Kiev Attacks Donbass, Russian Foreign Ministry Responds, German Newspaper Reports Berlin Believes Kiev is Trying to Provoke & Sabotage US-Russia Detente; Russia Reveals Draft Constitution for Syria After Astana Talks, Includes Autonomy for Kurds; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Trip to Syria; Is Saudi Arabia Giving Up on Armed Rebels in Syria?; Trump & Putin Have Their First Official Telephone Conversation

(House in Donetsk region damaged by Ukrainian Shelling, Jan. 2017; https://www.newcoldwar.org/kyiv-forces-lose-27-killed-dozens-wounded-two-attempts-break-donetsk-republic-defences/)

The Donetsk News Agency (DAN) is reporting 27 dead and dozens wounded resulting from two different attempts by Kiev forces to break through the DPR’s defense lines in recent days.   The dead and wounded were from Kiev’s forces.

As they retreated to initial positions, Ukrainian forces left their fatalities and wounded in the battlefield. However, that did not stop Kyiv. A second attempt to break through DPR defences was made which failed as well.

….Earlier reports said two DPR militiamen were killed and six others were wounded by Ukrainian forces shelling on Tuesday.

In another report, DAN discussed a joint statement by the leaders of the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic:

“We ask you to stop Ukraine and compel Poroshenko to cease criminal actions against Donbass people. Make Poroshenko stop shooting at civilians and lift the economic blockade. It must be done before it is too late. Prevent great trouble before an environmental and humanitarian disaster occurs in our land,” reads the statement received by Donetsk News Agency.

The statement noted that the Ukrainian military has targeted industrial facilities and infrastructure, thus creating the danger of environmental and humanitarian disaster both in Donbass and adjacent Ukrainian regions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry subsequently issued an official statement on the latest actions by Kiev:

The situation in Donbass has deteriorated sharply in recent days. Ukrainian troops continue to conduct offensive operations to seize positions held by self-defence forces, including in the suburbs of Donetsk. Heavy weapons, including heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, are being actively used to shell residential areas. According to Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015, such weapons should long since have been withdrawn from the contact line. There are casualties and wounded among the civilian population. As a result of the shelling by Ukrainian troops, the Donetsk Filtration Station and the Avdeyevka Coke Chemical Plant have lost power. The lives of miners working in the mines are under threat.

We see southeastern Ukraine, which is already suffering from the economic blockade imposed by Kiev, again on the verge of a real humanitarian and environmental disaster.

All of this is a direct outcome of ongoing violations by Ukraine of its obligations under the Minsk agreements, which no one in Kiev intends to act on. Instead of efforts to achieve sustainable peace, the Ukrainian authorities are trying hard to achieve a military solution to the conflict. Everyone should remember what kind of outcome this kind of reckless behaviour has led to on previous occasions.

Read the complete statement at the link above.

It is being reported by Russian news outlet RIA Novosti that the German media is reporting that Berlin believes Kiev’s actions to be a provocation to sabotage possible conciliatory actions between Moscow and the new administration in Washington.

MOSCOW – Berlin is increasingly concerned about the deteriorating situation in the east of Ukraine because they understand that the blame for what is happening in many ways lies with Kiev, writes Süddeutsche Zeitung , citing its own sources in the German government.

According to available data from Germany, partly based on the reports of the OSCE mission, the Ukrainian military is trying to move the front line in eastern Ukraine in its favor. The newspaper notes that German government circles believe that Kyiv is deliberately trying to increase tensions in the hope that an escalation of the conflict will help derail any plans by U.S. President Donald Trump plans to mitigate anti-Russian actions.

“In Berlin, they understand that Petro Poroshenko would do anything to prevent the lifting of sanctions against Russia”, the author writes.

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With respect to Syria, although the Astana talks did not end in any concrete resolution of the Syrian war, it marked the first time that representatives of (any of ) the armed opposition negotiated with the Syrian government and is recognized as an important “stepping stone” toward further resolution of the war.  The Turkish newspaper Al-Monitor, in an in-depth analysis, explained ongoing efforts, led by Russia, including the unveiling of a new draft constitution:

Russia’s diplomatic blitz did not end in Astana, however. On Jan. 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Syrian opposition parties in Moscow for further discussion of a Russian draft of a new Syrian Constitution that had been offered in Astana. While representatives of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian opposition and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces refused to attend, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey had excluded from the Astana talks, participated in the Moscow meeting.

Maxim Suchkov reports that the draft constitution includes restrictions on the power of the Syrian presidency, with most powers deferred to the parliament and a newly created “Assembly of Regions.” Under the draft, the president would serve for seven years with no option for a second consecutive term.

Most controversial in the draft may be the decentralization of government authorities and the empowerment of local councils. “One issue that has stirred debate,” Suchkov writes, “is a provision allowing for ‘autonomy of Kurdish regions,’ which Russia sees as an adequate compromise for the country’s federalization. A provision stipulating equal rights for Kurds and Arabs on Kurdish territories is also remarkable. Moreover, under the proposed draft, every region in the country should be given the right to legalize the use of a language of the region’s majority — in addition to the state language and in accordance with the law.”

Not surprisingly, Suchkov continues, the draft elicited strong reactions from the parties to the conflict. “So far,” he writes, “the Kurdish issue is the most controversial. Turkey, Damascus and the Arab opposition forces all have their own caveats about the proposed autonomy — and it doesn’t please the Kurds, either, as they want more.”

Lavrov later elaborated on the intent behind Russia’s work on the draft constitution:

“The draft Constitution attempts to bring together and find shared points in those approaches that were outlined to us both by representatives of the government and representatives of the opposition, including all those present here, over the past several years,” Lavrov said.

“Some of the oppositionists said the other day that the Constitution should be written by the Syrians themselves and compared this draft to the Constitution, which the United States had imposed on Iraq. This is a very incorrect position because in Iraq the talk was about occupants who had written the Constitution and it was imposed on the Iraqi people as an uncompromising text. In this case, the talk is about the proposals that have been transferred for consideration by the Syrian sides themselves,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Russia is not imposing its draft Constitution on anyone and the talk is about the proposals called upon to stimulate a discussion on this issue in Geneva, the Russian foreign minister said.

“We are convinced that it is time to stop arguing round and round the subject and it is necessary to focus on discussing specific issues that were outlined in Resolution 2254, including the work on the Constitution,” the Russian foreign minister said.

“Moscow does not impose its own solutions, it just offers to speed up very complex work on drafting such a document,” the diplomat said. “No one is going to argue with the Syrians themselves about these sovereign issues for Syria.”.

UN-sponsored talks are set to take place in Geneva for further negotiation of a settlement, but have reportedly been postponed.

U.S. representative from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, spoke about her recent fact-finding trip to Syria in a series of media interviews. Below is an article she wrote for The Medium about the trip:

As much of Washington prepared for the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I spent last week on a fact-finding mission in Syria and Lebanon to see and hear directly from the Syrian people. Their lives have been consumed by a horrific war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and forced millions to flee their homeland in search of peace.

I traveled throughout Damascus and Aleppo, listening to Syrians from different parts of the country. I met with displaced families from the eastern part of Aleppo, Raqqah, Zabadani, Latakia, and the outskirts of Damascus. I met Syrian opposition leaders who led protests in 2011, widows and children of men fighting for the government and widows of those fighting against the government. I met Lebanon’s newly-elected President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, Syrian President Assad, Grand Mufti Hassoun, Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, Muslim and Christian religious leaders, humanitarian workers, academics, college students, small business owners, and more.

Their message to the American people was powerful and consistent: There is no difference between “moderate” rebels and al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) or ISIS — they are all the same. This is a war between terrorists under the command of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. They cry out for the U.S. and other countries to stop supporting those who are destroying Syria and her people.

I heard this message over and over again from those who have suffered and survived unspeakable horrors. They asked that I share their voice with the world; frustrated voices which have not been heard due to the false, one-sided biased reports pushing a narrative that supports this regime change war at the expense of Syrian lives.

I heard testimony about how peaceful protests against the government that began in 2011 were quickly overtaken by Wahhabi jihadist groups like al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) who were funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the United States, and others. They exploited the peaceful protesters, occupied their communities, and killed and tortured Syrians who would not cooperate with them in their fight to overthrow the government.

Read the full article at the link above.

Academic expert on the Middle East, Vijay Prashad, stated in a recent interview with The Real News Network that it appears that both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are giving up the ghost on supporting regime change in Syria:

[S]omehow it feels to me, and I’m generally not overly optimistic about many of these initiatives, but this feels to me as something different.

Well, it took place in Kazakhstan and that’s important because Kazakhstan has close relationships with Russia but also a close relationship on cultural grounds with Turkey. Now, why is this important?

Well, for over the last six years, Turkey and Russia were on separate sides of this conflict and over the course of the last eight months or so, these two countries have begun to harmonize their view of the conflict. In other words, they claim to be on the so-called “peace camp” side of things.

So, the fact that they picked Kazakhstan to have this meeting is important. It’s territory where both Turkey and Russia feel, in a sense, comfortable. So, they’ve shifted the center of gravity from a city, which the United Nations has made its preferred location for peace talks – that’s Geneva – out into the center of Asia.

At this meeting, the three main regional powers that were there were Iran, Russia and Turkey. The purpose of the meeting really, in my opinion, was to cement the ties between Iran, Russia and Turkey, which had been greatly strained over the war in Syria. And indeed, that seems to have been the case because the final communiqué was really about Russia, Turkey and Iran helping to create a cease-fire mechanism inside Syria.

But this was also the first meeting in six years of the Syrian government on the one side and the armed Syrian opposition on the other. This is very significant because a section of the armed Syrian opposition has now decided that the peace route is more important than continuing the battle inside Syria, and to some extent I think what one needs to read here is that the external supporters of, at least this part of the armed Syrian opposition, has decided that this war can now wind down.

And by that, I mean, on the one side there’s Turkey, which obviously has decided that the war should wind down. It is, after all, joined with Russia and Iran in this process.

But also, very significantly, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, etc., were not at the table – they were not interested. And nonetheless, despite the fact that they were not at the table, it’s important to understand that the leader of the armed Syrian opposition, the person who led that delegation at the meeting, was Mohammad al-Alloush, whose group, Jaysh al-Islam, is essentially the proxy of Saudi Arabia. In other words, Saudi Arabia didn’t insist on a seat at the table, which it has had at previous peace discussions, but it allowed its proxy to lead the armed Syrian opposition to the table.

And a great deal was accomplished at this meeting. I think people generally like to understand peace talks or cease-fires as a one-off thing: either you do it or you don’t do it. But peace is a confidence-building process. So, I think there was a part opened up around the question of a cease-fire mechanism and I think around the fact that they just sat at the table for the first time despite the posturing on all sides, which is important because everybody has a constituency that they need to deal with.

….The fact that the Saudis were not there and they, let’s say, allowed their proxy to lead the armed Syrian opposition, suggests to me that Saudi Arabia has basically thrown in the towel in Syria. It is stuck in a quagmire in Yemen, where it has not been able to make any gains. It has its own internal economic problems. And I think the Saudis have read the tea leaves fairly clearly, which is that it’s unlikely that the Trump administration is going to put any resources towards overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. So, I think this indicates that the Saudis have thrown the towel in.

Let’s hope he is right.

This past Saturday, President Trump and President Putin had their first telephone conversation, which lasted around 45 minutes.  According to RT:

In their telephone conversation, the two leaders agreed that they share a common view on “uniting efforts in the fight with the common enemy number one – international terrorism and extremism,” the Kremlin said in a statement published on its website late Monday. The Kremlin added that Putin and Trump also discussed ways to settle the Syria crisis.

Putin and Trump paid special attention to the importance of establishing a stable basis for bilateral relations by developing trade and economic ties between the two countries and working toward “constructive cooperation,” the Kremlin said.

The president and the president-elect agreed to keep in contact by telephone and have discussed the idea of meeting in person.

 

3 thoughts on “Kiev Attacks Donbass, Russian Foreign Ministry Responds, German Newspaper Reports Berlin Believes Kiev is Trying to Provoke & Sabotage US-Russia Detente; Russia Reveals Draft Constitution for Syria After Astana Talks, Includes Autonomy for Kurds; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Trip to Syria; Is Saudi Arabia Giving Up on Armed Rebels in Syria?; Trump & Putin Have Their First Official Telephone Conversation”

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