On November 14th, Russian president Putin and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump spoke on the phone. According to both the Kremlin’s official report of the call and Trump’s, the two leaders agreed to improve U.S.-Russia ties and to meet in the near future. However, no date for a meeting has yet been set. Here is an excerpt from the Kremlin’s report of the call:
The Russian President once again congratulated the US President-elect on his victory in the presidential election, wished him success in implementing his election programme and said he was ready to develop a dialogue of partnership with the new administration on the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.
During the conversation Mr Putin and Mr Trump not only agreed on the absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations but also expressed support for active joint efforts to normalise relations and pursue constructive cooperation on the broadest possible range of issues. They emphasised the importance of establishing a reliable foundation for bilateral ties by developing the trade and economic component.
In Syria, Russia has started airstrikes in the towns of Idlib and Homs, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in order to prevent jihadists from streaming out of Mosul (which is currently being targeted by the U.S. and its allies against ISIS) and into Syria. As reported by RT on November 18th:
“Our aviation and the aviation of Syria work only in the provinces of Idlib and Homs in order to prevent the IS from crossing into Syria from Mosul,” Lavrov explained after meeting Secretary of State Kerry on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders week in Peru’s Lima.
While both diplomats regarded the talks, which touched on Syria, Yemen and Ukraine, as “productive” and “constructive,” Lavrov also alluded to the allegations made by US State Department that Russian jets were behind the reported bombings of 5 hospitals in Aleppo and Idlib. The Russian Defense Ministry repeatedly said that Russian jets have not been flying sorties in Aleppo during the last 30 days, while targets in Idlib and Homs, said to be terrorist arms factories and warehouses, are carefully selected.
Lavrov also commented on the incident at Wednesday’s State Department briefing, in which spokesman John Kirby dismissed RT’s Gayane Chichakyan request to provide details on the allegedly bombed hospitals on the grounds that RT was a “state-owned outlet,” saying it was “unacceptable.” However, Lavrov said he did not want to discuss the conduct of Kirby, who was not in Lima.
“We believe it is unacceptable, not reflecting the American proclaimed values and I hope that this was not the position of the State Department and this is certainly not the position of the Secretary of State … We are not going to start every day by condemning Mr. John Kirby but I believe he must be disciplined by his own superiors for what he is doing and how he is doing his job,” Lavrov said.
The State Department briefing being referenced by Foreign Minister Lavrov can be viewed here:
Though the major weight of the Syrian army’s offensive is against the Jihadi forces still concentrated west of Aleppo, news reports are trickling in that the Syrian army has advanced further into the Jihadi controlled pocket in eastern Aleppo, seizing most of the district of Bostan al-Pasha.
There is a widespread misconception about the landscape of the Jihadi pocket in eastern Aleppo. It is generally assumed that this is a heavily built up urban area, and that its capture will require intense street fighting at which the Jihadis are supposed to excel.
This is only partly true. The fact that the total area of the Jihadi controlled districts of eastern Aleppo is roughly similar to that of government controlled western Aleppo, but that before the war what are now the Jihadi controlled districts of eastern Aleppo had a population of just 250,000 out of a total population for the city of over 2 million, shows that these are far less dense suburban districts, with apparently a significant number of relatively open areas with more built up areas interspersed between them.
It seems that eastern Aleppo is where many migrants from the Syrian countryside settled as they were drawn to Aleppo by job prospects there. These migrants came from more conservative Sunni villages, which accounts for why some of them were willing to accept hardline Sunni Jihadis in their midst, making it possible for the Jihadis to embed themselves there. By contrast, the older and more urbanised districts of central and western Aleppo remained solidly loyal to the Syrian government.
….In Aleppo, because of the much closer proximity to Turkey – the Jihadis’ main backer and arms supplier – and the heavier predominance of Sunni villages in the surrounding countryside, the process is more difficult and is taking longer than in [urban] Damascus.
As the Syrian military advances deeper into the Jihadi controlled pocket of eastern Aleppo, the Jihadis are expected to retreat into the more densely built up districts at its centre. On the assumption that there is not a total collapse of Jihadi morale leading to the Jihadis finally agreeing to leave the city – as has actually happened in several of the Jihadi controlled districts of Damascus – fighting will get more bitter and more intense, and the progress of the Syrian army will slow.
Contrary to some claims, four years of intense fighting has provided the Syrian army with a significant amount of experience in urban warfare. However, the Middle East’s acknowledged experts in this sort of fighting are the Syrian army’s allies of the Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
It is not therefore a coincidence that as the Syrian army advances deeper into the Jihadi controlled pocket of eastern Aleppo, there are reports of growing numbers of Hezbollah fighters being deployed to the city, and of one of Hezbollah’s senior commanders, Abu Ali Jawad – who is the son in law and head of the bodyguard of the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – being spotted in the city.
Russia’s economic minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, was arrested and detained last week on bribery charges relating to his alleged involvement in a bribe in connection with approving Rosneft’s purchase of a significant stake in the oil company Bashneft. The arrest came after the FSB reportedly had tapped Ulyukayev’s phone for a lengthy period. Shortly after the arrest, Putin officially sacked Ulyukayev from his post. Euronews had the following details:
There could be more suspects in a criminal case, which has seen Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev detained on bribery charges.
A Moscow court has put him under house arrest, accused of extorting a 1.8 million euro bribe from Rosneft, the country’s biggest oil company.
President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Ulyukayev from his post.
“Of course this is a hard situation for those in power and for the government. What happened is beyond my understanding. I discussed this topic with the president of the country and he is of the same opinion,” said Dmitry Medvedev, Russian Prime Minister.
“Nevertheless, the most thorough investigation of what has happened should take place in the framework set by the current legislation.”
Russian newspapers are reporting that ministers and aides close to Medvedev could now be drawn into the same case, as they were allegedly also under surveillance. (emphasis mine – NB)
The Saker provided an interesting analysis and interpretation of Ulyukayev’s arrest and its possible significance at the Unz Review:
Russian official sources say that Uliukaev extorted a $2 million bribe for an assessment that led to the acquisition by Rosneft (a state run Russian oil giant) of a 50% stake in Bashneft (another oil giant). Apparently, Uliukaev tried to threaten Igor Sechin, the President of Rosneft and a person considered close to Vladimir Putin and the Russian security and intelligence services.
Yes, you read that right: according to the official version, a state-owned company gave a bribe to a member of the government. Does that make sense to you? How about a senior member of the government who had his telephone tapped and who has been under close surveillance by the Federal Security Service for over a year – does that make sense to you?
This makes no sense at all and the Russian authorities fully realize that. But that is the official version. So what is going on here? Do you think that there is a message from Putin here?
Of course there is!
Remember the corrupt Minister of Defense Anatolii Serdiukov? He was first fired from his position and only then arrested. But this time around, it is a member of the government which is arrested in the middle of the night. For a few hours, his subordinates could not even reach him – they had no idea what had happened to him. Was that a mistake? Hardly.
Read the rest of the article here: