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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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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Is this the face of the assassin Russia sent to kill Sergey Skripal? A British newspaper says so…. – By Alexander Mercouris (The Duran )

Media reports suggest British authorities still in the dark about the Skripal case

Two British newspapers – The Sunday People (which is a tabloid) and the Times of London (which is not) – have published very similar stories about a supposed breakthrough in the Skripal case.

The Times of London as usual is somewhat more measured.

Firstly it reports the interesting fact (based on a report drawn from the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets) that Yulia Skripal’s Russian fiancé is refusing to reply to her calls, causing her deep distress

The fiancé of Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury, works at an organisation with links to the Russian security services and has gone into hiding.

Stepan Vikeev, 30, has not been seen since Yulia, 33, and her father, Sergei, 66, a former Russian military intelligence officer, were poisoned last month, the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper reported.

Mr Vikeev has not answered Ms Skripal’s calls since she was discharged from hospital and deleted all his social media accounts after the attack, for which the government has blamed Russia…..

The newspaper said that Ms Skripal was “hysterical” when Mr Vikeev failed to return her telephone calls.

This is curious since the Russians by their own account have been doing all they can to contact Yulia Skripal only to be prevented from doing so by the British.  Given that this is so one would expect the Russian authorities – if they are involved – to be encouraging Stepan Vikeev to reply to Yulia Skripal’s calls, and not to turn them away.

However far more interesting than this tidbit of information is news about a supposed breakthrough in the case which is discretely tacked on to the end of the article

The reports of Mr Vikeev’s disappearance come as the police and intelligence agencies have reportedly identified key suspects for the Salisbury attack, in part by searching flight passenger lists in and out of the UK, drawing on CCTV footage in Salisbury and using car numberplate recognition cameras.

I will say at this point that in my opinion the whole Times of London article about Stepan Vikeev is a cover for the real information in the article, which is the paragraph which I have just quoted.  Frankly, it looks to me like an attempt by the British to signal to the Russians that they know – or think they know – who were the assassins who tried to kill Sergey Skripal.

For a more colourful account of what the British know or think they know about the case we have to turn to The Sunday People, whose story appeared on 22nd April 2018, the day before the article appeared in The Times of London.  Its article is written in the usual breathless style of contemporary British tabloid journalism

Counter terror police have ­identified a Russian assassin ­believed to be connected to the Salisbury poisonings.

In a sensational new development the Sunday People can disclose that officers suspect he is a 54-year-old former FSB spy – codename Gordon.

The man is thought to use the cover name Mihails Savickis as well as two other aliases.

But police fear he has already flown back to Russia and they may never get the chance to question him.

Detectives believe there was a team of six behind the novichok chemical ­attack on double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33.

Our revelation follows reports that Britain’s intelligence services have ­compiled a list of key suspects involved in last month’s attack in the Wiltshire city.

Gordon’s cover name emerged ­during nearly five hours of questioning by police in London this week of KGB defector Boris Karpichkov, 59.

Boris told the Sunday People how he and Gordon’s paths crossed in the early 1990s.

The two men knew each other when Karpichkov was a major in the FSB, the KGB’s successor, in Latvia.

Gordon was a subordinate of Boris’s.

“He was a very intelligent, educated, ambitious and ruthless person,” Boris said today.

“He was handsome and personable and was quickly able to win a stranger’s trust.”

Boris said Gordon was trained in martial arts and specialised in ju jitsu. He went to university where he gained a law degree.

Our exclusive picture of the man police want to talk to – handed to us by Boris – shows the wanted spy three decades ago.

He is 5ft 9in with no distinguishing marks, fiercely ­intelligent and with a law degree from Latvia’s State University in Riga.

Gordon has used the cover of a ­successful businessman in the security industry. He was a captain in the KGB before joining the FSB after the Cold War ended.

He is on the FSB’s Officers of Active Reserve list, a kind of spy territorial army called out for special operations including “wet jobs” as Russian spooks like to call their assassinations.

And he is known to have ­murdered at least one man when he shot an organised crime boss in Latvia during the 1990s.

Gordon’s cover name was ­revealed during nearly five hours of questioning by police on Monday of Karpichkov, who is on the same FSB hitlist as the Skripals.

The ex-spy believes that if Gordon was involved in the Skripal attack he could have been leader of the ­special ops group carrying it out because of his seniority.

The two men knew each other when Karpichkov was an FSB major in Latvia – then part of the Soviet Union – and Gordon was a subordinate.

The codename Gordon was given to the spy by his FSB bosses.

It is not unusual to choose British names. Notorious double agent Kim Philby was codenamed Stanley.

Our exclusive revelation comes a day after it was reported that police and intelligence agencies have identified key suspects in the attempted assassination of Sergei and his daughter Yulia.

Counter-terrorism police are reportedly trying to build a case against “persons of interest”.

The breakthrough came after a search of flight manifests in and out of the UK yielded specific names in the hunt for the Skripals’ would-be assassins. Police have also drawn on extensive CCTV footage in Salisbury.

But officers know it is unlikely they will ever be able to bring anyone to justice.

The Sunday People article comes complete with an identikit picture of ‘Gordon’ – the reputed Russian master assassin – which is the picture used as a caption for this article.

It is quite clear that the two articles – the one in The Times of London of 23rd April 2018 and the one in The Sunday People of 22nd April 2018 – draw on the same sources, which quite obviously are the British authorities.

What is one to make of all this?

Frankly ‘Gordon’ aka ‘Mihails Savickis’ sounds just a bit too much like a Russian James Bond to be wholly believable.  Note that he is said to be “handsome, personable, very intelligent, educated, ambitious and ruthless” and that he is also an expert in ju-itsu.  The only discordant note is that at 54 he seems a little too old for the part.  The identikit picture of him is however ridiculous.

More to the point the “evidence” upon which these claims of a breakthrough are based seems incredibly tenuous.

It looks as if the British authorities have been spending the last few weeks combing through the names and photos of individuals who have come and gone from Britain and comparing them with photos of people caught on CCTV wandering around Salisbury around the time that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned.  On that basis a number of individuals – or possibly photos of individuals – have been selected as showing possible suspects.

The possibilities of error are obvious, and I would add that this procedure neither directly links the individuals so identified with the crime itself nor does it prove that they were acting on behalf of the Russian authorities.  At best the individuals concerned are – as they are described in The Sunday People article – “persons of interest” whom the police would want to interview rather than actual “suspects”.

As for ‘Gordon’ aka ‘Mihailis Savickis’, the identikit picture suggests that he is was not one of the people allegedly caught on CCTV in Salisbury and his reputed connection to the crime has been largely inferred from the evidence of former defectors like Boris Karpichkov who is named in The Sunday People article.  Probably he is a real person though the James Bond qualities he has been given suggest that a certain amount of fantasy has been at work.

These nebulous claims about possible suspects in the Skripal case come alongside two articles, by Craig Murray and by Ben Macintyre in The Times of London (the latter a writer on intelligence matters) which suggest continuing doubts in Britain about Russian state involvement in the case.

Craig Murray – whose reporting of the Skripal case has been consistently reliable as well as outstanding – sees in the latest statements by British officialdom evidence of doubts about the theory of Russian state involvement in the Skripal case

Well-placed FCO sources tell me it remains the case that senior civil servants in both the FCO and Home Office remain very sceptical of Russian guilt in the Skripal case. It remains the case that Porton Down scientists have identified the chemical as a “novichok-style” nerve agent but still cannot tie its production to Russia – there are many other possibilities. The effort to identify the actual perpetrator is making no headway, with the police having eliminated by alibi the Russian air passenger on the same flight as Julia Skripal identified as suspicious by MI5 purely on grounds of the brevity of their stay.

That senior civil servants do not regard Russian responsibility as a fact is graphically revealed in this minute from head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, sent to officials following the attack on Syria. Note the very careful use of language:

Their work was instrumental in ensuring widespread international support for the Government’s position on Russian responsibility for the Salisbury attack

This is very deliberate use of language by Sir Jeremy. Exactly as I explained with the phrase “of a type developed by Russia” about the nerve agent, you have to parse extremely carefully what is written by the senior civil service. They do not write extra phrases for no reason.

Sir Jeremy could have simply written of Russian responsibility as a fact, but he did not. His reference to “the government’s position on Russian responsibility” is very deliberate and an acknowledgement that other positions are possible. He deliberately refrains from asserting Russian responsibility as a fact. This is no accident and is tailored to the known views of responsible civil servants in the relevant departments, to whom he is writing.

(italics added)

As for Ben Macintyre, he has this to say

Russia has so far come up with more than 30 narratives for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. It is a classic demonstration of the Stalinist disinformation technique known as maskirovka, or “little masquerade”, which is designed to sow confusion and uncertainty.

The British narrative, by contrast, remains fairly simple: Russia was behind the attack, which was carried out using high-grade, pure novichok, the Russian-made nerve agent. “Only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals . . . it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible,” wrote Sir Mark Sedwill, Britain’s national security adviser, in a letter to Nato.

But behind the logical assertion of overall Russian guilt lie a host of possibilities and unanswered questions: who administered the poison, what was the level of Kremlin authorisation, and why now?

On March 12, a week after the poisoning, Theresa May offered just two possibilities: “Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

Between those two poles lie an array of possibilities, in which the assassins were encouraged, facilitated, prompted, armed, nudged or protected, to an as yet undetermined extent, by Russia. There are several reasons why the attempted murder does not look like a typical Russian “wet job”, or mokroe delo, a state-authorised hit. For a start, it didn’t work and was done in a way that seems remarkably sloppy. The poison was easily traceable to Russia. It took out a member of the target’s family, something Russian (and Soviet) assassins have traditionally avoided.

 

Macintyre then goes on to speculate at inordinate length that though the Russian authorities may not have actually ordered the attack they are covering up for whoever did.

That is of course pure speculation which is based on no fact.

Nonetheless it is interesting that a well placed and well informed British writer on intelligence matters like Ben Macintyre is expressing doubts in The Times of London about the theory of Russian state involvement in the Skripal case.

Frankly, it looks to me as if despite all the claims to the contrary the police investigation of the Skripal case has made little actual progress.  The British seem to have little more knowledge of who carried out the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal and why than they did when the investigation began.  Could it possibly be because they are looking in the wrong place?

The Duran

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

Syrianboy

© Sputnik
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.

Comment: See also:

 

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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

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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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‘Common Shield’: Will Russia, EU Ever Create a Defense Alliance? – By Sputnik

German Bundeswehr soldiers of the 122th Infantry Battalion take part in a farewell ceremony in Oberviechtach, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017

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The EU armed force issue still prompts a heated debate. Speaking to Sputnik, European analysts have shared their views about the potential formation of a unified military structure in Europe and the possibility of the creation of a common EU-Russian defensive bloc.

The establishment of an EU-Russian defensive alliance is possible in case Moscow and European capitals create a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok — a concept proposed by President Vladimir Putin several years ago, German political scientist Alexander Rahr suggested, adding, however, that it’s not happening anytime soon.

“It is going to be decided in the next 25 years, if a perspective of a common Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok takes shape,” he told Sputnik. “Then there will be trust and understanding that we need to jointly resist the challenges of international terrorism and the collapse of the Middle East. In this case I see a great chance for Russia and Europe and Russia to combine their defense structures and form a pan-European security system. That would be perfect.”

However, today there is little, if any, possibility to push ahead with this process: “Now Europe is integrating closer into the Transatlantic bloc, it is being embedded in it,” Rahr noted. According to the political scientist under these circumstances it is unlikely that Russia will be interested in a common defensive platform. “Perhaps the next generation of politicians will understand that we need to act together,” he presumed.On the other hand, he raises a question about the probability of the creation of a pan-European military structure.

According to Rahr, the Americans are covertly blocking and torpedoing the process of forming a potential alternative to NATO. The US’s view of European security could be described by the following: “Let the Europeans unite economically, but in no case create an alternative to NATO,” the scientist explained. “Therefore, there is no basis to claim that Europeans are capable of creating something in the military sphere without NATO.”

Commenting on the future of the potential European army, Rahr suggested that it would be an army of cutting-edge military equipment in the first place. He presumed that future warfare would involve artificial intelligence, drones, rockets and robots.

In this context the military industrial complexes of Russia and Europe would need to create a common anti-missile shield and defensive weapons against Islamists instead of working against each other, he said.

Mountain infantry soldiers stand in front of a troops transporter Boxer after an exercise of the mountain infantry brigade 23 of the German Bundeswehr near the Bavarian village Bad Reichenhall, southern Germany, on March 23, 2016
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Mountain infantry soldiers stand in front of a troops transporter “Boxer” after an exercise of the mountain infantry brigade 23 of the German Bundeswehr near the Bavarian village Bad Reichenhall, southern Germany, on March 23, 2016

Why Analysts Cast Doubt on EU Armed Force

For his part, Igor Delanoe, deputy director of the French-Russian Analytical Center Observo, reminded Sputnik that the European army project is rather old. “However, there is NATO, this organization has existed for a long time and operates quite efficiently,” he added.

Delanoe expressed skepticism about the prospects for the full-fledged EU military structure. “The already existing European corps, the Franco-German brigade is the maximum of what can take shape,” the scholar believes.

At the same time, the scholar does not exclude that Russia and the EU are able to team up in the sphere of defense. “Not at the moment, of course, but it could be a positive step towards normalization of relations between the EU and Russia,” he said, suggesting that the creation of a joint cyber center would bolster trust between “the actors of international politics.” However, mutual distrust still remains within the bloc. Speaking to Sputnik, a German Left Party lawmaker, Alexander Neu, opined that European nations have no desire to forgo something for the sake of their allies. It raises the question “whether Greece or Bulgaria will sacrifice their soldiers for the sake of France or Germany,” he said. “The EU is engaged in a number of new projects, but I have big doubts that they will lead to a full-fledged military integration.”

According to Neu, the creation of an EU army is unrealistic, while the formation of a unified EU military structure raises even more doubts.

EU Army is Being Formed Little by Little

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has long been one of the proponents of the EU defense union.

“By 2025, we need a functioning European defense union. We need it, and NATO would like us to have it,” Juncker said in mid-September 2017 while delivering an annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament.

In the same month, in his two-hour speech at the Paris-Sorbonne University, French President Emmanuel Macron highlighted the necessity to create joint Rapid Reaction Forces, form a single defense budget and a common doctrine for action.The idea of a unified military structure was enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. The prototype of the European armed force was called the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

In November 2017, 23 EU states including non-NATO members — Austria, Cyprus, Finland and Sweden — officially notified Brussels that they were going to kick PESCO off.

“It was important for us that we Europeans stand up independently, especially after the election of the US president. Nobody will solve our security problems for us. We have to do it ourselves,” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said, commenting on EU defense ministers signing a joint notification on PESCO on November 13.

For his part, Juncker tweeted on December 11 that European security “cannot be outsourced,” welcoming the first operational steps taken by EU members “to lay the foundations of a European Defense Union.”

​In late March, the EU presented a plan to increase its military mobility within the PESCO framework. This indicates that the European army is being formed little by little.

The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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