Evacuation of Armed Rebels from Homs Seen as Breakthrough Right Before Heavy Fighting Broke Out in Damascus; 60% of U.S. Government PR Budget Goes to Pentagon; German-Russian Thaw?; Dem Party Officials Now Trying to Prepare Base for Letdown on Evidence of Russia-Trump Collusion/Election Meddling

Syrian (L) and Russian soldiers oversee safety of evacuation plan from city of Homs on March 18, 2017. Nearly all residents are remaining in the city (Omar Sanadaki, Reuters)

The recent evacuation of armed rebels and their families from the Syrian city of Homs marked what many considered to be a turning point toward peace in the country, as Homs was considered a major base for the armed rebellion from the beginning.  According to a Reuters report:

Several buses drove out of the al-Waer district in Homs, which was an early centre of the popular uprising against President Assad. Between 10,000 and 15,000 rebels and civilians would evacuate in batches over the coming weeks under the deal, according to opposition activists in al-Waer and war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based war monitor said the buses would go to the Jarablus area held by Turkey-backed rebels in the northern Aleppo countryside.

Syrian state television said that under the agreement, fighters could stay in al-Waer if they handed over their weapons and settled their affairs with the government. Homs governor Talal Barazi said he expected 1,500 people to depart on Saturday for rebel-held areas north-east of Aleppo, and that most of al-Waer’s residents would stay.

….Along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), Russian and Syrian forces were overseeing the evacuation, which would take about six weeks, he added.

“The preparations and the reality on the ground indicate that things will go well,” Governor Barazi said. “The first stage is expected to move up to 500 rebels with their families to the countryside of Aleppo [province].”

The Syrian government described such deals as a “workable model” that would bring the country closer to peace after six years of conflict.

But the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Mr Assad after years of bombardment and siege.

Governor Barazi said there was communication with other rebel-held areas north of Homs city to reach similar deals. “We are optimistic that the full exit of armed [fighters] from this district will pave the way for other reconciliations and settlements,” he said.

However, days later, a jihadi offensive into eastern Damascus resulted in heavy losses (~70 – 100 for each side) though the Syrian government pushed back the offensive within a day or so.   The Duran reports that at least one of the rebels groups who signed on to the ceasefire had participated in the offensive:

However ominously one of the groups that has joined the Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire is reported to be joining the fighting in Damascus on the Jihadi side.  If that sets a trend then it could endanger the whole ceasefire, which would make Moscow very concerned.

Latest reports suggest that the Syrian military backed by the full force of the Russian air force is readying for a counter-attack.  In the meantime the phone lines between Moscow and Ankara will be busy.

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According to a GAO report on federal spending on public relations in general, it was revealed that 60% – or $626 million – went to the Pentagon to promote its agenda.

This report is from October of 2016 but represents the most recent data on the U.S. government’s spending on P.R..

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit Moscow on May 2nd.   Much speculation is being made as to the reason for the trip (with Germany’s elections not far off and Merkel’s support sagging) and what might be desired, particularly on the part of Germany.

Alexander Mercouris provides a detailed analysis of these issues:

As to why Merkel might think that, at its simplest, with crises (eg. Brexit, Le Pen, the refugee crisis, relations with Turkey, Poland, Grexit etc) rapidly building up all around her, Merkel – rather like Erdogan in June 2016 – probably has come to realise that with a difficult election coming she needs to start solving problems more quickly than she is causing them.  With her other problems both intractable and largely beyond her control it is understandable why she might be looking to improve relations with Russia where at least some progress is possible.

Having said this, there are three pressing issues that must be causing Merkel concern, and which may explain why she is looking to mend at least some fences with Moscow now.

The first is the rapidly deteriorating situation in Ukraine.  Some time ago one of Merkel’s aides let slip that Merkel regards the crisis in Ukraine as by far the biggest crisis she faces, and that it is the one that keeps her awake at night.

With the situation in Ukraine going rapidly from bad to worse, it is understandable if Merkel wants to talk about it with Putin to see how the crisis might be contained.  The fact that she was on the receiving end of a furious lecture from Putin a short while ago during the military crisis in Avdeevka will have spelled out to her how important it is as the situation in Ukraine deteriorates that she keeps her lines of communication to Putin open.

Significantly criticism of Putin and Russia over Ukraine from Merkel and other Western leaders has been surprisingly muted over recent weeks, even as Russia recognises the validity of the documents issued by the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and even as the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have nationalised Ukrainian businesses located on their territories in retaliation for the Ukrainian transport blockade.

Another fact that is probably causing Merkel to reconsider her hardline policy towards Russia is the coming of Donald Trump.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump is not going to be driven from the White House because of the ‘Russiagate’ scandal, and Merkel must calculate that once he has put this essentially fake scandal behind him he will be able to press ahead with his stalled plan for detente with Russia.

Certainly Merkel will have noticed – even if most Western commentators have not – that since Trump arrived in the White House the US and Russian militaries have been quietly talking to each other, and have even been quietly cooperating with each other in Syria.

If the drive for detente between the US and Russia is renewed, perhaps in the summer, then Merkel does not want to be left high and dry, clinging on to an anti-Russian policy the US is no longer intent on.

I must admit that, upon hearing of Merkel’s plans to travel to Moscow in May to “mend fences” with Russia after her recent meeting with Trump, my initial reaction was much simpler:  after personally getting a taste of Trump, Merkel is starting to appreciate Putin’s steady and rational temperament.

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The Intercept is reporting that many of the Democratic Party officials and their minions in the media who have irresponsibly hyped the “Russia colluded with Trump to manipulate the U.S. presidential election” meme are gradually starting to temper expectations of any substantive evidence coming to light.  Former CIA chief and Hillary supporter Michael Morell’s admission of the lack of evidence for these charges, which I covered in a previous blog post is mentioned, along with some others:

FROM MSNBC POLITICS shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.

The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.

Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.

Read the full article here

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