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Iran says Europe not on agenda of gas exports

Press TV – July 7, 2017

Iran says it has removed an old plan to export natural gas to Europe and is instead focusing on exports to its neighbors as well as India.

Amirhossein Zamaninia, Iran’s deputy minister of petroleum for trade and international affairs, said Europe’s gas market was already saturated with excessive supplies and had thus lost its priority in Iran’s gas export plans.

“Iran’s key priority should be exports to the neighboring states as well as India,” Zamaninia told Iran’s IRNA news agency.

He further emphasized that the landmark nuclear agreement that Iran had sealed with the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany in 2015 and the subsequent removal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic had already provided an appropriate opportunity to pursue plans to export natural gas to the neighboring states.

Iran had for years pursued plans to export natural gas to Europe. A tentative scheme that was developed in cooperation with Nabucco – a consortium led by Austria’s OMV – envisaged piping Iranian natural gas from the southern energy hub of Assaluyeh to Turkey and thereon to Europe. However, Nabucco eventually abandoned Iran in 2008 after complications grew the most important of which were US-engineered sanctions against the Iranian energy sector.

A parallel plan to export Iranian gas to Europe – again through Turkey – has been pursued by Switzerland’s EGL, also known as Elektrizitaetsgesellschaft Laufenburg,

Based on the EGL scheme, the Iranian natural gas would be taken to Greece and Albania through Turkey. It would thereon flow to Italy through a pipeline under the Adriatic Sea before reaching Switzerland. However, this scheme had a fate similar to that of Nabucco.

Over the past few years, Iran had been pursuing exporting natural gas to Kuwait, Oman and Iraq.

In late June, the country started exporting gas to Iraq by virtue of an agreement that was signed in 2013.

Talks over exports to Kuwait and Oman have been presently stalled over technical issues.

An ambitious project to pipe gas to India through Pakistan – that had been in the offing for almost two decades but delayed due to disputes over pricing and the related technicalities – has also been recently revived.

Iran is further exporting about 30 million cubic meters of gas to Turkey which before Iraq was its only export destination since 2001.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

India’s Electricity Transformation

By Paul Homewood | Not A Lot Of People Know That | June 25, 2017

Renewable proponents are getting excited about the latest news from India:

image

The Indian energy market transformation is accelerating under Energy Minister Piyush Goyal’s leadership.

The most recent and most persuasive evidence is the collapsing cost of solar electricity—a collapse that has gone beyond anyone’s expectations, and the results are in: solar has won.

The global energy market implications are profound.

Recent events have given manifest life to Mark Carney’s landmark 2015 speech in which Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned of stranded-asset risks across the coal industry. This month alone has seen the cancellation of 13.7 gigawatts (GW) of proposed coal-fired power plants across India and an admission that US$9bn (8.6GW) of already operating import-coal-fired power plants are potentially no longer viable.

To put an Australian and a global seaborne thermal coal-trade perspective on it, these development strike at the very viability of the Carmichael export thermal coal proposal. They speak as well to a worldwide transition in progress.

India solar tariffs have been in freefall for months. A new 250MW solar tender in Rajasthan at the Bhadla Phase IV solar park this month was won at a record low Rs2.62/kWh,[i] 12 percent below the previous record low tariff awarded across 750MW of solar just three months ago at Rs2.97/kWh.

The Bhalda Phase record lasted two days, with a more recent 500MW Indian solar auction coming in at Rs2.44/kWh,  7 percent below Bhalda Phase.

We see solar pricing continuing to become even more competitive over time.

Several forces are at work.

In December 2016, India released its 10-year Draft National Electricity Plan, calling for the installation of a cumulative 275GW of renewable energy capacity by 2027, as well as 97GW of other zero emissions capacity (primarily large scale hydro, but also nuclear). Relative to a planned total system capacity of 650GW, the plan sees thermal power capacity falling from 69 percent of India electricity-generation mix in March 2016 to 43 percent by 2027.

http://ieefa.org/ieefa-asia-indias-electricity-sector-transformation-happening-now/

 

We are supposed to believe that solar power is going to rapidly replace coal. But, in fact, the news is not really new at all, and simply confirms what we knew already from India’s Draft National Plan, published in December 2016, and covered here.

But first, some basic facts.

The National Plan called for:

1) An increase in capacity of wind/solar by 2027 of 215 GW, plus 8 GW and 27 GW of nuclear and hydro respectively.

2) Total electricity requirement would rise from the current level of 1400 TWh, to 2132 TWh by 2027.

3) 50 GW of coal capacity was already under construction.

4) Non fossil fuel capacity would account for 56.5% of total capacity by 2027.

5) Wind/solar/bio would provide 24.2% of total generation by 2027.

The renewable commitment simply mirrored that contained in India’s INDC, although that only specified the period up to 2022.

The IEEAFA report acknowledged that the plan looks ambitious but absolutely feasible.

If we plug these capacities in and extrapolate from current load factors (based on BP data), we can take a look at what electricity generation will look like come 2027.

( The figure for fossil fuels is the balancing number).

Capacity Load Twh Twh
2027 Factor % 2027 2016
Hydro 73 32 205 129
Nuclear 14 72 88 38
Wind 60 19 100 45
Solar 205 19 341 12
Bio 10 41 36 16
Sub Total Low Carbon 362 770 240
Fossil Fuels 279 1362 1160
Total Electricity 641 2132 1400

In other words, under the Plan, there will still be a big increase in power from fossil fuels, nearly all of which will be coal.

Indeed, the Plan itself states this clearly:

image_thumb38

So what about all of these cancellations of coal plants? I’m afraid this is all rather fake news.

As the National Plan also states, there is already a surplus of power capacity in the pipeline, from all sources, and this is naturally putting the squeeze on new projects.

But as the Global Coal Plant Tracker revealed, there is nearly three times as much capacity in the pipeline but not started, as there is under construction. Given that the 50 GW under construction is already more than is needed, it is hardly surprising that projects not even started yet are being shelved.

Indeed, as the table shows, a total of 430 GW has already been cancelled or shelved since 2010.

There is simply nothing unusual at all about recent cancellations.

image

http://et-advisors.com/wp-content/uploads/ETA-Asia-Coal-Juggernaught_final.pdf

But isn’t solar now cheaper than coal?

Unfortunately, we aren’t comparing like with like. Whilst solar power, particularly in a sunny country like India, has a niche role, it cannot provide power reliably as coal does. As such, it can never play a dominant role.

It is worth bearing mind that we aren’t simply talking about day and night here. For three months every summer, most of India sits under the monsoon, beneath thick cloud and heavy rain.

While some solar power will still be generated, output will be much lower than the rest of the year, and at a time when demand tends to be greatest.

The Indian government is well aware of this, and will continue to ensure that sufficient coal power is always available. Indeed the National Plan also builds in enough coal capacity to cover a 30% reduction in Hydro generation, in case of a failure of the monsoon.

However, just as we are seeing here, coal power plants are suffering financially from competition from renewable energy with little or no marginal costs. Coal plants can only be viable if they are allowed to run at economic load factors.

One of the big problems with India’s electricity market is its curious mix of Central Government, State Government and Private power provision.

Just as in the UK, if India’s electricity system had been designed by electrical engineering experts, rather than developed on an ad hoc basis with conflicting objectives, it would not look like it does now.

And it would also be a lot more efficient!

June 25, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity, Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment

How RCEP affects food and farmers

GRAIN | June 19, 2017

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega-regional trade deal being negotiated among 16 countries across Asia-Pacific. If adopted, RCEP will cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food. RCEP is expected to create powerful new rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. Several RCEP countries are also part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), another mega-regional agreement setting some of the most pro-big business terms seen in trade and investment deals so far. While the fate of the TPP is uncertain, these two agreements may have to co-exist and there is pressure to align them on numerous points. What will this mean for food and farmers in the region?

1. Land will be grabbed

Most RCEP countries do not allow foreigners to buy farmland. Instead, foreign investors can get leases, permits or concessions with varying types of restrictions. The stakes behind this issue are high because companies and investment funds have been aggressively buying up farmland as a new source of revenue in the last years. In the RCEP countries alone, 9.6 million hectares of farmland have been acquired by foreign companies since 2008. Ownership provides corporations far more control than use rights, but it also drives up land prices and speculation, pushing small farmers out.

Two chapters of RCEP could have a decisive impact on access to land. According to leaked drafts, the investment chapter proposes a rule that each government must give investors from other RCEP states the same treatment as domestic investors (‘national treatment’). That means they should have the same rights to purchase farmland as domestic investors, unless the government carves out a special exception for this. The draft chapter also contains proposed ‘standstill’ and ‘ratchet’ clauses which, if adopted, would mean that governments have to lock in their current levels of liberalisation, and if they liberalise more than they commit to in RCEP they cannot go back down to the level set by RCEP. The services chapter draft also proposes that foreign service suppliers not be treated less favourably than domestic companies (‘national treatment’). This includes the ability to own farmland for a service-related purpose. Again, countries may be able to squeeze in an exception for agricultural land, but any such exception would be subject to negotiation and have to be agreed to by all parties.

If governments do not make reservations on these provisions for farmland, RCEP could seriously aggravate land grabbing in the region and sabotage agrarian reform processes that are currently under way in some countries. Currently, farmers asserting their rights to land are being subjected to human rights abuses, criminalisation, incarceration and even assassination. For this reason, there are deep fears that if RCEP is adopted, it will intensify militarisation in rural communities.

2. Seeds will be privatised, GMOs may proliferate

Farmers regularly save seed from one harvest to plant a new crop. Big seed and agrochemical companies like Monsanto and Bayer want to end this practice and force farmers to buy seed each season, so they can boost sales. They do this by lobbying governments to extend intellectual property laws to cover plants and animals. The global seed industry is highly concentrated today with three companies representing more than 60% of global commercial sales. ChemChina is currently in the process of buying Syngenta, one of the world’s top three seed firms. This means that China has a new vested interest in seeing seed laws strengthened under RCEP.

Leaked drafts of RCEP’s intellectual property chapter show countries like Japan and South Korea pushing for all RCEP states to adopt “UPOV 1991”, a kind of patent system for seeds. Under UPOV 1991, farmers are generally not allowed to save seeds of protected varieties. Where limited exceptions are permitted, farmers must pay the seed companies royalties on farm-saved seed. Depending on the country and the crop, royalties can represent a markup of 10-40% over the price of regular commercial seeds, which are already more expensive than farmers’ seed. Civil society groups estimate that UPOV 1991 would raise the local price of seed by 200-600% in Thailand and by 400% in the Philippines.

It could get worse if RCEP moves closer to what was negotiated in the TPP, something which four RCEP states have already agreed to. TPP requires states to allow patents on inventions “derived from plants”, which means genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Right now, GMOs are illegal in all RCEP member countries except for Australia, India, Myanmar and Philippines, plus several provinces of China and Vietnam. And while it’s likely that RCEP will have a chapter aiming to harmonise food safety standards, we have not seen any drafts and do not know how it will regulate GMOs. All of these moves would lead not only to higher seed prices but a loss of biodiversity, greater corporate control and a possible lowering of standards for high risk products such as GMOs.

3. Small dairy and other farmers will go out of business

India is home to 100 million small farmers, most of whom keep livestock. Up until now they have been the backbone of India’s dairy sector, but that situation is now changing. Costs of production are going up while prices paid to farmers are going down, driving many small farmers into dire straits.

RCEP will make things much worse. Frustrated with New Zealand’s failure to conclude a bilateral trade deal with India, NZ dairy giant Fonterra — the world’s biggest dairy exporter — is now looking to RCEP as a way in to India’s massive dairy market. It has openly stated that RCEP would give the company important leverage to open up key markets that are currently protected such as India’s, where it would go head to head with India’s dairy cooperative Amul. As a result, many people fear that Indian dairy farmers will either have to work for Fonterra or go out of business. They will not be able to compete. Similar concerns face dairy farmers in Vietnam, where Fonterra has been investing heavily to increase its presence.

At the same time, some RCEP members like Japan and Australia not only subsidise their farmers tremendously, they also have food safety standards that are incompatible with the small-scale food production and processing systems that dominate in other RCEP countries. This may lead to the growth of mega food-park investments that target exports to such high value markets, as is already happening in India. These projects involve high tech farm-to-fork supply chains that exclude and may even displace small producers and household food processing businesses, which are the mainstay of rural and peri-urban communities across Asia.

4. Fertiliser and pesticide use will go up

Fertiliser and pesticide sales are expected to rise sharply in Asia-Pacific in the next few years, from $100 billion to $120 billion per year by 2021. Agrochemical use is heaviest in China and growing rapidly in India, while imports by the Mekong sub-region are also on the rise. China’s acquisition of Syngenta, the world’s top agrochemical company with more than 20% of the global pesticide market, puts the country in a particularly sensitive position within RCEP.

Beijing will want high levels of ‘market access’, being negotiated under the trade in goods chapter of RCEP, to capitalise on its new position. In January 2017, China already announced that it will scrap export tariffs on nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser in order to boost its market share abroad. RCEP trade ministers have promised to deliver a deal that immediately cuts tariffs to zero on 65% of trade in goods, followed by a second phase to cut the rest. Farm chemicals are bound to be part of this, resulting in increased residues in food and water, more greenhouse gas emissions and further depletion of soil fertility.

Furthermore, if leaked intellectual property drafts are adopted, RCEP may increase the patenting of other inputs like veterinary medicines, farm machinery, microorganism-based products and agricultural chemicals, and extend their patent terms, making them more expensive.

5. Big retail will wipe out local markets

Over the past five years, Asia-Pacific accounted for more than half of the world’s new food retail sales. Japan is leading this trend, with 7-Eleven and Aeon at the top of food retail sales in the region. Aeon Agri Create, the agriculture production arm of Aeon, has been establishing farms in Japan and Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam. Aeon even aims to push ‘ICT farming’: the use of computers and communication technologies to manage farm operations. In India, the opening up of food retail, including e-commerce, to foreign direct investment (FDI) is almost complete, although many states are yet to adopt FDI in multibrand retail. RCEP would strengthen these trends further.

According to leaked drafts, RCEP’s services chapter may make it impossible for governments to limit the operation of supermarket chains that hail from other RCEP states (‘market access’). Furthermore, the trade agreement may make it illegal for a member government to require a service supplier like Alibaba or Aeon to have a ‘local presence’ in its country or to source food from local producers.

If precedents set by TPP are followed, ICT farming may be boosted under RCEP measures aimed at promoting regional supply chains and e-commerce. China’s Alibaba has just invested $1.25 billion in an online food delivery service, which will rely on more and more high tech facilities that are disconnected from seasons and from local markets. All of these developments pose a real threat to small traders and retailers in Asia.

What to do?

RCEP will usher in a wave of corporate concentration and take over of Asia’s food and agriculture sector. Corporate concentration, as experience in the other regions shows, brings less real choice and higher prices for consumers. In the food sector, it also brings important health and environmental costs from pesticides, excessive processing and chemicals, as well as downward pressure on wages and prices paid to farmers.

The answer is not to reform RCEP but to reject it because it relies on and pushes a corporate model of agriculture that no amount of tweaking will change. Instead, we need to implement policies and initiatives that enable people-led food and agricultural systems to flourish. Only then can trade policies be drawn up to serve these systems – not the other way around.

ACT NOW!

  • Get more informed and organise discussions and debates about RCEP in your communities. One resource to check out is the collective open-publishing site http://bilaterals.org/rcep.
  • Support the people’s call to stop RCEP and fight for a pro-people trading system that responds to people’s needs not to corporate elites. Contact groups in your country that also signed the call and join forces.
  • Go to the RCEP meetings. Demand the public release of negotiating texts to better analyse and build awareness of how the agreement affects the livelihood of people in RCEP member countries. Voice your concerns, as groups have done over several rounds the past months in Perth, Jakarta, Kobe and Manila. The next rounds will be held in Hyderabad (July 2017) and Seoul (later this year).
  • Join the region-wide people campaign on RCEP and trade justice, and participate in collective mobilisations like regional days of action
  • Keep an eye on http://rceplegal.wordpress.com/, http://keionline.org/ and http://www.bilaterals.org/rcep-leaks for leaked texts and analysis of RCEP chapters.

GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.

June 22, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , , | Leave a comment

A talking point for PM Modi in Israel

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 23, 2017

The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written in his latest piece: “Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia… Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan…”

The daily and the columnist enjoy reputations as old warhorses empathising with Israeli interests. The probability is that Friedman is advancing Israel’s project to refuel the US’ stalled project of ‘regime change’ in Syria. Israel is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the swathe of Syrian territory bordering its ‘occupied territories’ in the Golan Heights remain in the hands of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Israel nurtured these groups to create a buffer zone between the Syrian territory it illegally occupies and where Damascus’ writ ends.

The Israeli attacks on Syrian forces operating near Golan Heights are becoming more frequent. Another major attack took place two days ago. Every time Israel attacks Syrian government assets, it provides an alibi, but in reality these attacks coincide with Syrian government operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS groups. Clearly, Israel intervenes to protect its al-Qaeda and ISIS proxies.

Friedman’s piece falls into perspective. On two occasions in recent weeks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced unease that the US may rekindle the regime change agenda in Syria and give it precedence over the fight against the ISIS. He said on April 12:

  • US-led coalition only delivered strikes on selected ISIS positions. Jabhat al-Nusra has always been spared. We strongly suspect, and nobody has dispelled this suspicion so far, that al-Nusra is being spared so as to enact Plan B to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. I have mentioned the potential consequences of such an action. We have seen this in Iraq and Libya. I hope that those who can draw lessons from history will prevail.

Two days back, Lavrov again warned against a “return to the old plan for changing the Syrian government.” Of course, the US’ strategy to use ‘jihadi’ groups as geopolitical tools dates back to the CIA’s Afghan war in the eighties. The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned repeatedly about such a scenario repeating, with ISIS furthering the US’ plan to weaken Russian influence in Central Asia.

All this draws attention to India’s policies toward Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Israel in June. Modi is on record that one main purpose of his visit is to buttress the interests of Gujarati diamond merchants who have lucrative business dealings with Israel. Presumably, fat cats who thrive on kickbacks from Israeli arms deals and our security experts struggling with the ‘Intifada’ in J&K are also stakeholders in Modi’s Israel trip.

However, Modi should have a frank conversation with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Israel’s clandestine dealings with the Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Our intelligence agencies are constantly planting stories in the Indian newspapers highlighting the ISIS threat to India’s security, with a focus on the Malabar region. Praveen Swamy of Indian Express has been copiously reproducing such raw intelligence reports. (here, here, here and here) Such sensational reports cannot be totally dismissed as rumor-based fear-mongering garbage propagated by interest groups within the Indian establishment to raise the bogey of a ‘Kerala Islamic State’ (to borrow a colourful expression from Swamy) who aim at Hindu-Muslim polarization in the southern state.

Incidentally, Fox News reported last week that the ISIS is shifting its ‘capital’ from Raqqa to Dier es-Zor to the south, closer to the Israeli border. The American drones spotted ISIS convoys heading for Dier es-Zor but didn’t interdict them –  presumably because of Israeli interests involved. (It is useful to recall that last September, US and Israel had attacked the Syrian military base in Dier es-Zor to ‘degrade’ it just hours before a major ISIS offensive to capture it.)

According to Swamy, our Malabari radicals fighting for ISIS eventually hope to return home to take revenge on the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. And yet, clearly, ISIS in Syria serves Israeli interests. Suffice it to say, Israel’s unholy alliance with Al-Qaeda and ISIS seriously undermines India’s security interests and it is only proper that Modi makes a strong demarche with Netanyahu regarding Israel’s indirect backing for the radicalization of our region. We can forgo diamond trade but not national security.

April 23, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

India gets the first feel of Trump’s ‘America First’

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | January 25, 2017

Prime Minister Narendra Modi happens to be only the second world leader with whom US President Donald Trump spoke with after the inaugural on January 20. The conversation took place on January 24, two days after Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Presumably, a long ‘waiting list’ lies on Trump’s table. At any rate, do not feel flattered.

The White House readout of the conversation with PM Modi makes sombre reading. The purple prose characteristic of the halcyon days under the last two US presidencies is absent.

The readout is completely devoid of hyperbole – except in regard of fight against terrorism, which is close to Trump’s heart. In that fight, Trump expects Modi to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with him. Of course, it goes without saying that India must bear its expenses in the fight. Trump intends to go ‘dutch’ with his allies – paying for the US’s expenses if it becomes absolutely unavoidable.

Trump calls India a “true friend and partner in addressing challenges in the world”. It is a statement of fact and it is well-earned. The Modi government has gone more than half way to meet the US’ demands. The signing of the Logistics Agreement itself is a glaring instance where the accord is of no use to India in practical terms and the geopolitical gains are dubious.

Trump and Modi “discussed opportunities to strengthen partnership” in the fields of economy and defence. In Trumpian terms, this means US exports to India, civil and military, are top priority. Unsurprisingly, there was no reference whatsoever to ‘Make in India’. It is unclear whether Modi brought it up. Unlikely.

But then, how does India promote exports for the US industry in the Indian market at this odd time by restarting ‘reforms’ to facilitate greater market access for US exports? The GDP growth is stalling and the priority is to inject some dynamism. Again, the domestic political climate is turning against the ruling party and the smart thing will be populist policies, as Modi has realised.

Arguably, where we can help Trump will be by buying more weapons from American vendors. But Modi will have to throw out of the window all notions of ‘co-production’, ‘joint development’, et al. Trump will sell, Modi should buy. Technology transfer that meets Indian aspirations a la Ashton Carter? Just forget about it.

In regard of regional security, Trump and Modi discussed South Asia and Central Asia (read Afghanistan). India-Pakistan tensions probably figured. Kashmir? (PMO is yet to put out a readout giving its version of the conversation.)

The stunning thing is that Trump didn’t discuss Asia-Pacific or South China Sea. Troubling questions arise: Is Trump aware that there is a historic document titled the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which is displayed on the White House website? Or, is it another Obama legacy that he intends to dump in the waste paper basket?

Ironically, Trump spoke to Modi on the day after tearing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Modi should have reminded Trump about the ‘defining partnership’ between the two countries.

Is Trump altogether devoid of emotions? Not really. He was an altogether different man when he spoke with Netanyahu two days ago. Just look at the White House readout, here.

Doesn’t it hurt our national pride that after all this brouhaha about US-Indian defining partnership, Trump didn’t have a similar conversation with Modi. Not that Netanyahu is in a position to make investments in American highways or manufacturing plants and other infrastructure costing trillions of dollars.

Yet, Trump is determined to win the favour of the Jewish lobby. Not that Trump won on Jewish votes. But then, he’s looking ahead. American Jews control the US media and think tanks and the academia – and the Congress – who have been systematically debunking his credibility as president and can make things extremely difficult for his presidency.

We see here another grotesque side of ‘America First’. Don’t bring in ‘values’ and all that crap. Ask what we can do for Trump. Probably, the Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar should be tasked to do that during his extended tenure in South Block.

The White House readout never once mentions US-Indian affinities based on cherished common values of democracy and human rights and so on. It rankles to see Modi holding a can of worms all by himself.

January 25, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , | 4 Comments

Time is ripe for India-Iran-Russia energy tie-up

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 15, 2016

A major development in Russia-Iran relations, which merits close attention in New Delhi, has been that a preliminary agreement has been reached in Tehran two days ago to replace the US dollar with local currencies in the bilateral trade. The symbolism here is important against the backdrop of the recurring speculation that the new US president Donald Trump may tighten sanctions against Iran. A reasonable explanation for the decision to use the local currencies by Moscow and Tehran is that the two sides  are insulating the dynamics of their strategic partnership from being buffeted by US’ unfriendly policies toward Iran.

Put differently, any improvement of ties for Moscow with the US in the coming period will be sequestered from the dynamics of the Russian-Iran partnership, no matter the Trump Administration’s policies toward Iran. Broadly speaking, albeit with some caveats, Beijing also has signaled a similar approach to Sino-Iranian ties.

Clearly, therefore, the revival of a containment strategy against Iran by Washington on the pattern of what the Obama administration managed to put together may never again be possible to resurrect so long as Tehran remains committed to the implementation of the nuclear deal of July last year. New Delhi should draw appropriate conclusions in regard of the future projection of India-Iran economic cooperation. This is one thing.

Secondly, again on Tuesday, Russia and Iran also took a great leap forward in energy cooperation. Several major tie-ups have been announced, signifying that the Russian energy companies are re-entering the Iranian oil sector in a big way ahead of western competitors, following the announcement of new policies by Tehran to encourage foreign collaboration.

An interesting dimension to this, from the Indian perspective, will be that Russia’s Gazprom has shown renewed interest in getting involved in the Iran-India subsea gas pipeline project. Gazprom’s deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev has been quoted as saying that “we (Russia) can develop Iran’s liquefied gas projects, get involved in Iran-India subsea gas pipeline as well as some upstream sectors like exploration, gas production”. Indeed, the National Iranian Gas Export Company has been negotiating to lay a $4.5-billion worth undersea gas pipeline from the Iranian coast via the Oman Sea to Gujarat.

India is a key market for Iran as it plans to increase gas exports from the current level of 10 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y) to 60-80 bcm/y by 2021. Turkey is at present Iran’s only customer. Iran also has a half-finished liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, which needs a $8-11 billion investment to produce 10.4 million tons per year (14 bcm/y) of LNG. This is apart from building a string of several mini-LNG plants with about 150,000 tons per year of capacity. Gazprom is the most likely foreign partner in this field.

Besides, Gazprom is also interested in developing Iran’s underground gas storage (UGS) facilities, which is important for Iran to realise its plans to emerge as a major gas exporter in the future. Iran plans to increase its gas output from the current 750 mcm/d to 1,250 mcm/d by 2021. Gazprom has very good experience in this sphere, owning 22 UGS facilities at 26 gas storages in Russia itself, apart from having such facilities in Europe.

Another area of interest to India will be that Iran and Russia also inked a $1.6 billion agreement on Tuesday to build a 1,400 megawatt gas-fired power plant in the southern Hormozgan Province close to the giant South Pars gas field, which shares 60 percent of Iran’s gas production. Of course, India’s ONGC Videsh has been negotiating partnership in the development of Farzad-B as field in the South Pars.

Without doubt, Russia’s looming presence in Iran’s energy sector has profound implications for India’s energy security. The prospects are definitely there for India-Iran-Russia collaboration in the oil and gas sector and affiliated activities whereby Russian technology and collaboration become useful for India to tap Iran’s vast energy resources. Given the excellent ties India enjoys with Iran and Russia being a time-tested friend, New Delhi should optimize the window of opportunity here. It is important to note as well that Russia is keen to induct Iran as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Read a Bloomberg dispatch on Russia’s burgeoning Iran ties in the energy sector – Gazprom signs oil deals with Iran as Russians return in force.

December 15, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Without reset India-Israel ties face uncertain future

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | November 23, 2016

The 8-day visit by the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, which concluded on Monday, turned out to be a low-key affair. Gone are the days when high-level exchanges with Israel used to be sexy events. The novelty has worn off. There was no media hype about Rivlin’s visit. And the ‘demonetisation’ crisis alone cannot account for it.

The point is, an air of stagnation is appearing in the India-Israel relationship. Fundamentally, India has been rapidly transforming in the recent decade and its priorities have changed. Again, the regional and international environment has changed phenomenally.

The Bharatiya Janata Party used to be regarded as excessively ‘Israel-friendly’. Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still to pay a visit to Israel. Modi visited a few West Asian countries already but all of them belong to the so-called Muslim world – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey and Iran. India’s priorities have been worked out.

Modi’s Iran visit was an eloquent statement in itself. India is undeterred by Israel’s animosities toward Iran. Curiously, while Rivlin was in India, media reports appeared that the ONGC Videsh’s protracted negotiations to strike a multi-billion dollar deal with Iran for the development of the Farzad-B gas field (with estimated reserves of 21.6 trillion cubic feet) have reached the home stretch.

Reuters reported separately that in the month of October, Iran surpassed Saudi Arabia as India’s number one supplier of crude oil – a whopping 789,000 barrels per day as against Saudi Arabia’s 697,000 bpd. India views the Chabahar project as a major geo-strategic initiative. Suffice it to say, Iran is becoming an indispensable partner and that is a geopolitical reality.

On the other hand, remittances from GCC countries to India’s budget work out to a handsome figure of $25 billion or so annually. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco recently had a rival offer to acquire Essar (which ultimately forced the Russian consortium to improve their bid and pay up $13 billion.) The Gulf region is also India’s number one export market.

In short, there is such a lot going for India in the West Asian region. The point is, what is it that Israel can offer? Drip irrigation, water management, recycling, conservation and desalination, dairy farming, polyhouse techniques, bee-keeping – these niches are surely interesting, each in its own way. But, what India desperately needs is massive investments to develop its manufacturing industry and infrastructure, which are crucial for job creation. It needs energy security. It needs to boost export earnings. What can Israel do for India? Ironically, Israel’s focus is exclusively on securing lucrative business for its companies.

Israel’s importance for India lies in defence cooperation. But here again, Israel may be incrementally losing its advantage as an interesting source of advanced military technology that was previously unavailable for India directly from the US. India is increasingly a big market for weaponry, with cut-throat competition setting in among the foreign vendors.

In political terms, too, Israel is of no relevance for India in handling the most consequential relationship in its foreign policy – namely, relations with China. As for the US-Indian relationship, it has matured to a point that India has no more need to leverage Jewish lobbyists. Arguably, Israel’s capacity to influence US policies also should not be exaggerated. Israel pulled all stops to scuttle the P5+1 and Iran negotiations but spectacularly failed to intimidate President Barack Obama.

Israel is palpably nervous about Donald Trump’s likely Middle East policies. Trump’s idea of working with Russia to resolve the Syrian conflict works against Israel’s regional agenda of fragmenting and weakening its neighbors. Continued Israeli support for the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front in Syria will only invite Russian and Iranian retribution. Indeed, India and Israel are not on the same page in regard of the war against terrorist groups in Syria.

All in all, India-Israel relations are at a crossroads. Simply chanting old hackneyed mantras on terrorism, secularism, democracy, et al, won’t suffice. There is danger of stagnation setting in. An India-Israel reset is overdue. A relationship based on negative passions — paranoia, fear complex, insecurities, vanities and false identity — is inherently flawed and cannot have an enduring future in a rapidly changing regional and international environment, howsoever keen the two sides could be to remain relevant to each other.

An editorial in the Jerusalem Post newspaper on Rivlin’s visit calls attention to the stark realities confronting the future of India-Israel ties. No, Sir: we in India don’t have such fears over Kashmir, as you’d have over your occupied territories and illegal settlements.

True, we also have our share of ‘Rabbis’ but Indians are not addicted to Islamophobia; nor do we associate Islam with terrorism as a matter of state policy. No, India does not fancy itself as a ‘regional counterweight’ to Russia or China; we simply don’t suffer from such inferiority complex.

And, it is downright absurd to associate India’s ‘authentic national identity’ with Hindu religion. Worse still, it is an act of self-serving sophistry on the Israeli side to do so. We are an ancient civilization and not an artificial creation by western powers in this part of the world, and we do not need the crutch of religion to define our national identity. We’d prefer to be known by our IT industry and satellites and our eclectic culture.

November 23, 2016 Posted by | Islamophobia | , , , , | Leave a comment

Prejudices mar Indian view of CPEC

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 1, 2016

The reported decision by Asian Development Bank to lend $2.5 billion to Pakistan and be a collateral financier for upgrade of Lahore-Peshawar segment of the Karachi-Peshawar railway line is a significant development. India should analyse it carefully. (Business Standard )

Firstly, Karachi-Peshawar railway line upgrade falls within the ambit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). That is to say, ADB is joining hands with China (which is the co-financier for the railway line upgrade) in a CPEC project.

Now, this is a big concessional loan ($2.5 billion at low interest rate less than 2 percent) and it wouldn’t have been possible without approval by Japan and the United States, which dominate ADB’s decision-making. We need to take note that Japan and the US are showing pragmatism here, given the reality that CPEC is a flag carrier of China’s One Belt One Road.

In sum, this is a political affirmation of their interest in Pakistan’s stability and development.

The other salience that emerges here is that it is an extremely untimely and counterproductive move on our part to raise dust on Baluchistan. It complicates India’s relations with not only Pakistan but also with China, considering that a significant segment of the CPEC activity is located in Baluchistan, and, equally, our campaign on Baluchistan will not get a sympathetic ear in the world capitals. It will only make us look small-minded and petulant.

Similar pragmatism toward One Belt One Road as ADB is showing also characterises the attitudes of Asian, Middle Eastern and European countries. No doubt, projects enhancing regional connectivity attract all countries. India probably stands out as solitary exception, in its perspective on One Belt One Road derived exclusively through the geopolitical prism.

Secondly, we need to take note that the CPEC is indeed going ahead despite the ‘hawks’ amongst us hoping against hope that it may not take off. The ADB loan itself wouldn’t have been forthcoming without expert opinion saluting the CPEC. The ADB decision has prompted China to fill in with an additional loan of $5.5 billion for the railway project, which now makes CPEC a $51.5 billion eighth wonder in the world.

Two things become clear. One, China is determined to build Pakistan’s infrastructure development and make its economy resilient. Clearly, it is a ‘win-win’ for China too for a variety of factors at work in regional politics and China’s own national strategies. Two, China usually puts its money (big or small) only where the mouth is, which means it is becoming a stakeholder in Pakistan’s future and prosperity with a long-term perspective.

And where China goes, the US and Japan are bound to follow. Simply put, Indian diplomacy runs into almost-impossible headwinds to ‘isolate’ Pakistan in the prevailing circumstances.

It is about time we wake up and put to ourselves some searching questions. Do we have the ghost of a chance to annex Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, as the present government is leading the domestic opinion  to believe? To my mind, our government is whistling in the dark and leading the public opinion in a wrong direction.

Again, from a regional security point of view, if the POK and Northern Areas of Pakistan, which are hopelessly impoverished regions, are set on a path of infrastructure development and economic activity, there is less chance of them becoming the sanctuaries of terrorist groups. In fact, this is also one consideration China would have. Don’t we have a congruence of interests with China on regional security and stability in this regard? This is one thing.

Besides, if Pakistan integrates these regions politically, doesn’t it open up an interesting avenue to resolve the Kashmir problem? A realistic perspective would be that without any redrawing of boundaries as such, if the Line of Control gets legitimacy as an internationally recognised border – with Pakistan keeping the areas under its control and India keeping J&K as an integral part of it – won’t that be a basis of durable settlement?

Put differently, if Pakistan integrates Northern Areas and POK, it is tantamount to a unilateral move to ‘solve’ the Kashmir problem. We should actually applaud Pakistan if it goes on to integrate those regions just as it plans at present to integrate the tribal areas. Which in turn would also enable India to work out its own terms of integration of J&K in terms of our democratic principles.

Frankly, India’s paranoia over the CPEC has no rationality. It is based on contrived and often trivial arguments lacking basis and/or unsupported by empirical evidence or are outright falsehoods, which are assembled uncouthly with the ulterior motive to arrive at a certain pre-determined conclusion.

The name of the game is Sinophobia – to somehow complicate the Sino-Indian normalization itself. See a paper by the Vivekananda Foundation on the topic titled Implications of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

October 1, 2016 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Billions Down the Afghanistan Drain

By Brian CLOUGHLEY | Strategic Culture Foundation | September 18, 2016

India is reported as being “one of the largest donors of civilian aid to Afghanistan” and has recently undertaken to give the Kabul government another billion dollars, which is extremely generous of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, because, as CNN points out, there is in India “a stark picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation.” According to the site Poverties “70 per cent of Indians don’t have access to decent toilets (which inspires a multitude of bacteria to host their own disease party); 35% of households don’t have a nearby water source and 85% of villages don’t have a secondary school.”

India’s space program costs 750 million dollars a year, and it spent 4 billion dollars hosting the Commonwealth Games. But although 300 million of its 1.2 billion citizens live in conditions that are wretched to the point of barely credible squalor it can still send a billion dollars to Afghanistan which is ranked as the third most corrupt country in the world.

That billion, indeed, might replace the billion stolen from the Kabul Bank, which, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) last week, “operated as a massive pyramid scheme;  hundreds of millions of dollars had been fraudulently lent to fictitious companies, with no loan ever paid off . . . while ordinary Afghan citizens’ deposits were used to fund the fraudulent loans. Two of the principal beneficiaries of the fraudulent loans were Mahmoud Karzai and Haseen Faheem.”  Mahmoud Karzai is brother to the then President, Hamid Karzai, and now lives in luxury outside Afghanistan. Haseen Faheem is a brother of former Vice-President Mohammad Faheem (who was a corrupt savage) and also lives in luxury outside Afghanistan.

India’s billion dollars were promised during a visit to Delhi by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani who has been in power for two years and was reported by Reuters in October 2014 as “saying that he would re-open the inquiry into the theft of almost $1 billion from the bank, fulfilling a campaign promise to make fighting corruption a priority.”

As is clear from the SIGAR’s report, Ghani has done no such thing, and after fifteen years of US-NATO military operations and expenditure of colossal amounts of money Afghanistan is a catastrophe in which “the United States contributed to the growth of corruption by injecting tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy, using flawed oversight and contracting practices, and partnering with malign powerbrokers.”

As the UK’s Guardian newspaper highlighted : “In one damning episode in 2010, Hamid Karzai, the president at the time, ordered the release of an aide who had been caught on wiretap demanding a bribe to thwart an investigation into a money transfer firm accused of stealing $2.78 billion. Meanwhile, the same aide was also receiving payments from the CIA, even as he was targeted by US law enforcement agencies.”

Oh, what a tangled web is weaved, when the CIA is self-deceived.

Four days after the SIGAR’s indictment of US conduct in Afghanistan, the New York Times carried an Editorial titled The Afghan War Quagmire, which is an accurate description of the situation in the country.  But in all its 628 words of observation and comment the NYT didn’t once mention the SIGAR’s report. Certainly it regrets that “America’s longest war deteriorates into a slow, messy slog” — but it’s been a messy and catastrophic slog for years, and the NYT uses the word ‘corrupt’ once and ‘corruption’ not at all.

There is no criticism by the NYT of Washington’s crass incompetence over fifteen years of futile and poorly-directed military operations, or mention of the fact that 2,384 members of the US forces and 1,136 “Coalition” troops died in Afghanistan. In its single use of the word ‘corrupt’ it observes that “The Afghan government remains weak, corrupt and roiled by internal rivalries. The casualty rate for Afghan troops is unsustainable. The economy is in shambles. Resurgent Taliban forces are gaining ground in rural areas and are carrying out barbaric attacks in the heart of Kabul, the capital.” But that’s nothing new. We’ve known for many years that the US-NATO war in Afghanistan was a lost cause. (The NYT doesn’t mention NATO, either, which is extraordinary.)

The Editorial admits in its last sentence that “American taxpayers and Afghans, who have endured decades of war, need a plan better than the current policy, which offers good intentions, wishful thinking and ever-worsening results.”  Certainly there should be a plan to get Afghanistan out of its quagmire, but the NYT does not point out that American taxpayers were duped into supporting the fatuous US-NATO war by rabid propaganda, led by such as the NYT, which, we should remember, was an enthusiastic supporter of the war on Iraq.

It ignored the SIGAR’s report which records that over the years, among other things: US money flowed to the insurgency via corruption; the Afghan government was so deeply enmeshed in corrupt and criminal networks that dismantling them would mean dismantling major pillars of support for the government itself; the United States collaborated with abusive and corrupt warlords, militias, and other powerbrokers who “gained positions of authority in the Afghan government, which further enabled them to dip their hands into the streams of cash pouring into a small and fragile economy;” and, damningly, “People turned to the Taliban as a way of expressing opposition to the government.”

What the New York Times calls the “Afghan War Quagmire” has been caused by the US government and its NATO allies. The US Pentagon has been criminal in its incompetence. The dead soldiers of US-NATO forces gave their lives for nothing. Yet, in addition to Washington pouring its taxpayers’ money down the Afghan drain, the US-NATO military alliance has pledged “to help fund Afghan security forces to the tune of around $1 billion annually over the next three years.” It is doubtful if many European citizens are aware of this generous commitment.

As the old saying has it : a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. The 300 million Indians who live in bleak and dismal poverty have no idea that their government is throwing away a billion dollars, but India’s Prime Minister Modi and Afghanistan’s President Ghani declared that the money “would be used for building capacity in education, health, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure in Afghanistan.”

What is certain is that the countless Afghans who also live in bleak and dismal poverty will not reap the benefit of a single cent of that billion dollars.

As the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction put it so well : “Corruption is a corrosive acid — partly of our making — that eats away the base of every pillar of Afghan reconstruction, including security and political stability.” The country is in dire straits, and the only hope is to persuade the Taliban and other nationalist militants to come to the negotiating table. The only difference that billions of dollars will make is to the bank accounts of corrupt Afghans living in luxury.

September 27, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia-India oil deal at risk due to US sanctions – media

RT | August 26, 2016

US sanctions are threatening to derail Russian energy major Rosneft’s acquisition of a 49 percent stake in India’s Essar Oil, reports The Times of India.

The deal was curtailed by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to the daily.

In July 2014, the Department of the Treasury included Rosneft on the list of sanctioned Russian companies after Washington accused Moscow of involvement in the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine and of annexing Crimea.

Indian banks, which invested over $5 billion into Essar Oil and currently hold 17 percent, expressed concerns over the deal due to fears of the potential consequences.

“We may have to review our exposure to Essar Oil if Rosneft comes on board,” said a top banker with a state-run lender, as quoted by The Times of India.

However, Essar Oil will reportedly try to push the deal with Rosneft through, allowing the Russian company to enter the Indian energy market.

Searching to expand cooperation with Russia beyond the traditional defense buyer-supplier relationship, New Delhi has invested over $5 billion in the Russian energy sector.

The Essar-Rosneft deal aims to open up India’s retail energy business to the world’s largest oil producer.

The deal was planned to be sealed by June. The Indian company had to reduce the share intended for sale by 25 percent, but the measure failed to change the situation.

Moreover, the sale of a 25 percent stake to the Dutch multinational trader Trafigura Group risks collapse due to the close ties with Rosneft. Trafigura handles much of the crude exported by Russia.

August 26, 2016 Posted by | Economics, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Syria, India call for rejection of foreign influence in internal affairs

India's junior Foreign Minister Mubashir Javed Akbar met Assad in Damascus on 20 August 2016 [Image: Ministry of External Affairs, India]

India’s junior Foreign Minister Mubashir Javed Akbar met Assad in Damascus on 20 August 2016 [Image: Ministry of External Affairs, India]
The BRICS Post | August 22, 2016

During a weekend meeting with an Indian official, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has invited India to play an active role in the reconstruction of the Syrian economy.

India’s junior Foreign Minister Mubashir Javed Akbar met Assad in Damascus on Saturday. The visit will boost Syrian President Assad’s efforts to highlight continued critical support for his government.

State media reports in both countries quoted sources as saying New Delhi and Damascus have reasserted their rejection of “foreign interference in the internal affairs of states”.

The two sides discussed terrorism, faith equality and the need to upgrade bilateral security consultations, the Press Trust of India quoted Indian government sources.

As a growing power, India has a role to play in meeting the challenge of terrorism, Assad has said as the two countries agreed to upgrade their security consultations.

BRICS are opposed to the ouster of Assad as sought by the US and its allies.

Earlier in May, South African junior Foreign Minister Nomaindia Mfeketo had also called on Assad in Damascus to discuss the crisis.

Assad had told the South African Minister that the BRICS countries have played a key role in decreasing western hegemony in global affairs.

During the Indian Minister’s visit on Saturday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem said terrorism is the common adversary of both Syria and India.

There was an agreement between both sides for further upgrading security consultations, sources said.

No details of the security cooperation has been provided by the Indian government yet.

On Saturday, Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of the Indian Foreign Ministry, tweeted a picture of Assad and the Indian Minister.

“During his official visit to Syria, MoS called on President Bashar Al Assad in Damascus today,” Swarup said.

The Indian Minister stressed that “India is ready to offer all that could help in alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people and contribute effectively to the development process and reconstruction in Syria”, Syrian state news agency SANA said.

During the meeting, Assad also welcomed India’s objective position on the conflict in Syria and both leaders acknowledged that terrorism was a global problem.

“As a growing power, India has a role to play in meeting the challenge of terrorism,” Assad said.

On his part, Akbar, during their meeting, said “the age of destruction” should give way to the age of “reconstruction” in Syria.

Russia, which is aiding the Syrian government’s fight against ISIL and the Al-Nusra front, said on Thursday it was willing to support weekly 48-hour ceasefires to allow aid to reach besieged areas.

August 22, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | Leave a comment

Russia, Iran reset Middle East’s geopolitics

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 21, 2016

In exceptionally assertive remarks on Saturday, Iranian Defence Minister Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in Tehran that more numbers of Iranian military bases could be made available to Russia, depending on operational requirements, in addition to the use of the Hamadan air base by Russian bombers currently.

He added that there is no time limit set to the access given to Russian aircraft to operate out of Hamadan military base. Dehqan disclosed:

  • Russian jets and bombers are free to undertake repairs and load ordnance in the Iranian base;
  • Iran’s military cooperation with Russia in this respect is “strategic” in nature;
  • The cooperation stems from a defence pact to upgrade military cooperation “so as to act in more harmony, particularly in the fight against terrorism”;
  • The use of Iranian military bases by Russia is a topic that is beyond the purview of the Majlis (implying it is based on decision by the Supreme Leader);
  • The Iran-Russia alliance aims to bring an early end to the Syrian conflict.

The big question will be whether an Iran-Russia mutual security alliance could be in the making – something akin to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971.

A Moscow pundit Prof. Dmitry Yevstafyev tiptoed around the explosive theme in the weekend. He made the following key points in an opinion-piece that is presumably intended for the Western audience:

  • There is “still no talk of a full-fledged military union” between Russia and Iran;
  • However, the use of Hamadan is not a stand-alone event, either;
  • Nor is it to be seen as a mere tactical tie-up with the narrow objective of liberating Aleppo;
  • On the contrary, it rests on a solid foundation that has been laid carefully in political, military and economic terms in the Russian-Iranian relations through recent period, which in turn is predicated on a cool assessment by Moscow that the US-Iran ‘honeymoon’ has become a thing of the past;
  • Russia and Iran have created together a “completely new context” in the region and aspire to be “decisive players”;
  • Russia has signalled to Washington that: a) its partnership with Iran is a “strategic priority”; b) Moscow is no longer bound by US’ ‘red lines’ as regards strategic ties with Iran; c) if Hamadan tie-up is successful, “moves that will lead to an unprecedented convergence between Iran and Moscow are also possible in future”; and, d) Washington cannot stop Moscow in its tracks in the priority task of “destroying the Syrian opposition in Aleppo”;
  • Russia’s tie-up with Iran has emboldened Beijing to shed its reticence and to move to “expand its assistance” to the Syrian regime with the intention to “participate in future political and economic processes”.

To my mind, the above is an accurate assessment of the trends that have surfaced. This can only mean that the balance of power in the Middle East is phenomenally shifting.

India needs to take serious note even as Minister of State MJ Akbar arrives today in Damascus on a rare visit by an Indian dignitary. (Where China goes, can India be far behind?)

To be sure, Moscow is moving speedily to create new facts on the ground before the next US president takes over the reins of the US’ Middle East policies. Moscow aims to bolster Iran’s defence capability to a point that a military strike on that country becomes a non-option for the US and/or Israel.

Conceivably, we cannot rule out that there would have been some discussions already between Moscow and Tehran regarding a mutual security alliance in the event of a military threat from a new US administration dominated by neoconservative ideologues (which could be the case in a Hillary Clinton presidency.)

Russia is speeding up the delivery of the S-300 missile system to Iran. Reports from Tehran say that the delivery will be completed within a month from now.

The Israeli military intelligence sources have been cited by Debka as claiming that Russia has deployed the formidable S-400 missile system as well in Hamadan. (Despite Iranian denials, this should not cause surprise since pictures show an unspecified number of Tu-22M3 strategic ‘Backfire’ bombers – capable of carrying nuclear missiles – and Su-34 strike fighters parked in the Hamadan air base; and it is inconceivable that a solid Russian air defence system is not deployed alongside.)

The import of the Russian-Iranian strategic congruence is sinking in regionally. Over the weekend, for the first time Syrian jets attacked Kurdish forces in northern Syria (which are protected by the US Special Forces) despite American warnings to stay clear. (Reuters )

Equally, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a 5-hour meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif in Tehran on August 18 to follow up on Zarif’s talks with the Turkish leadership in Ankara on August 12. Cavusoglu’s hurried trip to Tehran aimed at Turkish-Iranian coordination in the move against Kurds.

Ankara will be pleased with the prospect of Damascus taking on the Kurds, finally. In remarks Saturday in Ankara, Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim strongly hinted at Turkey moving on the ground to prevent the emergence of a Kurdistan enclave in northern Syria (with tacit US backing). Turkey has shared interest in this regard with Tehran and Damascus.

If so, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus may find themselves on the same page sooner than one would have expected. Moscow cannot but be pleased with this prospect.(Sputnik )

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment