On Sunday, a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian military plane over Raqqa. In response, Russia has severed the deconfliction channel between the U.S. and Russian militaries and said any threatening and unauthorized aircraft in Syrian airspace could be targeted. As Commondreams reports :
In what is being characterized as an act sure to further escalate already alarming tensions between the United States, Syria, and Russia, an American fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane over Raqqa on Sunday, prompting Moscow to cut off its deconfliction channel with the U.S.
“As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the U.S. side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the U.S. command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken,” a statement from Moscow reads.
The Defense Ministry continued:
The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.
The U.S. decision to shoot down the Syrian warplane—which, according to American officials, was retaliation against the plane’s bombing of nearby U.S.-backed ground troops—came “on the same day that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps launched several midrange missiles from inside Iran at targets in Syria, hoping to punish Islamic State forces responsible for last week’s terrorist attacks in Tehran,” the New York Times reported.
The move, the Times noted, marks “the first time the American military has downed a Syrian aircraft since the start of the civil war in 2011.”
The Pentagon issued a statement: “The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat.”
According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon’s efforts to de-escalate following the strike do not appear to have been successful: “Russia says it will treat US-led coalition planes in Syria, west of the Euphrates, as targets after US downed Syrian jet.”
Here is what the Russian Defense Ministry said: “Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets.”
Since then, CNN has reported that the U.S. has also shot down an Iranian drone near At Tanf in Syria.
Due to the recent progress that the Syrian army is making, with help from Iran and Russia, to retake most of the country from jihadists, this is likely a provocation designed to get Russia to overreact in the hopes that it will take its eye off the ball and the progress will be sabotaged. Of course, the Russian leadership is not that stupid and Washington should know this by now. Washington simply can’t accept that its unquestioned hegemony is coming to an end and consequently is flailing around dangerously. For more context, Mike Whitney provided the following analysis over at Counterpunch:
On June 10, the Syrian Army blitzed across an arid stretch of countryside in southeastern Syria to reach the Iraqi border for the first time in three years. The move, which caught US war-planners off guard, prevents US-backed rebels from moving north from al Tanf to join the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. More important, the move makes it impossible for Washington to achieve its broader strategic objective of consolidating its territorial gains into a contiguous landmass along the Euphrates River. Washington wants to control the eastern part of the country so it can continue its attacks on the regime while overseeing the construction of gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey. The prospects of that plan succeeding are now greatly in doubt due to the surprise advance of the SAA.
Aside from the humiliation of being caught flat-footed by a Syrian Army that has been battered by 6 consecutive years of war, Washington has allowed loyalist troops to seize a swath of land that splits US proxies on the ground and establishes a critical land corridor connecting Damascus to Baghdad to Tehran, a Shia superhighway that allows for the transport of commercial goods, people and weapons from east to west. Washington wanted to avoid that linkage at all cost, but simply wasn’t prepared to respond. Now any attempt to reverse the situation will involve crossing SAA lines which increases the probability of a direct confrontation with Russia. This is why it is essential to pay attention to events on the ground as they take place. The US and Russia are basically cheek-to-jowl on a topsy-turvy battlefield where any miscalculation could have grave consequences.
This latest move by the Syria Army has only added to Washington’s frustration. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the creation of four “de-escalation zones” on May 5, the so called Axis of Resistance (Russia, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah) has been marching eastward along three parallel tracks with the clear intention of liberating cities captured by ISIS and reestablishing Syria’s sovereign borders. It’s been a hard-fought slog, but the progress has been steady and ISIS has been pushed back or beaten wherever they’ve been met.
At the present pace, the fight against ISIS could be over in a matter of months, but that doesn’t mean the hostilities will end. No one really knows whether the Turks, the Kurds or the US-backed militias will agree to withdraw from the territories they’ve captured during the war, but the general consensus seems to be that they won’t. In fact, the US has actually accelerated its operations in order to grab as much land as possible before ISIS is defeated. Here’s a clip from an article in the New York Times that helps to explain what’s going on:
“American-backed forces have begun an assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s hub in northern Syria, and signs are that they could capture the long-sought target with relative ease. Yet the militant group’s commanders, who have already withdrawn their toughest forces from the city, and most everyone else in Syria’s multifaceted war are looking ahead to an even more decisive battle in the south.
There, a complex confrontation is unfolding, with far more geopolitical import and risk. The Islamic State is expected to make its last stand not in Raqqa but in an area that encompasses the borders with Iraq and Jordan and much of Syria’s modest oil reserves, making it important in stabilizing Syria and influencing its neighboring countries.
Whoever lays claim to the sparsely populated area in this 21st-century version of the Great Game not only will take credit for seizing what is likely to be the Islamic State’s last patch of a territorial caliphate in Syria, but also will play an important role in determining Syria’s future and the postwar dynamics of the region.
With the stakes so high, the United States, Iran and Russia are all scrambling for advantage. They are building up their forces and proxy fighters and, increasingly, engaging in inflammatory clashes that threaten to escalate into a larger conflict…..
What is really at stake are even larger issues. Will the Syrian government re-establish control of the country all the way to its eastern borders? Will the desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border remain a no man’s land ripe for militant control? If not, who will dominate there — forces aligned with Iran, Russia or the United States? Which Syrian factions will wield the most influence?” (“Beyond Raqqa, an Even Bigger Battle to Defeat ISIS and Control Syria Looms”, New York Times)
Repeat: The outcome of the battle for east Syria will determine “the postwar dynamics of the region.”
Robert Parry, with his usual sharp eye, points out that not only is this an incredibly reckless move by the Pentagon but it is not in the U.S.’s long term interests:
The [recent Wall Street] Journal editorial criticized Trump for having no strategy beyond eradicating ISIS and adding: “Now is the time for thinking through such a strategy because Syria, Russia and Iran know what they want. Mr. Assad wants to reassert control over all of Syria, not a country divided into Alawite, Sunni and Kurdish parts. Iran wants a Shiite arc of influence from Tehran to Beirut. Mr. Putin will settle for a Mediterranean port and a demonstration that Russia can be trusted to stand by its allies, while America is unreliable. None of this is in the U.S. national interests.”
As you may have heard, Oliver Stone did a lengthy and in-depth interview with Putin which aired as a 4-part series recently on Showtime. As you may also have heard, Stone has taken a lot of heat for even attempting to allow Putin to speak at length for himself, put it out for public consumption and allow Americans to draw their own conclusions without the usual gatekeepers of how to think inserting themselves into it. Of course, that is exactly what the NYT, Washington Post, and a plethora of talking heads who are passed off as journalists on the network and cable news shows did by shrieking condemnations of the series either through editorials or hostile interviews of Stone. The subtext was always “if you’re a right-thinking person you will not bother watching this at all. And if you do watch it, you should be ashamed to admit it in polite company. It would sort of be like admitting you’re a pedophile or a long-time celibate. Just don’t.”
One of the more serious and respectful interviews of Stone was by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!. You can watch or read the transcript here:
You can also watch the entire 4-part series by Stone here:
Part one https://vimeo.com/
Part two https://vimeo.com/
Part three https://vimeo.com/
Part four https://vimeo.com/
Transcript of The Putin Interviews here:
Official Showtime series site:
Earlier this month, Robert Parry and Consortium News awarded Stone the Gary Webb award for courage in taking the flack for making controversial but necessary documentaries, including interviewing several leaders that Washington opposed (Huge Chavez, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, etc.) and allowing the other side of the story to be told. Video and transcript of Stone’s remarks can be viewed here:
Last week, congress passed a new round of sanctions on Russia (and Iran) for interfering in the election, actions in Syria and Ukraine, the heat wave in the southwest, Mickey Rourke’s bad plastic surgery….oh, wait. Sorry. In any event, Austria and Germany wasted no time in crying foul, stating that the U.S. had no right to interfere in Europe’s economic affairs with Russia, especially in regards to its energy deals with its neighbor. Zerohedge had more details:
Less than a day after the Senate overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions against the Kremlin, on Thursday Germany and Austria – two of Russia’s biggest energy clients in Europe – slammed the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas.
Gabriel and Kern also accused the U.S. of having ulterior motives in seeking to enforce the energy blockade, which they said is trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. And they warned the threat of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project “introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations.”
In their forceful appeal, the two officials urged the United States to back off from linking the situation in Ukraine to the question of who can sell gas to Europe. “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America,” Kern and Gabriel said. The reason why Europe is angry Some Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, fear the loss of transit revenue if Russian gas supplies don’t pass through their territory anymore once the new pipeline is built.
Alexander Mercouris commented on Merkel’s remarks the next day reinforcing the criticisms of the sanctions:
Shortly after the joint statement of the German and Austrian foreign ministers angrily denouncing the new sanctions against Russia voted on by the US Senate, Angela Merkel has added her voice to the protest and is making her opposition to the latest sanctions clear.
In her usual Sphinx like way Merkel avoided making a statement herself. However her views have been made known by her spokesman Steffen Seibert in a briefing earlier todayThere is considerable assent to the contents of this statement. The chancellor shares fears listed in the text……the case in hand are sanctions for Russia’s steps but which affect European companies. It is inadmissible.Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Foreign Minister who issued the joint statement criticising the Senate’s sanctions with the foreign minister of Austria yesterday, is a member of the SPD, whose Martin Schulz is challenging Merkel in the parliamentary elections in the autumn. Gabriel moreover is known to be a strong supporter of close ties between Germany and Russia. There was therefore some doubt about whether yesterday’s statement reflected the united opinion of the whole German government or that of just Gabriel and the SPD.Seibert’s comment on Merkel’s behalf settles the issue, and makes it clear that yesterday’s statement does reflect the united opinion of the whole German government.
Yesterday’s German-Austrian joint statement makes clear what is the cause of Germany’s anger. It contains this paragraph:
To threaten companies from Germany, Austria and other European states with penalties on the U.S. market if they participate in natural gas projects such as Nord Stream 2 with Russia or finance them introduces a completely new and very negative quality into European-American relations.In other words, the Germans are willing to support sanctions against Russia provided they do not affect their economic interests.
Since the Germans consider Nord Stream 2 to be essential to their economic interests, they are reacting furiously against what they perceive to be US threats to derail the project by threatening penalties on their companies.
Does this mean that Europe may finally be getting a backbone when it comes to being led around by the nose by Washington when it’s against its own long-term interests? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, Russia Matters (a project of Harvards’ Belfer Center) posted the following response from Gazprom as reported by Bloomberg:
Gazprom sees no impact from U.S. curbs on Nord Stream 2. Nord Stream 2 is a European project, developed in partnership with European companies that had already provided funding before the latest U.S. bill was approved, according to Alexander Medvedev, the deputy chief executive officer of Gazprom. The project is in compliance with all existing EU regulations, he said. (Bloomberg, 06.15.17)
As exhibit 426 in my ongoing argument that The New York Times doesn’t deserve to be treated as the “newspaper of record,” the recent testimony of James Comey before congress exposed something that was, for obvious reasons, little remarked upon by the NYT and other corporate media: that the NYT had published an article that was largely balderdash. The article relied on anonymous government sources claiming that members of the Trump presidential campaign had repeated contacts with Russian officials. Journalist and former State Dept. official, James Carden stated in recent article at Consortium News:
For instance, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, former FBI Director James Comey cast doubt on a Feb. 14 New York Times report titled “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.
”The article, which relied on “four current and former government officials,” said that “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election” and that “the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.”
Comey was asked about the report during an exchange with Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho.
RISCH: I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. This is not factual. Do you recall that?
RISCH: OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?
COMEY: In — in the main, it was not true.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, asked Comey: “Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?” To which Comey replied: “Yes.”
Looks again like NYT didn’t do due diligence like real journalists are supposed to do. Instead, they just took the word of government officials (anonymous ones at that) and ran with it as though it were correct. Where have we seen this before? How about with claims that Iraq had WMD? How about the genocide that was claimed to be going on in Yugoslavia in 1999? How about the Gulf of Tonkin incident? How about Qaddafi ordering Libyan troops to commit mass rape while pumped up on Viagra and targeting civilians in 2011? All of these turned out be bogus and in not one of these instances did the NYT sufficiently question the government narrative and rush to war. Hey, it only resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and destruction of entire countries. Easy come, easy go when you’re the “newspaper of record.”