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U.S. Military Bombs Syrian Army; FSA Chases American Special Forces Out of Syrian Town; Russian Embassy in Kiev Attacked

(A U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on Dec. 15, 2015. U.S.-led coalition bombers killed an estimated 90 soldiers of the Syrian Army on Saturday, claiming they mistakenly thought they were Islamic State fighters. (Photo: Associated Press))

The U.S.-led coalition bombed an area near the Deir al-Zor airport in eastern Syria on Saturday, killing between 62 and 90 Syrian army soldiers, with over 100 wounded.  Washington claims it bombed the Syrian army by mistake, but as some analysts have pointed out, although circumstances on the ground in other parts of Syria are complicated with many different players active, this area of Syria only consisted of ISIS fighters and members of the Syrian army who had kept ISIS at bay near the airport.  Given the detailed level of surveillance that the U.S. government is capable of, it strains credulity to think that they could make this kind of blunder.

In any event, the bombing of the Syrian army has had an effect that ISIS has been unable to achieve with offensive actions in the area over an extended period of time – strengthening their position around the airport.

Furthermore, the recent diplomatic deal reached by the U.S. and Russia required the grounding of the Syrian air force.  If this is what the Syrian government gets for grounding its own air force in its own country – only to be bombed by a nation that is violating its sovereignty to begin with – it does not bode well for the overall deal.

Common Dreams News provided the following details on this latest crisis:

Early reporting indicated that between 62 and 90 Syrian troops may have been killed in the U.S.-led airstrikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group with contacts across Syria, cited sources at the airport saying at least 90 Syrian soldiers had been killed and 120 wounded. Meanwhile, Anti-War.com‘s Jason Ditz described the massacre as perhaps “the single biggest blunder of the entire US war in Syria.”

A statement released by U.S. Central Command acknowledged that airstrikes had been carried out in the area claiming coalition aircraft believed they were targeting ISIS units, but said the bombing was “halted immediately when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.”

The mass-casualty bombing comes less than a week after the start of a cease fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia whose stated purpose was to allow aid convoys to reach besieged areas while also separating various rebel factions in hopes that further progress could be made towards longer-term political negotiations.

According to Ditz’s analysis, the errant bombing and killing of 90 soldiers “during a ceasefire may not be the worst of the story, incredibly enough”—explaining:

Those troops had been defending the area from ISIS, who quickly overran what was left of the base’s defenses, and are now even closer to the Deir [Al-Zor] airport.

The airport has been one of the last major government holdouts in the Deir Ezzor capital, and at times the Syrian warplanes flying out of the airport were the only thing keeping ISIS from overrunning the entire eastern half of the country. The US airstrikes seriously softened up the defenses in the area, and might finally do what years of ISIS offensives couldn’t, put ISIS in control of the airport.

Experts who spoke to the New York Times also expressed worry about the diplomatic and on-the-ground implications of the attack:

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst at the Wilson Center, said the episode was certain to make “an already complex situation more byzantine.”  He said the strikes would “feed conspiracy theories that Washington is in league with ISIS,” as well as create a pretext for Mr. Assad to avoid his commitments under the cease-fire deal.

Mr. Miller added that the episode would create opportunities for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “to blast the U.S. on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly,” the global meeting in New York starting this week.

In a statement from its foreign office, the Russian government reacted harshly to the U.S. attack, saying the airstrikes were “on the boundary between criminal negligence and direct connivance with Islamic State terrorists.”

The statement continued, “If this air strike was the result of a targeting error, it is a direct consequence of the U.S. side’s stubborn unwillingness to coordinate its action against terrorist groups on Syrian territory with Russia.

Russia called for an emergency closed session of the UN Security Council in response to the bombing.  The Guardian reported the following on the meeting as well as the heated exchange of barbs by U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and the Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin:

The US and Russia on Saturday clashed at the United Nations over the bombing when the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, described Russia’s call for an emergency closed-door security council meeting over the incident a “stunt” that was “uniquely cynical and hypocritical”. She said Russia had for years blocked UN punitive measures against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for the barrel bombing of civilian populations in rebel-held cities.

“Since 2011, the Assad regime has been intentionally striking civilian targets with horrifying, predictable regularity … And yet in the face of none of these atrocities has Russia expressed outrage, nor has it demanded investigations, nor has it ever called for a Saturday night emergency consultation in the Security Council,” she said.

After the meeting went ahead, the Russian envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, declared that in his decades as a diplomat he had “never seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness as we are witnessing today” after the meeting went ahead.

He said that if Power’s actions were any indication of Washington’s possible reaction then the cease-fire agreement is “in serious trouble” but expressed hope the US would convince Moscow it was serious about finding a political solution in Syria and fighting terrorism.

Churkin said the timing of the US airstrike was “frankly suspicious” as it came two days before the US and Russia were supposed under the ceasefire agreement to begin joint planning for air operations against Isis and the former Nusra front, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, deemed to be terrorist groups by both states.

In another incident exposing Washington’s ludicrous policy in Syria, American special forces were chased out of a northern Syrian town by member of the so-called “Free Syria Army” – keep in mind, these are supposed to be the good guys according to Washington bobble-heads.

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People protest against Russian plans to hold parliamentary elections in Crimea near the Russian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, September 17, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

 

In Ukraine, a band of hooligans attacked the Russian embassy in an effort to prevent any Russian citizens from entering the embassy to cast votes for the parliamentary elections that were scheduled in Russia on Sunday.   No one was hurt and there was no major damage as a result of the incident.

More from Press TV:

About 20 unidentified Ukrainians, wearing balaclavas, lobbed scores of fireworks at the embassy building during the early hours of Saturday. They chanted, “There will be no elections,” while holding a banner reading, “Fireworks today, Grad (multiple rocket launchers) tomorrow.”

No arrests or damage have been reported.

On Sunday, polling stations will open across Russia for local parliamentary elections, which are held every five years. Russia previously announced that its citizens in Kiev would also be able to cast their ballots at a polling station at its embassy as well as other diplomatic missions in Ukraine.

However, what most of all has angered the government in Kiev is Moscow’s decision to open polling stations in the Crimean Peninsula for the first time since it rejoined the Russian Federation in 2014. Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly rejected Moscow’s plan, saying they would not recognize such elections in Crimea.

Russia Complains That Washington is Not Keeping its End of Syria Deal, Pushes for Publication of Terms; How Many Times Will NYT & Other MSM Outlets Make Suckers Out of Their Readers About Washington’s Wars?

Fighters seeking the overthrow of Syrian government (Ammar Abdullah, Reuters )

Fighters seeking the overthrow of Syrian government (Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)

 

 

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the deal reached by the U.S. and Russia on Syria last week, appears to be faltering.  Russian media, quoting the Russian military, reports that the U.S. is still not following through on its promises to separate out the “moderate” opposition from Al-Nusra (which has recently changed its name).  RT reported the following on September 15th:

Russia says the U.S. is not keeping its end of the bargain on the Syrian ceasefire and has continued its calls for Washington to make public all documents relating to the deal. The Russian military says Damascus is the only party observing the agreement.

“On the third day of the ceasefire only the Syrian Army is observing it. Meanwhile, the U.S.-led ‘moderate rebels’ are intensifying the shelling of residential areas,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Thursday.

The ministry said in a press briefing that “new conflict flashpoints are appearing” and that government forces and civilians had been shot at 45 times over the past 24 hours, without firing back.

The military added that the U.S. failed to deliver on its promise to separate truce-observing moderates and truce-violating terrorists and is now “apparently trying to use a smoke-screen to cover up the violations of their part of the deal.”

The ministry called on the Pentagon to hand over up-to-date and detailed information about the location of the various factions in the conflict.

….Earlier, the U.S. said that both Damascus and the rebels were reported as violating the ceasefire, which began on Monday. Washington acknowledges its responsibility to stop violations committed by the anti-government forces.

“We’ve always been clear, just as we have said that Russia’s responsibility is to exert influence or put pressure – however you want to put it – on the regime to abide by the cessation of hostilities, it is incumbent on us to persuade, convince the moderate opposition to also abide by the cessation of hostilities, and ultimately, that’s a decision they’re going to have to make,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday.

“We’re continuing our outreach to the Syrian moderate opposition – that’s been ongoing – and trying to explain the arrangement to them, answer their questions. And again, we’ve seen, as I said, sporadic reports of violence, but in large part we think [the ceasefire] is holding,” he added.

Alexander Mercouris writes over at The Duran:

Various Jihadi groups are refusing to dissociate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra.  Though there appears to have been a falling off in the fighting, some fighting is still taking place, and Russian troops on the Castello road have been caught on film coming under fire.  [Russia’s TASS news agency had reported on the 13th that Russian marines had taken up positions on Castello Road – the supply route used by the rebels/terrorists from the north – which had recently been taken by the Syrian army, in an effort to implement the apparent ceasefire terms requiring Damascus to pull back and allow the set up of humanitarian corridors enabling the exit of civilians and rebels willing to lay down their arms – NB]

The Russians are complaining that the US is still not providing information on Jabhat Al-Nusra that it promised, and has failed to force the Jihadi groups it sponsors to dissociate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra and to observe the ceasefire.

Meanwhile the air is thick with arguments about the provision of humanitarian aid to Jihadi controlled eastern Aleppo.  Jihadi groups are blocking the aid the UN is providing, complaining that it is not what they want, and because they say they reject the US – Russian agreement under which it is being provided, whilst the UN – entirely predictably – is blaming the Syrian government.  Needless to say there is no sign of any withdrawal of Jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo by way of the Castello road.

In the midst of all these charges and counter charges the Russians are calling for the text of the agreement with the US to be published whilst the US is saying no – a fact which incidentally all but confirms that it was the US that made the major concessions in order to reach the agreement. 

Not only is Russia now requesting that the terms of the Syria deal be made public so as to subject it to better accountability, but Moscow is also moving to have it officially backed by a UN Security Council resolution, according to Reuters:

UNITED NATIONS- Russia is pushing for the United Nations Security Council to adopt a draft resolution next week endorsing a Syria ceasefire deal agreed by Moscow and Washington, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Thursday.

The deal reached on Saturday, September 10 aims to put Syria’s peace process back on track. It includes a nationwide truce that started at sundown on Monday, improved humanitarian aid access and joint military targeting of banned Islamist groups.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed on five documents, which they said would not be publicly released. However, on Thursday, France called on Washington to share details of the deal.

Churkin said Russia was working on a draft Security Council resolution that would endorse the deal. When asked if the deal would need to be annexed to such a resolution, he said: “We don’t know yet.”

“We’re working on it … I think we need to adopt it on the 21st (of September), this would make sense,” Churkin told reporters.

The 15-member Security Council is due to hold a high-level meeting on Syria next Wednesday during the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations. Kerry and Lavrov are expected to attend, diplomats said.

Note that France has now joined in the call for the terms of the deal to be made public.   On that note, some more details have come out about the deal, including some of the concessions made by each side and what steps Washington has made to attempt to separate the “moderates” from Al-Nusra (whatever name the Al Qaeda backed organization is going by nowadays).  Gareth Porter, an independent journalist and expert on the Middle East, who has done some excellent reporting on both Syria and Iran over the past few years, has reported the following:

The new bargain is actually a variant of a provision in the Feb. 27 ceasefire agreement: in return for Russian and Syrian restraints on bombing operations, the United States would prevail on its clients to separate themselves from their erstwhile Al Qaeda allies.

But that never happened. Instead the U.S.-supported groups not only declared publicly that they would not honor a “partial ceasefire” that excluded areas controlled by Al Qaeda’s affiliate, then known as Nusra Front, but joined with Nusra Front and its close ally, Ahrar al Sham, in a major open violation of the ceasefire by seizing strategic terrain south of Aleppo in early April.

….As the Kerry-Lavrov negotiations on a ceasefire continued, Kerry’s State Department hinted that the U.S. was linking its willingness to pressure its Syrian military clients to separate themselves from Al Qaeda’s forces in the northwest to an unspecified Russian concession on the ceasefire that was still being negotiated.

It is now clear that what Kerry was pushing for was what the Obama administration characterized as the “grounding” of the Syrian air force in the current agreement.

Now that it has gotten that concession from the Russians, the crucial question is what the Obama administration intends to do about the ties between its own military clients and Al Qaeda in Aleppo and elsewhere in the northwest.

Thus far the primary evidence available for answering that question is two letters from U.S. envoy to the Syrian opposition Michael Ratney to opposition groups backed by the United States. The first letter, sent on Sept. 3, after most of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement had already been hammered out, appears to have been aimed primarily at reassuring those Syrian armed groups.

As translated by al-Monitor, it asserted, “Russia will prevent regime planes from flying, and this means there will not be bombing by the regime of areas controlled by the opposition, regardless of who is present in the area, including areas in which Jabhat Fateh al Sham [the new name adopted by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front] has a presence alongside other opposition factions.”

Ratney confirmed that the U.S. would in return “offer Russia coordination from our side to weaken al Qaeda.” But he also assured U.S. clients that their interests would be protected under the new agreement.

“[W]e believe this ceasefire should be stronger,” he wrote, “because it should prevent Russia and the regime from bombing the opposition and civilians under the pretext that its striking Jabhat al Nusra.”

The Ratney letter makes no reference to any requirement for the armed opposition to move away from their Al Qaeda allies or even terminate their military relationships, and thus implied that they need not do so.

But in a follow-up letter, undated but apparently sent on Sept. 10, following the completion of the new Kerry-Lavrov agreement, Ratney wrote, “We urge the rebels to distance themselves and cut all ties with Fateh of Sham, formerly Nusra Front, or there will be severe consequences.”

The difference between the two messages is obviously dramatic. That suggests that one of the last concessions made by Kerry in the Sept. 9 meeting with Lavrov may have been that a message would be sent to U.S. military clients with precisely such language.

The totality of the two letters from Ratney underlines the reluctance of the United States to present an ultimatum to its Syrian clients, no matter how clearly they are implicated in Al Qaeda operations against the ceasefire. Last spring, the State Department never publicly commented on the participation by the U.S.-supported armed groups in the Nusra Front offensive in violation of the ceasefire agreement, effectively providing political cover for it.

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Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

(Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.)

Robert Parry at Consortium News has written another critical piece, this time discussing a little-talked about report undertaken by Britain’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which exposes the lies and exaggerations about Qaddafi’s actions used to justify NATO’s regime change in Libya in 2011:

The report from the U.K.’s Foreign Affairs Committee confirms that the U.S. and other Western governments exaggerated the human rights threat posed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and then quickly morphed the “humanitarian” mission into a military invasion that overthrew and killed Gaddafi, leaving behind political and social chaos.

The report’s significance is that it shows how little was learned from the Iraq War fiasco in which George W. Bush’s administration hyped and falsified intelligence to justify invading Iraq and killing its leader, Saddam Hussein. In both cases, U.K. leaders tagged along and the West’s mainstream news media mostly served as unprofessional propaganda conduits, not as diligent watchdogs for the public.

….According to the new U.K. report on Libya, Britain’s military intervention – alongside the U.S. and France – was based on “erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding” of the reality inside Libya, which included a lack of appreciation about the role of Islamic extremists in spearheading the opposition to Gaddafi.

In other words, Gaddafi was telling the truth when he accused the rebels around Benghazi of being penetrated by Islamic terrorists. The West, including the U.S. news media, took Gaddafi’s vow to wipe out this element and distorted it into a claim that he intended to slaughter the region’s civilians, thus stampeding the United Nations Security Council into approving an operation to protect them.

That mandate was then twisted into an excuse to decimate Libya’s army and clear the way for anti-Gaddafi rebels to seize the capital of Tripoli and eventually hunt down, torture and murder Gaddafi.

Yet, there was evidence before this “regime change” occurred regarding the extremist nature of the anti-Gaddafi rebels as well as those seeking to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria. As analysts Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman wrote in a pre-Libya-war report for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, “the Syrian and Libyan governments share the United States’ concerns about violent salafist/jihadi ideology and the violence perpetrated by its adherents.”

In the report entitled “Al-Qaeda’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” Felter and Fishman also analyzed Al Qaeda’s documents captured in 2007 showing personnel records of militants who flocked to Iraq for the war. The documents revealed that eastern Libya (the base of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion) was a hotbed for suicide bombers traveling to Iraq to kill American troops.

….This reality was known by U.S. officials prior to the West’s military intervention in Libya in 2011, yet opportunistic politicians, including Secretary of State Clinton, saw Libya as a stage to play out their desires to create muscular foreign policy legacies or achieve other aims.

Some of Clinton’s now-public emails show that France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be more interested in protecting France’s financial dominance of its former African colonies as well as getting a bigger stake in Libya’s oil wealth than in the well-being of the Libyan people.

An April 2, 2011 email from Clinton’s personal adviser Sidney Blumenthal explained that Gaddafi had plans to use his stockpile of gold “to establish a pan-African currency” and thus “to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc.”

Blumenthal added, “French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.” Another key factor, according to the email, was Sarkozy’s “desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production.”

For Clinton, a prime motive for pushing the Libyan “regime change” was to demonstrate her mastery of what she and her advisers called “smart power,” i.e., the use of U.S. aerial bombing and other coercive means, such as economic and legal sanctions, to impose U.S. dictates on other nations.

Parry goes on to explain how Washington policymakers have apparently learned nothing from the chaos and humanitarian disasters they have created with their regime change operations, continuing with a reckless propaganda campaign against Russian President Vladimir Putin – part of the pattern in the run-ups to regime change operations against foreign governments that do not bow to Washington’s dictates.   The fact that Russia represents the world’s other nuclear super-power is not serving as a deterrent in this regard.

For more on the lies and propaganda peddled by the western corporate media and certain mainstream human rights organizations, which enabled the war against Libya, please see the Harvard Belfer Center’s report, Lessons from Libya: How Not to Intervene.

http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/23387/lessons_from_libya.html

Finally, military analyst and blogger, Moon of Alabama, has exposed the New York Times‘ pathetic lack of knowledge on a war and country they are tasked with informing Americans about when they wrote a piece attempting to mock Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson’s ignorance when asked about the siege of Aleppo in Syria (Johnson answered “What is Aleppo?”).  It took several corrections of the original piece before the Times gave an accurate characterization of the city of Aleppo.

Read it here.

It never fails to amaze me how intelligent people I talk to still give the NYT credibility and think they are well-informed if they read this outlet which has allowed itself to become a rag.

 

 

The High Cost of American Hubris

U.S. Marines patrol street in Shah Karez in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 10. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Storm)

U.S. Marines patrol street in Shah Karez in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Storm)

Although renowned political scientist John Mearsheimer does not consider himself to be an isolationist – a term which has acquired a negative connotation since WWII – his definition is illuminating as much for clarifying what the term does not mean as for what it does.

In America Unhinged, Mearsheimer writes: “Isolationism rests on the assumption that no region of the world outside of the Western Hemisphere is of vital strategic importance to the United States. Isolationists do not argue that America has no interests in the wider world, just that they are not important enough to justify deploying military force to defend them. They are fully in favor of engaging with the rest of the world economically as well as diplomatically, but they view all foreign wars as unnecessary.”

The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department, as viewed with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background. (Defense Department photo)

The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department, as viewed with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background. (Defense Department photo)

As Mearsheimer makes plain, isolationism does not constitute a lack of constructive engagement with the outside world, but a judicious engagement that eschews military action outside of defending the homeland.

At a time when Washington is experiencing the hubris of imperial overreach and the prospect of the eventual collapse that history shows is the inevitable endgame of all empires, it is time for concerned Americans across the political spectrum to begin to seriously consider what a new paradigm and policy platform representing sanity might look like.

It is in the U.S.’s long-term interests (as well as the rest of the world’s) to have stability. The bare minimum for stability is a lack of war.

As science writer John Horgan concluded in his book The End of War in which he undertook a scientific analysis of war via the study of history, anthropology, psychology and sociology, the old adage about justice being a prerequisite for peace is wrong. It is peace that is necessary for justice to take root. The violent, chaotic and wasteful conditions of modern war are not conducive to the pursuit of justice or human development.

Most Americans do not share the Neoliberal, Neoconservative, or Responsibility to Protect club’s messianic vision of an America that needs to recreate the world to fit some bastardized idea of imperial “democracy” that requires a Year Zero program to destroy the social, cultural and political foundations of target countries (see Iraq, Libya, and Syria).

The restoration of our democratic republic and the revitalization of our economy and society are intimately connected to pulling out of the militarist/imperialist projects that are killing our country, along with the casualties it is responsible for around the world. It was estimated last year by physicians’ groups that deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan from the U.S. “war on terror” (USWOT) are 1.3 million at the conservative end.

The predictable blowback from friends and family members of those decapitated and blown apart by drone strikes and indiscriminate bombings, as well as shootings by soldiers whose psyches have been warped by immersion in the hellhole of counter-insurgency wars that are unwinnable, should give all Americans serious pause in terms of rational problem-solving toward the goal of increasing the conditions for peace and stability.

Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

The casualties from the physicians’ groups does not even count the thousands dead in the Libyan civil war, precipitated by the US/NATO toppling of the Gaddafi government – a stable, secular government that had attained the highest standard of living in all of Africa – or our attempts to similarly support nihilistic jihadists who want to topple the Assad regime in Syria and the killing frenzy that has resulted in that country.

Other historians and political scientists, going further back in the American Empire’s reign, have estimated 20 million to 30 million people have perished as a result of Washington’s covert operations and overt military interventions that have occurred almost continuously since 1945.

Take a moment to let that really sink in. Each of those 20 million to 30 million was a living, breathing person who – like you and me – had hopes, dreams, fears and other people who loved them. With this track record, is it any wonder that the world views the U.S. as the biggest threat to world peace by a wide margin?

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US & Russia Agree to New Ceasefire Plan in Syria, But Details are Hush-Hush; US Peace Council Holds Press Conference on Their Fact-Finding Mission to Syria; More Trouble for Ukriane

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hold a press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hold a press conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have finally hammered out a ceasefire agreement for Syria, but according to both Russian and Western media reports, many important details are not being made public.   RT reports the following:

Russia and the U.S. have agreed on a new ceasefire plan on Syria that includes a ban on government airstrikes in certain areas and cooperation on strikes against jihadists, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced on September 9 after the marathon talks with the U.S.’s John Kerry.

Opening the much-awaited press conference after some 13 hours of talks, Kerry said that the two have agreed on a comprehensive approach to Syrian reconciliation. He called “on every Syrian stakeholder to support the plan that the United States and Russia have reached, to … bring this catastrophic conflict to the quickest possible end through a political process.”

According to Kerry, the plan is to ensure that Syrian government forces will not carry out combat missions where the so-called moderate opposition is present.

Speaking of fight against Al-Nusra and its efforts to blend with moderate rebels, Kerry stressed “going on Al-Nusra is not a concession to anybody” but “is profoundly in the interests of the U.S.”

Kerry also outlined an establishment of the Russian-U.S. Joint Implementation Centre (JIG) that would serve the purpose of “delineation of territories controlled by Al-Nusra and opposition groups in the area of active hostilities.”

Taking the floor, the Russian FM confirmed that Russia and U.S. had agreed to coordinate airstrikes in Syria, “provided there is a sustained period of reduced violence.” The first step toward the implementation of this clause will be a 48-hour ceasefire in Syria, Lavrov said.

Lavrov elaborated that the ceasefire comes into effect on September 12 and should last for at least seven days. “After the ceasefire regime will be in effect for seven days, we will establish an implementation centre, in which the military and the representatives of Russian and U.S. intelligence will handle practical issues, separating terrorists and opposition,” he added.

The Russian FM said that the diplomats have negotiated on five separate documents at the talks. “Despite the mistrust and attempt to disrupt what we have agreed upon, we managed to work out a package of documents, there are five of them. It allows us to set an effective coordination in the fight against terrorism, to expand the humanitarian access to distressed population, first and foremost in Aleppo,” Lavrov said.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information contained in the agreements, they will not be made available to general public, Lavrov said. “We cannot make these documents public. They contain rather serious, sensitive information. We don’t want it to fall into hands of those who would surely try to disrupt the implementation of the measures stipulated within in the framework of humanitarian delivery supplies and in other parts of our agreements.”

Analyst and international law expert, Alexander Mercouris, has speculated that keeping many of the details secret likely means that it was Washington that made significant concessions:

Essentially, on a preliminary and strictly provisional view, the new agreement is simply a reworking of the previous agreement the US and Russia agreed with each other in February, whilst taking into account the changes in the front lines that have taken place since then.

The February agreement failed to work, leading to more fighting, which resulted in the Syrian army gaining much more ground than it controlled in February, so that it is now in a much stronger position in Damascus and Aleppo than it was in February.

Presumably there is something in the new agreement which the US and the Russians think will make it succeed where the February agreement failed.  A reasonable guess is that it is this, whatever it is, which is so embarrassing to one side or the other that it is why the agreement cannot be made public.

At the risk of making a very big guess that may be completely wrong, if it is true as the Russians say that the Syrians and the Iranians have approved the agreement then the major concession – whatever it is – which is being kept secret has most probably been made by the US.

The fact that it took the US more than 9 hours (not 5 hours as some reports say) to agree to the plan after Kerry referred it to Washington for approval also suggests that it is the US which has made the major concessions, and that the terms of the agreement – whatever they are – ran into strong criticism and opposition in Washington from the hardliners.

Time will tell if the ceasefire is indeed successful.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Peace Council recently held a press conference in which they reported on the results of their fact-finding mission to Syria in which they spoke to a cross-section of Syrians as well as president Assad.

I encourage everyone to watch the 49 minute press conference here:

For those who don’t have the time, I will sum up the main points of what the member of the delegation found out:

 

  • Syrians are united and will not accept being divided up by religion or other criteria;

 

  • The US has sanctions in place against Syria similar to the ones against Iraq in the 1990’s, which were responsible for much humanitarian suffering; consequently, Syrians are unable to obtain important medicines and parts to repair infrastructure;

 

  • this is not a civil war, but a war of Syrians and the Syrian government against outside mercenaries and terrorist organizations supported by the U.S., Gulf states (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Qatar), Turkey and Israel;

 

  • the delegation spoke to average Syrians, leaders of NGO’s, civil society, the non-violent opposition, business leaders, and president Assad, who granted a 2-hour meeting with members of the delegation;

 

  • there exists a Ministry of Reconciliation – the ministry’s mission includes re-integration for those members of the violent opposition who are willing to lay down their arms;

 

  • as far as the delegation members can ascertain, the motive for Washington’s actions in Syria appears to be to destroy the last independent secular government in the Middle East;

 

  • there is a pernicious western MSM propaganda campaign – Assad is genuinely popular and has been elected in monitored elections, he is recognized by UN/international community as legitimate leader of Syria, there is a parliament with opposition parties

 

-members of the delegation included males and females and peace activists, including those with backgrounds in trade union movements and restorative justice

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Things are not going well for Ukraine.   The New York Times reported that  earlier this month hundreds of Roma Gypsies were run out of a Ukrainian town in retaliation for a fatal attack on a child, which was not even perpetrated by a Roma.

Several dozen people in a Roma community in southern Ukraine were forced to flee their homes after a mob tore through their neighborhood over the weekend, breaking windows, tearing down fences and even setting a house on fire while the heavily outnumbered police stood by and watched.

The violence in the small town, Loshchynivka, was touched off after a local man was arrested on Saturday in connection with the rape and killing of a 9-year-old girl. A Ukrainian rights organization, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, noted that the man was not Roma.

Nicolai Petro, an academic expert on Russia and Eastern Europe, has written an article at The National Interest, detailing surveys among Ukrainians in which they express the sense of the country being “tense” and even “explosive.”

The survey, which was conducted in Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city, suggests that over half of Odessans describe their city as “tense,” while nearly ten percent say it is “explosive.” But even more interesting is that Odessans view the situation in Ukraine overall as much worse, with over ninety percent describing it as either “tense” or “explosive”!

Lest readers think that Odessa is an anomaly, I should point out that these results do not differ substantively from surveys conducted in February or June2016, which show a steady decline in public trust in government since the 2014 Maidan uprising.

How did things get so bad? Part of the fault certainly lies with the IMF’s austerity recommendations, which the vast majority of Ukrainians view as both harmful and pointless. But no downward spiral in public confidence could ever be so complete without the connivance of government officials. To put it bluntly, government policies have seemed, at times, almost intentionally designed to fuel public anger.

 A good example is the policy of actively curtailing Russian investment in Ukraine. While this has reduced Russia’s economic influence in the Ukrainian economy, as the government intended, in the absence of commensurate Western investment to replace what was lost, major industries have collapsed, and the country’s standard of living along with them. If the country continues on its present course, Odessa’s reformist governor Mikheil Saakashvili has noted sarcastically, Ukraine will not reach the level of GDP it had under former president Viktor Yanukovych for another fifteen years.

People might even be willing to view this as a necessary sacrifice in times of war, but for the fact that Ukrainian oligarchs often continue to line their own pockets by doing business in Russia. This includes President Petro Poroshenko himself, whose personal wealth increased sevenfold in 2015.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Ukrainians any time soon as Bloomberg reports that, a year after reaching a deal with the IMF to restructure its debt, the Ukrainian bond market is again tanking.   Furthermore, Graham Stack and Ben Aris have written an in-depth report for Business New Europe detailing Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s corrupt governance.

When Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, was swept into power following the Euromaidan protests two years ago, he promised to sell most of his business interests to avoid any conflicts of interest“We are going to embed new traditions. I will make a point of selling my assets immediately after occupying the post,” Poroshenko promised in the run-up to the presidential election that he won in 2014.

Yet two years later and he has sold nothing. Quite the opposite in fact; according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), in 2015 not only did President Poroshenko’s personal fortune rise to $858mn, he was the only one of Ukraine’s wealthy businessmen to see his net worth actually increase that year.

Poroshenko, it seems, has continued building an empire centred on a holding company registered in Kyiv, called Prime Assets Capital, of which he is beneficial owner, according to the Ukrainian corporate register. Poroshenko holds 60% in International Investment Bank (not to be confused with the Moscow-based multilateral development bank of the same name) via Prime Assets Capital and directly, according to National Bank of Ukraine data. The bank acts as the financial node of a tangled web of companies and investments that is as active today as it ever was.

And Poroshenko is not acting alone. His two longstanding business associates, who hold stakes in many of his businesses, have followed him into politics, but remain key players in the Poroshenko financial-industrial group, a bne IntelliNews investigation can reveal.

Poroshenko has thus blurred the line between business and politics, deflected the anti-corruption efforts at every turn, and the businesses and politicians associated with him are flourishing at a time when Ukraine’s economy is mired in its worst crisis since the country’s independence in 1991.

Of course, this all begs the question:  what was the Maidan uprising all about?  After nearly 100 people killed in a violent coup and the deaths of nearly 10, 000 people in eastern Ukraine from the subsequent “anti-terrorist” operation by Kiev (the actual number of deaths is probably much higher as estimated by German intelligence in 2015), Ukraine has an economy and standard of living in much worse shape than before, along with a president that appears to be every bit as corrupt as Yanukovich.

Russia Finalizes Deals with Iran on Oil Rigs and with Japan on Various Economic Issues; Rosneft May Buy $16 Billion Worth of Russian State’s Stake in Oil Co., Creating Budgetary Windfall; Russia & China in Joint Naval Patrols of S. China Sea;

What’s that about being isolated and the economy being in tatters?

(http://russia-insider.com/en/putin-new-stalin/ri16240)

 

Putin has been a busy bee the past few weeks, finalizing an oil rig deal with Iran worth $1 billion, which will see Russian companies building 5 off-shore rigs to facilitate oil and gas exploration by Iran in the Persian Gulf, as well as signing 20 agreements worth approximately $1.3 billion with Japan at the Eastern Economic Forum.

And as Alexander Mercouris writes of the recent G20 summit in China, Putin was a man in demand:

It is the Russians who despite the odd setbacks are increasingly making the weather in the Middle East, with Putin at the G20 summit having intense and substantive talks with Erdogan, Egypt’s General Sisi, and the Saudis, even as Russia continues to develop its relations with Iran.

Even the Europeans are talking to the Russians.  Putin made it clear before the G20 summit that following the Crimean incident he would not meet with Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko in the Normandy Four format in Hangzhou.  The result?  Merkel and Hollandestill met with him – though separately (as Putin probably wanted) – with Poroshenko nowhere to be seen.

Of the Europeans, it was not just Merkel and Hollande who met with Putin in Hangzhou.  Britain’s Theresa May met with him as well, in a somewhat stiff “get-to-know-you” meeting marking her first proper foray into international diplomacy.

Putin of course also met in Hangzhou with the leaders of Russia’s other BRICS partners apart from China: Modi of India, Zuma of South Africa and the new Brazilian President Michel Temer.  The meeting with Temer will have been particularly interesting, with Putin seeking – and apparently receiving – assurances that despite the recent change of government in Brazil the country remains committed to the BRICS.

Balancing the meeting with Brazil’s Temer, Putin however also met in Hangzhou with the other newly installed leader of the other Latin American giant: President Macri of Argentina.

Both Temer and Macri – unlike their predecessors – are conservative right wingers who will unquestionably tilt their two countries back towards their historically close relations with the US.  By continuing to talk with them and to engage with them Putin and the Russians however keep them engaged and keep the doors for future cooperation open.

Professor Stephen F. Cohen said the same in his most recent weekly interview with John Batchelor.

The Chinese even literally rolled out the red carpet for Putin’s arrival at the airport, while Obama was subjected to a decidedly different reception.

IMG_5854_0

(Putin’s arrival in China for the G20; http://theduran.com/china-rolls-out-red-carpet-vladimir-putin-g20-obama-forced-exit-air-force-one-emergency-door/)

oabam china arrival_0

(Obama’s arrival in China at the G20; http://theduran.com/china-rolls-out-red-carpet-vladimir-putin-g20-obama-forced-exit-air-force-one-emergency-door/)

Bloomberg has reported that Igor Sechin, CEO of Russian oil company, Rosneft, has offered to buy the Russian state’s stake in the smaller Bashneft company worth $16 billion, which would provide a huge windfall for the Russian budget:

Rosneft PJSC chief Igor Sechin, not taking no for an answer, has come up with a proposal to expand his energy empire while helping critics in the Russian government meet their goal of reducing the widest budget deficit in six years.

Sechin, a longtime ally of President Vladimir Putin, has asked the government to let state-run Rosneft buy its controlling stake in smaller oil producer Bashneft PJSC for $5 billion in cash, a premium to the market, according to two senior officials. Russia could then earn another $11 billion by proceeding with its delayed sale of 19.5 percent of Rosneft itself, generating a $16 billion windfall that would cut this year’s projected deficit in half, they said.

….Sechin’s proposal is based on a study that Rosneft commissioned from Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo SpA and submitted to the government. The report concluded that Russia could earn at least $11 billion selling the Rosneft shares to funds and trading companies in packets no bigger than 5 percent each, which would alleviate the concerns of some officials about selling to China, India or both, options that have been seriously considered, one of the people said.

Russia is disposing of assets to help cover a budget gap that opened after the collapse of crude prices sapped revenue and helped tip the economy into the longest recession since Putin came to power in 2000.

Starting September 12th, Russian naval vessels will participate in joint patrols with China in the South China Sea.  Exercises will run through the 19th.  As Russia Beyond the Headlines reports:

This is the fifth edition of the Sino-Russian “Sea Cooperation” drills, but it’s the first time that such an unstable region was chosen to hold the exercises.

….“In the near future this area will become home to China’s aircraft carrier group,” says Alexey Maslov, an academician with the National Research University Higher School of Economics. “Russia has recently been trying to significantly strengthen its military and military-technical cooperation with Beijing.”

Maslov says the military partnership between the two countries is developing at a much better pace than a number of economic projects.

“The current goal of the drills is to test the ability of the naval forces of the two countries to work together to solve crises in East and Southeast Asia,” he adds.

Maslov believes that Russia and China are exploring the possibility of a future political and military alliance. However, such an alliance is not likely to resemble NATO.

How Ukraine Economically Cut its Nose Off to Spite its Face

maidan square in Kiev before and after the coup d'etat in Ukraine

(Maidan square in Kiev before and after the coup d’etat in Ukraine; http://nosecret.info/maidan-confrontation-overview-february-2014-in-kiev-ukraine/)

According to a recently published paper in the Russian Politics journal (Volume 1, Issue 2, 2016) by Nicolai Petro – an American academic who was in Ukraine at the time of the coup and its aftermath – the western focus on corruption is misplaced when talking about Ukraine’s current economic woes.

Instead, he argues, the focus should be on the Maidan government’s “suicidal choice to cut the country off from its main investor – Russia.”

Petro gives a rundown on the pitiful state of Ukraine’s economy compared with pre-Maidan Ukraine:

Ukraine’s abysmal economic statistics since the transition of power in February 2014 are depressingly familiar. In the past 18 months living standards have fallen by half.1 Meanwhile inflation has risen to 43% annually, and public debt as a percentage of gdp has gone from 39.9% in 2013, to 79% by the end of 2015.2 An estimated 55% of all economic activity simply goes unreported.3 In the financial sector, the share of toxic assets in bank portfolios is estimated to exceed 50%, while deposit withdrawals by households in 2014 reached 30% of total deposits.4 In 2014 financial flows into Ukraine fell by 21%, then by another 35% in 2015.5

What does this mean in terms of family buying power? If annual incomes under former president Viktor Yanukovych were roughly $3500 dollars, they are now $2000 according to Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk.6 The percentage of people who say that they do not have enough money for food, went from 9% in February 2014 to 19% in May 2015.7 New small car sales nationwide have plummeted from 213,444 in 2013, to just 46,546 in 2015.8

 ….For most of the past decade, 90% of the high value-added goods produced by Ukraine were sold to Russia. These include machinery, military technology, engines and motors. In 2014, sales to the Russian market accounted for 44% of all machinery and appliances sold abroad.9 That same year, however, the government decided to tear up its defense contracts with Russia. As a result, Ukraine’s defense and aviation industries lost more than 80% of their income, an estimated 2 billion hryvnia annually (at the time more than $200 million).10 Industrial giants like Yuzhmash, Motor Sich, Turboatom, and AvtoKrAZ have all had to sharply scale back production, while the pride of Ukrainian industry, airline manufacturer Antonov, was liquidated and it assets transferred to another state-owned conglomerate in January 2016.11

As revealed in a recent Business New Europe Intellinews report, much of Ukrainian industry having lost its significant Russian market is now reliant upon state orders to supply the war effort against the Donbass rebels.

Petro also points out the insulting level of chicanery employed by the Poroshenko government in trying to convince people that Ukraine is somehow successfully thumbing its nose at Russia.

In January 2016 Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko congratulated his countrymen on having survived the winter without Russian gas. It had gotten by instead with European reverse gas which, he pointed out proudly, was 30% more expensive than the spot price for Russian gas.12

What [he] failed to mention, however, was that Ukraine’s major European supplier of natural gas last year was Slovakia, which receives 90% of its gas from Russia.14 In effect, therefore, Ukraine was purchasing the very same Russian gas at a premium merely for the privilege of not having to call it Russian.

In 2014 Ukraine decided to stop buying coal from the rebel-held territories of Donbas, the country’s traditional supplier. Such coal purchases were denominated in hryvnia and were thus far cheaper than coal that could be purchased from abroad.

To show its independence from the rebels, however, Kiev decided that it would import coal from South Africa instead.15 Alas, as with the case of the Slovakian gas that actually comes from Russia, an investigation by Ukrainska pravda revealed that much of the coal purported to be from South Africa was actually Donbas coal, repackaged as South African through a Hong Kong company, then resold to Ukraine.16 As a result, the government not only paid more for coal, but lost tax revenues from Donbas as well.

Now, if I saw this plot in a movie I’d toss my drink at the screen and walk out.  The Maidan government’s policies simply defy logic with respect to the long-term interests of Ukrainians.  What’s more, this folly was entirely predictable.

As was underscored in a May 2014 article by Barry Ickes and Clifford Gaddy for the Brookings Institution – an establishment think tank that is largely hostile toward Russia and provided a platform for cheer-leading the Maidan coup – Russia was providing $5-10 billion worth of support to the Ukrainian economy pre-Maidan:

When we talk about subsidies, we usually think of Russia’s ability to offer Ukraine cheap gas — which it does when it wants to. But there are many more ways Russia supports Ukraine, only they are hidden. The main support comes in form of Russian orders to Ukrainian heavy manufacturing enterprises. This part of Ukrainian industry depends almost entirely on demand from Russia. They wouldn’t be able to sell to anyone else. The southern and eastern provinces of Ukraine are dominated by Soviet-era dinosaur enterprises similar to Russia’s. They were all built in Soviet times as part of a single, integrated energy-abundant economy. They could be sustained only thanks to the rents from Soviet (overwhelmingly Russian) oil and gas. Russian subsidies have continued to maintain the structure in the post-Soviet era. Because most of these subsidies are informal, they do not appear in official statistics.

Indeed, Ukraine still does not make much that anyone else wants – certainly not the EU, which is part of the reason the Association Agreement that was dangled in front of Yanukovich in 2013-14 (and subsequently signed by our boy “Yats” right after he was installed as prime minister of Ukraine) was not to Ukraine’s benefit, but constituted a lopsided deal, favoring EU corporate elites to the point where it would have supplanted Ukraine’s oligarchs and mandated austerity measures on the Ukrainian economy.  Petro explains:
But what about the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (dcfta) with the European Union (eu), the issue that inspired so many to support the Euromaidan? Sadly, the reality has fallen far short of Ukrainian expectations. The eu currently maintains tariff rate quotas (trqs) on 36 groups of products, most notably in agriculture, which include some of Ukraine’s main exports to the eu. In 2014-2015 Ukrainian exporters were able to fully utilize only six of these quotas. Inability to meet eu certification requirements is one reason. Another is that demand in Europe for Ukrainian products is simply too low.28 As a result, in 2015, when Ukrainian exports to the eu benefited from the temporary suspension of quotas from April through the end of the year, Ukrainian exports to the eu actually fell by 23%.29 In other words, the new Ukrainian government severed ties with its traditional market without gaining comparable access to new markets!
Yet, at the height of the Euromaidan, pursuing business-as-usual with Russia was often portrayed as no different than making a pact with the devil, while the benefits of eu association were wildly oversold. With two years of eu integration in practice to look back upon, we can now make some real world comparisons.

Studies favoring eu association typically acknowledge some short term economic decline, as the country transitions to eu standards, but insist that over the long term the economic benefits of far outweigh those of joining the eeu [the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union].30

But even on this point there is considerable disagreement. Some studies estimated that no more than 15% of Ukrainian exports originally destined for the Eurasian Economic Union (eeu) before 2014 could be redirected elsewhere.31 According to a study done in 2011, preferential energy pricing for Ukraine (at the rate being offered to Belarus) would have saved Ukraine $3-6 billion a year in Russian energy imports, while increasing exports by $5-9 billion a year.32 Other economists insisted that the benefits of maintaining Ukraine’s existing technological integration within the eeu, and of keeping trade in one’s national currency, significantly increases long term projected gdp growth. Most importantly, however, nearly all studies favoring eu association assume that trade ties with Russia and the eeu would remain unchanged after the dcfta enters into effect when, in fact, the suspension of Ukraine’s trade privileges have cost the country an estimated $3 billion a year.33

This is money that the limited trade preferences afforded Ukraine under the dcfta could not hope to make up, nor was it ever intended to. At best, it can only partially compensate for lost markets, though that impact will be within a much longer timeframe.

This is why Yanukovich decided to reject the Association Agreement in favor of a $15 billion loan from Russia (that required no austerity conditions) and a further discount on gas.  It wasn’t because Yanukovich was necessarily pro-Russian (Putin reportedly did not like or trust Yanukovich – viewing him as indecisive and unreliable).  It was because Russia, by any objective measure, was offering the better economic deal for its next door neighbor – a deal that did not require Ukraine to abandon any possible future deal with the EU so long as the EU did not require Ukraine to abandon its economic relationship with Russia.  Putin had suggested 3-way talks among Ukraine, Russia and the EU to work out a mutually agreeable arrangement that would respect all parties’ interests, but was consistently rebuffed by the West.

 

As foretold in the article by Ickes and Gaddy, of all the possible scenarios that could have played out in the aftermath of the Maidan upheaval, a cut-off of economic relations with Russia in favor of an exclusive relationship with the West was the least feasible.

If the West were somehow able to wrest full control of Ukraine from Russia, could the United States, the other NATO nations, and the EU replace Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine? The IMF, of course, would never countenance supporting these dinosaurs the way the Russians have. So the support would have to come in the way of cash transfers to compensate for lost jobs. How much are we talking about? The only known parallel for the amount of transfer needed is the case of German reunification. The transfer amounted to 2 trillion euros, or $2.76 trillion, over 20 years. If Ukraine has per capita income equal to one-tenth of Germany’s, then a minimum estimate is $276 billion to buy off the east. (In fact, since the population size of eastern Ukraine is larger than East Germany’s, this is an underestimate.) It is unthinkable that the West would pay this amount.

Notice that Russia, by contrast, could survive the cutoff of Ukrainian industry…Russia could just implement more import substitution (as Putin announced in the quote above). This is economically inefficient, but it is what every country does for national survival.

….The key point here is that there can be no viable Ukraine without serious contributions from both Russia and the West. Of all the options for Ukraine’s future, a Ukraine exclusively in the West is the least feasible. A Ukraine fully under Russian control and with severed links to the West is, unfortunately, possible. But it is in no one’s interest — not Russia’s, not the West’s and certainly not Ukraine’s.

The best option for the Ukrainian people’s stability and economic well-being is to embrace its potential as buffer and bridge between Europe and Russia, engaging in economic relations with both and eschewing entangling military alliances with either.

Russia Not Happy with Erdogan’s Invasion of Northeastern Syria, Kerry & Lavrov Deadlock Again in Talks; Russian Investigators Open War Crimes Case Against Ukrainian Defense Minister; Putin Orders Snap Military Exercises in Southwest of Russia; Pilger on Media’s Role in Enabling War (Milosevic Cleared of War Crimes by Hague)

Turkey intervention in northern Syria on Aug 24, 2016 (Anadolu Agency)

(Turkey intervention in northern Syria on Aug 24, 2016 (Anadolu Agency))

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended a marathon session of diplomatic talks on August 26th no closer to agreement with respect to Syria.   The Duran reports:

On the key political question – the Geneva peace process and the future of President Assad – they are as far apart as ever. The U.S. continues to insist that President Assad must go as the inevitable of any peace settlement. The Russians say that is strictly for the Syrian people to decide. There was clearly no movement by either side on this issue.

This is against the backdrop of Turkey’s invasion of Jarablus in northeastern Syria, a move some have reported as supported by the US military, in order to keep a supply line to the jihadist mercenaries (“rebels”) fighting against the Syrian government in Aleppo.  Alexander Mercouris – with the help of military analyst Mark Sleboda – provides more details:

In the immediate aftermath of the Turkish capture of Jarablus in Syria, Turkish President Erdogan telephoned his “friend Putin” on Friday 27th August 2016.

The Kremlin’s account of the conversation is remarkable even by its standards for its terseness: “The two leaders discussed the development of Russia-Turkey trade and political and economic cooperation in keeping with the agreements reached in St Petersburg on August 9. Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan exchanged opinions on developments in Syria and pointed out the importance of joint efforts in fighting terrorism. They agreed to continue their dialogue on the issues of the bilateral and international agenda.”

The true subject of the discussion will in fact have been the Turkish capture of Jarablus in northern Syria.

Whilst it seems the Turks did inform the Russians of this move in advance, it is clear that the Russians are, to put it mildly, unhappy about it. Though the Turks appear to have tried to arrange talks with the Russian military leadership presumably to discuss this move – even announcing a visit to Turkey by General Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff – no such talks are taking place, with the Russians denying that a visit to Ankara by their Chief of General Staff was ever agreed, and the Turks now saying that the visit has been postponed.

The Russian media meanwhile is carrying articles making clear the extent of Russian anger. An article in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, which is clearly based on official briefings, is accusing Turkey of “going further than promised in Syria”. That this article reflects official thinking in Moscow is shown by the fact that the semi-official English language Russian news-site Russia Beyond the Headlines has republished it in English.

The article makes it clear that Turkey did not coordinate the Jarablus operation with Moscow or Damascus, and that it was much bigger than Moscow was led to expect. The Russians are also clearly annoyed by the extent to which the operation has been coordinated by Turkey with the U.S., which is providing air support.

….Why are the Russians so angry about the Jarablus operation? Here I acknowledge my heavy debt to the geopolitical analyst Mark Sleboda who over the course of a detailed and very helpful discussion has corrected certain errors I have previously made about the Jarablus operation and has greatly enlarged my understanding of it.

….Mark Sleboda has explained to me that the principal corridor to supply the rebels in Syria has always been through the area of north east Syria around Jarablus. In his words:

Idlib is not an acceptable supply route from Turkey to forces in Aleppo province because the Turkish-Syrian border in Idlib is mountainous terrain – small and bad roads and then long routes all the way through Idlib past SAA-held territory into Aleppo province. The Jarablus Corridor north of Aleppo is and has always been absolutely vital for the insurgency. That’s why Turkey, Brookings, etc have always placed so much priority on a no-fly zone there. Now it has come to realisation.

In other words, the Turkish capture of Jarablus before it could be captured by the YPG was not primarily intended to prevent the linking together of two areas within Syria under Kurdish control – though that may have been a secondary factor – but was primarily intended to secure the main supply route (or “ratline”) Turkey uses to supply the Jihadi fighters attacking Aleppo.

Interestingly, Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIS, took to Twitter to express the US’s displeasure with Turkey’s campaign in Northern Syria.  One of the tweets reads:

DOD: The United States was not involved in these activities, they were not coordinated with U.S. forces, and we do not support them.

It is difficult to believe that Turkey’s actions weren’t at least given a nod and a wink by somebody in Washington, especially after Biden’s bizarre comments about the Kurds a few days ago when he had his wingding with Erdogan.

“We have made it absolutely clear,” he said, that Kurdish forces “must move back across the river. They cannot, will not, and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment, period.”

As Daniel Lazare points out at Consortium News, Obama’s foreign policy is a ball of confusion.

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

Stepan Poltorak, Minister of Defense of Ukraine since October 2014

(Stepan Poltorak, Minister of Defense of Ukraine since October 2014; https://www.newcoldwar.org/russian-investigators-launch-war-crimes-case-ukrainian-defense-minister/)

RT is reporting that Russia’s Investigative Committee, a special committee that investigates high-profile cases, has opened a criminal case against the Ukrainian Defense Minister, Stepan Poltorak, for war crimes against civilians in Donbass:

In a statement published on the agency’s website, the Investigation Committee said it had obtained enough proof that crimes against civilians in the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk had been committed on the orders of top Ukrainian military commanders.

This allowed investigators to launch criminal cases against Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak; Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Viktor Muzhenko; the former and current chief commanders of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, Anatoly Pushnyakov and Sergey Popko respectively; as well as the commander of the Ukrainian National Guard, Yuri Allerov. They all are suspected of sanctioning the use of banned methods and means of warfare – a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The Investigative Committee also stated that Ukraine had repeatedly violated the ceasefire agreement signed on February 15, 2015, and that during these violations Ukraine’s National Guard used heavy artillery to deliberately destroy various installations of civilian infrastructure and indiscriminately used heavy weapons in populated areas, killing and injuring civilians. At least seven civilians were killed as a result of these actions and 74 were wounded, including seven children.

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

(http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/high-alert-russia-tests-armys-readiness-massive-snap-exercise-west-south/ri16130)

Military analyst, The Saker, has reported that, on August 25th, Putin ordered the Russian military to do snap military exercises in the southwestern regions of the country.

Russian Army units as well as the Air Force, Airborne Troops and the Navy’s Northern Fleet have been put on high alert as part of a large-scale snap exercise which the Defense Ministry says will check troops’ readiness to tackle emerging crises.

“According to the decision of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces [President Vladimir Putin], a regular snap exercise begins today,” Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at a briefing with top military commanders on Thursday.

“Troops in the Southern Military District, some units of the Western and Central Military Districts, as well as the Northern Fleet, the Air Force and the Airborne Troops, are to be put on full alert starting from 7.00am [local time],” the minister added.

Unannounced combat readiness inspection started in the Southern, Western and Central MDs.

See the full report with video here.

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

Image result for milosevic images

(Slobodan Milosevic)

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to promote John Pilger’s latest thought-provoking piece on the western mainstream media’s role in propagating lies and misinformation that enables warmongering.  I read Pilger’s classic book “Heroes” when I was in college and have admired his award-winning investigative journalism ever since.  Among other points in this piece, Pilger discusses a fact that has not been reported on in the mainstream media – and hardly in the alternative media – that Slobodan Milosevic was basically cleared of the charges against him by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague:

The exoneration of a man accused of the worst of crimes, genocide, made no headlines. Neither the BBC nor CNN covered it. The Guardian allowed a brief commentary. Such a rare official admission was buried or suppressed, understandably. It would explain too much about how the rulers of the world rule.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has quietly cleared the late Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including the massacre at Srebrenica.

Far from conspiring with the convicted Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Milosevic actually “condemned ethnic cleansing”, opposed Karadzic and tried to stop the war that dismembered Yugoslavia. Buried near the end of a 2,590 page judgement on Karadzic last February, this truth further demolishes the propaganda that justified Nato’s illegal onslaught on Serbia in 1999.

Milosevic died of a heart attack in 2006, alone in his cell in The Hague, during what amounted to a bogus trial by an American-invented “international tribunal”. Denied heart surgery that might have saved his life, his condition worsened and was monitored and kept secret by US officials, as WikiLeaks has since revealed.

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as the “butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for “genocide”, especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against “this new Hitler”. David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes [sic], declared that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered by Milosevic’s forces.

This was the justification for Nato’s bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia’s economic infrastructure.  It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious “peace conference” in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth it”.

Albright delivered an “offer” to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces “outside the legal process”, and to the imposition of a neo-liberal “free market”, Serbia would be bombed. This was contained in an “Appendix B”, which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe’s last independent “socialist” state.

Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees “fleeing a holocaust”. When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”. The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-Nato Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The Nato attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America’s vaunted “precision guided” missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia’s “command and control”. In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate Nato’s crimes.

This was the model for Washington’s subsequent invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and, by stealth, Syria. All qualify as “paramount crimes” under the Nuremberg standard; all depended on media propaganda. While tabloid journalism played its traditional part, it was serious, credible, often liberal journalism that was the most effective – the evangelical promotion of Blair and his wars by the Guardian, the incessant lies about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction in the Observer and the New York Times, and the unerring drumbeat of government propaganda by the BBC in the silence of its omissions.

Read the full article here.

Analysis of “Russian Public Assessments of the Putin Policy Program: Achievements and Challenges”

"Crimea. Russia. Forever." Billboard of Putin in Simferopol, Crimea; photo by Natylie Baldwin
“Crimea. Russia. Forever.” Billboard of Putin in Simferopol, Crimea; photo by Natylie Baldwin

“Russian Public Assessments of the Putin Policy Program: Achievements and Challenges” by John P. Willerton, Professor of Political Science at the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona

Russian Politics, Volume 1, Issue 2, 2016

Professor Willerton provides a valuable assessment of public opinion in Russia with respect to what he refers to as the “Putin Policy Program” – defined as policies pursued by the Putin government during Putin’s first two presidential terms (2000-2008), Dmitry Medvedev’s presidential term (2008-2012, when Putin served as Prime Minister), and Putin’s third presidential term (2012 to present).   Willerton describes the set of policies as:

[Those] directed to the simultaneously overriding goals of strengthening the Russian state, modernizing the Russian society, and bolstering of Russia’s global position. Observers can debate to what extent these policies emerged as part of a coherent program, constitute a more haphazard set of policy responses to changing conditions, or evolved overtime to ultimately form a distinguishable programmatic whole. By 2014, however, a decade and a half after Vladimir Putin’s rise to the Russian presidency and well into his second presidency, a distinguishable policy agenda and program were evident. The Putin agenda and implemented policies were subject to public assessments, and these public judgments merit our attention.

Putin, described as the “paramount leader” receives a consistently high performance assessment by Russians, while the rest of the government receives moderate ratings.  This is contrasted with poor ratings received by Russia’s most visible opposition figure, Aleksai Navalny.

Moreover, Willerton’s evaluation found that Putin’s priorities for Russia are congruent with that of most Russians and that positive assessment was dependent upon the particular policy in question.

It is found that Russians’ positive assessment of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, is juxtaposed with more middling assessments of all other actors, excepting opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, who is poorly viewed. A strong congruence is found between the Putin team’s policy priorities and those of the Russian public, but public assessments of the Putin team’s performance across specific policies are mixed and reveal areas where that team has been both successful and come up short. Results of the October 2014 ROMIR public opinion survey indicate that Putin and his team are well-positioned and that their overall policy performance is acceptable, but policy soft spots and points of concern are revealed: this suggests continuing challenges for the Putin team in delivering a program accommodating the preferences of an aware domestic public.

….An examination of the Russian public’s assessment of the importance of the policy concerns drawn from the Putin position papers and said to be at the heart of the second Putin presidency reveals strong public support, and across all eleven concerns (see Table 1). On a 10-point scale, all eleven concerns register above an 8, with (a) higher standard of living and (b) better quality of social services registering just below 9. Even those policy concerns that rate relatively lower (returned trust to social institutions, return to traditional multi-children families, and efficient state institutions) still garner results well above 8.

It is also pointed out that Putin and his team follow public opinion and make sincere attempts to incorporate it into policy.

There is considerable evidence that Putin and his team are highly concerned about public opinion, expending much effort and many resources to shore up domestic support.7 Indeed, the very return of Putin to the Russian presidency in March 2012 appeared to many as strong evidence of the governing elite’s need to return to the country’s paramount leader when his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and his platform party, United Russia, were found to be so wanting by both critics and supporters.

Willerton decided that 15 years into Putin’s tenure was enough of a run to obtain a meaningful assessment of his governance by the Russian public.  The data Willerton used to study public opinion of Russians toward the Putin government included studies by the independent Levada Center, government-sponsored VTsIOM, fom and the October 2014 NEPORUS-romir-survey “crafted by a team of Norwegian-Swedish-Russian-American scholars and conducted in the field by the Russian survey firm romir…”

Willerton found that the NEPORUS study provided a rich source of data, with Russian public opinion provided on an array of issues, broken down into two dozen policy concerns.

A sampling of the Willerton’s findings follows:

A few benchmark economic and social developments merit mentioning, they have been important to Russians, and Russians have been fully able to contrast these Putin period advances with earlier troubled realities. First, assessments of Russian economic performance and related societal advances since 2000, including those set out by the World Bank, pointed to a significantly expanded national economy and growing middle class that placed Russia in per capita wealth at the top of the brics countries, with Russia matching Germany as the world’s fifth largest economy (in purchasing power parity) by summer 2013.17 Meanwhile, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (unece) data showed that the country’s manufacturing productivity had grown by more than 50% over the Putin period, Rosstat data revealed the country’s food production had more than doubled during that same period, while the country recorded a bumper grain crop in fall 2014.18 It was especially notable that Russian state statistics revealed that the decades’ long decline in the Russian population ended by 2012, with population growth recorded for that and subsequent years.19 Russia’s dramatic population decrease over the course of several decades had arguably been the most important suggestive indicator of a Russian ‘failing state’. The population rise in 2012 and succeeding years was modest, indeed miniscule, but it was symbolically important, and both Russian officials and citizens openly celebrated the demographic turnaround. Relatedly, Putin period surveys consistently revealed mounting upbeat attitudes on the part of Russian respondents regarding both their current and their anticipated short-term future socioeconomic circumstances, with governing Putin team members assuming ever more confident and buoyant public posturing (and as directed both domestically and internationally).20 Other developments, including Russia’s increased foreign policy assertiveness and returned international prominence, could also be noted, but the overriding point is that the policy context of the Putin later 2000s and early 2010s contrasted markedly with that of Russia’s 1990s so-called ‘time of troubles’. Domestic Russian critics’ and Western evaluations of the Putin period domestic policy environment – and interpretations of the above-noted developments – were, in contrast, negative,21 but these judgments had little influence on mainstream Russian expectations and reactions.22

Willerton discusses the goals and policy emphasis articulated by Putin in his seven policy papers of 2012, as well as Russians’ views on the prioritization of the goals and the effectiveness of the results.  Russians’ belief in the need for a strong state is reflected here also.

….The seven presidential campaign policy papers appearing in January-February 2012 reveal two fundamental goals articulated by Putin and said to reflect the overriding hopes of the mainstream Russian public: (1) the strengthening of the Russian state, and (2) the modernization of Russia’s society.24 These goals had been emphasized by Putin from his first days as acting president, they had always been treated as inextricably interconnected, and they found strong resonance with the Russian public. From the discussion surrounding these overriding goals that is set out in the Putin position papers, eleven more focused policy concerns can be identified, they may be grouped into five domains, and these policy concerns are at the heart of my efforts to illuminate public assessments of policy priorities and of the Putin team’s performance in realizing a strengthened state and a modernized society. I organize the domains and more specific policy concerns as follows:

Political domain: (1) efficient state institutions; (2) quality social services; and (3) protection of people’s rights and freedoms.

Economic domain: (1) higher standard of living; and (2) provision of goods and services to the public.

Societal domain: (1) revitalization of cultural life; and (2) promotion of traditional families.

Policies tapping the interconnected political, economic, and societal domains: (1) fight against crime and corruption; (2) ensuring social justice; and (3) returned trust to institutions.

Foreign domain: (1) protection of Russia internationally.

In the political domain, Putin gives detailed attention to strengthening the state and making state institutions more effective and efficient. He explicitly discusses protecting people’s rights and freedoms, his emphasis on qualitative rights (e.g., education, healthcare, housing; what some refer to as ‘material’ or ‘quality of life right’), and in this regard he points to the importance of the state providing ‘quality social services’. In the economic domain, ensuring a heightened standard of living is an emphasis, as is the related provision of goods and services to the public. Concerns of the societal domain include revitalization of the country’s cultural life and promotion of the family. Regarding the latter, creating the conditions for couples to once again choose to have multi-children families is salient, albeit this is directly tied to economic advances.

Willerton reminds the reader that the ambient conditions in Russia when Putin took over the leadership of the country in 2000 (virtually a failed state with massive poverty, a mortality crisis, and rampant crime) must be taken into account in terms of understanding Russian public opinion on the “Putin Policy Program.”

Large government investments in the areas of the National Priority Projects (agriculture, education, healthcare, and housing) had yielded evident over-time payoffs, citizens saw the country’s educational system turning around, they saw state-guaranteed healthcare services strengthened, and they found their pensions arriving without delay. In both symbolic and in real terms, the lot of the country’s most vulnerable – children and the elderly – had markedly improved over the period 2000-14, and romir survey results reflect this and reveal the relative credit mainstream Russians accorded the governing team.

….Regarding the effort against crime and corruption, the regime itself has been explicit in acknowledging a lack of success, with Putin himself declaring at the end of his first presidency that the lack of further inroads against corruption had been the greatest failing of his presidency.28 Yet while citizens acknowledge the continuing problem of crime and corruption, the everyday lives of citizens have evolved from the ‘Wild West’ days of the 1990s, when crime and corruption touched most everyone’s lives in profound ways, prevalent at both the macro and micro levels. By the mid-2010s, the everyday lives of mainstream Russians had become more normalized and regularized, not only were citizens securing the desired goods and services (as commented on above), but they were receiving their salaries and pensions, they were depositing them without fear into banks, and their infrastructural needs were increasingly being met. The notion of ‘corruption’, needless to say, is vague, and for most Russians corruption means ‘bribes’.29 As Russia’s political and socioeconomic life has evolved in the Putin period, crime and corruption have become less central to mainstream citizens’ everyday lives. Thus, the results here – that respondents assess the Putin team’s performance in fighting and eradicating crime and corruption as middling, but not failing – make intuitive sense.30

Overall, I found no great surprises in the results of Willerton’s meta-analysis of Russian public opinion towards Putin, his policies and his government.  I’ve been following many of the opinion surveys put out by Levada and VTsIOM for a couple of years now.  These surveys, along with my discussions with Russians last October, gave the impression that many in Russia view Putin as an overall good leader who has provided stability, improved standards of living, and a sense that they can once again hold their heads high as Russians.

Putin is viewed as a generally decent person doing his best to work within a bad system characterized by a sprawling country with a cumbersome and largely corrupt bureaucracy.  It is a deeply entrenched system that will take time and savvy to turn around and Russians trust Putin to continue moving in the generally positive direction he has embarked upon.

Did the Pentagon Declare a “No-Fly Zone” in Syria?; Merchants of Death Admit Russia “Threat” Good for Business; Putin Offers to Host Peace Summit Between Israel & Palestine; Leader of DPR in Donbass Comments on Meeting with OSCE; More on Media Propaganda re Syria

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(https://www.c-span.org/video/?414272-1/defense-department-briefing)

Daniel McAdams, a foreign policy analyst at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and prosperity, has raised some interesting questions regarding a press conference held by the Pentagon on August 22nd:

Reading between the lines in today’s Pentagon press briefing, a bombshell US policy shift is becoming more apparent: Syrian forces and their Russian partners are being told that conducting military operations in some parts of Syrian airspace opens them up to being shot down by the US military.

Pentagon Spokesman Peter Cook was asked numerous times in numerous ways whether this amounts to a US “no fly zone” over parts of Syria. His first response was vague but threatening:

We will use our air power as needed to protect coalition forces and our partnered operations. …We advise the Syrian regime to steer clear of [certain] areas.The policy shift was so apparent that, one-by-one, the press corps asked for clarification. Does this mean that the US would shoot down Russian or Syrian planes if they attacked any US-backed partners even if they were engaged against Syrian government forces? Are those “coalition forces” and “partnered operations” receiving US protection against attack from the air always in receipt of that protection, or only when they are actively engaged in military operations? What are the rules of engagement?

There was no clear answer from the Pentagon spokesman.

“Is this a ‘no-fly’ zone, then,” asked another reporter. It’s not a “no-fly zone” Cook responded.

Another journalist tried to get some clarity:

How is telling Syria not to fly in certain areas not a ‘no fly’ zone?

“Call it what you will,” Cook eventually said.

Another journalist asked, “Do you think the Syrian regime has the right to fly over its own territory?”

Same answer: “We will use our air power as needed to protect coalition forces and our partnered operations.”

The press conference in question can be viewed here.

On a separate but related note, it has been reported at The Intercept, that U.S. defense contractors are telling investors that the “threat” of Russia that is being played up in Washington and in the corporate media represents a boon for their business:

The escalating anti-Russian rhetoric in the U.S. presidential campaign comes in the midst of a major push by military contractors to position Moscow as a potent enemy that must be countered with a drastic increase in military spending by NATO countries.

Weapon makers have told investors that they are relying on tensions with Russia to fuel new business in the wake of Russia’sannexation of Crimea and modest increases in its military budget.

In particular, the arms industry — both directly and through its arsenal of hired-gun, think-tank experts and lobbyists – is actively pressuring NATO member nations to hike defense spending in line with the NATO goal for member states to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Retired Army Gen. Richard Cody, a vice president at L-3 Communications, the seventh largest U.S. defense contractor, explained to shareholders in December that the industry was faced with a historic opportunity. Following the end of the Cold War, Cody said, peace had “pretty much broken out all over the world,” with Russia in decline and NATO nations celebrating. “The Wall came down,” he said, and “all defense budgets went south.”

Now, Cody argued, Russia “is resurgent” around the world, putting pressure on U.S. allies. “Nations that belong to NATO are supposed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “We know that uptick is coming and so we postured ourselves for it.”

….Think tanks with major funding from defense contractors, including the Lexington Institute and the Atlantic Council, have similarly demanded higher defense spending to counter Russia.

Stephen Hadley, the former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush now serving on the board of Raytheon, a firm competing for major NATO military contracts, has argued forcefully for hiking defense budgets and providing lethal aid to Ukraine. Hadley said in a speech last summer that the U.S. must “raise the cost for what Russia is doing in Ukraine,” adding that “even President Putin is sensitive to body bags.”

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(Netanyahu and Abbas.  Credit: Associated Press;  http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.737979)

Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that, according to Egyptian president, Al-Sissi, Putin has stated his willingness to hold a peace summit between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu:

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed a willingness to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for talks in Moscow, Egyptian media reported on Monday.

Sissi’s remarks came as Israeli and Palestinians officials reported unsuccessful efforts on the part of European officials to try and arrange a similar summit.

“The Russian president has informed me that he has invited Palestinian President [Abbas] and Prime Minister Netanyahu for a meeting in Moscow,” Sissi said.

“Egypt supports these efforts and both sides are urged to participate and respond positively to the initiative for the sake of finding light at the end of the tunnel for Palestinians and establishing their state alongside Israel.”

According to Sissi, “Egypt’s relationship with both sides, Israelis and the Palestinians, permit it to play a central role in the attempt to renew the diplomatic process.” Nonetheless, he said, Egypt cannot be solely responsible, but will rather be “that which convinces the sides that if peace will be attained light will shine on the entire region.”

I’m not sure how Putin would be able to work around the Israeli government’s intransigence on this issue, but if any world leader is adept at pulling a rabbit out of his hat, it is Putin.  I wish him much luck – he will need it .

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Aleksandr Zakharachenko, First Minister of the Donetsk Peoples Republic

(Aleksandr Zakharachenko, First Minister of the Donetsk Peoples Republic)

There have been several OSCE reports over the months indicating that OSCE monitors of the contact line in Donbass have encountered hostility and threats from soldiers representing the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in the course of doing their job. I’m also aware of reports that many in the DPR do not trust the OSCE monitors and believe them, for various reasons, to be biased.

Consequently, DPR’s leader Aleksandr Zakharachenko, had a meeting with leaders of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, after which he gave the following statement:

We have discussed with Mr. Hug all the questions which are of interest for, on the one hand, the OSCE monitoring mission and, on the other hand, the Donetsk People’s Republic. In particular, it was issues relating to the ceasefire o the contact line. In this regard, I appealed to Mr. Hug with a request for the OSCE mission to be more objective.

With regard to the security of the OSCE observers in the Donetsk People’s Republic, I suggested that Mr. Hug consider an option of our officers accompanying the observers. Then we will be able to take responsibility not only for the safety of the observers, but also for the fact that there will be no obstacles and misunderstandings in the performance of their duties.

In addition, I made a proposal that the OSCE warn us about the work of their drones. In this case, no one will interfere with their work. Otherwise, our military perceive drones as unidentified aircraft that may pose a threat to our residents. As it is known, recently, the Ukrainian side has been using their drones not only for the reconnaissance and subsequent shelling, but also directly to attack, stuffing their UAVs with explosives.

On the whole, the conversation was constructive, and we agreed to meet again after Mr. Hug ponders my suggestions.

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Map of Syria, showing Golan Heights in the lower left corner.

(Map of Syria; https://consortiumnews.com/2016/08/23/propaganda-for-syrian-regime-change/)

Rick Sterling, whom was an acquaintance of mine during the mid-2000’s when we both volunteered for the Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center in Walnut Creek, has gone on several fact-finding missions to Syria in the past couple of years.  His latest article details how the American people are being primed with propaganda to support military escalation on behalf of regime change in Syria, being sold under the “humanitarian” label:

….There has been lots of publicity around a letter to President Obama, supposedly written by 15 doctors in East Aleppo. The letter ends “We need your action.” The flow and wording of the letter suggests it may have been composed by a marketing company and there has been no verification of the doctors who supposedly signed it.

The letter was likely written by a paid Syria War propagandist or Washington lobby firm. Read the letter here and judge for yourself. For contrast watch this interview with a real Syrian doctor not mouthing propaganda from K Street in Washington D.C.

An online Change petition asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama to “save the people of Aleppo.” The publicly funded Holocaust Memorial Museum has promoted the video #SaveSyria. One of the producers of the video is The Syria Campaign which is the marketing organization which branded the pervasive “White Helmets,” as documented in “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”.

In parallel with this media campaign, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has introduced HR5732 the “Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2016.” The resolution calls for escalating economic/financial pressure on Syria and “Assessment of potential effectiveness of and requirements for the establishment of safe zones or a no fly zone in Syria”.

Dr. Sahloul, the Syrian American Medical Society doctor / spokesperson, says that Obama’s legacy will be defined by whether or not he attacks Syria to impose a “no fly zone.”  It seems unlikely that Obama would do that at the end of his term. Instead, the goal is to prepare the public for the new war to begin after Hillary Clinton becomes President.

….Here a few facts about Aleppo which contradict the mainstream media narrative:

–At least 85 percent of Aleppo’s population is in government-controlled areas.

–The estimate of 300,000 civilians in rebel/terrorist-controlled east Aleppo is likely a gross exaggeration. In spring 2015, Martin Chulov of the Guardian visited the area and estimated there were 40,000.

–While there are very few doctors serving in the opposition-controlled Aleppo, there are thousands of doctors working in the government-controlled area.

–The dominant rebel-terrorist group in Aleppo is the Syrian version of Al Qaeda.

–The armed groups who invaded Aleppo have been unpopular from the beginning. In the fall of 2012, journalist James Foley wrote: “Aleppo, a city of about 3 million people, was once the financial heart of Syria. As it continues to deteriorate, many civilians here are losing patience with the increasingly violent and unrecognizable opposition — one that is hampered by infighting and a lack of structure, and deeply infiltrated by both foreign fighters and terrorist groups.” (Foley was later captured by Syrian rebels and executed by the Islamic State on Aug. 19, 2014.)

–The rebel-terrorists launch dozens and sometimes hundreds of mortars daily into the government-controlled areas causing huge casualties. Western media ignores this destruction and loss of life.

–The much publicized April bombing of the supposed Medecins sans Frontieres-supported “Al Quds Hospital” in Aleppo was full of contradictions and discrepancies. These were highlighted in an Open Letter to MSF. To this date, MSF has not provided corroborating information.

–Much of the video purporting to show bombing effects in Aleppo are stamped with the “White Helmets” logo. White Helmets is a creation of the U.S. and U.K. and primarily a propaganda tool. The claims they are Syrian, independent and non-partisan are all false.

–Much of the information about Syria comes from “activists” trained and paid by the U.S. In her book  Hard Choices, Secretary Clinton says the U.S. provided “training for more than a thousand (Syrian) activists, students, and independent journalists” (p464, hardback version). Obviously they are not independent and their reports should be carefully checked.

–In contrast with the ambiguous situation at “Al Quds Hospital”, consider what happened to Aleppo’s “Al Kindi Hospital.” Take three minutes to view the suicide bombing of Al Kindi Hospital. Take two minutes to view what the “rebels” did to Syrian soldiers who had been guarding the hospital.

–Like NBC correspondent Richard Engels’s fake kidnapping and the contrived CNN reports by “Syrian Danny,” the Aug. 21, 2013 chemical attack in Ghouta has been essentially shown to have been a staged event intended to force a U.S. attack on the Syrian government by making it appear that President Bashar al-Assad had crossed President Obama’s “red line.”

–The latest propaganda tool being used to promote U.S. aggression against Syria is the photograph of little Omran in the orange ambulance seat. The video comes from the Aleppo Media Center, or AMC. Like the White Helmets, AMC is a U.S. creation.

The photo of Omran has been widely accepted without scrutiny. The insightful Moon of Alabama has raised serious questions about the media sensation. Brad Hoff has documented that the main photographer, Mahmoud Raslan, is an ally of the Nour al Din al Zenki rebel terrorists who beheaded a young Palestinian Syrian a few weeks ago, confirmed step by step in this short video. Another good short video exposing the propaganda around #Syrianboy is here.

Why the Burst of Propaganda?

The Syrian crisis is at a critical point with the prospect that the rebel/terrorists will collapse.  If they are crushed or expelled, it would allow hundreds of thousands of displaced Aleppans to return home as soon as services are restored. This would also allow the Syrian army and allies to focus on attacking the Islamic State in the east and rebel/terrorist groups remaining in Idlib, Hama, the outskirts of Damascus and the south.

The full article can be read here.

Leaked Documents Reveal George Soros’ Influence on Washington’s Ukraine Policy in 2014; U.S. Moves Nukes Out of Turkey; Russia’s Response to Accusations of Bombing Civilians in Syria

Russian Naval Base at Sevastopol, Crimea; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Russian Naval Base at Sevastopol, Crimea; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

As reported in The Duran, recently leaked emails reveal that George Soros used his influence with many key players from Washington with respect to the Ukraine coup and its aftermath in 2014.

Soros has a history of using his network of NGO’s to foment instability in target countries in order to help pave the way for insertion of leaders who will be receptive to American corporate and geopolitical interests, while Soros often gets to profit as a carpetbagger afterwards.  The role of Soros and his network of NGO’s in the Ukraine crisis of 2013-2014 is discussed in my co-author’s half of Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated.

….More documents, in the massive 2,500 leaked tranche, show the immense power and control Soros had over Ukraine immediately following the illegal Maidan government overthrow.

Soros and his NGO executives held detailed and extensive meetings with just about every actor involved in the Maidan coup…from US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, to Ukraine’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Health, and Education.

The only person missing was Victoria Nuland, though we are sure those meeting minutes are waiting to see the light of day.

Plans to subvert and undermine Russian influence and cultural ties to Ukraine are a central focus of every conversation. US hard power, and EU soft power, is central towards bringing Ukraine into the neo-liberal model that Soros champions, while bringing Russia to its economic knees.

Soros NGO,  International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) plays a key role in the formation of the “New Ukraine”…the term Soros frequently uses when referring to his Ukraine project.

The leaked documents can be found here.

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Military base at Deveselu, Romania (photo by Lockheed Martin)

(Military base at Deveselu, Romania (photo by Lockheed Martin))

EurActiv is reporting that, as a consequence of cratered relations between Washington and Ankara in the wake of the failed coup attempt which Erdogan blames on Washington, the U.S. is in the process of removing its 50 tactical nuclear weapons from the Incirlik base in Turkey to Romania.

EXCLUSIVE – Two independent sources have told EurActiv.com that the U.S. has started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania, against the background of worsening relations between Washington and Ankara.

According to one of the sources, the transfer has been very challenging in technical and political terms. “It’s not easy to move 20+ nukes,” said the source, on conditions of anonymity.

According to a recent report by the Simson Center, since the Cold War, some 50 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons have been stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, approximately 100 kilometres from the Syrian border.

During the failed coup in Turkey in July, Incirlik’s power was cut, and the Turkish government prohibited U.S. aircraft from flying in or out. Eventually, the base commander was arrested and implicated in the coup. Whether the U.S. could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question, the report says.

Another source told EurActiv.com that the U.S.-Turkey relations had deteriorated so much following the coup that Washington no longer trusted Ankara to host the weapons. The American weapons are being moved to the Deveselu air base in Romania, the source said.

Deveselu, near the city of Caracal, is the new home of the U.S. missile shield, which has infuriated Russia.

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Five year old Omar Daqneesh whose image went worldwide is shown following treatment by doctors in Aleppo (Twitter)

(Five year old Omar Daqneesh whose image went worldwide is shown following treatment by doctors in Aleppo (Twitter))

By now, many are aware of the reports of dead civilians allegedly resulting from Russian bombing runs in support of the Syrian government in the battle of Aleppo.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has announced an official denial of the charges:

Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied claims it carried out attacks on a civilian area in Aleppo’s Qaterji district. The claims were made by Western media after video and pictures of a wounded five-year-old boy from the area emerged online.

“The critical plight that the children from eastern Aleppo districts are in – unwillingly taken hostage by terrorists – is surely a tragedy,” said the official representative of the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov.

He criticized certain Western media for the “cynical use of this tragedy in anti-Russian propaganda material,” calling it a “moral crime.”

“We have repeatedly stressed that the Russian Air Force planes operating in Syria never work on targets within residential areas,” Konashenkov said.

“It is all the more relevant regarding al-Qaterji, mentioned by the Western media, as it is adjacent to the exit corridors for locals which were opened in the framework of the Russian humanitarian mission,” he added, as quoted in a Defense Ministry press release.

Russian monitoring groups have noted daily terrorist strikes in the area, conducted using makeshift artillery mounts. The terrorists, the Russian humanitarian mission says, “target roads, streets, and residential buildings in the close proximity of the humanitarian passages.”

“It is done to disrupt any attempts to receive medical and other kinds of aid for eastern Aleppo residents, who are basically terrorist hostages now.

“The nature of the debris shown by Western broadcasters during the operation to save [the wounded boy, Omran Daqneesh] demonstrates that there are intact windows in a building nearby, and this in turn shows that the strike, if it happened, was carried out not using aircraft ammunition but a mine or a gas cylinder, which are commonly used by terrorists,” Konashenkov also said.

This Syrian boy's image did not go viral because he was injured by the extremist forces fighting the Syrian government (image on Twitter)

(This Syrian boy’s image did not go viral because he was injured by the extremist forces fighting the Syrian government, according to New Cold War.org’s news site (image on Twitter))

RTreports that the Russian Defense Ministry also announced that it is backing a proposal from the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, calling for 48-hour ceasefires, during which the UN can deliver aid relief to civilians trapped in Aleppo.

As a means to broaden the scale of the humanitarian mission in Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry is ready to back the UN proposal to introduce the 48-hour pauses, which would allow the city’s population to be supplied with food and medication, and for vital infrastructure damaged by terrorist shelling to be restored, the ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said.

A test-run of the 48-hour truces could be organized next week to see if relief can reach civilians safely.

“A more precise date and time will be determined after receiving information about the readiness of the convoys from the UN representatives and receiving confirmation of the security guarantees of their safe travel from our American partners,” Konashenkov said.

The Russian Ministry of Defense proposed that humanitarian aid be delivered to Aleppo by two separate routes to western and eastern parts of the city, as the eastern part of Aleppo is controlled by militia while the western part is controlled by government forces.

The first route will start from Gaziantep, Turkey, through a border checkpoint, and by the Castello road to the eastern part of Aleppo. The second one will use the road to the east of Aleppo which encircles the city to the Handarat area, and then by the Castello road to the western part of the city.

The Ministry of Defense added that Moscow is ready to discuss the issues concerning the safety of UN humanitarian convoys with Damascus and expects the same security guarantees from Washington regarding the so-called “moderate opposition” and other units.

The UN has welcomed Russia’s support of the decision to put hostilities in Aleppo on 48-hour pauses weekly to make sure humanitarian convoys reach their destinations, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the secretary-general, said on Thursday.

**For in-depth and contextual background on the war in Syria, I recommend the following articles:

  1.  Deconstructing the NATO Narrative on Syria by Eva Bartlett.  (Bartlett is an independent journalist who has been reporting in different parts of Syria throughout the war)
  2. Syria; Another Pipeline War by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (This article appeared at The Ecologist in February of 2016)
  3. Pentagon Report Says West, Gulf States and Turkey Foresaw Emergence of ISIS by Nafeez Ahmed (This article was originally published at The Middle East Eye on May 29, 2015)
  4. The Red Line and the Rat Line by Seymour Hersh (This article was originally published in April of 2014 by Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, at the London Review of Books)