Gold Leaving US Vaults: Signs of Upcoming Currency War and Armed Conflict – By Peter KORZUN (Strategic Culture Organisation)

The Turkish government has made the decision to repatriate all of its gold reserves that are currently housed in the US Federal Reserve System (FRS). Overall Turkey was storing 220 tonnes, valued at $25.3 billion, in the US, which it repossessed on April 19, 2018.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toughened his stance against the US dollar (USD), declaring that international loans should be made in gold instead of the American currency. Ankara is seeking to reduce dependence on the US financial system. The gold’s homecoming was partly prompted by the US threats to impose sanctions if Turkey goes through with the signed deal to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

This is a dramatic move reflecting an international trend. Venezuela repatriated its gold from the US in 2012. In 2014, the Netherlands also retrieved its 122.5 tonnes of gold that were stored in US vaults. Germany brought home 300 metric tonnes of gold stashed in the United States in 2017. It took Berlin four years to complete the transfers. Austria and Belgium have reviewed the possibility of taking similar measures.

Few people believe the US Treasury’s assurances that the 261 million ounces (roughly 8,100 tonnes) in official gold reserves that are stored in Fort Knox and other places are fully audited and accounted for. The Federal Reserve has never been fully and independently audited. The pressure for a full, independent audit of all US gold reserves has always been resisted by the government and in Congress. Nobody knows if the gold is really there. What if the vaults turn out to be empty? It’s wiser to bring your gold home while you can, rather than to just keep on wondering.

The gold bars that the US claims to hold are of low purity and do not conform to international industry standards. Even if the US has the amount of gold it claims to have, most of it would not be acceptable for trading on the international market. While other countries are pulling their gold out of the FRS banks, Russia and China are boosting their reserves, creating gold-backed currencies for themselves and thus moving the world away from the dominance of the USD.

The US dollar’s status as the global reserve currency has been called into question. It faces some tough competition. The tariffs introduced by the US administration as an instrument of coercion against other countries are failing to bolster the greenback, which may soon face headwinds. An international currency war looms as a possibility. This makes investors look for other options. Indeed, why should other countries rely on a US dollar that is not backed by gold or anything but “the good faith and credit of the American worker,” when America itself is not trusted internationally?

For instance, the Chinese yuan is going strong. Russia, Turkey, and Iran are considering the prospects for making payments in their national currencies. Iran has recently announced it is switching from the dollar to the euro as its official reporting currency. Russia and China have a currency swap agreement that avoids settlements in the USD.

The quest to reduce dependence on the dollar was provoked by the ongoing use of sanctions as a political weapon, a kind of foreign-policy tool of choice. Even America’s closest allies are threatened by these restrictive measures. The recent attack on the Nord Stream 2 gas project is a good example. It’s only natural for other countries to be looking for ways to resist the US policy of twisting arms. Using alternative currencies and bringing gold home are ways to do that.

America has always opposed such efforts. Any methods would do. Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, was toppled and killed after he came up with the idea to introduce a golden dinar to be used as an international currency in the Middle East and Africa. Iran has recently banned the use of the USD in trade. It refuses to sell its oil for the US currency. President Trump is likely to kill the Iran deal in May, provoking Tehran into reviving its nuclear program.

An armed conflict with Iran might be much closer than generally believed. The nuclear deal has been honored, to everyone’s satisfaction but to Washington’s chagrin. Iran undoubtedly has no military capability that would be a threat to the US. It has never been responsible for any terrorist acts committed abroad or things like that. But it has done something unforgivable in the eyes of the US. It has threatened the USD. That’s what Washington cannot accept, because if it does not support the dollar, there will be problems financing the US government’s huge federal debt. A war with Iran would eliminate the largest non-USD oil exporter. One thing leads to another. The gold repatriations are a precursor to a currency war and armed conflict. That’s what drives US foreign policy.

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City beneath city: RT films massive network of militant-built tunnels under Syria’s Douma (VIDEO) – By RT

https://www.rt.com/news/425149-douma-underground-militant-tunnels/video/5ae0c540dda4c8d75f8b45fe

 
 
The Syrian military has been combing through a vast network of tunnels built by jihadists in Douma, not far from Damascus. RT Arabic filmed vehicles easily fitting in the passages and asked locals how the militants treated them.

Located 15 meters deep under the surface, the massive tunnels are supported by metal pillars and are paneled with some sort of liner plates, creating a subway look. They stretch for kilometers under the town, located in the area of eastern Ghouta, forming an entire city beneath the city.

To complete the set, the tunnels are equipped with electricity, parking lots and workshops. They are so big that a minivan could easily move through them, as seen in the footage. The military discovered that the tunnels were specifically used to stockpile machinery and vehicles.

The militants forced the locals to build the tunnels for them by starving the people, who refused to work, Douma residents told RT. “They starved us, they harassed us,” one man said, adding that the extremists also made captives and civilians work on the tunnels. “They [the militants] would not feed those, who refused to work,” he said.

READ MORE: Moscow slams western media ‘disinformation campaign’ about OPCW experts being denied entry to Douma

The Russian military said they found a chemical laboratory operated by militants in central Douma soon after the city’s liberation. The facility, located in the basement of a residential building, had some sophisticated equipment, including an industrial chemical reactor, which the military said was used by the jihadists to create toxic agents. Vast stockpiles of various chemicals were also found in the laboratory.

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US ‘May Provoke Conflicts in Latin America’ Amid UNASUR Row – By SPUTNIK

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Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay decided to leave the South American bloc last week, and this is a huge step back for the whole region, political analyst Sonia Wiener believes.

The decision of six Latin American countries to temporarily leave the Union of South American nations (UNASUR) jeopardizes regional integration, encourages interstate conflicts and puts at risk the protection of natural resources, Sonia Wiener, a political scientist from the University of Buenos Aires, told Sputnik.

“It is no coincidence that the decision is made during Bolivia’s presidency in the Union,” the researcher noted.

“This disintegration will not only hamper the development of the regional identity and the unity of the countries of the region, but also weaken territorial sovereignty, cooperation and protection of strategic natural resources […],” she added.

READ MORE: Russian Diplomat Slams ‘Destructive and Irrational’ US Policy Toward Venezuela

According to Wiener, the withdrawal of the six countries from the bloc “creates the ground for foreign interventions, in particular, by the United States and Great Britain, what is exactly happening now in the region.”

“I’m afraid that the US can provoke interstate conflicts in Latin America and then try to resolve them by military means, because war is business,” the analyst warned.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay decided to suspend their membership in the South American bloc on April 20.

The move was prompted by the fact that the bloc, according to the governments of these countries, has been inefficient due to grate differences in positions of its members and subsequent inability to find a consensus.

The idea of replacing the US contingent in Syria with Saudi troops is doomed to failure – By DMITRY MININ ( Strategic Culture Foundation)

The idea of replacing the US contingent in Syria with Saudi troops is doomed to failure

 

The White House has had a hot new idea – to leave Syria but also stay there at the same time by deploying an Arab contingent to US military bases, primarily from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). So to Arabize one of the bloodiest wars of our time in keeping with the bitter memory of Vietnamization. 

It seems that the plan was worked out during the almost month-long stay of Saudi Arabia’s defence minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in America. And the plan’s existence was announced on 17 April by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, during a joint press conference with the UN secretary general, António Guterres. Following the missile attack on Syria, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, reiterated that President Donald Trump still wants an early withdrawal of US troops from the country. The introduction of a Saudi contingent in their place seems to Washington to be in the interests of the United States. And the US government has not just suggested to Saudi Arabia that it replace the American contingent, but to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well. They would take a back seat to the Saudis, however. There is also talk of these regimes providing money to rebuild Syria’s destroyed north. It seems they wouldn’t just be counting on military force, but on “buying” the local population as well.

It does raise a question, of course: have the Americans asked the Syrian government or its own allies – the Kurds and, at the very least, Turkey, Russia and Iran – about the desirability of such a replacement? No, of course they haven’t. Even while withdrawing, the US is unable to forget about its “exclusivity”. For many reasons, however, the idea of replacing Americans with Arabs is doomed to failure.

That Damascus will resolutely resist the proposed reoccupation of its territory by the forces of a “fraternal country” is obvious. It can only lead to more fighting and a rise in regional tensions. Almost as well-equipped as the Americans, the Saudis will never be a worthy opponent of the battle-hardened Syrian army. They have already shown what they’re capable of in the endless war in Yemen, where barefoot Houthis are inflicting one embarrassing defeat after another. Riyadh’s intention to fight a “decisive battle” against Iran on foreign soil will not be realised, either. With its ally Iraq behind it, Tehran would soon have the advantage.

All in all, not a single one of Syria’s neighbours is in favour of the arrival of Saudi troops to replace the Americans except Israel. Iraq is categorically against the idea, since it wants to avoid having to deal with an upsurge in fighting between Sunnis and Shi’ites on its borders. Turkey has no need for the Saudis either, because they would undermine its influence in the Ankara-controlled area of northern Syria. Suffice it to say that the nearly 30,000 troops now under Turkey’s wing from Eastern Ghouta, which was recently liberated by government troops, have been on Riyadh’s payroll for the entire war. Turkey has every reason to fear that Saudi Arabia will use these and other groups to assert its dominance over the area. Libya is also against the appearance of Saudi Arabia on the Syrian stage, fearing that clashes between Sunnis and Shi’ites will move to within its own borders. Even Jordan, which is dependent on Washington and London, is weary of the initiative. As a pragmatic politician, King Abdullah II of Jordan has a good idea of all the possible negative repercussions of such an undertaking. 

The proposals have also been criticised by Egypt, which has completely ruled out its involvement in their realisation. Mohammad Rashad, a senior official in Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, expressed himself in no uncertain terms: “The Egyptian Armed Forces are not mercenaries and cannot be leased or ordered by foreign states to deploy in a certain area.” Rashad continued: ““This is not acceptable. No one should dare to direct or give orders to Egypt’s army.” The statement is an indirect response to an appeal by the US president’s new national security advisor, John Bolton, to the head of Egypt’s intelligence services, Abbas Mustafa Kamil, inviting Cairo to be involved in the project.

Just as many problems await the Saudis in and around the area of their proposed location. To begin with, the Kurds from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who control the area with the help of the US will certainly not welcome their arrival. It would mean the Kurds giving up control of the local Arab population in favour of the incoming contingent and losing most of the power they have won. It is quite possible that the Americans are secretly pushing for a scenario in which, as well as Arabization, there will also be a “dekurdization” of northern Syria, but at someone else’s hands. Then it would seem as if they are not betraying the Kurds, while calming Arab national feelings and ironing out differences with the Turks at the same time. Don’t think that the Kurds will remain passive bystanders in this situation, however. Chances are they will occupy the vacated US bases and refuse to let anyone in. It is even possible they will finally realise that, in the current situation, the most sensible course of action to resolve the Kurdish national question would be an alliance with Damascus. For the time being, Damascus is prepared to extend the rights of Kurds, but should they find themselves on the losing side later on, their window of opportunity will gradually close. 

And for Saudi Arabia, a direct clash with the Islamic State (IS), which, according to the official version, is the terrorist group that the Saudis must go to Syria to fight, could prove fatal. The truth is that many of the IS militants still fighting in Syria are mujahideen from Saudi Arabia and their ability to indoctrinate their fellow countrymen should not be underestimated. It could happen that any direct contact between the Saudi contingent and IS militants will eventually extend the latter’s influence to the Kingdom, something that the Islamic State has long dreamed of. In the countries of the Persian Gulf, there are already some who think it would perhaps be better to hire Sudanese nationals, Pakistanis or some other poor souls for the operation.

The new plan for America to save face in the Middle East is just as chimerical as all of America’s previous attempts at a global reorganisation of the region. The outcome of Arabization will not be any better than the outcome of Vietnamization was all those decades ago. And this will continue to be the case until Washington starts taking into account the positions of all interested parties, including Damascus.

US violating intl law by breaking into Russian consulate in Seattle – embassy – By RT

US violating intl law by breaking into Russian consulate in Seattle – embassy
The US government is violating international law with its decision to break into Russia’s locked consulate in Seattle, the Russian embassy in Washington said in a statement.

What we see now is a gross violation of the Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Convention on Consular Relations,” commented Nikolay Pukalov, the head of the embassy’s consular department. “The Russian side did not agree on stripping diplomatic status from our property in Seattle and did not give permission to American officials to enter our territory.”

The spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, called the development “a hostile takeover” of the compound by the US.

The diplomatic building was evacuated earlier this week due to an order from Washington, which expelled 60 Russian diplomats and told the embassy to shut down the Seattle consulate in retaliation for the poisoning of a former double agent in Britain.

After the diplomats left on Tuesday, they locked the building. US officials on Wednesday broke into the compound.

The closure of Russia’s Seattle consulate was the latest in a string of diplomatic mission reductions taken by both sides over the past years. The pretext for this particular expulsion was the British accusation that the Russian government ordered an assassination of a former double agent. London failed to provide any public proof of the allegation and instead launched an international campaign to punish Moscow, finding a most eager participant in Washington.

The US claimed that the 60 diplomats it expelled were Russian spies and that the consulate in Seattle was heavily used for espionage purposes. Similar justifications were used when Washington ordered the shutdown of Russian missions in San Francisco and New York in September 2017.

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France’s Macron, the Saboteur with a Savior’s Mask – By Finian CUNNINGHAM (Strategic Culture Foundation)

France’s Macron, the Saboteur with a Savior’s Mask

French President Emmanuel Macron has a ruthless streak of ambition that should make democracy-seeking people shudder.

On an official state visit this week to the United States, Macron was posing as the “polar opposite” to President Trump, and the “standard-bearer of liberal centrism in the West”, according to the Washington Post.

Ironically, too, he presented himself last week – yet again – as the “savior of Europe” with a major address Tuesday to the European Union parliament in Strasbourg.

The Strasbourg address was only four days after the French leader unleashed a joint bombing blitzkrieg on Syria along with the US and Britain.

As if to add further mockery to his virtuous pretensions, while Macron was regaling the EU parliamentarians with grandiose visions of democracy, his own country is crippled by nationwide industrial strikes fighting against his plans to demolish workers’ rights.

At age 40, Macron is the youngest elected French president and currently one of the youngest EU leaders, along with Austria’s Sebastian Kurz (31).

Kurz is among the European zeitgeist of populist politicians whom Macron would deprecate as “regressive” owing to the Austrian Chancellor’s independent nationalist policies.

The French leader’s youthful appearance and apparent zest for “democracy”, however, belie a very old and darker tendency towards authoritarianism and contempt for democracy.

Macron had the brass neck last week to lecture some 750 EU parliamentarians about “defending democracy”. His speech in the Strasbourg parliament was littered with empty platitudes, like challenging “authoritarianism with the authority of democracy”.

Admittedly, the French president did not get a free ride while in Strasbourg. As he spoke from the podium, several lawmakers held up placards reading “Hands of Syria”.

What Macron has lots of is appealing image and liberal-sounding soundbites. He is also deft at posing as some kind of progressive. But not far from the surface is a ruthless, anti-democratic authoritarian elitist.

Paradoxically, in his Strasbourg address, he theatrically conjured up a drama of existential crisis in Europe, claiming that the 28-nation bloc was facing a “civil war” between liberal democracy – of which he presumes to be a standard-bearer – and the rise of “populist authoritarianism”. The latter refers to nationalist political leaders like Austria’s Sebastian Kurz and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban who recently won his third re-election.

Macron would like to present people like Kurz and Orban and their anti-immigration policies as the bête noire of Europe who are destroying the social fabric and unity of the bloc.

As the New York Times reported: “Macron said the EU is in a battle between the liberal democracy that shaped the postwar vision and a new populist authoritarianism that stifles dissent and cares little about the rule of law.”

Hold on a minute. “Cares little about the rule of law”? This spiel was uttered by someone who had just bombed a sovereign country, Syria, on the back of baseless claims about a chemical-weapons incident that in all probability did not even take place.

Macron was also a minister in the government of his predecessor Francois Hollande, which began bombing of Syria in 2014 without a mandate from the UN Security Council.

Whatever about Austria’s Kurz or Hungary’s Orban and their brand of nationalist politics one thing to be said in their immense favor vis-à-vis Macron is that neither of those two leaders is bombing sovereign nations.

Later last week, the French president visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Again, he puffed up his peacock feathers as the “savior of Europe” by calling for the embrace of “liberal values” of “sovereignty, rule of law, democracy and peace”.

One suspects that Frau Merkel is growing weary of the wheedling French leader, whose ambitions of being the top European politician have seen him sidling alongside US President Trump in an attempt to sideline Germany as the strongest EU nation.

Macron is a charlatan. He is shameless in his mendacity.

His image-making of a reformist, progressive European visionary is a mirror of vanity and pretentious ideals. Macron deprecates populist politicians like Orban, Kurz and others by setting himself up as some kind of noble opposite in the same way as he uses Trump as a foil for his supposed “centrist liberalism” – whatever that means.

The truth is that Macron, in reality, is a much more dangerous authoritarian than Orban and his ilk could ever be.

As well as his shocking disregard for international law in the April 14 missile barrage of Syria, Macron has the temerity to lecture about authoritarians who “stifle dissent”.

Days after this utterance, hundreds of baton-wielding French police launched a dawn raid last Friday on a university in Paris to break up a peaceful student sit-in protest.

The students have joined millions of French workers and unemployed who have taken to the streets and college campuses to stop Macron ripping up employment rights.

Macron euphemistically calls his plans “reforms”. But the way millions of French citizens see it, the overhaul of the labour code is a full-frontal attack on democratic rights. Those rights have been won by workers over decades to help make capitalist economics relatively civilized. Now Macron, in the service of big business and international capital, wants to shred French workers’ rights.

How Macron got elected last year is a curious question. Prior to his election, the former Rothschild investment banker had never held an elected position in his life. He was drafted into the former Hollande government  (2012-2017) as economics minister by way of political appointment, not through the ballot box.

Macron’s presidential mandate is dubious. Many French voters abstained from the election last April-May because they didn’t want to vote for Marine Le Pen of the Front National owing to her party’s fascistic history. Arguably, Macron got elected by default.

But it seems clear that within a year of having been in office, he has managed to unite French citizens in militant opposition to his anti-democratic “reforms”.

Macron’s florid rhetoric about European “renewal” is pretentious piffle.

The cardinal problem with Europe is the void in democratic representation of citizens. Governments and politicians are looked upon with contempt because democratic needs are chronically neglected. Public investment and services are waning, workers’ rights are being trampled on, pensioners are being neglected, wars are pursued by a few without any justice, because politicians are too often serving the agenda of big business, capital and militarism overseas.

There seems to be no democratic accountability to the majority of the 500 million citizens living across the EU. This dysfunction is due to self-serving elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron. He is the personification of bankrupt bourgeois Western politics. That is, pandering to capitalist and imperialist tendencies of the ruling class, while also having the brass neck to paint himself as a “savior”.

Macron is a saboteur of European democracy. The rise of populism across Europe is not some extraneous phenomenon, which people like Macron condescendingly disparage. It is a backlash to charlatans like Macron who have a far more dangerous streak of authoritarianism than the people whom he affects to deplore.

European democracy is endangered precisely because of politicians like Macron who cloaks himself with the rhetoric of being a savior.

Silence of the shams: Western media puts Syrian boy’s witness account on hold – By SPUTNIK

Syrianboy

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Hassan Diab

If it doesn’t fit the narrative, there’s no harm in shelving it. It appears that evidence proving the purported chemical weapons attack in Douma was staged has been largely disregarded by the mainstream newsmakers in the West.

The alleged attack and the subsequent airstrikes by the US, UK and France have been dominating the Western news agenda for several weeks now.

On April 7, several media outlets reported that the Syrian army had used chlorine in Douma, killing up to 70 people and injuring hundreds. Footage showing the aftermath of the “attack” appeared on social media, showing men and women shouting, rushing and hosing down adults and children inside a hospital building.

The video has been acquired and shown by most Western news media under the tagline “Children are treated after a suspected chemical attack in rebel-held Douma, Syria” or similar headlines.

Responding to the video and the allegations, the Syrian Defense Ministry said the claims were based on hearsay and testimonies by jihadist militants, and not backed up by hard facts. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said all proofs by the West were “based on media and social networks.”

However, the footage and the “irrefutable evidence” reportedly in possession of French President Emmanuel Macron were evidence enough for the allies – US, UK and France – to conduct cruise missile strikes on a number of targets in Syria.

In his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Macron refused to reveal what that “irrefutable evidence” was. Nevertheless, the events around the alleged attack received detailed coverage by British, American and international media as essential developments of the situation in Eastern Ghouta.

Staged Participation

Proof that the Douma hospital video was staged was presented to the international media on April 18, when the Russia 24 TV channel released an exclusive interview with the Syrian boy Hassan Diab, who was originally seen in the Douma video. Hassan said he was rushed to the hospital with his mother, and when they entered the hospital, unknown people grabbed and poured water on him, placing him with other patients after that.

“We were in the basement. Mom told me that today we don’t have anything to eat and that we will eat tomorrow. We heard a cry outside, calling “go to the hospital.” We ran to the hospital and as soon as I entered, they grabbed me and started pouring water on me,” Hassan Diab said.

Hassan’s father also spoke about the incident, saying “there were no chemical weapons” and that the “militants gave them dates, cookies and rice for participating in this film.”

Left Out of the Media Picture

The interview, however, went largely unnoticed by mainstream newsmakers. In the rare cases the interview with Hassan got a mention, it was referred to as line pushed by “Russian state media.”

A precursor to the Sun’s news headline “Russian TV claims Syria chemical attack boy, 11, filmed being doused with water was tricked into taking part in return for biscuits” was the phrase: “Fake Views.”

A Times’ headline attributes the fact that Hassan was paid off with food – to Russian TV, not the boy’s father, who made the statement.

In comparison, the Times didn’t attribute mentions of the alleged Douma attack to information presented by the White Helmets, a foreign-sponsored organization operating in Syria. Moreover, if some of the Times’ headlines featured the phrase “gas attack” in quotations, the effort wears out, as seen in other titles.

Throughout the development of the Douma story, most news channels have made the effort of calling the reported event “an alleged attack” – and some still oblige. But as time passed, headlines omitting the crucial qualifier started popping up online and in television discussions.

Syrian medics ‘subjected to extreme intimidation’ after Douma attack” and “Syria attack: Chemical weapons inspectors retrieve samples from Douma” are just a couple of examples – with the latter actually referring to the fact that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) experts haven’t yet established the use of chemical weapons.

The US broadcaster Fox News posted the alleged attack video online under the headline “Disturbing video: Children being treated after chemical attack in Syria” on April 9, which indicated certainty that the attack did happen and that chemical weapons had been used. However, a search for mentions of or statements by Hassan and his father on the Fox News website gives zero results.

CNN’s coverage follows a similar scenario. Even though some of CNN’s headlines on Douma stipulate that it was a “suspected” attack, others simply define it as a “chemical attack in Syria.” There is no information on Hassan and his recollection of events that took place on April 9.

Searches on the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post return no articles telling the story of Hassan and his father.

Due Impartiality

Very little coverage has been dedicated overall to Hassan’s witness statement, in effect disproving the pretext for an international military attack.

As a consequence, international audiences were largely left out of the balanced discussion over a matter so imperative to the public. According to a recent poll, respondents in Britain mostly opposed a missile attack against Syrian military targets.

The principle of section five of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, under which all media operate in Britain, is “to ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.” Disregarding important developments around the Douma “attack” does not appear to be in compliance with not “favoring one side over another.”

Hassan Diab may be brought to testify to the OPCW, Russia’s Permanent Representative to OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, said in a recent interview.

“At a certain point, I told my Western colleagues: we, probably, will have to use another language, since you don’t understand what we are saying. We will bring here, in The Hague, eyewitnesses who will personally tell you it was a choreographed provocation. I will do my best to have this boy speak here,” Mr. Shulgin said.

He added, however, that “everything is possible” and Hassan might not be allowed to give a statement at the OPCW.

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Press review: What’s next for Russian-Armenian ties and IT watchdog’s clampdown on Google – By TASS

April 24, 13:00 UTC+3

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday

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Izvestia: Armenian-Russian ties to withstand test of time

Following Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation after staying in office for less than a week amid mass protests nationwide, Karen Karapetyan has been appointed acting Prime Minister, while the new PM and cabinet are expected in a week’s time. Sargsyan’s appointment by the national parliament on April 17 sparked widespread demonstrations across the country last week demanding his resignation. Despite the recent developments, economic relations between Armenia and Russia will remain solid as the two countries enjoy well-established and strong ties. More importantly, Moscow is a key economic partner for Yerevan, Izvestia writes with reference to experts.

Valery Mironov, Deputy Director of the Center for Development Institute of the Higher School of Economics, told the newspaper that he does not expect the resignation of PM Sargsyan to have a substantial effect on the trade and economic relationship between Russia and Armenia.

“The protesters noted that this was not a second Maidan, and they aren’t against ties with Russia, they oppose [unlimited] tenure of power. This means that relations with Russia will be fully maintained. That said, another subject for discussion is that they should be expanded, in particular it is necessary to increase mutual trade turnover between the two countries,” he said. According to the expert, “new contracts might be delayed, though the situation will stabilize in the near future, and contracts between Moscow and Yerevan will be resumed.”

 

FBK Grant Thornton’s Igor Nikolayev told Izvestia that Russia is a key trading partner for Armenia now, and “everyone understands that trade and economic ties should be maintained and developed.” Last year, trade turnover between the countries rose by 29%, according to the data provided by Russia’s Federal Customs Service. Russian exports to Armenia increased 27.7% to $1.2 bln, while imports from Armenia went up 32.2% to $515 mln. Moscow is also among the biggest investors in the Armenian economy, with Russia accounting for over 44% of the total amount of foreign investments in the country, the paper says. The amount of accumulated Russian capital investments in the Armenia economy is over $4 bln.

 

RBC: Russian media watchdog clamps down on Google in Telegram blockade battle

As Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media is expanding its blockade of resources used by Telegram messenger in the country, it has included Google IP addresses to the list of banned resources. Experts polled by RBC believe that a worst-case scenario can prompt Google to quit the country. Russian Internet users reported problems with operations of Google resources, including google.com, google.ru, and Gmail, late last week. Problems were mainly reported from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Izhevsk and Krasnoyarsk.

In its official statement, the Russian watchdog said that Google had not met its demands and was violating the court’s verdict by continuing to allow the Telegram Messenger Limited Liability Partnership company to use its IP addresses for activity on Russian soil. As a result, the watchdog has included in the registry of banned information a number of IP addresses of Google, which are used by Telegram to carry out its activity in Russia.

Head of Society for Internet Protection Mikhail Klimarev told RBC that the watchdog is seeking to prevent push-notifications used by Telegram to avoid blocks. “Push-notifications are one of the ways to distribute content on the Internet. Any service can use this technology if the client agrees to accept those messages,” he said, adding that by fully blocking push-notifications, the regulator can make Android and iOS smartphones inoperable. Klimarev assumes that Google cannot ban Telegram from using its infrastructure and does not violate the law in this particular case.

“In fact, Zharov (watchdog’s chief Alexander Zharov – TASS) behaves as a punisher, and the Service’s actions against Google are pure blackmail aimed at forcing the company to cooperate with the authorities,” he said. The expert added that Google could even leave Russia in a worst-case scenario. “Of course, Google will lose money, but Russia’s share in the company’s total revenue is less than one percent, and those are not going to be considerable losses against the background of its global business,” he said.

On April 13, Moscow’s Tagansky court blocked access to the cloud-based instant messaging service, Telegram, in Russia over its failure to provide encryption keys to the Federal Security Service, the FSB. The court satisfied the lawsuit by Russia’s telecom watchdog filed on April 6. Telegram said those demands would be impossible to implement since the keys were stored on users’ devices. On April 16, the court’s decision on blocking access to all of Telegram products in Russia came into effect. Data operators received information on restricting access to the messenger. On the same day, the Russian media watchdog started blocking IP addresses of Google and Amazon subnetworks used by Telegram. Malfunctions of other resources, which their hosting services used, were reported.

 

Media: Sanctions relief to Rusal’s rescue

Potential sanctions relief for Russia’s aluminum giant, Rusal, announced by US Treasury Department on Monday is an unprecedented step, RBC says referring to Brian O’Toole who worked at the US Department of the Treasury from 2009 to 2017 who said that the announcement was “very unusual”. The move shows that “companies (primarily European) that otherwise would have been forced to break deals with Rusal, are facing serious difficulties,” he pointed out. Another source told the paper that OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) never makes announcements on this day of the week and at this time, which highlights a certain crisis.” “The path for the United States to provide sanctions relief is through divestment and relinquishment of control of RUSAL by Oleg Deripaska,” the authority said earlier. The US Treasury’s OFAC also extended the deadline for ending transactions with the Russian aluminum producer Rusal to October 23, 2018.

Previously, Rusal warned of possible technical defaults on certain types of debt obligations after the US Treasury slapped sanctions on the producer. On April 6, the US Treasury put Oleg Deripaska, the main owner of Rusal, and eight companies he controls, on a special SDN list together with other Russian businessmen and entities. According to an explanatory note attached to the list, the US authorities ordered American investors to dump shares of sanctioned Russian companies by May 7, 2018. In addition, prior to June 5, American investors should cancel all contracts they had signed earlier with all 12 blacklisted companies. Later it became known that a number of traders, including Glencore, announced force majeure on some contracts for the supply of Russian aluminum.

ACRA analyst Maxim Khudalov suggests that the recent statement is only aimed at calming the markets. “I don’t believe very much that the company will be excluded from the sanctions list. I think that this rhetoric is aimed at calming the markets as a surge in metal price hits American and European consumers. Once prices stabilize, the US will probably continue efforts to hinder the operations of Rusal, which is why they are taking a pause till the end of October,” he said.

 

Izvestia: UNESCO broke ties with Crimean partners under western pressure, Russian envoy says

UNESCO’s Secretariat is no longer maintaining contact with the administrations of the World Heritage List sites in Crimea, Russian envoy to UNESCO Alexander Kuznetsov said in an interview with Izvestia. “Under the western pressure the secretariat of UNESCO has broken all contacts with their traditional partners in Crimea, including the World Heritage List site – the Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese. The Secretariat even rejects accepting reports on its integrity,” he said.

According to Kuznetsov, the UN cultural organization uses monitoring results based on Kiev’s reports, which are biased. “They [the reports] are extremely politicized and unilateral. So what ‘monitoring’ in Crimea are we talking about? UNESCO simply ignores the real state of affairs on the peninsula,” he emphasized.

The tendency of politicizing the work of the organization makes its operations far less efficient, the diplomat stressed. “We believe that politicization hurts UNESCO’s work. This humanitarian platform has been established for dialogue and cooperation, not for discussion over political issues, which contradicts its mandate,” he added. Still, Kiev and Western states continue to raise the issue of Crimea’s belonging at UNESCO sessions. “At every session, Ukraine and Western countries promote one the same exact resolution on Crimea, which only aims at stating that Crimea is part of Ukraine, in defiance of reality,” Kuznetsov said.

However, he noted that members of the organization’s executive board do not consider it necessary to add the Crimean issue to the agenda. “A growing number of countries realize how blind it is to discuss the issue in UNESCO. During this session, the number of votes against the Crimean resolution increased from 5 to 11, with 16 participants supporting it,” he said speaking about the latest 204th session of the UNESCO executive board in Paris, adding that the remaining delegates either abstained from the voting or skipped the meeting.

 

Kommersant: Price tag for building new satellite for Angola maybe $130 mln

On Monday, Angolan officials officially acknowledged the loss of the Angosat-1 telecom satellite. Russia’s aerospace corporation, Energia produced the satellite and agreed to construct an updated version, Angosat-2. However, a rocky financial road is foreseen when implementing the project, Kommersant business daily writes. The payment for the production of the second satellite is expected to come from the insurance reimbursement for the lost AngoSat-1 satellite worth $121 mln. However, the insurance will only cover half of the related works, with the Russian side having to pick up the tab and look for other ways to pay for it. The Angosat-2 project is estimated to cost $130 mln at least.

Angosat-1 telecom satellite was launched on December 26, 2017, from the Baikonur space center on the territory of Kazakhstan with the aid of the Zenit-2SB launch vehicle and the Fregat booster. On December 27, after separating from the booster, the ground control center lost communication with the satellite. The ground control mission attempted to regain communication with the satellite up to mid-January 2018 when the latter left the zone of direct radio visibility from Russian territory. Angolan Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technologies Jose Carvalho da Rocha said that the satellite indicated a malfunction, which made its use impossible. He confirmed to Kommersant that the contract stipulates the obligation of the Russian side to construct a second satellite within 30 months.

The terms are going to be a “heavy burden” for Russia’s Energiya, a top manager of one of the companies involved in the project told the newspaper. A total of $252 mln was poured into the first satellite in 2011. Taking into account the suggestions of the Angolan side, the final sum is going to reach at least $250 mln, which means the corporation will have to find $129 on its own, using borrowed funds, loans, etc. A source in Russia’s government told Kommersant that this is an image-building effort, but simultaneously a substantial financial loss: “Those funds could have been spent on the construction of satellite systems for the development of the Arctic.”

 

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in the press review

 
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Russia capable of providing S-300 to Syria within one month — source – By TASS

April 23, 18:46 UTC+3

According to the source, there are two options of delivering the S-300 to Syria

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MOSCOW, April 23. /TASS/. Russia is technically capable of providing its air defense systems S-300 to Syria within one month, a military-diplomatic source has told TASS, adding that for this the launchers already at the Defense Ministry’s disposal might be used after the required reconfiguration, a military-diplomatic source has told TASS.

According to the official, there are two options of delivering the S-300 to Syria. One is Russia may provide to Syria the export configuration of the air defense launchers. In that case Syria will get them in 18 to 24 months from now. The other possibility is the available systems may be retrieved from the Defense Ministry’s reserves. Those replaced by S-400 in the Russian army might be use, too.

“Naturally, the used S-300 systems that may be taken to Syria will have to be reconfigured to suit the standards of the Syrian air defense. This work may take about a month,” the source said.

TASS has no official confirmation of this.

 

Earlier, the daily Kommersant quoted its own sources as saying that Russia in the near future might start the delivery of S-300 Favorit air defense systems to Syria.

 

S-300 for Syria

 

Russia’s General Staff declared it might be possible to raise the question once again of providing S-300 systems to Damascus shortly after the United States, Britain and France on April attacked Syria with cruise missiles. The agreement with Syria on providing S-300 was signed back in 2010 only to be frozen due to objections from the West and Israel.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on April 16 said Russia might be prepared to consider all the necessary steps for enhancing Syria’s defense capabilities, including the supplies of S-300 systems. On April 23 Lavrov said the question of providing S-300 to Syria had not been settled yet, but Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed that possibility with the Defense Ministry “from the standpoint of preventing a situation where Syria might turn out insufficiently prepared for aggressive attacks, like the one that took place on April 14.”

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment when asked if S-300 might be delivered to Syria in the near future.

 
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By Billing Russia ‘Terror Sponsor’ US Wants to Lay Hands on Europe – Think Tank – By Sputnik

The Moon over the Moscow Kremlin's Spasskaya (Savior) Tower

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Republican senator Cory Gardner is championing a legislative initiative to determine whether Russia should be billed a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Radio Sputnik discussed this with Manuel Ochsenreiter, director of the German Center for Eurasian Studies and editor-in-chief of the German news magazine “ZUERST!”

Sputnik: In your view, why was this article published now, when relations between Russia and the US are as tense as they were during the Cold War era?

Manuel Ochsenreiter: We witness right now an escalation of the informational warfare; we have already now, well since the war started in Syria, which was escalating even more since the problems and difficulties in Ukraine, with the Maidan uprising, so we are now at a new escalation period and of course, the consequences for Gardner, for the US, or what they would like to see as consequences is to have a safe hand on Europe, on the European allies by labelling Russia as a “terrorist sponsoring” state.

It is not just about the consequences from the US, but they would pressure their European allies into also going into these consequences. One consequence, for sure, would be that Europe would be even closer to the US than Europe already is right now. This is also already the consequence of the Skripal story, the consequence of the so-called “gas attack” in Syria. So, it is about informational warfare meant for having the European allies more safe on the Washington side.

Sputnik: If Russia was indeed declared a state sponsor of terrorism, what kind of diplomatic moves would we see by the European Union, by the US?

Manuel Ochsenreiter: We would see a variety of diplomatic and economic measures. It would mean that sooner or later, the European countries would have to follow Washington’s judgement about Russia as a “terrorism sponsor.”

That would mean that there would be an enormous political pressure on all companies and businesses, and on all politicians who are advertising good and normal relations with Russia, between Europe and the Russian Federation. For the US, it is absolutely important to keep Europe on their side and to make Europe, let’s say, hostile towards Russia. Russia is a sort of natural partner for European states; Russia is a supplier of resources.

Germany, for example, has excellent high tech products and is also very important for the market of Russia, but the US wants to separate these two markets, or these two political spheres, to bind Europe closer to the US. The US knows [that] if Europe gets lost for the US, they are outside of the game.

READ MORE: Situation in Syria Shows ‘Cold War is Back’ — UN Chief

The consequences would include a diplomatic cooldown, maybe even freezing, maybe even more freezing than we were used to during the escalating periods of the “cold war.”

In economic terms, it would mean that companies, even if they do business with Russia, which would be legal, would suffer from moral and public pressure … if the US succeeds in making Europe also label Russia a “terrorism sponsor.” 

Sputnik: What other countries around the world are currently considered by the US and Europe as states sponsors of terrorism?

Manuel Ochsenreiter: If we take a closer look on these countries – we have for instance Iran labelled as a terrorist sponsor – we know also that they label the Lebanese Hezbollah forces as terrorists, as they are on the official terrorist list.

But if we look at the situation in the Middle East, we can precisely see that those entities and those groups labelled as terrorists or terrorist sponsors by the US are in many cases forces that are standing for stability and fighting against terrorism.

For example, Iran is one of the main forces supporting Syria in fighting the Islamic State*. Russia is the only foreign force, besides Iran, which is in Syria legally, which is there on the invitation of the legal Damascus government.

While the Americans, the British, the French and all other forces are there not legally, they were never invited, never asked by the sovereign state of Syria to support them in fighting terrorism.

We can say that one of the main terrorist-sponsoring states on the globe is the United States itself. There would be no Islamic State group existent today, if the US hadn’t meddled in the Middle East. The Islamic State exists precisely due to the meddling of the United States [in the Middle East.]

*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) is a terrorist group banned in Russia.

The views of the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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