developments in the Central African Republic, and they are trying to pin the blame for something that happened in Mozambique on us as well. We stand accused of everything no matter where it occurs.

When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his deputies and other members of the US administration travel around the world, they openly call on their partners during news conferences in Africa, Greece or elsewhere to stop cooperating with Russia and China. These statements are being made officially and unceremoniously, for everyone to hear. It is difficult for me to say now what concessions we can make when it comes to this situation.

As your board chairman has already mentioned, it is good that the ties with the EU are being revived. Yes, they are indeed being revived, but only in specific areas, such as Syria, Libya and Africa – we have recently held such consultations. However, we do not see a systemic approach to our relations on the global and hugely important political plane.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell is a good friend of mine. We spoke with him earlier  this year on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. In June, we talked for two hours via videoconference. We discussed all topics in great detail. There is a common understanding that we need to review the situation, at least so as to see if the EU policy based on sanctions is really effective. This is for the EU to do. In our opinion, it is a flawed policy. Sanctions damage both those against whom they are applied and those who apply them. You are aware that we are trying to abandon all forms of cooperation that can strengthen our dependence on Europe, including in the fields of technology and agricultural goods. I believe that we have achieved good results with this. We are probably doing this because we are no longer sure that our European partners will honour their commitments. I have cited the example of Nord Stream 2. It would seem that the EU’s Legal Service has long analysed this project and concluded that it is good and does not contradict any EU norms. Nevertheless, the question has been reopened and the rules have been changed. Is this how reliable partners act? Moreover, this is being done contrary to the fact that companies from the five respected “old” EU members were fully interested, and continue to be interested, in the Nord Stream 2 project. But politics has prevailed over business.

Of course, selective dialogue is underway on some specific matters, as you mentioned. We are not abandoning it. But we can see that the EU has been trying to preserve the five guiding principles and only to modernise them (and they are based on the fact that the normalisation of EU’s relations with Russia is conditioned by the implementation of the Minsk agreements by Russia, not by Ukraine). While these futile discussions are underway in the EU and the very aggressive and loud Russophobic minority is preventing any efforts to reassess relations with Russia, very serious analytical processes are gathering momentum in Germany. As far as we know (this information is based on German media reports), experts close to the German Government are developing what they describe as “a new Eastern policy,” which actually amounts to removing the remaining positive parts on our agenda.  Their main arguments, as cited by the press, are that strategic partnership is a thing of the past; that the Partnership for Modernisation, which used to be a symbol of our cooperation with Germany and subsequently with the EU as a whole, has not materialised; and that Russia refused to become an ally for the EU and NATO and hence became their opponent when it comes to fundamental political and ideological aspects of the new international order. I have already said that our Western friends want the new international order to be based on rules rather than international law, and on rules invented in a narrow circle of confederates.

As for selective cooperation, the circles close to the Government who are formulating a new agenda say that such cooperation will be possible only after Russians mend their ways. Amid mental stagnation in Brussels, these processes are gathering momentum first of all in Germany. Geopolitical analysts have probably seen that Germany is becoming the lead player in ensuring a strong and lasting anti-Russia charge in all processes underway in the EU.

We have seen this before. The first sanctions were adopted after an absolutely transparent referendum was held in Crimea and nobody questioned their outcome – US representatives told me so immediately after the referendum. Nobody doubted then, and nobody doubts now, that it was a sincere desire of the Crimean residents. But as soon as this happened, we were told in a quite superior manner that Russia should know that there would be no “business as usual.” We replied that yes, there will be no “business as usual.” You yourself have ruined your standing and reputation when you were spit in the face – excuse my French – by those who terminated the agreement guaranteed by France, Germany and Poland. We know very well that there will be no “business as usual,” but we are nevertheless ready to look for spheres of constructive interaction. But take a look at the current situation. Just a small but telling example regarding Nord Stream 2: the Swedish authorities have cancelled their companies’ permit for cooperation with GAZ. There are more examples of this kind too. The question now is not that there will be no “business as usual,” but that there may be no reliable basis for doing business with Europe in the long term and we cannot be sure that our European partners will honour their commitments. I am not talking about companies. They want to do business, but it is the politicians who are ruling over business now. This is the problem. As I have already said, there is no lack of goodwill or desire to develop normal relations on our part. Just read President Putin’s message of greetings to Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on Germany’s reunification. It clearly says everything. But goodwill cannot be unilateral. It is said that he who is smarter and stronger should take the first step. We probably have grounds to believe that our partners are strong and smart. I really do hope that they think about us in the same way. If there is goodwill on both sides, we can turn the tide. But we do not see any reciprocity so far.

Question: We have noticed these concerns regarding the recent trends that you mentioned, and the articles claiming that the partnership has come to an end. We share these concerns. As an association, we agree that it takes two to tango.

Sergey Lavrov: These days, some prefer breakdancing and you don’t need a partner.

Question: Let’s hope that partner dancing will not go out of style. As an association, we adhere to the principle of independence. We communicate both with Brussels, by voicing our concerns with the current situation, and with officials in Russia. I was very happy to hear your greetings on our anniversary. This year we marked 25 years. We planned to organise a conference using the motto “Russia and Europe in the world of tomorrow: looking back on the past to move towards the future.” How do you see Russia and Europe in the world of tomorrow? What are the most promising areas for continuing the cooperation that has not always been easy but has undoubtedly been productive over these 25 years? What are the key areas for you?

Sergey Lavrov: We spoke about this at length today. If we talk about specific areas, these include, of course, the digital economy, the green economy and everything related to the new types of energy (the Russian-Italian-French thermonuclear reactor project). We have many hi-tech projects with Germany. There is mutual interest. But, again, the political course pursued right now, mainly by the United States, is aimed at preventing any mutually beneficial, promising and competitive economic projects in Europe to be carried out without the American involvement – be it Russia or China. This has been stated openly. Politics is the art of the possible but perhaps, in the current circumstances, the economy is also the art of the possible. As long as the leaders of your countries are capable of protecting the core interests of European businesses, as long as they can protect your competitiveness and as long as they can withstand this pressure.

But, of course, besides the economy, we are deeply concerned about the military and political situation. It is not improving in Europe and, on the contrary, it is becoming more disturbing. By the way, there have been many reports, analysis pieces and articles recently marking the anniversary of the German reunification. Russian television filmed a two-hour documentary, The Wall, which came to a rather sad conclusion: the Berlin Wall was never destroyed; it simply became virtual and moved to the East very close to the Russian border, despite all the promises and assurances. I will not comment on this film right now. I hope you watched it. If you did not, I recommend it because you will understand a lot about the current conditions for the Russia-Europe relations, how the Russian leadership and Russian people remember the times when – and we all know this very well – Russia played the decisive role in the German reunification, by making a huge sacrifice. I am not exaggerating. The withdrawal of our troops was conducted in absolutely cruel and inhumane conditions. We know the real (financial) cost Germany paid for this. We also know that, not that our Western colleagues tried to persuade the Soviet leaders against it but they asked whether they [the Soviet leaders] had thought carefully and whether everybody needed a united Germany. You know the outcome. I find the manner used by some representatives of the German leadership in communication with the Russian Federation not only unacceptable but fully indicative of the fact that the era everybody considered a historic victory of Germans and Russians and eventually the victory of the entire Europe is now completely forgotten. This is unfortunate. I really hope that this anomaly goes away. It cannot reflect the Germans’ true attitude towards Russia. Speaking of which, in a recent public opinion poll, half of the German people across the Federal Republic of Germany, including Western Germany, expressed a positive attitude towards the Russian people. I think the number of people in our country supporting cooperation with Germans will not be less than that. Our historic victory is in overcoming all phobias and focusing on the constructive process in the interests of our nations. Of course, it would be a crime to lose it.

Question: I would like to get back to the issue of highly skilled professionals returning to Russia. We are very grateful for the help we received from the Government of the Russian Federation and, in particular, from the Foreign Ministry. We know that the rules currently in place, the Government Directive No. 635-r of March 16, 2020, is greatly appreciated by our members because it opens a channel for returning highly skilled professionals. However, on the other hand, this process is still complicated and there are many unresolved matters. What are the prospects of relaxing the border crossing regime, especially ahead of the New Year days off?

Sergey Lavrov: I have already spoken on this matter multiple times. The Foreign Ministry will play a secondary role there. Public health is the top priority. Therefore, the epidemiological and sanitary authorities are calling all the shots. We have an Emergency Response Centre headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the Federal Supervision Service for Consumer Protection and Welfare, the Healthcare Ministry and the Federal Medical-Biological Agency. All these experts are working on the best measures to protect our citizens and our visitors from the danger of contracting the coronavirus.

It is in the interests of the Foreign Ministry to establish contacts as quickly as possible. As you are aware, the aviation authorities are also interested in this – as are the airline companies which are suffering losses and hoping to resume air services as quickly as possible. Once again, the decisions are up to the epidemiologists.

Question: I can see that Russia is trying to shut itself off from the rest of the world by demanding that production facilities be more localised.  We invested about 2 billion and are one of the largest companies. Seventy percent of our products will not be considered Russia-made products in two years. I am urging you to do everything you can to make sure that Russia does not isolate itself from the rest of the world and cooperates with Western companies. Do not force us to resort to localisation which puts us at a disadvantage and which will seem rather strange after we invested 2 billion.

Sergey Lavrov: I agree with the idea that we should not destroy the global forms of cooperation and build barriers. If we look at localisation as a barrier, this logic probably applies here. But again, we need to remember about the strategic goals set for our economy by President Vladimir Putin and the Government. To a great extent, they have to do with the events in our relations of the past six or seven years and with the fact whether the West demonstrated itself as reliable and capable of negotiating in relations with us.

When it comes to localisation, we are not alone. For example, India is rather actively pursuing its Make in India policy and I think it is much more demanding than the localisation policy in the Russian Federation. Overall, I understand your production-related concerns and assume that these issues should be raised with the Government Foreign Investment Advisory Council that is in charge of these matters.

Question: The Government of the Russian Federation adopted new rules that prevent us from investing for the next two years. We do not know whether we can invest in the future because in two years there will be no benefits in this for us.

Sergey Lavrov: The Foreign Ministry is interested in continuing pragmatic and mutually beneficial economic cooperation; therefore, let’s agree that following this meeting, following our discussion, your chairman, the Director General, will send me a proposal outlining the steps which, in your opinion, would allow our cooperation to continue on a mutually beneficial basis.

I know that you cooperate with the GAZ Group. I meant exactly the same thing that you are talking about when I said that some small European countries are trying to run before the American hounds because the seizures by the United States were once again extended. The Americans are thinking about themselves, too. Many American jobs depend on continuing this cooperation. Our Swedish neighbours decided that they will be more American than the Americans themselves.

Question: When we discuss relaxing the border crossing regime for highly skilled professionals, please do not forget about their family members because it is a major part of their lives here. I would like to ask you to consider this issue.

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, their comfort is important. We will make sure to support requests concerning their family members as well.

Question: We are witnessing the US administration purposefully dismantling the international relations system that took shape after World War II. How much have they managed to accomplish in this regard? Is this an irreversible process? What can we expect from the upcoming election?

Sergey Lavrov: As I mentioned earlier, the current international relations system is collapsing under the banner of the “rules-based world order.” It became part of the political vocabulary, or narrative, in modern parlance, about three to four years ago. We took note of it immediately. When we began to talk about this term which was proposed to be included in the declarations of international forums, we were told that “this is the same as international law.” When we proposed replacing this term with “respect for international law,” we were told, by hook or by crook, that “we need to use some fresh language.” And then everything that I was talking about came to the surface.

Two parallel processes are underway that are directly related to the erosion of the system that was created after World War II, which suited everyone, made it possible to avoid another world war and, as we all hoped, would be ridding itself of confrontational components after the Cold War ended. We have already talked about the Berlin Wall and everything that followed and what we are witnessing now.

There are two obvious areas where this system is being eroded. The first is the privatisation of the existing international organisations’ secretariats. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is based on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), is a case in point. It was adopted unanimously (any convention can only be adopted unanimously) and is binding exclusively for the countries that have ratified this Convention, 193 in all. The OPCW is one of the most universal organisations. The Convention can only be amended by way of talks, and the language must be agreed upon by a consensus, after which the amendments are adopted and ratified. Under the convention, the OPCW Technical Secretariat (TC) has the competence to conduct a probe in response to an inquiry by any CWC member country. This should be done by an onsite visit by the experts to a location designated by the corresponding party to take samples that are then taken to certified labs. Then, a report is compiled which says whether a substance prohibited by the special lists attached to the CWC was found in these samples. That’s all there is to it. The OPCW Secretariat began to grossly violate the Convention. For example, in Syria, they were making decisions and compiling reports without onsite visits. They just said that they managed to get samples from, say, Great Britain or France (there was such an episode in Khan Shaykhun), since it was “unsafe” for them to go there. We insisted that, under the Convention, they must go there themselves. The answer was “it’s unsafe.” Then, we asked the British and the French, since they were able to obtain the samples in unsafe circumstances, to use their contacts to ensure the safety of the OPCW inspectors so that they comply with the convention. We were told there was nothing they could do, and it’s “classified.” The Syrian government was accused of airstrikes using bombs filled with toxic agents. This “classified” information was used to conclude that a poisonous agent was used in Khan Shaykhun. End of story. Nobody knows who took these samples, or who took them to which laboratory, because it’s “classified.”

There are many questions. When we started asking them and stopped accepting such reports in the UN Security Council (only the UNSC can decide who is right and who is wrong under international law and the UN Charter), our Western colleagues at the OPCW convened an extraordinary session of all parties to the Convention. They put to the vote a proposal that, in addition to what is allowed for the OPCW Technical Secretariat under the Convention (to determine whether a prohibited poisonous agent was used or not), it should also be authorised to identify the perpetrators and to carry out the attribution. Less than half of the countries members of the convention voted in favour of the proposal. The rest voted against it or abstained. However, according to the rules of procedure, the decision was declared adopted. Thus, instead of an international law instrument, which any universal convention is, we got an instrument of the “rules-based order.” Of course, we will not be paying for the portion of the Secretariat’s activities that focuses on these purposes. China and a number of other countries are doing the same, but that doesn’t make the problem disappear. This is an outright privatisation of the Secretariat, which can now be seen in the way the senior officials of this body (Western countries hold the posts of Director-General and his “right hand”) react to our inquiries on many issues (Syria, Navalny, etc.). Concurrently, privatisation is carried out in less aggressive forms, when the Western employees of the respective secretariats conduct blatantly one-sided policies at the UN organisations.

The second area is about the propensity to move “inconvenient” matters outside the UN system. In my opening remarks, I mentioned that our French colleagues had created the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. We asked why we can’t discuss this at the UN or the OPCW, which they are trying to manipulate. Why do this somewhere else? We were told that this is just a “group of like-minded people.” Today, I spoke on the phone with my French colleague, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, and asked him why they were not responding to a request filed by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Russia regarding Alexey Navalny’s tests. Mr Le Drian told me they were waiting for the OPCW to respond. The OPCW has not yet responded (today is October 5). However, already on September 24, our French colleagues initiated the distribution, among their closest partners at the very same organisation in The Hague, of a draft statement by the countries participating in the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. The draft of this statement is already saying that, as confirmed by the OPCW Secretariat, Mr Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. The Secretariat has not confirmed or said anything. We have an official letter from the OPCW Director General Fernando Arias Gonzalez saying that the process is still underway.

This “privatisation,” as we call it, creates quite serious problems in other areas of the universal institutions’ work as well. Instead of once again provoking scandals at the conferences of the parties to the relevant universal conventions, they are now making decisions in a narrow circle of “like-minded people” and then present this as an example of multilateralism. This approach forms the basis of the Franco-German initiative for a new multilateralism, which they are promoting and which was proclaimed not so long ago. It was stated that the EU is an example of multilateralism. We asked again why multilateralism is being considered outside the framework of the UN multilateral organisation. There’s no answer, but we know it. There will be more cases like this. Along with this International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, the French have created a similar partnership on the freedom of journalism and information in cyberspace.

Question: The impact of geopolitics on de-globalisation. Modern equipment has a very broad built-in functionality for data collection and transmission. At the same time, requirements for a mandatory local hosting are being tightened, in particular, with regard to data collection and transmission. Some forecasts say that by 2030, many countries will close their markets to each other. What do you think could promote the opening of a common economic space?

Sergey Lavrov: For 15 years, if not longer, we have been actively promoting the initiative (it has gained a large number of supporters now) to figure out how the internet should work so that everyone feels comfortable. This question was raised at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an organisation dealing with all forms of information and communication technologies, and in the UN, where it was proposed to agree on the rules of responsible behaviour in the information landscape. It is about international information security. At the same time, we are promoting initiatives at the UN to combat crime in cyberspace. There is one part that relates to processes affecting national security, and the other is crime proper – drug trafficking, paedophilia, pornography, and so on. But things are moving with difficulty at the ITU. All these years of discussions have led us nowhere. The Americans do not seem interested in making this topic the subject of agreements. The discussion continues, but you know how the internet is governed, how it all works. It suits them. The Americans are actually pushing forward the idea that there is no need for any anti-cybercrime conventions or rules of conduct to ensure security in the information landscape. There is international law and it is applicable. This also reflects our Western partners’ policy to declare cyberspace an arena of potential confrontation, including the possibility of hostilities (and the outer space for good measure).

As we have seen from hours of discussions with the Americans and other Westerners, they are reluctant to introduce new regulations and cite applicable international law because the West again wants to reserve some extra rights. I mentioned the partnership to protect freedom in cyberspace. If it is established that someone has violated “freedom in cyberspace,” they will not have to prove anything to anyone, because international law is already in place. The Americans are primarily interested in Article 51 of the UN Charter (the right to self-defence and the possible use of weapons). They do not hide this and want to reserve the right to strike. More precisely, not reserve, but actually obtain the right to use military force in response to what they might consider an encroachment in cyberspace that affects their national interest. You can implicate just about anything there.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin proposed reopening the existing channels on cybersecurity issues. On October 2, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev met with US President Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, who said that so far, Washington has not seen any Russian interference attempts in the 2020 United States elections. Well, they kind of expected Moscow to interfere, but “Mr Patrushev assured them they won’t.” What the Russian Security Council Secretary proposed – we actually lived through all this many years ago with the Obama administration, and later it resumed with Donald Trump – was a proposal to sign a deal on non-interference in each other’s affairs, including in cyberspace, concerning elections or other processes. The US does not want to, because they really interfere in our internal affairs. After Kiev events in 2014, they passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which explicitly ordered the State Department to spend $20 million a year to liaise with Russian civil society, to support certain “independent” and “non-governmental” organisations. You are certainly well aware of this. Indeed, a cutting-edge sphere like cyberspace and information and communication technologies in general, where progress is rapidly gaining momentum, is a field for competition. Look at what is happening with 5G networks now, how the Americans prohibit Europe and the rest of the world from cooperating with China; look at how these policies affect the atmosphere of international relations. Consider artificial intelligence. I think competition will continue, as we are seeing a new industrial revolution – or rather, not an industrial, but a technological one.

If we consider the US policy line they are pursuing today, it is difficult to predict how and when it will end, whether it will even come to a close in our lifetime, because anything’s possible. Who knows what will happen on this planet in 50-100 years. There are many people who believe the current US policy line is irrevocable, and from now on, they refuse to put up with it. The most interesting thing is that they actually achieve their goals in some cases. As we say, might is right. But it seems to me that the United States should and will try to pay more attention to its internal problems. I would say what we can see there now has very deep roots. There are many forecasts that any empire will reach a crisis at some point and become smaller and quieter. As Vladimir Vysotsky wrote, “it goes at random, all over the place, and downhill.”

I am not trying to make any predictions about the US elections now; I do not want to be blamed again for supporting someone or not supporting someone else. Vladimir Putin has said many times that we will work with anyone they elect. We are watching the squabbles between Democrats and Republicans. No silver lining, of course. Destabilisation in the United States is unlikely to do any good to any of us. We are actually all interested in the United States being a responsible player in the international arena; but for that, they should at least have some internal stability, which is now being tested. We want them to be a responsible player, which means they should follow the rules, not those invented by them, consistently rather than occasionally, and not change those rules at their whim or use loopholes (like we say, every law has a loophole). This is rules-based order. Unfortunately, the trend is quite steady – they have left the UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, and withdrawn from nearly all treaties; now the last one, the New START, is going to die. The conditions they set are absolutely unilateral and do not take into account either our interests or the experience of many decades, when arms control was enforced to everyone’s satisfaction and was welcomed by all countries. I cannot rule out that the World Trade Organisation will be next. They are also complaining about it, as I understand it, and continue blocking the dispute resolution body, preventing the appointment of the necessary participants for a quorum.

This question causes everyone’s concern, but I have no answer to give you. Some expound on how empires grow old and new ones emerge, like when you all play together as kids, and there is always the main bully in the sandbox who hits the younger ones. But later, when they grow up, they get even. This probably happens in different forms on a bigger scale, like centuries-long cycles.

Question: As you may be aware, Turkey and Libya have certain agreements regarding the Mediterranean Sea. We’re amid an abnormal situation, where Turkey, a NATO member, has a run-in with Europe, where most countries are NATO members as well. Clearly, in addition to the economic interests, there are geopolitical and military reasons as well. What’s your view about a potential increase in the number of clashes in this region and Russia’s role?

Sergey Lavrov: Here, too, we need to look through the lens of geopolitical interests. The situation in Libya, Syria and a number of other countries is far from being alright, but hydrocarbons are among the factors that clearly influence politics. At least what the Americans are doing with oil having illegally occupied the eastern coast of the Euphrates River in Syria and making a decision allowing their company to produce oil. Together with the Kurds, they are trying to “cobble up” a Kurdish autonomy, which will have quasi-state functions. It is well known that they are also trying to talk the Turks into not objecting to the idea of creating such autonomy, assuring them that the Americans will ensure the Kurds’ loyalty. Flirting with a country’s territorial integrity is a gross violation of international law. In this case, this applies not only to Syria, but also to the Kurdish problem, which can be so explosive that the current situation will appear much less serious. It affects a number of countries in the region. An invitation to separatism and its active promotion can end very badly. This is being done by a distant overseas country, but the countries of the region and Europe will have to deal with the consequences. We are not far away from there, either. So, we have come up with an initiative to develop a security concept in the Gulf with the participation of all Arab countries, Iran, the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the UN Security Council permanent members, and the European Union.

The time has come when too many problems have piled up in and around the Gulf, including the Middle East and North Africa. We need to sit down and talk.

The Americans are also departing from international law and moving to the rules on which they want to establish the world order, I mean a Middle East settlement. They are turning the Arab Peace Initiative upside down, which proclaimed the creation of the Palestinian state followed by the normalisation of relations between the Arab countries and Israel. Now, the process has reversed.

We welcome any agreements that normalise relations between the states, but we cannot agree to this being done to the detriment of the Palestinian people’ interests which are enshrined in numerous consensus resolutions adopted by the Security Council and the UN General Assembly.

Question: More than a year ago now, President of Russia Vladimir Putin met with President of France Emmanuel Macron in Bregancon. How would you assess the results of that meeting? I know that recently in Lithuania, President Macron said he would continue cooperating with Russia because it is crucial for Europe. What do you have to say  on this score?

Sergey Lavrov: In August 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron had a very good and productive meeting in Bregancon. France is the only state whose government responded to Vladimir Putin’s address circulated in autumn 2019, when it became known that the INF Treaty had finally “died.” That long letter went to all NATO members and a number of other states, in which Vladimir Putin spelled out the history of the issue, explained how important the INF Treaty was, how its termination would increase the risks and wipe out any control over such missiles, and proposed to declare a voluntary moratorium. He said that Russia has already announced it and will not build or deploy any such missiles until such US-made systems are deployed in some part of the world. The President of Russia asked his NATO partners to consider the possibility of a counter moratorium without concluding any agreement – just pure goodwill, similar to the previous nuclear test ban. Only a few of them even bothered to respond, usually “thank you and we’ll read it later.” Some just declined. French President Macron was the only one who actually wrote he was ready to discuss the proposal, and who noticed that we were not just proposing two counter-moratoriums in that letter – a Russia-NATO and a wider one – but we were ready to discuss specific ways to verify compliance. Western Europeans as well as our American colleagues said the “cunning” Russia was proposing a moratorium when it allegedly had such missiles in Kaliningrad. They believe our Iskander systems violate this Treaty, but never provided a single fact that proved it. If they say that an Iskander missile has been tested at a prohibited range, then obviously, they should have satellite images, but they never showed any, just as they have not shown any satellite images when it comes to the Malaysian Boeing shot down over Donbass. They have some pictures, but they just don’t show them to anyone. So Vladimir Putin proposed, if they have any such concerns, to discuss what verification measures we can agree upon to make everyone feel comfortable. The only one who responded to that was Emmanuel Macron.

Unlike our selective cooperation with EU’s Brussels on specific conflict matters, sporadically, from time to time, what we have with France is a stable dialogue, including the two-plus-two format with the foreign and defence ministers. In September 2019, our French colleagues were in Moscow. We also established cooperation in more than ten working groups on various strategic tracks. The working groups on combating terrorism and cybersecurity met recently – these topics should obviously be of interest to everyone, but the Americans and most other Westerners, including the Germans, have shown little interest in cooperating on them, to put it mildly.

Emmanuel Macron also makes critical statements. We can hear those. We also have some questions for France. I have just mentioned some of the steps they are taking that undermine the legitimacy of universal organisations, attempts to isolate some issues to be addressed by a narrow circle of participants they find comfortable. But we are having a dialogue, whatever disagreements we might have cannot be a reason to refuse to discuss serious matters, and limit interaction to some selective, elective topics, as the European Union does.

Question: The international community failed to prevent two global catastrophes in the 20th century: the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. Today we are witnessing the escalation of a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in which Turkey has become involved. Do we have any mechanisms for preventing genocide in the 21st century?

Sergey Lavrov: We have the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), which is effective. Genocide has been denounced as a crime against humanity. There are different types and forms of genocide. What is happening today to the Russian language and Russian education in the Baltic countries (in Latvia and Estonia), in Ukraine and several other places clearly amounts to infringement on the fundamental rights of a very large group of people.

One of the topics we discussed with Josep Borrell was discrimination against Russian speakers, in particular, in Ukraine. We regularly raise the question of the Baltics with the EU. They seem unable to do anything, and it even looks to me as if they are unwilling to do anything about it. They only speak in favour of naturalisation. The process is underway, they claim, adding that everything will be just fine, in time. Nothing good is taking place there though. And in Ukraine they adopted several laws on education and language, following which they have adopted amendments that stipulate exemptions for EU languages, which has placed the Russian language in conditions of double discrimination, even though the Ukrainian Constitution stipulates the protection of national minority rights. And it directly mentions Russians.

We have informed the EU that there are Hungarian, Bulgarian and Polish communities in Ukraine and called on them to join forces to protect the rights of the national minorities at the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We sense a trend in each of these countries to settle the problems of their national minorities in Ukraine unofficially, and they don’t care what happens after that. I asked Josep Borrell if Brussels would support this policy. Absolutely not, he replied, adding that they would equally protect all national minority languages and that the EU would never be content with exemptions for their minorities. But these exemptions have already been made. A law prohibiting primary school tuition in any language other than Ukrainian was to become effective as of September 1. A three-year exemption has been approved for the EU languages, but not for the Russian language. I asked Josep Borrell why this was so. He answered that they were working on this problem.

I don’t think a repetition of genocide in its classical form is possible today, but regrettably, discrimination trends will be gathering momentum. Speaking about Karabakh, we maintain contact with Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as with Turkey and Iran as their neighbours. Today I had a telephone conversation with [French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs] Jean-Yves Le Drian, during which we also spoke about Karabakh. The presidents of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, France and the United States – have made a very strong statement. We are now preparing a statement of the three countries’ foreign ministers.  However, what we need is not only statements but practical moves that can be made to end the bloodshed and resume negotiations.

You have mentioned that Emmanuel Macron said in Vilnius that cooperation with Russia was crucial for finding solutions to problems. We fully share this view. He also met with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya there; she has met with a number of high-ranking officials from EU countries.

This has jogged my memory regarding a situation, I think it was in 2017, when Jean-Marc Ayrault held the post of foreign minister. In March 2017, Marine Le Pen came to Russia at the invitation of our parliament. She met with President Putin. Mr Ayrault criticised that meeting between the President of Russia and the leader of a large French party. He interpreted it as “an attempt to interfere in the election process.” “We would like to understand if this is so. France is not interfering in Russia’s internal affairs, and we hope that Russia will not interfere in our affairs either,” he said. This is how he commented on President Putin’s meeting with the leader of a French political party who had been invited to visit Russia by our parliament. Now look at the [Western] reaction to what is taking place in Vilnius and other places. This is double standards.

Question: First of all, I would like to point out the importance of [foreign] professionals returning to Russia so that they can resume their operations here. As for our exports to Russia, we would like to say that we account for 25 percent of them, and we would like to continue to increase our share. We can see great potential here, in particular, when it comes to raw materials. We should start with renewable materials and discuss recycling. We also need to coordinate certification issues and think about improving the furniture industry in Russia so as to be able to export more IKEA products from Russia.

Sergey Lavrov: I hope your products will not be designated as military or dual-purpose items, as was the case with Sweden’s Quintus Technologies, and that you will continue to supply us with affordable, solid and reliable furniture.

%d bloggers like this: