No Iranian Bases in Syria, Only Syrian Soldiers Were Killed’ – Journalist – By SPUTNIK

This photo released on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows flames rising after an attack in an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria

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The Israeli air force conducted airstrikes on Syria for several hours on May 10, claiming that they were attacking Iranian forces purportedly stationed in Syria. Damascus has denied the allegations and slammed the attack, which claimed lives of several servicemen.

Among the targets picked by Israeli forces were an ammo depot near Damascus and a radar installation. The attack reportedly resulted in the deaths of several Syrian army soldiers. Sputnik Mundo discussed the latest Israeli airstrikes against Syria with Syrian journalist and correspondent for the Prensa Latina agency in Damascus Fady Marouf. He said that all the targets selected by Israeli forces were “Syrian” and that Iran “had nothing to do with it.”

READ MORE: WATCH Syrian Air Defenses Shoot Down Israeli Missiles

Tel Aviv claims that Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Al Quds force had fired 20 missiles at the Golan Heights from Syrian territory. Marouf is confident that it was battle between Israel and Syria and as has been the case throughout the seven year-long war in Syria, Tel Aviv “was the first to attack.”

“The pretext [for the bombings] was to allegedly strike Iranian bases. But there are no Iranian bases in Syria. We have Iranian military advisers, who help the Syrian army fight terrorist groups. That’s why only Syrian soldiers were killed and wounded,” Marouf said.

He also reminded that Syria hasn’t conducted airstrikes on Israel since the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, but that Israel attacks the Arab country regularly, as it doesn’t want to have a neighbor with a strong army. “Israel is afraid of it,” Marouf added.

READ MORE: Israel Strikes on Syria Kill at Least 23 Fighters — Reports

He also noted that residents of Damascus went to their balconies during the attack to see Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli missiles over Damascus’ suburbs, while Israelis hide in bunkers.

“Syria wants peace, but today, after seven years of war, the Syrian people and army have become much more resilient. We are not going to give up,” Marouf concludes.

Russia, Iran, Turkey warn against attempts to divide Syria – By TASS

April 28, 15:41 UTC+3

The Russian, Iranian and Turkish top diplomats discuss situation in Syria

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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TAS

MOSCOW, April 28. /TASS/. Moscow, Tehran and Ankara believe attempts to split Syria on ethnic and religious grounds to be unacceptable, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday following a meeting with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts – Mohammad Javad Zarif and Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“We agreed that attempts to split Syria on ethnic and religious grounds were totally unacceptable,” Lavrov said.

“We have stated that we will counter attempts to undermine our joint efforts and pointed out that the Astana process is stable,” he said. “We will continue solving important tasks related to de-escalation, easing tensions and reducing the conflict potential. Ceasefire violations continue to happen but we have a mechanism to monitor them and we will seek to overcome this situation, particularly by strengthening trust among the parties ‘on the ground’,” Lavrov added.

He pointed out that Saturday’s meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey “comes when developments in Syria are not always positive.” “We have already said that the illegal attack on Syria on April 14 that the United States, Great Britain and France carried out before experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had even started their work, caused a setback in efforts to advance the political process,” he said.

 

“However, we are determined to continue these efforts, we agreed on specific steps that our three countries will take individually and together in order to get us all back to the path leading to the implementation of the [UN Security Council] Resolution 2254,” Lavrov stressed. “We strongly believe that there is no alternative to political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis based on the Resolution 2254 and recommendations issued by the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi,” the Russian top diplomat noted.

Attempts are being made to hinder the peace process in Syria, particularly to prevent the establishment of a constitutional committee, Lavrov said.

“The developments of the recent weeks show that not everyone wants peace to be restored in Syria. Every time hope arises, a strike is carried out on it,” Lavrov said. “We have to point to ongoing attempts to prevent dialogue among Syrians and the establishment of a constitutional committee in accordance with decisions made at the Sochi event, which were supported by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who participated in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi,” the Russian top diplomat added.

“It turns out that were create and build, while our counterparts seek to destroy the results of our joint constructive efforts, even violating international law, just like the US, Great Britain and France did when they carried out an attack on Syria on April 14,” Lavrov said.

According to him, the trilateral attack “not only significantly raised tensions on the international stage but also considerably damaged the prospects for a political settlement.”

Opposition’s demands to change political regime

Syrian opposition’s demands to change the political regime in Damascus complicate the restoration of the Geneva negotiating process, Lavrov said.

“In the context of efforts to revive the Geneva negotiating platform, we consider as extremely destructive some statements made by specific representatives of the external opposition, which set preliminary conditions for the settlement of the Syrian conflict and the switchover to political negotiations,” Lavrov said.

“As preliminary conditions, they advance the demands of changing the regime and bringing the Syrian leadership to trial as war criminals,” the top Russian diplomat said.

“Such approaches contradict the substance and the form of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and are also openly aimed at maximally complicating the work to resume the negotiating process, considering those breakthrough results that were achieved at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi,” Lavrov stated.

War on terror

The war on terrorists who are trying to hide in de-escalation zones in Syria will be uncompromising, Lavrov said.

“The ceasefire must be observed in the de-escalation zones, naturally, except for terrorist groupings, which are trying to hide in these zones and speculate on their status. This struggle against terrorists will be absolutely uncompromising. Those groups of the armed opposition who are patriotically minded must immediately separate themselves from terrorists,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

“The UN, which has contacts with all the basic armed groups, with all the main political forces of the Syrian opposition and with those who support and direct the work of these oppositionists, could convey this idea more clearly: you needn’t be entangled with terrorists, you needn’t create some unions and alliances with them, even if situational,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

Astana process

The foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey are determined to urgently agree further steps within the framework of the Astana process towards a settlement in Syria.

“We agreed to hold this early Astana process meeting at the foreign minister level to discuss the no simple situation in Syria and around it,” Lavrov said. ” We believe it is necessary to urgently agree collective measures within the framework of the Astana format we created more than a year ago to keep moving Syria towards peace and normalization in these difficult conditions.”

“We share a common wish to facilitate this process and hope to discuss the situation that has emerged in Syria and new additional steps that would foster positive trends, including those in the context of decisions made at the second summit of the presidents of Russia [Vladimir Putin], Iran [Hassan Rouhani] and Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdogan], which took place in Ankara. The Astana process is an example of how seemingly insoluble problems can be resolved, provided there is the political will,” he said.

The UN may help the Astana process on Syria effectively develop in all areas, Lavrov added. 

“The UN was invited to the Astana process when it was launched. Now the UN can do much to make the Astana process effectively develop in all areas,” Lavrov said. “Now the UN can do much to make the Astana process effectively develop in all areas,” the minister stressed, noting that the main areas of work are de-escalation zones, humanitarian support and political dialogue.

Humanitarian assistance 

Russia, Iran and Turkey will be working with Damascus and the opposition in providing humanitarian assistance to Syria, Lavrov said.

“Today we confirmed the need for stepping up efforts in providing humanitarian assistance,” he said. “We will ensure this aid should be provided in the most effective way. We will be cooperating with the government, the opposition and, of course, with our counterparts at the United Nations, the International Red Cross, the Syrian Red Crescent and other international organizations. It is important to ensure international assistance, including assistance in mine-clearing operations, be provided to the areas that return to peaceful life as a result of our joint efforts without any politicization or any political preconditions put forward.”

“We are calling on the UN to avoid being pressured for politicization of humanitarian deliveries and humanitarian help,” he said. “And, of course, the UN has no right to play to those who state that help will be provided only to areas controlled by the opposition.

Lavrov noted that Russia has contacts with UN humanitarian bodies and helps them reach agreements with the Syrian government under the norms of international humanitarian law. “We induce our colleagues in Damascus to be more flexible, think constructively, although it is difficult at times, regarding the discriminate approaches of some Western partners that they are observing,” the minister stressed.

 
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Press review: Russian potential reaction to US Syria strike and ruble devaluation benefits – By TASS

April 11, 13:00 UTC+3

Top stories in the Russian press on Tuesday, April 11

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Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Russia may hit back at US strike on Syria with cruise missiles

If the United States decides to use force in Syria in the wake of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, it will get a symmetric response both from Damascus and Moscow, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes on Wednesday. Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya along with other Russian politicians and officials have warned of serious consequences, should such steps be taken by the Americans and their allies. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier said the Russian army was ready to protect Damascus.

Several military websites wrote that on April 8-9 Russia’s Armed Forces had been secretly put on full combat alert. No official comments on these reports have been made. However, according to the Russian Defense Ministry’s report, the army and the fleet have stepped up activity, especially in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and also in the Caspian Sea from where the Kalibr cruise missiles had been fired on targets in Syria. It is not ruled out that preparation for these strikes there is underway now, the paper says.

“The Kalibr strikes may be launched on US facilities and bases in the Middle East if the Pentagon, which accuses Russia of the notorious chemical attacks, decides to deal a retaliatory blow on the Russian bases in Tartus and Hmeymim,” military expert Lt.Gen. Yuri Netkachev said.

Reuters reported citing the White House’s sources about possible strikes by the US and its allies on the Russian facilities. The expert stressed that Moscow won’t leave these strikes unanswered. But such a scenario is unlikely as this will spark “a real big war, which neither the US nor Russia want.”

 

Another military expert, Col. Vladimir Popov, did not rule out that if the missiles launched from the US destroyers kill Russian servicemen in Syria, the US vessels will be attacked by Russian missiles or aviation. Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov had earlier warned of this possible Russian response.

 

Kommersant: Ruble devaluation to boost Russian grain exports

This week’s sharp ruble devaluation may prop up Russian grain exports, which started declining by the end of the season, Kommersant business daily writes. “The devaluation factor will influence the market for several weeks. Even if the ruble manages to recover losses soon, the short-term jump in the foreign currency rate will significantly help exports,” Director of SovEcon analytical center Andrei Sizov said.

Dmitry Rylko, Director General of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, expects that exports will revitalize amid the ruble’s decline, but this factor’s influence will be restrained by infrastructure restrictions.

Traditionally, by the end of the season, grain exports diminish. But Russia’s grain exports in March and April turned out to be higher than expected, Sizov said. According to the customs data, on April 4 Russia’s grain export grew 39% year-on-year to 40 mln tonnes, and wheat supplies rose 41% to 31.2 mln tonnes. By the end of the season, the wheat export is anticipated to reach 39.7 mln tonnes, according to SovEcon.

ProZerno CEO Vladimir Petrichenko forecasts that the drop in value of the Russian ruble will positively affect the price climate on the Russian grain market.

The global grain market is racked by drought in North America and problems in Argentina, but due to the ruble devaluation the buyers of Russian wheat will seek to contain prices as the contract value in rubles grows, Rylko noted. According to Sizov, the ongoing ruble devaluation will also affect the growth of domestic grain prices.

If the ruble’s devaluation sends domestic grain prices soaring, the Russian authorities may step in and limit supplies, he said.

 

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Pyongyang seeks Moscow’s backing in talks with Seoul, Washington

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may visit Russia in the run-up to the summits in late April-early June with South Korean and US Presidents, Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump respectively, Seoul’s media reports said citing the US special services. They view the visit of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to Moscow as a hint at groundwork being laid for a meeting between the Russian and North Korean leaders, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

Russian officials have refuted reports on the possible visit of the North Korean leader. Speculation about Kim Jong-un’s trip to Moscow is being fueled by his recent trip to Beijing, his first foreign tour since coming to power, the paper writes. Experts recall that the North Korean leader’s father Kim Jong-il had held high-level meetings with Russia and China before and after his meeting with South Korea’s then-President Kim Dae-jung in 2000.

These trips by the North Korean leadership come amid the need to secure support of the major global powers in preserving the political system and strengthening their positions at talks, the paper writes. However, Kim apparently remembers that the West’s unilateral guarantees helped neither Saddam Hussein nor Muammar Gaddafi.

“Although Pyongyang is offended by Moscow’s almost unquestioning support of the UN Security Council’s resolutions, and imposing tough sanctions on North Korea, he wants to know Russia’s position if no agreement is reached with Washington on the peninsula’s denuclearization,” said Alexander Zhebin, Director of the Center for Korean Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies. “The deal is unlikely to be clinched soon without providing security guarantees to America.”

According to the expert, North Korea wants Russia to understand that the upcoming summits won’t result in any immediate nuclear disarmament. Pyongyang does not want inspections in the country like with Iraq, and the US is very interested in total inspections. “I think the inspections issue will be a key obstacle for agreements between North Korea and the US,” he stressed.

Russia needs to develop new tactics in order to remain an active participant in the changing climate on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, a meeting between the leaders of Russia and North Korea could be useful, the paper writes.

 

RBC: Weaker ruble to benefit Russian federal budget, exporters

Black Monday’s market carnage sent the ruble into its deepest plunge in two years. The collapse was due to investors’ psychological response to risks from US sanctions, but no further downturn is expected if there are no geopolitical factors, experts questioned by RBC said.

Russia’s federal budget and exporters will benefit from the weakening ruble, analysts said. The falling ruble rate creates very suitable conditions for exporters of raw materials, said Evgeny Nadorshin, chief economist at the Moscow-based PF Capital. The current ruble rate is beneficial for the budget. The ruble price for oil after the falling rate is more than 4,000 rubles per barrel, the analyst said, while the price of 3,300 rubles per barrel is considered to be more than acceptable for the budget, the analyst noted.

A weaker ruble will bolster exports, Chief of the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) and ex-finance minister Alexei Kudrin said. “A number of sectors are likely to profit due to this rate. So, in general, the balance [of payments] will be good and this won’t significantly affect economic growth.”

Alexandra Suslina of the Economic Expert Group said, “If the current situation does not result in falling oil prices and does not lead to restrictions on the volume of exported goods, oil and gas revenues will increase.”

However, if the foreign currency rate grows more, it will hit the budget, the economy and the citizens’ welfare, she warned. The current tensions on the markets are a threat to stable development and a decrease in the broad taxation bases, the expert said.

Under the current climate, investors may lose interest in Russia over high risks, Nadorshin cautioned. “Then, all plans for economic development – boosting growth, increasing efficiency and industry 4.0 – will go unfulfilled,” he stressed.

The falling ruble rate will mostly affect companies that import goods, Oleg Shibanov, professor of finance at the New Economic School, told the paper.

 

Izvestia: Russia gears up to greet new diplomats after expulsions

Russia is ready to welcome new diplomats in exchange for those expelled in retaliation for the Western diplomatic demarche in the wake of the poisoning episode of former Russian military intelligence (GRU) Colonel-turned-British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK. According to a high-ranking diplomatic source, Moscow did not cut the overall number of staff members in diplomatic missions of foreign states, Izvestia writes. The United Kingdom is the only country, which cannot fully restore its pre-crisis number of diplomats.

“In the UK’s case, we equaled the number of their staff members with those working in our diplomatic missions. So, instead of 73 expelled staff members London will be able to replace just 23 people. In turn, we also plan to replenish our diplomatic personnel,” the source said.

The Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic and the US Embassy in Russia confirmed their plans to the paper to send their diplomats to Russia.

Spokesperson for the US Embassy in Moscow told Izvestia that all requests on diplomatic accreditation would be considered on an individual basis. Russia has not notified the embassy of its plans to cut the number of staff members in the US diplomatic mission in Russia, she said.

The Czech Republic’s Foreign Ministry noted that when a country decides to expel diplomats, this does not mean that their positions are “frozen” and new people cannot fill these posts.

“All countries face a similar situation, not only between Russia and the Czech Republic. That’s why Russia may fill 60 positions with new diplomats in the US, for example, or vacant diplomatic posts in the Czech Republic. Prague will also seek to fill vacancies in Russia as in general we have few people there,” Spokesperson for the Czech Republic’s Foreign Ministry Michaela Lagronova said.

 

TASS is not responsible for the material quoted in these press reviews

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Skripal Poisoning: ‘UK Could End Up Looking Very Foolish’ – Former Guernsey MP – By Sputnik

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21:04 14.03.2018(updated 21:12 14.03.2018) Get short URL

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In response to the alleged poisoning attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skirpal, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats during the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) today, without presenting conclusive evidence which tied the attack to the Russian government.

Unsurprisingly, PM May’s announcement of diplomatic sanctions against Russia, and her government’s wider handling of the matter, have drawn criticism.

“Today’s UK Parliamentary debate was a shock to many independent-minded people as none of the MPs were asking for the facts. You would not want any of them being in a jury for a trial,” Anthony Webber, a political commentator who served as an MP for Guernsey for 13 years told Sputnik.

READ MORE: Skripal Case Staged to Keep UK Within EU Over “Russian Threat” – UKIP Member

Mr. Webber went on to question the British government’s credibility, as it has a history of making baseless allegations, which they know to be false, especially surrounding chemical weapons.

“As the British government has lied before, as with the Iraq war [claims of Saddam Hussein’s forces possessing chemical WMDs], the public are aware they are capable of doing this. If the truth came out, the prime minister would probably have to resign for misleading MPs and the public,” Mr. Webber added.

READ MORE: UK a Priori Blaming Russia in Skripal Case is Business as Usual — Analyst

He also raised doubts about the weapon used in the attack on Sergei Skripal, suggesting that, if it was indeed an planned and carried out by the Russian government or its intelligence agencies, they would have used something which wouldn’t seemingly implicate them.

“It is blatantly obvious that the Russian government would not be stupid enough to use the Novichok agent for such an operation as it suggests Russian involvement, but the Conservative government seems to think the British public is gullible enough to believe it. But maybe the British public is not so gullible? The UK government could end up looking very foolish,” Mr. Webber concluded.

READ MORE: US Had Access to Substance Allegedly Used to Poison Skripal Since 1999 – Report

US gave Kurds modern arms, made Turkey launch Afrin op – Russian Security Council – By RT

US gave Kurds modern arms, made Turkey launch Afrin op – Russian Security Council
Washington provoked Ankara into launching a military offensive on Syria’s Kurdish-controlled Afrin by “boosting” the Kurds with advanced weapons, according to the Russian Security Council.

“The Kurds are being boosted with advanced weaponry. The deliveries of modern weapons and encouragement of separatist sentiments among the Kurds have in fact provoked Turkey into carrying out the military operation in Syria’s northern Afrin region,” the Assistant to the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Alexander Venediktov told Ria Novosti.

READ MORE: Turkey deploys special forces to Afrin, Syria in ‘preparation for new fight’

Turkey launched the military operation dubbed ‘Operation Olive Branch’ targeting Kurdish militias in Syria on January 20. In late February it deployed specialist police, who are expected to join the offensive and to hold the villages Turkish troops have taken from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara considers the Kurdish-led militia to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), outlawed in Turkey as a terrorist organization.

The Kurdish militias have enjoyed the support of the US-led coalition in Syria, causing discord between NATO allies Washington and Ankara. Tensions have risen further since the US announced the decision to sponsor the creation of a 30,000-strong security border force in Syria, half of which would be recruited from Kurdish-led forces.

READ MORE: Tillerson in Ankara pledges limited weapon supplies to SDF, says Manbij ‘priority’ in Syria

In mid-February, the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson attempted to reassure Ankara that Washington respects its ally’s security concerns.

“We have always been clear with Turkey that the weapons provided to the Syrian Democratic Forces would be limited, mission-specific, and provided on the incremental basis to achieve military objectives only,” Tillerson said during his visit to the Turkish capital.

Turkish shells explode behind reporter covering pro-Syrian govt deployment in Afrin (VIDEO) – By RT

 
 
Turkish forces have attempted to prevent the convoy of pro-government Syrian militias from entering the Kurdish-held Afrin, unleashing a barrage of artillery fire which hit close to media covering the deployment.

A reporter, apparently working for Al Mayadeen pan-Arabist satellite television channel, has narrowly escaped being struck by a shell that landed a few hundred meters down the road from the crew’s position. The video, obtained by RT’s Ruptly video agency, show the correspondent reporting live on camera as a projectile narrowly misses his position.

“Turkish forces targeted with artillery the locations of the popular forces upon their arrival in the area of Afrin, in addition to targeting media delegations that are covering the arrival of the forces,” Syrian SANA news agency’s reporter in Afrin confirmed.

While SANA reports that the “popular forces” comprised of Shia militias have established themselves in the region to support the Kurds against terrorists and the “Turkish aggression,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday claimed that the Syrian forces’ advance into Afrin was thwarted. “They were forced to go back after artillery shooting,” the Turkish President said, noting that “Afrin city center will be besieged in the coming days.” Earlier, Turkey said they it fired “warning shots” at Syria pro-regime forces in Afrin, claiming that militias were forced to fall at least ten kilometers back.

Turkey, which has been conducting the so-called operation Olive Branch in Afrin since January 20, insists that the offensive is solely aimed at wiping out Kurdish “terrorist” fighters along its borders, denying allegations that it has targeted civilians. Medical sources at Afrin Hospital, however, told Syrian media that at least 175 civilians were killed and more than 450 wounded since the launch of the Turkish operation in northern Syria.

Ankara’s operation, which aims to create a 30km “secure zone” within Syrian territory, has repeatedly been denounced by Damascus as a blatant attack on its sovereignty. Seeking protection, the Kurdish authorities in Afrin called on the government to send troops to help defend the border from Turks.

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Pro-govt Syrian fighters begin entering Kurdish Afrin despite Turkish threats – Syrian TV (VIDEO) – By RT

Pro-govt Syrian fighters begin entering Kurdish Afrin despite Turkish threats – Syrian TV (VIDEO)
A convoy of fighters waving Syrian flags has apparently entered the northern Kurdish-held region of Afrin, which Turkey is targeting in a cross-border operation, footage on Syrian state TV shows.

The pro-government fighters were filmed entering the village of Nubul in some 20 pickup trucks. An RT source on the ground has confirmed the movement of troops to Afrin.

A reporter at the scene for Syrian state agency SANA said that the area where the fighters arrived has already been targeted by an attack from the Turkish side.

 
 

Turkish media later reported that an artillery attack on the convoy forced it to retreat.

The deployment comes after a reported deal between Damascus and Kurdish authorities, which sought the involvement of the central government amid a continued fight against Turkey and the militias supported by Ankara.

READ MORE: Turkey will lay siege to Syria’s Afrin in coming days — Erdogan

Turkish officials earlier warned that their forces would lay siege to the city of Afrin if pro-Damascus fighters show up there.

 
 
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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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Too many wars make too many enemies – By Pat Buchanan (Creators) (SOTT)

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If Turkey is not bluffing, U.S. troops in Manbij, Syria, could be under fire by week’s end, and NATO engulfed in the worst crisis in its history.

Turkish President Erdogan said Friday his troops will cleanse Manbij of Kurdish fighters, alongside whom U.S. troops are embedded. Erdogan’s foreign minister demanded concrete steps by the U.S. to end its support of the Kurds, who control the Syrian border with Turkey east of the Euphrates, all the way to Iraq.

If the Turks attack Manbij, the U.S. will face a choice: Stand by our Kurdish allies and resist the Turks, or abandon the Kurds.

Should the U.S. let the Turks drive the Kurds out of Manbij and the entire Syrian border area with Turkey, as Erdogan threatens, U.S. credibility would suffer a blow from which it would not soon recover.

But to stand with the Kurds and oppose Erdogan’s forces could mean a crackup of NATO and loss of U.S. bases inside Turkey, including the air base at Incirlik.

Turkey also sits astride the Dardanelles entrance to the Black Sea. NATO’s loss of Turkey would thus be a triumph for Vladimir Putin, who gave Ankara the green light to cleanse the Kurds from Afrin.

Yet Syria is but one of many challenges to U.S. foreign policy.

Comment: Wars are not one-sided, and picking to fight one is never a requisite. Choosing to fight many wars simultaneously is downright insanity.

The Winter Olympics in South Korea may have taken the threat of a North Korean ICBM that could hit the U.S. out of the news. But no one believes that threat is behind us.

Last week, China charged that the USS Hopper, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, a reef in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing, though it is far closer to Luzon in the Philippines. The destroyer, says China, was chased off by one of her frigates. If we continue to contest China’s territorial claims with U.S. warships, a clash is inevitable.

In a similar incident Monday, a Russian military jet came within five feet of a U.S. Navy EP-3 Orion surveillance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea, forcing the Navy plane to end its mission.

U.S. relations with Cold War ally Pakistan are at rock bottom. In his first tweet of 2018, President Trump charged Pakistan with being a duplicitous and false friend. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

As for America’s longest war, in Afghanistan, now in its 17th year, the end is nowhere on the horizon. A week ago, the International Hotel in Kabul was attacked and held for 13 hours by Taliban gunmen who killed 40. Midweek, a Save the Children facility in Jalalabad was attacked by ISIS, creating panic among aid workers across the country.

Saturday, an ambulance exploded in Kabul, killing 103 people and wounding 235. Monday, Islamic State militants attacked Afghan soldiers guarding a military academy in Kabul. With the fighting season two months off, U.S. troops will not soon be departing.

If Pakistan is indeed providing sanctuary for the terrorists of the Haqqani network, how does this war end successfully for the United States?

Last week, in a friendly fire incident, the U.S.-led coalition killed 10 Iraqi soldiers. The Iraq war began 15 years ago.

Yet another war, where the humanitarian crisis rivals Syria, continues on the Arabian Peninsula. There, a Saudi air, sea and land blockade that threatens the Yemeni people with starvation has failed to dislodge Houthi rebels who seized the capital Sanaa three years ago.

This weekend brought news that secessionist rebels, backed by the United Arab Emirates, have seized power in Yemen’s southern port of Aden, from the Saudi-backed Hadi regime fighting the Houthis. These rebels seek to split the country, as it was before 1990.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear to be backing different horses in this tribal-civil-sectarian war into which America has been drawn.

There are other wars – Somalia, Libya, Ukraine – where the U.S. is taking sides, sending arms, training troops, flying missions.

Like the Romans, we have become an empire, committed to fight for scores of nations, with troops on every continent, and forces in combat operations of which the American people are only vaguely aware. “I didn’t know there were 1,000 troops in Niger,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham when four Green Berets were killed there. “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing.”

No, we don’t, Senator. As in all empires, power is passing to the generals.

And what causes the greatest angst today in the imperial city? Fear that a four-page memo worked up in the House Judiciary Committee may discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia-gate.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.

Comment: And there it is. The ‘memo’ trumps unholy wars. This is what distracts the American public from the ongoing, escalating and mind-blowing atrocities being committed daily in its name.

First sign of end to Afrin crisis as Kurds call on Assad for help – By Alexander Mercouris

Amidst Turkish offensive bogs down in Afrin and with policy chaos in Washington route opens for Moscow to broker a compromise

Turkish military armored vehicles, which took part in an operation inside Syria, are pictured near the Mursitpinar border crossing in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, February 23, 2015. A Turkish military operation to rescue 38 soldiers guarding a tomb in Syria surrounded by Islamic State militants was launched to counter a possible attack on them, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Monday. The action, which involved tanks, drones and reconnaissance planes as well as several hundred ground troops, was the first of its kind by Turkish troops into Syria since the start of the civil war there nearly four years ago. REUTERS/Stringer (TURKEY – Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT MILITARY)

Though it is extremely difficult to get a clear sense of the state of the fighting between the Turkish military and the Kurds in northern Syria in the hotly contested district of Afrin, the growing impression is of a Turkish military offensive which has become bogged down.

This has been a constantly recurring feature of Turkish military operations in Syria over the last two years.  Though they invariably begin with confident predictions of rapid victory, in practice they quickly run into the sand as the Turkish military and its Jihadi allies struggle to overcome the resistance of the seasoned fighters of ISIS and of the Kurdish militia the YPG.

The reason for these failures was discussed by me in an article published by The Duran on 19th February 2017 in which I discussed the succession of defeats inflicted on the Turkish military by ISIS over the course of the battle for the strategically important Syrian town of Al-Bab.

The Turkish force that is besieging Al-Bab is comparatively small.  It is also unbalanced, with barely any Turkish infantry to support the tanks, and with such Turkish infantry as is there consisting mainly of Special Forces, who are few in number and who are not generally used to support tanks.

The reason for this is that for domestic political reasons President Erdogan’s government is unwilling to send Turkish infantry into Syria.  Turkish infantry units are generally manned by conscripts, and President Erdogan does not want to face the public opposition he might provoke if he sent young Turkish conscripts to Syria to fight the hardened veterans of ISIS and the Kurdish YPG.

The result however is that the Turkish military besieging Al-Bab has to rely for infantry support on the Jihadi fighters of the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’, who have proved consistently unable to stand up in a fight against any one of their enemies, be they the Syrian army, ISIS or the YPG.

Pictures which have appeared of the Turkish forces which have been sent to Afrin suggest that the same pattern is repeating itself, with the forces looking excessively tank heavy and over reliant for infantry support on Turkey’s local Jihadi allies who have repeatedly shown themselves incapable of standing up in actual fighting against either ISIS or the YPG.

The Turkish military’s moves against Afrin have been made more difficult by the redeployment of YPG fighters from Raqqa and other places where they were previously fighting ISIS to Afrin.

According to some reports these YPG fighters are reaching Afrin by crossing Syrian government controlled territory, indicating the existence of some sort of presumably Russian brokered deal between the YPG and the Syrian government in Damascus.

Meanwhile there are also reports that the US is itself stepping supplies of anti tank missiles to the Kurds.

If the picture on the ground looks excessively complicated and difficult to understand, it has not been made any clearer by the high level diplomacy Turkish President Erdogan has engaged in over the last few days.

On Tuesday 23rd January 2018 Erdogan had a telephone conversation with President Putin of Russia.  The Kremlin’s summary of this call suggests that its tone was at least cordial even if it is not at all clear what if anything was agreed

The two presidents exchanged opinions on the situation in Syria, including in Afrin in the northwest Syria, where Turkey is conducting a military operation. They focused on the importance of continuing joint efforts to settle the Syrian crisis based on respect for Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The two leaders also talked about preparations for the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which has entered the home stretch. Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan expressed hope that the congress would be representative and would help find a lasting political solution to the crisis in keeping with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the agreements reached in Astana.

Both presidents pointed out their satisfaction with the positive development of Russian-Turkish relations in various spheres.

The same is not true of President Erdogan’s telephone conversation on the following day with President Trump of the United States.

The Moon of Alabama has discussed the bizarre and contradictory reports from Washington and Ankara about what passed during this call in a masterly way

Yesterday President Trump and Erdogan had a phonecall to discuss the situation. It did not help. The White House readout for the call includes some noticeably harsh language:

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. President Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria. He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.

President Trump also expressed concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey.The Turkish side denied that such language and these issues were part of the talk:

The White House’s written statement differs from the truth discussed between the Turkish and U.S. Presidents’ phone conversation on Wednesday, according to Anadolu Agency sources.Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, the sources said President Donald Trump did not discuss any concerns ‘of escalating violence in Afrin’ during the phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The sources also stressed that President Trump did not use the words “destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey.”

They also said that there was no discussion of the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey.

It is very unusual to dispute the content of such readouts. Is Turkey obfuscating here or did someone in the White House put harsher language into the readout than was actually used in the call?

Trump had in general good relations with Erdogan and the readout language does not sound like him. The Turkish side also added this:

“In an answer to President Erdogan’s highlighting request from Washington to stop providing arms to the PYD/YPG terrorists in Syria within the scope of fighting against terrorism, President Trump said the United States are no longer providing PYD/YPG with weapons,” the sources added.Already in November the Turks had said that Trump promised to stop the delivery of weapons to the YPG forces in east-Syria. But the White House was evasive on the issue and the U.S. military Central Command has acted contrary to that promise. If the Magnier report is correct CentCom also delivered anti-tank missiles to the Kurds in Afrin.

(highlighting in the original)

In contrast to the Moon of Alabama, I think the White House readout does provide an accurate summary of what passed between Trump and Erdogan during the call.

It appears that there was a furious row between Trump and Erdogan, with Trump telling Erdogan to stop his operation against the Kurds in Afrin and with Erdogan refusing to do so.

An angry and humiliated Erdogan has subsequently tried to conceal the extent of the row by claiming that the readout is inaccurate so as to pretend that the row never took place.

This brings up again the question of the seemingly confused state of US policy on the Kurdish question.

The article by the Moon of Alabama discusses this extensively, and analyses in detail and once more in a masterly way the all too obvious split in Washington between pro-Turkish and pro-Kurdish factions.

I have for some time presumed that are different opinions in the White House and especially in the Pentagon with regards to Turkey and the Kurds. The realist-hawks and NATO proponents are on Turkey’s side while the neoconservative “liberal” forces are on the Kurdish side. Yesterday the NYT noted the split:

The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The former director of the Council of Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, takes the pro-Kurdish position. Linking to the NYT piece above he says:

Richard N. Haass‏ @RichardHaass – 12:00 PM – 24 Jan 2018
Pentagon right; US should be working w Kurds in Syria for moral and strategic reasons alike. A break with Erdogan’s Turkey is inevitable, if not over this than over other differences. Time for DoD to come up with plan to substitute for Incirlik access.It is not only the Incirlik air-base which is irreplaceable for NATO’s southern command. Turkey also controls the access to the Black Sea and has thereby a say over potential NATO operations against southern Russia and Crimea.

In a Bloomberg oped former U.S. Supreme Commander of NATO Stavridis takes a pro-Turkish position:

At the moment, Washington is trying to sail a narrow passage between supporting its erstwhile Kurdish combat partners and not blowing up the relationship with Turkey. But the room for maneuver is closing and a choice is looming. What should the U.S. do?

[W]e simply cannot afford to “lose” Turkey.

The Turks have a strong and diversified economy, a young and growing population, and have stood alongside the U.S. for much of the post-World War II era. Their importance both regionally and globally will continue to grow in the 21st century. Yes, U.S. officials can and should criticize Turkish actions where they violate international law or human rights — but in private, at least at this stage of the situation.

[T]he overall U.S. strategic interest lies in keeping Turkey aligned with NATO and the trans-Atlantic community. It would be a geopolitical mistake of near-epic proportions to see Turkey drift out of that orbit and end up aligned with Russia and Iran in the Levant.

In passing the article in the Moon of Alabama also confirms what I have said previously, that the US’s Plan C – the plan to  use the Kurds to destabilise President Assad’s government in Syria by carving out a Kurdish statelet in northern Syria – was not properly discussed within the US government or agreed within the administration, but was cooked up instead by a small but influential group of Washington officials who did not discuss it with their seniors in the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House

It is unclear where in the Trump administration the split between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish positions actually is. (Or is it all around chaos?) On which side, for example, is Secretary of Defense Mattis and on which side is the National Security Advisor McMaster? This clip from the NYT piece above lets one assume that they pull in opposite directions:

For its part, the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed.

That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

But the Pentagon issued its own statement on Tuesday standing by its decision to create the Kurdish-led force.

(bold italics added)

Compare these words with what I said about the lack of discussion with the US government about the new policy (Plan C) of backing the Kurds in the article in which I discussed this subject dated 8th October 2017

Policy instability in Washington

Firstly, though I have no doubt that Plan C exists and is both calculated and supported by some influential people in Washington – including within the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon – I doubt there is any consensus within the US government behind it.

There has never been any sign of any properly structured discussion within the US government about the sort of strategy the US should be following in Syria, whether conducted through the vehicle of the National Security Council or through any other format.  In my opinion the US government is now too disorganised and dysfunctional to be capable of carrying out such a discussion.  That was already the case under the Obama administration, and the current political chaos in Washington has made the situation worse.

The result is that many senior officials within the US – including I suspect President Trump himself, and quite possibly his ‘realist’ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – have not been consulted about the new strategy and may not even know about it.

My strong impression is that US policy in the Middle East has for some time been run by a small but powerful cabal of officials inside the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon, who have strong links to various neoliberal/neoconservative groups working in US academia, various Washington think-tanks, and the media, and who also have strong personal and organisational links to the governments of the US’s two major allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Needless to say, since policy is made in this way with no proper discussion behind it, the new policy of supporting the Kurds (like the previous policies of seeking regime change in Syria and Iraq, and of partitioning Syria on religious lines) has not been properly thought through, and is not being executed in a consistent or organised way.

It is in fact all too easy to understand what has happened.

As happens all too often now, a middle ranking group of influential people on the ground in Syria and in Washington have committed the US to a policy aiming at the fragmentation of Syria which was never fully or properly discussed within the US government.  As a result the obvious flaws in the policy went by undetected.

Now however that those flaws have risen to the surface – threatening a major crisis between the US and its key NATO ally Turkey – the US finds it impossible – or at any rate extremely difficult – to change course.

Rather than do so resort is made instead to the classic Washington bureaucrat’s device of putting the US President on the telephone to President Erdogan to try to warn him off so that the policy can continue unchanged.

Needless to say that is more likely to aggravate the crisis than to end it.

By contrast in Moscow – where policy most definitely is discussed thoroughly within the government and is properly thought through (Russia’s Security Council met to discuss the gathering Afrin crisis as well as Ukrainian developments on 19th January 2018) – a clear policy has been agreed, enabling President Putin to have a cordial and constructive discussion with President Erdogan on Tuesday (see above).

As a matter of fact the first indications have now emerged of a possible resolution of the crisis.

The BBC is now reporting that the Kurdish authorities in Afrin are calling on the Syrian government to deploy its troops to Afrin to defend the local population from the Turkish military

Kurdish authorities in Syria’s northern Afrin enclave have called on Syrian troops to defend the region’s border, as a Turkish offensive continues there.

They said the “aim of this (Turkish) aggression is to cut more Syrian land by occupying Afrin”.

Turkish-led forces began their assault in north-western Syria on Saturday.

Ankara regards Kurdish YPG fighters in Afrin as terrorists, and says they are linked to Kurdish PKK guerrillas who operate in Turkey itself.

Forty-eight Turkish-backed rebels and 42 YPG fighters have been killed in the fighting since Saturday, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group.

Immediately prior to the Turkish attack on Afrin there were what appeared to be reliable reports that the Russians had advised the Kurds to transfer Afrin to the Syrian army’s control in order to avert the Turkish attack.

The Kurds – over confident of US protection – rejected this advice, with the result that as the promise of US protection has proved to be a dead letter they have been left to fight the Turkish military in Afrin on their own.

The BBC report does not say that the Kurds have reversed their position and are now accepting the Russian advice.

The Russian proposal was that the Kurds hand over control of Afrin to the Syrian army, whereas what the Kurds are now asking for is that the Syrian army come to their defence in Afrin by sending its troops there to fight alongside them against the Turks.

It is inconceivable that either Moscow or Damascus would ever countenance such an idea.

However the Kurdish plea to Damascus for Syrian protection does represent an explicit acknowledgement of Syrian sovereignty over Kurdish controlled territory.

As such it is also an implicit acknowledgement that ultimate authority over Kurdish controlled territory belongs to the Syrian government.

However cynical or opportunistic this move is, it appears to accept that independence or even semi independence for a YPG governed Kurdish statelet carved out of Syrian territory is not an option.

That does suggest a possible way out of this crisis.

It is probably too late now to save Afrin.  Erdogan’s prestige is too bound up in its conquest for him to be persuaded to back off.

However it is conceivable that the Russians could persuade Erdogan to stop at Afrin if the Kurds fully accept the authority of the Syrian government in Damascus and allow the Syrian army into the rest of the territory which they control.

In return the Russians might be able to secure some sort of representation for the Kurds in the Syrian peace conference which they are trying to arrange in Sochi, as they have in fact been trying to do for some time. Possibly in return for a Kurdish withdrawal from Afrin they might be able to persuade Erdogan to agree to it.

In return the Russians would redeploy their observers to Afrin to provide protection to the local Kurdish population who are understandably enough nervous of the Turkish military and its Jihadi allies.

Whilst there would be many difficulties in the way of such a compromise, brokering it is precisely the sort of diplomatic work at which the Russians excel.

Moreover working in favour of such a compromise is the fact that every party to it would come away with something: Turkey would have gained control of Afrin and would have prevented the emergence of a large heavily armed YPG controlled Kurdish statelet on its southern border; the Syrian government would have restored its authority over the fifth of Syrian territory which is presently controlled by the YPG; and the Kurds would have gained safety from Turkey and a say in the future of Syria.

After a time further negotiations – in Sochi or Astana rather than in Geneva – would restore Afrin to Syrian control, in return for some sort of role for Turkey in northern Syria.

A big step would thereby be taken towards restoring Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the whole of its territory, something to which the Russians – as the Kremlin summary of  Putin’s telephone conversation with Erdogan shows – attach high priority (see the Kremlin’s summary of the call above), bringing closer a final end to the war.

The one obvious loser from such a compromise would of course be the United States.

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