Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Putin Warned Netanyahu About Syria

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In the aftermath of the shooting down by Syria of an Israeli F-16, President Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had a telephone conversation. Even by its standards, the Kremlin’s summary of the conversation is extremely short:

The discussion focused on the actions of the Israeli Air Force, which carried out missile strikes in Syria. The President of Russia spoke out in favour of avoiding any steps that could lead to a new round of confrontation, which would be dangerous for everyone in the region.

This pithy report of the conversation between the Russian and Israeli leaders matches the scant information the Russians provided of the talks between Putin and Netanyahu in January. However, it isn’t difficult to understand current Russian policy with respect to the conflict between Syria and Israel, and it puzzles me that there’s so much confusion about it. The first point is that Russia is now the guarantor of the survival of President Assad and of his government. Constant speculation that the Russians might abandon President Assad in order to achieve peace in Syria, or might force a loose decentralised structure upon Syria, which the Syrian government doesn’t want, is misplaced. Prior to Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict in September 2015, Russia consistently resisted pressure from the USA and its allies to agree to the ousting of President Assad. Russia repeatedly vetoed Resolutions presented to the UN Security Council by the Western Powers intended to achieve the ousting President Assad. After Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2015, Russia resisted further pressure from the USA to agree to President Assad’s ouster, whether in return for a junior place in the USA’s anti-ISIS coalition or in return for the promise of joint military operations between Russia and the USA against al-Qaeda. I discussed the failure of former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt in Moscow in July 2016 to get the Russians to agree to the ouster of President Assad here.  In a follow-up article I said this:

The story of the diplomacy of the Syrian conflict is a continuous repetition of the same mantra… the USA pushes Russia to agree to have President Assad removed. The USA makes various offers or threats to Russia to cajole or force their agreement. Russia responds that President Assad’s future is a strictly Syrian internal matter, which they won’t involve themselves in. The USA walks away, baffled and angry. In truth, the inability of the US and its Western and Arab allies to accept that Russian opposition to their policy in Syria and elsewhere is for real and that they can’t bully or bribe Russia to change it is one of the oddest things about the whole Syrian conflict. Despite the fact that Russia has gone repeatedly out of its way to explain their policy, the USA and its allies seem incapable of believing that Russia is serious about it. They always seem to think that Russia is just playing some cynical game and that if they make the right sort of offer, or put under it the right sort of pressure, it can bring Russia around and make it agree to let Assad go.

If Russia wasn’t prepared to agree to force President Assad’s ouster when his government controlled only a small strip of territory along Syria’s coast and when Aleppo… Syria’s biggest city… seemed to be about to slip out of President Assad’s control, then, they aren’t going to agree to force President Assad’s ouster now, when they helped him secure control of all of Syria’s main cities… including Damascus and Aleppo… and when his army has reached the Iraqi border in Syria’s farthest east. After investing so much in President Assad’s survival and in the survival of his government, it’s inconceivable that Russia would abandon him now, and I’m sure that no one in any position of authority in Moscow is considering it. At the same time, no one in Moscow wants to see Russia embroiled in the Syrian-Israeli conflict, which far predates Russia’s intervention in Syria, and which goes back all the way to the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Following the 1967 Six Day War, the Russians did commit themselves wholeheartedly to one side in the Arab-Israeli conflict… backing the Arabs diplomatically, arming the Arabs intensively, sending a strong military force to defend Egypt in 1970 from Israeli air attack, and breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel. The result for Moscow was a catastrophe. It alienated the USSR’s large Jewish community and it found that by making an enemy of Israel it further poisoned its relations with the Western powers at precisely a time when it was seeking détente with them. The USSR quickly discovered that its Arab “allies”, in whom it had invested so much, were both ungrateful and treacherous so that by 1980 the USSR’s entire position in the Middle East completely collapsed. The final straw came after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, when volunteers from across the Arab world rushed to fight in Afghanistan, in a way that they’d never shown the slightest indication of wanting to do against Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. Not surprisingly, since the mid-1980s, therefore, Russia determined never to become directly involved in any part of the Arab-Israel conflict again. Thus, whilst Russia maintains good relations with Arab states, and whilst Russia continues to voice support for the Palestinians, Russia always strove to maintain good relations with Israel as well, forging significant economic links with Israel.

Beyond this, given that Russia already has its hands full in Syria, fighting all sorts of Jihadist and proxy forces there on behalf of President Assad and his government, it has no wish or need to complicate this already complicated task further by taking on Israel… the Middle East’s military giant, with nuclear weapons and the Middle East’s strongest air force… on behalf of Syria as well. Therefore, provided Israeli attacks on Syria don’t go beyond the routine attacks which Israel has launched against Syria for decades, which long predate Russia’s intervention in Syria, and provided the Israelis take no step to threaten the existence of the Syrian government or interferes in Syrian military operations against the Jihadist groups Russia is fighting, Russia will do nothing about them. However, conversely, if Israeli attacks on Syria threaten either the Syrian government or interfere in Syrian military operations against the Jihadist groups Russia is fighting, then, Russia will respond sharply, as they did in March last year when they summoned the Israeli ambassador for a dressing down at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after an Israeli airstrike against the Tiyas airbase, which appeared to have the intent of interfering with the Syrian offensive against ISIS.

Right at the start of the Russian intervention in Syria, on 21 September 2015, President Putin had a series of meetings and conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the course of which he would’ve carefully explained Russian policy to the Israeli leader, setting out the ground rules. The Russian and Israeli leaders agreed during that summit to a “deconfliction” mechanism; which confirmed that Russia made it clear over the course of that meeting that they weren’t interested in and wouldn’t interfere in “routine” Israeli air strikes against Syria. Here’s how Reuters reported it:

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to Moscow that Israel and Russia agreed to coordinate military actions over Syria in order to avoid accidentally trading fire. Recent Russian reinforcements for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which regional sources say include warplanes and anti-aircraft systems, worry Israel, whose jets have on occasion bombed the neighbouring Arab country to foil suspected handovers of advanced arms to Assad’s Lebanese guerrilla ally Hizbullah. Briefing Israeli reporters after he met President Putin, Netanyahu said he’d come with the goal of “prevent(ing) misunderstandings between IDF units and Russian forces” in Syria, where Assad is fighting Islamist-dominated insurgents in a civil war. Netanyahu added that he and Putin “agreed on a mechanism to prevent such misunderstandings”. He didn’t elaborate. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin. In earlier remarks, as he welcomed Netanyahu to the presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, Putin said Russian actions in the Middle East would always be “responsible”. Underlining the importance of Netanyahu’s one-day visit to Moscow, Israel’s premier took along its armed forces chief of and the general in charge of Israeli military intelligence. Putin, who shares the Western concern about the spread of Islamic State influence, pledged to continue military support for Assad, assistance that Russia says is in line with international law. Russia focused its forces on Syria’s coast, where Moscow keeps a Mediterranean naval base. The USA, which along with its allies has been flying missions against Islamic State insurgents in Syria, also held so-called “deconfliction” talks with Russia.

This report of the agreement Putin and Netanyahu reached on 21 September 2015 confirms that Russia made clear to Israel that they had no interest in preventing “routine” Israeli strikes against Syria, and that their intervention in Syria didn’t intend to prevent such strikes. At the time, Russia would also have said the same thing to President Assad and to the Iranian government: Russia intervened in Syria to save a Syrian government under attack by Jihadist terrorists and threatened with régime change by the USA, not to help Syria prosecute its longstanding conflict with Israel. However, the other side of the coin is that just as the Russians won’t act to stop “routine” Israeli airstrikes against Syria, so they won’t act to stop whatever actions Syria takes to defend itself from such strikes. Both “routine” Israeli actions and Syrian counter-actions are part of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israel-Syria conflict, which doesn’t involve Russia.

Certainly, Russia wasn’t involved in the recent Syrian shooting down of the Israeli F-16 and no one concerned… not the Syrians nor the Israelis… is saying that they were. At the same time, and consistent with its policy, whilst Russia won’t act to stop the Israelis carrying out “routine” airstrikes against Syria or the Syrians shooting down Israeli aircraft which engage in such strikes, Russia will react sharply to any Israeli action that threatens the existence of the Syrian government or which interferes in Syrian military operations against the Jihadists Russia is fighting, just as they did last March. The following words in the Kremlin summary confirm that Putin reminded Netanyahu of this over the course of their recent call:

The President of Russia spoke out in favour of avoiding any steps that could lead to a new round of confrontation, which would be dangerous for everyone in the region.

In other words, Putin told Netanyahu to moderate his reaction to the shooting down of the F-16, and Israel’s relatively mild reaction to the shooting down of the F-16… the retaliatory airstrikes Israel launched after the shoot-down didn’t go beyond the level of “routine” strikes, and didn’t threaten Syrian military operations against the Jihadists (which continue unabated) or the existence of the Syrian government… shows that despite his public bluster, Netanyahu heeded Putin’s call. Almost certainly, Russia balanced this warning to Netanyahu with equivalent warnings to Damascus and Tehran, warning them that they should avoid further escalation. Since it isn’t in Syria’s or Iran’s interests that Syria, which is still in a state of civil war, with large areas under control of the Kurds and the Syrian government’s Jihadist enemies, and with US and Turkish troops on its territory a current threat, should find itself in an all-out conflict with Israel, it’s a certainty that all concerned are heeding these Russian warnings.

If Russia is loathe to take sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict or in the conflict between Israel and Syria, the events of the last few days show how the mere fact of its presence in Syria is nonetheless changing the dynamics of the conflict. As I recently wrote, Syria’s success in shooting down an Israeli F-16 provides confirmation that the military balance in the Middle East is shifting. Something that was beyond Syria’s capabilities until very recently… the shooting down of an Israeli fighter in Israeli-controlled airspace… has now happened. Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict brought this about. Without Russia’s intervention, there’d be no Syrian military to shoot down Israeli aircraft, and Russian training, advice, and technical support gave the Syrian military the ability to shoot down Israeli aircraft. Shifting the balance of military power in the Middle East wasn’t the intention behind Russia’s intervention in Syria; however, it’s the product of it. Similarly, Russia warning Israel against taking action in response to the shooting down of the F-16 which might escalate the situation isn’t a case of Russia taking sides in the longstanding conflict between Israel and Syria; however, its effect is to protect Syria from Israeli actions which might’ve happened in response to the shooting down of the F-16 as part of that conflict, if Russia hadn’t been present in Syria and hadn’t given Israel a warning. The result is that Syria successfully shot down an Israeli F-16 and suffered no significant consequences from it. Although the Arab-Israeli conflict continues, and although Israel and Syria will continue to take actions against each other, the dynamic of the conflict has changed.

12 February 2018

Alexander Mercouris

The Duran

http://theduran.com/f-16-shoot-down-putin-warns-netanyahu/

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Sunday, 7 January 2018

Reports Say USA Plans to Recognise Kurdish Area in Syria 3-Times Size of Lebanon “Soon”

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Government-controlled areas are in red… American-patsy Kurdish-controlled areas are in yellow

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An unnamed senior Western official told the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that the plan to recognise the Kurdish area is part of a new strategy for Syria by the Trump administration. Washington is planning “concrete steps” toward providing a Syrian Democratic Forces-controlled area in northern Syria’s eastern Euphrates area three times the size of Lebanon with diplomatic recognition.

The official said that the 28,000 square-kilometre (10,810 square-mile) area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a collection of predominantly-Kurdish militias including the YPG People’s Protection Units, took its first step toward US recognition after US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised to send US diplomats to SDF-controlled areas to work alongside US troops operating in the region. They said that US initiatives in the region include empowering local councils, backing reconstruction efforts, assisting in training of government agency workers, improving public services and infrastructure, protecting SDF areas, and engaging in the upkeep of military bases, all of which will eventually lead to diplomatic recognition.

Last week, it was reported that a new “North Syrian Army”, which included SDF formations and backed by the US-led coalition, was being created to carry out “border security duties” in territories under their control. Local media said that the militias would guard areas along the region’s northern border with Turkey. The USA and its coalition allies are going to provide the new force with technical assistance, weapons, and training.

Kurdish forces have been in control over the de facto autonomous region commonly known as Rojava since 2013 amidst the civil conflict in Syria. During the war against Daesh and other terrorist groups, Syrian Army units mostly engaged in pragmatic cooperation with Kurdish forces. In September 2017, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would consider granting the Kurds greater autonomy once the war against the terrorists was over. At the same time, Damascus voiced its opposition to the US presence and operations on Syrian territory, including Rojava, saying that it does not accord with the principles of international law, including respect for Syria’s territorial integrity. The Syrian government insisted that US operations inside Syria are illegal, since Damascus never invited them into the country.

7 January 2018

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201801071060574215-us-recognition-kurdish-area-syria-reports/

Editor:      

The USA lost its bid to destabilise Syria when Assad smashed its ISIS proxies (with Russian, Iranian, and Hizbullah assistance). The USA wanted a puppet junta in Damascus (much like the gang of criminals it installed in Croatia, the Baltics, Kosovo, Libya, and the Ukraine) to clear the way for a Saudi/Bahraini pipeline to the Med. They failed in that. Ergo, they’re trying to form a Kurdish puppet state out of portions of Syria and Iraq (the American project in Iraq failed… it’s now pro-Iranian… so the USA wants to punish Iraq, too). Trump is an idiot… this’d drive Turkey out of NATO straight into Russia’s embrace. No Turkish state will countenance any sort of Kurdish entity. Trump’s stupidity blinds him to that. He’s striking out blindly because he slammed his dick in the door in Syria… the USA lost big-time and  its reputation (rightly) went into the toilet. He tried infiltrating provocateurs in Iran… that failed. He’s going to try a Kurdish entity… that’d drive Turkey out of NATO. Is he going to try to get Israel to strike Lebanon to get back at Hizbullah? The level of asinine juvenile actions shown by Trump gives me little hope. May God protect the world from this blustering teenager (and from Clinton, too… she’s worse).

BMD

Sunday, 1 October 2017

1 October 2017. This is Syria’s Response to Warmongering America

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Syria is winning the war against American-backed terrorists, with the aid of its allies (Russia, Iran, and Hizbullah). This angers the Anglo toddlers to no end. They’re exceptional! They’re unique! They’re all-powerful! Well… Syria proved all of that to be unhinged bullshit. Far from succumbing to American pressures, the Syrian people came together to resist terror… which almost always comes with the label “Made in the USA”. The USA is destroying its bases in Syria in an attempt to erase their blame for this war. It won’t work. Everyone sees “Made in the USA” and “Made in Israel” on this conflict.

Syria responded to the USA. It withstood the test and trial. God bless Syria… God bless the Syrian people, of all faiths and nationalities… God bless Dr Bashar al-Assad, who stood tall when he had to. May we all do as well when a crisis comes…

BMD

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Lavrov sez US Aggression in Syria Hampers Search for Peaceful Solutions

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On Monday, Minister of Foreign Affairs S V Lavrov said after talks with his Senegalese counterpart Mankeur Ndiaye:

We again stated the need to consolidate efforts of the entire international community in the fight against this universal evil, as President Putin said some 18 months ago addressing the UN General Assembly. We should carry out all steps based on international law and the UN Charter. In this context, we discussed the illegal and aggressive steps of US aviation when they carried out strikes on an airbase in Syria, which only exacerbated the situation and hindered, maybe on purpose, the search for a political settlement.

On April 7, the US military fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from warships in the Mediterranean Sea on al-Shayrat Airbase located in Syria’s Homs Governate. Reportedly, the US attack on Syrian government forces came in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Idlib Governate on 4 April. According to Minoborony data, Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes on 4 April that hit workshops where terrorists were producing chemical munitions supplied to Iraq and used in Aleppo. However, Washington concluded that Damascus used chemical weapons.

Russia Demands Explanation on OPCW Investigation

Lavrov said:

Moscow will demand an explanation on the investigation into the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria conducted by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Recently, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson put the blame on the Syrian government, as well as on Russia and Iran who support Damascus, but failed to provide any evidence, only saying that British experts already studied the samples collected on the scene and came to the conclusion that sarin or some similar substances had been used. It’s an interesting coincidence that the British representatives heading the fact-finding mission didn’t say anything to anyone but British experts were able to study the samples. Today, we’ll file a request demanding an explanation on what’s going on. I expect that there’ll be an answer. The situation isn’t easy, but let’s hope that the majority of countries understand what’s happening. We won’t allow anyone to disrupt efforts aimed at settling the Syrian crisis based on a UN Security Council Resolution.

“We’re Convinced that the Pace Shouldn’t be Lost”

Lavrov stated:

As for the upcoming meeting on Syria in Geneva, we plan it for a period after 3-4 May, that is, after a new round of talks in Astana. We hope that UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura would find an appropriate date because some hints say that the holy month of Ramadan is beginning in late May, and perhaps it’d be appropriate to wait until it is over. We’re convinced that the pace shouldn’t be lost, especially in a situation when the political process is endangered. I mean, the strike against the al-Shayrat aerodrome and the desire of many actors both inside Syria and from amongst the external opposition to exploit this situation to switch the blame fully to the Assad régime and take up a course of a departure from a political settlement to unilateral actions to overthrow the Syrian government.

17 April 2017

TASS

http://tass.com/politics/941697

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