Arctic stronghold: Might of Russia’s Northern Fleet shown in anniversary video – By RT

 

Arctic stronghold: Might of Russia’s Northern Fleet shown in anniversary video
The Northern Fleet, which is arguably the most powerful Russian naval force, is celebrating 285 years of operations. Its anniversary video shows state-of-the-art vessels and unique installations in the Russian Arctic region.

Established back in 1733, the Northern Fleet comprises some of Russia’s most remarkable military hardware, with 41 submarines, 37 surface vessels and ground troops making it a “cross-branch strategic force”, as the Russian Defense Ministry puts it in a Twitter post. Its anniversary video shows various military exercises staged by the Northern Fleet forces, including submarines firing cruise and ballistic missiles, Tu-95 strategic bombers flying training sorties and military divers holding underwater firing drills.

The flagship of the fleet is a nuclear-powered battlecruiser the ‘Pyotr Velikiy,’ one of the biggest nuclear-propelled ships in the world. The ‘Admiral Kuznetsov,’ Russia’s only serving aircraft carrier, which took part in the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in Syria in 2016, is also part of the Northern Fleet.

The naval force also has some of Russia’s most advanced nuclear-powered multipurpose submarines equipped with cruise and ballistic missiles. Two state-of-the-art submarines – a Yasen-M class vessel the Severodvinsk, carrying as many as 32 Onyx and Kalibr supersonic cruise missiles, and a Borei-class submarine the Yury Dolgorukiy, equipped with 16 Bulava nuclear ballistic missiles – are already in service in the fleet, while another Yasen-M class submarine, the Kazan, is currently undergoing sea trials.

The strategic force, which is particularly tasked with “defending Russia’s national interests in the Arctic,” also controls some unique military bases within the Polar circle. Of particular interest is Russia’s northernmost military base, called Arctic Shamrock.

The unique base is the world’s only permanent infrastructure facility built in the area located 80 degrees of latitude north of the Equator. The autonomous complex, which occupies an area of 14,000 square meters, allows up to 150 people to live and work there for as long as 18 months without any external support.

The Russian infrastructure in the Polar region is “unmatched” by any other country, the country’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said, in December 2017.

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‘Are we America’s vassals?’ Germany trying to ‘minimize’ damage, France wants exemptions – By RT (SOTT)

German and Iranian flag

© Ralph Peters / Global Look Press

Germany is set to help its businesses minimize the impact of the US decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, while France has sought exemptions for companies operating in Iran, according to the countries’ economy ministers

“We are ready to talk to all the companies concerned about what we can do to minimize the negative consequences,”Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. “That means it is concretely about damage limitation.”

Berlin doesn’t reportedly have any immediate reason to make changes in its export credit guarantee scheme for Iran. Altmaier has called to discuss the ways to avoid negative impact on German labor market after US withdrawal.

“At the moment, there is no reason to change the valued Hermes scheme,” the minister said. “We are just starting a conversation about what the economic implications are, and how we can avoid negative consequences for jobs in Germany.”

Altmaier stressed that the German government had no legal means of protecting its corporations that do business in Iran. “What we are doing, however, is to assist and advise these companies active in Iran, which want to be active in Iran and to advise them, including legally,” he said.

The minister compared the current situation with the trade conflict triggered by the announced tariffs for steel and aluminum. “We must avoid entering into a spiral of escalation,” added Altmaier.

At the same time, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire called Donald Trump’s Iran decision “an error” not only for international security, but from an economic point of view. The minister said that he had discussed with the US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin potential exemptions and temporary respite for French corporations working in the Islamic Republic.

“I phoned my American colleague two days ago and said that the decision contradicts our mutual plans with the US partners,” Le Maire told Europe-1 radio. “I also asked for exemptions for some companies and respites for implementing the sanctions.”

Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani of full support of the nuclear deal provided that Tehran keeps on following its terms.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the same. On May 8, the Trump signed a presidential memorandum, pulling the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord and reinstating US nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Comment: On the heels of Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, France’s economy minister has urged Europe to stop acting like “US vassals” and continue trading with Tehran in defiance of what “the global economic policeman” has in store.

“Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?”Bruno le Maire asked in an emotional interview with Europe 1.

“Do we want the United States to be the economic policeman of the planet? Or do we Europeans say that we have economic interests, we want to continue to trade with Iran as part of a strategic agreement?” he asked, adding: “It’s time for all European states to open their eyes.”

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Time to ‘take fate into its own hands’: Europe can’t rely on US protection anymore, says Merkel – By RT

Time to ‘take fate into its own hands’: Europe can’t rely on US protection anymore, says Merkel
Europe can no longer count on the US in defense and must take matters into its own hands, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who also said: “Something should be done.”

“It’s no longer the case that the United States will simply just protect us,” Merkel said in a speech honoring President Macron, who came to Aachen to receive the prestigious Charlemagne Prize. Receiving a round of applause, Merkel stated: “Rather, Europe needs to take its fate into its own hands. That’s the task for the future.

Europe has to “act together and speak with one voice,” she said, as cited by Germany’s Die Welt newspaper. “But let’s be honest: Europe is still in its infancy with regard to the common foreign policy.”

Speaking after Merkel, Macron said that “We should not be waiting, we must do something right now. Let us not be weak,” added the French president.

Last year, Merkel had made a similar statement, urging Europe to become less dependent on its transatlantic ally. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” she told a crowd a day after attending the G7 summit in Italy.

The German chancellor, who secured her fourth term earlier this year, reiterated that Europeans “must really take our destiny into our own hands, of course in friendship with the United States, in friendship with Great Britain, with good neighborly relations wherever possible, also with Russia and other countries.”

Nevertheless, countries within the EU “have to know that we have to fight for our future and our fate ourselves as Europeans.”

Merkel’s statement comes shortly after US President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, prompting a backlash from members of the accord, including Germany. On Wednesday, the German chancellor said: “We will remain committed to this agreement and will do everything to ensure that Iran complies with its obligations.”

While Merkel avoided openly criticizing Trump, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas earlier accused the US leader of “not insignificantly throwing back the efforts to bring stability to the region.” Describing Trump’s decision as “incomprehensible,” Maas said the move would undermine confidence in international treaties.

On Thursday, he reiterated that it is crucial for Iran to stick to its obligations under the international nuclear deal, and that Moscow should use its influence on Tehran in this regard. Speaking after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Maas also said that Berlin and Moscow agreed that the Iran nuclear agreement should be upheld.

Moscow recently said it believes that there are ways to guarantee continued cooperation between Iran and the other parties to the deal despite Washington’s attempts to disrupt it. “There are means to guarantee that this cooperation would continue despite the attempts to deter it,” the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said.

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Germany’s ‘zombie’ Grand Coalition staggers on – By Alexander Mercouris (THE DURAN)

Merkel remains Chancellor, heading a government of ghosts

 

As expected, the SPD leadership in Germany has now completed its U-turn by reversing the decision it announced after Germany’s September elections – that it would go into opposition and would not agree to another coalition with Angela Merkel and her CDU/CSU – by agreeing to a new ‘Grand Coalition’ with Angela Merkel and her CDU/CSU.

The explanation for this total reversal is set out in an article in the Guardian which supports the deal

……in last September’s general election, [the SPD] went down to historical defeat. As of writing, they are polling a risible 18% or so, not much more than the far-right newcomer Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

Now you can argue that this is precisely because the SPD has been in government for so long – since 1998, with a break of only four years between 2009 and 2013 – and that a spell in opposition would do it good. And this is what the SPD’s youth organisation wants. They gaze with envy at Jeremy Corbyn’s populist appeal and dream of a rejuvenated party with a hard-left approach winning big in 2021 or 2025 and giving them lots of career opportunities, maybe in a coalition with the Greens and the radical Left party.

If I were a budding career politician in the SPD, I might think the same way. But for the present middle-aged leadership, four to eight years in opposition watching the rise of a new generation is hardly an attractive option. 

(bold italics added)

In other words, the primary support for the new ‘Grand Coalition’ deal from within the SPD comes from its veteran establishment, which wishes to perpetuate its leadership and its place in government even if this puts the SPD’s future in jeopardy.

There could not be a more straightforward admission that this is indeed an establishment stitch-up by Germany’s centrist political establishment against the SPD rank and file and Germany’s voters.

The Guardian article does say that one other reason why the SPD leadership prefers a coalition is because since the September election the party’s poll rating has fallen further, to a disastrous low of just 18% (I believe the actual rating is 17%), putting the SPD at risk of being overtaken by the AfD.

However the reason for that is surely that the SPD is not doing what it said it would do, and which is what its membership and electoral base want, which is oppose Merkel and the CDU/CSU, but is instead doing the opposite by going into coalition with her.  Given that that is so, it is hardly surprising that its voters are deserting it in droves.

In return for agreeing to go into coalition with Merkel the SPD has secured the Finance Ministry and its erstwhile leader Martin Schulz will now become Germany’s Foreign Minister.

Whether control of the Finance Ministry really is the great prize it is being presented as being is another matter.

Given that in my opinion the mini-boom the German and EU economies have been experiencing – which in my opinion is largely the result of the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme – has now peaked, possession of the Finance Ministry could easily turn out to be for the SPD a bed of nails, with the SPD being blamed for any economic downturn, and exposed to criticism if demands for further bailouts from Greece, Spain and Italy follow.

As for Schulz himself, possession of the Foreign Ministry now gives him the opportunity to advance together with Macron their joint hyper-ambitious agenda for further European integration.

That – far more than the future of the SPD – seems to be Schulz’s overriding priority.

Whether at a time when opposition to further integration within the EU is increasing throughout Europe – including within Germany itself – Schulz and Macron really can ride roughshod over all opposition as they jointly pursue this goal remains to be seen.  With the AfD and the Free Democrats breathing down the CDU/CSU’s neck, I would expect much of its membership to be opposed.

Nonetheless Macron has emerged as the one clear winner from the political machinations which have been underway in Berlin since September, which was not how it appeared would be the case when the results of the elections were first announced.

Schulz’s emergence as Germany’s likely future Foreign Minister also reduces the prospect of Germany agreeing to lift sanctions on Russia – increasingly unpopular within Germany and Europe though they are – and probably also means that Germany will take a harder line against Britain in the Brexit negotiations.

However it is important to say that neither the sanctions nor Brexit are where Schulz’s priorities lie.  EU integration is the subject which truly interests him, to which all other considerations – including it seems the SPD – must be sacrificed.

It is difficult to see how anyone comes out well from this affair, except possibly the AfD, which is now confirmed as Germany’s main opposition party and which will therefore gain further publicity as well as control of several of the German parliament’s committees; and Die Linke, which now looks well positioned to attack the SPD from the left.

Possibly if Merkel’s CDU/CSU poll rating continues to drift downwards – as I expect – then the Free Democrats will in a strong position to capitalise on that, especially amongst centre right voters in the former West Germany.  However I am not sufficiently well informed about political opinion in Germany to say that with any confidence.

What I can say with confidence is that the ‘Grand Coalition’ deal has been agreed without enthusiasm in order to perpetuate an exhausted government bereft of ideas which is obviously past its sell-by date.

The result is that the same gaggle of politicians who in September visibly lost support – Merkel, Seehofer, Schulz, Gabriel and the rest – are still there.

Even Alan Posener, the author of the Guardian article, admits that Merkel looks tired and stale, and is unlikely to remain Chancellor for very long

…..the loser in the poker game of the past weeks and months is Merkel. The only party that honestly wanted to govern with her were the Greens. The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) walked out of negotiations, and the SPD had to be enticed back with a deal that leaves Merkel’s own party without a single key ministry. Horst Seehofer, who is being forced out of his office as prime minister of Bavaria by his own party, the CSU, is being rewarded for his constant sniping at Merkel’s refugee policy with the thankless job of interior minister, where he can take responsibility for future terror attacks.

Everyone expects the chancellor to leave in the middle of her term and hand over to a successor. As the leader of a so-called Jamaica coalition between the Christian Democrats, the FDP and the Greens, she might have gained a new lease of life. As the leader of her third Groko, she looks tired. The concessions she has made to the SPD give superficial credence to the claims of the AfD that it is the only truly conservative force in the country and that it has stepped into the shoes abandoned by the CDU under Merkel.

If Merkel had accepted that the outcome of the September elections meant that she could no longer continue as Chancellor, and had resigned, then the outcome would have been better for her, and for her party and for Germany as well.

She would have left office with her record and reputation intact, whilst the CDU/CSU would have a chance to pull together around a successor.

 

As for Germany, following another election it would have had a good chance of gaining a strong and renewed government.

Instead Merkel’s decision to cling on, and the decision of the CDU/CSU and SPD leaderships to help her do so, has left Germany politically speaking adrift, with a Chancellor lacking credibility and authority, ensuring that Merkel’s last years as Chancellor will be unsuccessful and unhappy.

How that helps either Germany or the CDU/CSU I cannot see, but the key point is that at a time of growing international tension and instability, and of growing discontent within both Germany and Europe, it has left Germany with an exhausted and unwanted government which – save for Schulz’s integrationist dreams – has no idea what to do.

The result is that as in late Habsburg Austria and Theresa May’s Britain, in Germany administration is about to replace government.

As for the AfD, whether it really is the ultra right wing crypto-fascist anti democratic party which some say, or is simply a conservative party with a more right wing and radical edge, I do not know, though I suspect that it contains elements of both those things.

However if the priority of Germany’s centrist establishment is to prevent its rise, then the proper way to do it is to take it on in an election.

Instead, by pulling out all the stops to avoid an election which polls show most Germans want, Germany’s centrist establishment is giving every impression of running scared of it.

That – taken together with the decision to cede to AfD the opposition role in the Bundestag and the chair of important committees – ensures that the AfD will continue to gain credibility, popularity and support, rather than lose it.

The ‘Grand Coalition’ deal Schulz has just forged with Merkel still has to be approved in a ballot by the SPD’s membership.  There remains an outside chance they may reject it.

For Germany’s and the SPD’s sake it is to be earnestly hoped that they do.

POSTSCRIPT: No sooner had I finished writing the above then news came through that Martin Schulz, the SPD’s erstwhile leader, has been forced by what the Financial Times calls a “furious backlash” in his party to abandon his plan to become Germany’s Foreign Minister.

Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz said he will not serve as foreign minister in Germany’s new coalition government, after coming under intense pressure from his own party to give up the role.

Mr Schulz faced a wave of anger from across the SPD after taking the job, despite vowing never to serve in a cabinet led by Angela Merkel. Senior Social Democrats said the volte-face left the party with a huge credibility problem just as it launches a nationwide poll of its 460,000 members over the coalition agreement clinched this week with Ms Merkel’s conservatives.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Schulz said the discussion of his role was “endangering a successful vote”, and said he hoped that by giving up the foreign ministry, he could bring an end to the personnel discussions inside the SPD”. “We all do politics for the people in this country,” he said, “so it’s appropriate that my person ambitions should take a back seat to the interests of the party”.

His move comes after he was subject to a blistering attack from Germany’s serving foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, who accused him of a breach of faith by taking his job.

Mr Gabriel told the Funke media group that he had been a successful and popular foreign minister, but “the new SPD leadership clearly didn’t care a hoot about this public appreciation of my work”.

Berlin has been in uproar since Angela Merkel’s conservatives and Mr Schulz’s SPD unveiled their new coalition agreement on Wednesday, amid widespread fury over the way ministerial posts were divided up between the two parties.

The 177-page agreement is designed to end the political deadlock left by the inconclusive elections in September, in which both parties lost votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany. But the deal has been overshadowed by the row over who got which ministry.

Conservatives are incandescent that the SPD, despite winning only 20.5 per cent in the election — its worst result in postwar German history — was awarded the critical finance ministry, which for the past eight years has been a fiefdom of Ms Merkel’s CDU.

In the SPD, the anger over Mr Schulz’s appointment at foreign minister was, if anything, even greater……

This row and Schulz’s decision to give up the Foreign Ministry underlines the fact that trying to perpetuate the ‘Grand Coalition’ government which lost so much support in September is an extremely bad idea.

The fact that Schulz has been forced to go, and the angry reaction to the ‘Grand Coalition’ deal on the part of many within both the SPD and the CDU/CSU, may be a sign that the deal is starting to unravel.

If the deal does go ahead and a ‘Grand Coalition’ government is patched together nonetheless, then all I will say is that Schulz’s departure robs the government of the one individual who did at least have some genuine goals and ideas – utterly misguided and unrealistic though I think they are.

That will leave the government even more a ‘government of ghosts’ than it was before.

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Erdogan: Turkey’s Syria op will move to Idlib after mission completed in Afrin – By RT

Erdogan: Turkey’s Syria op will move to Idlib after mission completed in Afrin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to take Ankara’s Syria operation to Idlib after completing the current mission in Afrin, where they are targeting Kurdish militants.

We want our Syrian brothers and sisters to return to their land, and now we want to do the same in Idlib what we have done in Afrin,” Erdogan said.

It’s not the first time the Turkish leader has stated that the campaign against Kurdish militia in Syria could actually spread beyond Afrin.

Our heroic soldiers…are making history today in Afrin. And they will make history tomorrow wherever there are terrorists along our borders,” the Turkish President said late last month. 

On January 20, the Turkish General Staff officially declared the start of the military campaign in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region, calling it ‘Operation Olive Branch’. Ankara launched airstrikes against Kurdish positions, with Turkish troops advancing into the Kurd-held territories. The Turkish armed forces are supported by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – an Ankara-backed paramilitary opposition group which consists mainly of Syrian Arab and Syrian Turkmen groups, which hold the territories in Afrin.

The Turkish General Staff said last week that as many as 899 fighters of the Syrian Kurdish militias – which they said included the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and Islamic State (IS, former ISIS) terrorists – were “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch.

Formed as an armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the YPG rapidly expanded during the Syrian civil war. The group also fought against IS and received backing from the US-led coalition, which supplied them with weapons.

Such US support has greatly contributed to ongoing hostilities in the Afrin region, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

“The US backing of their ‘clients’ in violation of Washington’s statements in support of the Syrian Arab Republic’s territorial integrity have led to the escalation in the Afrin region, where there are no government troops at all at the moment,” the Ministry said.

In a telephone conversation earlier on Thursday, Erdogan spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the situation in Syria. They agreed to hold another three-way summit on Syria with Russia, Turkey and Iran; a source in Erdogan’s administration said. The event is expected to take place in Istanbul.

Erdogan and Putin have also discussed the need to expedite the establishment of observation posts in the de-escalation zone of Idlib governorate, Turkish media report.  

In early October, Turkish military forces were deployed to Idlib province to monitor one of four de-escalations zones located there. The proposal to establish the zones, championed by Russia, was finalized in September at a round of Syrian peace talks in Astana.

The first three-way summit between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran, which was aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, took place in the southern Russian resort of Sochi in November.

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Two military personnel killed in Hmeymim airbase shelling December 31 – By TASS

January 04, 10:26 updated at: January 04, 10:49 UTC+3

Russian Defense Ministry also said that reports on seven aircraft destroyed at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria on December 31 are not true

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© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

MOSCOW, January 4. /TASS/. Two military servicemen were killed in the December 31 mortar shelling of the Hmeymim airbase in Syria by militants, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on Thursday.

“On December 31, 2017, at nightfall, the Hmeymim airfield came under a sudden mortar fire from a mobile militant subversive group. Two military servicemen were killed in the shelling,” the ministry said.

Ministry also stated that reports on seven aircraft destroyed by militants at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria on December 31 are not true. “A report in the Kommersant newspaper on the alleged destruction of seven Russian warplanes at the Hmeymim airbase is fake. Russia’s air group in Syria is combat ready and continues to accomplish all its missions in full,” the ministry said.

The Kommersant newspaper earlier wrote citing some sources that on December 31 militants from one of terror groups shelled the Hmeymim airbase with mortars destroying four Sukhoi Su-24 bombers, two Sukhoi Su-35S fighter jets, one Antonov An-72 transport plane and an ammunition depot. According to the paper, more than ten military servicemen could be injured.

 

On January 3, the Russian Defense Ministry said that on December 31 Russia’s Mi-24 helicopter crashed due to a technical malfunction during a flight to Syria’s Hama airfield. Both pilots were killed in the crash. The ministry denied reports that the Mi-24 had been in the line of fire.

On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry refuted reports on seven aircraft destroyed in Syria.

More:
http://tass.com/world/983993

Pentagon Falsifies Paperwork To Keep Syrian Rebels Armed With Quasi-Covert Program – by Whitney Webb

 

On July 19, the Trump administration announced that it would end the CIA’s covert program aimed at arming and training terrorist-linked “moderate rebels” in Syria, sparking hope among some Trump supporters that he was finally enacting the anti-interventionist rhetoric of his campaign.

However, a recently released report shows that the Pentagon has picked up the slack left by the end of the CIA’s program — pumping billions of dollars worth of weapons into the hands of Syrian “rebels,” while attempting to mask the paper trail and their suppliers’ ties to organized crime.

The report, published Tuesday by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), provides conclusive evidence that the Pentagon plans to provide up to $2.2 billion in weapons to Syrian “rebel” groups, particularly Kurdish militant groups like the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down

While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down.

The Pentagon has requested an additional $322.5 million for the financial year ending October 2017 and $261.9 million for the following 12 months. For fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the budget for the program has been set at $584 million while another $900 million has been earmarked to continue the program through 2022.

 

Working the Balkan arms pipeline

Weapons were shipped from Eastern-Europe via Silk Way airlines, who offered security-free diplomatic flights to clients ranging from Saudi Arabia, Israel to US Central Command.

The program utilizes the Pentagon’s so-called “Balkan arms pipeline,” a network first exposed by Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva. The arms-supply chain involves the U.S. purchasing vast amounts of Soviet-Era weaponry from Eastern Europe, from which it is then shipped to air bases in Turkey and Kuwait, via the Azerbaijan commercial airline Silk Way, and later sent into Syria. The BIRN/OCCRP report adds, notably, that several of the Pentagon’s weapons suppliers in these countries share links to organized crime organizations and other unsavory actors.

In addition, the report details how this Pentagon program to arm “rebels” has essentially sidestepped long-established checks on international weapons trafficking that are intended to curb illicit deals. Many of these safety checks are included in the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.S. has yet to ratify but ostensibly supports.


Related | Journalist Interrogated For Linking CIA Weapons Shipments To Syrian Jihadists


Patrick Wilcken, an arms researcher at Amnesty International, told BIRN that the Pentagon’s actions are undermining the treaty in its entirety.

 

Masking the recipients

Syrian militants are seen with a Serbian made MO2 Coyote machine gun, a weapon which was shipped to Syria via Saudi Arabia and Turkey on diplomatic flights a few months earlier.

The specific “sidesteps” the Pentagon has been taking involve the alleged removal of documentation regarding who or what groups ultimately receive the purchased weapons. By removing this documentation, the Pentagon enables weapon transfers to any armed group within Syria it chooses – including Syrian rebels – without providing documentation as to who received what.

“The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition,” Ivan Angelovski, who co-wrote the report, told Foreign Policy. Indeed, when the report authors contacted authorities in Romania, Bulgaria, and other nations involved in the program, several of the governments responded that they had granted export licenses for the weapons where the U.S., not Syria, was listed as the final destination. They claimed to have been unaware that the weapons were destined for Syria.

Thus, the Pentagon’s alteration of documentation is, in fact, illegal, given the U.S.’ membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which requires that end-user certificates include the final destination country.

 

Exhausting the Balkan weapons’ supplies

A visitor looks at assault rifles made by the Serbian company Zastava Arms, during a defense fair, in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP/Darko Vojinovic)

Furthermore, the report notes that the arms transfers are so massive that they are fundamentally altering the economies of the Eastern European nations that are supplying the weapons. The report notes that factories in Serbia and Bulgaria have been drastically increasing arms and ammunition production in order to keep up with demand. In order to meet the increasing demand to be generated by the program over the next several years, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised in July to turn “meadows and forests” into arms factories and almost double Serbia’s arms exports to $750 million by 2020.

Increased production alone has proven insufficient, however, with the Pentagon being forced to lower its standards for weapons and ammunitions to meet demand, while also forcing the U.S. to procure even more arms from “non-traditional” countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.

While the U.S. has ostensibly accepted that Syria’s government will remain in power and even reclaim most, if not all, of its territory, it seems the Pentagon – along with its regional ally, Israel – are unwilling to let the billions already spent on arming the Syrian “rebels” go for naught, spending billions more in hopes that the situation will finally favor their long-standing goal of regime change.

Top photo | Free Syrian Army militants clean their weapons and check ammunition at their base on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Russia deploys MiG-29SMT fighters to Syria – Deterring Israel? – By Alexander Mercouris

MiG-29SMT

Russia air force deployment of advanced MiG fighter to Syria may precede its transfer to Syria’s air force

The Russian Ministry of Defence has unexpectedly confirmed the deployment of MiG-29SMT fighters to Russia’s Khmeimim air base in north east Syria.

The MiG-29SMT should not be confused with the new MiG-35, which has yet to enter service with the Russian Aerospace Forces, and which is an essentially new aircraft with new electronics and engines and a new airplane structure, though one which uses the old MiG-29’s planform. By contrast the MiG-29SMT is essentially a heavily modernised MiG-29, an aircraft that entered service with the Russian air force in the 1980s.

It is nonetheless a potent aircraft which however is designed for air to air combat against enemy fighters rather than for strike roles or ground attack. In this it differs from the SU-35 and SU-30 fighters also deployed by the Russian Aerospace Forces to Syria, which though exceptionally effective air combat fighters are nonetheless true multirole fighters, which are also very effective when used for ground strikes.

What explains the deployment of the MiG-29SMT to Syria?

Ever since the start of the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 the Russians have openly and frankly spoken of Syria as a testing ground for their military systems. It would be in keeping with this approach to use Syria to test the combat performance of the MiG-29SMT, making it incidentally the first MiG fighter deployed by the Russians to Syria on a sustained basis, though four much more advanced naval MiG-29K fighters were also briefly deployed to Syria last autumn on board Russia’s carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.

However a more likely reason for the deployment to Syria of the MiG-29SMT is that the Russians are preparing a delivery of MiG-29SMT aircraft to Syria and the deployment of some examples of this aircraft to Khmeimim air base is intended to familiarise the Syrians with it.

In 2009 the Russians confirmed that a contract had been agreed between Russia and Syria for the supply of 24 MiG-29SMT fighters to Syria. The sale was however postponed in 2012 because of the Syrian war. However with most of western Syria now pacified and under the Syrian government’s control, and with ISIS just weeks away from final defeat in eastern Syria, it is now possible to speak of the Syrian war finally winding down, making it possible for the supply of the 24 MiG-29SMTs to proceed.

When the Syrian war is finally over the Syrian air force – which has experienced heavy equipment losses because of the war, and whose aircraft are anyway largely obsolete Soviet designs delivered to Syria by the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s – will need modern new aircraft to re-equip itself, especially in light of the increasing threats to Syria from Israel.

At that point the transfer of the 24 MiG-29SMT fighters to Syria may finally take place, with the deployment of some of these aircraft to Syria being intended to prepare the ground for this.

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The Limelight Defeat of America’s “Assad Must Go” Policy – by Salman Rafi Sheikh

 

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As the events of war in Syria have emphatically shown, the self-styled Islamic State and the US-supported “moderate” jihadi groups have been defeated, and with it has died down the cornerstone of America’s direct and indirect military intervention i.e., “Assad must go” in Syria. This is evident not only from the way the Syrian army, supported by its Iranian and Russian allies, has rolled back the destroyers of Syria, but also how Assad has started to re-assert his standing as a legitimate ruler of Syria, representing Syria’s interests in major international forums and setting rules of engagement with regard to discussing Syria’s future and the role other countries can play in it. This assertion came to full limelight in a recent speech that Assad made in the second half of the month of August and outlined his vision for Syria’s post-war reconstruction. Of particualr importance were his words with regard to the role some foreign powers have been playing in Syria since the beginning of the so-called “civil war” as he said that he expects those foreign powers, the US and its Arab allies, who have pushed a regime change agenda – an agenda that has caused a lot of destruction and yet failed spectacularly –to abandon their residual links with rebel groups. Until this is done, Assad said further, “there will be neither security cooperation, nor the opening of embassies.”

Clearly, Assad is setting his terms of engagement with the powers that have sought to oust him in the last five years or so. What is equally evident here is the way Assad himself has set his own position as the ruler at the helm of Syrian affairs, intending to extend his control on the whole of Syria and deciding both its domestic and foreign policies. As such, while Assad was explicit in chiding some foreign powers for their role in Syria, he was equally explicit in setting his country’s future foreign policy orientation towards “the East.” He said, the “strategic future of Syria must be towards the East.”

Assad’s speech coincided with the defeat of one of the most powerful “rebel groups” in Syria, Ahrar-al-Sham. Not only was this group one of the West’s “moderate elements” but also played an instrumental role in a number of “rebel” victories against government troops during the years 2013-2015. Many in the West pinned high hopes on it, seeing it as a potential player in the future of Syria, especially after its troops joined in the fight against the IS and also agreed to support a political endgame to the Syrian conflict. Its defeat has, as such, turned out to be the last nail in the coffin of America’s “Assad must go” policy. With Ahrar’s fighters now fleeing and joining other group and with Syrian and Russian elements controlling Syria’s geo-political terrain, the West is left with minimum options to enliven the war through some other groups. Therefore, it is not surprising to see some influential policy makers in the US coming to terms with a Syria under Assad’s control.

“Bashar Assad’s government has won the war militarily,” said Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Damascus, who is said to have played an instrumental role in fomenting the crisis in Syria back in 2011-12, adding further that “I can’t see any prospect of the Syrian opposition being able to compel him to make dramatic concessions in a peace negotiation.”

And while raw material i.e., human element to sustain these groups exit, sources of support for them have dried. The Syrian “rebels” have been frustrated by the way Europe, for instance, has become more interested in stanching the flow of Syrian refugees and stabilizing the country enough to send many of those already in Europe back. Continuation of war, therefore, doesn’t suit Europe.

Persian Gulf is squabbling, and due to that internal rift, flow of support to previously supported groups has shrunk dramatically, adding to the opposition group’s sense of frustration. Therefore, the directions they’re now receiving are markedly different from that of past 2 years. “The nations who supported us the most … they’re all shifting their position,” told Osama Abu Zaid, an opposition spokesman, to an American newspaper. “We’re being pressured from all sides to draw up a more realistic vision, to accept Assad staying.”

While the US has established a number of military establishments in Kurdish dominated northern parts of Syria, indicating its intentions to prolong its stay in Syria, the speed of the Syrian forces’ recovery of the lost ground and the fact that regional powers, Turkey and Iran, have joined hands to prevent the establishment of Kurdistan show that the US plan is increasingly looking like a pipe dream. The US, realistically speaking, apparently has no source on the ground to sustain itself or influence the final outcome. With direct military intervention out of the question, it is much more than even an uphill task of cobbling together a fresh “rebel force” to be able to challenge the combined forces of Syria and Iran backed militias, including Hizbollah, in the southern and eastern regions of Syria.

What is adding more problems is the fact that the US-backed groups and the US-led coalition have miserably failed to give a positive message to the masses they are supposedly protecting against a “brutal” regime. The so-called “unfortunate” incidents of civilian deaths at the hands of these forces are furthering the distance between these groups and the people who might have supported them in the past. In a latest incident of this nature, the US led coalition fighting the IS militants said on last Friday that its strike had caused at least 61 civilian deaths. Much for the erosion of “popular support” these forces and powers claimed to have in the country!

All in all, it is clear that the ground has been cleared of any possibility of Assad’s exit from Syria. The only hope left for the US to realize its erstwhile agenda is through massive mobilization of Kurdish forces. However, were this to happen, the US would end up unwittingly cementing the Turkish-Iranian and Syrian alliance further and increase the likelihood that the Iranian militias and Assad’s forces, duly supported by Turkey, would start an offensive against the Kurds. In such a scenario, the Americans won’t use troops to defend the Syrian Kurds. There is no appetite for this among the American public, and the Syrian Kurds would be making a terrible mistake thinking the US will come and save them.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
https://journal-neo.org/2017/09/07/the-limelight-defeat-of-america-s-assad-must-go-policy/

 

Syria’s victory at Deir ez-Zor turns the tide on US regime-change plans – By Finian Cunningham (RT )

© Ammar Safarjalani / Global Look Press

The breaking of the siege of Deir ez-Zor by the Syrian army and its Russian ally marks the defeat of not just foreign-backed anti-government militants. It signals victory over the regime-change plot orchestrated by the US and its partners.

For three years, the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor had been besieged by militants affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terror network. This week the Syrian army broke the stranglehold and liberated the city with crucial help from Russian air power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly sent a letter of congratulations to Syria’s Bashar Assad, a measure of the strategic significance of the event.

Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates River had been the main terror hub in the country, serving as a supply corridor for IS between neighboring Iraq and Syria, according to Russia’s Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi. Now with the vanquishing of that hub, the terrorist remnants in Syria “face a crushing defeat.”

Last week, a headline in Britain’s Guardian newspaper put it succinctly, if not mendaciously. “Victory for Assad looks increasingly likely as world loses interest in Syria.”

The report went on to say: “States that were until recently committed to toppling the Syrian leader are now resigned to him staying.”

What the Guardian meant by its anodyne phrase “the world losing interest in Syria” is that the US and its NATO and regional allies have given up the ghost of overthrowing the Syrian government.

For more than six years since conflict broke out in March 2011, Syria has been the victim of an international criminal conspiracy led by the United States to topple President Assad and the Syrian state. The regime-change operation has been instrumented by the US and its allies sponsoring terrorist mercenary armies, while the Western mainstream news media served to distort the criminal enterprise by depicting it as a civil war.

It was Russia’s military intervention at the end of 2015 in support of the Syrian state that turned the tide. Military support from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah also played a crucial role in turning the war in favor of the Syrian Arab Army.

The liberation of the northern city of Aleppo at the end of 2016 by Syrian and Russian forces was the beginning of the end for the US-backed covert war. Now the liberation of Deir ez-Zor spells the definitive defeat.

What The Guardian coyly calls “world losing interest in Syria” is attested to by several recent developments.

The general dropping by Western corporate news media of coverage on the war in Syria is a telltale signal that the geopolitical agenda of Western governments had shifted. Before the liberation of Aleppo in December, there were shrill, hysterical Western media reports of Syrian-Russian war crimes. The hysteria proved to be a complete fabrication as the liberated citizens of Aleppo and returning refugees began to rebuild their lives.

Over the past nine months, Western media coverage on Syria has steadily declined. To the point where this week’s momentous military victory by Syrian and Russian forces in Deir ez-Zor was bizarrely under-reported. Tellingly, instead of reporting on the liberation of the former ISIS stronghold, Western media tried to focus on a dubious report from the UN claiming that Assad’s forces had used sarin chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April. Those hackneyed claims have been largely debunked by Russia and other independent sources, which said the CW attack was most likely a propaganda stunt by the Al Nusra terror group occupying the town, along with their White Helmets confederates.

Increasingly, the Western narrative on Syria has been shown to be a fraud. The reality of the US and its British and French allies, as well as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel attempting to topple a sovereign state, has become too transparent to continue concealing. Same too for the reality of Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah liberating a country from Western-backed terrorist mercenaries. Therefore, Western media have, by necessity, had to drop their mendacious coverage.

The decision two months ago by US President Donald Trump to end CIA militant training programs in Syria was a de facto acknowledgment by Washington that the game was up. That has been followed by British Special Forces withdrawing from training camps for militants in Syria, as well as reports that the Saudi regime has terminated its bankrolling of the terror proxies.

The Kremlin’s confirmation this week that Saudi King Salman is to visit Moscow at the end of October is another indicator that the Saudis are trying to stem their losses in Syria.

Trump has backed off earlier US demands President Assad had to step down. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have also reportedly resigned to accepting that the Syrian government is secure from being forcibly removed.

Reports of Jordan and Turkey lately trying to reestablish bilateral relations with Syria are further admissions that the regime-change plot against Assad has failed. Those two neighboring countries were vital conduits for US and NATO training camps, and Saudi-financed arms supplies to the militant proxies in Syria.

When Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu made his surprise trip to Moscow at the end of last month, his reported appeal to President Putin over Iran’s forces in Syria was another data point for the strategic sea-change.

It’s not totally clear-cut, however. The US-backed Kurdish forces assailing the other last remaining IS-held city of Raqqa in Syria’s northeast has seen relentless American air power deployed with horrendous civilian slaughter. US forces in Syria are of course illegal without any mandate from the Syrian government or the UN. While the US-led regime-change covert war in Syria appears to be all but lost, US military intervention still poses a threat to Syrian territorial integrity.

Nevertheless, Syria and its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies are emerging as the victors. The historical significance cannot be overstated. For the past two decades, the US and its allies have been on a roll of criminal regime-change wars across the Middle East – with impunity.

That roll has now hit a strategic dead-end in Syria, largely because of Russia’s principled military intervention under President Putin.

Syria has been saved from a fate of failed state unlike so many other victims of America’s Orwellian “nation-building.” Or, to put it more accurately, Russia has saved Syria from US state-sponsored terrorism.

It is a seminal historical victory. But American imperialism will not give up there. We should expect the global battlefield to shift. The West’s contempt for Russia and Putin will doubtless intensify because of the strategic setback in Syria.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Washington has turned to stoking war with North Korea as a way to create problems for Russia. The Pentagon’s proposed stepping up of lethal weapons to the anti-Russian Kiev regime in Ukraine, as well as provocations from the seizure of Russian diplomatic properties in the US, are also acts of revenge for Putin’s successes in Syria.

Comment: Over three years under siege, Deir-ez-Zor joins Aleppo and Homs as some of the longest besieged cities in all history.

And now it’s (almost) liberated, thanks to Russian and Syrian allied forces. With it, the last remaining substantial pocket of ISIS forces is removed from Syria.

Hurrah!

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