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Chavistas Take 17 of 23 States in Venezuelan Regional Elections as Opposition Cries Fraud

By Lucas Koerner – Venezuelanalysis – October 16, 2017

Caracas – President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 17 of 23 states in Sunday’s gubernatorial elections, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has confirmed.

According to CNE President Tibisay Lucena, 61.14 percent of Venezuela’s eighteen-million-strong electorate came out to vote, marking a record participation in the country’s regional elections, second only to the 65.45 percent turnout in 2008.

The result defied forecasts of high abstention fueled by the current economic crisis as well as polls showing dissatisfaction with the leadership of both the government and political opposition.

With 95 percent of all votes counted, the governing PSUV won in the states of Amazonas, Apure, Aragua, Barinas, Carabobo, Cojedes, Falcon, Guarico, Lara, Miranda, Monagas, Sucre, Trujillo, Yaracuy, Delta Amacuro, and Vargas.

For its part, the opposition Democratic Action party triumphed in Anzoátegui, Merida, Tachira, and Nueva Esparta, while the First Justice party took the strategic northwestern border state of Zulia.

The CNE has yet to release final results for the mineral rich Amazonian state of Bolivar in the country’s southeast border.

The PSUV won 54 percent of the total vote, marking a significant recovery since the ruling party’s landslide defeat in the 2015 parliamentary elections when it garnered only 40.8 percent of the vote. The pro-government upswing follows on the heels of July 30 National Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections, which saw over eight million people turn out to vote amid deadly opposition protests and escalating US pressure.

The CNE indicated that the right-wing opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, won 45 percent of votes, amounting to a loss of 2.2 million votes relative to 2015.

Speaking late Sunday evening, President Maduro welcomed the result, vowing to work with the newly elected opposition governors.

“I extend my hand to the opposition governors to work with them for the peace and calm of the country,” he declared.

The head of state likewise called on the CNE to carry out a “100 percent audit” of all paper ballots from Sunday’s vote.

Under Venezuela’s electoral system, every electronic vote is backed up by a paper ballot, 50 percent of which are by law subject to recount in any given electoral cycle.

Despite scoring important victories in several key states, the MUD responded to the CNE announcement by refusing to recognize the results, alleging “fraud”.

In a press conference early Monday morning, MUD campaign head Gerardo Blyde rejected the outcome as “not reliable”.

Blyde cited the CNE’s controversial decision announced several weeks ago to relocate 334 voting centers – predominantly located in opposition areas and targeted by anti-government violence during the July 30 ANC vote– which he claimed impacted 700,000 people.

The Baruta mayor called on the CNE to “audit the whole process”, echoing President Maduro’s remarks several hours earlier.

Blyde urged opposition candidates to mobilize their supporters in the streets in the coming days to put pressure on the nation’s electoral authority.

October 16, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | | Leave a comment

Manipulation or Not? US Role in German Bundestag Elections

Sputnik – October 15, 2017

The Bundestag elections were “undoubtedly” influenced by the US, an ex-head of a German trade union, Friedhelm Klinkhammer, said, commenting on a recent Ifop poll according to which many Europeans believe the US interferes in political processes in other countries. However, German researcher Dr. Martin Thunert adheres to a different point of view.

Many mainstream German journalists are members of the pro-American “Atlantic Bridge” foundation, which is why they often cover certain events in a biased manner, the former division head of one of the largest German trade unions, ver.di, at the NDR broadcast company, told Sputnik Germany.

“Before their appointment, all of these journalists visited the United States, where they clearly perfected their pro-American position,” Klinkhammer said.

He stressed that during the parliamentary election campaign in Germany, Merkel’s domestic policy was barely covered and without any criticism, while her foreign policy was presented in an exaggeratedly positive manner, with the chancellor being portrayed as an outstanding German politician and the actual head of the EU.

“This line of ‘silence’ in domestic politics and exaltation of her foreign policy that was consistently followed by the media guaranteed that Merkel didn’t attract negative attention, even though she alone was responsible for the consequences of Germany’s migration strategy. Thus journalists diverted attention from Merkel and focused on the Alternative for Germany (AfD) instead,” Klinkhammer noted.At the same time, Dr. Martin Thunert, an expert on the US and research fellow at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, does not believe that the influence of the “Atlantic Bridge” foundation determined the results of the elections to the German Bundestag.

Thunert himself attended the meetings of the organization, and he is confident that journalists are not blind executors of other people’s orders.

“I think that if the US would have really applied some kind of manipulations in this area, Merkel’s results would be better,” the expert said.

Moreover, Thunert believes that the situation in which different factions, united by common interests, support some candidates and campaign against others is a normal process in a pluralistic society. Influence should not be equated to manipulation, he noted.

Commenting on the fact that most of the Europeans surveyed by Ifop think that the Americans manipulate elections in other countries, the expert said: “I do not fully understand this, because I think that influencing or expressing a preference for a certain person is not the same as manipulating. Before the Brexit referendum, Obama quite clearly said that Britain should refrain from supporting the withdrawal from the EU. Influence? Yes. But manipulation is something else, something illegal, for example, when individuals try to ‘hack’ vending machines or bribe voters.”

The latest public poll conducted by the leading French pollster Ifop shows that one-third of UK residents think that the US exerts influence on elections in other countries. The percentage is even higher in Germany and France (over 40 percent).At the same time, only 21 percent of UK residents and less than 30 percent of continental Europeans, however, believe that Russia influences the elections of other countries.

SEE ALSO:

‘Shaping Politics’: Why the US ‘Interferes’ in Elections in Foreign Countries

US Interference Represents Real Threat to Security in Middle East – Iran Foreign Ministry

October 15, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Kurdistan Sends Peshmerga Troops to Kirkuk Amid ‘Threats’ by Iraqi Army

Sputnik – 13.10.2017

According to the region’s vice president Kosrat Rasul, Iraqi Kurdistan will send 6,000 Peshmerga troops to the province of Kirkuk due to alleged plans by the Iraqi government to launch an offensive to regain control over the area.

“There are threats by the Iraqi Army that has deployed forces near Kirkuk supposedly to attack Kirkuk. But I don’t believe it will be easy for them to do that,” Rasul was quoted as saying by the Rudaw broadcaster.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) accused Baghdad of preparing a large-scale military operation to restore control over the oil rich Kirkuk province, which has been de-facto under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia for three years. On the following day, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi refuted the claims.

The Iraqi Army’s military operation south of the Kirkuk province is not directed against the Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary forces, an aide to the governor of the disputed province, Abdurrahman Talabani, said.

The Kirkuk province is not officially included in Iraqi Kurdistan, but it is in fact partially controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga detachments. On the eve of the independence referendum, the Kurds intensified the concentration of their forces in Kirkuk. Earlier Baghdad dismissed the governor of Kirkuk and decided to deploy troops to the province.

October 13, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | | Leave a comment

Carles Puigdemont Turns the Tables on Rajoy

By Craig Murray | October 10, 2017

Before his speech on Independence to the Catalan parliament, Carles Puigdemont seemed to be in an impossible position. Declare Independence and he would be immediately arrested and direct rule imposed from Madrid. Rajoy appeared to have all the angles covered; the EU had already specifically greenlighted the use of armed force in Commissioner Timmermans’ disgraceful address to the EU Parliament. The intergovernmental side of the EU, the Council, had through its President Donald Tusk called on Puigdemont not to declare Independence but rather to enter dialogue, in terms that accepted the Spanish insistence that the very notion of Independence was inadmissible.

So Puigdemont was placed by the right wing governments of Europe into a position where if he declared Independence he would be portrayed as an unreasonable fanatic refusing dialogue, and his imprisonment would be portrayed as justified. On the other hand, if he did not declare Independence he would appear a traitor to his own supporters, would be breaking the referendum law of his own Catalan parliament and the cause of Independence would be damaged by disillusion.

The entire World was wondering how Puigdemont would deal with this fix. His answer was peculiarly brilliant. He started off by speaking at length of the history of Catalonia’s attempts to enter dialogue on more devolution, and their constant rebuttal by Madrid. This was so reasonable and effective that the live blog of the rabidly Unionist Guardian plain refused to translate or summarise any of it (see 18.31 here).

Puigdemont effectively turned the tables on Rajoy by both declaring Independence and not declaring Independence. He proclaimed the result of the referendum and said as a consequence the parliament would declare Independence, but in the next breath announced they would seek dialogue on the way forward with Spain. All media sources are saying that he stated Independence would be declared but suspended for two weeks pending dialogue. Unless the DW interpreter missed it, this did not come across as I listened live and I wonder if there was a last minute change to the circulated text. But the effect of what he said was much the same.

It is Rajoy who is now in the impossible position. The World has seen a very mild and moderate Puigdemont positively pleading for dialogue and mediation. It is going to be very difficult for Rajoy to arrest him for that. More importantly, Puigdemont appears to have acceded to the request of Donald Tusk and the European Council. But he has done so safe in the knowledge that Rajoy will not enter dialogue and never had any intention of doing so.

There are only two possible outcomes of a dialogue or mediation. One is greatly enhanced powers for Catalonia in a new devolution settlement. The second is an an agreed and binding Independence referendum. But Rajoy has taken a line of absolutist opposition to either of these ways forward, which opposition is fundamental to his centralising, Francoist world view. Rajoy, having whipped up Spanish nationalism to violent fever pitch, cannot give any ground to Catalonia without substantially alienating his own Francoist core support.

Puigdemont, in short, has acceded to EU calls for dialogue and negotiation which he knows Rajoy will refuse. As it becomes ever more evident that Rajoy has no plan at all except violence, the popular revulsion across Europe against the Francoists will gather momentum.

Puigdemont appeared boxed in, but he has skipped past Rajoy and left him sitting on his arse in the mud.

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I continue urgently to need contributions to my defence in the libel action against me by Jake Wallis Simons, Associate Editor of Daily Mail online. You can see the court documents outlining the case here. I am threatened with bankruptcy and the end of this blog (not to mention a terrible effect on my young family). Support is greatly appreciated. An astonishing 4,000 people have now contributed a total of over £75,000. But that is still only halfway towards the £140,000 target. I realise it is astonishing that so much money can be needed, but that is the pernicious effect of England’s draconian libel laws, as explained here.

October 11, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Russia ready to mediate talks between Saudi Arabia & Iran – deputy FM

RT | October 11, 2017

Russia is ready and willing to mediate in establishing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has stated.

“We tried several times and offered [to help Iran and Saudi Arabia sit down at the negotiating table], but we do not impose our intermediary role,” Bogdanov told reporters.

“But we have always told our partners in both Saudi Arabia and Iran that we are ready to provide both a platform for contacts and friendly services.”

Bogdanov added that Moscow has always highlighted the need to resolve the issues between the two countries.

“Many problems would have been much easier to resolve had there been mutual understanding and trust between Tehran and Riyadh,” Bogdanov said.

He added that the situation in the entire region, especially regarding antiterrorism efforts, depends on mutual understanding and cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Bogdanov stressed that Russia always tells Saudi Arabia and Iran that it is ready to report something from one side to another or to organize their bilateral contacts. “These proposals remain on the table both with our Saudi and Iranian partners,” he said.

In May, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman accused Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorism and seeking confrontational policies in the region. He was responding to comments by the Saudi deputy crown prince, who earlier ruled out dialogue with Tehran. Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud, the kingdom’s defense minister, said it was impossible to mend relations between his country and Iran due to Tehran’s “extremist ideology” and ambitions to “control the Islamic world.”

Diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, following the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister responded by accusing Iran of setting up “terrorist cells” inside the kingdom. Iran then issued a warning that “divine vengeance” would come to Saudi Arabia as a punishment for Nimr’s execution as well as for Riyadh’s bombings in Yemen and support for the Bahraini government.

In February of this year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, while on a visit to Saudi ally Kuwait, said that Tehran would like to restore relations and improve ties with all its Gulf Arab neighbors.

One area where Moscow and Riyadh disagree is Iran’s involvement in Syria.

Riyadh, a main backer of the Syrian opposition, is against the actions of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Hezbollah group in Syria. According to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir, these groups influence the situations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf countries, and Yemen, and have no place in Syria or any other part of the world. Riyadh’s primary objective has been to put an end to Iran’s involvement in the region.

Meanwhile, Russia has argued that Iran and Hezbollah are operating in Syria at the official request of President Bashar Assad.

“We don’t see Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. We believe that both of them [Iran and Hezbollah] – like Russia’s air forces – came to Syria following the request of the legitimate government,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed in April.

October 11, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 2 Comments

US, Turkey suspend visa services amid arrested employee row

DAILY SABAH | October 8, 2017

The U.S. embassy in Ankara said Sunday that all non-immigrant visa services in its diplomatic facilities in Turkey were suspended after the arrest of one of its employees over the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) ties.

A statement released by the embassy said: “Recent events have forced the U.S. government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of the U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.”

The statement said the suspension, effective immediately, is intended to minimize the number of visitors to the consulate and embassy buildings.

Hours after the U.S. decision, Turkey said it has halted processing visa applications from the U.S. The move, announced online by the Turkish embassy in Washington, applies to visas in passports, electronic visas and visas at the borders, and is also effective immediately.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee working in the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul was arrested on charges of espionage and links to FETÖ, the group blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people in Turkey.

According to the indictment, the suspect was in contact with a number of former police chiefs in Istanbul where he worked, and all those police chiefs involved in the 2013 coup attempts were FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement.

He was also in touch with Oktay Akkaya, a former lieutenant colonel who was among the main actors in the 2016 coup attempt.

“The suspect acted as a liaison between members of FETÖ and its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania,” the indictment adds, claiming there is strong evidence to justify Topuz’s arrest.

October 8, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

‘Untangling the Syrian Knot’: Russia-Turkey Coordination in Idlib Pivotal

Sputnik – 08.10.2017

If Russia and Turkey launch a joint military operation in the Syrian province of Idlib, mostly controlled by Tahrir al-Sham, a militant group led by the al-Nusra Front, there will be a major military victory that would also pave the way for the political settlement of the crisis, experts told Sputnik.

“Apparently, the final agreement on this issue [situation in Idlib] was reached during a meeting in Ankara between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We can now say that all military actions are being coordinated by these two parties,” Oytun Orhan, an expert on the Middle East, told Sputnik Turkey.

He pointed out that bringing peace to Syria requires both military and political actions, and currently there are three countries, namely Russia, Turkey and Iran, that can resolve the Syrian crisis.

After his talks with Erdogan in Astana on September 28, Putin said that Moscow and Ankara had reaffirmed readiness to implement the final agreements reached in mid-September in Astana about four de-escalation zones, including the largest one in Idlib.

On Saturday, Erdogan announced plans to deploy Turkish forces to Idlib, where the Free Syrian Army rebel fighters backed by Ankara have launched an operation. He also said that Russia has agreed to provide air support to the operation; however, there has been no official comment yet by the Russian Defense Ministry supporting the claim.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week that Russia is ready to support armed groups fighting the al-Nusra Front in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

Commenting on the possible Russia-Turkey coordination in Idlib, Orhan said, “Russian forces could deploy along the external perimeter of the de-escalation zone, with Russian aviation likely to bomb al-Nusra Front positions. At the same time, the Turkish military could launch an operation within Idlib. What is also possible is a joint operation between Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the terrorists.”

The expert suggested that joint military actions in Idlib would reduce the territory controlled by the al-Nusra Front and finally result in the defeat of the terrorist group in the region.

“Regarding the fate of terrorists after the liberation of Idlib, there could be several scenarios – some groups may integrate into the Syrian military, some other groups may continue minor activities in certain areas or lay down their arms in exchange for some political concessions,” Orhan said.

According to Turkish journalist Hüsnü Mahalli, the terrorist stronghold in Idlib is the last major obstacle to resolving the Syrian crisis.

“The situation in Deir ez-Zor will be resolved within two or three weeks. There will be only Raqqa left. Currently, the southern part of Raqqa is controlled by the Syrian Army while its north part is controlled by Kurdish forces. [After the liberation of Idlib] Syrian forces will control almost 99 percent of the territory. In fact, the resolution of the Idlib situation would mean the untangling of the Syrian knot,” Mahalli said.

October 8, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 1 Comment

Moscow calls on Washington to reconsider curb on Russian observation flights over US

RT | September 28, 2017

Moscow has urged Washington to review its decision to curb Russian military observation flights over US territory as part of the Open Skies Treaty.

“Confrontation is never our choice. That’s why we offer our American partners not to crumble into another abyss of measures and countermeasures, but stop before the steps they’ve announced have gone into force,” Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said.

According to Zakharova, Moscow and Washington should “engage in a depoliticized search for a mutually acceptable solution to the problems of the [Open Skies] treaty.”

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that the US delegation at the ongoing Open Skies Consultative Commission in Vienna intends to accuse Russia of being in violation of the Open Skies Treaty and announce restrictions on Russian flights.

The respective treaty is a multilateral arrangement stemming from the Cold War era, which allows member states to schedule observation flights over each other’s territory to monitor military deployments.

The accord was aimed at building confidence and removing suspicions between Russia and the NATO bloc.

Some US officials have recently argued that Russia benefits more from the deal, gaining detailed intelligence on the military infrastructure of NATO members, including the US.

Russia will evaluate the US restrictions on the Open Skies Treaty and then “make a decision on our own adequate steps,” Zakharova said, noting the principle of reciprocity in international relations.

Zakharova said she doubted that “the US will benefit” from restricting Russian flights over its territory.

“In any case, it won’t help Washington to achieve unilateral advantages,” she said.

The US claims that Russia is violating the Open Skies Treaty by restricting the length of observation flights over its western enclave region of Kaliningrad to 500km.

Zakharova has again explained Moscow’s decision and stressed that it was in line with the norms of the accord.

“Some of our partners – despite having the right to make observation flights ranging up to 5,500km – used a significant part of it in Kaliningrad region, crossing it back and forth and creating complications for the use of the region’s limited airspace and the operations of the international airport,” she said.

The 500km range doesn’t hamper the efficiency of observations as it allows every part of Kaliningrad Region to be monitored, she added.

September 28, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Footfall in the attic of Europe’s geopolitics

By M K Bhadrakumar |Indian Punchline | September 27, 2017

The German Question has been at the very core of geopolitics in Europe at least since 1453, a poignant year in world history signifying the notional end of the Middle Ages. Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror put an end to the Byzantine Empire by capturing Constantinople (present day Istanbul); France recaptured Bordeaux, marking the end of the Hundred Years’ War. For the next four centuries, the German Nation lurked as a fragmented space in the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, sucking instability from outside, until late 19th century when a re-united Germany began ‘exporting’ instability.

The European Union project aimed at containing German revanchism following World War II by diverting its energies and attention to the Cold War struggle. But with the end of the eighties, things began changing dramatically with the unexpected unification of Germany and the unforeseen disbandment of the Soviet Union. The EU has since proved incapable of managing the re-emergence of German power and itself increasingly resembles the old Holy Roman Empire. (“I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse,” Emperor Charles V once said.)

Against the above backdrop, Sunday’s election to the German Bundestag assumes great significance. The importance of Germany in terms of its location, size, population, economy and military strength add up to immense potential. To what extent is Germany going to ‘pull its weight’; the likely elements of continuity and change in the German Question; how the emergent internal order of Germany is going to impact European (as well as Eurasian and Euro-Atlantic) balance of power – these are big questions.

The reactions of the US, Russia and France to the election victory of Chancellor Angela Merkel provide insight into the power dynamic. The US President Donald Trump phoned up Merkel on September 23 “to wish her country a successful election” on the next day “when Germans go to the polls” and to underscore “the steadfast bond between the United States and Germany.”

Trump hasn’t spoken to Merkel after she won the election on Sunday. When asked about it on Tuesday, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that “they’re working on timing for a second call of congratulations. But I don’t believe that’s taken place yet today… No, I think they’re just working on the logistics piece of both leaders coordinating.”

The Russian President Vladimir Putin called up Merkel on Tuesday and congratulated her “on CDU/CSU’s success”. The crisply worded Kremlin readout said that they “reaffirmed their readiness to carry on with business-like, mutually beneficial cooperation” between the two countries.

The French President Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, made a major speech on Tuesday at the Sorbonne, hot on the heels of Merkel’s victory, on the future of Europe. Macron reiterated his proposals for the eurozone having its own budget and finance minister to ensure the stability of the single currency union and “to weather economic shocks”.

Macron also proposed a shared European military intervention force and a shared defense budget and a European defense strategy to be defined by the early 2020s. He offered to open the French military to European soldiers and proposed other EU member states do the same on a voluntary basis. He suggested the creation of a European intelligence academy to better fight against terrorism, and a shared civil protection force. He said that a European asylum agency and standard EU identity documents could better handle migration flows and harmonize migration procedures.

It is no secret that Merkel has had difficult relationships with both Putin and Trump. Indeed, Merkel has little in common with their ‘world view’ and they are far from enamored of her being a flag carrier of western liberalism. Merkel’s foreign policy is very much centered on supporting global institutions and she has also remained at the forefront of defining a common European response to geopolitical challenges.

Merkel’s diplomatic relations with Trump have been reserved at best and their stances on trade, climate change and immigration are poles apart. Trump has been a trenchant critic of Merkel’s move to allow over one million refugees to enter Germany in 2015. When it comes to Putin, Merkel is unforgiving on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its alleged intervention in Donbas. At the bottom of it all, the fact remains that the ‘regime change’ in Ukraine has been Merkel’s botched up project, thanks to Russia’s counter-offensive. The bitterness and mutual suspicions cannot easily dissipate.

What salvages the German-American relationship is that ultimately it is also a close institutional relationship (which is not the case with Russia.) In the final analysis, Germany remains dependent on the US military and economic leadership.

The Russian commentaries have caricatured that Merkel won a hollow victory. An acerbic commentary carried by RT is titled Merkel’s days as German Chancellor are probably now numbered. Disarray in German politics suits Russia, since Merkel has been the main exponent of the EU sanctions against Russia. And disunity within the EU in turn shifts the balance in favor of Moscow, which will be far more comfortable dealing with European countries at the bilateral level, none of them individually being a match for Russia.

The alacrity with which Macron has spoken goes to show France’s keenness to preserve its axis with Germany. Merkel is Macron’s best bet in Berlin. Despite her election losses, she intends to remain at the helm of European affairs. The EU is at a historic crossroads, with Brexit and Trump’s ‘America First’ changing the alchemy of European integration. Macron’s speech aims at strengthening Merkel’s hands as she begins the painful process of cobbling together a new coalition government in Berlin with partners who have divergent views on European integration.

Macron is due to meet Merkel on Thursday at the EU summit in Tallinn, Estonia. Read an analysis by Spiegel entitled Uncertainty Dogs Europe After German Election.

September 27, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

Undermining Venezuela’s socialist government nothing new for Canada

By Yves Engler · September 23, 2017

Alongside Washington and Venezuela’s elite, the Trudeau government is seeking to oust President Nicolás Maduro. While Ottawa’s campaign has recently grown, official Canada has long opposed the pro-poor, pro-working class Bolivarian Revolution, which has won 19 of 21 elections since 1998.

Following a similar move by the Trump Administration, Global Affairs Canada sanctioned 40 Venezuelans on Friday. In a move that probably violates the UN charter, the elected president, vice president and 38 other officials had their assets in Canada frozen and Canadians are barred from having financial relations with these individuals.

In recent months foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has repeatedly criticized Maduro’s government. She accused Caracas of “dictatorial intentions”, imprisoning political opponents and “robbing the Venezuelan people of their fundamental democratic rights”. Since taking office the Liberals have supported efforts to condemn the Maduro government at the Organization of American States (OAS) and promoted an international mediation designed to weaken Venezuela’s leftist government (all the while staying mum about Brazil’s imposed president who has a 5% approval rating and far worse human rights violations in Mexico).

Beyond these public interventions designed to stoke internal unrest, Ottawa has directly aided an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition. A specialist in social media and political transition, outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen in August: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.” (Can you imagine the hue and cry if a Russian ambassador said something similar about Canada?) Rowswell added that Canada would continue to support the domestic opposition after his departure from Caracas since “Freeland has Venezuela way at the top of her priority list.”

While not forthcoming with information about the groups they support in Venezuela, Ottawa has long funnelled money to the US-backed opposition. In 2010 the foremost researcher on U.S. funding to the opposition, Eva Golinger, claimed Canadian groups were playing a growing role in Venezuela and according to a 2010 report from Spanish NGO Fride, “Canada is the third most important provider of democracy assistance” to Venezuela after the US and Spain. In “The Revolution Will Not Be Destabilized: Ottawa’s democracy promoters target Venezuela” Anthony Fenton details Canadian funding to anti-government groups. Among other examples, he cites a $94,580 grant to opposition NGO Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia in 2007 and $22,000 to Súmate in 2005. Súmate leader Maria Corina Machado, who Foreign Affairs invited to Ottawa in January 2005, backed the “Carmona Decree” during the 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez, which dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and suspended the elected government, Attorney General, Comptroller General, governors as well as mayors elected during Chavez’s administration. (Machado remains a leading figure in the opposition.)

Most Latin American leaders condemned the short-lived coup against Chavez, but Canadian diplomats were silent. It was particularly hypocritical of Ottawa to accept Chavez’s ouster since a year earlier, during the Summit of the Americas in Québec City, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals made a big show of the OAS’ new “democracy clause” that was supposed to commit the hemisphere to electoral democracy.

For its part, the Harper government repeatedly criticized Chavez. In April 2009 Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to a question regarding Venezuela by saying, “I don’t take any of these rogue states lightly”. After meeting only with opposition figures during a trip to Venezuela the next year Peter Kent, minister of state for the Americas, said: “Democratic space within Venezuela has been shrinking and in this election year, Canada is very concerned about the rights of all Venezuelans to participate in the democratic process.”

The Bolivarian Revolution has faced a decade and a half of Liberal and Conservative hostility. While the NDP has sometimes challenged the government’s Venezuelan policy, the party’s current foreign critic has echoed Washington’s position. On at least two occasions Hélène Laverdière has demanded Ottawa do more to undermine the Maduro government. In a June 2016 press release Laverdière bemoaned “the erosion of democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela” while in August the former Foreign Affairs employee told CBC “we would like to see the (Canadian) government be more active in … calling for the release of political prisoners, the holding of elections and respecting the National Assembly.” Conversely, Laverdière staid mum when Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela last month and she has yet to criticize the recently announced Canadian sanctions.

NDP members should be appalled at their foreign critic’s position. For Canadians more generally it’s time to challenge our government’s bid to undermine what has been an essentially democratic effort to empower Venezuela’s poor and working class.

September 24, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to Syria exposed

RT | September 23, 2017

The day after US President Trump’s barnstorming speech to the UN General Assembly decrying ‘the scourge’ of rogue states and terrorism, it was reported that his administration is set to greatly loosen American arms exports.

The trade in question is in the private sector of so-called “non-military weapons”. There seems little doubt that unleashing an already massive American export trade in private weapons will further fuel “the scourge” of conflicts and terrorism around the world.

What is also telling is the timing of the move by the Trump administration.

The move to boost exports of private American gun makers also follows an investigative report revealing a $2.2 billion arms pipeline run by the Pentagon and the CIA into Syria. Citing incriminating procurement papers, the explosive report shows how American government agencies are funneling assault rifles and rocket launchers, among other munitions, from Central and Eastern Europe into Syria to arm anti-government militant groups.

What the latest move by the Trump administration will do is obscure the potential paper trail of the weapons trade. In effect, the proposed change in US export regulations amounts to privatizing arms dealing.

As Reuters reported, the Trump administration wants to shift the responsibility for issuing export licenses for “non-military firearms” from the State Department to Commerce. The change could be implemented within the next months.

The volume of US privately manufactured weapons that are traded around the world is already huge. Last year, the State Department granted licenses for the export of $4 billion-worth of US-made small and medium arms. These weapons included handguns, assault rifles and even rocket launchers for the more adventurist gun enthusiasts.

Under the proposed Commerce Department’s purview the flow of arms overseas is expected to dramatically increase. That’s because Commerce has less restrictions than State on the risk of illicit weapons proliferation. Commerce is more driven by basic concerns to maximize trade and profit.

“There will be more leeway to do arms sales,” one senior administration official told Reuters. “You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way.”

The Trump administration is pushing for the regulatory change on the basis that it will boost America’s trade figures. “Buy American” is part of Trump’s plan to “make American great again”.

One key area to reduce the US trade deficit and supposedly give a fillip to American manufacturing jobs is to expand the export of “non-military” weapons.

Trump’s election campaign was bankrolled by the National Rifle Association to the tune of $30 million. Earlier this year, in April, he told an NRA convention: “I am going to come through for you.”

Some senior US lawmakers have expressed concern that the loosening of trade regulations will fuel conflicts overseas.

As Reuters reported: “Assault rifles like the Bushmaster would be some of the most powerful weapons expected to be more readily available for commercial export under the new rules.”

Democrat Senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy reportedly wrote objections to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, pointing out that combat firearms are the “primary means of injury and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world.”

However, the issue is about more than just callous indifference in the pursuit of profit. It is also about obscuring the potential links between US authorities and the arming of terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In the investigative report cited above, published earlier this month by the Balkans Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN), it confirms what many observers have been claiming for a long time. Namely, that the Pentagon and CIA have been covertly running a massive arms pipeline to militants in Syria to overthrow the Assad government.

According to the BIRN, the transfer of arms include Soviet-made assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The arms were apparently scooped up from suppliers in Bosnia, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, and elsewhere, and then shipped from Bulgaria and Romania to Turkey and Jordan before final destination in Syria.

The problem for the American authorities is that such industrial-scale trading leaves an embarrassing paper trail, from procurement documents to shipping contracts. The paper trail unearthed by BIRN clearly implicates the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the CIA. The exposure compromises one of the main tenets of the CIA which is “plausible denial”. So serious are the findings of US gun running from Europe to the Middle East that the German authorities have been now reportedly forced to investigate.

The repercussions do not only concern Syria. It concerns any other country where American planners endeavor to covertly arm mercenaries for regime change or some other illicit function.

By shifting the responsibility for overseeing non-military arms exports from the State Department to Commerce, the Trump administration’s move potentially obscures federal government involvement in illicit arms trade. Rather than the Pentagon or CIA having to do paperwork for its ventures, the onus will be on private weapons companies and their private buyers overseas. That inevitably lessens the accountability of the US authorities when weapons end up fueling conflicts.

As noted, the American trade in non-military weapons is already substantial at an annual volume of $4 billion. Under Commerce’s looser regulations that trade figure is expected to jump by 15-20 per cent, according to Reuters.

One of the main importers of American private arms is Saudi Arabia. Which, as Hillary Clinton’s communications leaked by Wikileaks acknowledged, is accused of being the biggest sponsor of “Sunni extremist groups” operating globally.

The Trump administration appears to be primarily motivated by an unscrupulous objective of maximizing profits.

“Commerce wants more exports to help reduce the trade deficit. And State wants to stop things because it sees [arms] proliferation as inherently bad,” one of US official is quoted as saying. “We want to make a decision that prioritizes what’s more important,” he added, pointing to the need to get ahead of international arms competitors based in Europe.

But equally important, it would seem, is the erasing of connection between US authorities and “the scourge of terrorism”, which ironically President Trump admonished the UN General Assembly about earlier this week.

In effect, the Trump administration will make it easier for US weapons to end up in the hands of terror groups. What has been up to now the shady business of the Pentagon and CIA will henceforth become even more darkened through private networks of sellers and buyers.

The move is a corollary of how much of American military operations overseas have been privatized to security contract firms like Eric Prince’s Black Water. In Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, it is estimated that thousands of such private contractors have taken over the role formerly carried out by US troops. There are also suspicions that American-run mercenaries are active in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen. That privatization allows for Washington to dodge questions about its violation of international law.

Similarly, the deregulation of American arms trade involving private manufacturers allows for the Pentagon and the CIA to better invoke plausible denial when they are accused of sponsoring terrorist proxies.

It serves to show how Trump’s touted concern about terrorism at the UN was a cynical “hoax” – to use one of his favorite catchphrases.

Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.

September 23, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Straws in the Wind for a Reset in US-Russian Relations

By M.K. BHADRAKUMAR – Asia Times – 23.09.2017

The receding specters of a war involving North Korea and a US-Russia confrontation in Syria. The sound of cracking ice in the frozen conflict in Ukraine. Russia and the United States bidding farewell to “tits-for-tat.” Is this the dawn of a brave new world?

You might be skeptical, but it’s possible to draw positive conclusions from the two meetings, on successive days, between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. These meetings, in fact, bode well for another meeting ahead, between presidents Valdimir Putin and Donald Trump, this time in Danang, Vietnam, on the sidelines of the November 11-12 APEC summit.

There are straws in the wind that cannot be ignored. Lavrov told the media after listening to Trump’s UN speech that he viewed it positively. Lavrov was in a forgiving mood towards the threats held out by Trump to “evil regimes” in North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. Indeed, he felt that it was a “remarkable speech,” with Trump voicing respect for sovereignty and equality in international affairs and promising that the US will not impose itself on other countries. “I think it’s a very welcome statement, which we haven’t heard from the American leaders for a very long time,” Lavrov noted with satisfaction.

Thus, the foreplay has already begun that frames November’s Putin-Trump talks as a new page in Russian-American relations. Moscow judges that things can only improve in those relations and that Trump is wedded to his conviction that good relations with Russia are in the US’ best interests and – as Lavrov put it – “the interests of solving quite a number of important and most acute world problems.” Lavrov told the Associated Press :

“And what I feel talking to Rex Tillerson is that… they are not happy with the relations (with Russia)… And I believe that the understanding is that we have to accept the reality, which was created… by the Obama administration… And, being responsible people, the Russian government and the US administration should exercise this responsibility in addressing the bilateral links as well as international issues. We are not at a point where this would become a sustained trend but understanding of the need to move in this direction is present, in my opinion.”

The US and Russia have resumed dialogue over the global strategic balance, but to a great extent the shape of things to come over North Korea, Syria and Ukraine will set the tempo of their relations in the short term. US-Russia cooperation can make all the difference in addressing these problems, while any exacerbation of these conflict situations will inevitably impact their relationship.

North Korea: The Trump administration can turn the Russia-China entente to its advantage to defuse the North Korean crisis. While China’s capacity to leverage North Korea is not in doubt, what remains unexplored is that Moscow also wields influence with the leadership in Pyongyang. Kim Il Sung served as an officer in the Soviet Red Army after crossing into the USSR during World War II, before returning home to found North Korea in 1948.

Russia is uniquely placed to offer an “integration package” that might interest Pyongyang. It is a failure of leadership in Washington that the “Russian option” (in tandem with China) hasn’t been explored.

Syria: While the situation in Syria gives grounds for cautious optimism and the formation of new de-escalation zones may create conditions for internal dialogue in the country, it is time to work for a regional settlement as well.

A recent regional tour of the Persian Gulf by Lavrov and the upcoming visit by Saudi King Salman to Russia (October 4-7) should be viewed in this context. Russia also enjoys good relations with Turkey and Israel, while Iran is its ally in Syria. All this makes Russia a key interlocutor. Arguably, the Iran nuclear issue has morphed into a template for a settlement in the Iraq-Syria-Lebanon triangle.

Ukraine: The proposal mooted by Russia at the UN Security Council regarding the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in the separatist Donbas region of Ukraine is gaining traction. Interestingly, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenburg hailed the idea after a meeting with Lavrov in New York on September 21.

Germany is supportive of the Russian move and hopes to elaborate the concept in coordination with France, its western European partner in the Normandy format. With Angela Merkel remaining as Chancellor following Sunday’s Bundestag elections a definite prospect, it’s time to breathe new life into the Minsk accord, which is of course the base line for the EU to consider any rollback of sanctions against Russia.

While there is talk of Europe’s “strategic autonomy” in the Trump era, it is unrealistic to expect “an anti-American Europe that will break with Washington in favor of warmer relations with Moscow,” as noted Russian pundit Fyodor Lukyanov wrote recently. On the other hand, the Trump administration will have a tough time shepherding the EU into a united front against Russia (which President Obama brilliantly succeeded in doing, in 2014.) Clearly, a new framework for US-Russia relations has become necessary. And it must begin by breaking the stalemate in Ukraine.

September 23, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 1 Comment