While the worldwide oil glut continues to devastate the North American fracking-related industries, Russia is preparing to host a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
The once mighty oil cartel is by all accounts on its last legs, so it isn't clear to what extent both OPEC member states and the world's largest non-OPEC oil producer Russia hope to achieve by meeting on March 20th. But Nigeria's Harvard Law School grad Petroleum Minister Emmanuel Kachikwu is staying optimistic. According to Bloomberg he's promising a "dramatic price movement" with "everybody coming back to the table" following a tentative production freeze deal reached in the Qatari capital of Doha on February 16 between the Russians, Saudis, Qataris and Venezuelans. Bloomberg wouldn't confirm the time and date of the meeting, but Russia's Kommersant newspaper (owned by the richest man in Russia Alisher Usmanov) reports Sunday March 20 is the big day.
Setting the Table for Crude Negotiations: Russian Victories in Syria
The Russians and Saudis are planning to sit down to discuss what is the leading source of revenue for both of their treasuries at a delicate time. Moscow has to the surprise of many agreed to a ceasefire in Syria, over the muffled objections of its client, Syrian strongman Bashir al-Assad. It has been implied but not directly stated by Secretary of State John Kerry that Moscow agreed to this deal under the threat of Washington's 'Plan B', which may have included the joint Turkish-Saudi invasion of Syria under the auspices of fighting ISIS and with American soldiers providing the Sunni powers with human shields from Russian air strikes and Syrian loyalist attacks on the ground. But that may have involved a certain amount of bluffing on Kerry's part, in the Secretary of State's recent testimony to Congress. Not that Congress seemed to mind Kerry's bluster -- the latest bright idea on Capitol Hill being the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman's desire to 'put Assad's government' which 'isn't fighting ISIS' on trial for war crimes against Syria civilians.
Naturally, the legislation's co-sponsor Rep. Ed Royce made no mention in his remarks of the Saudi, Turkish and Qatari intelligence chiefs who poured billions worth of arms into the hands of Salafist terrorists who burned churches, looted homes, and massacred civilians because of their sect or alleged support for Assad. Nor apparently is there any discussion on the Hill of cutting off U.S. arms sales to ISIS terrorist sponsoring governments in Ankara and Riyadh much less demanding that they get sent to the International Criminal Court.
The Saudis and Turks Cannot Move into Syria in Force Without U.S. Support
What's clear is that for now, the Turkish Army will not be rolling into northern Syria in the immediate future -- though a lameduck offensive ordered by President Obama involving U.S. ground troops that the next President will have to deal with cannot be ruled out. Nonetheless, the much ballyhooed (especially in alternative media) 'Northern Thunder' multinational exercise inside Saudi Arabia did not prove to be a rolling start to or successful cover for a Saudi invasion.
Despite being able to conduct Northern Thunder, there's little evidence the infamously incompetent, parade-ground and Shi'a terrorizing-focused Saudi military is capable of putting a large force on the ground inside Syria, even with American logistical support. Like the US Air Force tankers gassing up Royal Saudi Air Force jets before they bomb civilians in Yemen.
The idea that American troops (especially those of the Ft. Campbell, Kentucky-based 101st Airborne now deploying to Iraq) would be able to trust the Saudis to guard their flanks or work with them in ISIS country around Raqqa without letting Daesh suicide bombers through checkpoints to blow up some infidels would surely be tested. This is just one of the many problems with the 'Plan B' or 'Plan C' proposals being floated for snatching some sort of 'win' for Washington out of the rubble of broken neocon dreams that is Syria. This is also before we even get into another problem for team neocon's hopes of carving a Sunnistan out of the borderlands of 'Syraq' -- a five letter word that starts with 'T' and ends with 'P'. But we'll have more to say on the geopolitics of The Donald's rise in a later post.
As the Russia Analyst recently joked with 'W' the Intelligence Insider in an email, any Saudi 'liberation' of ISIS-stan in eastern Syria would be less a hostile entry and more of a family reunion. Considering how much of the Kingdom's military talent as well as reportedly condemned convicts have joined the Daesh terror army, it's little wonder those Saudi officers left to fight in Yemen are the incompetent. Daesh and quite probably Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which fights alongside the pro-Saudi Hadi forces inside Yemen must have scooped up all of the 'ex' Saudi officers with any sort of tactical cunning. Given these sad sack Saudi facts, it's little wonder that KSA military analysts are now boasting to RT Arabic that their country has nuclear weapons -- and that the muscle flexing of the tottering Kingdom is reaching comical proportions.
Instead of a frontal assault on Syria that would quickly end in heavy casualties if not humiliating defeat, the Saudis and their Turkish allies appear to be settling in for more sectarian pot stirring. After the Lebanese authorities refused to release the Saudi prince busted with huge amounts of the ISIS-used methamphetamine Captagon, the Kingdom ordered its citizens to leave the multi-confessional Levantine state for their own safety.
After Greek authorities stopped a vessel bound for Lebanon last month carrying a large amount of weaponry shipped from a Turkish port, it appears Riyadh is hellbent on re-activating Sunni Salafist and anti-Hezbollah networks in the country's north close to the Syrian border. Whether this is part of the 'Plan B' or is just more sectarian strife being stirred up by the infamously Shi'a-phobic Wahhabist regime in Riyadh remains to be seen.
The UN Security Council Supported Russian-U.S. Ceasefire in Syria
The more accurately termed 'cessation of hostilities' rather than ceasefire does not include Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, nor the Islamic State terrorist army. This means although the tempo of Russian air strikes has decreased, allowing for much needed maintenance and rest for the crews at Khmeimim air base outside Latakia, the war to liberate large parts of Syria from the Saudi and Turkish sponsored terrorists goes on.
While the jihadists are losing their last toehold in far northern Latakia province on the Turkish border, a thin jihadist lifeline between Turkey and partially encircled Aleppo is under attack by the Kurdish YPG. On another critical front, the revitalized Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is advancing toward Jisr ash-Shugur, the gateway to Al-Nusra's stronghold in northern Syria's Idlib province. And in a development that could further undermine the ridiculous U.S. Narrative that Assad and Russia aren't fighting ISIS, the SAA (backed by Russian advisers and airpower) is pressing forward to the gates of Daesh-held Palmyra.
For these reasons, as well as the fact that several thousand jihadists from Aleppo to the Damascus suburbs have chosen a temporary truce with the Assad government over more punishing Russian air strikes, most Russia analysts view the ceasefire as a 'win' for Moscow. Much like the February 2015 Minsk 2 accords froze the front lines of the Ukrainian civil war in place on Russia's terms, the U.S.-Russian agreed ceasefire is expected to force the truly 'moderate' elements to demonstrate their commitment to a peace process.
That is, a process whereby negotiations will create autonomous Sunni regions inside a nominally intact, but still somewhat sovereign Syria. Most importantly for Moscow, Syria will remain aligned with Russia and Iran -- despite a massive proxy war to force regime change in Damascus. There's clearly no going back to the multi-confessional Syria that existed prior to the civil war, but neither will Syria's enemies be able to dismember her in the manner they had anticipated.
Russia's Limited, But Achievable Objectives in the Syrian Conflict
RogueMoney readers will recall that when the Russia Analyst first wrote about the Russian intervention in early October 2015, we predicted that Moscow would seek to limit itself to realistic goals in Syria, and try to avoid the traps that the U.S. fell into with its heavy handed occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. What Moscow has sought all along is the preservation of the Damascus regime and a stable succession for Assad -- without any illusions about a quick, easy war or the SAA's ability to restore 100% of Syrian territory to full government control.
In this sense, the tacit agreement reached between Assad and the Kurdish YPG who desire their own autonomous homeland called Rojava stretching across the country's northern border with Turkey may be seen as a model for settling the conflict. Even mainstream media are now forced to admit that the Kurds have become more disillusioned with Washington's balancing act between them and the Turks, as well as the Americans' desire to use the YPG against ISIS while limiting its advances in 'moderate' rebel held territory.
Vladimir Putin as One of the Fathers of an Emerging Kurdistan -- and Neocon McCainiac Anger Over Russia's Successful 'Wedge Strategy' to Exploit Kurdish/Turkish Contradictions
Today even Russia-hating neocon crazies like Sen. John McCain acknowledge that Moscow has made inroads with the Kurds, who were supposed to be America's proxies against ISIS. As U.S. News and World Report says:
Sen. John McCain, the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says the Obama administration has mishandled the critical relationship with the YPG and now is paying the price.
“I’m confident it’s not all the Kurds, but there is a segment that has aligned with the Russians because they want to win, and they see the Russians succeeding where we have failed,” McCain told a group of reporters last week. “Now we are faced with a dilemma … because they think that’s the best way of winning.”
The Arizona Republican is one of a series of coalition officials, analysts or observers who believe America’s self-imposed restrictions for the bloody conflict in Syria have forced the Kurdish fighters on the ground to look for other sources of international support to achieve their goals.
Losing the Kurds would hurt whatever hopes the U.S.-led coalition has of finding victory on the ground in Syria. Fighting units like the YPG have been among the most successful in a war to which Obama has refused to deploy large ground forces. Amid the failed U.S. effort to build an army in Syria of its own, the Kurds are now among the only groups left capable of making such gains.
This problem is magnified by the fact that the powers intervening in Syria have differing priorities. The U.S. wants to defeat the Islamic State group while keeping out of the ongoing Syrian civil war. Turkey, a NATO ally providing a critical base for American warplanes, wants to overthrow the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, supported now by Russia and Iran and to keep the regional Kurdish population under control.
Meanwhile, the chief priority of the Kurds – an ethnic group of about 25 million to 30 million spread out across Syria, Turkey, Iran and Armenia and a semiautonomous region within Iraq – is securing a territory they can claim as their own when the fighting stops. And they largely don’t care who helps them...
Recent combat maneuvers indicate they’re at least coordinating with forces loyal to the Assad regime, trained and supported by Russian special operators and protected by Russian airpower overhead. (Some reports even indicate Syrian opposition fighters have heard Kurdish radio chatter calling in Russian airstrikes directly – but those are unconfirmed and would align with previous false claims the opposition has made.)
For example, when the YPG liberated the Syrian town of Tell Rifaat in mid-February – less than 20 miles north of the opposition stronghold of Aleppo and roughly halfway from Aleppo to the Turkish border – regime forces simultaneously moved on the two villages of Ahras and Misqan to the south of the town, supported by Russian airstrikes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other members of Putin's team have done a masterful job of exploiting this rift with a wedge strategy to alienate Washington from Ankara. Of course, the opportunistic Russians could not have accomplished this without Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government's neo-Ottoman megalomania, its vicious crackdown on the Kurds, and what most informed people know was the treacherous shoot down of a Russian plane flying within Syrian air space.
Denial, Deflection and Disinformation: US/NATO Blame Russia for Destabilization of EU Washington's Puppet Angela Merkel Created with Her Open Borders Policy
The most problematic Turkish policy for Washington has been Ankara's brazen blackmail of Europe and especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel using Syrian refugees as pawns, such that the Obama Administration is reduced to pathetic talking points about Russia and Assad 'weaponizing refugees'.
In NATO Supreme Commander Phillip Breedlove's la la testimony to Congress, it was Putin and Assad who destabilized European politics by putting a gun to Merkel's head and forcing her to stupidly open Germany's borders to millions of Muslim refugees. It certainly was not the head of a NATO member state Erdoğan blackmailing Germany, Greece and other nominal U.S. allies with the specter of millions more coming if the EU and U.S. didn't accede to his demands (by betraying the Kurds once more). But who cares about reality and inconvenient facts like the mass influx of Mideast refugees into Germany started weeks if not months before Russia started dropping bombs in Syria? Let's just say that Russia, Syria, and Iran are 'weaponizing refugees' and everything else and call it a day.
Washington Failed to Match Ambitious Geopolitical Aims with Realistic Means in Syria
Irrespective of how clever the Obama White House assumed it was in 'leading from behind' in Libya and expecting to repeat the same formula for regime change in Syria, there was never any easy way for Washington to achieve its aims. The only way for Washington to avoid stepping into the bad blood between the Turks and Kurds would be to do the job of fighting ISIS on the ground AND removing Assad itself. The latter was successfully blocked by Russia, Iran and (standing behind them) China. The former was ruled out by an Administration that (correctly) feared American troops being caught in another Iraq-style quagmire AFTER or even DURING the inevitable ground offensive that would've been required to topple Assad.
It was the nightmare of Marines dying in the ruins of Damascus, perhaps at the hands of their erstwhile Sunni Salafist 'allies' in the anti-Assad struggle, that stopped the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff at Obama's chemical weapons false flag induced 'red line' in August of 2013. It was Obama's desire to achieve the some goal but with far cheaper means and at the expense of others' (not Americans) lives and assumption that Turks and Kurds could all merrily be moved like chess pieces on a checkers board that led to Washington's failure. Thereby opening the door for Russia to step in as the hero and clean up the mess Washington and its Sunni allies (with not so silent partner Israel) had made in the Levant. Uncle Sam knew or told the world he knew what he wanted in Syria -- a country without Assad or ISIS. He wound up with both the Islamic State and Assad's presence in the country outlasting the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.
After Libya the CIA and Pentagon Could Not Square the Circle of Empowering 'Moderate' Salafist Jihadists in Syria with the so-called (Fraudulent) 'War on Terror' -- and Now DoD's Kurdish YPG Fighters Are Killing the 'AlCIAeda' 'Moderate Rebels'
In contrast to Washington's course of globalist, Machiavellian plans executed with incompetent and contradictory means, Moscow went into this conflict with greater unity of command and realism. This is in part, because the U.S. simply could not, all fantasies about a huge number of 'moderate rebels' aside, topple Assad without creating a vacuum that its nominal enemies in the 'War on Terror' would naturally fill. This entire article by Aaron Stein, loftily credentialed as a Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s (Saudi funded) Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, is an attempt to tap dance around the grim reality that any U.S. intervention this late in the game would empower Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise of jihad.
The reality is of course there was NEVER any way for the U.S. to send troops or bomb Syria and NOT benefit Al-Qaeda in the country, even prior to the spectacular rise of the Islamic State. Furthermore, the false pretense that Turkish and Saudi Arabian cut outs could maintain a morally acceptable distance between the CIA's covert war to topple Assad and 'the Gulfies' and neo-Ottomans support for Salafists hostile to the U.S. and Christendom lies at the heart of the neocons' failure in Syria. As does their arrogant underestimation of the Syrian Arab Army's fighting resolve and that of their Lebanese Hezbollah and Shi'a Iranian allies.
At the end of the day, you cannot tell members of the military or intelligence community for years that they're locked in a monumental, 'global war on terror' and turn around to arm a substantial set of enemies in that war because "Assad's a bad guy". At least not without leaks, infighting, and substantial consequences for morale in both the Pentagon and Langley. Compartmentalization and secrecy as well as using regional allies as go-betweens and 'fall guys' for the rise of ISIS can create some sense of detachment and plausible deniability. But there are only so many 'oopsie' para-drops where the Islamic State accidentally gets supplies or fights with Humvees and U.S. ammunition 'captured from the Iraqis' before people ask hard to answer questions.
Russia Learned from Its Own Mistakes With the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan --
Is the U.S. Capable of Learning from an Entire Generation of Failure in the Mideast?
Thanks to American failures in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their own prior defeat in the Hindu Kush, the Russians knew what not to do in Syria. The Russians were confident they had a formula to turn at least some of Syria's Sunni Muslims opposed to Assad against the Saudi-funded Salafists. The Russians acquired this expertise in turning local fighters against foreign jihadists the hard way, during the first (1994-96) and second (1999-2001) Chechen wars.
The formula, as described by my white Russian friend The Saker is simple: recognize the moderates as those willing to negotiate a truce with the government, while the extremists define themselves as such by refusing talks (even as the fighting continues). This gives the locals an incentive to negotiate so their families can begin to live with rebuilt infrastructure and stop dying in the bombing and crossfire.
This sounds so simple but has been a major stumbling block to Washington's meetings with 'moderate Taliban' over the past several years as the Pentagon seeks to extricate the U.S. from the Pashtun quagmire. This (along with abundant use of cash bribes which the U.S. later copied in the so-called 'Anbar Awakening' of the Surge in Iraq) was the method by which Russia turned its former enemies in Chechnya including the Kadyrovs and their allied Sunni Muslim clans into powerful combatants on Russia's side.
What massive Russian firepower alone could not accomplish in the Caucasus, the Kadyrovs -- despite or because of their fearsome reputation -- were able to pull off. Together with the FSB, the Army and Interior Ministry spetsnaz, the Kadyrovsti finished off a Saudi and Turkish sponsored insurgency in the war torn Russian republic.
'The Strong Horse' Giving the Local Tribes What They Want -- Self Rule, Not Being Just Puppets for the Globalist Empire's Regional Turkish-Saudi Overlords
In Chechnya, the Russian central government was able to provide local strongmen what foreign sponsors of the jihad never could -- legal legitimacy and funding. Similarly in Syria, U.S. News and World Report is acknowledging in an unusually blunt assessment that the Kurds are getting what they want from Moscow, not Washington:
This straddling policy [of trying to appease Turkey and the Kurds -JWS] leads to awkward diplomatic incidents, such as when the U.S. denied a visa to PYD emissary Saleh Muslim last year.
But the PYD has since expanded its diplomatic options. Earlier this month, it announced it had opened a delegation office in Moscow.
“Our aim is to strengthen and develop relations with the Russian side, including its civil organizations, political parties, academics,” its chief delegate, Abd Salam Muhammad Ali, told Russian state-sponsored news agency RT. An envoy for the Syrian Kurds told Bloomberg that Russia had committed to protect Kurdish fighters from Turkey, a pledge it may have to fulfill following reports at the end of February Turkey shelled a Kurdish town near the border.
The delicate balance the U.S. is trying to strike between the Turks and the Kurds has left a perfect gap for Russia to further harass the U.S. and to exact revenge on Ankara amid heightened tensions between the two countries, which nearly devolved into all-out war when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that briefly crossed over into its territory. Moscow, Tehran and Damascus also can now offer the Kurds something Washington can’t: a contiguous region across Syria’s north that would connect Kurdish-liberated areas from Afrin in the northwest, to Kobani, to al Hasakah province in the northeast.
While Russia is Winning on Syrian Battlefields and at the UN Negotiating Table, Economics Not Warfare Will Determine the Global Power Shift to Eurasia
On the Friday night Guerrilla Radio program, analyst Harvey Schlanger correctly summarized the biggest geopolitical shift of the past several months: the Pentagon and elements of the diplomatic and intelligence communities have reluctantly concluded there is no alternative to (grudging) cooperation with Russia in the Middle East. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the biggest losers in the region from this shift, as are the elements of the U.S. Deep State and figures connected to the Saudi/Qatar 'moderate jihadi' lobbies (including many of the neocons smearing Donald Trump as some sort of American Hitler on the rise).
Nonetheless, whether the momentum the Russians have developed in the field of diplomatic and military successes in Syria can be carried over to the realm of successful economics at home remains to be seen. Thus far, even my pro-Putin friend The Saker has described the inability to tackle the Western banking cartel tied oligarchs and Central Bank of the Russian Federation (CBRF) as Putin's greatest policy failure.
The CBRF itself has pursued policies in response to the collapse of the oil price that have preserved Russia's dollar and euro reserves, but at the cost of devaluing the ruble's purchasing power for imports. The Kremlin's import substitution policy has achieved some modest gains, particularly in Russia's long neglected and under-capitalized agricultural sector. But the weak ruble policy of the CBRF combined with textbook, Paul Volcker Fed early Eighties-level interest rates has hamstrung recovery in the rest of the Russian economy.
Russia's (BiS connected) Central Bank may have stabilized the ruble after it came under a concerted assault in December 2015. But now many middle-class Russians cannot afford to borrow to buy an automobile or an apartment -- just as older members of Team RogueMoney like 'W' and Wolf Gray recall that few Americans were borrowing to buy homes or start small businesses in the early 1980s. On top of these problems, regardless of whether or not the EU sanctions are lifted this summer, the worst economic headwinds for the Russians in the form of a further oil price declines and upheaval in Europe and East Asia are yet to come.
On the positive side of the ledger, Europeans are beginning to wake up to how their politicians in Washington's back pocket have sacrificed billions of euros in profitable trade with the Russians to Washington's Cold War 2.0 diktats. French farmers, German industrialists, Italian luxury goods makers, and Czech spa owners all have a vested stake in a Russia that's prosperous and connected to Europe, not one demonized and 'isolated' so Washington can maintain its false Narrative of Russian aggression against NATO justifying U.S. dominance of the Continent via TTIP and the failing EU(SSR). Similarly, the OPEC member states share a vested interest with Russia in more stable, if not necessarily dramatically higher oil prices (which are basically impossible to dramatically force upward in the present global Depression 2.0 conditions).
Russia has abundant natural resources and a highly educated workforce well-positioned to take advantage of the New Silk Roads. The question is whether the Russian ship of State is going to be able to navigate the stormy waters ahead and avoid a global conflict to emerge on the other side of the looming global economic Reset -- or fail under external pressures the way the far more brittle WW1 era Tsarist and perestroika Soviet regimes did.
Russia's enemies, particularly the increasingly delusional and desperate neocons, are counting on a collapse. But the Russia Analyst strongly suspects that their streak of successfully predicting all of the last zero collapses since Putin came to power in 2000 will continue even as the global economy and oil price plunges get worse.
The ways in which the Russians are preparing their economy, currency and society for that Reset (besides stockpiling gold in massive quantities) will be the subject of additional commentary in this space.
Stay tuned RogueMoney friends! And be sure to say 'welcome aboard' in the post below by our new contributor @BanksterSlayer!