Friday, May 23, 2014

'Country X': WikiLeaks reveals NSA recording 'nearly all' phone calls in Afghanistan

'Country X': WikiLeaks reveals NSA recording 'nearly all' phone calls in Afghanistan

Published time: May 23, 2014 07:08
Edited time: May 23, 2014 10:12
AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt
AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt
The NSA records almost all domestic and international phone calls in Afghanistan, similar to what it does in the Bahamas, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange said.
Reports in the Washington Post and the Intercept had previously reported that domestic and international phone calls from two or more target states had been recorded and stored in mass as of 2013. Both publications censored the name of one victim country at the request of the US government, which the Intercept referred to as 'Country X'.
Assange says he cannot disclose how WikiLeaks confirmed the identity of the victim state for the sake of source protection, though the claim can be “independently verified” via means of “forensic scrutiny of imperfectly applied censorship on related documents released to date and correlations with other NSA programs.”

WikiLeaks cannot be complicit in the censorship of victim state X. The country in question is . 
The Intercept, which Glenn Greenwald, who first broke the Edward Snowden revelations helped to found, had earlier named the Bahamas as having their mobile calls recorded and stored by a powerful National Security Agency (NSA) program called SOMALGET.
SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which the the NSA is using to gather metadata – including the numbers dialed and the time and duration of the calls – from phone calls in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines. SOMALGET by its nature is far more controversial, however, as it stores actual phone conversations for up to 30 days.
WikiLeaks initially opted not to reveal the name of 'Country X' as they were led to believe it could “lead to deaths” by Greenwald. WikiLeaks later accused The Intercept and its parent company First Look Media of censorship, saying they would go ahead and publish the name of the NSA-targeted country.
“We do not believe it is the place of media to ‘aid and abet’ a state in escaping detection and prosecution for a serious crime against a population,” Assange said in the statement.
"By denying an entire population the knowledge of its own victimization, this act of censorship denies each individual in that country the opportunity to seek an effective remedy, whether in international courts, or elsewhere," he said.

Assange continued that their decision to identify 'Country X' was not only done so as to provide effective legal remedies against “the crime of mass espionage,” but also to prevent innocent lives from being taken due to how covert surveillance is part and parcel of the US drone program.
“We know from previous reporting that the National Security Agency’s mass interception system is a key component in the United States’ drone targeting program,” Assange said.
“The US drone targeting program has killed thousands of people and hundreds of women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in violation of international law. The censorship of a victim state’s identity directly assists the killing of innocent people.”
Regarding the potential threat to human life, Assange continued that “false or overstated claims” is a regularly employed tactic by US officials to delay or altogether stifle publication.
Assange pointed to the 2010 example of the now Infamous WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables, in which the US State Department “falsely claimed” would “place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals." He continued that the Pentagon had also repeated this unsubstantiated claim.
“To this day we are not aware of any evidence provided by any government agency that any of our eight million publications have resulted in harm to life,” Assange said.
He added that in 2013, US officials were compelled to admit under oath they had been unable to find evidence substantiating the claim, with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitting that official reaction to the publications had been"significantly overwrought."
According to The Intercept, 5 countries are being monitored using MYSTIC, two with full content audio and three where telephony metadata is collected. The Washington Post, however, noted that a six country is also under the NSA's cross hairs, though surveillance operations might not yet be operational.
The collection of phone conversation audio is not limited to the Bahamas and Afghanistan. In March, John Inglis, then serving as NSA Deputy Director, told the Los Angeles Times that the NSA tracks and records every email, text message, and phone-location signal sent in Iraq.
Slide Associating ACIDWASH with MYSTIC provided by
Slide Associating ACIDWASH with MYSTIC provided by

This is not the first time it has been revealed mass surveillance was being conducted on Afghanistan by the NSA. According to a book released by Der Spiegel entitled 'Der NSA Komplex', a program called ACIDWASH collects 30-40 million telephony metadata records per day from Afghanistan. ACIDWASH has been identified as being part of the MYSTIC program.
The NSA has so far refused to comment on the program, saying “the implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.” The agency further maintains that it follows procedures to “protect the privacy of US persons” whose communications are “incidentally collected.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

THE ROVING EYE - Sex, lies and a bunch of lawyers By Pepe Escobar

Sex, lies and a bunch of lawyers
By Pepe Escobar

So the ultimate politico-economic-media earthquake of the young 21st century remains the (poisonous) gift that keeps on giving. What a raw nerve Abel Ferrara, of King of New York and Bad Lieutenant fame, has now been able to strike.

An "outraged" Dominique Strauss-Kahn, aka DSK, is going to sue the producers of Welcome to New York, the movie inspired by the epic 2011 scandal that effectively terminated his career as head of the International Monetary Fund and possible future president of France.

The beauty of it is that Ferrara's soft porn spectacular is no more than a "fictionalized version"; "Devereaux" (Gerard Depardieu) stands for fallen Master of the Universe DSK and "Simone" (Jacqueline Bisset) for his multi-millionairess wife Anne Sinclair. Still, DSK's lawyerly bunch has been adamant in reminding Ferrara that their client was duly cleared by the US justice system of the charge of sexual aggression on a Guinean employee of the Sofitel New York in 2011.

DSK's former wife Sinclair, for her part, is publicly "vomiting" her "disgust" for Ferrara's alleged "anti-Semitism" (too much of a stretch) and misogyny (more plausible). Yet she won't sue. As even the Mars rover knows, the whole judicial bordello was confidentially settled by the end of 2012.

Gotta love the current hysteria-cum-PR blitz though - which somewhat mirrored the real thing back in 2011. (See Sex, power and American justice, Asia Times Online, May 19, 2011.)Welcome to New York had its mega-hyped world premiere on the margins of the Cannes Film Festival this past Saturday - under a tent on Nikki Beach, in front of the legendary Carlton, followed by a Depardieu press conference where he even quoted Shakespeare.

The shenanigans also featured a good, old-fashioned newspaper war. Le Monde got the scoop, watching the movie ahead of anyone else (and they loved it). Liberation hated it. And Le Figaro, not to be outdone, denounced "nauseous anti-Semitism"; Simone shows her Anne Sinclair avatar is shown to be an obsessive power woman, actively helping the state of Israel "with devotion and love" and coming from a family that made a dodgy fortune during World War II (one of Deveraux/Depardieu's best lines is "1945 was a good year").

Real life, meanwhile, is now sweet again for the former power couple. Sinclair is back in the limelight editing the French branch of the Huffington Post. And DSK showed up a few days ago on France 2 network pontificating about politics and economics.

Body heat 
It's no secret in Paris that Sinclair and her lawyer army did everything in their power to stop this movie in its (troubled) tracks. Ferrara complained that no French producer dared to invest a single euro, using the escape route that this was "too political". Worse: French bankers, according to him, are Sinclair's "friends".

Welcome to New York cost a mere US$3 million; half from production company Wild Bunch and the rest from a consortium of private investors led by Depardieu, plus half a million dollars of tax credit from New York City. Cheap? No doubt, in more ways than one.

It's no wonder something so volatile would never be shown officially in competition in politically correct Cannes, with or without ultra-connected Sinclair trying to prevent it. So in the end what do you get by renting Welcome to New York for seven euros, or around US$10, on a wealth of video-on-demand platforms in France and, for the moment, only a few other European countries?

You get a sex machine - without the James Brown swing. Forget about the reportedly brilliant intellect of DSK/Devereaux, the man who would be president. For Ferrara - who had to re-cut the movie - this is naked sex as naked power, no intermediaries. Or sex as politics by someone who never read Foucault.

Unidimensional as it is, the whole thing is still gripping because of Depardieu's astonishing performance. He incarnates the ultimate power broker as outsized pig (there's a Pasolini touch about it), growling, grunting and snorting, screwing - or at least trying to - anything that moves and barely managing a few sentences in "Franglais" spiced with a lot of mashed-potato English. The frenzy also begs the question; how come a growling pig gets to become the head of the IMF?

The sexual confrontation involving the Sofitel Afro-Muslim housekeeping lady - one of the most fantasized scenes in the modern annals of gossip - lasts barely a minute on screen. Immediately afterwards, Devereaux goes to lunch with his daughter and her Canadian fiance, describing a bouillabaisse as "a sex party with the fish".

Ferrara, though, should not be taken at face value. He's way more subversive than that. Simone/Sinclair is indeed depicted as a nonchalant metaphor for the absolute power of money capable of corrupting absolutely anything.

In one of the very few dramatic exchanges in the whole movie, DSK/Devereaux complains it was always her dream for him to become president ("I am not capable"); moreover, she only accomplished one thing after all those years: to force him to hate himself. What's implied is that the poor boy was always escaping the boot of an imperial Mom by acting like a larger-than-life pig for which every woman is a whore. And then the sociopath would be back to Mommy all over again.

During the go-go 1980s, Baudrillard famously asked, "What are you doing after the orgy?" Ferrara answers in the Instagram era with a sequential instagram of Depardieu's obese, flaccid body pushed to the limit, exposed, decomposed and discarded by the society of spectacle. Quite the down and dirty allegory of these tawdry, trashy, futile times.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Ukraine SITREP May 20th, 16:28 UTC/Zulu: deliberate chaos

I think that we can all agree that the situation in the Ukraine is one of total chaos.
  • Renat Akhmetov, the local oligarch-mobster, had declared that his companies will go on a "warning strike" for 3 hours per day because Akhmetov was angered that the authorities of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) had taken over the control of the railways which resulted in losses for his company.
  • One of the officials of the DRP reacted to Akhmetov's threat by declaring that the DRP authorities have begun the process of nationalization of the companies located on the territory of the DRP, in other words, Akhmetov's holdings.
  • The military forces of the neo-Nazi junta have begun shelling several cities in the eastern Ukraine destroying several buildings
  • The military commander of the DRP forces, Igor Strelkov, has made a poignant and blunt appeal for a much bigger mobilization of men, especially officers, in the volunteer forces defending the DRP against the junta's military.
  • Ukrainian death-squads have, yet again, kidnapped a team of Russian reporters, this time of the TV station LifeNews, accusing them of being the "information-component" of a terrorist movement.
  • The Russian government has indicated that the military forces which had been on maneuvers had returned to their bases.  NATO denied that.
  • The Russian military has completed the building a network of pipelines which are now fully supplying Crimea with fresh water.
  • The leader of the Ukie Nazis, Iarosh, has announced that if he is elected he would launched a guerrilla war in Crimea.
So what is really going on?

I think that while it is premature to make grand conclusions and predictions, we can begin by agreeing on a number of basic facts. 

First, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the junta in Kiev is clearly provoking Moscow in every possible way.  If one could maybe see some marginal and far-fetched military rationale for the kind of random artillery strikes the Ukies are unleashing on Slavianks, Kramatorsk and other cities, the arrest of the LifeNews news-crew makes no sense at all.  They were put on their knees, beat up, held with their faces to the ground - all on video which was then "leaked" to Youtube as if the death squads were provoking the Kremlin with a "what are you gonna do about it?" message/

Second, I believe that the appointment of Biden's son to the board of directors of the main Ukie energy company whose concessions are all in the eastern Ukraine is also a way of further provoking the Kremlin.

So why would the junta do all this?

First, I think that it is reasonable to accept as an axiom that the freaks in Kiev don't "decide" anything at all.  They just take orders from the USA and execute them.  We saw that clearly during Biden's recent trip to Kiev when he had a meeting with the junta's "government" which he - Biden - "chaired" sitting at the head of the table (yet another deliberate in-your-face provocation).

Second, the US knows that the eastern Ukraine is lost, and they are absolutely correct.  Even if we fully believe what Strelkov says (more about that later), there is no doubt that the vast majority of the folks in the Donbass hate the neo-Nazi freaks in Kiev and that they do not want a common future with the rabid Galicians from the western Ukraine.

So if plan 'A' was to seize all of the Ukraine, put a pro-US neo-Nazi and hysterically russophobic regime in power, and take over Crimea for the US/NATO, plan 'B' is simpler: provoke Russia into a military intervention in the eastern Ukraine.  While the Russian military could easily take under control all of the Donbass and even all the lands to the Dniepr river as the proverbial hot knife through butter, the political benefits for the AngloZionist Empire would be immense:

1)  A new Cold War with Russia justifying the existence of NATO.
2)  Cutting-off Russia from the EU market (including energy).
3)  Blaming Russia for the Ukie economic collapse.
4)  Justifying a major surge in US/EU military budgets to "protect Europe".
5)  Isolating Russia internationally, especially at the UN.
6)  Declare Putin a "new Hitler" (what else?) and allocate billions for regime change in Russia.
7) Use the crisis to bring Europe to heel to the AngloZionist "master"
8) Impose Iran-like sanctions on Russia to try to hurt it economically
9) Justify a US/NATO move into western Ukraine and the creation of a new Korean-style demarcation line along the Dniepr with the free and civilized "West" on one side, and the "freedom hating and imperialist dictatorial Russian Asiatic hordes" on the other.
10)Blame the EU economic collapse on the 'Russian threat'

I would argue that for the AngloZionists plan 'B' is almost better than plan 'A'.  For one thing, plan 'B' makes it possible to blame Russia for anything and everything conceivable on Russia.  We have already seen this tendency in the absolutely ludicrous warning that should the Presidential elections next Sunday in the Ukraine fail - Russia would be sanctioned for it.  Next I propose to slap some major sanctions on Russia if there is an earthquake in San Fransisco or if there are riots in Paraguay...

Also, while plan 'A' was really a very long shot, plan 'B' is already working.  Let me give you an example: the Russian media.

For those who cannot follow the Russian media, especially the Russian TV, it is hard to image the degree of openly expressed *rage* at the developments in the Ukraine.  Some folks who are naturally inclined to see the "hand of CIA" in everything are even arguing that the "US-controlled" Russian media has been tasked by Langley to stir up Russian public opinion to such a degree as to force Putin to agree to an intervention in the Ukraine.  According to this thesis, if Putin does not order a Russian military intervention, he will face a major crisis and his popularity will crumble under the waves of outrage from the Russian population.  This is a neat and elegant theory.  It is also wrong (thank God!).  The fact is that Putin's popularity has soared over his handling over the Ukrainian crisis as shown by the screenshot of a recent TV report.

January 2014 - May 2014
Here we are dealing with a huge cultural difference between Russians and western people, especially Anglos: Russians are *very* weary of war.  They will accept it and they will even accept to die in a war, but only one in which the moral issue is really clear-cut like during the 2nd Chechen war, 08.08.08 or the Russian intervention in Crimea.  In all three of these cases the first and foremost consideration to support or oppose the Russian military intervention was a *moral* one.  While public opinion is gradually shifting towards a support for a Russian military intervention in the Ukraine (most public opinion polls suggest that Russian would back one), the military itself and even the Kremlin are weary of falling into the AngloZionist trap of plan 'B'.

Emotions are strong, but emotions should not decide of war and peace issues.  In the 2nd Chechen war, in 08.08.08 and in Crimea emotions were sky-high, but the decision to use military force was taken on pragmatic, rational and carefully measured reasons, not just an surge of outrage.  As I said it many times, when threatened, Russians to not get angry, they concentrate.  This is what is happening now.

Coming back to the media, another very interesting phenomenon is taking place: high visibility Russian Jews are clearly in the lead of the movement to take action (though not necessarily a military one) against the Junta.  Very well-known Jewish personalities like Vladimir Soloviev, Alexander Gordon, Roman Ratner (current head of the Alia battalion, an Israeli special forces battalion compose of Russian Jews), Avigdor Eskin and many others.  While rabid Jew-haters will dismiss this under the usual list of pretexts having to do with Jewish hypocrisy, playing both sides, etc. I personally believe that this is truly an expression of the loathing that Russian Jews have for Ukrainian neo-Nazis.  I would add that it is pretty clear to me that most Russian nationalists also believe in the sincerity of these Jews and welcome them in a struggle against a common enemy.  Does that mean that from now on there will be a long and uninterrupted "love fest" between Russian and Jewish patriots?  Most definitely not.  The list of outstanding issues of very strong disagreement and even opposition is huge, but this is an interesting "temporary cease-fire" if you want, a typically Russian (and Jewish!) way of keeping priorities straight and agreeing to a temporary tactical alliance against a common foe.  Furthermore, there are a lot of Russian Jews who have always felt a sincere and strong love for Russia and the Russian people (if only because a lot of them came from mixed marriages) and who welcome the opportunity to not have to chose between both sides and to be both patriotic Jews and patriotic Russians.  I know, to some this sill sound extremely naive.  But I personally have known many such Russian Jews, in Israel, Europe and Russia, who really did have a double-loyalty, but one which openly *added* two sincerely loyalties.  Of course, some felt more Jewish than Russian, but others felt more Russian than Jewish.  These matters are subtle and complex, not as black and white as some kneejerk Jew-haters would want them to be.  As the Russian expressions goes "the East is a subtle realm" and both Russians and Jews are first and foremost folks of the East, not of the West.

Coming back to what I call the AngoZionist plan 'B', we now can understand the Russian stance: not to be pulled in or, if that is impossible, to be pulled in as last as possible.  Why?  For a few basic reasons:

1) To have as clear-cut a moral case as possible.
2) To give time to world public opinion to realize that it is being lied to by the western corporate media (that already seems to be taking place, if slowly).
3) To maximize the support for such an intervention in the eastern Ukraine.
4) Because time is very much on the Russian side, to give every opportunity to the junta freaks to further commit blunders.
5) Because a victory of the DRP forces is still possible

At this point I want to get the the military balance on the ground in the Donbass.  To sum things up.

A very large Ukrainian force is currently deployed in the eastern Ukraine.  It is opposed by a very small force of volunteers.  There are two reasons why this conflict has not been settled in 24 hours.  First, the vast majority of the Ukrainian military personnel does not want to fight.  Second, the threat of a Russian military intervention is real and, I would add, has nothing to do with the forces allegedly deployed at the Russian-Ukrainian border.  Let me explain this as the corporate media is completely missing this.  Let me give you an example of what could happen.

Let's us assume that a few multiple-rocket launcher batteries around, say, Slaviansk suddenly decided to get serious and open up with a sustained artillery barrage similar to the one the Georgians unleashed on Tskhinval in the first hours of the 08.08.08 war.  In response to that, Russia would not need to send armor and troops across the border.  Putin could order missile and air-strikes which could literally obliterate the offending Ukrainian artillery units in a matter of *minutes* (one single Iskander missile armed with a fragmentation or fuel-air explosive warhead could do the job!).  Unlike the western reporters (which is a misnomer, they should be called "parroters" because they parrot the government lies), the Ukrainian military commanders all fully realize that they are all very much within reach of enough Russian firepower to send them all the a better world in minutes.  Would you want to obey orders to shell Slaviansk while knowing that there is a bullseye painted on our exact position by many Iskander missile operators and that if the Russians fire it, you will neither see, nor hear it coming (not even on radar)?

All the reports on the ground concur to say that while the various Ukrainian death squads (the "National Guard", the Dniepr and Dniester battalions, the various oligarch-owned death squads, etc.) are extremely hostile and even shoot civilians for fun, the Ukrainian military is mostly shy or even pretty friendly to the locals.  Here is what is happening really:

Ukrainian death squads are far more busy dealing with the Ukrainian military than with the Donbass forces.  For one thing, this is easier and safer for them (like all death squads, they are staffed with lunatics, perverts and cowards): why risk your life fighting some pretty motivated folks when you can instead bully regular military commanders to do the fighting for you?  As for the Ukrainians, they cannot openly defy these orders, but they can make darn sure that they are minimally executed. 

Furthermore, by all accounts, the death squads get all the support while the regular military forces are under or not paid at all, they are under fed, under equipped, they have little or not medical support and the logistics are plain horrible.

In fact, Igor Strelkov admits this in his address.  His concern is that with the gradual escalation the already small forces of volunteers is having to shoulder am immense effort while hundred of thousands of men, including military trained ones, are sitting at home and sipping beer.  Is that really true?

I believe that this is indeed very true.  There are many reasons for this state of affairs.

To begin, an entire generation of Ukrainians have been raised in abject passivity.  "Work, shut up and mind your business while we fleece you" was the order of the day under the various oligarch-controlled regimes of the "independent Ukraine".  Second, there are not one or two but at least THREE local powers in the Donbass right now: the local mobsters, the Kiev junta and the local resistance.  This creates a huge confusion were many people are both afraid and do not want to get burned.  Third, most people clearly that Russia will solve the problem for them and think "we will vote for sovereignty, and the Russians will come to liberate us sooner or later".  And never forget that that there are death squads operating all over the Ukraine right now.  The purpose of massacres like the one in Odessa or Mariupol is to terrify the locals by showing how ruthless and murderous you are and it works (death squads are of the most time honored traditions of the Empire!).  So it is all well to sit in the safety of my house in sunny Florida and wish that the folks in the Donbass would take up arms, except for my wife and family are not threatened.  My house will (probably) not get assaulted at night by man in black, and I am unlikely to be disappeared, tortured and murdered.   This also applies to most of the readers of this blog.

Of course, Strelkov clearly sees where all this is heading (escalation) and he is concerned that the currently small resistance will not be able to cope with a constantly growing junta escalation: it all began with baseball bats, the they switched to Molotov cocktails, then handguns, assault-rifles and machine guns.  Now they have already used mortar and artillery fire.  We have confirmed reports of helicopter-fired unguided missile attacks and this morning I got a report of a Sukhoi attack.  Add to this oligarch-paid death squads and you clearly will see what has Strelkov so worried and, let's face it, disgusted with the passivity of the locals.

But keep in mind that even if his appeal is not heeded, and even if the key cities are re-taken, the Donbass is already lost. In fact, the latest report out of Kiev says the Ukie rump-Rada has adopted a memorandum stating that "Ukrainian troops deployed in the country’s east should immediately return to their bases".  Now, I am not holding my breath (Uncle Sam will never agree), but who knows what might happen (maybe the Germans are getting involved now?).  I believe that nobody really knows.

There are simply too many variables to confidently state that this or that will happen.  Heck, we are not even sure of what has already happened!  This is an extremely chaotic situation in which most unpredictable things could happen (for example, an oligarch could e bought by Moscow or a resistance figure could be bought by the USA - it really could go either way).  The fact is that with the notable exception of true believers (on both sides), the vast majority of Ukrainians are still in the "what is in it for me?" mode.  Again, this is in no way different form the position of most Russians in 1917, 1991 or 1993.  While this kind of apparent passivity has nothing to do with some "lack of democratic culture in the past of these societies which only recently were feudal" and all the rest of the garden variety western racism supremacist, it is a direct result of a profound alienation with, and suspicion of, the elites.  These folks just so Yanukovich hand power to neo-Nazis and run abroad!  They have been burned over and over again.  And, this is crucial, there is no Ukrainian Putin to follow.

When Putin came to power in Russia it took less than a month for the armed forces to feel that "this guy as got our backs".  It took the rest of the population a little longer, but now the vast majority of Russians actually trust Putin.  Whom should they trust in the Ukraine or even in the Donbass.  Figure which appeared just a few weeks ago and which nobody really knows or figures which are known for decades for being thief, crooks and pathological liars?

Whom would you trust if you were living in Donetsk or Lugansk?

Would you risk your life and the life of your family on such a choice?


So while I understand the frustration of Strelkov (and most of us!) with seeing a territory with millions of people defended by only a few hundred courageous men, and while I also catch myself getting enraged in discussed with the news out of the Ukraine and day-dreaming about Polite Armed Men in Green obliterating the Ukie death-squads, I also understand why this has been and will continue to be a slow process: it is simply too fluid and too rapidly shifting to take any premature or rash decisions.

The AngloZionists are desperately trying to trigger an over Russian intervention, and there is a pretty good chance that they might succeed, no doubt, but the good news is that time is running out fast, very fast, soon the economic crisis is going to start really biting and the unrest will spread far beyond the Donbass.

As for the Presidential elections next Sunday, they are going to be such a mega-farce that it serve no other purpose than to maybe give NATO a justification to move forces into the western Ukraine at the "request" of the new President.  Will the West recognize this election?  You betcha it will!  As Vladimir Soloviev put it on Sunday, "even if there will be only one candidate and one person voting, the West will call these elections free and fair".  But for the people of the Ukraine this will be a self-evident farce which will only alienate them further, including the neo-Nazis.  In fact, Yulia Timoshenko (who, by the way, seems to have gone completely insane) has even declared that if the billionaire oligarch Poroshenko is elected (as all polls seem to suggest) she will launch yet another revolution with Maidan and all.

Following the example of the Ukraine, not it is "Banderastan" which is committing national suicide and that entire house of cards will be coming down soon (unless a last minute effort by Germany helps delay or stop this, but I am not holding my breath).  We all need to show some patience now.

Sorry for the very long SITREP, but I have to cover a lot of ground.

Many thanks and kind regards,

The Saker

Monday, May 19, 2014

China pivot fuels Eurasian century By Pepe Escobar

China pivot fuels Eurasian century
By Pepe Escobar

A specter is haunting Washington, an unnerving vision of a Sino-Russian alliance wedded to an expansive symbiosis of trade and commerce across much of the Eurasian land mass - at the expense of the United States.

And no wonder Washington is anxious. That alliance is already a done deal in a variety of ways: through the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa); at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; inside the Group of 20; and via the 120-member-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Trade and commerce are just part of the future bargain. Synergies in the development of new military technologies beckon as well. After Russia's Star Wars-style, ultra-sophisticated S-500 air defense anti-missile system comes online in 2018, Beijing is sure to want a version of it. Meanwhile, Russia is about to sell dozens of state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters to the Chinese as Beijing and Moscow move to seal an aviation-industrial partnership.

This week should provide the first real fireworks in the celebration of a new Eurasian century-in-the-making when Russian President Vladimir Putin drops in on Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

You remember "Pipelineistan," all those crucial oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing Eurasia that make up the true circulatory system for the life of the region. Now, it looks like the ultimate Pipelineistan deal, worth US$1 trillion and 10 years in the making, will be signed off on as well. In it, the giant, state-controlled Russian energy giant Gazprom will agree to supply the giant state-controlled China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) with 3.75 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas a day for no less than 30 years, starting in 2018. That's the equivalent of a quarter of Russia's gas exports to all of Europe. China's present daily gas demand is around 16 billion cubic feet a day, and imports account for 31.6% of total consumption.

Gazprom may still collect the bulk of its profits from Europe, but Asia could turn out to be its Everest. The company will use this mega-deal to boost investment in Eastern Siberia and the whole region will be reconfigured as a privileged gas hub for Japan and South Korea as well. If you want to know why no key country in Asia has been willing to "isolate" Russia in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis - and in defiance of the Obama administration - look no further than Pipelineistan.

Exit the Petrodollar, enter the Gas-o-Yuan
And then, talking about anxiety in Washington, there's the fate of the petrodollar to consider, or rather the "thermonuclear" possibility that Moscow and Beijing will agree on payment for the Gazprom-CNPC deal not in petrodollars but in Chinese yuan.

One can hardly imagine a more tectonic shift, with Pipelineistan intersecting with a growing Sino-Russian political-economic-energy partnership. Along with it goes the future possibility of a push, led again by China and Russia, toward a new international reserve currency - actually a basket of currencies - that would supersede the dollar (at least in the optimistic dreams of BRICS members).

Right after the potentially game-changing Sino-Russian summit comes a BRICS summit in Brazil in July. That's when a $100 billion BRICS development bank, announced in 2012, will officially be born as a potential alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as a source of project financing for the developing world.

More BRICS cooperation meant to bypass the dollar is reflected in the "Gas-o-yuan", as in natural gas bought and paid for in Chinese currency. Gazprom is even considering marketing bonds in yuan as part of the financial planning for its expansion. Yuan-backed bonds are already trading in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and most recently Frankfurt.

Nothing could be more sensible for the new Pipelineistan deal than to have it settled in yuan. Beijing would pay Gazprom in that currency (convertible into roubles); Gazprom would accumulate the yuan; Russia would then buy myriad made-in-China goods and services in yuan convertible into roubles.

It's common knowledge that banks in Hong Kong, from Standard Chartered to HSBC - as well as others closely linked to China via trade deals - have been diversifying into the yuan, which implies that it could become one of the de facto global reserve currencies even before it's fully convertible. (Beijing is unofficially working for a fully convertible yuan by 2018.)

The Russia-China gas deal is inextricably tied up with the energy relationship between the European Union and Russia. After all, the bulk of Russia's gross domestic product comes from oil and gas sales, as does much of its leverage in the Ukraine crisis. In turn, Germany depends on Russia for a hefty 30% of its natural gas supplies. Yet Washington's geopolitical imperatives - spiced up with Polish hysteria - have meant pushing Brussels to find ways to "punish" Moscow in the future energy sphere (while not imperiling present day energy relationships).

There's a consistent rumble in Brussels these days about the possible cancellation of the projected 16 billion euro (US$22 billion) South Stream pipeline, whose construction is to start in June. On completion, it would pump yet more Russian natural gas to Europe - in this case, underneath the Black Sea (bypassing Ukraine) to Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Italy, and Austria.

Bulgaria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have already made it clear that they are firmly opposed to any cancellation, and cancellation is probably not in the cards. After all, the only obvious alternative is Caspian Sea gas from Azerbaijan, and that isn't likely to happen unless the EU develops its own construction projects.

In any case, Azerbaijan doesn't have enough capacity to supply the levels of natural gas needed, and other actors like Kazakhstan, plagued with infrastructure problems, or unreliable Turkmenistan, which prefers to sell its gas to China, are already largely out of the picture. And don't forget that South Stream, coupled with subsidiary energy projects, will create a lot of jobs and investment in many of the most economically devastated EU nations.

Nonetheless, such EU threats, however unrealistic, only serve to accelerate Russia's increasing symbiosis with Asian markets. For Beijing especially, it's a win-win situation. After all, between energy supplied across seas policed and controlled by the US Navy and steady, stable land routes out of Siberia, it's no contest.

Pick your own Silk Road
Of course, the US dollar remains the top global reserve currency, involving 33% of global foreign exchange holdings at the end of 2013, according to the IMF. It was, however, at 55% in 2000. Nobody knows the percentage in yuan (and Beijing isn't talking), but the IMF notes that reserves in "other currencies" in emerging markets have been up 400% since 2003.

The Federal Reserve is arguably monetizing 70% of the US government debt in an attempt to keep interest rates from heading skywards. Pentagon adviser Jim Rickards, as well as every Hong Kong-based banker, tends to believe that the Fed is bust (though they won't say it on the record). No one can even imagine the extent of the possible future deluge the US dollar might experience amid a $1.4 quadrillion Mount Ararat of financial derivatives.

Don't think that this is the death knell of Western capitalism, however, just the faltering of that reigning economic faith, neoliberalism, still the official ideology of the United States, the overwhelming majority of the European Union, and parts of Asia and South America.

As far as what might be called the "authoritarian neoliberalism" of the Middle Kingdom, what's not to like at the moment? China has proven that there is a result-oriented alternative to the Western "democratic" capitalist model for nations aiming to be successful. It's building not one, but myriad new Silk Roads, far-reaching webs of high-speed railways, highways, pipelines, ports, and fiber-optic networks across huge parts of Eurasia. These include a Southeast Asian road, a Central Asian road, an Indian Ocean "maritime highway" and even a high-speed rail line through Iran and Turkey reaching all the way to Germany.

In April, when President Xi Jinping visited the city of Duisburg on the Rhine River, with the world's largest inland harbor and right in the heartland of Germany's Ruhr steel industry, he made an audacious proposal: a new "economic Silk Road" should be built between China and Europe, on the basis of the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe railway, which already runs from China to Kazakhstan, to continue through Russia, Belarus, Poland, and finally Germany. That's 15 days by train, 20 less than for cargo ships sailing from China's eastern seaboard. Now that would represent the ultimate geopolitical earthquake in terms of integrating economic growth across Eurasia.

Keep in mind that, if no bubbles burst, China is about to become - and remain - the number one global economic power, a position it enjoyed for 18 of the past 20 centuries. But don't tell London hagiographers; they still believe that US hegemony will last, well, forever.

Take me to Cold War 2.0
Despite recent serious financial struggles, the BRICS countries have been consciously working to become a counterforce to the original and - having tossed Russia out in March - once again Group of 7, or G-7. They are eager to create a global architecture to replace the one first imposed in the wake of World War II, and they see themselves as a potential challenge to the exceptionalist and unipolar world that Washington imagines for our future (with itself as the global robocop and NATO as its robo-police force). Historian and imperialist cheerleader Ian Morris, in his book War! What is it Good For?, defines the US as the ultimate "globocop" and "the last best hope of Earth". If that globocop "wearies of its role", he writes, "there is no plan B".

Well, there is a plan BRICS - or so the BRICS nations would like to think, at least. And when the BRICS do act in this spirit on the global stage, they quickly conjure up a curious mix of fear, hysteria, and pugnaciousness in the Washington establishment.

Take Christopher Hill as an example. The former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and US ambassador to Iraq is now an advisor with the Albright Stonebridge Group, a consulting firm deeply connected to the White House and the State Department. When Russia was down and out, Hill used to dream of a hegemonic American "new world order". Now that the ungrateful Russians have spurned what "the West has been offering" - that is, "special status with NATO, a privileged relationship with the European Union, and partnership in international diplomatic endeavors" - they are, in his view, busy trying to revive the Soviet empire. Translation: if you're not our vassals, you're against us. Welcome to Cold War 2.0.

The Pentagon has its own version of this directed not so much at Russia as at China, which, its think tank on future warfare claims, is already at war with Washington in a number of ways. So if it's not apocalypse now, it's Armageddon tomorrow. And it goes without saying that whatever's going wrong, as the Obama administration very publicly "pivots" to Asia and the American media fills with talk about a revival of Cold War-era "containment policy" in the Pacific, it's all China's fault.

Embedded in the mad dash toward Cold War 2.0 are some ludicrous facts-on-the-ground: the US government, with $17.5 trillion in national debt and counting, is contemplating a financial showdown with Russia, the largest global energy producer and a major nuclear power, just as it's also promoting an economically unsustainable military encirclement of its largest creditor, China.

Russia runs a sizeable trade surplus. Humongous Chinese banks will have no trouble helping Russian banks out if Western funds dry up. In terms of inter-BRICS cooperation, few projects beat a $30 billion oil pipeline in the planning stages that will stretch from Russia to India via Northwest China.

Chinese companies are already eagerly discussing the possibility of taking part in the creation of a transport corridor from Russia into Crimea, as well as an airport, shipyard, and liquid natural gas terminal there. And there's another "thermonuclear" gambit in the making: the birth of a natural gas equivalent to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that would include Russia, Iran, and reportedly disgruntled US ally Qatar.

The (unstated) BRICS long-term plan involves the creation of an alternative economic system featuring a basket of gold-backed currencies that would bypass the present America-centric global financial system. (No wonder Russia and China are amassing as much gold as they can.) The euro - a sound currency backed by large liquid bond markets and huge gold reserves - would be welcomed in as well.

It's no secret in Hong Kong that the Bank of China has been using a parallel SWIFT network to conduct every kind of trade with Tehran, which is under a heavy US sanctions regime. With Washington wielding Visa and MasterCard as weapons in a growing Cold War-style economic campaign against Russia, Moscow is about to implement an alternative payment and credit card system not controlled by Western finance. An even easier route would be to adopt the Chinese Union Pay system, whose operations have already overtaken American Express in global volume.

I'm just pivoting with myself
No amount of Obama administration "pivoting" to Asia to contain China (and threaten it with US Navy control of the energy sea lanes to that country) is likely to push Beijing far from its Deng Xiaoping-inspired, self-described "peaceful development" strategy meant to turn it into a global powerhouse of trade.

Nor are the forward deployment of US or NATO troops in Eastern Europe or other such Cold-War-ish acts likely to deter Moscow from a careful balancing act: ensuring that Russia's sphere of influence in Ukraine remains strong without compromising trade and commercial, as well as political, ties with the European Union - above all, with strategic partner Germany. This is Moscow's Holy Grail; a free-trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which (not by accident) is mirrored in China's dream of a new Silk Road to Germany.

Increasingly wary of Washington, Berlin for its part abhors the notion of Europe being caught in the grips of a Cold War 2.0. German leaders have more important fish to fry, including trying to stabilize a wobbly EU while warding off an economic collapse in southern and central Europe and the advance of ever more extreme rightwing parties.

On the other side of the Atlantic, President Obama and his top officials show every sign of becoming entangled in their own pivoting - to Iran, to China, to Russia's eastern borderlands, and (under the radar) to Africa. The irony of all these military-first maneuvers is that they are actually helping Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing build up their own strategic depth in Eurasia and elsewhere, as reflected in Syria, or crucially in ever more energy deals. They are also helping cement the growing strategic partnership between China and Iran. The unrelenting Ministry of Truth narrative out of Washington about all these developments now carefully ignores the fact that, without Moscow, the "West" would never have sat down to discuss a final nuclear deal with Iran or gotten a chemical disarmament agreement out of Damascus.

When the disputes between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea and between that country and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyou islands meet the Ukraine crisis, the inevitable conclusion will be that both Russia and China consider their borderlands and sea lanes private property and aren't going to take challenges quietly - be it via NATO expansion, US military encirclement, or missile shields. Neither Beijing nor Moscow is bent on the usual form of imperialist expansion, despite the version of events now being fed to Western publics. Their "red lines" remain essentially defensive in nature, no matter the bluster sometimes involved in securing them.

Whatever Washington may want or fear or try to prevent, the facts on the ground suggest that, in the years ahead, Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran will only grow closer, slowly but surely creating a new geopolitical axis in Eurasia. Meanwhile, a discombobulated America seems to be aiding and abetting the deconstruction of its own unipolar world order, while offering the BRICS a genuine window of opportunity to try to change the rules of the game.

Russia and China in pivot mode
In Washington's think-tank land, the conviction that the Obama administration should be focused on replaying the Cold War via a new version of containment policy to "limit the development of Russia as a hegemonic power" has taken hold. The recipe: weaponize the neighbors from the Baltic states to Azerbaijan to "contain" Russia. Cold War 2.0 is on because, from the point of view of Washington's elites, the first one never really left town.

Yet as much as the US may fight the emergence of a multipolar, multi-powered world, economic facts on the ground regularly point to such developments. The question remains: will the decline of the hegemon be slow and reasonably dignified, or will the whole world be dragged down with it in what has been called "the Samson option"?

While we watch the spectacle unfold, with no end-game in sight, keep in mind that a new force is growing in Eurasia, with the Sino-Russian strategic alliance threatening to dominate its heartland along with great stretches of its inner rim. Now, that's a nightmare of Mackinderesque proportions from Washington's point of view. Think, for instance, of how Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser who became a mentor on global politics to President Obama, would see it.

In his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski argued that "the struggle for global primacy [would] continue to be played" on the Eurasian "chessboard", of which "Ukraine was a geopolitical pivot". "If Moscow regains control over Ukraine," he wrote at the time, Russia would "automatically regain the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia."

That remains most of the rationale behind the American imperial containment policy - from Russia's European "near abroad" to the South China Sea. Still, with no end-game in sight, keep your eye on Russia pivoting to Asia, China pivoting across the world, and the BRICS hard at work trying to bring about the new Eurasian Century.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at