Stephen F. Cohen on the new cold war
To listen to podcast GO HERE
Endgame: Putin Plans To Strike ISIS With Or Without The U.S.
23 September, 2015
On Sunday, we noted that Washington’s strategy in Syria has now officially unravelled.
John Kerry, speaking from London following talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, essentially admitted over the weekend that Russia’s move to bolster the Assad regime at Latakia effectively means that the timing of Assad’s exit is now completely indeterminate. Here’s how we summed up the situation:
Moscow, realizing that instead of undertaking an earnest effort to fight terror in Syria, the US had simply adopted a containment strategy for ISIS while holding the group up to the public as the boogeyman par excellence, publicly invited Washington to join Russia in a once-and-for-all push to wipe Islamic State from the face of the earth. Of course The Kremlin knew the US wanted no such thing until Assad was gone, but by extending the invitation, Putin had literally called Washington’s bluff, forcing The White House to either admit that this isn’t about ISIS at all, or else join Russia in fighting them. The genius of that move is that if Washington does indeed coordinate its efforts to fight ISIS with Moscow, the US will be fighting to stabilize the very regime it sought to oust.
Revelations (which surprised no one but the Pentagon apparently) that Moscow is coordinating its efforts in Syria with Tehran only serve to reinforce the contention that Assad isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the US will either be forced to aid in the effort to destroy the very same Sunni extremists that it in some cases worked very hard to support, or else admit that countering Russia and supporting Washington’s regional allies in their efforts to remove Assad takes precedence over eliminating ISIS. Because the latter option is untenable for obvious reasons, Washington has a very real problem on its hands - and Vladimir Putin just made it worse.
As Bloomberg reports, The Kremlin is prepared to launch unilateral strikes against ISIS targets if the US is unwilling to cooperate. Here’s more:
President Vladimir Putin, determined to strengthen Russia’s only military outpost in the Middle East, is preparing to launch unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State from inside Syria if the U.S. rejects his proposal to join forces, two people familiar with the matter said.
Putin’s preferred course of action, though, is for America and its allies to agree to coordinate their campaign against the terrorist group with Russia, Iran and the Syrian army, which the Obama administration has so far resisted, according to a person close to the Kremlin and an adviser to the Defense Ministry in Moscow.
Russian diplomacy has shifted into overdrive as Putin seeks to avoid the collapse of the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally who’s fighting both a 4 1/2 year civil war and Sunni extremists under the banner of Islamic State. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for talks with Putin on Monday, followed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
Putin’s proposal, which Russia has communicated to the U.S., calls for a “parallel track” of joint military action accompanied by a political transition away from Assad, a key U.S. demand, according to a third person. The initiative will be the centerpiece of Putin’s one-day trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, which may include talks with President Barack Obama.
“Russia is hoping common sense will prevail and Obama takes Putin’s outstretched hand,” said Elena Suponina, a senior Middle East analyst at the Institute of Strategic Studies, which advises the Kremlin. “But Putin will act anyway if this doesn’t happen.”
And that, as they say, it that. Checkmate.
The four-year effort to oust Assad by first supporting and then tolerating the rise of Sunni extremists (presaged in a leaked diplomatic cable) has failed and the Kremlin has officially served a burn notice on a former CIA “strategic asset.”
There are two things to note here.
First, Russia of course is fully aware that the US has never had any intention of eradicating ISIS completely. As recently as last week, Moscow’s allies in Tehran specifically accused Washington of pursuing nothing more than a containment policy as it relates to ISIS, as allowing the group to continue to operate in Syria ensures that the Assad regime remains under pressure.
Second, even if Russia does agree to some manner of managed transition away from Assad,you can be absolutely sure that Moscow is not going to risk the lives of its soldiers (not to mention its international reputation) only to have the US dictate what Syria’s new government looks like and indeed, Tehran will have absolutely nothing of a regime that doesn’t perpetuate the existing Mid-East balance of power which depends upon Syria not falling to the West. Additionally - and this is also critical - Russia will of course be keen on ensuring that whoever comes after Assad looks after Russia’s interests at its naval base at Tartus. This means that even if the US, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are forced to publicly support a managed transition, Washington, Riyadh, and Doha will privately be extremely disappointed with the outcome which begs the following question: what will be the next strategy to oust Assad and will it be accompanied by something even worse than a four-year-old bloody civil war and the creation of a band of black flag-waving militants bent on re-establishing a medieval caliphate?
The Obama Two-Step on Syria
by AJAMU BARAKA
23 September, 2015
It was a pathetic spectacle, another black face in a high place in the person of General Lloyd J. Austin III, head of the United States Central Command, came before the Senate’s Armed Services Committee to report to incredulous members that the 500 million dollar program to train 5000 so-called moderate rebels in Syria had only resulted in the training of a few dozen.
Putin: Does anyone even listen to us?
Putin answers questions from a US journalist in relation to his intentions of getting along with the US
Moscow's Moves in Syria: 5 Messages Russia Is Sending to the World
Nikolas K. Gvosdev
11 September, 2015
As Russian ships and planes continue to deposit additional personnel and equipment in Syria, here are five geopolitical messages Russian president Vladimir Putin is sending to the world:
One: Reports of Russia’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. In other words, the narrative that Western sanctions plus falling oil prices combined with China’s economic slowdown have brought the Kremlin to the edge of collapse is quite premature. Russia has only a fraction of U.S. global power projection capabilities but in its ability to send forces to Syria it still ranks among a select few countries—with more European countries prepared to fall off that list—who can send and sustain military forces beyond their immediate borders. The Kremlin is clearly signaling that it plans to take an active role in setting the agenda in the Middle East—and not to passively accept an American vision for how the future should unfold.
Second: Putin is making it clear that he will not accept Washington's default position that the removal of a brutal strongman from power is a path to greater long-term stability in the Middle East. And while the United States and Europe continue to debate their next moves, particularly in the wake of the migrant crisis, Russia is prepared to act on its assessment that more direct military assistance to aid Assad in combating the Islamic State is the best way to end the conflict. Putin has repeatedly indicated that if the goal of Western policy is to reduce the flow of refugees and decrease the threat of Islamic terrorism gaining a new Afghanistan-style base of operations, then the experience of Iraq and Libya suggests that overthrowing Assad and hoping the opposition can form a more effective and stable state administration will not achieve these ends. Having reached this conclusion, Putin is uninterested in asking for the West's permission or Washington's blessing.
Third: Russia is more confident of its position in Ukraine. The uptick in violence over the summer has receded, with the cease-fire again largely appearing to be holding. At the same time, Ukraine’s ongoing domestic political and economic woes suggest that there will be no major breakthrough that will solidify the Maidan revolution and put the country on an irreversible path towards closer integration with the Euro-Atlantic world. Instead, things appear to be settling down into a protracted frozen conflict where Moscow retains most of the leverage.
Forth: The Kremlin enforces its red lines. Just as Moscow would not permit the separatists to face catastrophic defeat last summer in Ukraine, Russia has signaled that it will not sit by and allow Bashar al- Assad to be overthrown or removed by outside military action. With more Russian forces on the ground, and reportedly augmenting Assad's air defense capabilities, the risk calculus for any sort of U.S. or NATO action against Assad's government has dramatically increased. Even more limited proposals; such as enforcing a no-fly zone to create protected space on the ground for refugees now opens up the possibility for a clash with Russian forces.
And Fifth: Russia's willingness to put "boots on the ground" in Syria, in contrast to a increasingly desperate search on Washington's part for local proxies willing and able to fight both Assad and ISIS and the reluctance of key U.S. allies to take on more of the burden, serves several purposes. It reassures Russian partners that Moscow is prepared to meet its pledges even if there is a cost in terms of resources, lives, and reputation. This has not gone unnoticed in places like Egypt and Azerbaijan, where governments question the depth of the American commitment to their well-being. For Middle Eastern countries that have opposed Russian policy in Syria, Putin's decision to up the ante may lead them to reassess whether the path to a viable settlement resides not in Washington, soon to be increasingly distracted by an election campaign, but through Moscow.
Putin's decision reflects an assessment that the risk of greater Russian involvement in Syria is outweighed by the dangers to Russian interests if Assad should fall. Russia will not be persuaded by strongly worded demarches to reverse its deployment. The United States, in charting its response, needs to be guided by a similar calculation of the ends it hopes to achieve with the means it is prepared to commit.
Russia Could Scrap INF Treaty If US Deploys New Nuclear Bombs to Germany
Moscow could drop out of a Soviet-era nuclear treaty with Washington if the United States moves new B61-12 guided nuclear bombs to Germany, the chairman of Russia's upper chamber defense and security committee said Wednesday.
23 September, 2015
MOSCOW (Sputnik) — German media reported on Tuesday that the United States would station 20 next-generation nuclear weapons at the Buechel military air base in western Germany, information obtained from a line item included in the 2015 US budget.
"Should they follow through on this decision, this could prompt Russia to exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty," Viktor Ozerov told RIA Novosti.
The United States and Russia signed the INF Treaty in 1987 to eliminate the threat of nuclear missiles capable of striking targets on the European continent.
Washington's deployment of nuclear weapons in Germany disrupts the balance in Europe, and Moscow will have to respond, the Kremlin spokesperson said.
Following German media reports, US Department of Defense spokesman Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers told Sputnik that Washington believed that its nuclear weapon deployments were fully compliant with US treaty obligations.
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern about upgraded US nuclear deployment plans, saying this would also infringe on the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, ratified by more than 190 states