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Jihadists Admit Defeat as Syrian Government Takes Effective Control of All Aleppo & Over 50,000 Civilians Evacuate East; Still No Evidence of Russian Interference in Election But Lots of Hot Air; Netherlands Likely to Thwart EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

People gather to leave Al-Salhen neighborhood in eastern Aleppo on Dec 8, 2016 (European Pressphoto Agency-EPA)

(People gather to leave Al-Salhen neighborhood in eastern Aleppo on Dec 8, 2016 (European Pressphoto Agency-EPA))

Starting around December 8th, approximately 50,000 civilians fled eastern Aleppo via humanitarian corridors set up by the Syrian and Russian government forces as over 1200 “rebel” fighters laid down arms.  RT reported what the representative of the Russian Defense Ministry stated on this, in addition to some comments in which the spokesman vented his spleen in response to recent criticisms by the EU foreign policy chief about the Syrian and Russian government operations in the country:

Over the past 48 hours, up to 50,000 people have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov has reported. “More than 20,000 residents left eastern Aleppo in the first part of Saturday, and 1,217 militants laid down their weapons,” Konashenkov said.

“The Russian Center for Reconciliation, through humanitarian corridors near Karim El-Hun and Mahayar, has organized the evacuation of civilians from the eastern parts of Aleppo to the safe areas of the city,” Konashenkov added. “We warn terrorists and militants of the so-called ‘moderate opposition,’ and also their patrons: Do not attempt any provocations, especially attacks on civilians leaving through humanitarian corridors,” the Russian Defense Ministry statement says.

Konashenkov also addressed those who, over the past few months, have declared their readiness to send humanitarian aid to Aleppo. “Representatives of the US, UK, France, Canada, the European Union, and international organizations: Over the past two days, nearly 50,000 civilians have been evacuated by the Russian Reconciliation Center from the eastern parts of Aleppo. They are in need of the humanitarian assistance you promised. It is time to check the validity of your intentions.”

The statement added that the Syrian government now controls 93 percent of Aleppo, and the civilians who exited eastern Aleppo have been placed in special humanitarian centers where they are provided with hot food and medical help.

The Russian Reconciliation Center is monitoring the evacuation of civilians from the blocked districts round-the-clock with the use of drones.

Earlier this week, Moscow slammed a statement by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who said the EU was the only party providing aid to Syria. “It’s outrageous twisting of facts which ignores what Russia has been doing for a long time,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry noted that Russia, “unlike other international players, has been actively supplying thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to various regions across Syria, including the liberated areas in eastern Aleppo, at the risk of Russian military lives.

“If the high representative [Mogherini] means providing assistance to terrorists and extremists, then we don’t participate in this, indeed,” the statement added.

Further reports in the past 48 hours indicate that the jihadists are now confined to an area of eastern Aleppo that is less than a mile wide and are themselves admitting defeat.  Alexander Mercouris provides the following details:

Reports from the Jihadis themselves say that they are now confined to an area less than a mile wide between the River Aleppo and the Salaheddin district near the main sports stadium.  Even they now admit that their resistance is almost entirely at an end.  The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a monitoring group that has consistently sided with the Jihadis throughout the Syrian conflict, is reporting it in this way

“The battle of Aleppo has reached its end. It is just a matter of a small period of time . . . it’s a total collapse.”

If the Syrian authorities have indeed at this eleventh hour refused to let the Jihadis leave Aleppo, then this is a reflection of the bankruptcy of US diplomacy.  Earlier in the day Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made the following withering statement about US diplomatic actions 

“The problem is very simple.  We say – let us first of all agree on what corridors will be provided to militants, given the previous experience when gunmen used any pause for regrouping, receiving replenishment from abroad and terrorising the civilian population even more furiously.

We can coordinate this with Americans very quickly. We undertake commitments to guarantee that these corridors won’t be attacked by Syrian armed forces, while Americans undertake commitments together with their regional allies to get militants’ consent to leave eastern Aleppo via these safe corridors.

….As the “Great Battle of Aleppo’ approaches its end – which will probably come tomorrow – there could not be a sharper contrast between the way in which the news of the Syrian army’s victory is being celebrated in Syria, and the gloom and anger with which it is being received in the West.

In Aleppo itself film shows joyful Syrians flooding onto the streets to celebrate the Syrian army’s victory and the coming end of the fighting in their city.  Here is one such video published by the Russian news agency Sputnik:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmS9c0AmL8Y

According to a report from the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) of yesterday, 3,000 more civilians fled eastern Aleppo:

ALEPPO – Three thousand civilians who had been besieged by terrorist organizations have got out from the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo city through humanitarian corridors set by the Syrian Army in cooperation with the Russian side. A SANA reporter in Aleppo said that the civilians’ exit started today at dawn and is continuous, adding that army units and concerned authorities are transferring them to makeshift centers in Jibrin and providing them with the requirements of residence in the centers.

….The statement clarified that since the beginning of the military operations, 110,000 civilians, including 44367 children, have been evacuated from the eastern neighborhoods, while more than 7000 people returned to their houses in the areas restored by the Army.

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Hoopla about Russia interfering in the recent U.S. presidential election continues.  Robert Parry over at Consortium News clarifies what the media and Democratic Party operatives are really talking about when they accuse Russia of having interfered in our elections – it’s not having hacked voting machines or stuffed ballot boxes for Trump, it is the fact that information was released, via Wikileaks and others, that exposed Clinton’s dubious political and financial relationships, putting her at a supposed disadvantage to Trump .  He also points out the hypocrisy of those now jumping up and down about the election results after having jumped up and down when Trump said during a campaign debate that he would wait and see if he accepted the election results:

 

His [Trump’s] refusal to commit to accepting the results was front-page news for days with leading editorialists declaring that his failure to announce that he would abide by the outcome disqualified him from the presidency.

But now the defeated Democrats and some anti-Trump neoconservatives in the Republican Party are jumping up and down about how Russia supposedly tainted the election by revealing information about the Democrats and the Clinton campaign.

Though there appears to be no hard evidence that the Russians did any such thing, the Obama administration’s CIA has thrown its weight behind the suspicions, basing its conclusions on “circumstantial evidence,” according to a report in The New York Times.

The Times reported: “The C.I.A.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday. Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

In other words, the CIA apparently lacks direct reporting from a source inside the Kremlin or an electronic intercept in which Russian President Vladimir Putin or another senior official orders Russian operatives to tilt the U.S. election in favor of Trump.

The absence of such hard evidence opens the door to what is called “confirmation bias” or analytical “group think” in which the CIA’s institutional animosity toward Russia and Trump could influence how analysts read otherwise innocent developments.

For instance, Russian news agencies RT or Sputnik reported critically at times about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a complaint that has been raised repeatedly in U.S. press accounts arguing that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. But that charge assumes two things: that Clinton did not deserve critical coverage and that Americans – in any significant numbers – watch Russian networks.

Similarly, the yet-unproven charge that Russia organized the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the private email account of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta assumes that the Russian government was responsible and that it then selectively leaked the material to WikiLeaks while withholding damaging information from hacked Republican accounts.

Here the suspicions also seem to extend far beyond what the CIA actually knows. First, the Republican National Committee denies that its email accounts were hacked, and even if they were hacked, there’s no evidence that they contained any information that was particularly newsworthy. Nor is there any evidence that – if the GOP accounts were hacked – they were hacked by the same group that hacked the Democratic Party emails, i.e., that the two hacks were part of the same operation.

That suspicion assumes a tightly controlled operation at the highest levels of the Russian government, but the CIA – with its intensive electronic surveillance of the Russian government and human sources inside the Kremlin – appears to lack any evidence of such a top-down operation.

Second, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange directly denies that he received the Democratic leaked emails from the Russian government and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, told the U.K. Guardian that he knows who “leaked” the Democratic emails and that there never was a “hack,” i.e. an outside electronic penetration of an email account.

Murray said, “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.”

But even if Assange did get the data from the Russians, it’s important to remember that nothing in the material has been identified as false. It all appears to be truthful and none of it represented an egregious violation of privacy with some salacious or sensational angle.

The only reason the emails were newsworthy at all was that the documents revealed information that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were trying to keep secret from the American voters.

….So, how does giving the American people truthful and relevant information undermine American democracy, which is the claim that is reverberating throughout the mainstream media and across Official Washington?

Presumably, the thinking is that it would have been better for the American people to have been kept in the dark about these secret maneuverings by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and, by keeping the public ignorant, that would have ensured Clinton’s election, the preferred outcome of the major U.S. news media.

There’s another double standard here. For instance, when a hack of — or a leak from — a Panamanian law firm exposed the personal finances of thousands of clients, including political figures in Iceland, Ukraine, Russia and other nations, there was widespread applause across the Western media for this example of journalism at its best.

The applause was deafening despite the fact that at least one of the principal “news agencies” involved was partly funded by the U.S. government. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a USAID-backed non-governmental organization, also was earlier involved in efforts to destabilize and delegitimize the elected Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Read the complete article here

Glenn Greenwald contributed his own scathing analysis of what’s wrong with the Washington Post’s latest reporting of unsubstantiated claims by the CIA:

THE WASHINGTON POST late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.

These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed.

A second leak from last night, this one given to the New York Times, cites other anonymous officials as asserting that “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” But that NYT story says that “it is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.”

Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome. That Democrats are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred is par for the course for them this year, but it’s also a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.

Given the obvious significance of this story — it is certain to shape how people understand the 2016 election and probably foreign policy debates for months if not years to come — it is critical to keep in mind some basic facts about what is known and, more importantly, what is not known:

Read the rest of Greenwald’s breakdown here

Moreover, it is being reported in more than one major outlet that both the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all 17 intelligence agencies, and the FBI, have not endorsed the CIA’s assessment.  Additionally, VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) has now published its own memorandum challenging the reported claims of the CIA.  The VIPS memorandum is authored by, among others, William Binney who had served as the NSA’s technical director for years and is one of the foremost experts who could weigh in on this:

 

In what follows, we draw on decades of senior-level experience – with emphasis on cyber-intelligence and security – to cut through uninformed, largely partisan fog. Far from hiding behind anonymity, we are proud to speak out with the hope of gaining an audience appropriate to what we merit – given our long labors in government and other areas of technology. And corny though it may sound these days, our ethos as intelligence professionals remains, simply, to tell it like it is – without fear or favor.

We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child’s play to dismiss them. The email disclosures in question are the result of a leak, not a hack. Here’s the difference between leaking and hacking:

Leak: When someone physically takes data out of an organization and gives it to some other person or organization, as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did.

Hack: When someone in a remote location electronically penetrates operating systems, firewalls or any other cyber-protection system and then extracts data.

All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it – and know both sender and recipient.

In short, since leaking requires physically removing data – on a thumb drive, for example – the only way such data can be copied and removed, with no electronic trace of what has left the server, is via a physical storage device.

Again, NSA is able to identify both the sender and recipient when hacking is involved. Thanks largely to the material released by Edward Snowden, we can provide a full picture of NSA’s extensive domestic data-collection network including Upstream programs like FairviewStormbrew and Blarney. These include at least 30 companies in the U.S. operating the fiber networks that carry the Public Switched Telephone Network as well as the World Wide Web. This gives NSA unparalleled access to data flowing within the U.S. and data going out to the rest of the world, as well as data transiting the U.S.

In other words, any data that is passed from the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or of Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) – or any other server in the U.S. – is collected by the NSA.  These data transfers carry destination addresses in what are called packets, which enable the transfer to be traced and followed through the network.

….The bottom line is that the NSA would know where and how any “hacked” emails from the DNC, HRC or any other servers were routed through the network. This process can sometimes require a closer look into the routing to sort out intermediate clients, but in the end sender and recipient can be traced across the network.

The various ways in which usually anonymous spokespeople for U.S. intelligence agencies are equivocating – saying things like “our best guess” or “our opinion” or “our estimate” etc. – shows that the emails alleged to have been “hacked” cannot be traced across the network. Given NSA’s extensive trace capability, we conclude that DNC and HRC servers alleged to have been hacked were, in fact, not hacked.

The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods. Thus, we conclude that the emails were leaked by an insider – as was the case with Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Such an insider could be anyone in a government department or agency with access to NSA databases, or perhaps someone within the DNC.

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The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, is seeking assurances from the other EU members that Ukraine will not be granted EU membership or included in any security commitments, if he facilitates the override of the Dutch public vote against the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement earlier this year, through a parliamentary endorsement.  Reuters reports:

Rutte is trying to free himself from a political bind after Dutch voters, concerned about the costs, rejected the so-called association agreement in a referendum in April. If his demands are met, he plans to go back to his parliament to win an endorsement that would overwrite the negative vote.

The Dutch are therefore seeking a legally binding decision by the 28 EU leaders that the association agreement is “not a stepping stone” to EU membership for Kiev, one source said. This is not to the liking of Poland, a key supporter of Ukraine.

….A draft document for the EU leaders to approve, prepared by the Dutch and seen by Reuters, also rules out financial or security guarantees for Ukraine and spells out that Ukrainians are not being given the right to live and work in the bloc.

CCI: Détente Now: A New Call for Peace, Security, and Cooperation

Vladimir Putin and Jean-Claude Juncker

From the Center for Citizen Initiatives:

The Nation

Civic and religious leaders in Germany are spearheading a new initiative to avoid war between Russia and the West.

By Gilbert Doctorow, Ute Finckh-Krämer, Ludger Volmer, Rolf Ekéus and Noam Chomsky

transatlantic appeal for a new policy of détente with Russia has been launched. The declaration’s authors invite the general public to join leading political figures and social activists who have publicly rallied to support the call.

The initiative was born in Berlin several months ago in the days of deepest gloom engendered by confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and Syria, with major war exercises held around Russia’s borders and bellicose language from both sides that suggested imminent hot war. As German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank Walter Steinmeier (SPD) said in an interview with Bildnewspaper on October 8, present times are more dangerous even than during the Cold War that ended in 1990: “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.”

The roll-out of the initiative called Détente Now aims at bringing civil society on two continents into play both to enforce and to support approaches to pursue dialogue and compromise with Russian counterparts, e.g., on confidence- and security-building measures between Russia and its neighbors. Détente Now will be a powerful voice for change of direction in foreign policy within Europe, and within Germany in particular….

….Starting this month, the declaration will be published on various homepages, and public collection of more signatures of support will start. A German version can be found here, with an English version here.

To read the rest of this post go here

 

Putin Calls on Erdogan to Back Down in Syria; Syrian Government Getting Close to Defeat of Jihadists in E. Aleppo as Russia Gives Them Ultimatum to Surrender; More Empty Promises from Washington; Ukrainian Fascists Prevent Yanukovich from Testifying About Maidan; WaPo Reports Pentagon Hid Study Showing $125B in Waste; Just When You Thought You’d Heard it All

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meet in Rome, Italy on Dec 2, 2016 (Gregorio Borgia, Reuters)

(Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meet in Rome, Italy on Dec 2, 2016 (Gregorio Borgia, Reuters))

At the end of November, Erdogan had a phone call with Putin concerning Syria in which it appears Erdogan never made any claims about seeking regime change in Syria.   However, according to Alexander Mercouris, the call was initiated by Erdogan and and its purpose was to complain about the alleged Syrian airstrike on Turkish troops that reportedly resulted in casualties.

It is in fact known that what happened was that Erdogan telephoned Putin to complain about the alleged Syrian air strike on Turkish troops north of Al-Bab, which the Turks say killed and wounded several Turkish soldiers. 

The terse Kremlin account of the conversation suggests that there was a furious row, with Putin reminding Erdogan that unlike Russian troops, who are in Syria legally at the invitation of Syria’s legitimate government, Turkish troops are present in Syria illegally and contrary to the wishes of Syria’s legitimate government, and that for this reason the Russians are not in a position to help them.

Mercouris goes on to explain that this angered Erdogan, which in turn, prompted his comments a couple of days later claiming that the purpose of the Turkish Operation Euphrates Shield was to overthrow Assad.

Erdogan’s comments about the Turkish troops being in Syria to overthrow President Assad were almost certainly provoked by this row with Putin.  It seems Erdogan came away smarting from his conversation with Putin and – as is his character – tried to save face by saying more than it was wise of him to say.

The result was another furious telephone conversation between Putin and Erdogan yesterday.

….However on this occasion we have more information about the call from Putin’s aide Yury Ushakov

“I can only say that a telephone conversation between our president and Erdogan took place yesterday, and the topic [of Turkey’s presence in Syria] was addressed. Yes, he [Erdogan] gave an explanation.”

Today Erdogan has made public what that “explanation” was.   Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reports him telling a meeting of village elders at his Presidential palace in Ankara

“The aim of the Euphrates Shield Operation is no country or person but only terror organisations. No one should doubt this issue that we have uttered over and over, and no one should comment on it in another fashion or try to [misrepresent its meaning].”

In other words Erdogan has backed down.  After his conversation with Putin he has now been forced to deny the truth of what he said just the day before yesterday: that he is seeking to overthrow President Assad. 

Erdogan continues with his mercurial shenanigans.  I’m sure there will be more to report on Turkey in the near future.

As for Syria, it is looking like the government has regained control of approximately 3/4 of the territory of eastern Aleppo that was once held by the jihadists, with reports of Al Qaeda/Al Nusra commanders negotiating surrender.  Many are predicting that Aleppo will be completely liberated by the end of this month.

As The Duran reports:

Further reports of Syrian army advances suggest that the fighting in Aleppo may be drawing to an end with Jihadi resistance in eastern Aleppo close to collapse.

It seems that over the course of the day Syrian troops have recaptured two more districts west of Aleppo airport – Karam al-Jazmati and Karam al-Tarab – bringing them within 2 km of the Aleppo citadel in the centre of the city, which throughout the Syrian conflict has remained in the possession of the Syrian army, as a salient of the western section of the city which has always been under the Syrian army’s control.

Following these latest advances it is now confirmed that the Syrian army now controls more than half of the former Al-Qaeda controlled pocket of eastern Aleppo. 

It seems that the Syrian army’s objective is to advance west from the districts it has just recaptured to the Aleppo citadel, slicing what is left of the Jihadi pocket once more in two. 

At that point the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo will be forced to withdraw even further into the southern areas of their former pocket, which would however become so diminished in size as to be rendered increasingly indefensible.

More details are provided by military analyst Moon of Alabama:

Since the start of the Syrian army offense on the Takfiri held east-Aleppo some 21,000+ civilians have left towards the government held areas in the western part. Several news accounts confirm that these civilians had been held hostages by the Takfiris and had to flee under fire:

“We were under pressure by all means, psychological and financial. The gunmen were trying to prevent us from leaving until the army came,” said 36-year-old Amina Rwein, who fled with her husband, seven daughters and three sons.”We came under fire from the gunmen as we were leaving and the army hit the minaret from where the sniper was shooting, and then we crossed,” she said.

About 500 fighters among those civilians gave themselves up to the Syrian army. 480 of them were locals and where led go after they pledged to end all fighting.

The remaining rebels want to stay in the city and continued fighting until the end. This sabotages plans by Secretary of State Kerry who tries to get another ceasefire in which some al-Qaeda fighters would leave but other Takfiris kept in control of east-Aleppo. Kerry was late anyway. That deal was no longer on the table. The EU has even worse ideas – it wants to bribe the Syrian government to keep some Jihadis alive and in power. What a joke! The Russian and Syrian forces will not leave any enemy fighter in the area alive or any inch of Aleppo city grounds occupied by them. Later the same will apply to all of Syria.

New controlled exits for civilians and fighters who want to leave will be set up soon. All the old exit areas in the northern parts are now completely under Syrian government control.

I doubt that there are many, if any civilians left. As my original estimated from October 15 said:

Based on the Daraya numbers and those of other sieges in Syria there are probably no more than 4-5,000 fighters and some 3-5 civilians per fighter, i.e. their immediate families, in east-Aleppo. The real total could easily be as low as 20,000.The UN Refugees Agency and UN officials told fairy tales of some 270,000 civilians under siege in east-Aleppo. Numbers every “western” media repeated without caveats. More than 60% of the areas have been liberated. The International Red Cross went there and they were empty. Where are all those hundred-thousands civilians the UN envisioned now?

As reported by TASS on December 5th, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made it clear that, in discussions with Washington, no ceasefire will be agreed to until after all jihadists have agreed to withdraw.   There were initial signals made by Washington that it would agree to the removal of the jihadists from Aleppo.

MOSCOW, December 5. /TASS/. Those militants who refuse to leave Eastern Aleppo will be regarded as terrorists, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, adding that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal handed over to him in Rome concerned “coordination of specific routes and dates for the pullout of all militants without any exceptions from eastern Aleppo.”

“Those groups which refuse to leave eastern Aleppo will be treated as terrorists,” Lavrov said. “By refusing to walk out from eastern Aleppo they will in fact go ahead with armed struggle. We will treat them accordingly, as terrorists and extremists, and support the Syrian army in its operation against such armed gangs.”

“We proceed from the assumption the Americans, when they put forward their initiative for letting all militants leave eastern Aleppo, were well aware what steps they and their allies will have to take to influence the militants entrenched in that party of the city,” he added.

However, that proposal has now been rescinded by Washington (possibly due to the fact that Washington cannot force those jihadists to leave who have chosen to stay and go down with the ship as it were).

RT reported on Washington’s pullout from the agreement on the following day:

Just as the US and Russia were preparing to discuss a solution for Aleppo, which was to involve free passage for all rebels from the part of the city still under their control, Washington abruptly withdrew its own proposal, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

According to Lavrov, the Americans are currently working on an alternative plan for the city. He said the Wednesday consultations are canceled at this point.

They have withdrawn their document and have a new one. Our initial impression is that this new document backtracks, and is an attempt to buy time for the militants, allow them to catch their breath and resupply,” Lavrov said.

The minister remarked that there would apparently be no serious discussion of the Syrian crisis with the administration of outgoing US President Barack Obama.

 

The same thing happened with our agreement of September 9,” Lavrov explained. “The thing that the Americans offered on paper and what we backed is now somehow not OK for them. It’s difficult to understand who makes decisions there, but apparently there are plenty of those who want to undermine the authority and practical steps by John Kerry.”

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Ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich was scheduled to give evidence by video link to a court in Kiev last Friday (December 2nd) regarding the events on Maidan that led to the massacre of protesters and police and the subsequent coup.

However, his testimony was thwarted when, according to The London Times,

…a handful of camouflage-clad Ukrainian nationalists blockaded the detention centre holding the accused officers, preventing their arrival in court.

Mr Yanukovych was asked to return on Monday, but a nationalist spokesman suggested that a second prison blockade was likely.

“Personally, I think the video interrogation is an absolute disgrace,” Zorian Shkiryak, chief adviser to the internal affairs ministry, said.

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The Pentagon January 2008.jpg

(The Pentagon in January 2008; https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pentagon)

The Washington Post has published an article about a Pentagon report on waste that was commissioned and later buried by the DOD to avoid possible defense budget cuts:

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.

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kissinger

(http://www.globalresearch.ca/kissinger-and-brzezinski-to-be-honoured-by-nobel-institute-and-oslo-university/5559764)

MSC 2014 Brzezinski Kleinschmidt MSC2014.jpg

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

And just when I thought I’d heard everything, it has been announced that Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski will be honored by the Nobel Institute and Oslo University on December 11th.  These two old buzzards will be asked to speak on — get this — “The United States and World Peace After The Presidential Election.”

As Jan Oberg, whose article made me aware of this, comments:

These two experts on warfare and interventionism will – Orwellian style – speak about “The United States and World Peace After The Presidential Election”.

This is the country that, since 1980, has intervened violently in Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosova/Serbia, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, i.e. 14 Muslim countries. It has some 630 base facilities in 130+ countries. It has its US Special Forces (SOF) in 133 countries.

It has used nuclear weapons without apology and owns the second largest arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The US stands for about 40% of the world’s military expenditures, is the world’s leading arms exporter and has killed more people than anybody else since 1945. It’s the master of (imprecise) drone strikes. It presently supports Saudi Arabia’s bestial war on Yemen and conducts a military build-up in Asia and the Pacific planning, as it seems, for what looks like a future confrontation with China. And not with terribly positive results in its Middle East policies since 1945.

So with all these credentials, please tell us about world peace!

I wonder if barf bags will be included for the attendees at this soiree.

Reports of Syrian Government Re-taking 40% of E. Aleppo; Fidel Castro Passes; Ukraine – EU Approves Visa-Free Travel for Ukraine, Kiev Announces Missile Firing Exercise Over Crimea; WaPo Thinks Anyone Who Questions Washington’s Foreign Policy Narrative is Russia’s Useful Idiot

11

(SANA News Agency, 2016; http://sana.sy/en/?p=94571)

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has been advancing for the past several days into Al-Nusra-occupied eastern Aleppo.  A recent statement by the Russian Defense Ministry says that 40% of eastern Aleppo has been liberated with thousands of civilians making their way to the government-controlled western part of the city through humanitarian corridors that have been opened for this purpose.   Food and medical aid are also being provided.   According to RT:

More than 3,000 civilians have left the eastern part of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo in the last 24 hours, the Russian Center for Reconciliation said. It later reported that about 40 percent of the militant-held part of the city has been liberated.

Some 3,179 people, including 1,519 children – among them 138 newborn babies – have left Eastern Aleppo through the ‘humanitarian corridors’ set up by Syrian government forces, Russian Reconciliation Center said on Monday.

The center reported that 12 neighborhoods, comprising roughly 40 percent of the territory previously controlled by the militants, have been cleared.

According to the Russian Center for Reconciliation, more than 80,000 people live in the newly liberated areas of the eastern part of the city. It added that more than 5,000 people fled from the southern districts of eastern Aleppo, which are still controlled by the militants, to the areas held by government forces.

Earlier on Monday, the center reported that to date 10 neighborhoods and more than 3,000 buildings have been cleared of Al-Nusra Front militants. The militants have also been pushed out of al-Qadisiyah, a key Aleppo district.

 Euronews provided the following additional details on the SAA capture of a key district of eastern Aleppo, al-Sakhour:

Rebel-held territory in eastern Aleppo has been split in two after Syrian government forces captured the key district of al-Sakhour.

….The Syrian military and their allies launched a major operation in the east of Syria’s second largest city in September. This weekend alone (November 26-27), heavy fighting forced thousands of civilians to flee, while hundreds of families within the besieged districts have been displaced.

Government forces are now said to be working to dismantle explosive devices and mines in the area.

The FARS News Agency, which is approved by the Iranian government,  has been reporting the taking of another major district of eastern Aleppo, Masaken Hanano, which would confirm the above report by Euronews that the jihadist-controlled east of the city has been split in two, cutting off the jihadists in the northern area from their comrades in the southern area.

It appears that things are moving fast and that the SAA’s hopes of retaking all of Aleppo before a new U.S. president is inaugurated are on track, barring a major unforeseen setback.

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Deena Stryker meets Fidel Castro

(Fidel Castro and American journalist, Deena Stryker; from Deena Stryker’s personal collection)

We’ve all heard the news by now that Fidel Castro, or “El Comandante” as he was known in Cuba, passed away peacefully this past Friday night at the age of 90.  It’s a fitting end to a man who, whether you loved him or hated him, took 60 years worth of what history’s most powerful empire threw at him (over 600 assassination attempts by some estimates, numerous coup attempts and economic blockades) and endured.

My retired journalist friend, Deena Stryker, interviewed Castro in 1964 (along with Raul Castro, Celia Sanchez and Che Guevara), which culminated in a compelling book discussing – from the horses’ mouths – what the revolution was all about, how they had pulled it off and what their future hopes were at the time.   Stryker wrote the following upon the news of Castro’s death:

In July, 1963, Fidel Castro knocked on my door at the Habana Libre. I had been scheduled to depart that very morning, having exhausted my funds in what seemed like a hopeless attempt to reach him with my request for a ‘portrait’ for the French weekly Paris Match. A last minute intervention by the foreign minister, then by the head of the propaganda department of the ruling party, changed what would have been the next 50 years of my life.

….Since the year Kennedy was killed, there has scarcely been a part of the world that has not been impacted by Fidel’s thirst for knowledge, his energy and his generosity. Meanwhile, the US”s protege, Haiti, located fifty miles across the Caribbean from Cuba, has still not recovered from an earthquake that struck six years ago, and the country that obsessively sought to silence him heads into the unknown.

Few countries have had leaders so determined to lift their people out of poverty (in the US, no one has come close to FDR) and those of us who witnessed his efforts, can only wonder how much longer it will be before the rest of the world’s South catches up to Cuba.

For those raised on the old Cold War shibboleths about socialism being evil and Castro being the worst dictator in Latin America, Stryker’s words may be hard to swallow.  But the fact is that Castro brought major advances in health and education to a deeply impoverished island nation whose chief export to the rest of the world became doctors.   Alexander Mercouris writes in Fidel Castro – Death of a Titan:

The death of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has provoked the usual praise of him from some and condemnation of him from others.

What no one denies is the colossal impact he has had, not just on his own country but on the world.

This fact bears repeating because it is so remarkable.  Cuba – the country which Fidel Castro led – is small (its current population is 11 million) and relatively poor.  It has no great wealth of natural resources, and no great industries.  At the time Fidel Castro came to power its social services were primitive, its school and health systems hugely unbalanced and undeveloped, and much of its population was illiterate.

By no conceivable stretch of the imagination is Cuba a Great Power, and before Fidel Castro became its leader it occurred to no one to think of it as one.

That the leader of such a small country was able to have such an extraordinary impact on the world stage is little short of astonishing, and says a huge amount about Fidel Castro’s personality as incidentally it does about Cuba and about the revolution he led.

….There have been many other left wing and revolutionary leaders in the Caribbean and Latin America before and after Fidel Castro.  None of them – not even Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez – have ever come close to matching Fidel Castro’s political stature, or managed to make their countries the centre of superpower conflict in the same way.

The reason Fidel Castro succeeded in doing this was because he was prepared to do things in the Caribbean and Latin America – the US’s backyard – that no other Caribbean or Latin American leader has been prepared to do. Unlike them he carried out in the 1960s a genuine revolutionary transformation of Cuban society, something that no other Caribbean or Latin American leader has ever done.

What that means in practice is that there is no institutional continuity between pre-Castro Cuba and the Cuba today.

The army, police, state bureaucracy, media and judiciary, are completely different, the wealth – including the lands and factories – of the old Cuban oligarchy, has been subjected to a comprehensive revolutionary expropriation, and the economy, health and education systems have been entirely taken over and recreated in Fidel Castro’s own image.

To say that this was controversial would be a gigantic understatement.  In fact it remains the main charge and grievance against Fidel Castro of the people he displaced to this day, and explains the relentless quality of their hostility to him.

It is also the reason for the US embargo.

The revolutionary changes Fidel Castro carried out in Cuba in the 1960s made it impossible for his government and revolution to be reversed internally – the fate of every single other Caribbean and Latin American revolution before and since – because it deprived the US of the usual tools it uses to reverse such revolutions.

It is however important to say that Fidel Castro was able to do it because of the support of Cuban society.  The reason for that is in part because of a peculiar feature of the Cuban revolution, which is bound up with Cuba’s unusual relationship to the US.

….“The breakdown in relations between the United States and Cuba was the consequence of the Castro Revolution of 1959. This was a revolution launched from the countryside against a corrupt oligarchic elite based in Havana.

That elite in turn had extremely close connections with the United States. These extended back decades to Cuba’s liberation war against Spain in the 1890s. The United States intervened in that war in a manner that achieved for it a dominant position in Cuba right up to the point of Castro’s revolution in 1959. It would not be an exaggeration to say that throughout this period Cuba was essentially a protectorate of the United States.

….This US political and economic control went together with considerable corruption. Its status as a protectorate was incompatible with democracy and at no time before the Castro Revolution in 1959 was Cuba in any true sense one. At the time of the Revolution Cuba was actually a dictatorship led by a former staff Sergeant Fulgencio Batista.

….In fairness it was also a time of considerable cultural achievement, of the emergence in Havana of a substantial middle class and of the construction of a highway system of a sort unknown at this time in other Latin American states.

These intense connections between Cuba and the United States explain much about the subsequent period of protracted hostility.

For the Cubans many of their societal problems became explicable by reference to their subordinate position to the United States, which to a proud people was humiliating and exploitative. The Castro Revolution was in a sense Cuba’s declaration of independence from the United States.”

….Though the revolution has transformed Cuba – especially its formerly impoverished countryside – and has provided Cuba with what are by any standard exceptional health and education systems, the degree of political and social control Fidel Castro was forced to impose on Cuban society in order to safeguard his revolution has by all accounts been causing increasing frustration within Cuba itself, as an immeasurably better educated, healthier and far more self-confident generation of younger Cubans increasingly feels – whether rightly or wrongly – that the existing system does not give full scope to them to develop their abilities.

….Despite perennial Western criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record, Fidel Castro never carried out  the sort of Terror in Cuba that has been such a feature of other revolutions carried out elsewhere, and in a region where political repression continues to be common, and where life is still cheap, life in Cuba under Fidel Castro has been immeasurably safer and more secure for the vast majority of Cuba’s people than it has been in any of Cuba’s neighbours.

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The EU has announced that they are finally going to allow visa-free travel for Ukrainians, part of what was promised with the EU Association Agreement that was rejected by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in late 2013.  According to the BBC:

The announcement was made at a meeting of Ukrainian and EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

The visa-free scheme will allow Ukrainians with a biometric passport to enter the Schengen area – including some non-EU areas such as Switzerland and Iceland, but not the UK or Ireland – without a visa for up to 90 days.

Kiev was perhaps so emboldened by this announcement of visa-free travel that they decided to announce missile-firing exercises over Crimea:

Ukraine has made a unilateral decision to organize missile-firing exercises over Crimea, in the sovereign airspace of the Russian Federation, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency Rosaviatsiya reported. Missiles will be fired in regions where civil and state aviation flights run.

Kiev’s move breaches a number of international laws and agreements, Rosaviatsiya said, adding that not only will the military exercise invade Russian territory, but the plans also had not been coordinated with Moscow.

On Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry voiced protests against Kiev’s intention to apply restrictions to airspace above the Black Sea and the Crimean peninsula due to missile-launching training. The ministry summoned Ukraine’s military attache, to present him with an official diplomatic note.

What could possibly go wrong, right?  And, what is the point?   The utter stupidity of Kiev’s current crop of leaders never fails to amaze.

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The Washington Post has provided a platform for claims by a shadowy group calling itself ProporNot which has compiled a list of alternative media sites and blogs they have determined to be either direct Russian agents or Moscow’s “useful idiots.”   Of course, a couple of alternative outlets I write for (Consortium News and OpedNews) were included on this illustrious list, which basically includes anyone who doesn’t further Washington’s narrative on the world.

Robert Parry of Consortium News responded to the list and the Washington Post’s foolish decision to publish this drivel  from an organization that has been in existence for 3 months, refuses to name its “experts” that are making these determinations, and where they are getting their funding from.

Read Parry’s piece here:

https://consortiumnews.com/2016/11/27/washington-posts-fake-news-guilt/

Glenn Greenwald over at The Intercept also does a good take-down of ProporNot and the Washington Post:

https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/?comments=1#comments

 

Trump & Putin Talk on Phone, Agree to Future Meeting & Improvement of Relations; Russia Resumes Air Strikes with Idlib & Homs as Targets; SAA Begins Advance with Hezbollah in NE Aleppo; Russia’s Economic Minister Arrested & Fired Over Corruption Charges

(http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/putin-trump-bromance-billboard-sunny-montenegro/ri17701)

On November 14th, Russian president Putin and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump spoke on the phone.  According to both the Kremlin’s official report of the call and Trump’s, the two leaders agreed to improve U.S.-Russia ties and to meet in the near future. However, no date for a meeting has yet been set.   Here is an excerpt from the Kremlin’s report of the call:

The Russian President once again congratulated the US President-elect on his victory in the presidential election, wished him success in implementing his election programme and said he was ready to develop a dialogue of partnership with the new administration on the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.

During the conversation Mr Putin and Mr Trump not only agreed on the absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations but also expressed support for active joint efforts to normalise relations and pursue constructive cooperation on the broadest possible range of issues. They emphasised the importance of establishing a reliable foundation for bilateral ties by developing the trade and economic component.

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In Syria, Russia has started airstrikes in the towns of Idlib and Homs, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in order to prevent jihadists from streaming out of Mosul (which is currently being targeted by the U.S. and its allies against ISIS) and into Syria.  As reported by RT on November 18th:

“Our aviation and the aviation of Syria work only in the provinces of Idlib and Homs in order to prevent the IS from crossing into Syria from Mosul,” Lavrov explained after meeting Secretary of State Kerry on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders week in Peru’s Lima.

While both diplomats regarded the talks, which touched on Syria, Yemen and Ukraine, as “productive” and “constructive,” Lavrov also alluded to the allegations made by US State Department that Russian jets were behind the reported bombings of 5 hospitals in Aleppo and Idlib. The Russian Defense Ministry repeatedly said that Russian jets have not been flying sorties in Aleppo during the last 30 days, while targets in Idlib and Homs, said to be terrorist arms factories and warehouses, are carefully selected.

Lavrov also commented on the incident at Wednesday’s State Department briefing, in which spokesman John Kirby dismissed RT’s Gayane Chichakyan request to provide details on the allegedly bombed hospitals on the grounds that RT was a “state-owned outlet,” saying it was “unacceptable.” However, Lavrov said he did not want to discuss the conduct of Kirby, who was not in Lima.

“We believe it is unacceptable, not reflecting the American proclaimed values and I hope that this was not the position of the State Department and this is certainly not the position of the Secretary of State … We are not going to start every day by condemning Mr. John Kirby but I believe he must be disciplined by his own superiors for what he is doing and how he is doing his job,” Lavrov said.

The State Department briefing being referenced by Foreign Minister Lavrov can be viewed here:

 Meanwhile, The Duran reports that the Syrian Arab Army has begun a major push into northeastern Aleppo and is getting assistance from Hezbollah which has extensive experience with urban warfare:

Though the major weight of the Syrian army’s offensive is against the Jihadi forces still concentrated west of Aleppo, news reports are trickling in that the Syrian army has advanced further into the Jihadi controlled pocket in eastern Aleppo, seizing most of the district of Bostan al-Pasha.

There is a widespread misconception about the landscape of the Jihadi pocket in eastern Aleppo. It is generally assumed that this is a heavily built up urban area, and that its capture will require intense street fighting at which the Jihadis are supposed to excel.

This is only partly true. The fact that the total area of the Jihadi controlled districts of eastern Aleppo is roughly similar to that of government controlled western Aleppo, but that before the war what are now the Jihadi controlled districts of eastern Aleppo had a population of just 250,000 out of a total population for the city of over 2 million, shows that these are far less dense suburban districts, with apparently a significant number of relatively open areas with more built up areas interspersed between them.

It seems that eastern Aleppo is where many migrants from the Syrian countryside settled as they were drawn to Aleppo by job prospects there.  These migrants came from more conservative Sunni villages, which accounts for why some of them were willing to accept hardline Sunni Jihadis in their midst, making it possible for the Jihadis to embed themselves there. By contrast, the older and more urbanised districts of central and western Aleppo remained solidly loyal to the Syrian government.

….In Aleppo, because of the much closer proximity to Turkey – the Jihadis’ main backer and arms supplier – and the heavier predominance of Sunni villages in the surrounding countryside, the process is more difficult and is taking longer than in [urban] Damascus.

As the Syrian military advances deeper into the Jihadi controlled pocket of eastern Aleppo, the Jihadis are expected to retreat into the more densely built up districts at its centre. On the assumption that there is not a total collapse of Jihadi morale leading to the Jihadis finally agreeing to leave the city – as has actually happened in several of the Jihadi controlled districts of Damascus – fighting will get more bitter and more intense, and the progress of the Syrian army will slow.

Contrary to some claims, four years of intense fighting has provided the Syrian army with a significant amount of experience in urban warfare.  However, the Middle East’s acknowledged experts in this sort of fighting are the Syrian army’s allies of the Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

It is not therefore a coincidence that as the Syrian army advances deeper into the Jihadi controlled pocket of eastern Aleppo, there are reports of growing numbers of Hezbollah fighters being deployed to the city, and of one of Hezbollah’s senior commanders, Abu Ali Jawad – who is the son in law and head of the bodyguard of the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – being spotted in the city.

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Russia’s economic minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, was arrested and detained last week on bribery charges relating to his alleged involvement in a bribe in connection with approving Rosneft’s purchase of a significant stake in the oil company Bashneft.   The arrest came after the FSB reportedly had tapped Ulyukayev’s phone for a lengthy period.  Shortly after the arrest, Putin officially sacked Ulyukayev from his post.  Euronews had the following details:

There could be more suspects in a criminal case, which has seen Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev detained on bribery charges.

A Moscow court has put him under house arrest, accused of extorting a 1.8 million euro bribe from Rosneft, the country’s biggest oil company.

President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Ulyukayev from his post.

“Of course this is a hard situation for those in power and for the government. What happened is beyond my understanding. I discussed this topic with the president of the country and he is of the same opinion,” said Dmitry Medvedev, Russian Prime Minister.

“Nevertheless, the most thorough investigation of what has happened should take place in the framework set by the current legislation.”

Russian newspapers are reporting that ministers and aides close to Medvedev could now be drawn into the same case, as they were allegedly also under surveillance. (emphasis mine – NB)

The Saker provided an interesting analysis and interpretation of Ulyukayev’s arrest and its possible significance at the Unz Review:

Russian official sources say that Uliukaev extorted a $2 million bribe for an assessment that led to the acquisition by Rosneft (a state run Russian oil giant) of a 50% stake in Bashneft (another oil giant). Apparently, Uliukaev tried to threaten Igor Sechin, the President of Rosneft and a person considered close to Vladimir Putin and the Russian security and intelligence services.

Yes, you read that right: according to the official version, a state-owned company gave a bribe to a member of the government. Does that make sense to you? How about a senior member of the government who had his telephone tapped and who has been under close surveillance by the Federal Security Service for over a year – does that make sense to you?

This makes no sense at all and the Russian authorities fully realize that. But that is the official version. So what is going on here? Do you think that there is a message from Putin here?

Of course there is!

Remember the corrupt Minister of Defense Anatolii Serdiukov? He was first fired from his position and only then arrested. But this time around, it is a member of the government which is arrested in the middle of the night. For a few hours, his subordinates could not even reach him – they had no idea what had happened to him. Was that a mistake? Hardly.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.unz.com/tsaker/putin-is-finally-purging-the-medvedev-government/

U.S. Election – “The Establishment’s Massive Intelligence Failure”; Trump Will Receive Massive Pushback if He Tries to Heal Ties with Russia & Forge Different Foreign Policy; Bulgaria & Moldova Elect Leaders More Sympathetic to Russia; NATO Prepares for Possibility of U.S. Pullback, Corbyn Supports Moving Alliance Away from Russian Borders

Image result for trump meets with obama images

(Baltimoresun.com)

In what turned into a major shock for most Americans, Hillary Clinton lost an election that was all but buttoned up – at least, according to all the major media pundits and most of the top 20% of educated cosmopolitan professionals that I work with.   I would surmise that Donald Trump himself was probably among the surprised as well.  (Is it just me or does Trump have an expression in the above meeting with Obama that seems to say “what the hell have I gotten myself into?”)

I have read many great analyses about the dynamics underlying what happened, but one of the best was by former CIA official Graham E. Fuller, called “The Establishment’s Massive Intelligence Failure.”

President Trump. The very words hit the ear as a shock; the mind is not ready for it.

And that is exactly the problem. We could not see it coming. Among other things this tawdry and interminable election represents a massive American intelligence failure. Not failure of IQ, but failure to grasp reality — now a deeply engrained American characteristic. We not only fail to perceive and grasp reality abroad, but now even at home.

The Establishment was cocksure down to the last hours that such a thing could not, would not happen. It had drunk its own Kool-Aid.

A huge portion of this intelligence failure rests with the Democratic Party. Its complacent certitude of its right to win, expressed right down to the end of Election Day, was vivid.

Such smugness also fed the anger of Trump supporters, many of whom were apparently shamed into hiding it, but who voted Donald Trump in the anonymity of the polling place.

It did not fully grasp the racism that still runs so deeply in American society, the poisonous and corrosive legacy of slavery that has not truly been internalized by most white people. The prejudice against Latino, and especially Mexican people, betrays ignorance of the historical reality that vast areas of rising Latino power in the U.S. today are precisely those regions that once constituted an integral part of a large state of Mexico, its society, culture and politics — Texas, Arizona, California.

The U.S. power Establishment — the two national parties, the bureaucracy, the “deep state,” the military, the security establishment, Wall Street and the corporations — all have believed in their own exceptionalism and right to dominate and determine the course of American society — and indeed even much of the rest of the world.

….But for all the ugliness of the Trump campaign, the failure and the blame for this situation rests more deeply with the Democratic Party. This is the party that nominally is supposed to represent the liberal conscience of the country, of those who feel excluded or disadvantaged or just plain hurting within American society.

Yet the party’s establishment not only remained insensitive to the deep source of discontent across American society, it actively sought to crush expressions of it. It was openly allied with corporate America, reveling in the contest of who could collect greater bribe money.

Bernie Sanders, however, did represent a true, clear, open voice articulating a great deal — but not all — of what was profoundly wrong in American society and politics. The Democratic establishment mocked, diminished, or ignored that message as best it could, including President Obama himself. Yet ironically Sanders would likely have defeated Trump.

The performance of the New York Times is especially egregious in this regard. I pick on the Times because it is supposed to represent America’s greatest newspaper, the “newspaper of record,” in theory a voice of centrist liberalism in the country.

Yet the Times, fully representing establishment and corporate interests, would not/could not acknowledge the Sanders campaign for what it was. It treated it as an amusing human-interest story at most, a sideshow while the big boys got on with serious politics. It constantly opposed Sanders to the end. And once Hillary Clinton was the anointed candidate, the Times turned its powerful establishment guns against Trump as the sole remaining threat to the Establishment.

There are lots of things to dislike or even condemn about Trump and many of his followers. But the Times abandoned any pretense of deeper examination of the Establishment that Trump was posing. It became all anti-Trump all day 24/7 with every single writer and voice assigned a niche role in denigrating Trump. News coverage was indistinguishable from editorial.

The paper became analytically a bore, predictable, a kind of Pravda-on-Hudson. Same-ole same-ole every day. They began to believe it. One had to turn to the foreign press to sometimes get a little broader and deeper analysis.

More hearteningly, we got to see the significant power of the left-of-center voices, primarily relegated to the internet, which made major contributions in understanding the phenomena at hand if anybody bothered to look. The Nation has to rank high in this regard, a publication largely dismissed by the Establishment as marginal, ideological and crank. So did other sites like Truth-Out, Common Sense, Real News, Real World News, Consortium News, Tom Englehardt, and Reader Supported News.

It was not that these sites were right about everything, and god knows each had their own clear perspective and preferences as well, but they were willing to examine the alternative realities around us in the world. The Establishment and the mainstream media never got beyond their own smug stance in support of what they believed was the dominant, anointed perspective.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump stated that he is scheduled to have a telephone conversation with Putin in the near future.  Unfortunately, the interview is behind a paywall, but some details were provided by The Duran‘s Sergey Gladysh:

In his first post-election interview with The Wall Street Journal, President-elect Donald Trump thanked Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for sending him a “beautiful” letter of congratulations and said that the two are scheduled to speak over the phone.

In the same interview Donald Trump hinted at withdrawing support for rebels in Syria, instead opting for cooperation with the country’s legitimate government under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad. The Duran has recently reported on Syria’s readiness to work with a Trump-led United States.

Here is what President-elect Donald Trump had to say:

I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria.

My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria. Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.

Sophie Shevardnadze interviewed Stephen F. Cohen recently about Trump’s election and what it might mean for U.S.-Russia relations.  Cohen was not terribly optimistic and explained that if Trump really tried to forge ahead with detente, he would get serious push back from the foreign policy establishment in Washington:

If Trump were to move, and he shouldn’t do this publicly, he should begin privately but if he were to move towards a detente, as we used to call it, a reduction of conflict in a relationship with Russia and to open cooperation, let’s say, in Syria – he will find himself opposed by a fierce and powerful pro-Cold War coalition, Democratic and Republican, and including the media, here in the U.S. He will have to fight very hard. The other side of that story is, is that foreign policy is the one area where an American President can do things pretty much on his own. He doesn’t need Congressional support unless he wants a treaty. The question is, is Trump really going to do it, and you might ask, if President Putin is ready for this – I think he is! Whether Trump will now move – we’ll see.

….Now, Trump brings to the Presidency a businessman’s way of thinking. Businessmen don’t go looking for friends, they go looking for partners, people who have the same interests they have. In my opinion, there’s nothing except this Cold War mania in the U.S., nothing objective, and the demonisation of Putin in the U.S., which has become an institution – there’s no practical national interest reason why Trump and Putin should not become national security partners. But for that you need leadership. Trump has suggested he would provide that leadership – but we can’t be sure yet. And let me repeat what I said to you before, because don’t be naive – the opposition to any cooperation with Russia, any cooperation, no matter how rational, is absolutely ferocious in the American bi-partisan political establishment. They will fight Trump to the end, if that happens. So, Trump has to be exceedingly clever if he does this. Because, remember what else happened, Sophie, it’s very bad – on the one hand, it was good, that there was a little discussion of Russia in our presidential campaigns, but the discussion was terrible, it was poisonous. The Clinton campaign indulged in neo-McCarthyism, they accused Trump and anybody who thought Trump had a good idea about Russian policy, of being puppets of the Kremlin. This is beyond disgusting. We went through this many years ago in  the U.S., it damaged our country very badly.  I don’t know. The poison is in our political bloodstream. Will it go away with Trump’s victory? I doubt it. Therefore, Trump needs supporters in this country, who did not vote for him – do you understand what I’m saying?

It means, political people who understand how dangerous this new Cold War is, did not vote for Trump, but will support him if he pursues a policy of trying to find cooperation with your President, President Putin. But will those people come forward? They don’t want to be called names either. So this is a struggle in my country. You’ve got struggles in your country. Our struggle here is that if Trump does this, pursues what used to be called detente with Putin, we need to support him.

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In Bulgaria and Moldova, new leaders with a more cooperative attitude on Russia relations have been voted into office.

In Bulgaria, Rumen Radev has won the presidential election. Euronews had the following details:

Political outsider Rumen Radev has won Bulgaria’s presidential run-off, inflicting a convincing defeat on the ruling party’s candidate.

Radev was backed by the opposition Socialist Party and is a Russia-friendly newcomer to politics, having been the former commander of Bulgaria’s Air Force.

The election of Radev and his Russian sympathies is being seen a blow to Bulgaria’s western European allies
and underscores Moscow’s growing influence in southeastern Europe.

President-elect Radev has said he will keep Bulgaria in NATO but has affirmed that “being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian”.

And in Moldova, Igor Dodon has been elected president.

Preliminary results in Moldova’s second round presidential election have a pro-Moscow candidate in front.

With almost all ballots counted Igor Dodon has claimed victory taking 55% of the vote while his rival has 45%.

A loss of trust in pro-European leaders appears to have helped Dodon who wants to restore close ties with Russia.

….Dodon’s Russia sympathies are in direct conflict with the pro-European stance of the current government.

….Enthusiasm in Moldova for the EU has waned some what since the country signed a political and trade agreement with the European bloc.The deal damaged its ties with Moscow, which in turn imposed trade restrictions on Moldovan farming exports.

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ZeroHedge is reporting that, according to Der Spiegel, the NATO leadership has begun considering a contingency plan if president Trump actually begins to withdraw support from the alliance.

Spiegel adds that strategists from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s staff have drafted a secret report which includes a worst-case scenario in which Trump orders US troops to withdraw from Europe and fulfills his threat to make Washington less involved in European security.

“For the first time, the US exit from NATO has become a threat” which would mean the end of the bloc, a German NATO officer told the magazine. During his campaign, Trump repeatedly slammed NATO, calling the alliance “obsolete.” He also suggested that under his administration, the US may refuse to come to the aid of NATO allies unless they “pay their bills” and “fulfill their obligations to us.”

….“We are experiencing a moment of the highest and yet unprecedented uncertainty in the transatlantic relationship,” said Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador in Washington and head of the prominent Munich Security Conference. By criticizing the collective defense, Trump has questioned the basic pillar of NATO as a whole, Ischinger added.

Alternatively, by putting into question a core support pillar behind NATO’s endless provocations and troop buildup at Russia’s border, Trump may prevent World War III.

NATO, however, demands its way or no other way at all, and it why Ischinger demands that the president-elect reassure his “European allies” that he remains firm on the US commitment under Article 5 of the NATO charter prior to his inauguration.

This wasn’t the only criticism launched at Trump by the military alliance: earlier this week, Stoltenberg slammed Trump’s agenda, saying: “All allies have made a solemn commitment to defend each other. This is something absolutely unconditioned.” Perhaps the commitment was only contingent on having a resident in the Oval Office who put the interests of the Military Industrial Complex ahead of those of, for example, the American people?

NATO’s panic has grown so vast that out of fear Trump would not appear in Brussels even after his inauguration, NATO has re-scheduled its summit – expected to take place in early 2017 – to next summer, Spiegel said.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn has publicly stated his support for pulling back NATO troops from Russia’s borders.

Jeremy Corbyn has suggested he is in favour of reducing NATO’s presence on eastern Europe’s borders with Russia and said it was clear the U.S. president-elect, Donald Trump, believed he could improve relations with Vladimir Putin.

The Labour leader said he had “many, many criticisms of Putin, the human rights abuses in Russia and the militarisation of society” but said further escalation had to be avoided.

“I do think there has to be a process that we try and demilitarise the border between what are now the NATO states and Russia so we drive apart those forces, keep them further apart … we can’t descend into a new cold war,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.

 

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?

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

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