All posts by Tyler Durden

‘Real’ Assassin Arrested In Staged Kiev Hit Linked To Ukrainian Intelligence As Official Story Unravels

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The Ukrainian government's staged assassination of anti-Putin journalist Arkady Babachenko has taken an even stranger turn, as evidence has emerged that his would-be "Russia-ordered" assassin and the man who supposedly hired him, both say they worked for Ukrainian counterintelligence, casting serious doubt on the official story.

To review, Ukrainian authorities announced last Tuesday that Babachenko had been assassinated after returning home from the store. On Wednesday, Babachenko appeared at a press conference with Ukrainian authorities who said that the faked assassination was an elaborate sting to bust an actual hit planned by Russia. 

Only now we find that the hitman, Oleksiy Tsimbalyuk, is an outspoken critic of Russia who says he worked for Ukrainian counterintelligence - a claim Ukraine initially denied but later admitted to be true. Meanwhile the guy who supposedly hired Tsimbalyuk, Boris L. German, 50, also says he worked for Ukrainian counter-intelligence, a claim Ukraine denies as it immediately destroys the carefully scripted, if rapidly imploding, Ukrainian narrative meant to scapegoat Russia for what has been a "fake news" story of epic proportions, emerging from the one nation that not only was the biggest foreign donor to the Clinton foundation, but has made fake news propaganda into an art form.

The New York Times reports that Tsimbalyuk - a former Russia-hating priest was featured in a 10-minute documentary in January 2017 in which "he called killing members of the Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine "an act of mercy," further calling into question why Russia would hire him for the supposed assassination in the first place.

Facebook pictures also reveal Tsimbalyuk wearing a Ukrainian ultranationalist uniform from "Right Sector," a group deemed to be neo-Nazis.

As even the Russophobic NY Times puts it: 
Given such strong and publicly avowed enmity toward Russia, it is odd to say the least that Mr. Tsimbalyuk would be selected to carry out the contract killing of a prominent Kremlin critic.
German claims he took orders from Moscow businessman Vyacheslav Pivovarnik - who he says works for one of Putin's personal foundations. 
Ukrainian officials also claim that German has a list of another 30 targets which Moscow wants to wipe out - something he claims he has since passed onto Kyiv.

Prosecutors claimed German had been given a down payment of $15,000, half what he was promised for carrying out the hit.

German said: 'I got a call from a longtime acquaintance who lives in Moscow, and in the process of communicating with him it turned out that he works for a Putin foundation precisely to orchestrate destabilization in Ukraine.' -Daily Mail
"Six months ago, my old acquaintance contacted me, an ex-citizen of Ukraine, now living in Moscow," German told a Ukrainian court, adding "He works in a personal foundation of Putin's - and is in charge of organizing riots in Ukraine and planned acts of terror at the next presidential elections. He is called Vyacheslav Pivovarnik. This is not a fairy tale, there's nothing mystical here, everything has been proved."

German's lawyer Eugene Solodko wrote on Facebook that his client was an executive director of Ukrainian-German firm Schmeisser - the only non-state owned arms producer in the country. 

Russia has denied German's claim, with a Putin spokesman saying "No such foundation exists in Russia. Any allegations about Russia's possible complicity in this staging is just mudslinging. They do not correspond to reality."

Meanwhile, senior Ukraine officials have been on the defensive since Wednesday, when the head of security services announced they had staged the death of Babchenko so they could track his would-be killers to Russian intelligence, a story the International Federation of Journalists slammed as idiotic, nonsensical and completely undermining Ukraine's credibility.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Leaked Doc Reveals White House Planning ‘Regime Change’ In Iran

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It appears Rudy Giuliani wasn't lying.

Just a few days after the former NYC mayor and latest member of President Trump's unexpectedly let it slip that "we got a president who is tough, who does not listen to the people who are naysayers, and a president who is committed to regime change [in Iran]", the Washington Free Beacon has obtained a three-page white paper being circulated among National Security Council officials with drafted plans to spark regime change in Iran, following the US exit from the Obama-era nuclear deal and the re-imposition of tough sanctions aimed at toppling the Iranian regime.

The plan, authored by the Security Studies Group, or SSG, a national security think-tank that has close ties to senior White House national security officials, including - who else - National Security Adviser John Bolton, seeks to reshape longstanding American foreign policy toward Iran by emphasizing an explicit policy of regime change, something the Obama administration opposed when popular protests gripped Iran in 2009, writes the Free Beacon, which obtained a leaked copy of the circulating plans.
The regime change plan seeks to fundamentally shift U.S. policy towards Iran and has found a receptive audience in the Trump administration, which has been moving in this direction since Bolton—a longtime and vocal supporter of regime change—entered the White House.

It deemphasizes U.S military intervention, instead focusing on a series of moves to embolden an Iranian population that has increasingly grown angry at the ruling regime for its heavy investments in military adventurism across the region. -Free Beacon
"The ordinary people of Iran are suffering under economic stagnation, while the regime ships its wealth abroad to fight its expansionist wars and to pad the bank accounts of the Mullahs and the IRGC command," SSG writes in the paper. "This has provoked noteworthy protests across the country in recent months" it further claims as an argument to push a "regime change" policy.

For now - at least - overthrowing the Iran government, with its extensive and close ties to the Kremlin, is not official US policy; SSG president Jim Hanson told the Free Beacon that the Trump administration does not want to engage in direct military intervention in Iran -and is instead focusing on other methods of ridding Iran of its "hardline ruling regime." 

"The Trump administration has no desire to roll tanks in an effort to directly topple the Iranian regime," Hanson said. "But they would be much happier dealing with a post-Mullah government. That is the most likely path to a nuclear weapons-free and less dangerous.

That will likely change, however.
One source close to the White House who has previewed the plan told the Free Beacon that the nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, solidified the Iranian regime's grip on power and intentionally prevented the United States from fomenting regime change
"The JCPOA purposefully destroyed the carefully created global consensus against the Islamic Republic," said the source, who would only speak to the Free Beacon on background about the sensitive issue. "Prior to that, everyone understood the dangers of playing footsie with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism. It's now Trump, Bolton, and [Mike] Pompeo's job to put this consensus back in place."

The source tells the Beacon that Bolton is "acutely aware of the danger the Iranian regime poses to the region." 

"John is someone who understands the danger of Iran viscerally, and knows that you're never going to fundamentally change its behavior—and the threats against Israel and the Saudis especially—until that revolutionary regime is gone," the source said, adding that "nothing's off the table right now if Israel is attacked."

That said, Bolton is confident that an Iranian regime change will occur in the next six months:

A second source tells The Beacon that the Trump administration recognizes that the "chief impediment to the region is Iran's tyrannical regime." 

"The problem is not the Iran nuclear deal it's the Iranian regime," said the source. "Team Bolton has spent years creating Plans B, C, and D for dealing with that problem. President Trump hired him knowing all of that. The administration will now start aggressively moving to deal with the root cause of chaos and violence in the region in a clear-eyed way."
Regional sources who have spoken to SSG "tell us that Iranian social media is more outraged about internal oppression, such as the recent restrictions on Telegram, than about supporting or opposing the nuclear program. Iranian regime oppression of its ethnic and religious minorities has created the conditions for an effective campaign designed to splinter the Iranian state into component parts," the group states. -Free Beacon
"More than one third of Iran's population is minority groups, many of whom already seek independence," the paper explains. "U.S. support for these independence movements, both overt and covert, could force the regime to focus attention on them and limit its ability to conduct other malign activities."
Without a regime change, the United States will continue face threats from Iranian forces stationed throughout the region, including in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.
"The probability the current Iranian theocracy will stop its nuclear program willingly or even under significant pressure is low," the plan states. "Absent a change in government within Iran, America will face a choice between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or acting to destroy as much of this capability as possible."

That said, President Trump made clear earlier in the week that US officials must make efforts to differentiate between the people of Iran and its ruling regime.

"Any public discussion of these options, and any messaging about the Iranian regime in general, should make a bright line distinction between the theocratic regime along with its organs of oppression and the general populace," according to the plan. "We must constantly reinforce our support for removing the iron sandal from the necks of the people to allow them the freedom they deserve."

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Trump Cuts Off Funding For Syria’s ‘White Helmets’

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The Trump State Department has frozen funding to the controversial Syrian aid group known as the White Hemlets, a non-governmental organization (NGO) which provided the sole evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly used chemical weapons on his own people in an April 7 attack on the city of Douma, according to CBS News.
Having not received U.S. funding in recent weeks, White Helmets are questioning what this means for the future. They have received no formal declaration from the U.S. government that the monetary assistance has come to a full halt, but the group's people on the ground in Syria report that their funds have been cut off. -CBS News
The evidence provided by the White Helmets of the alleged chemical attack was used by the West to justify several airstrikes on Syrian scientific and military facilities throughout April - the first one conducted on Syria's T4 airbase by Israel 48 hours after the White Helmets' report. Many Douma residents, meanwhile - including Hospital personnel, say the chemical attack never happened.

The White Helmets are a 3,000 member NGO formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense. Established in "late 2012 - early 2013" after a group of 20 Syrians were trained and organized by former British army officer James Le Mesurier. The group then received funding from Le Mesurier's Netherlands-based non-profit group, Mayday Rescue - which is in turn funded by grants from the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments. 

The US has provided at least $32 million to the group - around 1/3 of their total funding - through a USAID scheme orchestrated by the Obama State Department and funneled to the White Helmets using a Washington D.C. contractor participating in USAID's Syria regional program, Chemonics.
According to their website, the White Helmets have been directly funded by Mayday Rescue, and a company called Chemonics, since 2014.

Yet there’s evidence that both of those organizations started supporting the White Helmets back in early 2013, right around the time the White Helmets claim to have formed as self-organized groups.

Mayday Rescue, as we said, is funded by the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments. And Chemonics?

They are a Washington, D.C. based contractor that was awarded $128.5 million in January 2013 to support “a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria” as part of USAID’s Syria regional program. At least $32 million has been given directly to the White Helmets as of February 2018. -TruthInMedia
So the US, Dutch, British, Danish and German governments have been funding the White Helmets, a non-governmental organization, through proxies for around five years.

Shut It Down

Perhaps fueled by troubling reports that the White Helmets have been accused of staging incidents, the Trump administration has now frozen funding to the group, and has placed support under "active review." 
Now they are not getting any US funding as the State Department says the support is "under active review." The US had accounted for about a third of the group's overall funding.

An internal State Department document said that its Near East Bureau needed confirmation from the administration to green light funding for the White Helmets in Syria by April 15th or the department would initiate "shut-down procedures on a rolling basis." -CBS News
"This is a very worrisome development," an official with the White Helmets told CBS. "Ultimately, this will negatively impact the humanitarian workers ability to save lives."

Or not, depending on how one feels about the White Helmets... 

Questions over authenticity

Last week, Russian officials brought fifteen people to The Hague from the city of Douma, Syria said to have been present during the alleged April 7 chemical attack, including 11-year-old Hassan Diab who was seen in a widely-distributed White Helmets video receiving "emergency treatment" in a local hospital after the alleged incident. 

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” said Diab, who was featured in the video which Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands says was staged.

The boy and his family have spoken to various media outlets, who say there was no attack. 

Others present during the filming of Diab's hospital "cleanup" by the White Helmets include hospital administrator Ahmad Kashoi, who runs the emergency ward.
'There were people unknown to us who were filming the emergency care, they were filming the chaos taking place inside, and were filming people being doused with water. The instruments they used to douse them with water were originally used to clean the floors actually,' Ahmad Kashoi, an administrator of the emergency ward, recalled. 'That happened for about an hour, we provided help to them and sent them home. No one has died. No one suffered from chemical exposure.' -RT
Also speaking at The Hague was Halil al-Jaish, an emergency worker who treated people at the Douma hospital the day of the attack - who said that while some patients did come in for respiratory problems, they were attributed to heavy dust, present in the air after recent airstrikes, but that nobody showed signs of chemical warfare poisoning.

The White Helmets have previously come under fire for allegations of fabricating evidence and staging bodies. Several of their members have been pictured with, or bear an uncanny resemblance to fighters from the various anti-Assad terrorist groups operating in the region.

Photographic and video evidence gathered over social media and elsewhere depicting White Helmets who appear to be affiliated with terrorist groups can be found here.

And Donald Trump just yanked 1/3 of their funding...

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Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

‘No Attacks, No Victims’: Syria Chemical Attack Video Participants Speak At OPCW Briefing

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Russian officials brought fifteen people to The Hague from the city of Douma, Syria, said to have been present during the alleged April 7 chemical attack - including  11-year-old Hassan Diab, who was seen in a widely-distributed video taken by the controversian NGO organization known as the "White Helmets," who filmed themselves giving Diab "emergency treatment" after the alleged incident. 

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” said Diab, who was featured in the video which Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands says was staged.

The boy and his family have spoken to various media outlets, who say there was no attack.

Others present during the filming of Diab's hospital "cleanup" by the White Helmets include hospital administrator Ahmad Kashoi, who runs the emergency ward. 
There were people unknown to us who were filming the emergency care, they were filming the chaos taking place inside, and were filming people being doused with water. The instruments they used to douse them with water were originally used to clean the floors actually,” Ahmad Kashoi, an administrator of the emergency ward, recalled. “That happened for about an hour, we provided help to them and sent them home. No one has died. No one suffered from chemical exposure. -RT
Also speaking at The Hague was Halil al-Jaish, an emergency worker who treated people at the Douma hospital the day of the attack - who said that while some patients did come in for respiratory problems, they were attributed to heavy dust, present in the air after recent airstrikes, but that nobody showed signs of chemical warfare poisoning.
The hospital received people who suffered from smoke and dust asphyxiation on the day of the alleged attack, Muwaffak Nasrim, a paramedic who was working in emergency care, said. The panic seen in footage provided by the White Helmets was caused mainly by people shouting about the alleged use of chemical weapons, Nasrim, who witnessed the chaotic scenes, added. No patients, however, displayed symptoms of chemical weapons exposure, he said. -RT
Emergency paramedic Ahmad Saur who is with the Syrian Red Crescent, said that his hospital ward did not receive any patients exposed to chemical weapons the day of the alleged incident, and that all the patients either needed general medical care or help with injuries.

That said, none of these people's testimony will make it into the "official record" as it currently stands. Russia's permanent representative to the OPCW, Aleksandr Shulgin, said that the OPCW has already interviewed six alleged Douma witnesses brought to The Hague , and they won't interview any more. 
'The others were ready too, but the experts are sticking to their own guidelines. They’ve picked six people, talked to them, and said they were "completely satisfied" with their account and did not have any further questions'  -Aleksandr Shulgin
Shulgin also said that "certain Western countries" accusing Russia and Syria of trying to "hide" witnesses to the attack is not true. 

Meanwhile, the West - unhappy with this unexpected diversion to its narrative - has called the Russian press conference a "stunt" - with Britain and France both denouncing it as an "obscene masquerade."

“This obscene masquerade does not come as a surprise from the Syrian government, which has massacred and gassed its own people for the last seven years,” said France’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Philippe Lalliot.

"The OPCW is not a theatre," Britain's envoy to the agency, Peter Wilson, said in a statement. "Russia's decision to misuse it is yet another Russian attempt to undermine the OPCW's work, and in particular the work of its fact-finding mission investigating chemical weapons use in Syria."

In other words, the West is happy to bomb a sovereign nation based on nothing more than non-public "evidence" suspected to have been staged and provided by the White Helmets, but when actual residents of Douma show up to tell their side of it, they are condemned as an "obscene masquerade" and denied an opportunity to submit their testimony on the record. Sounds about right for the military industrial complex which if nothing else scored a few extra billion in procurement contracts thanks to the latest farcical attack on Syria.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

OPCW Investigators Reportedly Found ‘No Evidence’ Of Chemical Weapons At Syrian Facilities Bombed By US

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While it will likely take the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons weeks or even months to issue their final report on the alleged gas attack in Douma (an attack for which journalists and other independent parties have failed to find any evidence), the organization's investigators have apparently spoken with Russian military officials after visiting the site of the Barzeh research center in Damascus - one of the three facilities targeted by the strikes.

At the time we noted Paul Craig Roberts' 'awkward question' to Washington's warmongers:
If this were true, would not a lethal cloud have been released that would have taken the lives of far more people than claimed in the alleged Syrian chemical attack on Douma?

Would not the US missile attack be identical to a chemical weapons attack and thus place the US and its vassals in the same category as Washington is attempting to place Assad and Putin?
And now, according to Sputnik, the investigators, who spoke with Russian General Staff Col. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, revealed that they had found no evidence of chemical weapons in the remains of research facilities that were supposedly integral to the Syrian Army's chemical weapons program. Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise: After all, if the US, France and the UK really did bomb a building filled with chemical weapons, there would've been thousands - possibly tens of thousands - of bodies to show for it.
'Immediately after the attacks, many people who worked at these destroyed facilities and just bystanders without any protective equipment visited them. None of them got poisoned with toxic agents,' Rudskoy said.
Rudskoy said there was similarly scant evidence of chemical weapons exposure at the Han Shinshar facility, located in the province of Homs. Russia registered only seven missiles had struck the facility, while the Pentagon claimed that it had successfully fired 22 missiles. Russia has previously claimed that only 71 of 103 missiles launched by the coalition made it past Syria's antiquated air defenses. 
'According to the statements of the Pentagon’s representatives, 22 missiles hit the above-ground facilities. We registered no more than seven hits, which is shown in the space image,' he told a briefing.
Furthermore, the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria said its representatives had questioned local doctors and investigated the site of the attacks. The doctors confirmed that they hadn't recently treated any patients with signs of exposure to chemical agents, and investigators searching the area found nothing suspicious. Moscow had said the April 7 gas attack that purportedly took place in Douma, part of the Eastern Ghouta region that was recently reclaimed following a military victory over the last rebel forces in the area, was in fact staged by the White Helmets, an NGO that supports US interests in Syria under the guise of altruism. While the US has refused to share the supposedly "slam dunk" evidence that the Syrian government was behind the attack, US and French authorities have cited videos posted to YouTube by the White Helmets as sufficient proof of an attack.

But as Ron Paul argued in a recent column, even if the Syrian army did carry out the gas attack in Douma, evidence of this still wouldn't justify the US, UK and France bombing targets inside a foreign country.

The Syrian civil war has been a bloody one. Hundreds of thousands of combatants (and tens of thousands of civilians) have been blown up by airstrikes, ripped to pieces by shrapnel or mutilated and murdered in some other grotesque fashion. The problem is, the US intervention wasn't motivated by humanitarian instincts - rather, Washington's outrage is very selective and politically motivated.

We are not the policemen of the world, Paul added. Bad leaders do terrible things all the time - and this is true even in the US. The US has neither the moral authority - or the money - to carry out overseas bombings. Especially now that it has become clear the Trump administration didn't have sound evidence of an attack, the hasty decision to resort to force was a foolish one.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Independent Swiss Lab Says ‘BZ Toxin’ Used In Skripal Poisoning; US/UK-Produced, Not Russian

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Somebody has some explaining to do... or did the Syrian airstrikes just "distract" the citizenry from the reality surrounding the Skripal poisoning.

Remember how we were told my the politicians (not the scientists) that a deadly Novichok nerve agent - produced by Russia - was used in the attempted assassination of the Skripals? Remember the 50 questions (here and here) we had surrounding the 'facts' as Theresa May had laid them out? Ever wonder why, given how utterly deadly we were told this chemical was, the Skripals wondered around for a few hours after being 'infected' and then days later, survived with no chronic damage?

Well those doubts may well have just been answered as according to the independent Swiss state Spiez lab, the substance used on Sergei Skripal was an agent called BZ, which was never produced in Russia, but was in service in the US, UK, and other NATO states.

RT reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, citing the results of the examination conducted by a Swiss chemical lab that worked with the samples that London handed over to the Organisation for the Prohibition of the Chemical Weapons (OPCW), that Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with an incapacitating toxin known as 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate or BZ.

The Swiss center sent the results to the OPCW.

However, the UN chemical watchdog limited itself only to confirming the formula of the substance used to poison the Skripals in its final report without mentioning anything about the other facts presented in the Swiss document, the Russian foreign minister added.

He went on to say that Moscow would ask the OPCW about its decision to not include any other information provided by the Swiss in its report.

On a side note, the Swiss lab is also an internationally recognized center of excellence in the field of the nuclear, biological, and chemical protection and is one of the five centers permanently authorized by the OPCW.

The Russian foreign minister said that London refused to answer dozens of “very specific” questions asked by Moscow about the Salisbury case, as well as to provide any substantial evidence that could shed light on the incident.

Instead, the UK accused Russia of failing to answer its own questions, he said, adding that, in fact, London did not ask any questions but wanted Moscow to admit that it was responsible for the delivery of the chemical agent to the UK.

But hey, who cares about any of that? Diplomats have been sent home, Putin has been annointed hitler, and besides, what about those missiles in Syria?

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Trump Warns Russia ‘Missiles Are Coming’ At Syria After Moscow Vows To Shoot Them Down

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A shooting war between the US and Russia appears imminent.

Following overnight speculation that the US may launch an airstrike on Syria at any moment, this morning, in his latest fiery tweetstorm, after slamming the failing New York Times and again lashing out at the Russia collusion probe and Cohen's office raid, Trump tweeted that "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia,  because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

The tweet prompted several observers to point out the following Trumps statement from the historical archives:
In any case, Trump's comment came in response to a statement by the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin who said overnight that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria will be shot down and their launch sites targeted in response to Trump promise of a forceful response to an alleged chemical attack on a rebel enclave near Damascus.

"If there is a strike by the Americans, then we refer to the statements of President [Vladimir] Putin and the chief of staff that the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired," Zasypkin told Hezbollah's al-Manar TV.

In response, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that US "smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not a legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory" and sarcastically noted that the US "smart missiles" could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the alleged "chemical attack" on the ground in Syria.

Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia “categorically” disagrees that a chemical attack took place in Syria. "I still want to hope that all parties will avoid any steps, which in reality aren’t provoked by anything, that can destabilize the already fragile situation in the region."

Peskov also said that Putin has no plans so far for phone talks with Donald Trump, while adding that Russian market volatility is partly emotional, partly speculative; Russian economy has sufficient durability, Peskov says.

Meanwhile, indicating that a US strike on Syria is imminent, on Tuesday Trump canceled a trip to Latin America to focus on the Syria incident, the White House said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also canceled plans to travel to California in the coming days, as Trump told reporters all options were on the table regarding Syria.

As we reported on Monday, the USS Donald Cook, a Navy destroyer, left a port in Cyprus on Monday. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were used a year ago after an alleged sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians.

Also overnight, Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control agency, warned airlines Tuesday to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to possible airstrikes in the next 72 hours.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst, warned that any U.S. strike on Syria would likely require manned aircraft and characterized it as a "high-risk operation."

“Last year was about sending a signal,” Stavridis said, referring to the April 2017 strike ordered by Trump. “This year its about destroying actual Syrian capability."

Of course, if Russia is serious and it intends to shoot down not only US missiles but their sources - including ships and fighter jets -what happens in the next several hours could unleash World War III. Which would be bizarre if the only purpose for that is for Trump to prove to Mueller that he is not, in fact, a Russian puppet, even as the Military Industrial Complex enjoys its final victory.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, futures did not like the news that war between the US and Russia may be coming, and slumped to session lows.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Trump Threatens Putin, ‘Animal Assad’ Over Syrian ‘Chemical Attack’; Russia Warns Of ‘Grave’ Response If US Launches Strike

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It's deja vu all over again.

Remember when the US admitted Syrian "Rebels" have used chemical weapons? Or when earlier this year, now former Secretary of State blamed Russia for an alleged Syrian chemical attack despite admitting he doesn't know who actually did it? Or when the US finally admitted there was "no evidence" Assad used sarin gas? Or just last week, when Trump said that the US is finally pulling out of Syria as a result of the defeat of ISIS (much to the Pentagon's fury and open-ended timetable for extracting Syrian resources)?

Well, maybe you do, but the neocons back in charge of US war preparations foreign policy - now that war hawk John Bolton is Trump's National Security Advisor - are so stuck with the age-old narrative that Assad is desperate to be bombed at any cost, that none of this actually matters, and instead the big story overnight is once again that, lo and behold, Assad decided to gas some "rebels" again, despite now overwhelmingly winning the war against US-backed insurgents, and despite knowing very well that exactly one year ago an alleged "chemical attack" prompted Trump to launch dozens of Tomahawks at Syria.

This is what happened (if you've seen this script played out before, you are not alone).

On Saturday night, an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta reportedly killed dozens of people, according to US-linked medical services with Washington immediately responding that the reports - if confirmed - would demand an immediate international response. Actually scratch the "if confirmed" part - after all, the last time the US "intervened" in Syria, on April 7, 2017, the US did not need confirmation; Trump just needed a geopolitical distraction.

It seems that he needs another one again, and ideally one that shows just how angry he is with Putin now that an interview with Mueller is reportedly imminent.

A joint statement by the medical relief organization Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defense service, which operates in rebel-held areas, said 49 people had died in the attack late on Saturday. Others put the toll at 150 or more.

The response from the Assad side was similarly predictable: the Syrian regime, whose overthrow the US failed to achieve in the course of the 6 year proxy war in order to facilitate the transport of Qatari natural gas to Europe, denied its forces had launched any chemical attack as the reports began circulating and said the rebels were collapsing and fabricating news.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said Jaish al-Islam was making “chemical attack fabrications in an exposed and failed attempt to obstruct advances by the Syrian Arab army,” citing an official source.

Meanwhile, Reuters said it could not independently verify the reports. Others did the same: The Syrian Observatory said it could not confirm whether chemical weapons had been used in the attack on Saturday.

But, as we noted above, who needs confirmation: after all, if the 2013 "chemical attack" that started it all and was later proven to be a hoax was sufficient, just do the same. And sure enough, a video uploaded by "local media activists" allegedly showed bodies of victims - including women and children - of the reported chemical attack in Douma. Once again, nobody has actually confirmed if anyone has died.

Meanwhile, the US, itching for that military spending GDP boost was ready with the outraged retort: the U.S. State Department said reports of mass casualties from the attack were “horrifying” and would, if confirmed, “demand an immediate response by the international community”. At the same time, Britain’s Foreign Office also called the reports, if confirmed, “very concerning” and said “an urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond. We call on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to stop the violence against innocent civilians.”

Note the "if confirmed" part, and keep an eye on how the narrative switches from that to "the attack was confirmed." If the Skripal case is any indication, just repeating it often enough, should be sufficient.

Trump already did his part on Sunday morning, when he tweeted several statements on the alleged attack as if it was already confirmed,just as one would expect to accelerate the escalation:
Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!
Then, for good measure, Trump decided to throw Obama under the bus for not crossing his "red line in the sand", once again assuming the attack was confirmed.
If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!
After the alleged attack, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauret recalled a 2017 sarin gas attack in northwestern Syria that the West and the United Nations blamed on Assad’s government. “The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately,” she said adding that “The United States calls on Russia to end this unmitigated support immediately and work with the international community to prevent further, barbaric chemical weapons attacks."

The US also said yet again that Russia is "ultimately bearing responsibility" for all chemical incidents in Syria, regardless of who carried them out, after rebel sources accused Damascus of gassing dozens in Eastern Ghouta's Douma.  In other words, even if the "chemical attack" was carried out by US-backed "rebels", or better yet "ISIS", it's Putin's fault.
'The regime's history of using chemical weapons against its own people is not in dispute,' said the US State Department, indicating, however, that it was relying on 'reports,' being unable to confirm the incident. 'Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the brutal targeting of countless Syrians with chemical weapons.'
As for Russia, its Defense Ministry immediately denied and dismissed as false reports that the Syrian government had carried out a chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta's Douma: "We strongly refute this information," Major General Yury Yevtushenko, head of the Reconciliation Center in Syria, said in a statement on Sunday. "We declare our readiness, after Douma is liberated from the militants, to immediately send Russian radiation, chemical and biological protection specialists to collect data that will confirm the fabricated nature of these allegations," he stated.

Yevtushenko said that "a number of Western countries" are trying to prevent the resumption of an operation aimed at driving militants from the city of Douma.

"For this purpose, the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces – one of the most widespread claims in the West – is being used," he added.

And, knowing where this is all headed, Russia’s Foreign Ministry says in statement on website that reports of chemical weapons attack in rebel-held town of Douma are fabricated, and any military operations against Syria on false pretenses may lead to “gravest consequences,”

The Russians added that "The goal of such reports is to aid terrorists and justify possible military strikes from outside Syria."

Russia is correct, and it is now just a matter of time before Trump unveils his next grand diversion from the chaos at home and the trade war with China, by launching another 50 or so Tomahawks at some venue deep inside Syria, in a carbon copy repeat of what happened exactly one year ago.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Obama State Department Spent $9 Million With Soros To Meddle In Albanian Politics

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President Obama's State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) spent nearly $9 million on an Albanian political reform campaign coordinated with billionaire George Soros, according to 32 pages of State Department documents obtained by Judicial Watch via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. 

Working with Soros' Open Society Foundation, USAID channeled the funds into a "Justice for All" campaign aimed at reforming the socialist government's judicial system in 2016.

"The Obama admin spent at least $9 million in tax dollars in direct collusion with left-wing billionaire George Soros to back socialist gov in Albania," wrote Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement. "The records also detail how the Soros operation helped the State Department review grant applications from other groups for taxpayer funding," Fitton added.

“George Soros is a billionaire and he shouldn’t be receiving taxpayer support to advance his radical left agenda to undermine freedom here at home and abroad,” said Fitton.

A memo from April 2016 also reveals that the US Embassy in Tirana "sponsored" a survey with the Open Society Foundation to determine whether Albanians had "knowledge, support and expectations on judicial reform." The survey revealed that 91 percent of respondents believed in the need for judicial reform. A corresponding memo obtained by Judicial Watch dated February 2017 corroborates the arrangement.

The State Department pushed back following the Judicial Watch publication - telling Fox News that the agency did not directly provide grants to Soros's Open Society Foundation (OSF) in Albania. Instead, as the documents show, the US embassy in Tirana and the OSF "each provided funding to a local organization to conduct a public opinion poll on attitudes towards the Judicial Reform effort," according to a February 2017 document. 

Last year Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and five other Senators called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to immediately investigate how US taxpayer funds ended up supporting Soros-backed, leftist political groups in several Eastern European countries including Macedonia and Albania.  According to the letter, potentially millions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled through USAID to Soros' Open Society Foundations with the explicit goal of pushing his progressive agenda.

“Foundation Open society-Albania and its experts, with funding from USAID, have created the controversial Strategy Document for Albanian Judicial Reform,” the letter read. “Some leaders believe that these ‘reforms’ are ultimately aimed to give the Prime Minister and left-of-center government full control over the judiciary.”

As the Daily Caller's Andrew Kerr notes, Albanian opposition leaders to the ruling left-wing party took to calling the judicial reform effort a “Soros-sponsored reform.”

USAID and Soros

As Fox News pointed out at the time, USAID gave nearly $15 million to Soros' Foundation Open Society - Macedonia, and other Soros-linked organizations in the region, in the last 4 years of Obama's presidency alone.
The USAID website shows that between 2012 and 2016, USAID gave almost $5 million in taxpayer cash to FOSM for 'The Civil Society Project,' which 'aims to empower Macedonian citizens to hold government accountable.' USAID’s website links to www.soros.org.mk, and says the project trained hundreds of young Macedonians 'in youth activism and the use of new media instruments.'

The State Department told lawmakers that in addition to that project, USAID has recently funded a new Civic Engagement Project which partners with four organizations, including FOSM. The cost is believed to be around $9.5 million. -Fox News
Similar efforts in Hungary were blasted in early 2017 by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who expressed concern about Soros meddling in his country’s political fights, and warned about Soros’ “trans-border empire.” Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told Fox News last month that they hoped that with a change in administration in Washington, the Soros-led push against their government would decrease.
'I think it is no secret and everyone knows about the very close relationship between the Democrats and George Soros and his foundations. It is obvious that if Hillary Clinton had won then this pressure on us would be much stronger. With Donald Trump winning we have the hope that this pressure will be decreased on us,' he said.
Widely cited as an example of Soros’ influence during the Obama administration was a 2011 email, published by WikiLeaks, in which Soros urged Hillary Clinton to take action in Albania over recent demonstrations in the capital of Tirana. Among other things, Soros urged Clinton to “bring the full weight of the international community to bear on Prime Minister Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama."
Dear Hillary,

A serious situation has arisen in Albania which needs urgent attention at senior levels of the US government. You may know that an opposition demonstration in Tirana on Friday resulted in the deaths of three people and the destruction of property. There are serious concerns about further unrest connected to a counter-demonstration to be organized by the governing party on Wednesday and a follow-up event by the opposition two days later to memorialize the victims. The prospect of tens of thousands of people entering the streets in an already inflamed political environment bodes ill for the return, of public order and the country's fragile democratic process.

I believe two things need to be done urgently:

1. Bring the full weight of the international community to bear on Prime Minister Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama to forestall further public demonstrations and to tone down public pronouncements.

2. Appoint a senior European official as a mediator.

While I am concerned about the rhetoric being used by both sides, I am particularly worried about the actions of the Prime Minister. There is videotape of National Guard members firing on demonstrators from the roof of the Prime Ministry. The Prosecutor (appointed by the Democratic Party) has issued arrest warrants for the individuals in question. The Prime Minister had previously accused the opposition of intentionally murdering these activists as a provocation.

After the tape came out deputies from his party accused the Prosecutor of planning a coup d'etat in collaboration with the opposition, a charge Mr. Berisha repeated today. No arrests have been made as of this writing. The demonstration resulted from opposition protests over the conduct of parliamentary elections in 2009. The political environment has deteriorated ever since and is now approaching levels of 1997, when similar issues caused the country to slide into anarchy and violence. There are signs that Edi Rama's control of his own people is slipping, which may lead to further violence.

The US and the EU must work in complete harmony over this, but given Albania's European aspirations the EU must take the lead. That is why I suggest appointing a mediator such as Carl Bildt. Martti Ahtisaari or Miroslav Lajcak, all of whom have strong connections to the Balkans.

My foundation in Tirana is monitoring the situation closely and can provide independent analysis of the crisis.

Thank you, George Soros
Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Interventionistas Outraged Over Trump’s Syria Withdrawal: ‘We Took The Oil. We’ve Got To Keep The Oil’

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Regime change advocates, neocon beltway hawks, and all the usual armchair warrior zero-skin-in-the-game think tank interventionistas are in continued meltdown mode after Trump confirmed plans to withdraw American forces - some 2000+ troops and personnel - from Syria. On Friday the president told senior White House aides that US forces will be exiting Syria after public comments made earlier.

In statements carried by Reuters, Trump said, “Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out. We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.” As we noted last week, the timing of Trump's dramatic Syria turn corresponded with news of an American soldier killed in Manbij in northern Syria (killed likely by an IED alongside a British coalition soldier overnight last Thursday).

Perhaps to be expected, the weekend editorials and cable news pundit shows reacted in disbelief and horror - with charges of "chaos" at the Trump White House over Syria policy, and claims that "ISIS will come back" if America leaves. Nevermind the fact that Trump himself while on the campaign trail in 2016 stated in public speeches and in a tweet (and linking to a declassified intelligence memo) that US support to jihadists in Syria under President Obama is precisely what fueled the rise of ISIS in the first place

CNN, for example, painted a picture of mass revolt among the ranks of military officers and career State Department officials, asserting that, "Any decision by Trump to pull out of Syria would also go against the current military assessment, a fact that left some national security officials concerned about the impact of a withdrawal, another senior administration official told CNN."

No, there's no "chaos" when it comes to Syria policy at the White House - Trump is doing exactly what he pledged to do while previously on the campaign trail, and he's further continuing what he started when he nixed the CIA's regime change program last summer.

But it's funny and very telling how brazenly honest interventionistas and deep state bureaucrats suddenly become in their motives whenever Trump speaks truth on Syria. Consider prominent Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, who the day after Trump's announcement of leaving Syria lamented while quoting a pro-regime change activist, “We took the oil. We’ve got to keep the oil.”

That's right, the mask of pseudo-humanitarian high-minded noble ideals comes off (the Josh Rogins of the world care nothing about actual Syrians), and we learn that it's actually all about...

Oil! Oil! Oil! Iran! Iran! Iran!
No more pretense and the slick language of R2P military intervention for the sake saving civilians in Syria... Rogin's op-ed is aptly titled, In Syria, we ‘took the oil.’ Now Trump wants to give it to Iran. 

Rogin, like other interventionistas, has no more cards to play, thus we find these straightforward admissions in his column:
Perhaps he would back off his urge to cut and run if he knew that the United States and its partners control almost all of the oil. And if the United States leaves, that oil will likely fall into the hands of Iran...

Control over oil is the only influence we have in Syria today...

“We have this 30 percent slice of Syria, which is probably where 90 percent of the pre-war oil production took place,” said David Adesnik, director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “This is leverage.”
Astoundingly, these words are still being published 15 years after the myriad lies of the Iraq invasion ...no shame, no regrets. And a host of other mainstream journalists in New York and DC greeted Rogin's column as "refreshing" and respectable "essential reading" (as if it's not the same pro-regime-change script which has dominated talking points for years).

Meanwhile, a well-known Syrian-American Middle East analyst and actual expert on Syria effortlessly shreds Rogin's supposed "realist" points with ease (Rogin likes to think of himself as a foreign policy 'realist' ...he's no such thing):
Whenever one thinks Syria analysis has hit bottom, nonsense like comes along to remind us otherwise. Josh Rogin's piece makes a set of outrageous observations that has become a mainstay of Syria’s war coverage over the years. Let’s establish the facts first.

Iran’s expansion that Josh Rogin wants to 'counter' did not start with Syrian war but started in the aftermath of the ill-advised Iraq invasion that opened the pandora box which we are still dealing with today (Birth of ISIS is another). Interventionists have a short memory.

Syria’s alliance with Iran did not start with the Syrian war. It was cemented after Damascus decided to side with Iran during its war with Saddam’s Iraq in early 80’s. At start of Syrian war, Tehran decided to pay back the favor and came to Assad’s aid when no one did.

What Josh Rogin still can’t comprehend is that countering Iran is positively correlated with ending the Syrian war and not by adding more fuel to it. Iran’s influence grows when Damascus is threatened and not the other way around.

Syria is not Saudi Arabia. Even before the war, it’s oil production was mere 150K barrels a day. This is a drop in the ocean when it comes the regional oil producers. Asking Trump to grab the oil shows total lack of understanding of scale or strategic importance.

Indeed, by grabbing what little oil Syria has all you are doing is giving Iran and other allies of Syria more leverage. The more Syria can stand on its feet the less it needs those allies like Iran that you want to counter.
So it's not only his conclusions, but every assumption of Rogin and his ilk concerning the Middle East is simply dead wrong. But at the very least these moments serve to remind us of what morally corrupt failures the Washington class of inverventionistas have been, and that it's certainly not their own skin in the game when they argue for "taking action" whether in Syria or other parts of the world (the establishment political and pundit class is all too willing to send the sons of others to die in foreign quagmires with dubious aims).

Finally, it should be noted that Josh Rogin published his piece the same day Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar died in Syria (identified by the Department of Defense on Saturday). Rogin is ultimately arguing that more Americans must stay in harm's way for "control over oil... the only influence we have in Syria today."

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With that, we'll leave off with the following excerpted wisdom from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Skin in the Game:
What you had historically is warmongers were warriors. And he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword… Now suddenly–and that’s only recent–we developed all these weapons and technologies and stuff like that, so you can have people cause wars and not be exposed. And not only that, but as was Bill Kristol… he’s a prime example.

The people who caused the war in Iraq… absolutely no cost to them. Or a cost that’s very small, very tiny reputational cost… And then after they cause a war in Iraq–and of course we have a disaster–they will intervene again… in Libya and of course in Syria.

What happens with these people is that given that there is no skin in the game, there’s no learning… In the real world, these people should be dead, because basically, if you cause a disaster… so many of them would be… pruned out that way instead of letting others die.
Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.