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Ed Webb

Humanitarian Aid Blocked As UN Imposes New Iran Sanctions | Common Dreams - 0 views

  • Food and medical exports to Iran are being blocked from that country even though they are exempt from new sanctions instituted Monday by the European Union.
  • "With Iraq, that of course ended up with 500,000 Iraqi children dead, resulted in the shortage of medicine, and other needs, and ended up ultimately to forceful invasion and war,"
  • Washington-based sanctions attorney Eric Ferrari said food and medical exports to Iran are being blocked, even though those items are technically exempt from sanctions. According to the NIAC: He said he has encountered numerous scenarios—an attempted export of a $250,000 of burn medicine, a multimillion dollar export of prosthetic limbs, exports of food supplies—in which goods that had a license from the U.S. government, a willing exporter, and a willing importer, still were blocked because no foreign bank was willing to take the risk to facilitate the transaction.  The reason, he said, is that the U.S. government has announced broader and broader penalties for any foreign bank dealing with Iranian financial institutions, while making no distinction between prohibited and authorized transactions with those banks.  The result is fewer and fewer channels for legal, humanitarian, food, and medical transactions.
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    Some confusion here - headine refers to UN, text refers to new EU sanctions, but also to existing US sanctions. Nevertheless, it is a matter of concern that sanctions are a blunter weapon than might appear from much media coverage and political discussion.
Ed Webb

Trump tightens the screws on Iran's oil - 0 views

  • the White House is embarking on an economic offensive intended to collapse the Iranian government, which is already contending with a steady tempo of internal unrest driven by economic and political frustrations
  • Those who have lamented Obama’s restraint in the Middle East will now have another taste of its antithesis: the purposeful American disruption of the status quo underpinned by the assumption that things can only get better. Unfortunately, that rarely holds true in the Middle East
  • It’s not just oil: U.S. sanctions will be felt across every aspect of the Iranian economy, although in theory, agricultural products, medicines, and medical devices are exempted. In practice, the repercussions are sweeping and unpredictable
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  • This time around, Washington has chosen to go it alone on Iran, after an intense but ultimately fruitless effort by Britain, France, and Germany to devise a compromise to save the nuclear deal. That awkward episode, in which the president appeared wholly uninformed about the talks, was a feature, not a bug; spurning compromise is the modus operandi for U.S. policy toward Iran, as the latest U.S. statements ruling out sanctions waivers or exemptions make clear.
  • without the reinforcement of multilateral measures or broad diplomatic support, the Trump administration is deploying U.S. sanctions on Iran as a bludgeon rather than a scalpel in hopes of wreaking maximum havoc on Iran as quickly as possible. The financial measures targeting Iran effectively cast a much wider net than traditional trade sanctions, and the risk of steep fines or worse—loss of access to the U.S. economy—acts as a powerful deterrent for individual and firm decisionmaking even in the absence of government buy-in.
  • Iran sends its largest oil volumes to China and India, where diverse and reliable energy supplies are critical components of economic growth and national security. Both governments can draw upon ample access to bespoke financial institutions and other creative workarounds that sustain trade with Iran and are likely to seek to exploit the opportunity to press Iran for discounts and favorable payment arrangements
  • As Iran’s OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, observed: “You cannot place sanctions on two OPEC founder members and still blame OPEC for oil price volatility. … this is business, Mr. President—we thought you knew it.”
  • Through considerable internal turmoil and external conflicts, Iran has been a mainstay of global energy markets for a century; the only previous sustained rupture in Iranian supply came at the hands of a British embargo in 1951-53. That blockade ended with official American conspirators helping to effect the ouster of a troublesome Iranian leadership. At the time, this seemed like a victory for Washington; over the long term, that U.S. intervention to topple nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq proved to be a disaster for American interests and for Iran.
  • America’s open antagonism provides Tehran with another excuse to intensify repression and divert blame for the country’s woes
Ed Webb

Wary of lifting Iran sanctions, EU overrides own courts - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the ... - 0 views

  • Since the start of 2012, the European Union, once Iran’s biggest trading partner, has imposed stringent sanctions on entities involved in the Islamic Republic’s oil and banking sectors on the basis that they are supporters or financiers of nuclear proliferation. Sanctions mean that companies’ assets held in European banks are frozen; and travel bans are imposed on listed individuals.
  • After several long and expensive legal battles, many sanctions on Iranian banks, shipping companies, insurers, oil contractors, engineering firms and universities have been declared by EU judges to have been placed in “manifest error.” But lawyers representing the Iranian plaintiffs say that several key firms remain sanctioned, despite their wins.
Ed Webb

EXCLUSIVE: Trump sent second letter to Erdogan threatening sanctions over S-400s | Midd... - 1 views

  • US President Donald Trump last week warned Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a letter that he would soon have to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems if Ankara did not accept his proposed terms
  • Trump also said that Turkey could be re-admitted into a partner programme for the US's next-generation F-35 fighter jet if it agreed not to activate the S-400 systems and committed to not purchasing Russian weapons systems in the future
  • the two NATO allies at odds over a range of issues including Ankara's incursion into northern Syria
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  • Trump's last correspondence with Erdogan, sent last month and threatening him with heavy sanctions over Turkey's operation in northern Syria, caused uproar at the time because of its informal style which was perceived as undiplomatic and "childish".
  • The White House, under pressure from the Congress, seems to have lost patience and really wants to put an end to the S-400 debacle, by either sanctioning Turkey, or using the threat of sanctions to force it to accept its terms,
  • Trump has publicly said multiple times that Turkey should purchase US-made Patriot missile systems to defend its territories. Erdogan told journalists last week that he was still interested in the Patriots.
  • administration is mandated to sanction countries that conduct transactions with the Russian military industry, according to a law ratified by the US Congress in 2017, called CAATSA, or Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act
  • The Pentagon suspended Turkey from F-35 programme in July, saying that the S-400s could be used to spy on the crucial technology of the jet.
  • Erdogan, replying by letter, told Trump that Turkey would not discuss the S-400 issue with pre-conditions. He reiterated his demand to form a joint committee to resolve the problem and continued to defend the argument that S-400s and F-35 could be compatible within Turkey's defence structure.
Ed Webb

Ankara tells US it won't adhere to new sanctions on Iran - 0 views

  • “We told them we don't feel obliged to adhere to sanctions other than those imposed by the UN,”
  • the US and EU sanctions cover a broader range of activities than those enacted by the UN and are aimed at squeezing Iran's energy and banking sectors, which could also hurt companies from other countries doing business with Tehran
  • Cumhuriyet daily, quoting an unnamed US official, said Washington had sent the delegation to warn Turkey it intended to target Turkish companies deemed to be trading with the Islamic republic in violation of US sanctions
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  • The United States has so far largely looked the other way as its Muslim NATO ally has strengthened political and economic ties with Iran as part of Ankara's long-term energy strategy.Washington's tolerant attitude may end if Turkey continues to take the bite out of US sanctions or boost ties with the Islamic republic beyond a symbolic partnership.
Ed Webb

Report: Sanctions may be speeding Iran's nuclear advancement - CSMonitor.com - 0 views

  • “Putting pressure is just half of the equation; [US and European officials] have succeeded with that, undoubtedly the pain on Iran is immense,” says Mr. Parsi. “But to channel the pain is a very, very different task.”
  • measures have begun to bite, causing economic isolation and a precipitous fall in both oil revenues and the value of the Iranian currency. But Iran has still added thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium, and deployed a more efficient, second-generation centrifuge model; stepped up uranium enrichment levels from 5 percent to 20 percent, which is technically not too far from weapons-grade; and moved its most sensitive work to a deeply buried site impregnable to air attack.
  • “it is highly unlikely that the regime will succumb to sanctions pressure … [when] no proportionate sanctions relief is put on the table by the P5+1, and capitulation is seen as a greater threat to the regime’s survival than even a military confrontation with the United States.”
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  • "individuals close to the core of Iran's power structure are relishing the narrative of resistance" because although there is economic suffering, Iran “is also gaining newfound respect on the international stage due to its refusal to succumb to Western pressure.”
  • “Stark divisions among the Iranian elite are unmistakable,” notes the NIAC report. “[But] if the testimony of elite insiders is to be believed, sanctions have helped strengthen cohesion rather than intensify rifts.”
Ed Webb

Trump announces sanctions against Turkey - 0 views

  • The United States sanctioned Turkey's defense, energy, and interior ministers over Turkey's incursion into northern Syria, the Treasury Department announced today. 
  • Trump has touted taking down the territorial caliphate of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) in Syria as a signature foreign policy accomplishment, one which current and former officials say the Turkish incursion has put at risk.
  • the forthcoming order would increase steel tariffs against Turkey to 50% and stop negotiations toward a potential $100 billion trade deal with Ankara. Al-Monitor reported today that Erdogan was one official under consideration for sanctions.
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  • the president announced a pullout to the al-Tanf garrison on Syria’s southwestern border with Jordan and Iraq
  • While the president called for Turkey to protect civilians and religious and ethnic minorities amid the assault, in tweets sent today, Trump left that responsibility in the hands of the Syrian government that the US has repeatedly condemned for human rights violations and war crimes. “After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria,” Trump wrote. “Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land.”
  • experts said the Trump administration appeared to be losing control of the gains of the five-year fight against IS
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement that he planned to press NATO countries to take "collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures" against Turkey at a meeting in Brussels next week
Ed Webb

How a Lebanese company's role in shipping Turkish arms to Libya landed it in the crossh... - 0 views

  • The 40-year-old car carrier named Bana that plied the waters of the Mediterranean was unremarkable in almost all ways, except a dramatic one: the Lebanese-flagged vessel’s shipment of weapons from Turkey to Libya in January 2020 placed it squarely in a whirlwind of international intrigue
  • the European Union on Sept. 21 sanctioned the ship’s operator, Med Wave Shipping SA, a company that L’Orient Today has learned is owned by a Lebanese shipping magnate’s relative who ran for Parliament in 2018
  • the Bana, which was still registered to Med Wave Shipping SA at the time, left the Turkish port of Mersin for a journey ostensibly to Tunisia; however, it turned off its location transponder off the Libyan coast before calling to port in Tripoli, according to a forensic investigation by the BBC Africa Eye unit.
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  • Med Wave Shipping SA’s formation was sparked by a controversial set of US sanctions. In October 2015, Washington designated Lebanese businessman Merhi Abou Merhi, several of his relatives and his portfolio of business holdings for alleged money laundering on behalf of a drug trafficker. Targeted in the sanctions, which were later lifted, was a vessel named the City of Misurata, later to change its name to Sham 1 and then finally to Bana. The US accused Abou Merhi of using the vessel to provide vehicle transportation services for Ayman Joumaa, an alleged Lebanese-Colombian drug kingpin.
  • the vessel made deliveries to Tobruk for groups affiliated with the Libyan National Army under the command of Khalifa Haftar in the eastern part of the war-torn country, according to UN investigators.A 2017 UN Security Council report detailing violations of the arms embargo in effect for Libya said that the Sham 1 delivered 300 Toyota pickups and armored Land Cruisers to Tobruk on Jan. 16 of that year before making another shipment on April 14.
  • Little is as it seems on the surface of the complex world of maritime shipping. A trail of documents, public statements and other information sheds light on the kaleidoscopic history of Med Wave Shipping SA and the Bana, one that is bookended by sanctions, marked by arms shipments and has passed through Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Libya and Italy.
  • BBC Africa Eye confirmed that two Turkish Navy G-Class frigates escorted the Bana across the Mediterranean as it transported armored combat vehicles, self-propelled howitzers, cannons and an anti-aircraft gun to Tripoli. While the vessel had previously supplied forces allied with Haftar, on this trip, it delivered arms to the general’s rivals in Tripoli.
  • One of the Bana’s sailors told Italian police that 10 Turkish military and intelligence personnel guarded the weapons onboard the vessel on its trip from Mersin to Tripoli.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron referenced the shipment on Jan. 29 when he harshly criticized Turkey for what he called the country’s “broken promise” to stop sending military material to the Government of National Accord in Libya. France, meanwhile, has denied its backing of the Libyan National Army rivaling the GNA.
  • If implemented, these sanctions could target corruption among Lebanon’s elite. Given the multiplicity of their regional and international connections, the country’s poor data infrastructure and its strict banking secrecy law, the range of potential targets could be as deep as the sea.
Ed Webb

In Istanbul and Dubai, Russians pile into property to shelter from sanctions | Reuters - 0 views

  • Wealthy Russians are pouring money into real estate in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, seeking a financial haven in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions, according to many property companies.
  • "We sell seven to eight units to Russians every day," said Gul Gul, co-founder of the Golden Sign real estate company in Istanbul. "They buy in cash, they open bank accounts in Turkey or they bring gold."
  • While Turkey and the UAE have criticised the Russian offensive, Ankara opposes non-U.N. sanctions on Russia and both countries have relatively good ties with Moscow and still operate direct flights, potentially offering routes out for Russians and their cash.
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  • Russians have been big buyers of Turkish property for years, behind Iranians and Iraqis, yet the real estate players said there had been a spike in demand in recent weeks.
  • Ibrahim Babacan, whose company in Istanbul builds and sells real estate mainly for foreign buyers in Turkey, said in the past many Russians had wanted to live in resorts such as the Mediterranean Antalya region. Now they were buying apartments in Istanbul to invest their money.
  • Both Turkey and the United Arab Emirates offer residency incentives for property buyers. In Turkey foreigners who pay $250,000 for a property and keep it for three years can get a Turkish passport. For a slightly smaller sum Dubai, a major Middle East business hub, offers a three-year residency visa.
  • "Investors are looking for both capital protection and the opportunity to receive a residential visa in the UAE for temporary relocation," said Elena Milishenkova of real estate brokerage Tranio, based in Moscow and Berlin, which has a focus on Russian clients buying property overseas.
  • Some newly arrived Russians in Turkey have struggled to make deposits and transfers at banks that are wary of contravening sanctions
  • The UAE issued guidelines to banks last year to tighten procedures identifying suspicious transactions in an attempt to stem illicit financial flows. That did not stop the country, like Turkey, being added to a list of countries monitored by the FATF global financial crime watchdog.
  • Caldas and Alex Cihanoglu, a realtor also based in Turkey's largest city, said some Russians were using cash converted from cryptocurrency, now that sanctions had made financial transfers more complex."I would say most of the transactions that we're seeing are in crypto," Caldas added. "Crypto, especially for this market now, in the difficulties they're facing, is the channel that is being used."
Ed Webb

The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis? | Crisis Group - 0 views

  • The Ukraine conflict may be a matter of global concern, but states’ responses to it continue to be conditioned by internal political debates and foreign policy priorities.
  • China has hewed to a non-position on Russian aggression – neither condemning nor supporting the act, and declining to label it as an invasion – while lamenting the current situation as “something we do not want to see”. With an eye to the West, Beijing abstained on rather than vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, and reports indicate that two major Chinese state banks are restricting financing for Russian commodities. Beijing now emphasises the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty in its statements, a point that had either been absent from earlier statements or more ambiguously discussed as “principles of the UN Charter”.
  • the worldview that major powers can and do occasionally break the rules
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  • Beijing’s opposition to U.S. coalition building and expansion of military cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries. Overall, Beijing’s instinct is to understand the Ukraine crisis largely through the lens of its confrontation with Washington.
  • Beijing will want to ensure its position is not overly exposed to Western criticism and to safeguard its moral standing in the eyes of developing countries
  • When Russia invaded Ukraine, India immediately came under the spotlight as at once a consequential friend of Moscow and a country traditionally keen to portray itself as the world’s largest democracy and a champion of peace. The U.S. and European countries pressured India not to side with Moscow and the Ukrainian ambassador in New Delhi pleaded for India to halt its political support for Russia. Yet under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has responded to the invasion with the blunt realism of a rising, aspirational power that does not want to get caught between Russia and what Modi calls the “NATO group”. India chose the well-trodden non-alignment path and hid behind diplomatic language with a not-so-subtle tilt toward Russia.
  • “military-technical cooperation”, which has resulted in more than 60 per cent of India’s arms and defence systems being of Russian origin
  • India also depends on Russia to counterbalance China, which has become its primary security and foreign policy concern, especially given its unresolved border tensions with Beijing. With Pakistan, India’s main rival, already close to China and cosying up to Russia, India’s worst fear is that China, Pakistan and Russia will come together
  • Relations with Washington are already strained largely because of Islamabad’s seemingly unconditional support for the Afghan Taliban. To give his government diplomatic space, Khan has sought to forge closer ties with Moscow. Those efforts could not have come at a less opportune time.
  • Khan returned home with little to show from the trip, the first by a Pakistani prime minister in over two decades. He signed no agreements or memoranda of understanding with his Russian counterpart. Widening Western sanctions on Russia have also sunk Pakistani hopes of energy cooperation with Moscow, casting particular doubt on the fate of a proposed multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project.
  • In contrast to Russia, with which Pakistan’s commerce is miniscule, the U.S. and EU states are its main trading partners. The war in Ukraine could further undermine Pakistan’s economy. The rise in global fuel prices is already fuelling record-high inflation and putting food security at risk, since before the invasion Ukraine provided Pakistan with more than 39 per cent of its wheat imports. With a trade deficit estimated by one analyst at around $40 billion, Islamabad’s reliance on external sources of funding will inevitably grow. A Russia under heavy sanctions will be in no position to assist. In such a scenario, Pakistan’s powerful military, which Khan depends on for his own political survival, could question his foreign posture.
  • The Gulf Arab countries have so far adopted an ambiguous position on the Russian aggression in Ukraine. As close U.S. partners that also have increasing ties to Russia, they sit between a rock and a hard place, unwilling to openly antagonise either side. They have landed in this conundrum because of what they perceive as a growing U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. In response, they embarked on an effort to diversify their security relations, moving away from sole reliance on Washington. Russia is one of these new partners.
  • No Gulf power wants to give the impression of siding with the Kremlin, for fear of aggravating the U.S. – their primary security guarantor. But as international support for Ukraine and anger at those seen to support (or at least not publicly oppose) Russia grows, the damage may already have been done: the U.S. and its European allies were appalled at the Gulf states’ reticence to get in line with immediate condemnations of the Russian invasion
  • despite Iran’s own experience of losing large swaths of territory to Czarist Russia in the nineteenth century and facing Soviet occupation during and immediately after World War II, the Islamic Republic today can claim few major allies beyond Russia. Tehran sees few upsides in breaking ranks with Moscow. In comparison to the possible results of provoking the Kremlin with anything less than fulsome support, the diplomatic opprobrium it may receive from the U.S. and Europe is of little consequence.
  • Israel has substantive relations with both Russia and Ukraine: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has spoken to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the war began, and has offered to act as mediator; Israel sees itself as, in effect, sharing a border with Russia to its north east in Syria, relying on Putin’s continued tacit approval of its airstrikes on Iranian targets there; large Jewish and Israeli populations reside in both Russia and Ukraine and over 1.5 million Russian and Ukrainian expatriates live in Israel; and Israel is a major U.S. ally and beneficiary that identifies with the Western “liberal democratic order”.
  • Israel has offered humanitarian aid to Ukraine but has refused to sell it arms or provide it with military assistance.
  • concerned that the fallout from the war could lead Putin to increase arms sales to anti-Western proxies along its borders, chiefly Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon, or step up electronic measures to disrupt NATO operations in the Mediterranean Sea, affecting Israel’s own navigation systems. Thus far, Russia has assured Israel that it will continue coordination on Syria, though reiterating that it does not recognise Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed
  • President Zelenskyy is the only elected Jewish head of state outside Israel. He lost family in the Holocaust. As such, Israel’s silence on Putin’s antisemitic rhetoric, such as his claim to be “denazifying” Ukraine with the invasion, is noteworthy. That said, Israel has some track record – vis-à-vis Hungary and Poland, for example – of placing what its leaders view as national security or foreign relations concerns above taking a strong stand against antisemitism.
  • The Ukraine conflict is a major problem for Turkey. It threatens not only to damage Ankara’s relations with Moscow, but also to hurt the Turkish economy, pushing up energy costs and stopping Russian and Ukrainian tourists from visiting Turkey. Some analysts estimate that a decline in tourism could mean up to $6 billion in lost revenue.
  • Since 2014, Turkish defence companies have been increasingly engaged in Ukraine, and in 2019 they sold the country drones that Ukrainians see as significant in slowing the Russian advance.
  • On 27 February, Ankara announced that it would block warships from Russia and other littoral states from entering the Black Sea via the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits as long as the war continues, in line with the Montreux Convention (though Russian vessels normally based in Black Sea ports are exempt from the restriction, under the convention’s terms). But it also requested other states, implicitly including NATO members, to avoid sending their ships through the straits, in an apparent effort to limit the risks of escalation and maintain a balanced approach to the conflict.
  • Some fear, for instance, that Russia and its Syrian regime ally will ratchet up pressure on Idlib, the rebel-held enclave in Syria’s north west, forcing large numbers of refugees into Turkey, from where they might try to proceed to Europe. This worry persists though it is unclear that Russia would want to heat up the Syrian front while facing resilient Ukrainian resistance.
  • A prolonged war will only exacerbate Turkey’s security and economic concerns, and if Russia consolidates control of Ukraine’s coastline, it will also deal a significant blow to Turkey in terms of the naval balance of power in the Black Sea. It is likely that Turkey will draw closer to NATO as a result of this war, and less likely that Turkey will buy a second batch of S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia
  • Kenya, currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, has taken a more strident stance in opposition to Russia’s invasion than most non-NATO members of the Council. This position springs in part from the country’s history. Nairobi was one of the strongest supporters of a founding principle of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) prescribing respect for territorial integrity and the inviolability of member states’ colonial-era borders.
  • As in many African countries, a deep current of public opinion is critical of Western behaviour in the post-Cold War era, emphasising the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Libya, as well as the double standards that many Kenyans perceive in Washington’s democracy promotion on the continent.
  • What Nairobi saw as Washington’s endorsement of the 2013 coup in Egypt particularly rankled Kenyan authorities, who took an especially vocal public position against that putsch
  • Kenya will also push for the strengthening of multilateralism in Africa to confront what many expect to be difficult days ahead in the international arena. “We are entering an age of global disorder”, Peter Kagwanja, a political scientist and adviser to successive Kenyan presidents, told Crisis Group. “The African Union must band together or we will all hang separately”.
  • longstanding solidarity between South Africa and Russia. In the Soviet era, Moscow offered South Africans support in the anti-apartheid struggle and actively backed liberation movements across southern Africa.
  • Although just over half of African states backed the UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine, many governments in the region have responded to the war with caution. Few have voiced open support for Russia, with the exception of Eritrea. But many have avoided taking strong public positions on the crisis, and some have explicitly declared themselves neutral.
  • Ghana, which joined the UN Security Council in January, has consistently backed the government in Kyiv. The West African bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), released a statement condemning Russia’s actions. Nonetheless, not all ECOWAS members voted for the General Assembly resolution. Mali, which has drawn closer to Russia as France pulled its military forces out of the country, abstained. Burkina Faso did not vote, perhaps reflecting the fact that Russia watered down a Security Council statement condemning the January coup in Ouagadougou.
  • Russia has many friends in Africa due in part to the Soviet Union’s support for liberation movements during the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles. Many also appreciated Moscow’s strident opposition to the more recent disastrous Western interventions in Iraq and Libya. Furthermore, a number of African leaders studied in the Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc countries and Moscow has done a good job of maintaining these ties over the years. Numerous African security figures also received their training in Russia.
  • African leaders and elites generally oppose sanctions, seeing them as blunt tools that tend to punish the general population more than national leaders. In the meantime, African officials are concerned that the war will have a deleterious impact on the continent’s economies and food security, both by driving up energy prices and by restricting grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine (a particular concern after a period of poor rainfall and weak harvests in parts of the continent). These shocks are liable to be severe in African countries that are still only beginning to recover from the downturn prompted by COVID-19, although oil producers such as Nigeria, Congo and Equatorial Guinea may benefit from a hike in energy prices.
  • Since the invasion began, Bolsonaro’s affinities with Moscow have exposed the divisions within his hard-right government. From the outset, Brazil’s foreign ministry has vowed to maintain a position of neutrality, urging a diplomatic solution. But a day after the invasion, Hamilton Mourão, the vice president and a retired army general, said “there must be a real use of force to support Ukraine”, arguing that “if the Western countries let Ukraine fall, then it will be Bulgaria, then the Baltic states and so on”, drawing an analogy to the conquests of Nazi Germany. Hours later, Bolsonaro said only he could speak about the crisis, declaring that Mourão had no authority to comment on the issue.
  • Calls for neutrality nevertheless enjoy traction in Brazil. Within the government, there is concern that Western sanctions against Moscow will harm the economy, in particular its agricultural sector, which relies heavily on imports of Russian-made fertilisers. Brazil’s soya production, one of the country’s main sources of income, would suffer considerably from a sanctioned Russia.
  • Mexico depends on the U.S for its natural gas supply, and the prospect of rising prices is spurring the government to consider other means of generating electricity
  • Relations between Russia and Venezuela flourished under the late president, Hugo Chávez, who set the relationship with Washington on an antagonistic course. Under Maduro, Venezuela’s links to Russia have intensified, especially through the provision of technical military assistance as well as diplomatic backing from Moscow after Maduro faced a major challenge from the U.S.-linked opposition in early 2019.
Sana Usman

US Senate grants tougher Iran sanctions - 0 views

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    Persian Gulf power Iran stating nuclear program for civilian & peaceful meanings but US Senate blindly pushes further sanction package which is destined to band Tehran of profits by end down deals with state oil, tanker enterprises.
Ed Webb

Iran's economy: Sanctions begin to bite | The Economist - 0 views

  • ordinary Iranians are increasingly worried and indeed hurt by sanctions
  • Even taken together, the sanctions are unlikely to bring the world’s fifth-biggest crude-oil exporter to its knees. The loopholes remain big enough, and the attraction of Iran’s 75m-strong market strong enough, to keep goods and money flowing. Although South Korea joined Japan last month in slapping sanctions on a range of Iranian banks and firms, bringing it into line with other American allies, it remains keen to protect trade with Iran that topped $10 billion last year, so it quickly signed a deal to let Korean and Iranian traders settle accounts via special facilities in two Korean banks and in Korean currency. The Asian powerhouse, China, sees no need for such sleight of hand, and has rapidly expanded its share of Iran’s market, as has neighbouring Turkey.
  • Almost all the biggest international traders in refined petroleum products, for instance, have stopped dealing with Iran, forcing the country to rely on costlier small-scale overland shipments for much of the petrol that it still has to import because of underinvestment in refining.
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  • oil output is likely to fall by 15% and exports by as much as 25%
  • After crushing its reformist opponents, his conservative faction has broken out in increasingly rancorous internal wrangling. The biggest looming issue is Mr Ahmadinejad’s plan to slash consumer subsidies that cost his government $70 billion-100 billion a year, a quarter of GDP. Already lumbered with feeble economic growth and high unemployment, Iranians now face the prospect of sharp rises in prices of food, fuel and transport. The coming winter looks set to be harsh.
Michael Fisher

The Sanctions on Iran Are Working | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • To have any meaningful impact on the activities of the Revolutionary Guards, targeted sanctions must focus on the Guards' leaders and other front companies active in Iran's energy sector, which is the lifeblood of the regime. Oil alone provides about 80 percent of Iran's export earnings and half of government revenue. Given the dominance of the Revolutionary Guards in the country's energy sector, Asian and European companies might find it difficult, as a result of Treasury's actions, to do business in the energy sector without transacting with designated entities.
  • The U.S. Congress also is moving aggressively against Iran's energy sector and the Revolutionary Guards by targeting what some have called Iran's economic "Achilles' heel" -- the regime's need to import, by some estimates, between 30 to 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign companies.
  • The legislation would extend the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions Act to provide the president with the authority to sanction foreign companies involved in selling refined petroleum to Iran or helping Iran improve its domestic refinery capacity.
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    "Ignore the false debate in Washington over which measures to pressure the Islamic Republic are the "smart" ones. Tehran is already feeling the heat." - FP Magazine
Ed Webb

Can EU's fear of terrorists give Turkey clout in ocean drilling? - 0 views

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again stunned Europe, this time by threatening to send captured Islamic State (IS) suspects there
  • Erdogan's most recent threats came as he was responding to the European Union warning of sanctions against Turkey’s drilling operations in the eastern Mediterranean.
  • Ankara is angry that the Cyprus government is pursuing oil and natural gas exploration without ensuring the rights of the Turkish side, and that the EU is backing Cyprus. Ankara has found itself isolated. Greece, which had made exploration deals with Italy's ENI, France's Total and America's Noble and ExxonMobil, secured the full support of the United States and the EU last year. Early this year, the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt established the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in Cairo.
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  • Turkey's drilling operations near Cyprus prompted the EU to threaten sanctions that stipulated severing high-level contacts with Turkey, suspending the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and reducing 145.8 million euros ($161.4 million) in funding the EU was to provide until 2020. On Nov. 11, the EU announced the framework of sanctions targeting people and institutions participating in Turkey’s exploration activities.
  • Europe's legal system offers flexibilities that can benefit IS members. If those sent to Germany are not definitively implicated in armed clashes, killing or torture, they can avoid the court process. Just having traveled to IS-controlled areas isn't enough; prosecutors want proof that those sent back intentionally joined IS.
  • Sending IS members back to their original countries is a major issue, even beyond Turkey’s desire to use such deportations for its own interests. The decision by some countries to revoke the citizenship of IS members has made the issue much more complex. For instance, as of February the UK had revoked the citizenship of about 100 returnees.
  • According to official data, there are 1,180 IS suspects in Turkish prisons, 250 in repatriation centers and 850 in areas Turkey controls in Syria. There are also an estimated 90,000 IS-affiliated suspects in Kurdish camps in Syria. Ankara was accused of allowing some prisoners to escape during the operation it launched in Syria last month.
  • A European official who deals with IS issues said he, like others, sees Erdogan's actions as blackmail. “Erdogan, with his blackmail policy, gets whatever he wants because economic interests override [everything else]. Fear of immigration is big," he told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “[European countries] didn’t want to take the IS militants and their families while they were held by Kurds; they wanted them to stay there. Some countries quietly brought over some IS families. But this is not a sustainable policy. Now as Erdogan is [deporting] them, many countries are astounded,”
Ed Webb

At Banque Havilland, Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Was Known as 'The Boss' - Bloomberg - 0 views

  • A trove of emails, documents and legal filings reviewed by Bloomberg News, as well as interviews with former insiders, reveal the extent of the services Rowland and his private bank provided to one of its biggest customers, Mohammed bin Zayed, better known as MBZ, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. Some of the work went beyond financial advice. It included scouting for deals in Zimbabwe, setting up a company to buy the image rights of players on the Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City Football Club and helping place the bank’s chairman at the time on the board of Human Rights Watch after it published reports critical of the Persian Gulf country.
  • a 2017 plan devised by the bank for an assault on the financial markets of Qatar, a country that had just been blockaded by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain for allegedly sponsoring terrorism
  • a coordinated attack to deplete Qatar’s foreign-exchange reserves and pauperize its government
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  • One of Rowland’s sons, a senior executive at the Luxembourg-based bank, emailed the plan to Will Tricks, who had swapped a career in the U.K.’s foreign intelligence service MI6 for a job advising MBZ. Tricks, who acted as a go-between for the Rowlands, was paid as a contractor by Banque Havilland. The presentation found its way to the UAE’s ambassador to the U.S., who stored it on his computer under “Rowland Banque Havilland.”
  • Last year, Qatar sued Banque Havilland in London, accusing it of orchestrating a campaign that cost the country more than $40 billion to shore up its banks and defend its currency peg against the U.S. dollar. While the lawsuit has received attention in the media, the extent of other work Banque Havilland did on behalf of MBZ hasn’t been previously reported. Nor has the role of Tricks.
  • Havilland is facing a criminal investigation in Luxembourg for, among other things, its dealings with the family of another head of state, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. It has also had communications with regulators in Luxembourg and the U.K. about the Qatar plan
  • Devising a plan for economic sabotage, whether implemented or not, is beyond the remit of most private banks. But Banque Havilland is no ordinary financial institution. The firm specialized in doing things others might balk at, the documents and emails show. Its clients included kleptocrats and alleged criminals in corruption hotspots including Nigeria and Azerbaijan. Its owners solicited business in sanctioned countries such as North Korea and Zimbabwe.
  • Not all of its clients were pariahs, and none was as important as MBZ, people with knowledge of the matter say. The crown prince, 59, is one of the Arab world’s most powerful leaders. A graduate of Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he commands one of the best-equipped armies in the region and has waged wars in Yemen, Libya and Somalia. He’s not as well-known as his protégé and neighbor Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. And he isn’t president of the UAE, a title held by a half-brother.
  • When MBZ wanted to develop a foothold in southern Africa’s commodities market in 2011, Tricks worked with the Rowlands on sourcing potential investments, documents and emails show. They picked Zimbabwe as a hub for the region, but there was a problem. The country was subject to U.S. and European Union sanctions that banned dealings with President Robert Mugabe’s inner circle and many of its state-owned companies. Tricks passed on advice about setting up a trust in Abu Dhabi for any Zimbabwe deals to hide the identities of investors from the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees sanctions enforcement
  • the UAE is now a major trading partner with the country despite continuing U.S. sanctions, and it opened an embassy there in 2019
  • Robeson, the foundation’s chairman, was elected to the Human Rights Watch board a few months later, in April 2012. He was named to the advocacy group’s Middle East and North Africa advisory committee. “We have been given the complete list of projects currently being undertaken by Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa,” Robeson wrote soon after joining the board, in a memo he emailed to Jonathan Rowland that he asked him to share with his father. Robeson also said he’d been given detailed notes of a meeting between the group and Britain’s then-Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell, along with other private briefings.
  • The foundation appears to have had no other purpose than making the Human Rights Watch donations. It was registered in Guernsey after the first gift and wound down when Robeson left the board in 2016.
  • Emma Daly, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch in New York, said the organization vetted Robeson at the time he was being considered for the board and couldn’t find any conflicts. She said the group didn’t know about Rowland’s or the bank’s connections to MBZ. Its most recent report on the country noted that, “Despite declaring 2019 the ‘Year of Tolerance,’ United Arab Emirates rulers showed no tolerance for any manner of peaceful dissent.”
  • The presentation is now a key part of the case in which Qatar accuses the bank of orchestrating an illegal UAE-backed campaign to create false impressions about the country’s stability. The UAE is not a defendant. The plan called for setting up an offshore vehicle into which the UAE would transfer its holdings of Qatari debt before buying more of the securities. The fund would also purchase foreign-exchange derivatives linked to the Qatari riyal and buy enough insurance on its bonds—a barometer of a country’s creditworthiness—to “move the price sufficiently to make it newsworthy.” Working with an affiliated party, it would then flood the market with the bonds to create the impression of panicked selling. The presentation also described a public relations drive to “add more fuel to the fire” and suggest Qatar might be struggling to access U.S. dollars.
  • Within weeks of the plan being sent to Tricks, the riyal—under pressure since the beginning of the blockade in June 2017—went into freefall and hit a record low. The yield on Qatar’s 10-year bonds also soared, as did the cost of insuring the country’s debt against default. The currency didn’t recover until November of that year, after the Intercept reported on the Banque Havilland plan.
Ed Webb

The Halkbank Case Should Be a Very Big Deal - Lawfare - 0 views

  • If the New York Times’s story about the Justice Department’s handling of the case of  Turkish bank—and President Trump’s interference in that case—had broken any other week, it would be a very big deal. A week before the election, the country inured to the president’s propensity to abuse law enforcement power, it has barely merited a yawn.  The case is worth your time.
  • Berman’s bizarre firing may have been related to a pressure campaign by Barr and the White House to frustrate a high-profile investigation by Berman’s office. The story of Trump and Barr’s efforts to hamstring the investigation into the Turkish bank, Halkbank, says a great deal about Trump’s abuses of law enforcement, his financial entanglements abroad and his susceptibility to foreign influence.
  • an alleged scheme on the part of the state-owned Turkish bank to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran
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  • The investigation was of great interest to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sought since 2016 to quash the probe. According to the Times, Erdogan may have come close to succeeding.
  • a meeting between Trump and Erdogan in 2018, during which Trump declared Halkbank to be innocent and told Erdogan he would, in Bolton’s words, “take care of things.” He then asked Bolton to reach out to then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker on the matter. Later in 2018, after Trump and Erdogan spoke again, the Times reports that the White House told the southern district that the attorney general, the treasury security and the secretary of state would all become more involved in the case. 
  • Mnuchin had already reached out to the Justice Department seeking to scale down the potential fine paid by Halkbank in any settlement, following direct outreach by Erdogan’s son-in-law
  • Whitaker ordered Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shut down the Halkbank case—stating, confusingly, that an indictment of the bank could pose risks to U.S. forces in Syria. Department officials opted to simply ignore Whitaker’s request. But after Barr was confirmed as attorney general, he too put pressure on the southern district, pushing prosecutors to allow Halkbank to walk away with only a fine and a limited acknowledgment of wrongdoing—a proposal that Berman reportedly described as “completely wrong.”
  • The first and more nefarious possibility is that the president pressured the Department of Justice to go easy on Halkbank and Erdogan’s cronies in order to protect his own sizable financial interests in Turkey. The second possibility is less horrible, but it’s not exactly reassuring. Perhaps Trump was swayed by Erdogan’s influence to make policy decisions that cut against the prosecutorial interests of his own government
  • no plausible benign explanations for Trump’s conduct here
  • it was just before Trump’s December 2018 Syria withdrawal order that Whitaker suggested that failing to drop the investigation against Halkbank might result to threats to U.S. forces in Syria—an argument that might have channeled threats that Erdogan’s regime was publicly making at the time.
  • efforts have continued both through direct engagement between Turkish and American officials and through the hiring of individuals close to the president himself—including, inevitably, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani
  • Trump certainly appears to have come to value what he sees as a personal relationship with Erdogan, lauding Erdogan as “a hell of a leader” and bragging that he is “the only one [Erdogan] will listen to” among NATO allies
  • Trump even invited Erdogan to a meeting at the White House in November 2019, just weeks after slapping (and then removing) sanctions on Turkey for its offensive into northern Syria
  • Trump has a long record of puzzling policy interventions when it comes to Turkey
  • in December 2018, following a call with Erdogan, Trump suddenly reversed course and ordered the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops—a move so unexpected that it ultimately led Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior officials to resign in protest. After another intervention by Trump in October 2019, following another call with Erdogan, Turkey was left in control of a broad swathe of Syria’s northern border, including Kurdish areas important to SDF allies of the United States.
  • he made a cursory review of Erdogan’s memo offering a thin legal theory about US sanctions and impulsively sided with the authoritarian leader over the prosecutors of the southern district
  • Turkish officials hired soon-to-be National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to lobby the incoming administration for the extradition of dissident Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Erdogan blames for the 2016 coup attempt against his regime
  • The Trump administration has also refused to impose statutorily-required sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of a prohibited Russian missile system, without explanation and despite congressional pressure to do so. 
  • What exactly Trump has gotten in exchange for these positions is far from clear
  • Erdogan’s consistent ability to come out on top in Trump’s policy deliberations is, to say the least, impressive. And here it’s impossible to ignore Trump’s financial interests in the country: according to the Times’s review of Trump’s tax documents, he received profits of at least $2.6 million from business operations in Turkey between 2015 and 2018. And earlier reporting by the Times on Trump’s taxes describes how the Turkish government and business community “have not hesitated to leverage various Trump enterprises to their advantage,” strategically booking Trump properties to host events in efforts to curry favor with the president. 
  • If the president was motivated, in whole or in part, by a desire to curry favor with Erdogan in order to benefit his personal finances, that would be a grave abuse of office and plainly impeachable conduct
  • Trump has already been impeached for abusing his office for private campaign benefit; abuse of office for personal financial enrichment would be even worse.
  • this is the type of complex policy decision where it is nearly impossible to establish conclusively improper motives
  • The Halkbank situation is exactly why presidents are expected to abide by ethics rules—including divesting from business interests—and why Trump’s refusal to adhere to the norms of good governance presented serious national security implications from the outset
  • Having taken no effort to avoid the conflict, Trump isn’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt. And notably, those privy to Trump’s actual decisionmaking with respect to Turkey aren’t extending that benefit.
  • brazen financial corruption
  • If he wasn’t seeking financial benefit, then Trump has somehow been persuaded by Erdogan to take actions that contravene his own stated policy goals. A president who is so easily outwitted and susceptible to improper influence is a frightening thing
  • Saudi Arabia and its allies have conducted their own charm offensive, engaging lobbyists and cultivating a notoriously close relationship between Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
  • it is concerning for a president to be so willing to dictate major aspects of U.S. foreign policy on the basis of his personal preferences, often without even checking them against the views of his advisors or coordinating them through the broader government bureaucracy
  • The Trump administration has almost entirely declined to criticize Erdogan’s bad-and-worsening record on human rights, as he and his regime have engaged in politically motivated investigations and prosecutions at home and turned a blind eye to atrocities in those parts of Syria under its control
  • Berman refused to go along with Barr’s proposed settlement, which he considered to be unethical. Months later, Barr fired Berman—and then lied about the circumstances and reasons why
  • Once again, the president is intervening in an investigation and a prosecutorial decision in a fashion that appears self-interested, appears to cut against stated U.S. policy to the benefit of an authoritarian leader and his interests, and appears influenced by the president’s own business concerns.
Ed Webb

Our Oligarch - 0 views

  • Abramovich is perhaps the most visible of the “oligarchs” surrounding Putin, who are widely perceived as extensions of the Russian president and keepers of a vast fortune that is effectively under the Kremlin’s control. Much of this wealth was extracted from Russia’s enormous energy and mineral resources, and is now stashed in secret bank accounts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, in empty mansions and condos from London to Manhattan to Miami, and in yachts and private jets on the French Riviera.
  • as much as 60% of Russia’s GDP is offshore
  • The reserved, gray-bearded Abramovich is notoriously litigious toward critics who seek to detail his close ties to Putin. Last year, he successfully sued the British journalist Catherine Belton, who claimed in her 2020 book Putin’s People that the Russian president dictated Abramovich’s major purchases, including his decision to buy Chelsea. He also extracted an apology from a British newspaper for calling him a “bag carrier” for the Russian president.
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  • Abramovich—who, like many of the most prominent Russian oligarchs, is Jewish—has for years been a prolific donor to Jewish philanthropies. He has given half a billion dollars to Jewish charities over the past two decades, sending money linked to Putin’s kleptocratic regime circulating through Jewish institutions worldwide
  • Among other things, he has profoundly influenced Jewish life on three continents, developing deep financial ties with major communal institutions. He is partly responsible for the preeminent role played by Chabad in the religious life of post-Soviet Russia, for the growth of major Jewish museums from Russia to Israel, for a raft of anti-antisemitism programming involving leading American and British Jewish organizations, and for the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
  • the Jewish world is forced to reckon with its long embrace of Abramovich, and with the moral costs of accepting his money
  • Certain Soviet Jews of Abramovich’s generation found themselves at the forefront of an emerging market economy. Concentrated in white collar professions but systematically excluded from desirable posts and from the top ranks of the Communist Party, they were unusually prepared—and, perhaps, motivated—to find legal and semi-legal points of entry into the tightly-regulated commerce between the Soviet Union and the West. This helps explain why, as the historian Yuri Slezkine writes in The Jewish Century, six of the seven top oligarchs of 1990s Russia (Petr Aven, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexander Smolensky) were ethnic Jews.
  • Boris Yeltsin soon initiated the firesale privatization of state-controlled industries at the urging of Washington and the IMF—a reckless transition from a command economy to a capitalist one that drove millions of Russians into poverty
  • the Yeltsin administration implemented its infamous loans-for-shares program, selling off key state industries in rigged auctions to Russia’s new business elite for a fraction of their real value in order to stabilize the state’s finances in the short term. Berezovsky and Abramovich gained ownership stakes in Sibneft, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and became instant billionaires.
  • In 1996, the handful of leading oligarchs pooled their financial resources—and directed their media companies’ coverage—to reelect the deeply unpopular Yeltsin over his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, whose platform of re-nationalizing industries terrified both the Russian and Western business classes
  • Fearing that it was unsustainable for a small group of mostly Jewish billionaires to prop up an ailing, visibly alcoholic president—especially after the ruble collapsed in 1998, dragging down a generation’s living standards and initiating a hunt for scapegoats—Berezovsky spearheaded an effort the following year to replace Yeltsin with a young, healthy, disciplined, and then-obscure former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. It was a decision he would come to regret.
  • wealth so easily acquired could just as easily be taken away. In 2001, Putin hounded Berezovsky and Gusinsky—whose TV networks had criticized the president’s mishandling of a naval disaster—with criminal indictments for tax fraud, forcing them to sell their media and energy holdings at a fraction of their true cost. As a result, Abramovich, who had never challenged Putin, acquired control of Sibneft, while Berezovsky fled to the United Kingdom and Gusinsky departed for Spain and then Israel. Abramovich again came out ahead in 2003, when the oligarch Khodorkovsky was sent to a Siberian prison on tax charges after criticizing Putin for corruption, leaving his assets in the energy sector to be redistributed among those on good terms with the president.
  • “I don’t think there is a percent of independence in Abramovich,” said Roman Borisovich, a Luxembourg-based Russian banker turned anti-corruption activist who once encountered Abramovich through Berezovsky in the 1990s. “For Abramovich to stay alive, he had to turn against his master [Berezovsky], which is what he did, and he has served Putin handsomely ever since.”
  • Whereas in the Yeltsin era, the term identified a system dominated by truly independent tycoons, “Putin’s top priority when he came to power was to break that system, replacing it with a system of concentrated power in which men who are inaccurately referred to as oligarchs now have only as much access to wealth as Putin allows them to have,”
  • Even as he built up his credibility with Putin, he joined many of his fellow oligarchs in stashing his billions in Western financial institutions, which proved eager to assist. “Elites in the post-Soviet space are constantly looking to move their assets and wealth into rule-of-law jurisdictions, which generally means Western countries like the US or UK,”
  • In 2008, Berezovsky sued his former protege over his confiscated Sibneft shares; then, in 2012, seven months after a judge rejected all of his claims, Berezovsky died in his London home in an apparent suicide. Some former associates believe he might have been murdered
  • In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that US spy agencies suspect Russian involvement in as many as 14 mysterious deaths in Britain over the previous decade, including Berezovsky’s. In the wake of the 2018 poisoning of the defected double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, British intelligence services became increasingly wary of wealthy expats with close ties to the Kremlin. Diplomatic strain stymied Abramovich’s effort to acquire a Tier 1 British visa, which would have enabled him to stay in the country for 40 months.
  • “No one forced the British or American real estate industries to toss their doors open to as much illicit wealth as they could find, or the state of Delaware to craft the world’s greatest anonymous shell company services,” said Michel. “Western policymakers crafted all of the policies that these oligarchs are now taking advantage of.”
  • Abramovich also safeguarded a significant part of his fortune in the US, especially during his third marriage to the Russian American socialite and fashion designer Dasha Zhukova. Even after their 2018 divorce, Abramovich began the process of converting three adjacent townhouses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side into what will eventually become the largest home in the city, an “urban castle” valued at $180 million—making him one of the many wealthy Russians sheltering assets in New York’s booming and conveniently opaque real estate sector. (The mansion is intended for Zhukova and their two young children; Abramovich also has five children from his second marriage based primarily in the UK.) He also owns at least two homes in Aspen, Colorado, a gathering place of the global elite.
  • the oligarchs are now credibly threatened with exile from the West. Countries like France and Germany have already begun confiscating yachts owned by select Russian officials. And although the UK is still struggling to come up with a legal basis for following suit, leading politicians like Labour Leader Keir Starmer are urging direct sanctions against Abramovich. “Abramovich’s reputation has finally collapsed, along with the other supposedly apolitical oligarchs,” Michel said four days after Russia invaded Ukraine. “There’s no recovery from this. This is a titanic shift in terms of how these oligarchs can operate.”
  • Israel has been more hesitant to hold him to account.
  • In 2018, Abramovich acquired Israeli citizenship through the law of return, immediately becoming the second-wealthiest Israeli, behind Miriam Adelson. As a new Israeli citizen, he joined several dozen Russian Jewish oligarchs who have sought citizenship or residency in the Jewish state—a group that includes Fridman, Gusinsky, and the late Berezovsky. Since 2015, Abramovich has owned and sometimes lived in the 19th-century Varsano hotel in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and in 2020 he purchased a mansion in Herzliya for $65 million—the most expensive real estate deal in the country’s history
  • As an Israeli passport holder, Abramovich is eligible to visit the UK for six months at a time and is exempt from paying taxes in Israel on his overseas income for the first decade of his residency
  • Given his increasingly precarious geopolitical position, Jewishness has become Abramovich’s identity of last resort—and Jewish philanthropic giving has provided him with an air of legitimacy not only in Israel but throughout the Jewish world. Abramovich and his fellow oligarchs “need to spend some money to launder their reputations,” said Borisovich, the anti-corruption activist. “They cannot be seen as Putin’s agents of influence; they need to be seen as independent businessmen. So if they can exploit Jewish philanthropy or give money to Oxford or the Tate Gallery, that’s the cost of doing business.”
  • A 2017 article in Politico, which identified Abramovich and Leviev as “Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide,” also referred to Lazar as “Putin’s rabbi.” Lazar has often run interference for the Russian president—for instance, by defending his initial crackdown on oligarchs like Gusinsky as not motivated by antisemitism, or by praising Russia as safe for Jews under his governance. (The researcher noted that Putin has also cultivated prominent loyalists in other Russian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church and Islam.)
  • Abramovich also significantly funded the construction of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012 (and to which Putin pledged to donate a month of his presidential salary). In a 2016 article in The Forward, the scholar Olga Gershenson suggested that the museum’s narrative bordered on propaganda, framing Jews as “a model Russian minority” and “glorifying and mourning . . . without raising more controversial and relevant questions that would require the viewer to come to terms with a nation’s difficult past.”
  • “It concentrates on the Soviet victory over the Nazis, and then it ends by saying that Jews in Putin’s Russia are all good and content.”
  • “Say No to Antisemitism” has brought together Chelsea players and management with many top Jewish groups; the currents heads of the ADL, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Holocaust Educational Trust, among others, are all listed on its steering committee. The campaign is at least in part intended to address the antisemitism of some Chelsea fans, who have been known to shout “Yid!” and hiss in imitation of gas chambers when taunting fans of the rival club Tottenham, which has a historically Jewish fan base that proudly refers to itself as “the Yid Army.” Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog described the campaign as “a shining example of how sports can be a force for good and tolerance.”
  • Abramovich is also one of the primary benefactors of a Holocaust museum that opened in Porto last May. As of last year, Abramovich is a newly minted citizen of Portugal (and by extension, the European Union), which offers such recognition to anyone who can prove Sephardic ancestry dating back before the Portuguese expulsion of Jews in 1496.
  • Berel Rosenberg, a representative of the museum, denied that Abramovich had given the Porto Jewish community any money besides a €250 fee for Sephardic certification; regarding reports to the contrary, he alleged that “lies were published by antisemites and corrupt journalists.” However, Porto’s Jewish community does acknowledge that Abramovich has donated money to projects honoring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Hamburg, and he has been identified as an honorary member of Chabad Portugal and B’nai B’rith International Portugal due to his philanthropic activities in the country.
  • Abramovich has made a $30 million donation for a nanotechnology research center at Tel Aviv University; funded a football-focused “leadership training program” for Arab and Jewish children; and supported KKL-JNF’s tree-planting campaign in the southern Negev, which is dedicated to Lithuanian victims of the Holocaust—and which has drawn opposition from local Bedouin communities who view it as a land grab.
  • he has kept his support for Israeli settlements well-hidden
  • Abramovich has used front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to donate more than $100 million to a right-wing Israeli organization called the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which has worked since the 1980s to move Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Elad also controls an archeological park and major tourist site called City of David, which it has leveraged in its efforts to “Judaize” the area, including by seizing Palestinian homes in the surrounding neighborhood of Silwan and digging under some to make them uninhabitable.
  • “In order for settlers to take over Palestinian homes, they need a lot of money,” said Hagit Ofran, co-director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli organization Peace Now, “both to take advantage of poor Palestinians for the actual purchases, and then for the long and expensive legal struggle that follows, and that can bankrupt Palestinian families. The money is crucial.” Of Abramovich’s support for Elad, she added, “That’s a lot from one source; I assume that if you give such a big donation, you know what it is for.”
  • Just two days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, it was reported that Abramovich is donating tens of millions of dollars to Yad Vashem, the global Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem
  • Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan joined the heads of multiple Israeli charitable organizations in urging the US not to sanction Abramovich. The letter was also signed by Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and representatives of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, and Elad
  • Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Fridman, were already calling for peace negotiations just three days after the invasion. (Fridman and Deripaska are also major Jewish philanthropists, as are other Russian oligarchs including Petr Aven, Yuri Milner, and Viktor Vekselberg. All of them now face global scrutiny.)
  • Even before he announced he would be setting up a charity to help victims in Ukraine, members of Abramovich’s family were quick to distance themselves from the war: A contemporary art museum in Moscow co-founded by Abramovich and Zhukova has announced that it will halt all new exhibitions in protest of the war. Abramovich’s 27-year-old daughter Sofia, who lives in London, posted a message on her popular Instagram account that read, “The biggest and most successful lie of the Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.”
  • Abramovich and others have spent more than two decades loyally serving and profiting off Putin’s corrupt and violent regime—one that has been accused of murdering and jailing journalists and political dissidents and of committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria. And for much of that time, Jewish institutions worldwide have been more than happy to take money from Abramovich and his peers
  • longstanding philanthropic ties may affect the Jewish communal world’s willingness to hold Russia accountable for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty
  • “I think the view of much of Jewish philanthropic leadership, right and left, conservative and liberal, has been the bottom line: If the purposes for which the philanthropy is given are positive, humane, holy, and seen to strengthen both the Jewish community and the whole of society, then to sit and analyze whether the donor was exploitive or not, and whether this was kosher or not, would be hugely diverting, amazingly complicated, and divisive.”
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, acknowledged the difficulty of making ethical calls about donors, but argued that the attempt is still necessary. “In philanthropy, nearly all money is tainted, either because it was acquired by exploiting workers, by harming the environment, by selling harmful products, or by taking advantage of systems that benefit the wealthy to the detriment of others. That said, we can’t throw up our hands and say that we can either take no money or all money; there have to be red lines,” she said.
  • Berman, the scholar of Jewish philanthropy, agrees. “It is tempting to say all money is fungible, so where it came from does not or cannot matter,” she said. “But no matter how much we might want to launder the money, wash it clean of its past and its connections to systems of power, the very act of doing so is an erasure, an act of historical revisionism. Even worse, it can actually participate in bolstering harmful systems of power, often by deterring institutions reliant on that money from holding a person or system to account.”
Ed Webb

U.S. Boosts Trade to Iran, Despite Sanctions - The Source - WSJ - 1 views

  • European companies realize they suffer more from recent Iran restrictions than their U.S. counterparts–and that such advantage may stem in part from better corporate access to decision-makers in Washington than in Brussels.
  • U.S. companies benefit from well established channels in Washington to plead for sanctions exemptions, while their European peers, “don’t have the same mechanism to lobby the EU bureaucracy.”
  •  
    One example of how domestic politics drive the implementation of foreign policy.
Ed Webb

If Nobody Knows Your Iran Policy, Does It Even Exist? - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • It’s possible that the broader drama about Iran is mostly posturing designed to keep the Saudis, Israelis, Gulf states, and wealthy Republican donors like Sheldon Adelson happy. Maybe Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton know deep down that the regime isn’t going to fall and isn’t going to renegotiate a better deal than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But having criticized former President Barack Obama’s handling of Iran, and under pressure from allies and domestic lobbies alike, it was inevitable that Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton would revert back to coercive pressure, even though that approach never worked in the past (at least, not on its own)
  • Tighter sanctions on Iran are unlikely to convince it to accept all of America’s demands, especially when the United States no longer has the multilateral backing it enjoyed while negotiating the JCPOA. Even much weaker states don’t like giving in to blackmail, because doing so just invites new demands. External sanctions are painful, but they often strengthen authoritarian regimes in the short to medium term. More than a decade of tough sanctions didn’t convince Tehran to give up all its enrichment capacity before, and it’s not likely to do so now
  • Instead of a new and better deal, Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton may well be genuinely interested in toppling the clerical regime, and they may have convinced themselves that inflicting ever increasing amounts of pain on the Iranian people will finally lead them to rise up and overthrow the mullahs. Bolton and Pompeo have said as much on various occasions, and Bolton’s close (and reportedly lucrative) association with Iranian exile groups is consistent with that objective as well.
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  • There may be plenty of Iranians who don’t like the clerical regime, but most of the population is also intensely patriotic and likely to harbor even greater resentment toward the distant superpower that is working overtime to cripple their economy
  • If we’ve learned anything from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria, it is that removing an unsavory regime often makes things worse, not better
  • Another possibility is that the administration is trying to use maximum pressure to goad Iran into restarting its nuclear program. Once it does, so the argument runs, Europe, Russia, and China would line up behind the United States and support (or at least tolerate) a military attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
  • it would be another one of those giant roll-of-the-dice bets that the United States keeps making (and losing) in the Middle East
  • Qaddafi was overthrown and killed after giving up all his WMD, Iran could get bombed because it doesn’t have nuclear weapons yet, but a murderous tyrant like North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gets repeated one-on-one meetings with Trump, who claims that the two of them have fallen “in love.” If you were a senior Iranian strategist, what lesson would you draw from this pattern of behavior?
  • There’s a final option, however, and I think it’s actually the most likely. The maximum pressure campaign—including the threat of secondary sanctions against U.S. allies and partners—is intended simply to weaken Iran and reduce its influence within the region. In this scenario, all the talk of regime change and hints that “all options are on the table” are just palaver—or the kind of boastful swaggering that Pompeo seems to enjoy. One could acknowledge that pressure won’t alter Iran’s overall policies, won’t lead to regime change, won’t produce a better deal, and may not even push Tehran into leaving the NPT and opening the door to preventive war. All it might do is force Iran to cut back on its support for some of its local partners and thus crimp (though not eliminate) Iran’s regional influence.
  • There’s only two problems with it: It does heighten the risk of war, and it doesn’t point the way toward any long-term solution to regional instability
  • Despite the threat inflation that pervades the U.S. national security discourse, the current situation in the Middle East has at most a small direct effect on the security of Americans at home. (To the extent that it does, it is more likely to be the relatively modest danger posed by Sunni extremists like the Islamic State, and even that danger is far from existential.) In other words, it is hard to see how continuing to whack Iran at every turn does anything to make Americans safer or more prosperous
  • Given that America’s core interests are to help maintain a stable balance of power (so that no local or external power can control the region), discourage proliferation, and tamp down violent extremism, a more evenhanded policy would make sense. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it
Ed Webb

Iranian Americans await payoff from nuclear deal - News from Al Jazeera - 0 views

  • "The nuclear deal with Iran has benefited Europeans and loosened up sanctions there, but there's been no relief for Iranian Americans,"
  • Al Jazeera spoke with several Iranian Americans who said a heavy-handed approach continued long after the Iran deal was passed. Many cited cases of discrimination, but wished to remain anonymous for fear of irking sanctions officials. There are an estimated one million Iranian Americans. Many describe themselves as victims of tensions between two nations that have derided each other as the "Great Satan" and part of an "Axis of Evil" since Iran's religious revolution of 1979.
  • In June, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the "psychological remnants" of curbs on Iran were still deterring business, and that Washington should do more to encourage banks to engage with Tehran. Many Iranian Americans agree. According to a Zogby Research Services poll in March, more than half of 400 respondents said that letting Americans invest in Iran was a "top priority". More than a third said it was time to lift the embargo.
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