Sunday, 5 June 2016

Russia prepares to return to Syria in response to US double-cross

Once again Washington plays the double game while Putin and Lavrov continue to talk to the West who cannot be trusted.

One has to ask when Moscow will get the message.

US asks Russia not to target Al-Qaeda branch in Syria – Russian FM Lavrov

4 June, 2016

Washington has asked Moscow not to conduct airstrikes against al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, for fear that members of the “moderate opposition” could also be hit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reported.

They [the US] are telling us not to hit it [al-Nusra Front], because there are also ‘normal’ opposition groups [on those territories],” Lavrov said in an interview with local Russian media that was published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website.

The minister also stressed that “such opposition groups should leave terrorist positions,” adding that “we have long agreed on that.” Russia first set a deadline for the “moderate” opposition to leave territories occupied by al-Nusra Front extremists, but then agreed to give them more time to withdraw.

© Reuters

In the interview, Lavrov said that Russia believes that taking specific and more effective measures to fight the Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) and al-Nusra Front terrorist groups should be the top priority for Russia and the US if the Syrian crisis is to be resolved.

It is important to provide humanitarian access to the settlements blocked by one side or another, to secure the ceasefire and to prevent its violation, as well as to launch the political process… but, as important as these goals are, terrorism is our common threat, and there should be no doubt about that,” he said, adding that, in the meantime, al-Nusra Front has been attempting to merge with other armed opposition groups.

Lavrov also said that the political process in Syria is being held back by radical opposition groups that refuse to come to the negotiating table and set preconditions for peace talks. He added that it is important to set aside these demands and focus on the fight against terrorism.

The minister also emphasized that Russia and the US are involved in a close and intensive dialog on Syria that includes regular telephone calls between Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, and a video-conference channel set up between the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria located at the Khmeimim airbase in Latakia and the US base in the Jordanian capital of Amman, as well as a joint US-Russian center in Geneva. 

Lavrov had held a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the initiative of the US side earlier the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

The two ministers discussed “the fight against ISIS and the need to urgently distance the moderate opposition from the Jabhat al-Nusra group, as well as efforts to cut off the flow of weapons and militants coming from abroad to beef up terrorist organizations,” the statement said.

In the meantime, Kerry, who is in Paris, told journalists that he had discussed the upsurge in violence in Syria during the phone call with Lavrov, explaining that the two had worked specifically on “ways to try to strengthen the enforcement and accountability for this cessation,” AP reported.

In the meantime, the US State Department said that Washington has asked Russia to be “more careful” in targeting its airstrikes against al-Nusra Front, as hitting civilians or opposition groups while attacking the jihadists could eventually give more support to the terrorist groups.

[The US State] Secretary conveyed to Russia and the Assad regime that they need to carefully distinguish between these terrorist groups operating on the ground and those parties to the cessation of hostilities,” US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said during a briefing on Friday, adding that the US agrees that IS and al-Nusra Front“pose a real threat to the security on the ground in Syria.”

‘US trying to play both sides to continue Syrian conflict’

Geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen told RT he believes Washington is not doing enough to convince so-called “moderate” rebel groups to part ways with terrorists.

By designating militants who share the same areas and positions with terrorists as “moderate opposition,” the US is actually providing the terrorists with a safe haven, Henningsen reasoned. The terrorist groups are profiting from such neighborly relations the same way they make use of civilians.

The classification of moderate rebels is a type of the human shield,” he said.
Hennigsen claims that the lack of a clear signal to the rebel groups coming from Washington is the result of a deliberate strategic choice made by the US government, which wants the military conflict to drag on.

All this talk of co-mingling, this is all double-speak,” he noted, adding that Washington is “trying to play both sides this to continue this conflict” and has no intention of actually resolving the issue.

Why Moscow is preparing to return to Syria
There have been indications recently that the Russians are preparing to resume operations against armed factions in Syria.

Mohammad Ballout

3 June, 2016

No countdown is currently underway for [a renewed] Russian military intervention [in Syria]. This intervention will probably never be renewed, at least not with the same momentum seen in the months prior to the ever-vacillating truce. As a matter of fact, it seems that only the Russians had counted on this intervention and believe that their achievements were sufficient to successfully embark on a political process in Geneva, which also did not materialize

Indeed, Russia keeps extending the truce [in Syria], although Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had determined May 25 the expiry date of this truce. However, this is the first time that converging signs indicate a relaunching of part of the Russian military operation — with renewed coordination with the Syrian army — ever since Moscow unilaterally decided to halt the Aleppo operation and impose a truce, even on Damascus, which reluctantly agreed to it. It should be noted that this truce is still stirring tension between Russia and the Syrian regime.

Moreover, a feeling of bitterness prevails within the Syrian army and regime about their loss of an opportunity to achieve a great victory, particularly in Aleppo’s northern countryside, and to upset the balance of power in the Syrian war as a whole.

Despite the major achievements [of the Russian intervention] on the ground in the countrysides of Latakia and in Aleppo’s southern, western and eastern countrysides, [the Syrian regime] failed to wrest control of key cities such as Idlib or Jisr al-Shughur and achieve final victory over the armed factions.

The Russian intervention has indeed failed to achieve the operational goals announced by the Russians themselves in November 2015. The Russians had stressed the imperative need to reach the Turkish-Syrian border, setting the closing of border crossings and supply routes with Turkey as a precondition to any solution. However, the Russians renounced this approach. The Russian truce has allowed armed factions, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reorganize and rearm their ranks and rebuild most of the infrastructure destroyed by the joint Russo-Syrian operations.

Thus, it can be said that for the first time the military and the diplomatic positions have converged on the need to restrengthen [Russia’s] credibility. This might pave the way for a partial re-adoption of the military option.

Yet this time around the goals of any [renewed Russian] military operation will not be as clear or as ambitious as the previous ones. This time, the military intervention will focus on isolating Jabhat al-Nusra from other armed groups. The Russians will put their Sukhoi fighter jets to the test and bet on direct ground offensives to weaken rather than defeat Syrian armed factions. It should be noted that isolating Jabhat al-Nusra from other armed factions, which is a difficult and complicated objective, would strike a painful blow to those factions since Jabhat al-Nusra’s military and ideological might form the backbone around which those factions unite.

Thus, the positions of the Russian administration’s military and diplomatic wings on the need to return to the battlefront fall in line with the position of Shoigu, which considered that the truce option has proved to be a failure and that a deadline must be given to the armed factions to distance themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra Front. This also seems to be the position of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who stated that “Moscow had not abandoned its decision to attack the armed factions that failed to abide by the truce in Syria.”

In an interview published May 31 in Russia’s daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Lavrov said that the deadline given by Moscow to the militants was about to expire. He added, “The US asked us to extend the deadline for several days prior to the implementation of the plan we had set in advance, whereby any party that breaches the truce would become a legitimate target, irrespective of whether this party is included on the lists of terrorist organizations or not. The Americans requested us to give them a few additional days to present us with their response, but the extended deadline expires this week.”

The foregoing is an indication that helps explain the decision-making process with regard to Syria. This process is affected by a tug of war taking place between the advisers of President Vladimir Putin. The Russian military support the return to the battlefield, while a large part of Russia’s Foreign Ministry officials and officials overseeing the political process, such as Lavrov and Mikhail Bogdanov, believe that work must continue toward achieving a [political] settlement; in fact, they are banking on President Barack Obama’s desire to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

Indeed, Russian diplomats are convinced that this is the best [political] settlement that they will get — one that will allow them to maintain a presence in Syria and reach a political solution before the end of the year when President Obama’s administration will be replaced by a new and more hawkish successor.

But Russian diplomats find themselves facing the US administration’s continued refusal of any coordination with the Russians in military operations targeting their mutual foe, IS, whether in Raqqa or northern Syria. The best possible US cooperation the United States offers is a joint US-Russian presence in Syrian airspace.

In that context, US warplanes dominate the sky over regions east of the Euphrates River, while Russian air cover blankets the region west of the river. Moreover, neither during Russia’s military operation nor after the truce went into effect did the Americans stop re-arming militant factions. The United States even supplied these factions with nearly 3,000 tons of weapons, offered them training and organized and coordinated their operations in a bid to wear out the Russians in Syria. It should be noted that this has been a clear Obama policy objective aimed to prevent embarking on any political solution as part of the United States' desire to isolate Russia. Washington, in fact, had even asked Russia not to target Jabhat al-Nusra’s positions.

Lavrov also stated that in one of their numerous telephone calls he asked his US counterpart, John Kerry, to explain why the US-led international coalition stopped targeting the terrorists in Syria, to which Kerry reiterated the same traditional justifications — which according to Lavrov are based on a bizarre [US] vision that terrorist positions are mixed with the positions of good guys who should not be targeted.

It seems that the bickering within the Russian administration on resuming the military intervention in Syria is on the verge of ending while the current US administration is entering its final months in office.

Although the mobilization of armed factions in northern Syria has not undergone any change worth mentioning, Lavrov has grown convinced that the Americans are deceiving the Russians and that the international coalition is standing idly by as terrorists and arms flow through the Syrian-Turkish border. [It seems that] Lavrov has come to believe that the terrorists are undoubtedly preparing to launch an offensive in violation of all international conventions and UN Security Council resolutions.

Without stirring a buzz similar to that of their first military intervention in Syria, the Russians this week disembarked ground forces and paratroopers in the port of Tartus to support more than 3,000 Russian volunteers dispatched to the region in the past few weeks, in a bid to revive coordination with the Syrian army.

This represents yet another additional indication that a wide-ranging operation is being prepared. This [operation] may include Raqqa, where the Russians want to have a presence on the ground to rival that of the Americans and Kurds. This may also include the countryside of Aleppo, where the Iranians are pushing for a major operation aimed to cut supply routes open to the east and retake the village of Khan Tuman, where [Iran] suffered a major setback.

In that regard, Syrian sources stated that the Russian joint command staff, which coordinated aerial support operations last fall, had returned to the Hmeimim military base in Latakia province to begin preparations for new operations.

Syria: The U.S. Is Unwilling To Settle - Russia Returns For Another Round

4 June, 2016

The Obama administration does not want peace in Syria. The Russians finally have to admit to themselves that the U.S. is no partner for a continuation of a cease fire, a coordinated attack against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda and for peace in Syria. Indeed, as Lavrov explains, the U.S. has again asked to spare al-Qaeda from Russian air strikes even as two UN Security Council resolutions demand its eradication. Huge supply convoys (vid) from Turkey are again going to the "rebels" who will, as always, share them with al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

The current renewed Syrian Arab Army attack towards Raqqa is being obstructed not only by sandstorms but also by a timely attack of al-Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham and Turkestan Islamist Party forces against government positions in the south Aleppo countryside.
More than 1,000 militants have begun an offensive against Syrian army positions southwest of Aleppo, the Russian ceasefire monitoring center in Syria said in a statement on Saturday.
The center also reported civilians in Aleppo as saying armed groups partly made up of Turkish soldiers had appeared north of the city.
The exactly same scheme happened in March and April when a move towards eastern Syrian by the Syrian army had to be stopped to prevent further losses against al-Qaeda south of Aleppo. It seems obvious that these moves U.S. supported forces are planned to prevent any gains of the Syrian government in the east.

Today Lavrov again talked to Kerry:
"Lavrov expressed concern about attempts to delay the resumption of political negotiations under various pretexts," the [Russian foreign] ministry said.
As the U.S. is unwilling to settle the Syria conflict Russia will have to retake the initiative.

Is this a trap? Does the U.S. want Russia to sink into a quagmire in Syria? That is certainly a possibility but it is hard to see how this could happen when Russia comes back with a vengeance and strikes hard and fast.

Russian airstrikes against terrorists in Syria have tripled over the last days. Additional resources have been silently dispatched:
Without stirring a buzz similar to that of their first military intervention in Syria, the Russians this week disembarked ground forces and paratroopers in the port of Tartus to support more than 3,000 Russian volunteers dispatched to the region in the past few weeks, in a bid to revive coordination with the Syrian army.
Syrian sources stated that the Russian joint command staff, which coordinated aerial support operations last fall, had returned to the Hmeimim military base in Latakia province to begin preparations for new operations.
One can only hope that the Russian leadership has learned its lesson. That it will not stop to pursue the enemy for no political gain when it is again, as it likely will soon be, on the run.

1% of Russians Approve of US Leadership

According to the latest figures from Gallup, only 1% of Russians approve of the US leadership.


This is quite impressive. Not often you get such extreme figures.

Although the percentage of truly committed “zapadniks” in Russia is not high, around 15% at most, I do think the data must have taken a sharp turn down within the confidence interval. The figures for last year where 4%.

Incidentally, according to the independent Russian polling organization Levada, whereas positive impressions of the US as a country (not the leadership as with Gallup) plummeted to a record low of 12% by 2015, since then there has been a marginal recovery back up to around 20%. So, not a major change, but a minor uptick nonetheless.

From the full Gallup report, here is a list of the ten countries with the dimmest view of the US leadership (China was not included in the survey):


So that’s basically Russia+ and various Middle East countries it has bombed/invaded/tried to color revolution.

Iraq is a strong net negative, but at 30% approval, nowhere near the bottom of the list. Even Ukraine is a net negative, with 35% approval and 40% disapproval.
Countries with the most positive outlooks on the US leadership include a whole bunch of African countries topped by Congo-Brazzaville (80%); Kosovo (85%), Albania (74%), and the UK (65%) in Europe; and Cambodia (74%) in Asia.

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