Saturday, December 26, 2015

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‘I've seen Russia’s future and its name is probably Vladimir Putin’

Bryan MacDonald

Back in 1974, Jon Landau, a Rolling Stone critic famously said: “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Soon afterwards, Landau took a gamble. He stopped writing and became Springsteen’s manager. A position he holds to this day.
For Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, Landau’s sentiments are often turned the opposite way. “I’ve seen the future and it’s NOT Russia/Putin.” All through the 1990s, there were myriad books and articles predicting Russia’s demise. In 1999, Anders Aslund, a Swedish employee of the Atlantic Council, a pro-NATO think tank, warned Russia was about to imminently collapse in an infamous Foreign Policy piece.

Ten years later, George Friedman of Stratfor (known as the “shadow” CIA) followed Aslund’s lead but suggested an early 2020s timeframe. Right now, entering 2016, Friedman’s prognosis seems way off.

In recent years, a collection of journalists and academics has forecast Putin’s political downfall. A hilariously inept effort was Ben Judah’s “Fragile Empire.” This tome suggested that “Russia fell in and out of love with Putin.” At the time of book’s publication, in 2013, Putin’s poll numbers “languished” somewhere north of 60 percent. Now, they are close to 90 percent.

Then there was Oliver Bullough’s “The Last Man in Russia”, a prognostication on how demographic despair, fueled by excessive alcohol consumption, will eventually extirpate Russia. This bout of tendentious crystal gazing doesn’t tally with Russia’s improving demographics. With a fertility rate of 1.71 (in 2013), Russia outpaces Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada in the old G8 and isn’t far off the UK, USA and France. Furthermore, Russia is the world’s second biggest immigration destination after the USA.

Luckily, both writers were able to review each other’s books in the media, blocking informed critical assessment. Here’s Judah praising Bullough in Standpoint and Bullough returning the favor to Judah in Literary Review and the Daily Telegraph. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Always backing the wrong horse
In a bizarre anomaly, being hopelessly wrong on Russia doesn’t seem to derail careers in any sense. If a football pundit kept predicting that Bayern Munich would be relegated and they instead won the Bundesliga, that pundit's future would look bleak. Nevertheless, it appears that analysts can indulge in endless erroneous palmistry about Russia and suffer no consequences at all.

Of course, Russia’s biggest critics are liberals. For instance, Aslund’s contempt for Russia seems grounded in Moscow’s failure to fully complete ‘reforms’ he pushed in the 90s. In a horrid case of “Groundhog Day,” the Swede today advises the Ukraine government, which currently seems to be making precisely the same mistakes Boris Yeltsin’s Kremlin made in that misguided decade. The parallels are striking, hyper-corruption, civil disorder and the fire-sale of national assets to oligarchs and foreign investors. At the same time as the social state collapses and health and education services become mired in ever-increasing malfeasance, Western governments and think tanks support the radicals as “progressive.” For Russians, it’s familiarity to the point of deja vu. “I went to bed in Kiev in 2014 and woke up in Moscow in 1993,” as a long-time ex-USSR watcher recently said over a pint.
So why do the liberals, who dominate Western discourse, hate Russia so much? The answer to this is perfectly simple. Look around Europe and North America, and it’s pretty clear that the governing elite doesn’t really reflect the opinions of the majority of the population. A visit to any provincial English or French town would prove that quickly. It’s also interesting that Angela Merkel’s warm welcome for migrants isn’t reflected by any of the German people I know, except for a few in Berlin (who incidentally aren’t net tax payers).
After decades of centrist domination, this demonstrates why the neoliberal establishment is so panicked about the sudden emergence of renegade political forces across the Western world. Think Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, France’s Marine Le Pen, Spain’s Podemos, America’s Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Greece’s Syriza and Italy’s Beppe Grillo. Poland’s new government has the Economist - long an unconditional lover of the country - in a frenzy of exasperation.
Russia beat all these countries to it. All through the 1980s and 1990s, liberal “reformers”, led by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin foisted dramatic change on the country. The results weren’t bathed in glory as living standards collapsed and social cohesion broke down. Putin seemed to sense this and introduced what some commentators have described as “illiberal democracy.” That said, Putin remains more liberal than the vast majority of the Russian population and some of his associates (Dmitry Medvedev and German Gref spring to mind) would be considered Westernizers.

The people have spoken

As Matthew Dal Santo pointed out in a wonderful recent Lowy Interpreter piece (a must read): “Since 1996, the Levada Centre has been asking Russians what they want of their presidents. Their expectations have changed little. In 2012 (that is, even before the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis), Russians' top four priorities were: restoring Russia's great-power status (57 percent versus 54 in 1996); law and order (52 percent in 2016 versus 58); a fairer distribution of the national wealth (49 percent in 2016 versus 37); and increasing the state's role in the economy (37 Keep percent in 2016, unchanged),” he wrote.
Such attitudes reflect continuing nostalgia for elements of the Soviet system and dissatisfaction with the Westernising path followed after the USSR's collapse. In 2012, only a minority (16 percent up from 13 percent in 1996) believed Russia should continue to pursue the liberal reforms of the Yeltsin era and even fewer (5 percent down from 6) thought convergence with the West something to be desired. Today, however, 70 percent of Russians say they're proud of their country, whereas less than half did so a decade ago. Significantly, since 2014, 68 percent of Russians believe their country to have regained great power status,” Dal Santo concluded.
Interestingly, in 2004, the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now a self-appointed “opposition leader,” wrote: “Putin is probably neither a liberal nor a democrat, but he is still more liberal and democratic than 70 percent of our country's population.”
The fact that Western analysts consistently fail to grasp this is explained in what a Russian diplomat once told me: "Western reporters and academics in Moscow only talk to Russians who speak English. Russians who speak fluent English are maybe 50 percent liberal. Russians who don't speak English are maybe five percent liberal. The fact is the second group is 20 times bigger than the first group. This is why coverage of Russia in Europe is so out of step with the reality on the ground. If these guys really wanted to understand Russia, they’d go live with a family in Barnaul for a year and stay well away from ‘Hipster’ bars in Moscow.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre and a widely respected expert, criticized Russian liberals by saying they “have the same problem the revolutionaries have always had in Russia: they look down on the rest of the country as dupes.”
Since Putin returned to the president’s office in 2012, there’s been a campaign in the Western media to demonize him as much as possible. Many editors and correspondents seem to be under some illusion that if Putin was to resign or be ousted tomorrow, that a more favorable (to western interests) figure would take his place. A Kremlin suspicion has been that American NGOs were preparing for such a “regime change.”

Be careful what you wish for

However, the reality is that Putin’s successor would probably be considerably more unbending than the man they constantly deride. Well-placed Moscow sources suggest that Dmitry Rogozin or Sergey Ivanov would be next-in-line if the current president exited without much warning. Ivanov, an outwardly urbane English speaker, is considered the leader of the Silovik faction in the Kremlin, a group of officials with backgrounds in the state security services. Rogozin, a former leader of Rodina (a nationalist party), last year described the sale of Alaska (in 1867) as a “betrayal of Russian power status” and claimed that Russia had the “right to reclaim our lost colonies.
Putin’s 2015 has been a mixed bag. His surprise intervention in Syria helped to smooth relations with some Western countries - most notably France - that had been seriously damaged over Ukraine. There are also indications that EU anti-Russia sanctions may end in 2016, possibly as soon as March. Kiev's predicable self-immolation has made some EU countries weary of continued support, aside from the mutual economic damage the embargoes have caused. American and British attempts to isolate Russia were stillborn and the Obama administration has dramatically changed tack, with John Kerry and the US president intensively engaged with their Russian counterparts recently.
Still, Russia has numerous problems. Thanks to low resource prices and the government's repeated failure to adapt the domestic economic model, the country is in deep recession. For the first time since the 1998 crash, living standards seem set for a sustained plunge. Meanwhile, social friction has emerged in pockets, the recent truck drivers protests being an example. With a few million people forecast to fall out of the middle class in 2016, the situation could get worse before it gets better.
Nevertheless, Russia is not about to collapse any time soon. Predictions along those lines only serve to make their authors look stupid. With sky-high approval ratings, allied to a lack of any realistic opposition candidate, the president’s job also looks fairly secure in the short-to-medium term. To paraphrase Landau, I’ve seen Russia’s future and its name is probably Vladimir Putin.

Book - Fall of the Arab Spring: From Revolution to Destruction

Excerpts from the introduction of Christopher L. Brennan's recently released Book

From Libya and Egypt to Syria and Yemen, the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is undergoing unprecedented tumult and chaos. To understand the current breakdown of states and society, examining the so-called Arab Spring of 2011 that laid the groundwork for this ongoing regional anarchy is indispensable.
Global Research brings to the attention of its readers the newly released book by Christopher L. Brennan.  Fall of the Arab Spring: From Revolution to Destruction (available here), propounds an incisive and timely analysis. The book views this widespread Arab upheaval, not as authentic grass roots movements for democracy, but as a US-engineered destabilization. Below are excerpts largely from the introduction. 
*        *       *  
From 2011 to around early 2014, the so-called “Arab Spring” encompassing the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region came to the forefront of international political affairs. In the words of Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, it was “frequently referred to as the most remarkable episode in the international life of the new 21st century.” The authoritarian regimes of the Arab world have been fragile systems. This is especially true more recently in their relationship with burgeoning youthful populations. Arab historian Said K. Aburish argues that these various regimes all lack modern political legitimacy—from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to Egypt, from military cliques to monarchies. [1]
This lack of modern political legitimacy—coupled with decades of political repression, world economic crises, and unresolved grievances such as the unmitigated oppression of the Palestinian people—creates potential for massive political awakening. This dynamic was particularly pronounced because of the region’s marked demographic ‘youth bulge.’ Historically, youth cohorts are receptive to new ideas, eager to challenge the status quo, and active in times of political crisis. Indeed, it was the age 25 and under demographic that spearheaded the MENA mass protests. Using what is referred to as ‘civilian-based power,’ Western powers exploited and guided this massive potential for political awakening to advance Western and Israeli geopolitical imperatives. These eruptions were followed closely by covert and overt military intervention.
Fall of the Arab Spring: From Revolution to Destruction examines modern imperialism vis-à-vis the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ This widespread Arab upheaval takes place in the context of a period when the restructuring of the world order—from unipolarity (uncontested world hegemony) toward multipolarity (multiple centers of power)—converges with aggravated economic breakdown. This provides the lens from which this study is viewed. The focus of this analysis is the underlying themes, methods, and most prevalent aspects of the MENA uprisings. Particular focus is given to Egypt and Libya as highly instructive case studies. Egypt demonstrates an effective utilization of ‘civilian-based power,’ while Libya provides one of the most palpable displays of the empire’s ruthless stewardship of the “Arab Spring” to smash a recalcitrant Arab state.
In his study The Sorrows of Empire, author Chalmers Johnson, professor emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, categorizes modern imperialists into two groups: “those who advocate unconstrained, unilateral American domination of the world (couched sometimes in terms of following in the footsteps of the British Empire) and those who call for imperialism devoted to ‘humanitarian’ objectives…. The complex issue at the heart of liberal imperialism is ‘humanitarian intervention’ … ‘the responsibility to protect’”[2]  as a pretext for military intervention.
‘Liberal imperialism’ has continued to evolve. A more novel method for modern imperialism includes the use of the ‘color revolution.’ Adherents of this method, such as Peter Ackerman of the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) and Carl Gershman of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) (See Chapter II), argue unfriendly regimes can be toppled by mobilizing swarms of discontented adolescents, via mass communication media such as SMS, Facebook and Twitter. Illustrating its appeal to the Obama team, this later tactic of ‘civilian-based power’ was utilized as the initial driving force of the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ and was later superseded by direct military intervention and America’s newest unconventional model of warfare.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the mainstream narrative is that the wave of uprisings against the status quo autocratic Arab regimes were entirely organic. Additionally, a narrative sometimes found in alternative media is that these uprisings were initially organic, but were subsequently hijacked or diverted by the West and Gulf state monarchies. The latter narrative is given credence through the West’s direct military intervention to topple Muammar Qaddafi’s government in Libya. Both of these notions are specious. The idea that romantic Arab youth activists alone initiated the attempt to topple their autocratic regimes is a myth. The objective of Fall of the Arab Spring is to shatter this prevailing mythology.
In truth, the so-called “Arab Spring”which swept through the MENA region was a wave of destabilizations sponsored by Washington and launched through ‘civilian-based power’ techniques. It was American imperialism of the most modern form. With the onset of multipolarity—with many of Washington’s vassals looking to resurgent power centers such as Moscow and Beijing—the US moved pre-emptively for ‘regime change’ against the independence of ‘enemy’ states and erstwhile clients. Additionally, the ‘Arab Spring’ offensive was given impetus by the imperative to accelerate the regional process of what Bernard Lewis, perhaps the most influential British Arabist, termed “Lebanonization” as a self- fulfilling prophecy. [3] This refers to the far-reaching balkanization, societal breakdown, and explosion of sectarian conflicts following the attenuation or collapse of the state—the model of Somalia.
For the casual outside observer, especially those imbibing the corporate controlled media’s narrative, the complex and covert nature of the destabilization meant its intrinsic imperialism was not immediately discernable. The initial lack of overt military offensives gave the empire’s use of ‘civilian-based power’ the verisimilitude of meritorious organic grassroots movements for change.
While it is important to acknowledge and support the aspirations of peoples toward accountable and democratic forms of governance, it is unacceptable to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states during this process. This principle is enshrined in the charter of the United Nations and that of natural law. In a non-Hobbesian world it would be recognized that is not for any state to dictate another’s government for their own selfish aggrandizement or hegemonic interests. It would be recognized that every nation has the right to determine its future independently, without outside interference. Alas, rather than this notion as a guiding principle, the Post-Cold War era unleashed a state of uncontested world hegemony by a single power: the United States. In this single world power framework its own interests and ideology are regarded as paramount.
Although it is commonly thought to have gradually faded following World War II, imperialism continues via neo-colonialism.The actions of the West, with its leading state the US at the forefront, have followed an imperialist tendency throughout the Arab uprisings. As we shall see, the West’s ongoing involvement in the “Arab Spring” is part of a larger offensive to maintain the status quo of Western and Israeli hegemony. This was done—not through the crude and direct means of the Bush II regime—but more indirectly and via a sustained synergy of hard and soft power: so-called ‘smart power.’ This was supplemented and spearheaded through the techniques of the ‘color revolution.’ Thus, although a new cadre emerged with the onset of the Obama regime, the status quo imperative to secure Israel remained, and Obama administration introduced new techniques of projecting power. Whereas the second Bush administration was blunt and bellicose, the Obama regime acted more indirectly and surreptitiously, often relying on local proxies and ambitious regional powers such as Qatar and Turkey. This approach can be aptly labeled ‘imperialism on the cheap.’ It has been the defining foreign policy strategy of the Obama presidency.
The excessive reliance on ‘hard power,’ overt military and economic means to project power, during the George W. Bush presidency, generated widespread discourse on its imperial nature.[4]  In contrast, the presidency of Obama was rarely, if ever, characterized in similar terms in its early stage. On the contrary, it was often branded as a radical departure from the aggressive tendencies of the Bush II regime. ‘Soft power’ is defined as “the ability to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than using the carrots and sticks of payment or coercion.”[5] After President Bush put US standing in a compromised position—with allies antagonized and a military and populace demoralized—the American establishment opted to shift to a more emphatically ‘soft power’ approach, as advanced by theoreticians such as Joseph Nye, Jr. and Zbigniew Brzezinski of the elite Trilateral Commission. The new strategy rejected an outright bellicose use of ‘hard power,’ the proclivity of the Bush II regime. Instead, ‘hard power’ was used more selectively and from the standpoint of ‘leading from behind.’ This means encouraging allies (or vassals) to engage in geopolitical initiatives for the US, which provides necessary military aid covertly.
During the MENA uprisings, as the Trilateral Commission’s Joseph Nye had suggested even before Obama was elected, the US used “a smart strategy that combines hard- and soft-power resources—and that emphasizes alliances and networks that are responsive to the new context of a global information age.” Or, as articulated by Obama State Department apparatchik Susanne Nossel, a strategy of “enlisting others on behalf of U.S. goals, through alliances, international institutions, careful diplomacy, and the power of ideals.”This encapsulates US strategy to topple and destabilize non-compliant states during the ‘Arab Spring.’
Reacting to a waning American empire and a need to ensure the security of Israel, this synergy of ‘soft power,’ alliances, and ‘hard power’ came to characterize US strategy. In Libya—where direct military intervention took place—humanitarian imperialism was carried out with these as guiding principles. Fall of the Arab Spring outlines the synergy between this array of methods including the use of information and irregular warfare. In the final outcome, for the Arab world, the romantic illusions of ‘democracy’ and ‘dignity’—platitudes sold by the West—were shattered, and much of the region degenerated into the breakdown of the state and society.

Christopher L. Brennan is an independent political analyst and author of Fall of the Arab Spring: From Revolution to Destruction. He has previously written articles under his pseudonym “Chris Macavel.” 

ISIS and Saudi Arabia: A Dangerous Double Game

By Daniella Peled

Saudi Arabia, with one of the region’s largest military budgets and strongest armies, is a key part of the U.S.-led coalition attacking Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq. Riyadh designated ISIS a terrorist organization as far back as March 2014, and in December 2015 announced its own coalition of Islamic states to fight militancy.

Still, the kingdom has come under intense scrutiny for its approach to the threat. Many of its Western allies have accused it of not doing enough to thwart the Islamic State’s funding sources or combat its ideology.

Analysts say Riyadh has been pursuing a risky dual strategy. It has supported extremist groups abroad for ideological and strategic reasons – not least to combat Shi’ite influence – while cracking down on extremists at home as a threat to the regime’s stability.

In a 2009 memo revealed by WikiLeaks, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the kingdom was a main source of funding for militant groups including Al-Qaida. Riyadh was not acting to stop this money flow, she added.

This policy continued into the Syrian civil war. Private sources in the Gulf provided hefty funding for extremist anti-regime groups in the uprising's early years, often channeling cash donations through intermediaries in Turkey.

Gulf states including Saudi Arabia allowed the transfer of funds to these militant Sunni groups, viewing the militias as an effective way to counter Iranian influence in the region.

Some groups funded this way later defected to the Islamic State, bringing their weapons with them. The Nusra Front is estimated to have lost around 3,000 fighters to its bitter rival ISIS.
Suggestions of direct funding from Riyadh seem exaggerated. The Washington Institute said in June 2014 there was “no credible evidence that the Saudi government is financially supporting ISIS.”

The report did note that “Riyadh has taken pleasure in recent ISIS-led Sunni advances against Iraq’s Shiite government, and in jihadist gains in Syria at Bashar al-Assad’s expense.”
Some Western partners fear that the civil war in neighboring Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is supporting the fight against the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels, is Riyadh’s current priority.
Saudi Arabia is clearly sensitive about these issues. In December 2015 it announced it was forming a coalition of 34 Islamic countries to fight terrorism. This alliance would be based in the Saudi capital and include Arab countries such as Egypt and Qatar, and non-Arab ones such as Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia.

Still, it remains unclear just what this grouping might achieve, not least because some ostensible members such as Indonesia expressed surprise at being included at all.
Although Riyadh did not mention the Islamic State directly, insisting that the alliance would combat terror in all its forms, it clearly hopes to reassure its Western allies that it’s part of the solution, not the problem.

Funding of the Islamic State is no longer a central issue, as the group now relies much more on profits from oil sales, extortion, theft and taxes.

Foreign countries, including in the Gulf, have clamped down on the transfer of funds. In March 2015, U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper said foreign funding sources were drying up. Private donations had dwindled to “less than one percent” of its total revenue.

But critics say it’s not only finance that links Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State. The Saudi version of Islam, Wahhabism, is based on the teachings of the 18th-century scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Militant and rigid, it harks back to an ostensibly pure version of the faith as practiced by the prophet’s original followers, the Salaf.

The Saudis have spent decades promoting this particularly conservative interpretation of Islam and sharia law around the world. They have funded mosques and free madrassas – religious schools – supplying them with imams and textbooks.

A June 2013 report by the European Parliament deemed Wahhabism the main source of global terrorism. According to the findings, Saudi Arabia had spent more than $10 million promoting the creed through charities around the Muslim world.

Although Wahhabism isn’t precisely the interpretation of Islam that the Islamic State adheres to, it shares many characteristics. ISIS leaders have referred to Abd al-Wahhab’s teachings, which help underpin the movement’s ideology. Other similarities are clear, not least hostility to Shi’ite Islam and other faith groups, as well as a rigid reading of sharia law.

Much attention has been paid to the apparent crossover between Saudi Arabia and Islamic State practices, not least the Saudis’ executions by beheading.
Saudi Arabia has produced its own high-profile militant leaders including Osama bin Laden himself. It has also been linked to other instances of radicalization.
It has been suggested that the husband and wife who killed 14 people in San Bernadino, California, in December 2015 were influenced by their stay in Saudi Arabia. Syed Farook, a 28-year-old county health inspector, traveled there the previous year, while his Pakistan-born wife, 29-year-old Tashfeen Malik, spent much of her life in the kingdom.
Wahhabi Islam is also the official state religion of fabulously wealthy Qatar, which has also come under heavy pressure from world leaders to clamp down on private donations to Islamist fighters.
Qatar has joined coalition strikes against the Islamic State but also has a long record of hosting militant groups. It has let Hamas and the Taliban set up offices there and provided support to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood after it was unseated in 2013.
Like the Saudis, the Qataris were keen to sponsor the Syrian uprising against Bashar Assad through Islamist militias such as the Nusra Front. This had a knock-on effect on the Islamic State.
For example, there is no oversight of Qatar’s middlemen in Turkey buying weapons for antigovernment forces in Syria, and fighters from non-ISIS jihadi groups sometimes join the Islamic State and bring their weapons with them.

In August 2014, the German minister of economic cooperation and development, Gerd Müller, seemed to make an explicit link with Qatar.

“You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIL troops. The keyword there is Qatar, and how do we deal with these people and states politically?” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

Berlin later apologized, saying these remarks were not specific allegations.

The Islamic State, for its part, remains implacably opposed to the Gulf monarchies. It has vowed to topple the Saudi regime, viewing it as a symbol of sinful decadence.

In November 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reportedly called for strikes against the Saudi royal family in a speech broadcast on the group’s media. He described the regime as “the serpent’s head and the stronghold of the disease,” calling for Islamic State supporters in Saudi Arabia to rise up against the kingdom.

Saudi security services report mass arrests in anti-terrorism operations aimed at rooting out ISIS cells in the kingdom. Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for at least four attacks on Saudi mosques in the past year, and some 2,500 Saudi nationals are believed to have traveled to fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The double game has indeed proved dangerous. While neither Qatar nor Saudi Arabia seem to have directly funded the Islamic State, their policies have helped shore up the group and directed funds and weaponry to it.

read more:

Video Report - Someone let them cross borders’: Messages from Turkish intelligence found in ISIS phone

Turkish media has ‘Don Quixote Syndrome’ over Russia


Want a chuckle over what the pro-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Turkish media has been broadcasting to corroborate the Machiavellian heroism of the downing of a Russianjet? One of Turkey’s most predominant channels hosted a professor of politics and the ex-minister of education in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on a sacred duty to disseminate highly far-fetched facts on a TV program last week. Here is a garden of queer points purported by these two scholars with unprecedented merriment:

- Erdoğan is the Braveheart of the globe... The only man on earth who challenged Israeland made it apologize and the only hero who said firmly “Stop!” to Russian President Vladimir Putin. No one has been able to dare attack a Russian jet since World War II.

Russia is a more dangerous threat to the world than the U.S… The U.S. is not chasing after an expansionist policy; rather they are seeking solutions to the havoc daunting the earth whilst Russia is in pursuit of reviving the soviet dream... The annexation of Crimea, the Georgian war and the occupation of Syria by Russia proves this and we need the U.S. to confront the re-emergence of communism.

Russia is a weak state with a highly vulnerable economy fundamentally relying on oil. A reduction in oil prices will obliterate it soon. A war with Turkey can be their imminent demise.

- Even Russians do not love Russia... No Russian would make it to the battlefield in the event of war... There is no patriotism in Russian society... A Russian soldier is a desperately drunk one that will exchange his tank or even a nuclear weapon just for a bottle of vodka.

Russian society is an exorbitantly corrupt one... No morals or family values exist... A low birth rate and alcoholism will lead to their downfall soon.

 - Russia has no allies apart from Iran and Syria... China has nothing to do with Russia, a broke and deceitful state. Such isolation will soon topple Putin, a dictator who is assassinating opponents and non-conformist journalists.

Russia hosts more than 50 million Muslims whom will side with Erdoğan in the event of war.

- Russians had not existed on earth as a race until the 17th century... The earliest Turco-Russian war, which took place in the 17th century, proves this. They were nomadic and uncivilized.

- Within 30 years, there will be only two superpowers in the world: China and Turkey. The whole world is conscious of this and in panic to hinder such an occurrence.

- Dostoyevsky once claimed that a cross must be placed at the top of the Hagia Sophia. This was a dream and will remain a dream eternally. This is a lucid indication of Russia’s never-ending sinister intentions over Istanbul, a holy setting for the Orthodox Church. Istanbul must be designated the capital of Turkey again.

- Turkish is the world’s oldest language with a vocabulary of 1.5 million words, whereas English only has half a million words. It is a rarely known fact that Shakespeare was a pure Turk.

Had enough of a chuckle? I bet yes!

It is of paramount significance to note that these ideas do not represent all of Turkish media and society. In contrast to a pro-Erdoğan media that is on the verge of proclaiming the new Ottoman Empire with disinformation, the secular media and society in Turkey is deeply concerned about the Islamization of the state and Erdoğan’s frenzied and obscure foreign policy.

Pro-Putinism in Turkey is an undeniable fact and has been on the rise among the left-wing. The exponents of Atatürkism, an array of sweeping political, social, cultural and religious reforms constructed to separate the new Turkish state from its Ottoman predecessor, are highly skeptical about the government’s current foreign policy and the war in Syria. Fundamental Islam and the exodus of immigrants are deemed as an immense threat to the core tenets of secularism and liberalism in Turkey. Now, Turkey’s perilous game with Russia is a controversial one that will clearly not benefit Turkey and critics of Erdoğan are labelled “Homo-Sovieticus” and “commies” - in other words, Islamophobic traitors.

Call it utter patriotism or flag-waving, but the early symptoms insinuate an intense case of “Don Quixote Syndrome” for pro-Erdoğan media, pursued by impractical and non-functional idealism.

Child marriages remain major problem in Turkey

child marriages continue to be common practice in Turkey, largely due to the lack of awareness of many families regarding the dangers of early marriage, as well as inadequate legal measures.
A convention signed by Council of Europe (CoE) member states at the 2011 Council of Europe Convention that sought to combat violence against women included enacting laws that consider child marriage a crime. According to Article 37, state parties have a duty to criminalize “the intentional conduct of forcing an adult or a child to enter into a marriage.” Even though Turkey is a signatory to the agreement, the rate of child marriages in the country is worryingly high.
In a recent parliamentary inquiry submitted by Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Serdal Kuyucuoğlu to be answered by Family and Social Policies Minister Sema Ramazanoğlu, it was highlighted that child marriages constitute 30 to 35 percent of all marriages in Turkey.
Kuyucuoğlu's parliamentary inquiry asked the following:
- Has there been any research done by the [Health] Ministry regarding the health issues related to child marriages? If yes, would you share the details?
- How many children are there who discontinued their education due to being married at an early age?
- What is the suicide rate among child brides? Is there a special [Health] Ministry study of families living in regions where the suicide rate is high?
In Turkey, although the legal age for marriage is 17, under a legal provision for “exceptional circumstances” a family can apply for the consent of the court to legally marry a child who is younger than the established legal age. However, what is considered an “exceptional circumstance” is rather vague.
It is common for Turkish families to marry off their children in religious ceremonies without an official civil marriage when they do not meet the age required by law. These ceremonies are conducted by an imam and are often not reported to the authorities.

‘Child marriage responsible for a broad range of issues'

Speaking to Sunday's Zaman, Kuyucuoğlu said that child marriages are the source of a broad range of issues in society, such as the interruption of a child brides' education, increased rates of suicide and increased incidences of infant deaths as well as the health complications often experienced by young women after giving birth.
According to Kuyucuoğlu, since it is still common in Turkey for some families to have their underage children married in merely religious ceremonies, the government should force religious officials to require that families also have a civil marriage.
“Experts should be assigned to educate families in regions where child marriages are common. The Education Ministry should introduce education in schools to educate children as well as their families [about the dangers of early marriage],” said Kuyucuoğlu.
Young girls are at risk for a number of complications during pregnancy and childbirth when they are still teenagers. These complications are the leading causes of death in adolescent girls. A child she bears at a young age is also at risk for complications during and after birth.
He also called on the government to consult with the opposition parties to introduce serious punishments that would actively deter people from arranging child marriages.
Kuyucuoğlu also pointed out another loophole in the law that could be exploited by those arranging child marriages. He noted that while there is a six-to-24-month prison sentence stipulated by the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) for those who have sexual relationships with children above the age of 15, Kuyucuoğlu pointed out that the victim must file a complaint for an investigation to be opened.

15,000 in Dusseldorf march protesting Turkey's crackdown on Kurds

Around 15,000 people marched in Dusseldorf on Saturday to protest against Turkey's military crackdown against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels, local police said.
The marchers, demonstrating on behalf of Germany's federation of Kurdish groups, Nav-Dem, also slammed the European Union for striking a refugee "deal" with Ankara, promising three billion euros in return for holding back refugee flows.
A police spokesman said the turnout at the protest was far higher than the 7,000 people expected by the organisers.
After a ceasefire for more than two years, fighting resumed last summer between Turkish security forces and the PKK, dashing hopes of ending a conflict that has left more than 40,000 people dead since 1984.
Turkish security forces are currently imposing curfews in several towns in the Kurdish-dominated southeast in a bid to root out PKK rebels from urban centres.
The operations mark a new escalation in five months of fighting with the PKK, which initially fought for Kurdish independence but now presses more for greater autonomy and rights for the country's largest ethnic minority.

Why are so many staying silent on the Kurdish conflict?

By Pinar Tremblay

Berfin, a self-described Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) sympathizer, met with Al-Monitor on Dec. 7 at a bustling Istanbul cafe. She talked about her grievances in detail, on condition her last name not be used. “I grew up here in Tarlabasi, but I went back to Sur, Diyarbakir, when I got married four years ago. My family had moved to Istanbul from Sur in the 1980s. My husband feared I would be allured by the PKK so he sent me and the children back here. Life in Diyarbakir is nothing like what you see on TV. It is constant fear. I am tired of being scared, so I wanted to fight for my three children. Here people — my own relatives — do not want to hear about life in Kurdistan. They call it fate, and then start gossiping. It is their indifference that hurts me more than the bombs,” Berfin said.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Selahattin Demirtas echoed similar sentiments in his Dec. 22 speech. Demirtas said, “Is it courageous to enter small villages with tanks and artillery? There is not much the [Turkish] armed forces can do at this point. The problem is a political one and requires a political solution. We warn the government against human rights violations. They don’t allow people to bury their dead, there is an embargo on food deliveries and there is torture on the streets. In the west of Turkey, they may think 'Great, those terrorists got what they deserved.' But that's wrong because you are paying the cost of the war out of your pocket. People [in the west of Turkey] should raise their voices against this, because this is done in their name. If Turkey’s west says 'No' to this war, the government cannot prolong it for another day. Dialogue and negotiations can start the next day. We are willing and ready."
Following the collapse of the peace process this summer, pundits feared this time the conflict would not be contained to southeastern Turkey, as there is a sizable Kurdish population in all western cities. The fear was that the alienated Kurdish youths in the slums of Istanbul, Ankara and other cities would wreak havoc on the streets. Since an overwhelming majority in Turkey supported the peace process, its collapse was expected to generate a backlash. Thepeace process collapsed and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to crush the “self-rule” movement. So why are the people, both Kurds and Turks, in the western provinces silent about the suffering of the Kurds?
There are four main reasons. The first is that the opposition is suppressed and labeled as terrorist. It is not easy to raise one's voice in Turkey against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on any issue, especially when it involves the PKK. Multiple times peace activists have fallen victim to terrorist attacks and arrests. For example, most recently 15 Dokuz Eylul University students were arrested in Izmir while protesting for peace. These negative images associated with peace has curbed any enthusiasm to use civic rights to protest. In addition, with the crumbling of the peace process, the state security forces have initiated a proactive plan to arrest, question and even shoot at potential activists.
The second reason is the assimilation of the Kurds in the western provinces. Although Demirtas is calling upon the people in western Turkey to raise their voices, even the majority of Kurds have not shown willingness to take on this call. Hatice Altinisik, a member of the HDP’s Central Executive Council, told Al-Monitor, “The fear factor is strong, yet fear doesn’t solve the problem." She said that in the last 40 days, "Four female activists were murdered bypolice forces in Istanbul. The west [of Turkey] is not immune to the war — they also suffer the pain of loss with the fallen martyrs [soldiers], experience an unequal wealth distribution, a rising murder rate and violence against women. So they should stand up along with the people of the southeast in their own interest.”
Sultan Ozcan, one of the HDP’s founding members, told Al-Monitor, “All over the western provinces we know of people with deep concerns and worries about the events in the southeast. Morale is low, and people are not confident that the street protests will provide any positive results. There is a lack of organization as well among activists.” The AKP’s efforts to curtail terrorist activities have in a sense also numbed nascent civic society’s strength.
The third reason for those in western Turkey to remain silent is the curtailed moral ability to speak up in the face of an increase in the deaths of soldiers and police officers. The majority of people in the west do not view the current unrest as nonviolent resistance but as terror attacks. Several towns in the southeast that had a majority of HDP voters in the last elections have declared "self-rule" and have started digging ditches around their towns. People in the west of Turkey cannot comprehend the meaning of self-governance or the necessity of the trenches, both of which have negative connotations. While the number of deaths is increasing, it is morally challenging to praise resistance in the southeast as peaceful.
Aytunc, a HDP voter from the Galata region of Istanbul who only gave his first name, told Al-Monitor, “I voted for the HDP, but it failed to differentiate itself from the PKK. Demirtas had a good chance to stand up against Erdogan; however, he failed to stand up against the PKK. The PKK is kidnapping children, burning towns, attacking policemen while they sleep. What is the government to say, 'OK, let the PKK be?' I am not sure what Demirtas is really asking of us. What are we to do when every day more soldiers and police are coming home in body bags? I am for the HDP, for peace. I will not stand by the terror organization PKK.” Aytunc’s girlfriend, Sema, added, “Almost half of the AKP’s top echelons are Kurds. If they are not standing up for their people in Sur, Cizre or Silopi, then it must not be so bad right? So why should we risk our lives?”
Professor Ozer Sencar, director of the Metropoll polling company, provided an explanation that confirmed what Aytunc said. “Demirtas failed to speak against the PKK command at Qandil and the PKK in a strong voice — in a voice he used against Erdogan. Sadly, Demirtas signaled that he was not a strong enough leader to stand up against the PKK and this affected the election results [loss in HDP's vote share between June 7 and Nov. 1]," Sencar said.
In this regard, Zeynep Bozdasforeign relations adviser for the Islamist party Huda-Par, said, “There is a connotation of 'west' for the HDP and Demirtas that we must underline. There is the west in Diyarbakir, as there is in Istanbul. They are the upscale neighborhoods. If ditches are a symbol of the people, why do they not appear around Diclekent [a district where HDP parliamentarians reside in Diyarbakir]? Why do all rockets kill only the poor Kurds?”
The fourth reason is the lack of credible information. People in the western provinces can no longer claim they didn't know about the raging violence in real time. However, it must be said that the majority of people in Turkey still get their news from TV that is dominated by pro-government channels. In addition, it is difficult to know what is credible information with the strong bias and manipulative trolls on social media. Hadi Elis, a sociologist and activist, told Al-Monitor, “The politicized masses are active up to a certain level. However, due to the broken lines of communication, the open and public communications that the state can control and manipulate — not focused on higher principles or a primary focus to fight for, much divided and personalized on secondary issues — the level of activities are not sufficient to curtail the state violence.”
Dilek Gokcin, a film director who closely follows Kurdish matters, told Al-Monitor, “For decades there have been several incidents of mass violence without proper public reconciliation. We live in a constant state of denial. So maybe the question 'Why are people silent when there is a war?' is not quite appropriate. There is no war here, the war is in Kurdistan. Ignorance then becomes the ultimate bliss. If you don't know, you cannot be held accountable, so most people have a rational apathy because they are helpless in the face of atrocities.”
Berfin was right after all. The majority of people in the western provinces choose deliberately to ignore the bad news coming from the southeast. Many argue about their choice of words: Kurdistan or southeast Turkey? Kurdish problem or southeast conflict? Most do not believe that raising their voices would do the Kurds any good, but are convinced it would harm their personal interests.
Although Demirtas asks those in Turkey’s west to raise their voices, are the HDP representatives ready to do this? Are they able to understand the causes of the deafening silence? A difficult question remains: Is the silence in the western provinces a harbinger of deeper resentment or an approval of the government’s policies?

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French reporter's press card declined for speaking for terrorism

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Saturday confirmed that China has refused to renew press credentials for a French journalist for her comments regarding terrorism.
Spokesman Lu Kang said Ursula Gauthier had offended the Chinese people with an article published on Nov. 18 in which she overtly voiced support for terrorist activities.
In the article, she blamed government policy in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region for terrorist attacks.
Gauthier is a Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L'Obs.
Lu said Gauthier failed to apologize to the Chinese people for her wrong words and it is no longer suitable for her to work in China.
China ensures the legal rights of foreign media organizations and journalists covering China stories, but will never tolerate the "freedom" of speaking for terrorism, said the spokesman.

China Commentary: U.S. accusation over China's anti-terror legislation hypocritical, groundless

By throwing bricks over China's draft anti-terrorism law, Uncle Samhas once again defended its championship of "Master of Double Standards," reminding theplanet that only the United States can steal a horse while others cannot even look over thehedge.

The draftthe latest attempt of China to address terrorism at home and help maintainworld securityis by no means a "wicked legislation," as framed by Washingtonto limitfreedom of speech and invade privacy.
On the contraryas Internet is frequently used by terrorists in planning and conductingattackssome items in the law is completely reasonable and will not constitute a breach ofcitizensprivacy or freedom of speech.
It should be taken as a reinforcement and contribution to the global campaign of fightingmankind's common enemy -- terrorism.
In factthe United States has already enacted similar laws in its territorywhich not onlyrequire technology firms to hand over encryption keys but also allow intense securitychecks over foreign companies operating in America.
Sothe accusation against China does no help America uphold its moral high groundOnthe contraryit makes Uncle Sam look pugnacious and overbearing on the issue.
In additionby expressing concern over privacy protection under the draft law,Washington has once again made itself a hypocrite as its National Security Agency (NSA)had been collecting telephone metadata in bulk under the post 9/11 Patriot ActThanks tothe revelation by former NSA contractor Edward Snowdenthe world has nailedWashington's double-faced tactics in mind.
Increasing terrorist attacks have posed serious threats to China's national security and thelife and property of its peopleHoweverChina does not currently have anti-terrorismlegislationthe lack of which has hampered its fight against terrorism at home and on theglobal sphere.
So in that senseWashington's groundless accusation against China's legislation should beinterpreted as a disruption of cohesion of the global anti-terrorism campaign.
Most importantlythe anti-terrorism law is a domestic affair of ChinaChina is under noobligation to consult with other countriesand other countries have no right to tell Chinawhat to do.
All in allthrowing bricks toward China over home affairs dooms to be a double-edgedsword for WashingtonIt might be easy to wave the stick of human rightsbut it surelydamages mutual trust that is vital to the world's fight against terrorism.

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Mediators of Syrian Talks Urge to Disqualify Saudi From Conflict Settlement

Representative of the Syrian opposition that participated in the Astana talks on the Syrian reconciliation, called on the international community to disqualify Saudi Arabia from mediating settlement of the Syrian conflict, according to a letter of the so-called Astana Initiative's Executive Committee obtained by Sputnik on Saturday.

More than 70 representatives of the Syrian opposition gathered in Kazakhstan's capital Astana twice in 2015 — in May and October.

"Saudi Arabia’s attitude since the start of the conflict and the fact that Saudi authorities have raised tensions between communities and encouraged the emergence of groups of extremist fighters should disqualify them from taking part in negotiations that will lead to peace in Syria," the letter sent to US Special Envoy for Syria, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the Russian Foreign Ministry reads.

The committee added that Saudi Arabia had not followed the agreements reached by international negotiators in Vienna in November since participants of the opposition conference recently held in Riyadh were "selected under obscure conditions."

"We also want to stress the importance and necessity of including all representatives of the Syrian opposition standing against terrorism in any negotiations over the future of Syria on equal footing, without arbitrary exclusions, and without conferring special status on any political group."

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Syrian settlement, which reaffirmed the goals of the Vienna agreements to bring the entire spectrum of the political groups in the crisis-torn country to the negotiating table and stated that the next round of the UN-sponsored intra-Syrian talks would take place in January, 2016.

On December 8, opposition groups from Syria gathered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Two days later, they formed a 32-member council tasked with choosing 15 delegates to represent the Syrian opposition during talks with Damascus.

Commenting on the results of the talks in Saudi Arabia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow did not agree with the position that the Riyadh conference participants represent the entire Syrian opposition.

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