All posts by natyliesb

Excerpts from Putin’s 2016 Valdai Speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, October 27, 2016. © Mikhail Klimentyev

 

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/53151

On Europe

It is interesting that when discussing the natural contradictions between large global players, the majority of our experts agreed that these contradictions are not insurmountable, and that there is a chance, however small, to overcome them and come to an agreement. It is curious that many experts pointed out that while the United States continues to play an important role, the influence of many countries, primarily China, India and Russia, has been growing, which is not the case of Western Europe, whose capability and activity have been insufficient, despite its economic might. Moreover, they seem to be decreasing compared to Asia and Russia, which are rising.

Globalization and Washington’s Post-Cold War Attitude

The tensions engendered by shifts in distribution of economic and political influence continue to grow. Mutual distrust creates a burden that narrows our possibilities for finding effective responses to the real threats and challenges facing the world today. Essentially, the entire globalisation project is in crisis today and in Europe, as we know well, we hear voices now saying that multiculturalism has failed.

I think this situation is in many respects the result of mistaken, hasty and to some extent over-confident choices made by some countries’ elites a quarter-of-a-century ago. Back then, in the late 1980s-early 1990s, there was a chance not just to accelerate the globalisation process but also to give it a different quality and make it more harmonious and sustainable in nature.

But some countries that saw themselves as victors in the Cold War, not just saw themselves this way but said it openly, took the course of simply reshaping the global political and economic order to fit their own interests.

In their euphoria, they essentially abandoned substantive and equal dialogue with other actors in international life, chose not to improve or create universal institutions, and attempted instead to bring the entire world under the spread of their own organisations, norms and rules. They chose the road of globalisation and security for their own beloved selves, for the select few, and not for all. But far from everyone was ready to agree with this.

We may as well be frank here, as we know full well that many did not agree with what was happening, but some were unable by then to respond, and others were not yet ready to respond. The result though is that the system of international relations is in a feverish state and the global economy cannot extricate itself from systemic crisis. At the same time, rules and principles, in the economy and in politics, are constantly being distorted and we often see what only yesterday was taken as a truth and raised to dogma status reversed completely.

If the powers that be today find some standard or norm to their advantage, they force everyone else to comply. But if tomorrow these same standards get in their way, they are swift to throw them in the bin, declare them obsolete, and set or try to set new rules.

Washington’s Characterization of Russia as a Threat

But they continue to churn out threats, imaginary and mythical threats such as the ‘Russian military threat’. This is a profitable business that can be used to pump new money into defence budgets at home, get allies to bend to a single superpower’s interests, expand NATO and bring its infrastructure, military units and arms closer to our borders.

Of course, it can be a pleasing and even profitable task to portray oneself as the defender of civilisation against the new barbarians. The only thing is that Russia has no intention of attacking anyone. This is all quite absurd. I also read analytical materials, those written by you here today, and by your colleagues in the USA and Europe.

It is unthinkable, foolish and completely unrealistic. Europe alone has 300 million people. All of the NATO members together with the USA have a total population of 600 million, probably. But Russia has only 146 million. It is simply absurd to even conceive such thoughts. And yet they use these ideas in pursuit of their political aims.

Another mythical and imaginary problem is what I can only call the hysteria the USA has whipped up over supposed Russian meddling in the American presidential election. The United States has plenty of genuinely urgent problems, it would seem, from the colossal public debt to the increase in firearms violence and cases of arbitrary action by the police.

You would think that the election debates would concentrate on these and other unresolved problems, but the elite has nothing with which to reassure society, it seems, and therefore attempt to distract public attention by pointing instead to supposed Russian hackers, spies, agents of influence and so forth.

I have to ask myself and ask you too: Does anyone seriously imagine that Russia can somehow influence the American people’s choice? America is not some kind of ‘banana republic’, after all, but is a great power. Do correct me if I am wrong.

The State of Democracy in the West

Sociological studies conducted around the world show that people in different countries and on different continents tend to see the future as murky and bleak. This is sad. The future does not entice them, but frightens them. At the same time, people see no real opportunities or means for changing anything, influencing events and shaping policy.

Yes, formally speaking, modern countries have all the attributes of democracy: Elections, freedom of speech, access to information, freedom of expression. But even in the most advanced democracies the majority of citizens have no real influence on the political process and no direct and real influence on power.

….By the way, with the political agenda already eviscerated as it is, and with elections ceasing to be an instrument for change but consisting instead of nothing but scandals and digging up dirt – who gave someone a pinch, who sleeps with whom, if you’ll excuse me. This just goes beyond all boundaries. And honestly, a look at various candidates’ platforms gives the impression that they were made from the same mould – the difference is slight, if there is any.

It seems as if the elites do not see the deepening stratification in society and the erosion of the middle class, while at the same time, they implant ideological ideas that, in my opinion, are destructive to cultural and national identity. And in certain cases, in some countries they subvert national interests and renounce sovereignty in exchange for the favour of the suzerain.

This begs the question: who is actually the fringe? The expanding class of the supranational oligarchy and bureaucracy, which is in fact often not elected and not controlled by society, or the majority of citizens, who want simple and plain things – stability, free development of their countries, prospects for their lives and the lives of their children, preserving their cultural identity, and, finally, basic security for themselves and their loved ones.

Syria

The terrorist threat is a clear example of how people fail to adequately evaluate the nature and causes of the growing threats. We see this in the way events in Syria are developing. No one has succeeded in stopping the bloodshed and launching a political settlement process. One would think that we would have begun to put together a common front against terrorism now, after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort and difficult compromises.

But this has not happened and this common front has not emerged. My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results either. There were people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice. This all demonstrates an unexplainable and I would say irrational desire on the part of the Western countries to keep making the same mistakes or, as we say here in Russia, keep stepping on the same rake.

How Stability in International Relations Could Be Achieved

Colleagues, it is clear that the international community should concentrate on the real problems facing humanity today, the resolution of which will make our world a safer and more stable place and make the system of international relations fairer and more equal. As I said, it is essential to transform globalisation from something for a select few into something for all. It is my firm belief that we can overcome these threats and challenges only by working together on the solid foundation of international law and the United Nations Charter.

….We have no doubt that sovereignty is the central notion of the entire system of international relations. Respect for it and its consolidation will help underwrite peace and stability both at the national and international levels. There are many countries that can rely on a history stretching back a thousand years, like Russia, and we have come to appreciate our identity, freedom and independence. But we do not seek global domination, expansion or confrontation with anyone.

….There are priorities without which a prosperous future for our shared planet is unthinkable and they are absolutely obvious. I won’t be saying anything new here. First of all, there is equal and indivisible security for all states. Only after ending armed conflicts and ensuring the peaceful development of all countries will we be able to talk about economic progress and the resolution of social, humanitarian and other key problems.

It is necessary to add to the international agenda the issue of restoring the Middle Eastern countries’ lasting statehood, economy and social sphere. The mammoth scale of destruction demands drawing up a long-term comprehensive programme, a kind of Marshall Plan, to revive the war- and conflict-ridden area. Russia is certainly willing to join actively in these team efforts.

We cannot achieve global stability unless we guarantee global economic progress. It is essential to provide conditions for creative labour and economic growth at a pace that would put an end to the division of the world into permanent winners and permanent losers. The rules of the game should give the developing economies at least a chance to catch up with those we know as developed economies. We should work to level out the pace of economic development, and brace up backward countries and regions so as to make the fruit of economic growth and technological progress accessible to all. Particularly, this would help to put an end to poverty, one of the worst contemporary problems.

It is also absolutely evident that economic cooperation should be mutually lucrative and rest on universal principles to enable every country to become an equal partner in global economic activities.

….An important task of ours is to develop human potential. Only a world with ample opportunities for all, with highly skilled workers, access to knowledge and a great variety of ways to realise their potential can be considered truly free. Only a world where people from different countries do not struggle to survive but lead full lives can be stable.

A decent future is impossible without environment protection and addressing climate problems. That is why the conservation of the natural world and its diversity and reducing the human impact on the environment will be a priority for the coming decades.

Another priority is global healthcare. Of course, there are many problems, such as large-scale epidemics, decreasing the mortality rate in some regions and the like. So there is enormous room for advancement. All people in the world, not only the elite, should have the right to healthy, long and full lives.

….We should resume gauging our actions based on the UN Charter. This is absolutely correct. Had he not said this, I would have had to bring it up myself. I fully share this view. We are losing respect for the UN Charter, disregarding it when taking important decisions and pretending that its provisions have become obsolete and lost their relevance.

And then, when the world comes up against big problems, those who violated the UN Charter demand respect for its basic provisions. Everyone should always remember and respect the UN Charter. We need a reliable system of international law that will provide protection against abuses by any force.

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.

*********************

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”.

**********************

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.                

 

Update on Syria; NATO Troops on Russia’s Borders; Will Hillary Clinton Really Implement a “No-Fly Zone” in Syria?; Ukraine Shells Donbass

Aleppo, Syria (Michael Aalaeddin, Sputnik)

Aleppo, Syria (Michael Aalaeddin, Sputnik)

The Russian and Syrian air forces have not run any bombing missions over Aleppo for about a week and a half in an attempt to give the humanitarian corridors as much chance as possible to be utilized by both civilians and rebels who are willing to leave the area. Simultaneously,  Lavrov and Kerry had more discussions, with Lavrov reiterating the need for Washington to separate the unicorn “moderate rebels” from the terrorists – a project that will likely continue to fail since there aren’t any “moderate rebels” to speak of operating in East Aleppo. RT reported last week:

According to the Defense Ministry spokesman, 48 women and children left the rebel-held area on Monday. “Late Monday, October 24, 48 women and children accompanied by officers of the Russian reconciliation center and Syrian authorities left eastern Aleppo through [the] humanitarian corridor. They have been provided with the necessary medical aid, hot meals, and night accommodation,” Konashenkov added.

The spokesman added that civilians can use six humanitarian corridors to leave the city. They will then be treated at reception centers and offered first aid and hot food.

Last week, Damascus and Moscow stopped carrying out airstrikes in eastern Aleppo and opened a number of humanitarian corridors for those wishing to escape the areas of the city controlled by terrorists and rebels, in the hope that the temporary truce would lead to a complete ceasefire.

Despite the humanitarian pause having been prolonged several times, militants repeatedly sabotaged the ceasefire efforts, shelling humanitarian corridors and killing civilians.

As people remain trapped in eastern Aleppo, the Syrian branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on ground forces to facilitate safe passage for civilians out of the rebel-held areas. In a series of tweets, the NGO confirmed it has been on standby to assist the wounded since Thursday.

“Sadly, we couldn’t proceed with the evacuation as a lack of security guarantees on the ground meant we couldn’t ensure patients’ safety,” ICRC tweeted. “Our team on the ground in #Aleppo stands ready to help. For the sake of the people, let us respond before it’s too late.”

For the humanitarian pause to work, the U.S. must fulfill its promise and separate the so-called moderate rebels from hardcore jihadists in Aleppo, a Kremlin spokesperson reiterated on Monday. “All these days, checkpoints continued to be shelled, terrorist groups attacked main routes where humanitarian supplies could be delivered, primarily Castello,” Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

“All of this, of course, makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to form humanitarian convoys. Therefore, since the separation of terrorist groups from the so-called moderate opposition has not taken place, one can wonder whether it is possible at all,” he added.

On the diplomatic front, the need to separate the rebels from jihadists was discussed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a phone conversation with his American counterpart John Kerry. “Sergey Lavrov pointed out that illegal armed formations holding the eastern part of Aleppo responded to the introduction by the Syrian authorities of the humanitarian pause by opening fire on civilians trying to leave the city, and new attacks,” the ministry statement reads.

It appears that the pause in bombing will continue indefinitely as Putin rejected requests by the Russian Ministry of Defense to resume air action over East Aleppo.  On Friday, Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of operations in the Russian General Staff reported that Russia’s center for reconciliation in Syria is currently negotiating “with representatives of the public authorities of eastern Aleppo and several armed groups on the evacuation of the civilian population and withdrawal of militants from areas under their control.”

 Additionally, Russian news agency, TASS, has reported that the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Syria met on October 28th to discuss events in Syria.  It was stated that the Syrian government has no direct contacts with the U.S. and does not trust its actions:

According to Sergey Lavrov, Russia and Iran welcomed Syria’s readiness to boost cooperation with the UN. “Russia and Iran welcome the Syrian government’s readiness to enhance cooperation with the UN in solving humanitarian issues, that was confirmed today,” the Russian minister said. “We believe that the UN representatives should act impartially, refrain from responding to provocations, and do everything possible to confront terrorists in Syria.

The Syrian foreign minister said the government does not maintain any contacts with the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition and questions its effectiveness. “There are no contacts between the Syrian government and the coalition led by the U.S.,” he said, adding that the coalition’s operation that has lasted more than two years yielded no results.

Damascus is certain that Washington is not eager to meet its commitments in regard to Syria, he added.

“The U.S. admits the roles of Russia and Iran (in resolution of the Syria crisis) but cannot cooperate with us,” Muallem said. “We have no trust in the United States. We are certain it will not meet its commitments.”

“We have suffered from the U.S.-led coalition’s operation as it does not fight against terrorists but destroys our infrastructure and recently it has destroyed lots of crucial bridges across the Euphrates River,” the Syrian foreign minister emphasized. “They want ISIS (the Islamic State terrorist organization banned in Russia) to leave Mosul for Raqqa. I am pleased to hear from Mr. Lavrov that we will join our efforts to prevent it.”

“There are no contacts between the Syrian government and the coalition led by the U.S.,” he said, adding that the coalition’s operation that has lasted more than two years yielded no results.

“Those who have been plotting against Syria for five years under U.S. guidance will go ahead with their campaign,” Muallem said. “Nonetheless, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday (at the Valdai International Discussion Forum in Sochi), our patience had limits. Their campaign will not affect us but we will not reduce efforts to fight terrorists.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also stated last week that there is concern that jihadists will flee the U.S.-led attack on Mosul, Iraq and flow into Syria.  This possibility was discussed by veteran Middle East reporter, Robert Fisk, in a recent article for CounterPunch. Press TV had the following details on Lavrov’s statement:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that Daesh terrorists are leaving the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in droves and heading to neighboring Syria, voicing Moscow’s eagerness to work with the Iraqi government to stop the exodus.

“The international anti-Daesh coalition has launched the operation to liberate Mosul. We are interested in working with our Iraqi colleagues to take measures to prevent terrorists moving from Mosul to Syria with their heavy arms, which of course will seriously worsen the situation in the Syrian republic,” Lavrov said at a joint press conference with his Iranian and Syrian counterparts Mohammad Javad Zarif and Walid al-Muallem respectively in Moscow on Friday.

He added, “We think that it is important not to let this happen. We will discuss it with the U.S. and other members of the coalition. We cannot let the terrorists leave Mosul into Syria with the aim to re-directing their activity.”

Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry asked the U..S-led military coalition not to “drive terrorists” from Iraq to Syria during the offensive to liberate Mosul.

And just to show Washington how fed up they are with the “ineffectiveness” of trying to cooperate with them, Russia is now sharing intelligence regarding Syria with Turkey.   According to TASS:

Russia has already started cooperating with Turkey on exchanging intelligence data needed for carrying out the Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria. According to Izvestia, the agreement was reached during last week’s talks between Russian and Turkish Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Experts believe that cooperating with Ankara on Syria may become more beneficial for Russia than cooperation with the US.

First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Defense and Security at the Federation Council (upper house of parliament) Franz Klintsevich, said Turkey quietly joined the pool on intelligence sharing created by Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

“We pass on to the Turkish side radio intercept, radar data and imagery intelligence data that may be of interest to them,” the senator said.

“In response, they also share data. The Turks have very efficient special services and a very good network of agents in Syria.”

Since Erdogan has shown himself to be completely untrustworthy and a bit unhinged, I’m wondering how wise of a move this will ultimately be, especially after the bizarre speech he just gave staking a Turkish claim in Iraq and Syria.

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NATO held a 2-day meeting last week in Brussels at which they decided to station even more NATO troops on Russia’s borders.  On October 26th, Reuters reported the following:

Britain said on Wednesday it will send fighter jets to Romania next year and the United States promised troops, tanks and artillery to Poland in NATO’s biggest military build-up on Russia’s borders since the Cold War.

Germany, Canada and other NATO allies also pledged forces at a defense ministers meeting in Brussels on the same day two Russian warships armed with cruise missiles entered the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Denmark, underscoring East-West tensions.

….NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the troop contributions to a new 4,000-strong force in the Baltic region and eastern Europe were a measured response to what the alliance believes are some 330,000 Russian troops stationed on Russia’s western flank near Moscow.

….NATO’s aim is to make good on a July promise by NATO leaders to deter Russia in Europe’s ex-Soviet states, after Moscow orchestrated the annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014.

NATO’s plan is to set up four battle groups with a total of some 4,000 troops from early next year, backed by a 40,000-strong rapid-reaction force, and if need be, follow-on forces.

As part of that, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced a “battle-ready battalion task force” of about 900 soldiers would be sent to eastern Poland, as well as another, separate force equipped with tanks and other heavy equipment to move across eastern Europe.

“It’s a major sign of the U.S. commitment to strengthening deterrence here,” Carter said.

Additionally, Norway has agreed to host U.S. troops – something they declined to do during the Cold War, despite being a founding member of NATO.   Needless to say, Russia is not happy.  RT reports:

Norway is to break a decades-old commitment not to host foreign troops on its soil by accommodating 330 U.S. Marines next year. Russia, the apparent target of the buildup, said it was puzzled by the move.

The Marines will be stationed at the Vaernes military base in central Norway from January, the Norwegian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday. The agreement for the deployment will be reviewed in the course of the year, it added.

“The United States is our most important ally and we have a near-bilateral relationship that we wish to develop,” Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said.

While Soereide didn’t specifically mention a Russian military threat on Monday, she had previously voiced sentiments about Russia currently prevalent within the alliance.

Moscow denies posing a threat to any NATO member.

Commenting on Norway’s decision, the Russian embassy in Oslo said it was puzzled by the step. “Taking into account multiple statements of Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway, we would like to understand for what purposes is Norway so willing to increase its military potential, in particular through the stationing of American forces in Vaernes?” it told Reuters on Tuesday.

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While Hillary Clinton’s pro-war record, Neocon sympathies and compensatory psychological issues have many people (myself included) extremely worried should she become the next president, analyst Alexander Mercouris argues, based on a close reading of Hillary’s words on the Syria issue during the last debate, along with recent media reports sourced by the U.S. military and intelligence head, she will not agree to implement a no-fly zone in Syria:

 ….The intensity of the media campaign against Russia is however creating something of a climate of fear, with most people unaware that the most dangerous moment of the crisis has in fact already passed. 

Much of this fear is centred on the personality of Hillary Clinton, now widely expected to be the next US President. 

Based on her record and her statements, she is widely supposed to be a hardline foreign policy hawk who has never seen a war she didn’t like or want to join, and who is widely expected to escalate dramatically the confrontation with Russia in Syria and elsewhere.

Many also point to Hillary Clinton’s known previous support for a no fly zone in Syria, and her comments on the campaign trail, which many see as suggesting that she plans one still.

Is all this however true?  Is the greatest moment of confrontation between the US and Russia in Syria still to come? Will things really get far more dangerous if Hillary Clinton becomes President?  Are we really looking at World War III?

In my opinion these fears are wrong.  The great confrontation has already taken place, and it took place this October.  A direct clash between the US and the Russian militaries in Syria was avoided, and there is now no possibility that it will happen.

….The reason none of these things will happen is because the US’s uniformed military opposes all of them.  In the face of the US military’s opposition none of them can happen.

The reason the US military opposes these schemes is because they would all require the US military to take on the very extensive and very sophisticated air defence system the Russians have set up in Syria.  The US military has made it absolutely clear that it is completely opposed to doing this.

In the days immediately following the US climbdown brave reports appeared in parts of the media which claimed the US military is confident of its ability to take on and defeat the Russian air defence system.   

It did not however take long for a report to appear in The Washington Post – obviously sourced from the US military – which made it clear that this is not the case. 

The Washington Post article, in addition to giving a comprehensive picture of the scale of the Russian air defence system in Syria, contains a frank admission that the US military is far from confident of its ability to defeat it

“While there is some disagreement among military experts as to the capability of the Russian systems, particularly the newly deployed S-300, “the reality is, we’re very concerned anytime those are emplaced,” a U.S. Defense official said. Neither its touted ability to counter U.S. stealth technology, or to target low-flying aircraft, has ever been tested by the United States.  “It’s not like we’ve had any shoot at an F-35,” the official said of the next-generation U.S. fighter jet. “We’re not sure if any of our aircraft can defeat the S-300.””

Whatever the precise purpose of the Russian military’s complaint about the alleged Belgian air raid on Hasajek, it does at least show that the Russians can now track US and NATO aircraft as they take off from their bases in Jordan, and almost certainly from Incirlik air base in Turkey as well. 

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has also admitted that the Russian air defence system is restricting the operations of the Israeli force, with the US based internet journal Al-Monitor reporting – based obviously on information provided by Israeli sources – that

“The S-300 and S-400 missile systems that Russia put in place cover all of Israel up to the southern Negev. Russian radar will immediately lock on Israeli jets taking off from any base, except for the Uvda air force base near the southern city of Eilat, and their flight patterns will be under constant surveillance. That is how the Russians keep an eye on the Israeli air force’s activities over “hotspots” along the borders between Syria and Lebanon. Should he want to, Putin can simply push a button and turn the lives of Israeli pilots and the commanders who sent them on offensive strikes in Syria into a living hell.”

(bold italics added)

Meanwhile we know US intelligence is advising the US government that the Russians not only have the capability to shoot down US aircraft, but are not bluffing when they say they will do so.   No less a person than Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking to the Council of Foreign Relations on Tuesday 25th October 2016, has said as much

“I wouldn’t put it past them (NB: the Russians – AM) to shoot down an American aircraft if they felt that was threatening to their forces on the ground.  The system they have there is very advanced, very capable and I don’t think they’d do it – deploy it – if they didn’t have some intention to use it.”

The Washington Post article confirms that the US military was always reluctant to impose a no fly zone over Syria because of Syria’s sophisticated air defences. 

In the face of the vastly more sophisticated air defence system the Russians have created in Syria the option of declaring a no fly zone over Syria or of undertaking any of the other US military options that have been talked about in Syria for all practical purposes no longer exists.

….Whilst Hillary Clinton could in theory try to order the US military to take military action and risk confrontation with the Russians in Syria against its wishes, in practical political terms doing this is all but impossible since it would leave her catastrophically exposed in the very likely event that something went badly wrong.  In addition Hillary Clinton would almost certainly face a massive groundswell of opposition from Congress and the nation, which would surely dwarf the one that caused Obama to back off his proposed missile strikes against Syria in 2013, if she tried to do such a completely reckless thing. Hillary Clinton, whatever her faults, is far too experienced a politician to take on these well-nigh unbelievable risks.   

Mercouris obviously believes that Clinton will ultimately be a rational actor.  Let’s pray that he is correct.

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On the ground independent reporter, Graham Phillips, details Ukraine’s recent uptick in shellings of the Donbass:

Reports from the DPR about ceasefire violations have been in the thousands, by the week, in October. However, numbers are numbers, and it’s sadly the case that it takes victims for shelling to really make news, get attention. You will doubtless be aware that on October 27th, the city of Makeevka (by Donetsk) was hit by Ukrainian shelling, with two killed as a result, some photos of that here –

Edward Basurin, the DPR Defence spokesman, named Thursday 27th as ‘Black Thursday’, with a total of three killed, across the DPR, and 10 wounded. 

Patrick Lancaster, in Donetsk, reports heavy shelling audible this night.Let’s wait until morning, and hope for no more victims.

Phillips also discusses conditions in the LPR.  To read the full report, go to:

Updates from the DLPR (#4) Shelling in the DPR and LPR

Russia’s Very Different Reality

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

By Natylie Baldwin, Consortium News

In February, the Obama administration announced that it was quadrupling funding for a major increase in NATO troops and weaponry in the countries of Eastern Europe on the border with Russia. Diplomatic relations have faltered between the two countries over Syria.

And the corporate media in the U.S. and U.K. have again stepped up their demonization of all things Vladimir Putin – he’s corrupt, he personally orders hits on people, is facilitating war crimes in Aleppo, and wants to invade Europe. The media also pushes the idea that Russia is an uncivilized and backwards cesspit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at Russia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 8, 2014, as part of the observance of the World War II Victory over Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at Russia’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 8, 2014, as part of the observance of the World War II Victory over Germany.

Considering that Russia is a nuclear superpower, the largest country geographically in the world, and is the sixth largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (and projected to be number six in 2021 in terms of GDP), the U.S. relationship with Russia is one of the most important and delicate.

In order to have any chance of conducting this relationship in a rational manner, an accurate and nuanced understanding of the country itself and the history of post-Soviet U.S.-Russia relations is essential. This requires cutting through the misinformation and distortion that saturates much of our mainstream news and political discourse.

Continue reading at:

Russia’s Very Different Reality

 

Gilbert Doctorow’s “Warnings of a New Cold War”; U.S. Reduced to “Pleading for Mercy” re Aleppo, Unable to Stop Syrian/Russian Operation to Take Back Entire City; Wikileaks Shows Hillary’s 2 Faces on Syria; FBI Study Reveals U.S. Military Operations = Biggest Motivator for Homegrown Terrorists

President Barack Obama meets with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice listens at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama meets with President Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 15, 2015. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice listens at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Analyst Gilbert Doctorow, who specializes in Russia, has written a revealing article detailing what Russian media has been saying about the recent deterioration of relations between Washington and Moscow, mostly over Syria, as well as important events that the western corporate media has largely downplayed or ignored.  He discusses the grave implications:

In an interview with the Bild newspaper on Oct. 8, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is known for his cautious rhetoric, described the present international situation in the following woeful terms: “unfortunately it is an illusion to believe this is the old Cold War. The new times are different; they are more dangerous. Previously, the world was divided, but Moscow and Washington knew each other’s red lines and respected them. In a world with many regional conflicts and dwindling influence of the great powers, the world becomes more unpredictable.”

For these reasons, said Steinmeier, “The USA and Russia must continue talking with each other.” He concluded his appeal with fairly balanced recommendations to resolve the humanitarian crisis in east Aleppo, urging both Russia and the other powers to apply their influence with their clients on the ground.

Sad to say, this call to reason fell on deaf ears. On the same day, a U.S. State Department spokesman explained to journalists Washington’s decision over the weekend to end the joint peace process with Moscow, saying that there was “nothing left to talk about with the Russians.”

Meanwhile, the Russian side took as the last straw this unilateral and trumpeted decision of the Americans to bury the deal signed on Sept. 9 between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that had taken 14 hours to negotiate and was seen as a triumph of cooperation versus confrontation.

De facto, from the Russian view, that deal was sabotaged on Sept. 17 by the Pentagon when U.S. and coalition aircraft bombed a Syrian government military outpost at Deir Ezzor killing more than 60 Syrian soldiers. And de facto, the Russians had suspended the implementation of the ceasefire on Sept. 23 when they renewed heavy bombing of east Aleppo in close collaboration with the Syrian air force and ground units. Now that the U.S. had formalized the end of cooperation over Syria, Russia set out its own full-blooded response which it called a “radical change in relations” between the two countries.

From the foregoing, it would appear that the U.S. government was keen to play down to the general public the significance of the separately noted Russian moves last week. It is in this context that one must appreciate what an unofficial but authoritative Russian state television program last Sunday night did to add a few more important dots, to connect them all and to interpret for laymen what is the significance of the Russian démarches.

The state television program on the Rossiya 1 channel, Vesti nedeli (News of the Week), is presented by Dmitri Kiselyov. This two-hour show on prime time is the single most widely watched news broadcast in Russia with tens of millions of viewers. However, in cases like the Oct. 9 show, the real hoped-for audience of the first half-hour segment was in Washington, D.C., where its intent was to pour cold water over hotheads in the Pentagon and CIA – and bring the American leadership back to its senses.

Dmitri Kiselyov is not merely the anchorman of Vesti nedeli. He is also the boss of all news and information programming on state radio and television. He is tough and wears his patriotism on his sleeve. We may assume that what he says has been approved by the Kremlin.

Because of the importance of the message Kiselyov was delivering, I am going to quote heavily from my transcript of his narrative, only making minor cuts:

The state television program on the Rossiya 1 channel, Vesti nedeli (News of the Week), is presented by Dmitri Kiselyov. This two-hour show on prime time is the single most widely watched news broadcast in Russia with tens of millions of viewers. However, in cases like the Oct. 9 show, the real hoped-for audience of the first half-hour segment was in Washington, D.C., where its intent was to pour cold water over hotheads in the Pentagon and CIA – and bring the American leadership back to its senses.

Dmitri Kiselyov is not merely the anchorman of Vesti nedeli. He is also the boss of all news and information programming on state radio and television. He is tough and wears his patriotism on his sleeve. We may assume that what he says has been approved by the Kremlin.

Because of the importance of the message Kiselyov was delivering, I am going to quote heavily from my transcript of his narrative, only making minor cuts:

“This past week relations between the USA and Russia went through a sharp but expected turn. To bend over backwards further in the face of [American] lies has lost all sense and is simply harmful. By bending over backwards we mean looking for diplomatic compromises.

“We held endless expectations that the USA will finally separate the non-terrorists from the terrorists [in Syria]. We waited more than a year for this. But it is clear they did not want to. They are taking us and the whole world for fools. America is working on the side of Al Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate], providing them with diplomatic cover; providing them with additional arms; helping them by their supposedly mistaken bombing of a Syrian army position.

“See the outbursts of anti-Russian statements in the U.S. mass media. If we continue with the Americans, our very presence in Syria will lose sense. Instead, working with the legal Syrian government, we can rid the country of terrorists, thereby ensuring security of the Middle Eastern region, Russia and Europe.”

Kiselyov continued: “Those who want to can join us. The U.S. seemed to want to join, then thought again and cut their military cooperation with Russia over Syria on Monday, with one exception, the channel of communication to avoid military clashes in Syria remains in force. For the time being.

“Formally the situation returned to where it was before Sept. 9 when Kerry and Lavrov reached their agreement on a truce. But then [U.S. Defense Secretary] Ashton Carter entered the picture. He opened a second front. He forced Kerry to fight on two fronts. If Kerry previously thought he was competing with the Russians, now he came under “friendly fire” from the Pentagon.

“American forces directly bombed a Syrian military outpost. This was no mistake. It was coordinated with the terrorists, who followed up with an attack. Then there came a camouflaged attack on the humanitarian convoy near Aleppo [Sept. 20]. Finally, it became clear to Moscow that diplomacy is merely a ‘service’ for the Pentagon. Kerry, in intellectual style, justifies the actions of the Pentagon. Often, post factum.

“We will review tonight the radical changes in our relations with America. This includes the dispatch to the region of three of our cruise missile vessels with Kalibr on board. The roll-out in Syria of additional air defense systems S300. The dispatch to Egypt of 5,000 of our paratroopers. The tearing up of our agreements with America in the atomic sphere. And the civil defense exercise of the past week which involved 200,000 civil defense personnel covering 40 million population. To my recollection such a constellation of events never before took place.”

Continue reading this important piece here

For those interested in keeping up with what the Russian media is saying about important international events in general, and relations with Washington in particular, Newsbud has just started a weekly segment by Professor Filip Kovacevic in which he will provide analysis of what the major Russian newspapers have reported in the preceding week.  Looks like a very valuable service for folks like me who don’t have the Russian language down yet.   The first episode can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_9gm9SJdXw&list=TLGCFprL0DJotToxNjEwMjAxNg

Kovacevic teaches Russian and Eastern European studies at USF and taught at the university level in St. Petersburg in the early 2000’s.
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After Moscow apparently forced Washington to back down from its threats to escalate its military involvement in Syria by warning that any planes attacking the Syrian Arab Army and thereby endangering Russian military staff would be shot down, Washington has realized that it’s options for stopping the Syrian Army and Russia’s advances toward re-taking the whole of Aleppo are extremely limited.
Alexander Mercouris described the events leading up to a somber October 16th joint press conference held by Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson:

 

A meeting of the US National Security Council took place on Friday, with some US officials telling the media anonymously that military options would again be discussed and presented to Obama for his consideration. 

This was a completely empty claim since Obama had publicly rejected these same military options the previous week The same US officials were therefore obliged to admit that it was “extremely unlikely” that Obama would approve these options, and he would probably “not make a decision”.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, Britain’s hapless Foreign Secretary, appeared to float an idea for a “no bombing zone”, though typically he never did so clearly or openly and most of the details had to be provided in off the record conversations to the British media.

The idea behind this “no bombing zone” was that the US and the Western powers would unilaterally announce a prohibition on bombing by the Syrians and the Russians in any part of Syria.  In the event that the Syrians or the Russians disregarded this announcement and continued bombing, the US and the Western powers would retaliate by launching strikes against Syrian bases and military facilities where no Russians were believed to be present.

It is not clear who was the originator of this plan but its half-baked nature suggests it was probably Boris Johnson himself.

The “no bombing zone” is simply a “no fly zone” without the aerial bombardment.  The US has never imposed a “no fly zone” without an aerial bombardment.  We have a detailed discussion of what a “no fly zone” involves and why an aerial bombardment is an integral part of it from no less a person than Hillary Clinton herself.

The US military would never agree to enforce a “no fly zone” (or a “no bombing zone”) without an aerial bombardment since by failing (in US parlance) to “degrade” the Syrian air defences through an aerial bombardment the US would be placing its aircraft and pilots enforcing the “no fly zone” (or “no bombing zone”) at risk. 

In a situation where the air defences in question are not merely Syrian but Russian – and therefore far more capable of shooting down US aircraft – the whole idea of enforcing a “no bombing zone” without an aerial bombardment to “degrade” these defences is inconceivable.  Only a complete civilian with no understanding of how the US military conducts operations would conceive of it, which is why its author is very likely to be Boris Johnson himself.

The “no bombing zone” would in fact depend for its enforcement on launching long range cruise missile strikes on Syrian bases from US warships, which for geographical and political reasons would have to be based in the eastern Mediterranean.

Some of the Russian air defence systems in Syria are probably capable of shooting down these cruise missiles.  The S-300MV Antey-2500 recently deployed to Syria was designed for this very purpose. 

The Russians say it is in Syria to protect Russia’s naval facility in Tartus.  That suggests its units have been stationed along the Syrian coast, in other words precisely in the area where they would most effectively intercept US cruise missiles launched from US warships from the eastern Mediterranean. 

That already puts the viability of enforcing the “no bombing zone” with cruise missiles from US warships in the eastern Mediterranean in question.

The key concern of the US would however be that the Russians have also warned that in case of US missile strikes on Syria killing Russian personnel they would retaliate with missile strikes of their own against facilities in Syria they know to be staffed by US personnel. 

….One way or the other the “no bombing zone” faces the same insuperable problems that a fully fledged “no fly zone” does.  An editorial in The London Times has now admitted as much. 

Quite simply, what makes it impractical is that it risks a head on confrontation with the Russian military in Syria.  That is something that neither the West’s political nor its military leadership is prepared to risk.

All this became entirely obvious at a meeting of Western foreign ministers in London on Sunday convened by Boris Johnson directly following Kerry’s meeting with Lavrov on Saturday in Lausanne.

It is clear that Kerry found Lavrov in Lausanne completely immoveable, with Lavrov sticking to the well-known Russian position that there can be no more unilateral ceasefires by the Syrian army, and that a precondition for a ceasefire is the separation of Syrian opposition fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra – as the US has repeatedly promised and as has repeatedly failed to happen.

In the face of this, and with military options ruled out, the Western foreign ministers in London were left with nothing other than to accept the inevitable, which is that the Syrian government is going to recapture eastern Aleppo. 

….With no military option available, and with all forms of pressure on the Russians having failed, there is nothing more the West can do.   

That this is so was most clearly admitted by Boris Johnson.  All he could come up with to save the Jihadi fighters in Aleppo was plead with the Russians for mercy

“And it is up to them (NB: the Russians – AM) to seize this moment to recognise the opportunity and, in my view, to show greatness and to show leadership…..it’s really up to them now to listen and to show mercy – show mercy to those people in that city, get a ceasefire going, get the negotiations going in Geneva, and let’s bring this slaughter to an end.”

When a Western foreign minister – even one as preposterous as Boris Johnson – is reduced to pleading with the Russians for mercy, then it is obvious that the game is over and the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ has been lost.

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As for the candidate who will most likely become the next U.S. president, Syria is a thorn in the side of Israel since it has an alliance with Iran, which justified a regime change policy against it.  This reflects a Neocon worldview as reflected in a recent article by Sharmine Narwani in which leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State and private speeches are quoted and discussed:

2012 email released by WikiLeaks last year shows that, behind the scenes, Clinton’s State Department was calculating its Syria policy using entirely different metrics than its publicly-stated narrative of supporting reforms and rejecting violence:

It is the strategic relationship between Iran and the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria that makes it possible for Iran to undermine Israel’s security — not through a direct attack, which in the thirty years of hostility between Iran and Israel has never occurred, but through its proxies in Lebanon, like Hezbollah, that are sustained, armed and trained by Iran via Syria. The end of the Assad regime would end this dangerous alliance. Israel’s leadership understands well why defeating Assad is now in its interests.

The email, written by an unidentified person and included within the WikiLeaks ‘Clinton archive,’ lays out a plan:

Washington should start by expressing its willingness to work with regional allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to organize, train and arm Syrian rebel forces. The announcement of such a decision would, by itself, likely cause substantial defections from the Syrian military. Then, using territory in Turkey and possibly Jordan, U.S. diplomats and Pentagon officials can start strengthening the opposition… Arming the Syrian rebels and using Western air power to ground Syrian helicopters and airplanes is a low-cost high payoff approach.

Arming a Syrian rebellion from outside the country was already a consideration “from the very beginning,” according to a recent WikiLeaks release of a June 2013 speech by Clinton:

So, the problem for the U.S. and the Europeans has been from the very beginning: What is it you – who is it you are going to try to arm. And you probably read in the papers my view was we should try to find some of the groups that were there that we thought we could build relationships with and develop some covert connections that might then at least give us some insight into what is going on inside Syria.

Certainly, we know that by early 2012, the Obama and Erdogan administrations had struck a deal to establish a rat-line transporting weapons and ammunition from Libya to Syria – via the CIA and MI6, and funded by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was only a temporary setback. Weapons and financial assistance to militants in Syria, however, continued to flow from America’s regional allies without any U.S. pushback, even though Washington clearly knew arms were being siphoned to extremists.

A declassified DIA document from August 2012 circulated to Clinton’s State Department states plainly that “the Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” and that “the West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition.”

But if U.S. Special Forces were involved in driving arms and fighters into Syria in early 2012, the groundwork would have had to have begun many, many months before. The U.S. military’s unconventional warfare (UW) strategy requires that target-state population perceptions are first ‘groomed’ into accepting an armed insurrection, using “propaganda and political and psychological efforts to discredit the government”…creating “local and national ‘agitation’”…helping organize “boycotts, strikes and other efforts to suggest public discontent”…before beginning the “infiltration of foreign organizers and advisors and foreign propaganda, material, money, weapons and equipment.”

You get an idea of how this ‘propaganda’ and ‘grooming’ works in a June 2011 email from Clinton’s recently-departed Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter, who openly calls for fabricating sectarian narratives to incite Syrian protestors:

This suggests U.S. should be making much more of the ways in which Syrian regime is simulating violence. Can’t we call for a meeting of the UNSC where we do not call for action but simply present information along the lines of what is recounted below so as to ‘bring it to the attention of the Council’ in a way that then has greater credibility globally? Making the point repeatedly that the regime wants this to look like/turn into sectarian violence? At the very least that can be broadcast back into Syria in various ways that will encourage protestors. There is an information war going on; we can do much more to elevate and legitimate the truth.

This is business as usual for a U.S. State Department well-versed in sowing sectarian discord in the Middle East – all while publicly denouncing sectarian strife. A WikiLeaksemail from 2006 shows that this thinking was already well-entrenched in Foggy Bottom, with a focus on “exploiting vulnerabilities” – particularly “sectarian” ones – inside Syria.

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As reported in The Intercept on October 11th, an FBI report from December of 2012 reveals that most homegrown Muslim terrorists are motivated largely by U.S. military operations overseas against national, ethnic or religious groups that they identify with.

A recent FBI study found that anger over U.S. military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “homegrown” terrorism. The report also identified no coherent pattern to “radicalization,” concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts.

The study, reviewed by The Intercept, was conducted in 2012 by a unit in the FBI’s counterterrorism division and surveyed intelligence analysts and FBI special agents across the United States who were responsible for nearly 200 cases, both open and closed, involving “homegrown violent extremists.” The survey responses reinforced the FBI’s conclusion that such individuals “frequently believe the U.S. military is committing atrocities in Muslim countries, thereby justifying their violent aspirations.”

Online relationships and exposure to English-language militant propaganda and “ideologues” like Anwar al-Awlaki are also cited as “key factors” driving extremism. But grievances over U.S. military action ranked far above any other factor, turning up in 18 percent of all cases, with additional cases citing a “perceived war against Islam,” “perceived discrimination,” or other more specific incidents. The report notes that between 2009 and 2012, 10 out of 16 attempted or successful terrorist attacks in the United States targeted military facilities or personnel.

Overall, the survey confirmed the “highly individualized nature of the radicalization process,” a finding consistent with outside scholarship on the subject.

“Numerous individuals, activities, or experiences can contribute to an extremist’s radicalization,” the report says. “It can be difficult, if not impossible, to predict for any given individual what factor or combination of factors will prompt that individual’s radicalization or mobilization to violence.”

The report is titled “Homegrown Violent Extremists: Survey Confirms Key Assessments, Reveals New Insights about Radicalization.” It is dated December 20, 2012. An FBI unit called the “Americas Fusion Cell” surveyed agents responsible for 198 “current and disrupted [homegrown violent extremists],” which the report says represented a fraction of all “pending, U.S.-based Sunni extremist cases” at the time. The survey seems designed to look only at Muslim violent extremism. (The FBI declined to comment.)

Washington Backs Down After Russia Warns It Will Shoot Down Aircraft Attacking Syrian Army or Russian Personnel; Investigative Report on Fake News & War Propaganda in U.S.; Update on Donbass

© Ammar Abdullah

 

After announcing the cutoff of official diplomacy with Russia regarding Syria, major media reported Washington insiders as stating that several options were being considered in response to the continued advances by the Syrian Arab Army, with Russian air support, to liberate eastern Aleppo from the Al Nusra and Al Nusra-affiliated terrorists who currently occupy it.   These options, as reported last week by RT, partly based on a Washington Post report, included covert military strikes against the SAA:

Top Washington officials are set to discuss striking positions of the Syrian military without a UN Security Council resolution. Bombing air force runways with missiles fired from coalition planes and ships is being considered, according to a report.

“One proposed way to get around the White House’s objection to striking the Assad regime without a UN Security Council resolution would be to carry out the strikes covertly and without public acknowledgment,” one administration official who is to take part in the discussions told the Washington Post.

A meeting of the Obama administration’s Principals Committee is scheduled for Wednesday, the newspaper reported, adding that a meeting of the National Security Council could follow this weekend.

The CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed support for “limited military strikes against the Syrian government,” last Wednesday, when the US discussed such “kinetic” options, the official told the Washington Post.

“There’s an increased mood in support of kinetic actions against the regime,” one senior administration official was quoted as saying.

“The CIA and the Joint Staff have said that the fall of Aleppo would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria,” he added.

After threatening to withdraw from the Syrian peace process for weeks, Washington finally announced the “suspension” of bilateral contact with Moscow concerning the crisis on [last] Monday.

In response, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it would shoot down any airplanes that attacked the Syrian Arab Army that would threaten Russian military personnel working in conjunction with them as there would be no time during the fog of war to identify who the aggressors were before defending themselves against such attacks.  As reported by Euronews on October 6th:

Russia has issued one of its strongest warnings yet against Western intervention in Syria, hinting it may respond with its own missiles.

Washington has reportedly been considering limited airstrikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The Defence Ministry in Moscow reportedly believes such an attack would threaten its troops operating Russian missile systems deployed in the country. They would respond immediately as they would not have time to identify the flight paths of incoming rockets or aircraft, according to a spokesman.

“I would recommend that our Washington colleagues carefully consider the possible consequences of implementing such plans. I would like to remind US strategists that air cover for Russian airbases in Hmeymim and Tartus is provided by S-400 and S-300 air defence systems, whose radius of action could become a surprise for any unidentified flying objects,” said Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

Subsequently, a solemn Josh Earnest announced during a State Dept. press conference that Washington had decided against any military action in Aleppo at this time.

Analyst Alexander Mercouris summed up the turn of events this way:

Following yesterday’s Russian warning that Russia stood ready to shoot down US aircraft or missiles attacking Syria, the US has confirmed all plans for military action against Syria have been dropped.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed this speaking to reporters on Thursday 6th October 2016.

“The president has discussed in some details why military action against the Assad regime to try to address the situation in Aleppo is unlikely to accomplish the goals that many envisioned now in terms of reducing the violence there.  It is much more likely to lead to a bunch of unintended consequences that are clearly not in our national interest.”

The US will never admit that it was the Russian warning that deterred it from carrying out air and missile strikes, and it is still pretending that the option of military strikes is still on the table.  In Josh Earnest’s words

“I’m not going to take any options off the table. I am not going to be in a position [we’re] taking options off the table for the commander-in-chief.”

However these are face-saving words. 

Cooler heads have prevailed and an escalation between the world’s two nuclear superpowers has once again been averted  – for now.

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Newsbud had put out a video report providing more in-depth coverage behind the recent revelations of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that fake “news” videos were put out by a PR company with ties to Washington to further support its position on the Iraq War and GWOT.  Newsbud goes into the history of propaganda and psyops directed at the American people by the CIA and other organs of the National Security State.   Watch the report here (approx. run time 17 minutes):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNAPeEDujwE&list=TLBeYHZZGsYUQwOTEwMjAxNg
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Former LPR official, Alexander Zhuchkovsky, has cast doubts upon the story that the people’s republic has experienced a coup recently. As translated and posted at the Slavyangrad website, Zhuchkovsky, who claims to have had no involvement in the LPR’s governance over the past year, provides his own explanation:

I have formed an overall opinion of the situation in the LPR, and I have voiced it on more than one occasion. As for the allegations regarding the planning of a coup, I have substantial reasons to doubt the official storyline. From what I can gather, the current repressions and assassinations taking place in Lugansk are a continuation of the never-ending personal and commercially driven infighting between the former and the incumbent political and military leadership that has been simmering since 2014. In other words, the recent events have roots in the fears and suspicions of the current Lugansk leadership, as well as in the aspiration to establish in the LPR a vertical chain of command at the political and at the economic level. In reality, no one is foolish enough to organize a coup in the LPR, even if certain individuals have now been officially labelled as suspects. The reason why is rather simple: the people who are currently being investigated understand very well that the only way to secure power in the LPR is in back-rooms of Moscow, rather than through an armed uprising. Even if someone were to succeed in removing the current Moscow appointees, and take their offices, these people would be immediately replaced with new figureheads, under direct and complete Russian control.

Despite the very brutal methods of “establishing order” in the LPR (whereas in Donetsk problems are often resolved with little more than a private “consultation”, in Lugansk assassinations are the rule), the past two years have failed to yield an established vertical chain of command, and the ruling elites are driven by near-total suspicion and mistrust toward each other. It got to the point that the head of the LPR, Igor Plotnitsky, had to ask the DPR for assistance (with Zakharchenko sending the Sparta Battalion as reinforcements), because he was not convinced that the interests of the group in power could be protected by his own security forces.

pilavov

(Manolis Pilavov; https://thetruthspeaker.co/2016/10/07/updates-from-dlpr2-primaries-and-prison-slave-labour-camps/)

Meanwhile, independent journalist, Graham Phillips, reported on the LPR elections that took place on October 2nd:

The preceeding week saw around 30 international observers in the city, given daily excursions around museums, and sights of the Lugansk People’s Republic. These individuals were not from an organisation, and in fact the OSCE upon being asked at a press conference last week why they would not be observing the primaries, replied that the OSCE did not do that.

So it was, volunteers from across the world – France, Italy, Finland, Palestine, Israel, USA, Poland, and India, were put up by the Lugansk People’s Republic, but received no financial recompense, for taking part in an active programme, culminating in observing the primaries.

And, on the day itself? The total turnout was reported as 61,323 – high, given that only 34,450 were on the preliminary list to vote. Requirement to vote was a passport, local address, and those not on the list this time, were added to the database. Incidentally, Lugansk pre-war had a population of over 400,000, what it is now is open to estimate. LPR sources will claim it’s near back to pre-war levels, a more realistic assessment could be closer to 300,000.

…the polling stations were as polling stations should be, everything was in order, ordered, people who voted knew who and what they were voting for. The main vote, for the mayor of Lugansk, wascomfortably won by incumbent Manolis Pilavov, with 86%, which matched what people were saying at the polls. As for Pilavov (pictured), he’s a likeable, moderate, popular city head, widely perceived to have done a good job in his 2 years at the helm, tipped to play a big part in the LPR going forward.

Accompanying videos and interviews are available here.

 

 

Has Zbigniew Brzezinski Really Changed His Tune?

MSC 2014 Brzezinski Kleinschmidt MSC2014.jpg

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zbigniew_Brzezinski)

There has been talk among some geopolitical analysts over the past few months about the latest article by former National Security Adviser (under President Carter), Zbigniew Brzezinski.  As some readers may recall from my past writings on Zbig, he was supposed to be the Democratic Party’s answer to Henry Kissinger – i.e. a psychopath who added a pseudo-intellectual veneer to his imperial war crimes by writing books and journal articles in which he pontificated on grand chessboards and other clever literary devices used to render the deaths of millions and the destruction of whole societies resulting from his policies as mere abstractions.  The human effects were deserving of little thought as he shuttled among writing sessions, high powered meetings in which lives were rearranged, and conferences where he got feted by various Washington sycophants.

The article is called “Toward a Global Realignment” and was published this past April in The American Interest.  Zbig sets the tone in his opening paragraph by declaring:

Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signalling the coming of a new global realignment.

First of all, Zbig uses an interesting choice of words.  Verities.  The dictionary definition of this high-falutin term is:

The state or quality of being true; accordance with fact or reality.  

I shall return to the irony inherent in Zbig’s use of this term in a moment.

According to Zbig’s article, Verity #1 is that the U.S. is still the most powerful “entity” in the world politically, economically and militarily.  But he acknowledges it is no longer the global imperial power – or the lone superpower.  However, no other major power (here he implicitly acknowledges that there exist a few others) is a global imperial or lone superpower either.

This is, indeed, a significant admission by Zbig – one that implies a more chastened outlook with respect to the U.S.’s penchant for acting like a bull in a China shop in the rest of the world since 1945 and, particularly, since the end of the Cold War when Zbig’s ambitions for American hegemony seemed to be fueled by the equivalent of an eternal supply of cocaine and Viagra.

Verity #3 acknowledges China’s steady rise on its way to being a “co-equal” and a potential rival with the U.S.:

…for the time being it [China] is careful not to pose an outright challenge to America.  Militarily, it seems to be seeking a breakthrough in a new generation of weapons while patiently enhancing its still very limited naval power.

Fair enough.  But its Verities #2, 4, and 5 that are problematic and reveal Zbig’s deep-rooted prejudices and analytical blind spots.

Verity #2 postulates that Russia is in the final “convulsive” phase of its imperial devolution.  It’s unclear what this even means as the imperial devolution was pretty much completed when Gorbachev voluntarily withdrew Soviet forces from Eastern Europe and allowed the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.  Subsequently, Russia was plundered by a handful of elite bureaucrats who became the original oligarchs – as the blueprints for that plunder were largely provided by the ivy league “advisers” from the U.S., as detailed by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine and Janine Wedel in The Nation magazine.  Russia was on the verge of being a failed state when Vladimir Putin took over the presidency in 2000.

Russia is always portrayed by Zbig as a menacing threat that is uniquely evil and malicious, such as when it manages to get back onto its feet and dust itself off as it has done gradually under Putin’s leadership, or as a potential one as Zbig feared in The Grand Chessboard , his ode to American imperialism published in 1997, when Russia was on its back and down for the count.

Zbig seems to be incapable of trying to understand Russia on its own terms – what the world, shaped by its unique geography and history, may look like to Russians and how that may contribute rationally to their actions and policy preferences.  An analyst doesn’t have to like or agree with the Russian mindset or policy, but a competent geopolitical analyst who specializes in Eurasia (much less one who fancies himself a great one as Zbig does) should be able to do this as it would add valuable insight and provide for more accurate predictions of Russia’s behavior.

Other than grasping that Eurasia is an important area of the world in terms of geography and resources, Zbig has done a rather poor job of predicting the dynamics that appear to be playing out in the past few years in the region.  His tired misrepresentations of Russia’s actions in relation to its neighbors over the past 8 years makes one wonder if Zbig has ceased to simply be a purveyor of propaganda on behalf of his own agenda, and has actually started to believe his own hogwash.   As a case in point, Zbig states the following in his second verity:

…currently it [Russia] is pointlessly alienating some of its former subjects in the Islamic southwest of its once extensive empire, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, not to mention the Baltic States.

I’ve written extensively on Zbig’s lies and misrepresentations with respect to both the Ukraine crisis and the Russia-Georgia war of 2008.  Zbig doesn’t explain how Russia is alienating Belarus.  And it’s also unclear what credible designs Russia could have on the Baltic states, which – no offense to anyone living in the Baltic states – are suffering from poor economic performance, high rates of youth unemployment, significant emigration and have no real resources to speak of.

Later in the article, Zbig makes another nonsensical statement with respect to Russia and Putin:

A constructive U.S. policy must be patiently guided by a long-range vision.  It must seek outcomes that promote the gradual realization in Russia (probably post-Putin) that its only place as an influential world power is ultimately within Europe.

First of all, Putin has stated that Russia is a European nation.  He has also made many attempts to reach a diplomatic accommodation with Europe in connection with both security and economic issues. It is Europe, often under pressure from Washington, that effectively tells Putin to talk to the hand.   If it wasn’t for Washington’s strong-arming the EU into the sanctions in retaliation for an understandable response to a provocative coup in Ukraine, Russia’s economic relations with Europe would have continued apace and its pivot to Asia would not have been as quick or robust.

Furthermore, given Zbig’s notorious Russophobia and his Grand Chessboard theory, it is implausible that he wants to see a Russia integrated with Europe in any substantive way because it would represent an independent entity that would be too competitive with the U.S.

Zbig also repeats a belief often heard among mainstream analysts that China and Russia will not be able to have any effective partnership in the long run due to China’s potential future designs on Russian territory:

Russia’s own future depends on its ability to become a major and influential nation-state that is part of a unifying Europe.  Not to do so could have dramatically negative consequences for Russia’s ability to withstand growing territorial-demographic pressure from China, which is increasingly inclined as its power grows to recall the “unequal” treaties Moscow imposed on Beijing in times past.

There is no substantive evidence that China would do anything of the sort in connection with Russia – a nuclear superpower and, as Obama begrudgingly admitted recently, the world’s second most powerful military.  There is simply no reason to believe that China’s leadership is that stupid or crazy.

Of course, Russia and China (and also India) want a prominent role in their own backyard.  I see no reason to believe that there may not be bumps in the road in sorting out the regional balance of power in the future.  However, just because Washington sees foreign relations as a zero-sum game, does not mean that other countries and their leadership see it the same way.

As journalist and geopolitical analyst Pepe Escobar has written about extensively, China has an ambitious plan known as “One Belt, One Road” which envisions a new silk road by land and sea, connecting Asia with Europe in a mutually beneficial program of trade and travel.   Several corridors of this project are in progress.  It has been announced this year that the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, aka EEU) will work cooperatively with the New Silk Road project.

Currently, the relationship between Russia and China is not an all-out alliance but it is a strategic partnership that is growing in terms of economics, military and even intelligence sharing.

Oil also features prominently in the increasingly symbiotic dynamics between the two countries.  As Tao Wang explained recently at the East Asia Forum:

The catalyst for better relations was the crisis in Ukraine, which estranged Russia from the West. Moscow faced substantial capital outflows and uncertainty around its energy exports to the European Union. China became the only option. Moscow has since opened up to energy investment from China, removing a number of key restrictions on investing in oil and gas resources on Russian soil.

Increasing oil imports from Russia seems to make good sense to the Chinese leadership now that their territorial dispute with multiple countries in the South China Sea is intensifying.

….China and Russia are still complementary economies. One is rich in resources and high military technology, while the other is good at mass manufacturing and rich in cash. This complementarity is well demonstrated by their partnership in Central Asia, where China provides investment in resource-rich yet unpredictable countries while Russia ensures the stability of ruling regimes. Facing increasing pressure from both east and west, it is unlikely that either China or Russia will seek to change this partnership any time soon, though the countries’ willingness and ability may not always match.

….Energy ties between China and Russia reflect mutual demands for cooperation in political, security and economic dimensions. They cannot be viewed as driven by only one of them.

While China will likely do what it can diplomatically to avoid outright provocation or confrontation with Washington, it is unlikely it will trust Washington enough to believe there is any chance for a meaningful partnership as the Chinese leadership have, no doubt, taken note of Washington’s unwillingness to abide by its agreements (see the Native Americans, Russia, and Qaddafi as a few examples).  Zbig’s idea that Washington could somehow implement a divide-and-conquer strategy with China against Russia is a pipe dream. The train has left the station in terms of Eurasia largely controlling its own destiny in the future and Zbig seems to be in denial.

Moving on to Verity #4.  This states that Europe is “not now and is not likely to become a global power.  But it can play a constructive role in taking the lead in regard to transnational threats to global wellbeing and even human survival.  Additionally, Europe is politically and culturally aligned with and supportive of core U.S. interests in the Middle East, and European steadfastness within NATO is essential to an eventually constructive resolution of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.”

In other words, Europe can continue to follow Washington’s orders whether those orders are really in Europe’s long-term interests or not.  And it is not at all clear that they are.  Europe has too often gone along with, or not put up enough resistance to, Washington’s militarist foreign policy since the 1990’s.  Today it is dealing with the worst refugee crisis since WWII – a refugee crisis that is largely the result of people fleeing Washington’s wars and regime change operations.  A recent Pew survey found that most Europeans do not view Russia as a threat, but instead view the immigration crisis and economic problems as major threats.

If it wasn’t for EU leaders who kowtow to Washington policy and mainstream European media that largely follows the lead of the American corporate media, average Europeans may very well recognize that they have more in common culturally, historically and geographically with their next door neighbor to the east than they have with the descendants of the Puritan misfits half a world away.   Indeed, in order to prevent an independent Europe that might decide that its rational interests were not always identical to Washington’s, the EU project was supported and encouraged by the CIA and the Euro was the brainchild of academic Robert Mundell who created it, not to help Europe, but to serve as a foil on government regulation of business and independent monetary or fiscal policy.

In order to understand where one is going, it’s important to understand where one has been and how it got to where it is presently.  Needless to say, the reader doesn’t get any of this contextual background from Zbig on why Europe’s prospects for becoming an independent global power don’t look too impressive at the moment.

Verity #5 states that the current strain of Islamic terrorism by Wahhabi whackjobs represents a “political awakening” – albeit violent – in reaction to historical brutal repressions by the western powers.  Again, some history is in order here.  Zbig has always had a soft spot for violent Islamic fundamentalists as he famously bragged in a 1998 interview about using them to provoke the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 so he could “give them their own Vietnam” quagmire.

Zbig also landed by helicopter in Afghanistan that year to give the jihadists a pep talk in their war against the Soviet Union – a war that led to the deaths of approximately a million Afghan civilians and turned a nation that had rights for women and little religious fanaticism into a Taliban stronghold.

All in a day’s work for Zbig who will then write articles feigning concern for Muslims and their genuine historical grievances when he really just sees them as pawns on The Chessboard to use to further American empire or to maintain what is left of it – and all the more gratifying if they can be used to stick it to Russia in some way.

Given Zbig’s continued vilification of Russia and self-serving dishonesty, weariness is in order on his latest effort.

 

Update on Syria

 Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, addresses a high-level meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Syria on Sept. 21, 2016 (UN Photo)

Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, addresses a high-level meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Syria on Sept. 21, 2016 (UN Photo)

Reuters reported last week that, in response to the Syrian Arab Army’s momentum (with the assistance of Russian air support) toward retaking eastern Aleppo from the “rebels,” Turkey and Saudi Arabia may consider supplying the “rebels” with MANPADS with which to shoot down aircraft.

One consequence of the latest diplomatic failure may be that Gulf Arab states or Turkey could step up arms supplies to rebel factions, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, something the United States has largely prevented until now.

One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss American policy, said Washington has kept large numbers of such man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, out of Syria by uniting Western and Arab allies behind channeling training and infantry weapons to moderate opposition groups while it pursued talks with Moscow.

But frustration with Washington has intensified, raising the possibility that Gulf allies or Turkey will no longer continue to follow the U.S. lead or will turn a blind eye to wealthy individuals looking to supply MANPADS to opposition groups.

Some commentators are wondering if that sentence “something the United States has largely prevented until now” represents a veiled threat by Washington to tacitly allow such a move, thereby encouraging an escalation.

Military analyst, The Saker, explains that even this move would ultimately have only a nominal effect on the success of operations by the Syrian army and Russian military:

The effect of that will be marginal. Russian fixed-wing aircraft fly at over 5,000m where they are out of reach from MANPADs. They are currently the main provider of firepower support for the Syrians. Russian combat helicopters, while probably not immune to MANPADs, are still very resistant to such attacks due to three factors—survivability, weapons range and tactics: Mi-28s and Ka-52 have missiles with a maximum range of 10km and the way they are typically engaged is in a kind of ‘rotation’ where one helicopters flies to acquire the target, fires, immediately turns back and is replaced by the next one. In this matter they all protect each other while presenting a very difficult target to hit. Russian transport helicopters would, however, be at a much higher risk of being shot down by a US MANPAD. So, yes, if the US floods the Syrian theater with MANPADS, Syrian aircraft and Russian transport helicopters will be put at risk, but that will not be enough to significantly affect Russian or Syrian operations.

Alexander Mercouris has an excellent summary of the latest developments in Syria and how it is basically inevitable that all of Aleppo will soon be under government control again, but this would not represent full victory yet over the jihadist forces.

However, a reckless move by Washington hardliners cannot be completely ruled out as the Russian foreign ministry’s words at a press conference over the weekend are being viewed by a group of retired U.S. intelligence officers as a warning.

Veteran Intelligence Professional for Sanity (VIPS) has sent an urgent memo to President Obama urging him to take control of his subordinates in the Pentagon and State Dept. and actively de-escalate rising tensions with Russia in Syria.

We are hoping that your President’s Daily Brief tomorrow will give appropriate attention to Saturday’s warning by Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova: “If the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian Army, it would cause a terrible, tectonic shift not only in the country, but in the entire region.”

Speaking on Russian TV, she warned of those whose “logic is ‘why do we need diplomacy’ … when there is power … and methods of resolving a problem by power. We already know this logic; there is nothing new about it. It usually ends with one thing – full-scale war.” [Zakharova is likely making reference to the leaked recording of Kerry speaking to Syrian activists reported on by the NYT in which he admits he has actively encouraged the administration behind the scenes to take more military action in Syria – NB]

We are also hoping that this is not the first you have heard of this – no doubt officially approved – statement. If on Sundays you rely on the “mainstream” press, you may well have missed it. In the Washington Post, an abridged report of Zakharova’s remarks (nothing about “full-scare war”) was buried in the last paragraph of an 11-paragraph article titled “Hospital in Aleppo is hit again by bombs.” Sunday’s New York Times totally ignored the Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s statements.

In our view, it would be a huge mistake to allow your national security advisers to follow the example of the Post and Times in minimizing the importance of Zakharova’s remarks.

Events over the past several weeks have led Russian officials to distrust Secretary of State John Kerry. Indeed, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who parses his words carefully, has publicly expressed that distrust. Some Russian officials suspect that Kerry has been playing a double game; others believe that, however much he may strive for progress through diplomacy, he cannot deliver on his commitments because the Pentagon undercuts him every time. We believe that this lack of trust is a challenge that must be overcome and that, at this point, only you can accomplish this.

It should not be attributed to paranoia on the Russians’ part that they suspect the Sept. 17 U.S. and Australian air attacks on Syrian army troops that killed 62 and wounded 100 was no “mistake,” but rather a deliberate attempt to scuttle the partial cease-fire Kerry and Lavrov had agreed on – with your approval and that of President Putin – that took effect just five days earlier.

In public remarks bordering on the insubordinate, senior Pentagon officials showed unusually open skepticism regarding key aspects of the Kerry-Lavrov deal. We can assume that what Lavrov has told his boss in private is close to his uncharacteristically blunt words on Russian NTV on Sept. 26:

“My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the US military machine. Despite the fact that, as always, [they] made assurances that the US Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin), apparently the military does not really listen to the Commander in Chief.”

Lavrov’s words are not mere rhetoric. He also criticized JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford for telling Congress that he opposed sharing intelligence with Russia, “after the agreements concluded on direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama stipulated that they would share intelligence. … It is difficult to work with such partners. …”

Policy differences between the White House and the Pentagon are rarely as openly expressed as they are now over policy on Syria. We suggest you get hold of a new book to be released this week titled The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by master historian H. W. Brands. It includes testimony, earlier redacted, that sheds light on why President Truman dismissed WWII hero Gen. Douglas MacArthur from command of U.N. forces in Korea in April 1951. One early reviewer notes that “Brands’s narrative makes us wonder about challenges of military versus civilian leadership we still face today.” You may find this new book more relevant at this point in time than the Team of Rivals.

The door to further negotiations remains ajar. In recent days, officials of the Russian foreign and defense ministries, as well as President Putin’s spokesman, have carefully avoided shutting that door, and we find it a good sign that Secretary Kerry has been on the phone with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And the Russians have also emphasized Moscow’s continued willingness to honor previous agreements on Syria.

In the Kremlin’s view, Russia has far more skin in the game than the U.S. does. Thousands of Russian dissident terrorists have found their way to Syria, where they obtain weapons, funding, and practical experience in waging violent insurgency. There is understandable worry on Moscow’s part over the threat they will pose when they come back home. In addition, President Putin can be assumed to be under the same kind of pressure you face from the military to order it to try to clean out the mess in Syria “once and for all,” regardless how dim the prospects for a military solution are for either side in Syria.

We are aware that many in Congress and the “mainstream” media are now calling on you to up the ante and respond – overtly or covertly or both – with more violence in Syria. Shades of the “Washington Playbook,” about which you spoke derisively in interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year. We take some encouragement in your acknowledgment to Goldberg that the “playbook” can be “a trap that can lead to bad decisions” – not to mention doing “stupid stuff.”

Goldberg wrote that you felt the Pentagon had “jammed” you on the troop surge for Afghanistan seven years ago and that the same thing almost happened three years ago on Syria, before President Putin persuaded Syria to surrender its chemical weapons for destruction. It seems that the kind of approach that worked then should be tried now, as well – particularly if you are starting to feel jammed once again.

Incidentally, it would be helpful toward that end if you had one of your staffers tell the “mainstream” media to tone down it puerile, nasty – and for the most part unjustified and certainly unhelpful – personal vilification of President Putin.

Renewing direct dialogue with President Putin might well offer the best chance to ensure an end, finally, to unwanted “jamming.” We believe John Kerry is correct in emphasizing how frightfully complicated the disarray in Syria is amid the various vying interests and factions. At the same time, he has already done much of the necessary spadework and has found Lavrov for the most part, a helpful partner.

Still, in view of lingering Russian – and not only Russian – skepticism regarding the strength of your support for your secretary of state, we believe that discussions at the highest level would be the best way to prevent hotheads on either side from risking the kind of armed confrontation that nobody should want.

Therefore, we strongly recommend that you invite President Putin to meet with you in a mutually convenient place, in order to try to sort things out and prevent still worse for the people of Syria.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle is reporting that the Assad government has demanded that the “rebels” lay down their arms and surrender. They have been promised safe passage out of the combat zone if they agree.

In a statement published by the official SANA news agency, the Syrian army promised “a safe exit and access to the necessary assistance” for rebels, guaranteed by the commands of both the Syrian and Russian armies, if rebels left the besieged city of Aleppo.

The departure of the rebels was necessary for civilians “to live a normal life,” the statement added.

There was no comment from the rebel ranks.

….Syrian regime forces advanced against opposition rebels in Aleppo, state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The SANA news agency said forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad had recaptured al-Kindi Hospital and strategic hills on the northern outskirts of Aleppo.

“This advance is significant because it enables the regime to tighten the noose on opposition fighters in the city and distract their combat efforts,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

“The Russians have been instrumental in this advance with their intense air raids in support of the regime forces in Aleppo,” he told news agencies, adding that rebels had incurred “heavy” casualties.

According to the Russian TASS News Agency, Russian Foreign Ministesr, Sergey Lavrov, said the following after another round of phone calls with Secretary of State John Kerry:

“The agreements are now in limbo due to ambiguity on how Washington perceives the approaches of a whole number of opposition groups, militants and political opposition to the Assad regime who are rejecting or refusing to accept the Russian-U.S. deal,” Lavrov said.

As a signal of how frustrated the Russian government has become with this “ambiguity” –  and suspicions of bad faith on the part of Washington – Putin has signed a decree suspending an agreement between the U.S. and Russia over plutonium disposal.   RT reports the following:

Russia has suspended a post-Cold War deal with the US on disposal of plutonium from decommissioned nuclear warheads. The decision was explained by “the hostile actions of the US” against Russia and may be reversed, if such actions are stopped.

A decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin cites “the radical change in the environment, a threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the US against Russia, and the inability of the US to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties, as well as the need to take swift action to defend Russian security” as justification for suspending the deal.

Finally, for those interested, independent journalist Vanessa Beeley has written an extensive 2-part report on her recent trip to Aleppo. It is highly informative and includes photo documentation of the places she visited.   Read it here:

Journey To Aleppo Part I: Exposing The Truth Buried Under NATO Propaganda

and

Journey To Aleppo Part II: The Syria Civil Defense & Aleppo Medical Association Are Real Syrians Helping Real Syrians

U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Send Arms to Kiev; Russia Nears Completion of Military Base in Rostov; Attempted Coup in LPR; Russia’s Successful Eurobond Push; Tourists Consider Russia One of Safest Destinations; Moscow Surpasses NY & London in Construction

Ukrainian president Poroshenko receives the first US aircraft with armored vehicles

(Sputnik, Mikhail Palinchak)

After a recent speech by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko before the U.S. Congress, the House has voted in support of a bill that would provide lethal weapons to Kiev, which could provide the Ukrainian government with the means and motive to ditch the ceasefire in the Donbass and reignite fighting.  According to Sputnik:

On Thursday, Poroshenko’s wish came one step closer to becoming a reality. The draft bill of the US House-approved Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act provides for ‘endless sanctions’ against Russia, calling for the “full implementation of the Minsk agreements” (to which Russia is not even a party) and the “restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea.” Most significantly for Kiev, the bill also approves granting the provision of ‘lethal defensive weapons’ to Ukraine.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would land on President Barack Obama’s desk for signature. Accordingly, Russian experts are asking whether the White House would really be irresponsible enough to take such a step, which could reignite the deadly civil war that has ravaged eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions over the past two years.

…Fortunately, [Russian geo-political analyst Sergei] Markov suggested, President Obama is unlikely to sign the bill, “because he does not want to leave the Oval Office as a war president. Secondly, I think he is well aware of the ultimate futility of the adventurism of the coup in Ukraine. It was not his initiative to begin with – Vice President Joe Biden and the CIA were behind everything. Obama has long been trying to divorce himself from the subject of Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russia is close to completing its new military base in the Rostov region of southwest Russia, close to the Ukrainian border. Euronews reports the following:

The base consisting of three military facilities is the latest in a chain of new military sites, part of what the Kremlin sees as an important counterpoint to NATO.

Up to 10,000 service personnel are expected to be deployed at the site which will reportedly house a motorised rifle division.

And British Russia expert, Paul Robinson, discusses the relatively poor leadership of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) – after an attempted coup there – compared to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), and the possible implications for the future of the Donbass region.

This week there was a failed coup in the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), and one of the alleged coup leaders has committed suicide in a Lugansk jail. As I have said before, a key issue in determining the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine will be the extent to which the governments in Kiev and the rebel republics are able to turn the areas they control into models of good governance and prosperity. With the events in Lugansk in mind, how are they are getting on?

….How about the situation on the rebel side?

Of the two rebel republics, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) has always seemed like the better governed, and its leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, has a charisma that the LPR’s leader, Igor Plotnitsky, entirely lacks. Recent reports from Donetsk suggest that the DPR is doing about as well as could realistically be expected for a small region in which the state entirely disintegrated two years ago, and which is cut off from the most of the world and forced to spend its limited resources on fighting a war. In a recent report for Meduza, a media outlet not by inclination favourable to the Donbass rebels, journalist Nigina Boroeva wrote the following about a trip she made to Donetsk:

The streets are quiet, cozy, and clean: the locals say the city has never been so well-kept, not even before the war. … The main boulevard is packed with glamorous coffee shops. … A private entrepreneur named Roman … says that some residents have even regained their cars, which were seized two years ago. ‘The courts are overloaded with cases, but rulings are being made and implemented,’ Roman says. … The businessman complains, however, that a stronger presence of the law has a downside, too: ‘In Russia, if you break the rules, you bribe the traffic cop and drive on. As for our inspectors, they are afraid to take bribes now.’

By contrast, the LPR appears to be bedevilled by corruption and political scandals. In 2014, self-styled Cossacks (some local, others from Russia), played an important part in the rebellion in the LPR. The regions under their control became notorious for banditry, and the Cossack leaders zealously defended their autonomy against any attempts to centralize power. The result was a series of violent power struggles, which resulted in the assassination of several prominent rebel leaders. Eventually, with Moscow’s support, Plotnitsky got the upper hand, but it would appear that attempts to concentrate power in the hands of the state authorities have been much less successful in Lugansk than in Donetsk.

*****************

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

Russia has achieved their goal of placing a Eurobond worth a total of $3 billion in 2 installments, the latter achieved more successfully due to Russian bank VTB’s newfound confidence and experience after the first round earlier in the year.  As Alexander Mercouris explains:

Today what VTB – the Russian bank that is now in charge of placing bonds internationally for the Russian government – said would happen in May, is actually taking place.  The Russians have offered more bonds to the value of $1.25 billion, bringing the total of bonds they have offered this year up to the amount of $3 billion they said they would offer at the start of the year.

Moreover with the question of the provision of depository services by Euroclear and presumably Clearview now resolved in Russia’s favour, there should be no further difficulties with this bond.  Even Timothy Ashe – never an analyst to take an unduly positive view of events concerning Russia – is admitting that “Euroclear’s acceptance should make the latest issue easier”.

As it happens reports are circulating that just a few hours after it was placed the bond had already attracted bids worth $3 billion i.e. it is already more than twice over-subscribed.

As to why the Russians chose to raise $3 billion this year through two offerings of $1.75 billion and $1.25 billion rather than one, the answer as I said in May is almost certainly the inexperience of VTB and its sales team.  Here is what I said about that in May

“Placing a government bond is a massively complex operation.  It is the job of the banks that manage the sale to place the bonds most advantageously on the market.  That requires deep knowledge of the market in order to achieve the most effective outreach to potential buyers.  There are also immense technical challenges in receiving and processing the bids, in deciding amongst them if the issue is oversubscribed, and in transferring the bonds to the buyers.

A small number of Western banks have the necessary expertise to carry out such operations and do so with great efficiency.  By contrast Russian banks like Sberbank and VTB have little such experience since by comparison with Western banks they are relatively small and have far shorter trading histories.

The reason the decision was taken to offer bonds worth only $1.75 billion for sale instead of the full $3 billion talked about was almost certainly VTB’s inexperience in managing such a sale, not worries about a lack of buyers.  The same was almost certainly true of the decision to conduct the sale over 2 days rather than one.  The total bids on the first day apparently came to $5 billion so it cannot have been worries about lack of buyers on the first day that lay behind these decisions. However limiting the offering to $1.75 billion instead of $3 billion and holding the sale over 2 days rather than one is precisely the sort of step that is sensibly taken in order to reduce the pressure on an inexperienced bank and its sales team so as to avoid mistakes.”

The fact the latest bond was offered with no advance publicity – in sharp contrast to what happened with the previous issue earlier this year – shows that VTB is gaining in experience and confidence.

Russia is also enjoying a healthy tourism industry, as originally reported in the Russian daily, Izvestia:

The increase was mostly due to tourists from Asia and Southern Europe, the Federal Tourism Agency told Izvestia, with Russia considered the safest destination.

According to estimates by the Deputy Head of the Federal Tourism Agency Sergei Korneev, Russia  is among the top ten most visited countries. In 2015, almost 27 million foreign tourists visited Russia, and it is expected that about 1.5 million people will come for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Indeed, Russia’s medical tourism is also on the rise as more westerners become aware of quality health care available for a lower price.  All of this, of course, brings in revenue to the country. Russia Beyond the Headlines reports:

The number of foreigners coming to the country as medical tourists is on the rise, and has brought the state billions of rubles in extra revenue, according to Igor Lanskoi, advisor to the Russian health minister, who spoke about the phenomenon in an interview with the business daily Kommersant.

He noted that last year such travelers added from 7 to 10 billion rubles ($108-154 million) to the state budget. Earlier, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said that in 2015 the number of foreigners who underwent treatment in Russia increased fourfold in respect to 2014.

Before, only citizens from the ex-Soviet republics would come to Russia to improve their health but now Americans are also becoming more and more interested in Russian treatments, according to David Melik-Guseinov, director of the Federal Research Institute for Health Organization.

….Experts surveyed by Kommersant FM underline that foreign demand for Russian medicine is growing because of the weak ruble. Treatment and the accompanying services in the country are now four times as cheap as they are in the West, said Yakov Margolin, general director of the Clinical Hospital in Yauza.

“When someone wants to undergo treatment in his own country but his insurance doesn’t cover it, he gets angry and chooses to come to Russia since here he can receive the same medical services at a much lower price, especially outside Moscow. We have unique services for which people come to us, services in reproductive medicine, in which for relatively little money we solve serious problems, helping people have children,” explained Margolin.

 

New Evidence Emerges that Strike on UN Convoy Not by Russian or Syrian Air Power; Lavrov Expresses Impatience with Washington’s Game of Not Separating “Moderates” from Al-Nusra; Kerry Continues Habit of Sticking Foot in Mouth

Syria ceasefire is 'not dead' insists Kerry, despite attack on aid convoy

(http://www.euronews.com/2016/09/21/syria-ceasefire-is-not-dead-insists-kerry-despite-attack-on-aid-convoy)

A deadly attack on a UN aid relief convoy near Aleppo, on September 19th, was initially reported as an airstrike and blamed by Washington, particularly Secretary of State John Kerry, on Syria and/or Russia.  However, the UN was later forced to admit that it could not confirm if, in fact, an airstrike was responsible for the attack.   The Duran provided the following details, including the response from the Russian Defense Ministry:

Russia has laid out its evidence that the Russian air force (and by extension the Syrian air force) could not have taken part in the attack on the UN convoy.

The UN has since retracted from saying the convoy was attacked from the air, which reinforces the narrative that the convoy may have been a false flag operation orchestrated by US backed “moderate rebels” from the ground.

….The Russian Defense Ministry has released data showing that a US coalition drone was in the vicinity of the humanitarian convoy when it was attacked outside Aleppo.

The Russian military has revealed that the unmanned aircraft was a Predator drone, equipped with hellfire missiles.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov laid out the evidence…

“On the evening of September 19, in that specific region, a drone belonging to the international condition, which had taken off from the Incirlik air base in Turkey, was flying at a height of 3,600 meters and traveling at around 200 kilometers per hour.”

“The object was in the area around the town of Urm Al-Kubra, where the convoy was a few minutes before it caught fire.”

“It left after about 30 minutes.”

“Only the owners know what exactly the drone was doing at this particular area at that exact time.”

The owners being the USA…which will now need to explain why its drone was over the UN convoy when it was attacked.

Did it do the attacking with hellfire missiles? Did it provide intelligence to “moderate rebels” who did the attacking? We have many questions that need answering, which only American intelligence can answer.

Military analyst and blogger, Moon of Alabama, has written about which of the parties in Syria had a more credible motive for attacking the convoy:

Why would the Syrian Air Force attack the Syrian Red Crescent with which it has good relations and which also works in all government held areas? Why would the Syrian or Russian forces attack a convoy which earlier had passed through government held areas and checkpoints and was thereby not carrying contraband? I find no plausible reason or motive for such an attack. Nor has anyone else come forward with such.

A few days ago the “rebels” had accused the UN, which had goods on the convoy, of partisanship and said they would boycott it. “Rebels” in east Aleppo had demonstrated against UN provided help and said they would reject it. There was a general rejection of the ceasefire by the “rebels” and they were eager to push for a wider and bigger war against Syria and its allies. Al-Qaeda in Syria even made a video against the ceasefire. A part of the ceasefire deal is to commonly fight al-Qaeda. They naturally want the deal to end. The attack on the aid convoy seems to help their case.

The motive argument makes an attack by the “rebels” plausible and an attack by Syria and its allies implausible.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, at a UN Security Council meeting last week, called for an impartial and independent investigation into the attack on the aid convoy.  To further let Washington know that Moscow is on to its skulduggery in Syria, Lavrov also stated that Russia would no longer make concessions unless Washington demonstrated concretely that it was separating “moderate rebels” from terrorist organizations like Al-Nusra and its myriad aliases.

Russia will “no longer take seriously” requests that its own or Syrian forces make unilateral concessions regarding the ceasefire, without the Western coalition providing proof it’s trying to separate moderates from terrorists, the foreign minister said.

In an extensive interview with Russia TV’s Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday), Sergey Lavrov reiterated that “the revival of the ceasefire is possible exclusively on collective basis.” If the US and its coalition partners fail to provide credible proof that they have “a sincere intention” to dissociate terrorists from the so-called moderate opposition “our suspicions that this all is being done to take the heat off Al-Nusra Front will strengthen.” 

 

The events of the past few days, however, showed the reverse trend, as more rebel groups started merging with Al-Nusra Front, Lavrov said, citing a statement from Russia’s General Staff.

One of such radical groups close to Al-Nusra Front is Ahrar Al-Sham, which refused to adhere to the Russia-US agreement as the deal targets its ally, Lavrov said. Russia has been demanding it be designated terrorist for a long time, to little effect. 

“If everything again boils down to asking Russia’s and Syria’s Air Forces to take unilateral steps – such as, ‘Give us another three- or four-day pause and after that we will persuade all opposition groups that this is serious and that they must cut ties with Al-Nusra Front’ – such talk will not be taken seriously by us anymore,” the Russian FM said.

Robert Parry at Consortium News pointed out that Kerry’s shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements about Syrian or Russian responsibility for war crimes prior to any meaningful investigation is a disturbing pattern:

Eager to go on the propaganda offensive – especially after a U.S. military airstrike last Saturday killed scores of Syrian soldiers who were battling the Islamic State in eastern Syria – Kerry pounced on an initial report that the attack on the convoy on Monday was an airstrike and then insisted that the Russians must have been responsible because one of their jets was supposedly in the area.

Secretary of State John Kerry (right) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (U.N. photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry (right) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (U.N. photo)

But the United Nations – and I’m told CIA analysts – have not ruled out the possibility that the convoy was instead hit by a surface-to-surface missile. On Friday, a source briefed by U.S. intelligence said one fear is that the jihadist group, Ahrar al-Sham, which has fought alongside Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front but is deemed to be part of the “moderate” opposition, may have used a U.S.-supplied TOW missile in the attack.

Ahrar al-Sham, like some other jihadist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, has objected to limited cease-fires arranged by the Russians and the Americans, which still allowed attacks on its ally, the recently rebranded Nusra Front. Ahrar al-Sham thus had a motive for destroying the aid convoy, an act which indeed has upended efforts to negotiate an end to the five-year-old conflict and led to bloody new attacks inside the embattled city of Aleppo on Friday.

Another possibility was that a Syrian government warplane was targeting a rebel artillery piece traveling alongside the convoy and struck the convoy by accident. But the assignment of blame required additional investigation, as other international officials acknowledged.

On Tuesday, a day before Kerry’s outburst, the U.N. revised its initial statement citing an airstrike, with Jens Laerke, a humanitarian affairs representative for the U.N., saying: “We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked.” He called the earlier reference to an airstrike a drafting error.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, Kerry made his high-profile denunciation of the Russians at the U.N. Security Council, the same venue where Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 presented a false case against Iraq for possessing hidden stockpiles of WMD. In fiery comments, Kerry accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of living “in a parallel universe” in denying Russian responsibility.

“The eyewitnesses will tell you what happened,” Kerry said. “The place turned into hell and fighter jets were in the sky.”

Yet, the two points don’t necessarily connect. Just because there are jets in the sky doesn’t mean they fired the rocket that struck the convoy. They might have, but to determine that – and if so, who was flying the jet that fired the missile – requires more thorough study.

Kerry also sought to excuse the U.S. airstrike near Deir ez-Zor last Saturday that killed some 62 Syrian soldiers, saying: We did it, a terrible accident. And within moments of it happening, we acknowledged it. … But I got to tell you, people running around with guns on the ground, from the air, is a very different thing from trucks in a convoy with big U.N. markings all over them.”

But what Kerry ignored was the fact that the United States has no legal authority to be conducting military operations inside Syria, attacks supposedly targeting the terrorist Islamic State but lacking the approval of the Syrian government. In other words, under international law, any such U.S. attacks are acts of aggression and thus war crimes.

….Kerry also has a history of jumping ahead of a story and then going silent when further information is developed.

Read the full article here.