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Archive for the ‘Putin’ Category

The Prez and Putin: A Friendship in Flux

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The Russian news agency TASS reported that Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin engaged in a telephone conversation on Wednesday, 14 December 2016. The Kremlin issued the following press release: “The two heads of state continued the exchange of opinions on the Syrian problem. Specifically, they discussed the situation in Aleppo. They made emphasis on the importance of a buildup of joint efforts to improve the humanitarian situation and to give a start to a political process in Syria in practical terms. In the wake of a large terrorist attack committed in Istanbul on December 10 that resulted in numerous casualties, the Russian president once again expressed heart-felt condolences to the leadership and people of Turkey. The two sides reaffirmed readiness for further joint actions to neutralize the terrorist threat in the Middle Eastern region”.[1]

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This telephonic rapprochement between Russia and Turkey appears highly significant in view of the fact that the interaction took place against the backdrop of the “liberation” of the Syrian city of Aleppo – the city’s liberation from the clutches of Jihadi terrorists hell bent on the removal of Bashar al-Assad, Jihadi terrorist enjoying the overt and covert support of AKP-led Ankara. Turkey’s close ties to Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra are long-standing and well-documented. On 15 December 2016, the Writer and Contributor at 21st Century Wire Vanessa Beeley published the following on her facebook page: “The Old City. #Aleppo. The long walk from the upturned vehicles that marked the dividing lines between SAA soldiers and Nusra terrorist fighters, literally fighting from next door and facing houses. Walking towards the battle scarred Umayyed Mosque that less than 24 hours previously had still harboured Nusra snipers. We were also told that terrorists were still sheltering in the basements of one of the surrounding buildings during our walk..the SAA soldiers were dispatched to find them. Apologies for the wobbly footage. I was trying to pick my way through the debris from the fierce street battles to liberate this ancient and culturally iconic Old City from the Nusra Front desecration and destruction of this jewel of history. Thank you to Fares Shehabi for organising everything for us. It was an incredibly poignant moment to enter the Mosque past the destroyed Minaret, strewn with Nusra black flags and Ahrar Al Sham pennants. It is hard to imagine the ferocity of the fighting to regain Syria’s territory but East Aleppo is now freed from its NATO and Gulf state terrorist infestation, thanks to the SAA and its allies”.[2]

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[1] “Putin, Erdogan discuss Syria, situation in Aleppo ― Kremlin” TASS (14 Dec 2016). http://tass.com/politics/919457.

[2] Vanessa Beeley on facebook (15 Dec 2016). https://www.facebook.com/vanessa.beeley?fref=ts.

The Current Rise of Russian Orthodox Christianity: Putin’s Orthodox Gambit

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The Associated Press reports that “Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a ceremony on Wednesday [19 October 2016] to inaugurate a Russian cultural center including an Orthodox cathedral next to the Eiffel Tower. Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to attend the ceremony at the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center in the heart of the French capital but postponed his visit to Paris following a spat with French leader Francois Hollande over the war in Syria. Putin rescheduled his visit after Hollande hinted Russia could face war crimes charges for bombarding Syria’s second city, Aleppo. The French president then said that Putin put off his trip after Hollande let him know he wouldn’t take part in the opening of the new center and was only interested in talks about Syria”.[1]

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This means that Putin’s soft power designs to spread the Russian take on the world westward has now been overtaken by power-politics and the West’s apparent desire to wage war on Moscow. The academic and writer Michael Klare some time ago declared in the Nation that “[f]or the first time in a quarter-century, the prospect of war—real war, war between the major powers—will be on the agenda of Western leaders when they meet at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, on July 8 and 9 [2016]. Dominating the agenda in Warsaw (aside, of course, from the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK) will be discussion of plans to reinforce NATO’s ‘eastern flank’—the arc of former Soviet partners stretching from the Baltic states to the Black Sea that are now allied with the West but fear military assault by Moscow. Until recently, the prospect of such an attack was given little credence in strategic circles, but now many in NATO believe a major war is possible and that robust defensive measures are required . . . As a further indication of US and NATO determination to prepare for a possible war with Russia, the alliance recently conducted the largest war games in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. Known as Anakonda 2016, the exercise involved some 31,000 troops (about half of them Americans) and thousands of combat vehicles from 24 nations in simulated battle maneuvers across the breadth of Poland. A parallel naval exercise, BALTOPS 16, simulated ‘high-end maritime warfighting’ in the Baltic Sea, including in waters near Kaliningrad, a heavily defended Russian enclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania “.[2] In this way, the West has been vilifying Russia, turning Putin into a convenient bogeyman and easily recognizable global culprit.

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The journalist Antoine Blua posits that the newly inaugurated Russian cultural centre + Orthodox cathedral in Paris is nothing but “a grand expression of Moscow’s quest to project the image of a powerful, religious Russia, and assert itself as a champion of traditional values”.[3] Or, to use the concept coined in 1990 by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., it is Putin’s utilization of Russia’s resources to project the Kremlin’s soft power.[4] Blua continues that the “cathedral was reportedly first proposed in 2007 by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, the late Patriarch Aleksii II, during his historic visit to the French capital. It is part of a Russian campaign to gain control of churches and graves dating from tsarist times and reassert control over the Russian diaspora, including in France, where there are an estimated 200,000 followers of Russian Orthodoxy”.[5] The AP adds that the “complex, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral, has been built on the site of the former headquarters of France’s national weather forecasting service, near the Seine River. The site, which also includes a school and a book shop, was sold to Russia under former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government amid criticism from rights groups about France’s outreach to Putin. The Russian president visited the site in 2010 and denied reports it would be used by Russian secret services. The church was designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and features five onion-shaped golden domes. The biggest one weighs eight tons and is 12 meters (40 feet) high”.[6]

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President Putin has been pushing an Orthodox agenda at home ever since he came to power at the end of the year 1999. The following year, the Russian Orthodox Church presented its vision for a new social model known as “Holy Rus” [or in Russian, Svyataya Rus]. The professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island Nicolai N. Petro explains that the “Church’s immediate social agenda was laid out in 2000 in a document known as the Basics of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to this seminal document the Church ‘does not give preference to any social system or to any of the existing political doctrines’. Secular states were established by God to give human beings the opportunity to order their social life according to their own free will. Political pluralism is an important part of this, so both clergy and laity are free to choose whatever political convictions they desire, though these should not contradict ‘the faith and moral norms of the Church’s Tradition’. But while the state’s secular ambitions make non-intervention in each other’s internal affairs desirable, complete separation is not the goal. The ideal relationship between Church and state is symphonia, a relationship that the Roman Emperor Justinian (482-565) described as producing ‘general harmony’ for the human race. According to the Orthodox Church, in modern times symphonia manifests itself through a formal partnership between the Church and the state. Within this partnership the Church has the obligation to promote peace and harmony, provide charity, and promote public morality through its spiritual guidance of public institutions such as the military, media, and schools. For businessmen the Church has elaborated ‘Ten Commandments for Businessmen’ highlighting their social obligations, which include paying taxes and providing fair wages. This partnership even extends to foreign policy where the Russian Orthodox Church seeks to heighten the role of religious diplomacy, and assist in the construction of a multipolar world that respects diverse cultural worldviews. In every nation of the globe, the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill says, the Church’s task is to make that particular nation ‘a carrier of Orthodox civilization’. In the absence of any coherent secular alternative, Russian political authorities seem to have embraced the partnership model offered by the Church. Yeltsin, Putin, and Medvedev, have all spoken poignantly about the historical and cultural importance of Russian Orthodoxy, and appealed for more Church involvement in social affairs. In the past decade specific Church priorities, such as outlawing abortion, promoting family values, and expanding religious education in schools, have received both national and local government support”. [7]

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The Russian Orthodox Church has made the above-mentioned document, Basics of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been publicly accessible on the internet.[8] Under the heading ‘III. Church and State’, one can read that “[i]n church-state relations, the difference in their natures should be taken into account. The Church has been founded by God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, while the God-instituted nature of state power is revealed in historical process only indirectly. The goal of the Church is the eternal salvation of people, while the goal of state is their well-being on earth . . . Various models of relationships between the Orthodox Church and the state have developed in the course of history . . . Attempts to work out this form were undertaken in Byzantium, where the principles of church-state relations were expressed in the canons and the laws of the empire and were reflected in patristic writings. In their totality these principles were described as symphony between church and state. It is essentially co-operation, mutual support and mutual responsibility without one’s side intruding into the exclusive domain of the other. The bishop obeys the government as a subject, not his episcopal power comes from a government official. Similarly, a government official obeys his bishop as a member of the Church, who seeks salvation in it, not because his power comes from the power of the bishop. The state in such symphonic relationships with the Church seeks her spiritual support, prayer for itself and blessing upon its work to achieve the goal of its citizens’ welfare, while the Church enjoys support from the state in creating conditions favourable for preaching and for the spiritual care of her children who are at the same time citizens of the state”.[9]

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President Putin is fully aware of the essentially symbiotic relationship existing between church and state in the Russian Orthodox tradition, as he expressed in 2004 when he said that he and his administration are at pains to be “repaying the State’s historical debt to the church”.[10] In fact, the Russian President seems very aware of the mere idea of symphonia, as he described attempts made by the Moscow Patriarchate to reunite with the Russian Church abroad as constituting moves towards “restoring the lost unity of the whole Russian world, whose spiritual foundation has always been the Orthodox religion” (2007),[11] basically subjecting secular state policy to the religious demands of the Church. After all, Putin famously more than once employed the phrase “Near Abroad” to refer to the territories surrounding the Russian borders. But the Orthodox reunification also gave Putin direct access the USA. Namely, on Thursday, 17 May 2007, the “Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), which claims more than 70 million adherents, and the U.S.-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR), which is believed to be 1.5 million strong” were formally linked once more through a Canonical Communion and Reunification, by means of a ceremony in the Russian capital, attended by “[t]housands of the Russian Orthodox faithful — including several hundred who flew in from New York”.[12] The TIME reporter Yuri Zarakhovich opines that “[n]ationalism, based on the Orthodox faith, has been emerging as the Putin regime’s major ideological resource. [The 2007] rite [in Moscow] sealed the four-year long effort by Putin, beginning in September 2003, to have the Moscow Patriarchate take over its rival American-based cousin and launch a new globalized Church as his state’s main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument,” adding that “Putin’s new unified Church will also further expand in the U.S. and Western Europe as it tries to use the ROCOR’s network and congregation to become as much an arm of Russian nationalist politics as well as Russian piety”.[13] A case in point seems to be the newly opened Holy Trinity Cathedral in Paris . . .

Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir Putin

[1] “Russia opens new cathedral in Paris amid diplomatic tensions” AP (19 Oct 2016). https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-opens-new-church-in-paris-amid-diplomatic-tensions/2016/10/19/531bd8fe-95ff-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html.

[2] Michael T. Klare, “The United States and NATO Are Preparing for a Major War With Russia” The Nation (07 July 2016). https://www.thenation.com/article/the-united-states-and-nato-are-preparing-for-a-major-war-with-russia/.

[3] Antoine Blua, “Russia Set To Unveil Cultural, Orthodox Jewel On The Seine” Modern Diplomacy (17 Oct 2016). http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1820:russia-set-to-unveil-cultural-orthodox-jewel-on-the-seine&Itemid=480.

[4] Joseph S. Nye, Jr, “Soft Power” Foreign Policy, nr. 80 (Autumn 1990).

[5] Antoine Blua, “Russia Set To Unveil Cultural, Orthodox Jewel On The Seine”.

[6] “Russia opens new cathedral in Paris amid diplomatic tensions”.

[7] Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia” ISPI, nr. 21 (June 2012).

[8] “The Basis of the Social Concept” The Russian Orthodox Church. https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/.

[9] “III. Church and state” The Basis of the Social Concept The Russian Orthodox Church. https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/iii/.

[10] Quoted in Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia”.

[11] Quoted in Nicolai N. Petro, “The Role of the Orthodox Church in a changing Russia”.

[12] Yuri Zarakhovich, “Putin’s Reunited Russian Church” TIME (17 May 2007). http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1622544,00.html.

[13] Yuri Zarakhovich, “Putin’s Reunited Russian Church”.

Illicit Oil Trade between Turkey and the KRG: RedHack Revelations

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The deputy director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) Ahmet Yayla writes that “[i]n late September [2016], a Turkish hacker group, RedHack, released the emails of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and the son[-]in[-]law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [aka the Prez]. Hackers have claimed that they downloaded around 20 gigabytes of data from Albayrak’s email accounts. As the group started to release the emails through social media, controversial issues have been brought to the surface once again. The Turkish government was quick to react, immediately issuing a court order prohibiting the release of the hacked emails and their publication in the media. The issuance of the court order, however, lends credence to the authenticity of the leaked emails. One of the most contentious issues uncovered with the leaked email communications and documents was the transfer of oil controlled by the so[-]called Islamic State and the Erdoğan family’s involvement via a company named Powertrans”.[1]

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Following the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet,[2] a war-of-words ensued between Putin and the Prez, and various accusations hurled back and forth: “Vladimir Putin issued [his accusatory] words to the TASS news agency, the Russian state news agency whose pronouncements used to be so prominent during the Soviet and Cold War era. In response, Tayyip Erdoğan told the 15th Meeting of Municipal Headmen the following: ‘[t]hey say that we are in the midst of an effort to Islamize Turkey. Given that 99% of Turkey[‘s population] is Muslim, how can you make such a statement? Tayyip Erdoğan is a Muslim. [As] 99% of Turks.’ The Turkish President, talking about himself in the third person as is his wont, responded to Putin’s words in a facile and arguably jocular manner sure to elicit a favourable response from his audience and garner sympathy among the wider Turkish public breathlessly sucking up his every word appearing on Turkish TV. Putin’s remark was actually part of a much larger accusatory discourse linking Turkey-under-the-AKP to the Islamic State (or IS/ISIS/ISIL) and its illegitimate oil deals and weapon shipments, a charge Erdoğan dismissed in an equally light-hearted manner, saying that ‘ISIS sells the oil it extracts to Assad. [And t]hat is also where it gets its money from'”.[3] Though the Prez dismissed the Russian President’s charges easily, the Turkish hacker cooperative RedHack now seems to have provided proof positive that the Russians weren’t just inventing stories about an illicit oil trade between Raqqa and Ankara. But, as the relations between Moscow and Ankara have taken another turn for the positive, following early Turkish overtures and Russian support for the AKP-led government in the wake of the Coup-that-was-no-coup, talk of illicit oil flowing between Raqqa and Ankara has now all but dried up.[4] In some detail, Yayla explains that “[b]ased on the Russian satellite images, Islamic State oil entered Turkey via three different paths. The western path involved the transfer of oil from Raqqa through Azaz, a city in northwestern Syria, to Iskenderun port on the Mediterranean. The northern path is a busy one, with oil coming from Deir ezZor and transferred to Turkey by tankers. One satellite image from Oct. 18, 2015 shows 1,722 tankers in a queue carrying oil. The eastern path involved oil from the northeast of Syria transferred to northern Iraq and then sent to Turkey through Cizre, a town near Turkey’s border with Syria. A satellite image from Nov. 14, 2015 shows 1,104 tankers along this route. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov stated that over 8,500 tankers transporting up to 200,000 tons of oil used to enter Turkey and Iraq from Islamic State-controlled territories daily. In order for oil to be transported along these routes, a large network of operations must have been set up in Turkey”.[5]

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Since then, the Russians have all but forgotten about accusing Turkey and the Islamic State of complicity, focusing instead on joint anti-terror efforts and renewed cordial relations between the Prez and Putin, including above-board pipeline deals between Moscow and Ankara: “Turkey and Russia on Monday [, 10 Ocotber 2016] signed an inter-governmental agreement on realizing the construction of the planned Turkish Stream gas pipeline to pump Russian gas under Turkish waters in the Black Sea towards Europe. The agreement was signed by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Turkish counterpart Berat Albayrak, in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after their talks in Istanbul”, as reported by the pro-AKP Daily Sabah.[6] And now that Russia and Turkey are back in business, the Turkish hacker team RedHack has been able to prove that Putin’s earlier accusations were indeed based on credible information, as recounted by Ahmet Yayla: “[b]ased on documents released by Redhack, [the company] Powertrans was established by Ahmet Muhassiloglu and Grand Fortune Ventures, and was registered at an Istanbul address. However, soon after Powertrans was established, Muhassiloglu’s shares were sold to a Singaporean company named Lucky Ventures on April 21, 2011. It was later revealed that Grand Fortune Ventures and Lucky Ventures were established as front companies in Singapore on Aug. 8, 2008, and they moved their operations to the British Virgin Islands on Nov. 7, 2009. It was unclear who owned these companies, and therefore who owned Powertrans. Still, Powertrans was granted the privileges to carry oil from northern Iraq through Turkish oil pipelines and ports. As the Islamic State oil became available in 2014, Powertrans took the opportunity to set up schemes to transfer the oil to the Batman refinery in Turkey and to the Turkish international ports of Mersin, Dortyol, and Ceyhan”.[7]

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The ICSVE deputy director continues that the “documents released by RedHack provide evidence that Albayrak was, and still is, unofficially running the company. The documents also revealed that Albayrak’s cousin, Ekrem Keles, used to work for Çalık Holding as the coordinator for sales and marketing. Keles sent an email to Albayrak on Aug. 9, 2015 reporting on the company’s marketing in northern Iraq. Another important figure who emailed Albayrak often was Betül Yılmaz, who did not have official ties with Powertrans but was the human resources manager of Çalık Holding. Yılmaz communicated with Albayrak frequently via email to get approval for personnel issues. On Dec. 11, 2015 Albayrak wrote to his lawyer regarding a press release responding to a news report naming him as the owner of Powertrans. He asked his lawyer to edit the line by the lawyer stating, ‘his client has no longer had ties with Powertrans.’ Albayrak got upset, firing back at his lawyer, ‘What does it mean? … I have never had any ties with this company!’ The RedHack email releases supported allegations about the Erdoğan family’s illicit and corrupt business activities, which included granting opportunities and contracts without public bids to concealed companies and transferring and selling Islamic State oil. This amounts to providing the terror network with the funds to pay its fighters, to purchase weapons and explosives, and to incite violence around the world. While members of the Erdoğan family were making millions of dollars through shady business activities, their dealings with the Islamic State facilitated brutal killings and displacement of people in Syria and Iraq”.[8]

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The cooperative RedHack released the e-mail trove on 23 September 2016, but direct proof linking Ankara and Raqqa does not appear to be readily available . . . instead, there appears to be a lot of circumstantial e-mail chatter about, detailing the important role played by the Prez’ son-in-law, Berat Albayrak. On the other hand, already in March this year, a “RT Documentary crew filming in northern Syria has seen Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) documents abandoned by retreating terrorists and found by the Kurds that, along with captured IS recruits, provide a stunning insight into IS oil trade . . . Turkey, which has been actively engaged in the Syrian war since the outset, has repeatedly denied claims that it is aiding IS. However, while Ankara insists that it is the jihadist group’s sworn enemy, facts on the ground often tell a different story. RT has spoken to several witnesses who were involved in Islamic State’s trade activities and accessed the terror group’s documents, which provide insight into how and where foreign militants enter Syria to join the terrorist ‘state’ . . . RT spoke to local residents who had been forced to work in the IS oil industry about what it was like working at the terrorist-controlled oil refinery and where the extracted oil was sold. The locals attested that ‘the extracted oil was delivered to an oil refinery, where it was converted into gasoline, gas and other petroleum products. Then the refined product was sold,’ the RT documentary’s author said. ‘Then intermediaries from Raqqa and Allepo arrived to pick up the oil and often mentioned Turkey.’ Important information revealing the connection between IS and Turkey was provided by a Turkish militant previously captured by the Kurds. The IS recruit said on camera that the terrorist group does, in fact, sell oil to Turkey. ‘Without even us asking the fighter directly, he admitted that the reason why it was so easy for him to cross the Turkish border and join IS was, in part, due to the fact that Turkey also benefited. When asked how, he said that Turkey gets something out of it – something such as oil.'”.[9]

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Cover of an Islamist, anti-Assad propaganda leaflet printed in Istanbul, Turkey. / RT

Additionally, I would like to point out that the above publisher Guraba is a legitimate company in Turkey, operating openly and plainly since 1992 without experiencing any kind of repression or even legal repercussions for cooperating with the Islamic State in Syria at present. The company’s website is accessible for anyone and everyone interested.[10]

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[1] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil” World Policy Blog (17 Oct 2016). https://www.academia.edu/29217920/Hacked_Emails_Link_Turkish_Minister_to_Illicit_Oil.

[2] Can Erimtan, “Escalating the New Cold War: Turkey downs a Russian Jet” NEO (26 Nov 2015). http://journal-neo.org/2015/11/26/escalating-the-new-cold-war-turkey-downs-a-russian-jet/.

[3] Can Erimtan, “Putin, Tayyip Erdogan and the Issue of Sunnification: A Duel of Words” NEO (02 Dec 2015). http://journal-neo.org/2015/12/02/putin-tayyip-erdogan-and-the-issue-of-sunnification-a-duel-of-words/.

[4] See: C. Erimtan, “48 Hours in Turkey: Diplomatic Victory and Defeat followed a Terror Attack” NEO (04 July 2016). http://journal-neo.org/2016/07/04/48-hours-in-turkey-diplomatic-victory-and-defeat-followed-a-terror-attack/; C. Erimtan, “The Failed Coup Attempt – or the Dawning of Sharia Law in Turkey?” The Duran (18 July 2016). http://theduran.com/author/can-erimtan/.

[5] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[6] “Erdoğan, Putin sign agreement on Turkish Stream gas pipeline project” Daily Sabah (10 Oct 2016). http://www.dailysabah.com/energy/2016/10/10/erdogan-putin-sign-agreement-on-turkish-stream-gas-pipeline-project.

[7] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[8] Ahmet S. Yayla, “Hacked Emails Link Turkish Minister to Illicit Oil”.

[9] “ISIS, oil & Turkey: What RT found in Syrian town liberated from jihadists by Kurds (EXCLUSIVE)” RT (24 March 2016). https://www.rt.com/news/336967-isis-files-oil-turkey-exclusive/.

[x] Guraba Yayınevi. http://www.guraba.com.tr/vitrin/.

Security Council Meeting on Syria: Moderate Opposition or Not?!??

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‘An emergency UN Security Council meeting on Syria has wrapped up in New York. It was requested by the United States, Britain and France amid the escalating conflict in the city of Aleppo. The meeting saw a heated exchange between the Russian and American envoys. Published on Sep 25, 2016’.

A high-ranking commander of the al-Qaeda branch in Syria formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra but now calling itself Jabhet Fateh al-Sham, has made some interesting remarks recently. The jihadi commander Abu al-Ezz told reporter Jürgen Todenhöfer that “[t]he U.S. support the opposition, but not directly. They support the countries which support us. But we are not yet satisfied with this support. They should support us with highly developed weapons. We have won battles thanks to the ‘TOW’ missiles. We reached a balance with the regime through these missiles. We received the tanks from Libya through Turkey. Also the ‘BMs’ – multiple rocket launchers . . . We do not recognize the ceasefire. We will reposition our groups. We will undertake in the next, in a few days an overwhelming attack against the regime. We have rearranged all our armed forces in all provinces, in Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Hama. We accept no one from the Assad-regime or from the Free Syrian Army, which is called moderate. Our aim is the downfall of the regime and the founding of an Islamic state according to the Islamic shariah”.[1] Todenhöfer originally published the interview in the daily the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger on 26 September 2016.[2]

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[1] Zen Adra,”Nusra commander in Syria: US supporting us…but not enough” Al-Masdar News (26 September 2016). https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/nusra-commander-syria-us-supporting-usbut-not-enough/.

[1] J. Todenhöfer, “Interview mit Al Nusra-Kommandeur „Die Amerikaner stehen auf unserer Seite“”Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (26 September 2016). http://www.ksta.de/politik/interview-mit-al-nusra-kommandeur–die-amerikaner-stehen-auf-unserer-seite–24802176?__hstc=143095274.842c504416432b8bff55bede166c1ec7.1474922442443.1474922442443.1474922442446.2&__hssc=143095274.1.1474922442446&__hsfp=3022278840.

Panama Papers: The Revolution Will Be Digitized

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About a month ago, the Panama Papers were first revealed . . . and the world has never been the same, or rather, for a few days the whole world was abuzz but then the buzz died down and people went about their business as usual. In the coming days, the whole circus is set to start up anew: “On May 9 ICIJ will publish information about secret offshore companies and the people behind them, based on data from the Panama Papers investigation. The searchable database will include information about more than 200,000 companies, trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 tax havens, from Hong Kong to Nevada in the United States”.

Panama Papers (2016)

John Doe has now broken his silence and issued a public statement explaining himself: “Titled The Revolution Will Be Digitized the 1800-word statement gives justification for the leak, saying that “income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time” and says that government authorities need to do more to address it. Süddeutsche Zeitung has authenticated that the statement came from the Panama Papers source”.[i] And here are some of his words: “Income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time. It affects all of us, the world over. The debate over its sudden acceleration has raged for years, with politicians, academics and activists alike helpless to stop its steady growth despite countless speeches, statistical analyses, a few meagre protests, and the occasional documentary. Still, questions remain: why? And why now? The Panama Papers provide a compelling answer to these questions: massive, pervasive corruption. And it’s not a coincidence that the answer comes from a law firm. More than just a cog in the machine of ‘wealth management’, Mossack Fonseca used its influence to write and bend laws worldwide to favour the interests of criminals over a period of decades. In the case of the island of Niue, the firm essentially ran a tax haven from start to finish. Ramón Fonseca and Jürgen Mossack would have us believe that their firm’s shell companies, sometimes called ‘special purpose vehicles’, are just like cars. But used car salesmen don’t write laws. And the only ‘special purpose’ of the vehicles they produced was too often fraud, on a grand scale”.[2]

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And then, John Doe goes on to explain himself: “For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own, as was my decision to share the documents with Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), not for any specific political purpose, but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale of the injustices they described. The prevailing media narrative thus far has focused on the scandal of what is legal and allowed in this system. What is allowed is indeed scandalous and must be changed. But we must not lose sight of another important fact: the law firm, its founders, and employees actually did knowingly violate myriad laws worldwide, repeatedly. Publicly they plead ignorance, but the documents show detailed knowledge and deliberate wrongdoing. At the very least we already know that Mossack personally perjured himself before a federal court in Nevada, and we also know that his information technology staff attempted to cover up the underlying lies. They should all be prosecuted accordingly with no special treatment. In the end, thousands of prosecutions could stem from the Panama Papers, if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents. ICIJ and its partner publications have rightly stated that they will not provide them to law enforcement agencies. I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able”.[3]

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As an apparently self-conscious and strong-willed whistleblower and moral crusader, John Doe then goes on to make the following case: “I call on the European Commission, the British Parliament, the United States Congress, and all nations to take swift action not only to protect whistleblowers, but to put an end to the global abuse of corporate registers. In the European Union, every member state’s corporate register should be freely accessible, with detailed data plainly available on ultimate beneficial owners. The United Kingdom can be proud of its domestic initiatives thus far, but it still has a vital role to play by ending financial secrecy on its various island territories, which are unquestionably the cornerstone of institutional corruption worldwide. And the United States can clearly no longer trust its fifty states to make sound decisions about their own corporate data. It is long past time for Congress to step in and force transparency by setting standards for disclosure and public access. And while it’s one thing to extol the virtues of government transparency at summits and in sound bites, it’s quite another to actually implement it. It is an open secret that in the United States, elected representatives spend the majority of their time fundraising. Tax evasion cannot possibly be fixed while elected officials are pleading for money from the very elites who have the strongest incentives to avoid taxes relative to any other segment of the population. These unsavoury political practices have come full circle and they are irreconcilable. Reform of America’s broken campaign finance system cannot wait. Of course, those are hardly the only issues that need fixing. Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand has been curiously quiet about his country’s role in enabling the financial fraud Mecca that is the Cook Islands. In Britain, the Tories have been shameless about concealing their own practices involving offshore companies, while Jennifer Shasky Calvery, the director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the United States Treasury, just announced her resignation to work instead for HSBC, one of the most notorious banks on the planet (not coincidentally headquartered in London). And so the familiar swish of America’s revolving door echoes amidst deafening global silence from thousands of yet-to-be-discovered ultimate beneficial owners who are likely praying that her replacement is equally spineless. In the face of political cowardice, it’s tempting to yield to defeatism, to argue that the status quo remains fundamentally unchanged, while the Panama Papers are, if nothing else, a glaring symptom of our society’s progressively diseased and decaying moral”.[4]

Jennifer Shasky Calvery

Finally, John Doe calls for a revolution: “Democratic governance depends upon responsible individuals throughout the entire system who understand and uphold the law, not who understand and exploit it. On average, lawyers have become so deeply corrupt that it is imperative for major changes in the profession to take place, far beyond the meek proposals already on the table. To start, the term ‘legal ethics’, upon which codes of conduct and licensure are nominally based, has become an oxymoron. Mossack Fonseca did not work in a vacuum—despite repeated fines and documented regulatory violations, it found allies and clients at major law firms in virtually every nation. If the industry’s shattered economics were not already evidence enough, there is now no denying that lawyers can no longer be permitted to regulate one another. It simply doesn’t work. Those able to pay the most can always find a lawyer to serve their ends, whether that lawyer is at Mossack Fonseca or another firm of which we remain unaware. What about the rest of society? The collective impact of these failures has been a complete erosion of ethical standards, ultimately leading to a novel system we still call Capitalism, but which is tantamount to economic slavery. In this system—our system—the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese. The horrific magnitude of detriment to the world should shock us all awake. But when it takes a whistleblower to sound the alarm, it is cause for even greater concern. It signals that democracy’s checks and balances have all failed, that the breakdown is systemic, and that severe instability could be just around the corner. So now is the time for real action, and that starts with asking questions. Historians can easily recount how issues involving taxation and imbalances of power have led to revolutions in ages past. Then, military might was necessary to subjugate peoples, whereas now, curtailing information access is just as effective or more so, since the act is often invisible. Yet we live in a time of inexpensive, limitless digital storage and fast internet connections that transcend national boundaries. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots: from start to finish, inception to global media distribution, the next revolution will be digitized. Or perhaps it has already begun”.[5]

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[1] “Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come” ICIJ. https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160506-john-doe-statement.html.

[2] “Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come”.

[3] “Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come”.

[4] “Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come”.

[5] “Panama Papers Source Offers Documents To Governments, Hints At More To Come”.

Sunday Surprise: The Panama Papers

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‘Governments across the world began investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful following a leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm. The documents allegedly show how clients avoided tax or laundered money. The documents detailed schemes involving an array of figures from friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin to relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan and as well as the president of Ukraine. Australia, Austria, Brazil, France and Sweden were among countries which said they had begun investigating the allegations. The documents were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 100 other news organizations. Published on Apr 4, 2016’.

The funny thing is that the name Putin keep on being bandied about (even by the Chinese CCTV), in spite of the fact that the name does not seem to appear in the leaked papers . . . close associates. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s father is directly implicated as well as a host of other politicians from across the world. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) puts it like this: “Files reveal the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials from around the world” . . . “Current and former world leaders in the data include prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the president of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia” . . . “More than 214,000 offshore entities appear in the leak, connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories” . . . “Major banks have driven the creation of hard-to-trace companies in offshore havens”.[1] Still, the ICIJ also talks about “associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin” . . . . and adding that the “cache of 11.5 million records shows how a global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars. These are among the findings of a yearlong investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations. The files expose offshore companies controlled by the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the king of Saudi Arabia and the children of the president of Azerbaijan. They also include at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. One of those companies supplied fuel for the aircraft that the Syrian government used to bomb and kill thousands of its own citizens, U.S. authorities have charged”, and adding that the “leaked data covers nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015. It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world — providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues. Most of the services the offshore industry provides are legal if used by the law abiding. But the documents show that banks, law firms and other offshore players have often failed to follow legal requirements that they make sure their clients are not involved in criminal enterprises, tax dodging or political corruption. In some instances, the files show, offshore middlemen have protected themselves and their clients by concealing suspect transactions or manipulating official records”.[2]

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But, the journalist Clark Mindock and David Sirota now also reveal that “U.S. President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for a Bush administration-negotiated free trade agreement that watchdogs warned would only make the situation worse”, “[y]ears before more than a hundred media outlets around the world released stories Sunday exposing a massive network of global tax evasion detailed in the so-called Panama Papers”.[3] These statements would indicate that, not Putin but rather, Obama should be wary of the recent leak . . . Mindock and Sirota explain that “[s]oon after taking office in 2009, Obama and his secretary of state — who is currently the Democratic presidential front-runner — began pushing for the passage of stalled free trade agreements (FTAs) with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that opponents said would make it more difficult to crack down on Panama’s very low income tax rate, banking secrecy laws and history of noncooperation with foreign partners. Even while Obama championed his commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy, he pursued and eventually signed the Panama agreement in 2011. Upon Congress ratifying the pact, Clinton [aka the Hillerator] issued a statement lauding the agreement, saying it and other deals with Colombia and South Korea ‘will make it easier for American companies to sell their products.’ She added: ‘The Obama administration is constantly working to deepen our economic engagement throughout the world, and these agreements are an example of that commitment.’ Critics, however, said the pact would make it easier for rich Americans and corporations to set up offshore corporations and bank accounts and avoid paying many taxes altogether”.[4]

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And then, some of the names appearing in the leaks are Sergi Roldugin, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, (apparently close friends of Russia’s President), and the soccer star Lionel Messi and the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (and brother Agustin Almodovar Caballero) and the Argentina President Mauricio Macri as well as Ivan Zamorano, a retired Chilean and Real Madrid soccer player, but also the actor Jackie Chan and the already-disgraced Michel Platini, the former President of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), but also Juan Pedro Damiani, member of the FIFA Ethnics Committee and also an Argentine former soccer player with Manchester United, Gabriel Iván Heinze, in addition to the UK PM’s old man, Ian Cameron, as well as former Spanish King Juan Carlos I’s sister Pilar de Borbon, and a certain Daniel Muñoz, aide to former Argentina presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kichner and Nestor Kichner. And then there are also the names of the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, and Juan Armando Hinojosa, the “favorite contractor” of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, as well as a certain Néstor Grindetti, Mayor of the Lanús, Argentina (a town with a population of 212,152) and João Lyra, Member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, and Alfredo Ovalle Rodríguez, intelligence agency associate in Chile as well as Pedro Delgado, former Governor of the Central Bank of Ecuador. In addition to the name Riccardo Francolini, the former chairman of the state-owned Savings Bank in Panama, and César Almeyda, the Director of Peru’s National Intelligence Service. And then there is a former Venezuelan commander-in-chief of the army known as Victor Cruz Weffer, as well as Jesús Villanueva, the former Director of Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas company PDVSA, as well as Idalécio de Oliveira, potential briber of Brazil’s President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha. Another name is that of Javier Molina Bonilla, a former advisor to Ecuador’s Director of the National Intelligence Secretariat Rommy Vallej, and César Rosenthal, son of former Honduran Vice President Jaime Rosenthal. And the names of two Argentinean businessmen also implicated in the 2015 FIFA corruption case, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, and yet another professional soccer player, Leonardo Ulloa.[5] But for some strange reason there seem to be no names of big-time American Capitalists and/or philanthropists on the lists, no Gates of Buffet, for one thing. Or, as asked on the website Slashdot, “Where are the US politicians and businessm[e]n?”.

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[1] “Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption” ICIJ (03 April 2016). https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160403-panama-papers-global-overview.html.

[2] “Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption”.

[3] Clark Mindock and David Sirota, “Panama Papers: Obama, Clinton Pushed Trade Deal Amid Warnings It Would Make Money Laundering, Tax Evasion Worse” IBT (04 April 2016). http://www.ibtimes.com/panama-papers-obama-clinton-pushed-trade-deal-amid-warnings-it-would-make-money-2348076.

[4] Clark Mindock and David Sirota, “Panama Papers: Obama, Clinton Pushed Trade Deal”.

[5] “Panama Papers: Partial list of celebrities, government officials named in leak” Fox News Latino (04 April 2016). http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2016/04/04/panama-papers-partial-list-celebrities-government-officials-named-in-leak/.

[6] “Panama Papers: Data Leak Exposes Massive Official Corruption” Slashdot (03 April 2016). https://politics.slashdot.org/story/16/04/03/2026258/panama-papers-data-leak-exposes-massive-official-corruption.

Nagorno-Karabakh Violence 2016

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The war over the breakaway area of Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the last century, as recounted by the BBC in a nutshell: in ‘1988, towards the end of Soviet rule, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists began a bloody war which left the de facto independent state [of Nagorno-Karabakh] in the hands of ethnic Armenians when a truce was signed in 1994. Negotiations have so far failed to produce a permanent peace agreement, and the dispute remains one of post-Soviet Europe’s “frozen conflicts”‘.[1]

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Frozen till now, that is . . . as “[n]ew fighting has been reported overnight between troops from Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The reports say that troops from both sides have used heavy weapons, mortars and artillery. Fighting on Saturday [, 3 April 2016] left at least 30 soldiers dead. Civilian casualties were also reported . . . The defence ministries of Azerbaijan and the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh republic said the situation along the front line remained tense. The Azeris said that Armenian soldiers shelled positions of their armed forces along the front lines with the use of heavy weapons, mortars and artillery. But the Armenian-backed defence ministry in Karabakh also accused Azerbaijan of firing rockets and artillery. Russia, which has sold arms to both sides, has called for an immediate ceasefire and for both sides to exercise restraint”.[2]

BBC Azeri

BBC Azeri’s Konul Khalilova explains that the “fighting that erupted on Friday night [1 April 2016] is some of the worst since a 1994 ceasefire between the two sides. Azerbaijan says it has taken back two strategically important villages from the Armenian army, a claim denied by Armenia. As usual, both sides say the other pulled the trigger first. There are reports of civilian casualties on both sides. Witnesses told the BBC’s Azeri service that people were being evacuated from villages near to the conflict zone and that others were hiding in basements. Both President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s President Sargsyan are on their way back from the international nuclear summit in Washington. Azerbaijan has purchased at least $4bn worth of arms from Russia. Armenia, an important strategic partner of Russia in the Caucasus, also buys weapons from Russia. There are concerns that the fighting could lead to a more wide-scale military conflict. Leaders on both sides have been blamed for not making enough effort to achieve peace and instead using the conflict as a tool to stay in power. Nationalist sentiment boosted by pro-government media in both societies has been at its height in recent years. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has expressed ‘grave concern’ over the reported large-scale ceasefire violations. The co-chairmen of the body’s Minsk Group – ambassadors Igor Popov of Russia, James Warlick of the US, and Pierre Andrieu of France – issued a joint statement saying: ‘We strongly condemn the use of force and regret the senseless loss of life, including civilians. The co-chairs call upon the sides to stop shooting and take all necessary measures to stabilise the situation on the ground. They reiterate that there is no alternative to a peaceful negotiated solution of the conflict and that war is not an option'”.[3]

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[1] “Nagorno-Karabakh profile” BBC News (02 April 2016). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18270325.

[2] “Nagorno-Karabakh violence: Shelling continues after worst clashes in decades” BBC News (03 April 2016). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35953358.

[3] Konul Khalilova, “Analysis” BBC News (03 April 2016). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35953358.