Syria Defeats “Rebel” Counter-Offensive in Aleppo; Russia Negotiating with Turkey Over Syria, Says Negotiations with Washington at Dead End; 2 More Analysts Say Hillary Won’t Pursue No-Fly Zone or Start WWIII; Moscow Pursuing Israel-Palestine Summit; Russia’s Economic Upgrade; James Bradley Shares His Impressions of Recent Trip to Russia

© REUTERS/ Abdalrhman Ismail

As reported at The Duran, the recent “rebel” counter-offensive in Eastern Aleppo has been defeated by the Syrian Arab Army:

Reports from Aleppo confirm that the Al-Qaeda Jihadi counter-offensive to break the siege of the Jihadi held eastern districts of Aleppo has for the moment at least failed.  

The Syrian army has recaptured all the points captured by the Al-Qaeda Jihadis in the first two days of their counter-offensive.

Reports also agree that the Jihadis have suffered heavy losses, though there is as usual wide disagreement about the extent of these losses.

The Syrian army has achieved this victory without the intervention of the Russian Aerospace Forces, which have played no part in this fighting.  If Vladimir Putin refused the Russian General Staff’s request to resume bombing in Aleppo because he was confident that the Syrian army would win by itself, then events have proved him right.

It is possible that after pulling back Al-Qaeda will try again, and will launch yet another counter-offensive to break the siege of the city.  However for the moment this Jihadi counter-offensive looks to have not merely failed but to have been a lot less effective than the previous Jihadi counter-offensive, which was launched at the end of July. 

That counter-offensive, though it eventually failed, did succeed for a time in punching a hole through the Syrian army’s lines.  It took the Syrian army several weeks of intense fighting, and heavy bombing by the Russian Aerospace Forces, before the hole was closed and the Jihadis were finally driven back.

The Duran also reported that Russia is in negotiations with Turkey, presumably, to get them to agree to convince the jihadist “rebels” to quit in support of the ultimatum given to them by Russia’s military:

Following the failure of the Al-Qaeda attempt to break the siege of the Jihadi held district of Aleppo, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is giving the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo what is effectively an ultimatum.

The terms of this ultimatum have been set out by General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian military’s General Staff:

“Taking into account that our American colleagues are incapable of separating the opposition from terrorists, we appeal to all the leaders of armed groups directly to stop combat actions and leave Aleppo with their arms.”

(bold italics added)

To this end two corridors have been opened to enable the Jihadis to retreat, one heading towards the Turkish border, and the other heading to the Al-Qaeda controlled western Syrian city of Idlib.

In addition there are a further six humanitarian corridors for civilians to use if they want to leave.

Gerasimov is currently engaged in meetings in Moscow with General Hulusi Akar, the Chief of the Turkish military’s General Staff, who is currently visiting him in Moscow.

Having despaired of getting the US to separate Al-Qaeda/Jabhat Al-Nusra from the other Jihadis in Aleppo, and getting them to withdraw, it is likely the Russians are trying to agree the same thing with the Turks.  Indeed Gerasimov’s comments today essentially say as much.

Given that the Jihadis fighting in Syria totally depend on Turkey for their supplies, if the Turkish leadership tells them to quit eastern Aleppo there is a possibility that they may finally accept that the game is up and heed the call.  The same thing has after all recently happened in other Syrian towns and cities, including in the formerly Jihadi controlled suburbs of Damascus.

Subsequently, according to Reuters, Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced that negotiations with Washington over Syria had been suspended due to failure.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday a Western failure to rein in violent Islamists in Syria had indefinitely delayed the resumption of peace talks.

Shoigu said that rebels backed by Western governments had been attacking civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, despite a pause in Russian and Syrian air attacks. “As a result, the prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period,” Shoigu said.

Separately, a Kremlin spokesman said that a temporary pause in Russian and Syrian government air strikes on Aleppo was in force for now, but could not be extended if the rebels in the city did not halt their attacks.

Following up on our recent post featuring analyst Alexander Mercouris’ article explaining why he thinks that Hillary Clinton will ultimately take a rational and pragmatic approach when presented with the military realities of imposing a “No-Fly Zone” in Syria and generally escalating with Russia, two more respected analysts have penned their own pieces making much the same point.

Noted academic analyst on the Middle East, Vijay Prashad, wrote in Alternet, what he sees as the likely possibility of the West bluffing about military escalation in Syria.  He thinks Western policymakers will be chastened by the results of the Libya fiasco:

The disaster of Libya has meant that the West is now deeply reticent to act in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. Those who call for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria are deluded if they assume that the West is going to provide such an instrument. There will be neither UN backing for such a policy nor will the Western governments themselves risk such an adventure.

US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton might make these gestures in her speeches, but she well knows that her own military would oppose such an action. It is easy for her to call for a No Fly Zone, and then claim that it is only the Russians and the Chinese who are against this policy. In fact, the Western governments – burned by the Libyan adventure as much as the Iraq one – no longer have the stomach for such a policy. The call for a No Fly Zone emboldens the rebels in Syria to refuse to come to talks in Geneva. Rather than an avenue towards peace, the No Fly Zone rhetoric is merely a prolongation of war.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, has seen the tide shift in its favor. Turkey has largely abandoned its proxies in East Aleppo. This has provided the Syrian government and its allies the opportunity to try and seize East Aleppo from the rebels. Damascus has a short timetable. They want to finish this campaign before President Hillary Clinton comes to power. The brutal nature of the conflict is a measure of their haste. It is largely inevitable that – at great cost – Aleppo will come back into government hands. Calls for negotiation are appropriate but largely inconsequential. It was the withdrawal of Turkish support – rather than any Western action – that ended the rebel hold on East Aleppo. The withdrawal of the rebels from East Aleppo would be a humane action. In Mosul, the ISIS leadership now speaks of inhiyaz or temporary retreat. If the rebels left East Aleppo, they would prevent the inevitable bloodshed. But they are not going to do so. This is the tragedy of that great cosmopolitan city.

 Pepe Escobar wrote in an RT oped that Hillary will be forced, like much of the U.S. military,  to face the reality of Russia’s sophisticated anti-missile system installed over most of Syrian airspace, making it so that Russia already has a de facto no-fly zone in place:

Trump seems to have been more on the money when he insisted how Hillary will be outsmarted — as she already was in the past — when dealing with President Putin, who she has demonized as Hitler.

I have shown how Hillary will be prevented from launching WWIII because her no-fly zone is already implemented in Syria by Russia. And the Pentagon — reflecting Dunford’s comments — knows it, no matter how emphatically soon-to-be-unemployed Pentagon head Ash Carter threatens “consequences.”

The Pentagon ranks Russia and China as the number one and two “existential threats” to US national security, in that order. And the US government reserves for itself the privilege of a nuclear “first-strike” — which Hillary supports (but not Trump); this is part of the 2002 Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine.

The relentless hysteria now crystallized as Cold War 2.0 has led scores of analysts to game the actual — terrifying — possibility of a US-Russia hot war. As much as the Cold War MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine may now lie in the dust — exactly because Washington refuses to back down from “first-strike” — only armchair Dr. Strangeloves get their kicks with the possibility of fighting a nuclear power. Dunford does not seem to be one of them.

What Hillary Clinton will certainly do is to double down on proxy wars, Vietnam/Afghanistan-style. So expect a President Clinton to authorize full weaponization of those Beltway-loved “moderate” Al-Qaeda-in-Syria rebels with plenty of shoulder-held missile launchers. This could easily get out of control — with lethal, yet not nuclear, consequences.

That’s exactly the point made by Mikhail Rostovsky in Moscow daily Moskovsky Komsomolets; if Hillary ratchets up tensions, “things could get out of hand.”

….Moreover, as much as the Pentagon may continue to be infested by neocon cells, sound generals are also able to identify key Russian signals — such as the unveiling of the RS-28 Sarmat nuclear missile, which NATO calls Satan 2. The Sarmat delivers monster warheads of 40 megatons; boasts a top speed of seven kilometers per second; and is able to outfox any anti-missile shield system anywhere.

Hot war? Hillary Clinton may have pulled a Julius Caesar over Gaddafi. But she’s realist enough to not pull a (nuclear) Hitler over Moscow. Or is she?

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Russian English-language news site, Sputnik, reported last week that Moscow is going forward with arrangements to hold a peace summit between Israel and the Palestinians, though neither side has definitively committed to it yet:

JERUSALEM (Sputnik) — Russia continues to conduct a thorough preparation for the first Israeli-Palestinian summit in Moscow in order to ensure that it does not become “a meeting for the sake of the meeting,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Friday.

….Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier announced their support for Moscow’s effort to mediate any talks on the resolution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but laid responsibility on each other for the fact that the meeting had not been agreed yet.

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Alexander Mercouris recently discussed data from multiple sources indicating Russia’s economic progress:

As economic recovery in Russia continues to gain hold, Russia has received authoritative endorsement both for its successful macroeconomic policies and for its rapidly improving business conditions.

The US credit rating agency Fitch on 14th October 2016 upgraded Russia’s rating from BBB- (negative) to BBB- (stable).

Normally I pay no attention to ratings decisions by US credit rating agencies, which have been proved repeatedly wrong, and which in Russia’s case are blatantly politicised. 

Back in 2015, during the worst period of the recession, I pointed out how obviously and completely wrong the decisions of the US credit rating agencies to downgrade Russia’s credit rating at that time were.

The market clearly agrees with me.  Fitch’s Russia rating is only just investment grade, whilst those of S&P and Moody’s actually give Russia a junk rating.  In spite of this – and as I predicted – Russia’s last eurobond issue in September was six times oversubscribed, with almost the entirety of the issue on this occasion sold to US investors. Even the Western financial media has been finally forced to admit that Russia’s latest eurobond issue was a success.

If I refer to Fitch’s latest upgrade of Russia’s rating, it is not because I agree with Fitch’s rating of Russia (I don’t) but because of what Fitch has to say about Russia’s economic policy

“Russia has implemented a coherent and credible policy response to the sharp fall in oil prices. A flexible exchange rate, inflation targeting, fiscal consolidation and financial sector support have allowed the economy to adjust and domestic confidence to return gradually. The strength and quality of the policy response stands out relative to those of other oil producers similarly affected by the oil price shock.”

(bold italics added)

In other words Russia has responded to the oil price fall intelligently and successfully – more so than have the other oil producers.

….

Meanwhile Russia’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking continues its rapid rise. 

In 2011 Russia’s ranking was 123 in the survey out of 183.  By 2014 it had risen to 62 out of 189, by 2015 to 51 out of 189, and in this year’s survey it has risen again to 40 out of 190. 

When I discussed last year’s survey I made the point that the dramatic improvement in Russia’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking is simply incompatible with Russia being the corrupt kleptocracy of the West’s imagination

“In corrupt kleptocratic oligarchies courts do not function efficiently, contracts are not performed and enforced, rights of minority shareholders are not protected, and people are not able to register their property easily and do not pay their taxes.”

I also pointed out that the rapid improvement of Russia’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking proves that the claim that Russia is not “reforming” its economy is quite simply wrong.  Russia is not only continuously reforming its economy, but it is doing so successfully

“……the demand for more and more “reforms” simply ignores the fact that reforms are in fact being carried out.

Anyone who reads through the World Bank’s annual surveys will see that they are all about “reforms”. It is precisely because Russia is carrying out “reforms” that its ranking is rising so fast.

To be clear, modernising the court system, introducing a new bankruptcy law, simplifying procedures for connecting to the electricity supply, and passing laws on registering property and on administering bankruptcy, are reforms.

They may lack the drama of breaking up Gazprom, but academic research, historical experience and the World Bank all say the same thing: it is these sort of unexciting reforms that in the end are the ones that make a difference and which produce results.

In other words Russia is reforming, and it is doing so successfully, in a methodical and purposeful way.

Doing so requires hard work and unremitting attention to detail. The Russian authorities deserve credit for successfully doing it, not the criticism for doing nothing that they normally get.”

I also made an extended point about what Russia’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business survey says about the overall level of Russia’s society and economy.  The continued advance in Russia’s ranking to 40th in the world shows that this point remains valid, so I reproduce it here in full

“The second point is that if one looks at what sort of countries now outrank Russia in the survey, it turns out that they are – broadly speaking – the three Asian industrial giants: Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, the two Asian city states of Hong Kong and Singapore, and the traditional and well established industrialised societies of the West: the US, the three rich countries of the British commonwealth (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and most (though not all) the states of the EU – in sum what was once called “the first world”.

If one removes the one indicator where Russia scores especially badly, Trading Across Borders – for which there are special reasons (see above) – Russia becomes even more clearly aligned with these “first world” countries rather than with those countries that make up what used to be called “the third world”.

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American Embassy in Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015
American Embassy in Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

Finally, author James Bradley writes about his recent trip to Moscow and his pleasant surprise at how clean the city was and the impressive infrastructure he found there.

Three weeks ago I flew from New York’s JFK airport to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. I wondered what was in store for me. In his 2015 State of the Union address President Obama had told us that “today it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters.” 

Sheremetyevo airport was a pleasant surprise. Unlike the turmoil at JFK, it was quiet and efficient. My bags arrived promptly, there was only one person in front of me in the customs line and there was no inspection of my baggage. Best of all there were no TSA-like agents yelling commands as in American airports.

Using the airport’s free Wi-Fi, I opened my Uber app and a sleek BMW arrived with something I had never experienced–free Wi-Fi.  So this is Russia, I thought as we zoomed past birch forests and factories. Soon we were in typical slow metropolitan traffic. My eyes scanned the road and I noticed something very different from New York – – there were no potholes.  Driving to JFK a day earlier was the usual exercise of dodging holes and lumpy asphalt. Yet this supposedly tattered economy didn’t present one pothole on the entire ride into town.

….I was in Moscow to interview a wide variety of Russians: academics, writers, TV personalities, business people and others.  They lived and worked all over the city and I spent hours in taxis.  I became obsessed in my search for potholes. Over the last two years I had spent over $1,200 repairing my car’s tires and rims after violent encounters with New York’s pockmarked roads.  I kept my eyes peeled, but from residential areas to industrial parks to the city center to the suburban fringes, I failed to find a single pothole. In New York the excuse for the cratered roads is the terrible winters.  Moscow’s winters are more brutal but their roads are as smooth as silk.                

 

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