Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

US and EU sidelined as Turkey, Iran and Russia sign Syria declaration

December 21, 2016

The opposition to Assad was primarily fueled (and maybe even initiated) by the EU and the US. It was a regime-change exercise where the expectations of the various rebel groups that Assad would be quickly overthrown did not materialise. The Obama/Kerry engagement in Syria can be characterised as being based on wishful thinking and without any implementable strategy.

Until the Russians intervened ISIS, the Al Nusrah front, Al Qaida and other diverse extremist and rebel groups were making daily gains. Turkey of course dislikes Assad, does not like any Kurdish success which helps the formation of a Kurdistan – or at least a Kurdistan which would include any part of Turkey. Nevertheless Turkey sees benefit in allying with Russia rather than with NATO – mainly because they always play both sides against the middle and certainly want to be part of any winning Russian coalition.

In any event, the EU and the US have had to accept a humiliating defeat of the opposition groups they supported in Aleppo. The French in particular have been extremely upset by the reverse suffered by their surrogates. (The attempt by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul with US support continues).

It has got to the point where now Iran and Russia and Turkey (along with Assad’s representatives) arrange meetings about the future of Syria where the EU and the US are not even invited.

But of course the EU and the US are full of high moral platitudes but have made it quite clear that they are not prepared to ‘walk their own talk’.

Countercurrents:

Yesterday, top Russian, Turkish, and Iranian officials met in Moscow and signed a declaration they billed as ending the US-instigated war in Syria. Coming after Russian-backed Syrian army units captured the key city of Aleppo from US-backed Islamist fighters, the deal shows that moves to improve ties between the three countries are continuing despite Monday’s assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov.

“Today, experts are working on the text of the Moscow declaration on immediate steps towards resolving the Syrian crisis. It is a thorough, extremely necessary document,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Dehghan.

Shoigu dismissed US and European initiatives in Syria, declaring that “attempts to agree on joint efforts undertaken by the US or their partners were doomed. … None of them exerted real influence on the situation on the ground.”

The initiative was hailed by officials from Turkey, in a sharp turnaround from Turkey’s support for US-backed Islamist opposition militias in the early years of the war. “Now we are observing a very successful operation to liberate eastern Aleppo from fighters, the evacuation of the families of the opposition from Aleppo,” said Turkish National Defence Minister Fikri Işık.

Meeting with his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Javad Zarif, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said cooperation between Russia, Turkey, and Iran had “brought about definite successes” in Aleppo. He said he hoped “to spread it to other districts of Syria.”

The expulsion of the Islamist opposition from Aleppo and developing collaboration between Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran mark a major setback for Washington and its European allies. For five years, US imperialism tried to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by backing Islamist militias, a strategy it later expanded to include backing Kurdish nationalist forces in Syria, as well. While this operation was marketed as a revolution in the US and European media, it collapsed because the US-backed forces lacked any real popular support.

Though Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, Ankara is reacting to the victory of the Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran in Aleppo by developing ever closer ties to Russia. During the launch of a Turkish-Russian joint investigation into Karlov’s murder, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara and Moscow would “not let anyone harm Turkish-Russian relations.” …….

It could well be that if Trump’s administration starts a pull-back from NATO expansionism, the much feared departure of Turkey from NATO could be on the cards again.

…… Amid escalating damage to the Turkish economy and fears that NATO allies, notably in Europe, might not intervene to aid Turkey in a war with Russia, the Turkish regime shifted its foreign policy. It began mentioning a possible rapprochement with Russia and the Syrian regime. In May 2016, Erdogan discharged his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who had previously declared that he ordered the shooting down of the Russian fighter, and apologized to Russia.

This set the stage for Washington and Berlin to tacitly back a coup attempt that nearly succeeded against Erdogan on July 15, and which Ankara blamed on Gülen’s movement. It was reportedly averted thanks to timely warnings from Russia. This inflamed the already explosive tensions not only inside Turkey, but above all, between Erdogan’s government and the major NATO powers.

The Turkish government has reacted by manoeuvring ever more desperately between its ostensible allies in NATO and the major Eurasian powers, Russia and China. In recent months, amid growing economic ties between China and Turkey, Erdogan has repeatedly declared that Turkey might join the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), claiming this would allow Ankara “to act more freely.”

This drew a sharp reaction from NATO. Visiting Istanbul last month for the NATO Parliamentarians Assembly, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Erdogan and said, “I am sure Turkey will do nothing that could impair the concept of joint defence … and NATO unity.”

Above all, however, Ankara sought closer ties to Russia. Earlier this month, the Russian and Turkish prime ministers, Dmitri Medvedev and Binali Yildirim, met in Moscow. They agreed that “the normalization of the Syrian situation is a priority task for our countries and it will definitely serve to the benefit of the whole region, not to mention Syria, which is currently in a very complicated situation.”

On December 6, Yildirim criticized NATO for “hesitation” and “foot-dragging” in Syria: “Nice words are exchanged about defending civilization against terrorism. But the big terrorist networks challenging us today operate across borders.” He described the Turkish-Russian initiative as a push for a “forceful and united international front to eradicate terrorism.”

Turkey, Russia, Iran Sign Deal On Syria

Turkey, Russia, Iran Sign Deal On Syria


 

Russia accuses US coalition of assisting ISIS attack Palmyra to save Al-Nusra front rebels in Aleppo

December 13, 2016

What has been apparent is that the US led coalition (and France in particular) have a lot vested with the Assad-rebels holed up in Aleppo. France has been particularly active in trying to get the Russians and Assad’s forces to agree to a cease-fire in Aleppo – ostensibly for humanitarian aid – but also for relieving the besieged rebels that they support. Of course the US coalition attacking Mosul in Iraq have not been quite so concerned about the civilians being used as human shields by ISIS.

Of course this could just be Russian propaganda but there is some logic to their claim that the US-led coalition have allowed ISIS forces from Mosul to attack Palmyra to try and force Assad’s forces away from retaking Aleppo and instead to defend Palmyra. It is not inconceivable that the US and France are quite desperate to save the Al-Nusra front rebels they support and are even prepared to ease off on ISIS to that end:

RT: 

A new Islamic State attack on Palmyra from the Mosul region could be ‘orchestrated’ to divert the attention of Syrian government forces from Aleppo and spare the militants entrenched in the city, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

The fact that Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) militants launched their offensive on Palmyra from Iraq and “apparently from Mosul” and marched through the “territories patrolled by the aircraft of the US-led coalition makes one think that – and I really hope to be wrong here – that it was orchestrated and coordinated to give a respite to those thugs, who are entrenched in eastern Aleppo,” the foreign minister said during a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, as he answered a question asked by RT. 

Lavrov went on to say that the US has been conducting a two-faced policy towards terrorist groups in Syria from the very beginning of the Syrian crisis. The US-led coalition is fighting Islamic State but is studiously avoiding targeting another terrorist group, which is Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, he said.

“There is a significant number of reasons to believe that [Al-Nusra] is being spared as the most effective combat-capable force, which opposes the governmental [forces] of the ground in order to be used for overthrowing the legitimate Syrian government when the time comes,” Lavrov told journalists. …..

That the US is – even now – focused on regime change in Syria and is trying to assist the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front is not at all illogical. The Obama/Kerry strategy in Syria and Iraq is a maze of inconsistencies and fundamentally flawed.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this Russian report held a great deal of truth.


 

Putin/Lavrov are running rings around Obama/Kerry in the the Middle East

October 5, 2016

Putin takes risks but Obama does not. But whereas Russia’s risk taking is based on some hard calculation of the probability of success, Obama and Kerry are obsessed with risk avoidance. So much so that US policy in Syria and against ISIS could be said to be “paralysis by analysis”. But the Russian risk-taking seems to be paying off.

analysis-paralysis

analysis-paralysis

  1. The Russian intervention started the decline of ISIS
  2. Putin has allied with Iran and Shi’ite interests while remaining on good terms with Netanyahu and Israel,
  3. Putin’s support of Assad, has forced the US supported rebel groups to ally themselves with terroris groups (Al-Nusra front),
  4. While the West has been criticising Erdogan’s purge of his opposition, a remarkable detente has developed between Russia and Turkey (which after the downing of the Russian fighter plane hardly seemed feasible),
  5. Sunni Arab states are so disillusioned with Washington and Russian influence has grown so much in the region, that they are now making overtures to Putin in spite of his support for the Shi’ites.
  6. Saudi Arabia has paused its oil war against Iran and Russia.

An insightful commentary in Reuters:

Putin’s Middle East gamble is paying dividends

Vladimir Putin has made an art of turning weakness into strength.  As Russian and Syrian forces pound Aleppo in the biggest assault of Syria’s five-year civil war, the Russian president clearly has emerged as a dominant force in the Middle East. ……..

…….. Over the last year, Putin has inserted Russia into the Syrian conflict and shored up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad as it was on the verge of collapse. The Russian leader has forged a quasi-military alliance with Iran that has allowed him to project power in the Persian Gulf – something that has evaded Moscow since the end of World War Two.

If that wasn’t enough, Putin’s relationship with Turkey, which seemed to be on a collision course after Ankara downed a Russian fighter jet last year, has now warmed to the point where Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan are about to restore full diplomatic relations. All the while Putin has maintained a close and productive relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

…………. 

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the United States has aligned its interest in the Persian Gulf with Sunni monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. In turn, these countries have invested heavily in the United States – from buying U.S. debt, to investing in real estate and buying billions of dollars in American military hardware.

Arab states have also invested heavily in Washington, buying influence in the corridors of power, funding think tanks and hiring public relations firms to help spread a narrative about why their countries are essential to America’s interest in the Middle East. The relationship between Riyadh and Washington remains particularly strong even as the American public questions the logic behind an alliance with a country whose actions often run counter to Washington’s interests. 

These countries feel that Washington is obligated to share their view of the Middle East, which means backing them regardless of whether any conflict they engage in is against the interest of the United States. They have no such influence in Moscow. Even as Moscow backs Shi’ite powerhouse Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, Sunni Arab leaders continue to court Putin and look for ways to collaborate with him. Saudi Arabia, for example is currently trying to coordinate with Moscow on how best to stabilize oil markets and want Putin to pressure Iran to do the same.

Russia’s partnerships are based on cold, hard realism. Putin’s sole aim is to further Moscow’s interest. He’s unburdened by a legacy of alliances that do not serve Russia’s strategic aims. He supports Damascus, Tehran and the Shi’ite government of Iraq because he views Sunni extremism as a long-term threat that has destabilized countries in the Middle East, and which he fears could wreak havoc in countries close to Russia’s borders. Yet this coordination and collaboration with Shi’ite Iran doesn’t preclude him from working with Sunni Arab states to promote trade for Russian industry and its atomic energy program. 

Putin is doing all of this while remaining close to Netanyahu. Even though Putin is working with Syria and Iran – Israel’s mortal enemies – he has convinced Netanyahu that these alliances are not meant to threaten Israel’s existence, but rather serve a larger purpose of defeating Sunni extremism. Russia continues to cooperate with Israel in diverse fields such as energy, agriculture and arms. Russia and Israel also maintain close military contacts and Putin is careful not to transfer offensive weapons to Israel’s foes.

Juxtapose this with how Netanyahu treated Obama and interferes in U.S. domestic politics. In the run-up to the Iran deal, Netanyahu used the influence of AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbying organizations to try and undermine a sitting president and scuttle his signature foreign policy achievement.

If Israel or another U.S. ally tried to interfere or challenge Putin in such a manner, it’s difficult to imagine that he would reward them with $38 billion in aid for ten years, as Obama has done with Israel, or continue to support them militarily with advanced weapons and intelligence – as Washington has done with Saudi Arabia. …….

……….


 

US warship playing in Russia’s backyard is buzzed by Russian aircraft — what else?

April 14, 2016

The US Navy and a compliant press corps in the US and in Europe are making a great to-do about Russian aircraft buzzing a US warship playing war-games, in the Baltic. A long way from home and in the Russians’ backyard.

What's a US warship doing in the Baltic?

What’s a US warship doing in the Baltic?

What did they expect?

If a Russian warship was carrying out exercises just off the US coast, the US military would be castigated if it did not challenge such games.

NATO – after Turkey and Ukraine and Libya – is proving to be irresponsible. In Syria they could not do in 5 years what the Russians seem to have done in 6 months.

Baltic Sea Region

Baltic Sea Region

The Swedish military and the defence industry are pushing for Sweden to join NATO. I suspect that could be just the provocation needed for the Russians to do to the Baltic what the Chinese are doing in the South China Sea. Take over a few islands, build some airstrips and military bases and redefine the extent of domestic waters. It may not be Gotland in the first instance but Sweden joining NATO will increase the risk in the Baltic – not reduce it.

NATO expansionism creates a greater risk of WW3 than Russian aggression in Russian dominated areas of the old Soviet Union.

US Navy Press Release:

A United States Navy destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea experienced several close interactions by Russian aircraft April 11 and 12.

USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) encountered multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship.

On April 11, Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an allied military helicopter when two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes at approximately 3 p.m. local. One of the passes, which occurred while the allied helicopter was refueling on the deck of Donald Cook, was deemed unsafe by the ship’s commanding officer. As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspended until the SU-24s departed the area.

On April 12, while Donald Cook was operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted circles at low altitude around the ship, seven in total, at approximately 5 p.m. local. The helicopter passes were also deemed unsafe and unprofessional by the ship’s commanding officer. About 40 minutes following the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total. The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian. USS Donald Cook’s commanding officer deemed several of these maneuvers as unsafe and unprofessional.

After Syria, there is some irony in the US military accusing the Russians of unprofessionalism. Or maybe I’m thinking of competence rather than professionalism.


 

The Obama is the cabbage to Putin as the King .. and pigs indeed have wings

March 17, 2016

Lewis Carroll

The Walrus and the Carpenter
    Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
    Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
    And waited in a row.

`The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
    `To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
    Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
    And whether pigs have wings.’

Putin started his Syrian intervention on 29th September, 2015, much to to the astonishment of the Obama and his overpaid, idiot advisors. “It won’t work” cried the Obama. “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire …” They were even more astonished when, less than 6 months later, Putin ordered a withdrawal of Russian troops (while still maintaining his air bases and air-defense systems and enough troops to protect Russian assets).

cabbages and kings (Northern Echo)

cabbages and kings (Northern Echo)

But pigs have wings in Syria and Putin is proving himself to be the King to Obama’s cabbage.

Why — and how — Russia won in Syria

A day after Putin announced a Russian withdrawal from Syria, it’s clear that his gamble has turned into a major win for Moscow. Here’s what Russia achieved — and why it was so successful.

First — and most importantly — Russian bombing turned the tide of the war in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor. When the Russian military deployed to Syria, Assad was in serious trouble, …….. Five months later, …. Assad clearly holds the military upper hand. ……“the Russian reinforcement has changed the calculus completely.”

……. Second, Putin recently achieved an important diplomatic objective by forcing the United States to acknowledge that Russia plays a key role in determining Syria’s future. …… The most recent ceasefire beginning on February 27, however, was negotiated in Geneva directly between the United States and Russia. Both sides agreed to act as equal guarantors for the ceasefire, and Obama concluded negotiations by speaking directly to Putin. As icing on the cake, Moscow recently forced Washington to renounce its position that “Assad must go,” with Secretary of State John Kerry stating “the United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” and that the focus was “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.”

Third, Putin responded to Turkey’s shoot down of a Russian jet by humiliating Ankara, an emerging rival in the Middle East and Central Asia. Russia deployed advanced S400 surface-to-air missiles near Turkey. ….. Putin also grievously wounded Turkey’s key rebel allies and close ethnic cousins, the Syrian Turkmen. Turkmen rebels reportedly killed the Russian pilots shot down by Turkish jets, and bombing the Turkmen allows Putin to both avenge these deaths — thereby playing to Russian public opinion — while degrading the effectiveness of one of Assad’s enemies.

Putin also hit Turkey where it hurts by playing the “Kurdish card” against Ankara. ……… Russia, though, plays on Turkish fears by providing air support for YPG efforts to fully control the Turkish-Syrian border, ….

Finally, Putin’s Syrian campaign has contributed to weakening the European Union. …….. Russia “weaponizes” refugees by bombing civilian targets and supporting Assad’s troops, thereby causing a substantially greater inflow of refugees into Europe — up to 100,000 from the city of Aleppo alone. Meanwhile, resentment toward Germany’s open-door refugee policy produces rising anger across the EU, ……….

……. Washington’s Syrian policy, meanwhile, remains a hopeless muddle. At various points the Obama administration insisted that “Assad must go” — and that Assad can stay. ……. The United States’ search for moderate rebels led it to support the Free Syrian Army. But FSA militias sometimes tactically ally with al Qaeda’s Syrian branch — effectively putting Washington on the same side at times as the perpetrators of 9/11.

Washington’s Sunni allies have not exactly been trouble-free either. Vice President Joseph Biden publicly accused the Turks, Saudis and Qataris of arming Syrian militants, ………. 

The Obama administration’s proxy strategy epitomizes this confusion. One Pentagon program spent $500 million on a train and equip program …… and even then, the few trainees actually sent into Syria promptly turned their weapons over to al Qaeda.

……….. As Moscow exits the Syrian morass, the five-month-long military campaign represents a clear geopolitical win for Vladimir Putin. 

At least Obama will not be called upon to deal with ISIS in Libya. That is going to be left to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is more likely to be another cabbage and Donald Trump could be a total disaster but he has a tiny chance of turning out to be a King.


 

Six months of Russian intervention shows up 5 years of Obama’s ineptitude in Syria

March 13, 2016

Russia began its current intervention in Syria on September 30th last year, whereas the US began its anti-Assad campaign in 2011:

……… with the financing, training and encouragement of selected “moderate rebels”. They have no doubt weakened Assad but have also been instrumental in creating ISIS.

The Russian intervention has had a focus and an end-game in mind, both of which were missing from the US/NATO “strategy”. The “ceasefire” that is currently in place allows Russia (and Assad) to continue operating against the “terrorists” (ISIS, Al Nusra…) who are not party to the ceasefire. The US is now just following Russia’s lead much to the chagrin of the many Sunni opposition groups and of Saudi Arabia.

The only objective which Obama and Kerry ever had in Syria was to remove Assad but they had no strategy either for that or for what would follow. In Syria, Vladimir Putin has highlighted Obama’s ineptitude.

Canada Free Press:

On February 27, 2016, a ceasefire went into effect in Syria between the forces of the Assad regime and the opposition. The ceasefire was achieved after the United States and Russia reached understandings regarding the terms of the agreement; Bashar al-Assad and the representatives of the opposition who took part in the contacts accepted its terms; and the ceasefire was grounded in a UN Security Council resolution.

The Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other jihadist rebel groups are not party to the ceasefire, and Russia and the United States have agreed that they would continue fighting them in cooperation with one another. In actuality, the ceasefire was reached as a result of the combined efforts of the two superpowers currently engaged in leading the campaign for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. All the other actors are dependent on the assistance of these two powers and are subject to their influence.

In order to translate its military achievements in the Syrian arena into achievements in the realm of international politics, Russia worked intensively to advance the ceasefire along two parallel channels. The first channel was operational – specifically, a joint air and ground offensive against rebel forces aimed at exhausting them, carried out by a pro-Assad coalition including Iran, Syrian military forces that are loyal to Assad, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias. The severe damage sustained by the rebel forces is what brought them to the negotiating table. The second channel focused on advancing a political process, primarily vis-à-vis the United States, but also Saudi Arabia.

Moscow sought to promote the political dialogue while it enjoyed the upper hand on the military battlefield and was able to dictate the outcome of the process. Russia translated its achievements on the ground into a political roadmap for a cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a transitional period toward a solution to the conflict within 18 months. Russian policy with regard to the Syrian crisis was also motivated by Russia’s aspiration to promote its standing within the international arena and reduce the Western foreign and economic pressure leveled against it following its actions in Ukraine. In this context, Moscow led the joint offensive of the forces of the pro-Assad coalition in an effort to demonstrate its determination and to create pressure on the West and on Turkey by means of a massive flight of refugees toward Turkey from the embattled areas. It is unclear whether Russia received anything in return from the contacts that took place behind the scenes between Washington and Moscow, such as an easing of the Western sanctions.

Syria conflict map 13th March 2016 Carter Center

Syria conflict map 13th March 2016 Carter Center

The Russian intervention has seen the ISIS expansion halted and reversed. They have secured breathing space for the Assad regime though they expect to have him replaced in an orderly manner in time. ISIS will shift (is already shifting) to Libya which is in chaos (for which Obama passes the buck to Cameron and Sarkozy). The EU with its shambles of a refugee policy is providing the sink which swallows the bulk of those displaced.

The real Middle East end-game is a very long way away but Russia is reaching its immediate objectives of supporting the Syrian regime, halting the march of Sunni- groups, restraining the ambitions of Saudi Arabia and of getting in the good books of Iran.

The US and Europe will still have to handle ISIS in Libya but here they will not have the Russians to rescue them.


 

“ISIS first, Assad later” gains traction but St. Jeremy makes UK the weakest European actor against ISIS

November 18, 2015

Most of Europe is now falling behind the Russian strategy of “ISIS first, Assad later” as being the only viable way forward in Syria. The UK is also acquiescing with this line, but only verbally, since it is prevented from making any strikes in Syria without parliamentary authority to do so. With the self-canonised St. Jeremy Corbyn now in charge of the Labour party, such a vote may be a long time coming. After Paris, Hollande – though a St. Jeremy soul-mate in normal times – is forced to go all out against ISIS and is now coordinating attacks with Russia. Even Germany is considering supporting military action against ISIS. France has invoked a treaty provision for the first time ever and called for support from the other EU countries. All EU countries have promised that – as yet undefined – support. But the UK is now perceived as the weakest European actor against ISIS terrorism. The instant and automatic opposition of the SNP to any government motion and the naivete of St. Jeremy (which is not so innocent) has seen to that.

The Barack Obama – US led coalition’s “strategy”, if it can be called a strategy, has been to get rid of Assad at all costs. What was to happen afterwards or the question of whether Syria, as a nation , could even exist was left to the future to determine. It has been Russia’s reluctance to abandon Assad and his regime which has prevented any UN resolutions of any significance. Before the Russians recently started their attacks on ISIS they tried to rally support for the strategy of attacking ISIS and other rebels/terrorists first (which would help Assad) and then arranging for Assad to leave the scene after ensuring a transition to something sustainable. Obama and Kerry virtually dismissed that idea but did not go so far as to set themselves up against any Russian strikes on ISIS. The US and their coalition partners did, however, try and project the view that Russian intervention was more harmful than helpful.

After the Russian passenger plane was destroyed by – it is claimed – ISIS, the Western objections to the targets of the Russian strikes were a little more muted. Now after Paris, France has signed up to the line of “ISIS first, Assad later”. The rest of Europe is falling-in line with the notable exception of the UK. The Kurds love this, the Turks don’t. Saudi Arabia is very apprehensive that even if Assad eventually goes, a Shia government could still remain in place. Besides, they are reluctant to be seen to be accepting the demise of a Sunni organisation, even if it is as murderous as ISIS. From Kerry’s recent statements it seems as if the US is preparing the ground to also accept this strategy though the US, of course, can never be seen to falling-in behind Russia.

One way for the UK to save face and even get involved in Syria, would be if a UN resolution establishing “ISIS first, Assad later” could be accepted in the Security Council. Possibly the UK could propose it and recover some of the face they have already lost. Neither the Russians or the US would then veto such a resolution, though one or both might abstain depending upon the text. But it should not be impossible in the present climate. That would give the hapless St, Jeremy something to hide behind when a vote is called for in parliament. But he has already cost the UK a great deal of political clout in the fight against ISIS.

Is the US now tacitly accepting the Russian strategy?

October 9, 2015

The US has abandoned its fiasco of a $500 million program for the training of “moderate rebels” who could then have provided the physical presence in Syria for getting rid of ISIS (and Assad). So while the rhetoric against the Russian line continues, it seems apparent that the US is not prepared to work directly for the removal of Assad any more. They seem to have reluctantly accepted that Assad need to stay for some indefinite transition period. But that is precisely the path that the Russians are trying to follow. So even if the US has not exactly thrown the “moderate rebels” under a bus, it seems that they are not going to go very far out of their way to support them with more than some arms and some money.

The US may not have completely abdicated, but seems to be taking a political back seat. Regime change is on hold. They may well content themselves – like any good back-seat driver – with criticising the competence of, and the direction being taken by, the Russian driver.

There is a risk now that Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states will start throwing large sums of money into Syria. Ostensibly it will be for Sunni rebel groups, but much will end up with ISIS and other extreme groups. Iraq of course has joined Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime in the Russian coalition.

BBC:

The US is to end its efforts to train new Syrian rebel forces and says it will shift to providing equipment and weapons to existing forces.

Its $500m (£326m) programme was heavily criticised after it emerged that US-trained rebels had handed vehicles and ammunition over to extremists. ……. 

Quoting an anonymous US Department of Defense source, the New York Times reported that the US would no longer recruit Syrian rebels to go through its training programmes in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Instead, it would establish a smaller training centre in Turkey, where “enablers” – mostly leaders of opposition groups – would be taught operational manoeuvres like how to call in airstrikes, the newspaper said. 

The failure of the programme underscores the wider problem of the inability to create large and effective moderate forces on the ground. It will also have wider repercussions since the programme helped to coordinate support activities between the Americans, the Gulf states, Turkey, and Jordan. The risk now is that those countries may push on with more separate initiatives backing individual client groups.

The end-game is not certain but the Russian end-game is the only one around.

US/Nato lack of strategy being shown up by the Russians

October 8, 2015

The US started its regime change efforts in Syria 4 years ago, in 2011,  with the financing, training and encouragement of selected “moderate rebels”. They have no doubt weakened Assad but have also been instrumental in creating ISIS.

The US and Nato have been taking great pains to avoid providing any support to Assad’s regime, and only providing support to their favoured “moderate rebel” groups. Even though it has always been the fanatic groups who have muscled the “moderate rebels” out of the way whenever they have achieved any gains. US and Nato have had no clear strategy. They have attempted regime change with no idea of what is to come afterwards. They have not been able to even contemplate any plausible end-game scenario, because the “moderate rebels” they support are too fractured and diverse in themselves to form any clear alternative to the regime.

By contrast, the Russians have an end-game in view though it is not clear if that can be achieved. But it does at least provide a clear direction and a focus which is lacking in the US/Nato approach.

  1. rendering ISIS and al-Nusra and Al Qaida and other fanatics impotent, even if it means supporting Assad,
  2. a managed withdrawal of Assad, with the regime still in place but without leaving any power vacuum
  3. a political settlement between the regime (sans Assad) and the other “moderate rebels”

Needless to say, the US and NATO are not amused, though they have no alternatives to suggest when they criticise the Russian cruise-missile strikes from the Caspian Sea. These missiles flew over Iran and Iraq and the strikes were clearly coordinated with them.

4 Russian warships launch 26 missiles against ISIS from Caspian Sea

4 Russian warships launch 26 missiles against ISIS from Caspian Sea

RT:

“Four missile ships launched 26 cruise missiles at 11 targets. According to objective control data, all the targets were destroyed. No civilian objects sustained damage.”

Frigate Dagestan image shipspotting.com

The missiles flew some 1,500 km before reaching their targets. …. Four warships of the Caspian fleet were involved in the missile attacks, the Gepard-class frigate Dagestan and the Buyan-M-class corvettes Grad Sviyazhsk, Uglich and Veliky Ustyug. They fired cruise missiles from the Kalibr NK (Klub) VLS launchers. The missiles used are capable of hitting a target within 3 meters at a range of up to 2,500 km.

Nato countries and the US are highly indignant at these attacks and the Russian violations of Turkish air space, which I suspect, were deliberate and were meant to test limits even if they had no hostile intent.

Nato defence ministers are promising to support Turkey and the Baltic States as if they were directly being threatened by Russia. But that, I think, is because they have no strategy of their own. The US also does not like the Russian strategy but has none of its own.

BBC:

A US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes against IS in both Syria and Iraq for months. But Western countries support rebels who have been fighting to oust Mr Assad since 2011. ….

But US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said coalition forces fighting IS in Syria would not co-operate with Russia. “We believe Russia has the wrong strategy,” he said. “They continue to hit targets that are not IS.”

Protesting too much, I think.

The problem for the US is that the boots on the ground to defeat ISIS are not going to come from their pet “moderate rebels”. They can only come from the Assad regime, Hezbollah, Iran and Iraq (along with a thousand or two Russian “advisors”).

 

Whose boots will prevail in Syria?

October 5, 2015

It does not require rocket science to see that ISIS will only, can only, be defeated finally by boots on the ground.

The US and its partners assumed that “moderate rebels” in Syria would provide the boots on the ground to take over, once they had managed to get rid of Assad. But the assumption that the “moderate rebels” formed any sort of cohesive group which could bring stability has proven to be grossly wrong. They are so splintered and fractured and cover such a wide range of objectives that they can only ensure instability. The further assumption that the rag-tag being supplied with weapons and money to effect regime change, did not also include radical and fanatic Sunnis and Wahabis has been at best, incompetent, and at worst, disastrous. The Russians are, it seems, making a different calculation.

Any scenario which pictures the defeat of ISIS will require that their followers are left with no physical or political space to occupy and control. And that is going to require that their space is then occupied by someone else. Air attacks by the US led coalition or by Russia can only prepare the way, but without a real physical presence the effects of such air attacks can only be temporary. Without filling up the space with some form of political stability, any political vacuum will always provide room for the fanatics.

Of a Syrian population of about 23 million, 9 million are displaced and are refugees within Syria or abroad. Around 3 million are estimated to have left Syria. Around 75% of the Syrian population were Sunni muslims, 12% were Alawites (a secretive branch of Shia Muslims) and about 8% were Christians. Assad is of course an Alawite. As Shias the regime is supported by the Hezbollah from Lebanon and from Iran’s Shia (90% of Iran’s population are Shia and about 9% are Sunni). If Assad were to step down, but was replaced by another Alawite, then the Alawites, many of the Christians and even some of the moderate Sunnis, could probably live with a regime which provided stability. The fly in the ointment is financial support for the various Sunni and Wahabi rebel groups in Syria (including the hard-line terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, al-Nusra and ISIS) which comes mainly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. US support for rebel groups in Syria has, under Saudi influence, often supported the Sunni line. ISIS cannot be politically suffocated as long as its external financing continues.

Even with a defeated ISIS, sympathisers will still remain. But they will not be in control. A “defeat” can only mean that they no longer have any control over any settlements within which they might still exist, and that they have no safe havens within which to hole-up. That cannot happen unless control over all geographical areas effectively lies with some body – or bodies – that reject the fundamental claims of the Islamic State.

The mutual hatred between ISIS and Shia Muslims is a key factor. No Sunni rebel group fighting against Assad is not without some sympathy for ISIS. This virtually disqualifies any of the current rebel groups being supported by the US coalition, from being capable of supplying the political control needed to squeeze out ISIS. Certainly the US and its coalition partners are not going to supply the physical presence on the ground. The Russians are not going to send in troops beyond military advisors to Assad either.

So who does that leave? Whose boots on the ground are going to prevail?

The Russian calculation seems to be that the regime (later without Assad) together with Hezbollah, Iraqi Shias and some Iranian presence will be sufficient to defeat ISIS and squeeze them out. It is not impossible, but the Saudis will not take kindly to that. That would be seen as an unacceptable blow to the Sunni ego.

And then whether such an end-game is allowed to stand will depend upon whether the US is prepared to satisfy the Saudis by challenging the Russians (and the Iranians and Hezbollah) in their support of the Assad regime. I suspect that the Russians are calculating that Obama will only keep shifting his red line rather than actually cross it. As long as the Russians keep the eventual stepping down of Assad as being inherent in their plans, Obama will, reluctantly, go along.

It seems a highly dangerous path to this end-game where the regime (without Assad) but with help from Hezbollah and Shias from Iraq and Iran supply the boots on the ground to get rid of ISIS. But at least it is an end-game which is not impossible. And it seems to be the only one available. The US and their European partners seem not to have thought very far beyond the removal of Assad.

 


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