Summarising the Year: Lavrov Highlights Results of 2019 Russian Foreign Policy in Annual Address

Sputnik

7.01.2020(updated 13:00 17.01.2020)

Sergei Lavrov’s annual press conference comes amid the sudden resignation of the Russian government earlier this week and it’s still unknown whether he will retain the post of foreign minister.

Acting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is holding an annual press conference and a question and answer session with journalists, during which he will review the main achievements of the country’s diplomacy in 2019.

The senior official is expected to touch upon the situation in Ukraine and Syria, bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington as well as with European nations. 

Lavrov is also expected to talk about the acute issue of the recent tensions between Tehran and Washington, following the assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Iran’s subsequent missile attack on American facilities in Iraq.

Merkel trod on holy Ukrainian toes

January 14, 2020

Rostislav Ishenko, 13 Jan 2020

Translated by Nikolai

The visit by the Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel to Russia and her negotiations with Vladimir Putin were full of negative signals for Ukraine.

Merkel busily carved on the crossroad milestone:

– go right – lose your head;

– go left – lose your life;

– go straight – be forever lost;

– stay in place – death will reach you;

– turn back – you will not reach home.

The fact alone that Berlin and Moscow discussed virtually all pressing topics of the global agenda (including Syria, Libya and Iran) should have put Kiev on notice. After all, if these two countries have so many areas of common interest, Ukraine cannot count on exclusive German support. The contrary is rather probable – if Berlin can agree with Moscow on all other key points of the international agenda, then it can quite easily sacrifice Ukrainian interests in favor of full understanding.

In addition, the chancellor also discussed the Ukrainian problem in separate with the president of Russia. By all appearances, they did not spend a lot of time on this discussion. As a result, during the press conference they were brief and clear in announcing their united position – Ukraine must fulfill the Minsk agreements. During the last year, such statements became common, so I will remind that it was not so long ago (in 2018) that Berlin usually stated in such cases that it expects Russia to constructively work with the DNR/LNR, who in turn must fulfill the Minsk agreements. And in 2015-2017 Berlin (in chorus with Paris) demanded that the Minsk agreements were Russia’s responsibility to implement.

France and Germany went over to Moscow’s point of view sort of casually and discretely. Moreover, being more involved in the Ukrainian crisis, Berlin was more stoic than Paris.

Zelensky, when striving for the “Normandy format” meeting, was clearly counting on that he would be accommodated (as a young, popular “new formation politician” as he was called in Ukraine) and allowed to at least partially rework the Minsk agreements, or even better – declare them null and void and begin prolonged, tedious and pointless negotiations on the new format for regulation of the crisis. It was not a coincidence that right after the meeting in Paris the Ukrainian media and diplomats attempted to propose their own version for the translation of Merkel’s words at the press conference and tried to attribute to the federal chancellor a statement supposedly saying that the Minsk agreements are not dogma and can be modernized. They broadcasted this so often and with such certainty, that they even convinced some Russian experts, who began to accept Merkel’s phrase as “ambiguous”.

And so now, the German leader says unequivocally that the Minsk agreements must be implemented without any modernization, that Russia and Germany, in fact, have the same view on this topic. The caringly constructed concept of zelensky diplomacy comes crashing down. The people at home can be still indoctrinated about the “great leap forward” achieved. But the concurring and unequivocal position of Berlin and Moscow means that there will not be a new meeting in Berlin in the “Normandy format” without corresponding steps made by Kiev (doing their homework, as they were told in Paris). Pity for Zelensky, who was so convincing in Paris, saying how he already did everything he could and that he is prevented from moving forward by evil radicals, so everyone should just “understand and forgive” him and get busy reconsidering the “Minsk” in the interests of Kiev.

This is a fiasco. Now, the minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine Vadim Pristaiko and company have to think on how to rationalize before the people taking it all in and frozen in expectations of further diplomatic breakthroughs that the April “Normandy format” meeting is cancelled or postponed to an unclear date. Remember, Kiev already voiced a wealth of demands for the “modernization” of the Minsk agreements, which they were planning on stating and pressing in Berlin. And the April meeting was presented by Ukrainian propaganda as 100% arranged. Mind you, April is very soon: February 23rd, March 8th, then the May holidays are already near – April will arrive suddenly.

Something has to be done and decided with this. But what? The fact is, it is very hard to move Merkel from a position taken in advance. However, if she did change her mind, it is even harder to bring her back around.

Well, Merkel changed her mind, seriously and decisively. This is indicated by another topic discussed by the two leaders. I think no one was surprised upon hearing at the press conference that the chiefs of the two countries discussed the fate of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline. At this time Merkel again stated that the pipeline will be finished despite American sanctions. Putin in turn stated the probable timetable for the end of works: end of this year – first half of next year. This means that during 2022 the gas pipeline must reach its design capacity no matter what.

I will note that for the first time the federal chancellor did not say anything about the Ukrainian transit. This can be because the transit agreement has been signed. However, it has been signed only for five years. And by the end of 2022, when Nord Stream II reaches peak flowrate, three of these years will already have passed. Previously, in 2016, 2017, 2018 and in 2019 Merkel each time packed up the startup of Nord Stream II with the preservation of the Ukrainian transit. She was not talking about prolonging it for five years but about guaranteeing significant transit volumes through the Ukrainian gas transmission network (GTN).

In principle, Gazprom is interested in preserving the transit through the Ukrainian GTN (as is the GTN itself, which actually should be transferred under Gazprom’s control). First, demand for gas in Europe is rising, and the marine “Streams” are just not being built fast enough. Second, it is always better to use available infrastructure than build a new one. Third, Gazprom does not endeavor to move away from the Ukrainian monopoly on transit only to create a German or Turkish one. Of course, this does not mean that Gazprom is ready to start pumping 80-100 bln m3 yearly through the Ukrainian GTN, but it could quite do 30-40 bln.

However, Gazprom is not willing to tolerate Ukraine’s provocative behavior, who has been motivating “substantiated” (“market”) transit costs with its own need for cash and trying to block Gazprom from building gas pipelines going around its territory. Until now, this was a problem for Gazprom and Russia. However, after the frankly anti-European sanctions from the USA that were meant to put the brakes (if not stop completely) on the building of Nord Stream II, the position of Germany changed in a similar, almost unnoticed fashion, since Germany had determined this pipeline as one of the most important infrastructure projects both in concerning European energy safety and German economy.   

Statements by Berlin on the subject of Nord Stream II are now completely lacking mentions of the need to consider Kiev’s interests and provide guarantees of loading the Ukrainian GTN. It seems, the hard pro-American position accepted by Ukraine on this issue decidedly convinced Germany that Kiev is ready to completely irrationally make decisions that are harmful not only to itself (which is not a concern for Berlin), but also to Germany (which is a very strong concern) in order to protect the strategic interests of Washington.

As in the issue of the Minsk agreements, the positions of Moscow and Berlin are united and coordinated as never before concerning Nord Stream II. The fact that Ukraine is taking a pro-American orientation on this issue in only an additional push for Berlin to distance itself from Kiev. Especially since Germany has experience in dealing with Poland. The latter realized that the multi-billion giveaways from EU funds (mostly filled by German money) will soon end and started talking about receiving reparations for World War II (luckily they are not yet demanding Poland be returned to its borders of the times of Bolesław I the Brave and compensations from Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine and Belarus for a millennium of “unlawful ownership” of “immemorial polish lands”).

All in all, Merkel’s visit to Russia does not bode anything good for Kiev. Rather it’s all bad. It seems, German politicians have finally understood the simple truth –support Ukraine or not, but you have to plan your future in such a way that the Ukrainian factor influences it as little as possible, or even better – does not influence it at all.

Source – https://ukraina.ru/opinion/20200113/1026284231.html

Iran keeps openly blaming itself, yet there is a Ukraine Air cover-up?

Source

Monday, 13 January 2020 3:40 PM  [ Last Update: Monday, 13 January 2020 4:16 PM ]

Iranian mourners gather around a vehicle carrying the coffin of slain top general Qasem Soleimani during the final stage of funeral processions, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

By Ramin Mazaheri

Many people have been quite shocked by Iran’s response to the tragic, mistaken downing of a Ukraine International Airlines flight.

Iran’s President Rouhani said, “I will never apologize for Iran – I don’t care what the facts are.” Tehran plans to never apologize, admit wrongdoing nor to accept responsibility.

All of the Iranian soldiers involved were awarded Combat Action Ribbons, the air-warfare coordinator received a Commendation Medal and the commanding officer was awarded the Legion of Merit for “exceptionally meritorious conduct.”

No one in the Iranian armed forces will ever be punished.

Many believe Iran shot down the plane purposely in order to instigate war.

No intention to cover up cause of Ukrainian plane crash: Shamkhani
The secretary of Iran

Obviously, all four of these paragraphs are totally false… but only when applied to Iran and not the US. The shocking belligerence, shamelessness and inhumanity I just recounted was the very real response from Washington after they shot down civilian Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, killing 290 people. Anyone who has been following the recent tragic events is aware that Iran’s official response has been the complete opposite of how Washington handled a very similar tragedy.

But firstly: I find it incredible that some accuse Iran of a cover-up?

While, of course, the Western Mainstream Media will commit any lying exaggeration to further their billionaire masters’ instructions to topple Iran’s popular revolution, I lay the blame primarily at the unreasonable demands modern society puts on government servants via the 24/7 news cycle.

Iran admitted it was their missile which felled the airplane just three days afterwards, and – crucially – in conjunction with prepared apologies, self-recriminations and promises of punishing the negligent and/or fatally erroneous.

Iran’s reaction to Trump’s tweet: Don’t dishonor our language Iran has called President Donald Trump

However, three days was too long for some. I really wonder at the naiveté of such, often well-meaning, people.

Is no delay acceptable? No verifications needed at all?

In such a situation doesn’t everyone know there is a protocol to be followed? We are talking about the armed forces – does not everyone understand (as every nation has an army) that they have a chain of command, rules and a bureaucratic hierarchy which must be followed? The more important something is – especially for a horrific admission such as this – the longer the verification process necessarily takes. If the soldier who had pressed the “fire” button had rushed out of the base and declared to all who would listen, “It was my fault!”, he would be treated as a dangerous madman in any nation. However, it is as if some people expected this type of an instantaneous confirmation in the Ukraine Airlines tragedy?

I suggest such impatience – from those who want to get it “now” instead of getting it “right” – has been fostered by a 24/7 news cycle which does not want to hear about the need for interviewing those involved, testing and calibrating equipment, reviewing all the data, etc. Three days… well, I just find it hard to believe that anyone would find that unacceptable? Some people – due to their quite understandable grief over this tragedy – are being unreasonable, but many Western media and politicians do not have such sincere motivations for such a complaint.

A verification process like I have described would have been an acceptable delay – at least to me – under normal circumstances. Here, of course, the Western Mainstream Media is doing all they can to sweep under the rug the fact that Iran was in a state of high military alert provoked entirely by the recent assassination of Iran’s top general, a top Iraqi general and retaliatory missile strikes which had been fired by Iran just hours before the plane’s downing.

Iran’s retaliation for the appalling assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was nowhere near as severe as US aggression merited. Washington tapped CNN to produce a propaganda report entirely designed to give the impression that the missile attack was not significant, but the point was not proportional revenge: the Leader of the Iranian Islamic Revolution Seyyed Ali Khamenei said it was merely to give a “slap in the face”. Therefore, nobody can say that Iran overreacted. However, the assassination proves to many in Iran that Washington is hell-bent on fomenting war with Iran. “High alert” is no exaggeration of the tensions at the time of the take-off of the Ukrainian airliner.

US troops knew Al-Asad air base would be attacked and sheltered in bunkers, exclusive tour reveals United States troops at the Al-Asad air base in Iraq were aware that an Iranian attack was imminent, allowing them to take shelter two-and-a-half-hours before missiles struck on Wednesday, CNN has been told during an exclusive tour of the devastated site.

Therefore, it is incredible that Iran is somehow being portrayed as being wholly responsible for the tragedy of the Ukraine plane downing? The bulk of the condemnation for the tragedy must obviously be aimed at Washington for creating this atmosphere which produced the tragedy, if anyone truly cares about justice.

Unfortunately, I am reminded of the old saying: “Everybody talks about peace, nobody talks about justice.” The incident is being used as the latest plank in the 40-year Iranophobia campaign, sadly.

Is the alleged ‘cover-up’ occurring in between the public lamentations and self-criticisms?

Soleimani’s assassination may trigger end of US military presence in Iraq: Paper General Soleimani’s assassination may trigger the ultimate objective of ending the US military presence in Iraq, a British paper says.

 The Ukrainian airliner downing shattered the peace of many families, but what we can say with total certainty today is that nobody in Iran wanted the destruction of a civilian airliner.

It was US President George Bush who famously refused to apologize, not Rouhani, but there are too many obviously sincere apologies from every level of Iran’s government. What cover-up? The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards testified to Parliament, “I swear to almighty God that I wished I were in that plane and had crashed with them….” Two days earlier the chief aerospace commander told a press conference, “I wish I was dead and such an incident hadn’t happened….”

Where is the defiance, deflection and distraction of this alleged “cover-up”?

Trump warns US has 52 Iranian targets to hit if Iran launches attacks Trump posts tweets warning that US would respond to Iranian retaliation for general’s assassination.

There is obviously – at all levels of the Iranian government and military – sadness, regret and complete acceptance of responsibility. I feel sorry for those Iranian soldiers involved because they express such feelings of culpability – if you feel sorry for George Bush, or the soldiers he decorated, I don’t know what basis you have for such feelings because they were never uttered?

The 1988 IranAir flight was downed in the final month of the Iran-Iraq War. The US shot down the Iranian plane as an expression of their frustration that their proxy war with their ally-dictator-mass murderer Saddam Hussein had failed. It was a message that Washington would still act with murderous impunity, and that their war was not finished – they have stayed true to this murderous posture all these decades hence. Compare that with the situation in 2020.

Despite the illegal, inhuman slaying of Soleimani Iran is not about to be baited into war, which was Washington’s true intention. Tehran is not going to put all of Iran – and the region – at risk over the decision of an idiot/assassin, who is trying to distract from his impeachment trial (as well as from the indictment trial of his ally in Tel Aviv) and who may be back on reality television in 11 months.

Zarif: Iran missile strikes legitimate self-defense against US terrorism Foreign Minister Zarif says Iran’s retaliatory missile attack on American bases in Iraq was an act of “legitimate self-defense” against “legitimate targets” in response to US terrorist act.

The Ukraine Airlines flight was – unlike for Washington in 1988 – undoubtedly not a provocation, nor an incitement to continued conflict, assassination and war.

This is the reality which the West cannot see, as they are blinded by Islamophobia and Iranophobia: the Iranian government showed the humane response which one would expect of a truly progressive government, which they are. They did not respond with belligerence, defiance and a Washington-style cover-up. But the Iranian government gets no credit in the West ever – it’s their editorial policy.

Frankly, while this is obviously a tragedy, I want more information as to how it happened: I find it extremely coincidental that the plane came from Ukraine, which has undoubtedly been the site of (yet another) far-right coup/civil war supported by Washington. I am not disparaging all Ukraine, of course, but it’s fair to assume that the Pentagon has unlimited access to Ukrainian planes as well as a history of using cyber warfare and sabotage against Iran.

And we know they have already shot down civilian airliners in Iran with zero expressions of regret.

Try as they might, this tragedy cannot overshadow the Soleimani assassinations

The assassination of Soleimani and the tragedy of Ukraine Airlines must not be mixed: the former is an illegal, inhuman slaying of an anti-terror hero which must remain in the spotlight until Washington – the boasting perpetrator! – conforms with international justice; the latter is a tragedy, and Iran has made it crystal-clear that they will work openly with countries like Ukraine, France and Canada to find the root cause.

No one in Iran is pleased, openly or secretly, about the Ukraine Airlines tragedy, but the boasting murderers in Washington are no doubt glad the spotlight is now off their actions. Their assassination laid bare their aggression to Iran and their view that Iraq is a powerless US colony.

That is injustice on a grand scale, and it cannot stand.

Nasrallah says Iran missile strikes showed all US bases in West Asia within range“Look at the faces of the US leaders… Do they look like victorious faces?” Nasrallah asked.

There were protests in Iran after the Ukraine Airlines downing, and it is natural: many students were aboard the airplane, therefore many Iranian students had personal connections with the departed. This is why students led protests.

However, as is the case so often in Iran, counter-revolutionary groups stepped in to dangerously hijack the protests. That is proven by the video circulating of a “protester” dressed like Black Bloc member stomping on and pulling down a picture of Soleimani, a man who just days earlier had inspired millions to publicly attend his funeral.

The orders-of-magnitude support in Iran for the government as opposed to those who want to topple is revealed by the orders-of-magnitude larger turnout for Soleimani compared with the initially sincere, student-led grief protests. This is a simple, factual reality, but – as is the case with every protest in Iran – the Western MSM tries to pervert everything in Iran to topple the popular democratic revolution of 1979.

Of course, they are in overdrive now because they are being told to distract from the Soleimani slaying. That must not last.

Sadness in the world and Iran over the Ukraine Airlines tragedy will continue, especially for the bereaved families.

But if we are judging by responses to accidentally shooting down civilian airliners, one would think people would be clamoring for the fall of the American system and not the Iranian one?

Ayatollah Khamenei: Iran’s retaliation against US only ‘a slap’ Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has said Iran’s early morning retaliation against US assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani was just “a slap”.

Finally, I’d like to point out that due to Western sanctions airplane tragedies in Iran are woefully common. If the West really wants to make Iranian air travel more safe they could – as any humane person would – allow the sale of replacement parts for these machines which carry so many lives between their wings.

Another way the West could avoid such tragedies? End the hot, cold and assassinating war against Iran.

Iran has accepted responsibility for the mistake – assuming further investigations do not reveal new facts – but the West needs to accept overall responsibility for the Ukraine Airlines tragedy as they fabricated such a dangerous, anti-democratic, inhumane climate of war.

(Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism.’)

(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)

‘I wished death’ after realizing Ukrainian passenger plane had been mistakenly shot down: IRGC Aerospace Force chief

TEHRAN — Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said on Saturday that he wished he was dead when he heard that his forces have downed a Ukrainian aircraft which crashed near the capital Tehran on Wednesday morning.

“After hearing the news in the country’s west after implementing the military operation against American bases and when I made sure that this incident has happened, I wished I was dead,” said Hajizadeh said a press conference on the Ukrainian plane crash.

“For a lifetime, we put our life on the line for the people, and today we put our honor on the line for God and face the cameras in such difficult circumstances,” he said.

Hajizadeh accepted full responsibility for the incident, saying he had notified related authorities immediately but the public announcement of the matter was pending an investigation by the Armed Forces General Staff as required by existing procedures.

Hajizadeh said Iran’s air defense systems had been put on the “highest level of readiness” and alerted to a possible cruise missile attack prior to the plane crash incident.

“Neither the Guards nor the armed forces never intended to cover up, but this was a process that had to be perused,” he said, according to Press TV.

He added that further judgment on the matter was the responsibility of the higher authorities and the Judiciary and that “we will comply with any decision taken by them”.

All 176 crew members and passengers, 147 of whom were Iranians, died in the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) crash which came a few minutes after take-off from Tehran to Kiev on Wednesday.

Hajizadeh said Iran’s air defense systems had been put on the “highest level of readiness” and alerted to a possible cruise missile attack prior to the plane crash incident.

The IRGC aerospace chief added that the operator manning the system had repeatedly called for a halt in flights in the region during the night.

He added that the operator then identified what his air defense system had detected as an incoming cruise missile 19 kilometers away.

The operator, as required by military guidelines then proceeded to call for orders to deal with the perceived threat, but wasn’t able to do so as his communication network failed to work.

Hajizadeh added that the operator then “took the wrong decision” of firing on the perceived threat in a “ten-second” time span to shoot or ignore the flying object.

The general added that Iran’s aviation authorities had no information regarding the matter and that they, along with the plane’s crew, had conducted no wrongdoing in the incident.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces also issued a statement on Saturday saying that the Ukrainian plane crash was caused by a “human error”.

“The Ukrainian passenger plane was hit unintentionally and due to humane error, which unfortunately led to the martyrdom of a number of our people and also a number of foreign nationals,” the statement read.

“Following threats made by the U.S. President [Donald Trump] and military commanders of attacking targets on the soil of the Islamic Republic of Iran in case of Iran’s retaliatory operation, and due to unprecedented increase in movements in the region’s airspace, Iranian armed forces were at the utmost level of readiness and alert,” it added.

It came in the aftermath of a Trump-ordered U.S. attack at Baghdad’s airport on January 3 that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. 

Last Saturday, Trump tweeted that if Iran attacks any American assets to avenge the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the U.S. has 52 targets across the Islamic Republic that “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have………targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” Trump said. “The USA wants no more threats!”

Nevertheless, Iran took revenge for the assassination in the early hours of Wednesday.

The IRGC pointed to the successful Shahid (Martyr) Soleimani Operation against the Ain al-Assad base with tens of surface-to-surface missiles and warned the United States that any more aggression will receive more “painful and crushing” response.

MH/PA

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Russia and the USA Both Finish the Year with a “Grand Finale” of Sorts

THE SAKER • JANUARY 1, 2020

The end of the year is often a time of relative calm when the various parties to a conflict take a moment off, even when they declare nothing of the sort publicly (there are, of course, exceptions to this rule of thumb, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979). This year, both the Russians and the US ended the year in a climax of sorts which we shall look into.

Another rule of thumb says that, “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior”, and this turned out to be very true in both cases: the Russians did more of what they have done all year long, as did the Americans. Specifically:

• Uncle Shmuel decided to bomb five bases of the group Kata’ib Hizbullah in Iraq in retaliation for an attack on the K1 U.S. base in Iraq

• Defense Minister Shoigu announced that the first regiment of Avangard equipped ICBMs was fully operational and on combat alert.

Let’s take a look at the implications and consequences of these two events.

The U.S. airstrikes on Kata’ib Hizbullah units in Iraq

First, just to clarify, Kata’ib Hizbullah has nothing to do with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The word “Hezbollah/Hizbullah” simply means “party of God” and Kata’ib Hizbullah simply means “Brigades of the Party of God”. Yes, both groups have similar names and they are both Shia. Kata’ib Hizbullah probably aims at becoming an Iraqi version of Hezbollah, and while they even have a similar flag, Kata’ib Hizbullah is neither an offshoot nor creation of Hezbollah. Kata’ib Hizbullah was created as a direct response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq (whereas Hezbollah in Lebanon was blow-back from the Israeli invasion of Lebanon).

This being said, there is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. actions in the Middle-East, and especially the total and abject subservience of the US to Israel (and when I say “subservience” I am being polite, really) have greatly contributed to facilitating the alliance and cooperation of all Shia factions in the Middle-East. The best example of such cooperation is the support the Yemeni Houthis get from Iran (but “support” is not the same as “proxy”, and Iran had nothing to do with the devastating Houthi counter-strikes against the KSA).

I won’t go into the details of the recent strike, especially since “b” on Moon of Alabama already has done a very good job analyzing it. What I will do is simply suggest an answer to the rhetorical question “b” asks at the end of his analysis: “Yesterday’s attacks guarantee that all U.S. troops will have to leave Iraq and will thereby also lose their supply lines to Syria. One wonders if that was the real intent of those strikes”.

My personal opinion is that Occam’s razor and past events ought to suggest that the most straightforward explanation is much more plausible than any kind of “5d chess” strategy.

Furthermore, far from suggesting that this latest expression of the hatred of the Iraqi people for Uncle Shmuel will result in a withdrawal, we already see the exact opposite happening: not only has the US announced that it will send another 750 soldiers to Iraq, but it has also announced that another 4,000 troops might also be send to the region, to the immense joy of its Israeli overlords who can’t wait for a US attack on Iran (how nice that the “only democracy in the Middle-East” is always cheering for as much violence and wars as possible).

Does that look like a preparation for withdrawal to you?

Finally, there is also Donald The Great with his usual garden variety of empty threats like this wonderful tweet:

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump · Jan 1, 2020

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site. Thank you to the President & Prime Minister of Iraq for their rapid response upon request….

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

….Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!99.2K1:19 AM – Jan 1, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy38K people are talking about this

And, sure enough, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei quickly replied:

Khamenei.ir@khamenei_ir

If the Islamic Republic decides to challenge & fight, it will do so unequivocally. We’re not after wars, but we strongly defend the Iranian nation’s interests, dignity, & glory.

If anyone threatens that, we will unhesitatingly confront & strike them.1,8951:41 PM – Jan 1, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy676 people are talking about this

and

Khamenei.ir@khamenei_ir

That guy has tweeted that we see Iran responsible for the events in Baghdad & we will respond to Iran.
1st: You can’t do anything.
2nd: If you were logical —which you’re not— you’d see that your crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan… have made nations hate you. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1212121026072592384 …Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrumpReplying to @realDonaldTrump….Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!8,2871:14 PM – Jan 1, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy4,388 people are talking about this

It sure doesn’t look like anybody in Tehran is taking Trump, or the US, seriously.

And, frankly, why would they?

As Ayatollah Ali Khamenei correctly pointed out – there is nothing much the US cando about what is taking place all over the Middle-East; except, of course, starting a war which the US will most definitely lose (Hollywood inspired delusions of invincibility notwithstanding).

I believe that the U.S. Deep State has no intentions at all of leaving Iraq (or Syria, for that matter). Furthermore, far from being a strike to justify a withdrawal, this strike was aimed at bullying the Iraqi people into submission and acceptance of the lawless and thug-like behavior of the US in their country. Simply put, Pompeo & Co. did what Uncle Shmuel always does when they do not know what to do: they crudely decided to use brute force with the goal of terrorizing their adversaries into submission.

You might object that this strategy has not worked in decades, and you would be right. But here is the catch: the weaker the AngloZionist Empire looks, the more the Empire feels that it ought to restore its putative ability to terrorize by doubling-down, again and again. This mental block is called, “la fuite en avant” in French, which can be translated as a flight forward: that is what you do when all you can do is what got you into serious trouble in the first place, because:

  1. It did work in the past.
  2. You don’t have the intellectual capability to imagine any other approach.
  3. Because you sincerely believe that violence always solves all problems (as in the German saying “Wenn es mit Gewalt nicht geht, dann geht es mit mehr Gewalt”)

Those familiar with Hegelian dialectics will immediately see what is happening; the Empire is being destroyed from within, as a result of its own internal contradictions and its inability to evolve to a higher level of functioning. This inherent corrosiveness within the Empire does not require an external enemy, it destroys itself due to its very nature.

There are rumors that Trump wants to get rid of Pompeo, but I don’t believe them. Assuming that these rumors are true in the first place, are they linked to the recent air strikes or is this an expression of Trump’s comparative benevolence? Again, I doubt it. Trump is already blaming Iran for the fact that the US embassy in Iraq was attacked by large crowds of US-hating Iraqis.

Finally, and just as pathologically dysfunctional, is the fact that the only “solution” the leaders of the Empire could devise to the current crisis is to send in even more forces to reinforce the huge embassy compound in Baghdad. Obviously, Uncle Shmuel can’t even begin to imagine a strategy not solely predicated on violence.

This clearly shows that the expression, “insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results” still fully applies to the rulers of the US.

Now let’s take a look at how Russia ended the year

Russia deploys the Avangard (and more)

Remember how after Putin’s famous speech, the so-called “Russia specialists” declared that all these weapons did not exist, that they were all just computer animations?

Well, now probably the most exotic and “incredible” weapon mentioned by Putin (the Avangard) is fully operational and on combat duty. The Russians went so far as to show that weapon to US inspectors. Still, there remains a tiny minority which do not believe the “Russian hype”, despite an unambiguous report by the GAOwhich clearly states that “There are no existing counter-measures” against hypersonic weapons, and who will only admit the existence of these weapon systems if they get vaporized by them. But what do these Russian weapons (especially the Mach 10+ Kinzhal and the Mach 27+ Avangard) mean for the rest of us?

One one hand, this is very good news because it it yet another sign that Russia is now fully prepared for war, including total nuclear war. To put it differently, all the hopes that the U.S. had regarding the development of an ABM system which could stop a Russian counter-strike (following a U.S. attack) are now gone. Not only have the new Russian weapons made the US carrier fleet obsolete, it also made the US ABM plans obsolete too. Thus, in theory, this new reality ought to deter even the craziest folks at the Pentagon, CIA, NSA and White House.

On the other hand, however, this is not good news, because now the U.S. has a factual basis to declared that it feels threatened. Why? Because of the tricky issue of first-strike stability.

I can state categorically that Russia will never deliberately start a war, least of all against the US (the Russians understand that Russia could never escape a US counter-strike, even if delivered by the comparatively old US nuclear triad), but that is not an assumption the Pentagon’s force planners can make. Simply put, the Avangard + Burevestnik (nuclear powered infinite range cruise missile) combo could seem rather destabilizing from the point of view of what is called first strike stability (for a detailed discussion see here). For the time being, only one ICBM regiment has been outfitted with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles while the Burevestnik is still in the late stages of testing. But we also know that three more regiments are scheduled to receive the Avangard in the near future while the testing and evaluation of the Burevestnik is near completion (in spite of a possible recent accident). Once ready, this missile will probably be deployed in large numbers. Right now U.S. defense planners will have to assume that both systems will be deployed in numbers sufficient to affect the first strike stability between Russia and the US.

The solution? To hammer out a new strategic arms treaty between the two countries. Alas, at this point in time, the U.S. leaders show no interest in any such treaty. Worse, the New Start Treaty will soon lapse.

I suppose that in the demented political culture of the US any kind of treaty with Russia is a “sign of weakness” and is therefore “unpatriotic”. Still, first strike stability is one of those things which, along with cooperation in space, self-evidently benefits both nations (not to mention the rest of the planet) and, therefore, almost any strategic arms limitation/reduction would be highly desirable (the one exception to this rule would be a dramatic reduction in the number of deliverable warheads, even by both sides, which would threaten also first strike stability; see here and here for a discussion).

Finally, Russia ended the year by launching the newest Yasen-M-class SSN/SSGN, the Novosibirsk. This class of subs, arguably the most advanced on the planet, can function as both a nuclear attack and a missile attack submarine: it has eight torpedo tubes as well as ten vertical missile launch silos which can launch all sorts of missiles, including hypersonic ones. Most amazingly, it has only 64 crewmen, which suggest an unprecedented level of automation (the latest Virginia-class sub has a crew of 134). The Yasen-M is truly an amazing submarine, the big question now is how many of those Russia will be able to build? Probably not enough to really please the Russian force planners, but probably enough to create yet another major headache for the USN.

What is crucial to understand here is that the Avangard, the Yasen-M and all the other weapons systems Russia has deployed (the Avangards, Zirkons, Bastions, Sarmats, Pereswets, Burevestniks, Poseidons etc. are only the ones discussed in the western media, in reality there are many more) are but the tip of a much bigger iceberg: for the past 5 years or so Russia has been preparing for total war precisely to try to deter the US from doing something literally “terminally” stupid. Will that be enough to shock the leaders of the AngloZionist Empire out of their delusions or grandeur and invincibility?

I honestly don’t know. I hope that it will. But, frankly, I am not sure. Listening to the likes of Trump, Pompeo, Bolton and the rest of these ignorant and self-deluded clowns, not to mention the English language corporate media, I don’t feel very reassured, to put it mildly. Let us pray that the actual deep-state decision makers can still discriminate between feel-good propaganda for the masses and the actual reality out there.

Conclusion: two diametrically opposed approaches to security

Trump is stuck in a position where he has no other choice but to continue to threaten anybody and everybody. This kind of manic aggression towards the entire planet is what passes for “looking presidential” in the current US political doxa. This, at least, is not Trump’s fault and it all began a very long time ago (remember Dukakis cruising around in a M-1 tank or Dubya landing on a carrier with “Mission Accomplished” in the background?). Not that I am excusing Trump in any way: no adult leader of a nuclear superpower should even think issuing such silly but nonetheless most dangerous threats towards any other sovereign country, never mind another nuclear superpower. But let’s be honest here: every single US President starting with Clinton and all his successors was a clown of one kind or another and Trump is probably not the worst of them. As I have said many times, at this point the problem is not the man (or woman) in the White House, it is the entire system which is both terminally dysfunctional and unreformable.

The year 2020 will be dominated by the (frankly treacherous) attempts of the Dems to subvert the US Constitution and overthrow Trump. Like many others, I predict that this will boomerang into the Dems collective face and will yield a landslide victory for Trump (the Democratic Party is at least as unreformable as the US political system). Externally, Trump will probably continue to simultaneously threaten the EU, Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Yemen, Lebanon, Venezuela, Mexico, Turkey, etc. and the entire worldwide Muslim community (keep in mind the following stats: there are about 2 billion Muslims out there, and make up a majority of the population in 49 countries around the world). Basically, the US believes that it can simultaneously threaten, sanction and otherwise bully (or even attack), most of the countries on the planet and prevail. To call this delusional is an understatement.

For Russia 2020 will be an important transition year. This is best illustrated by the compromise deal reached with the EU and the Ukraine on gas: Russia yielded to some of the Ukrainian demands solely in order to show support for the EU which is now slowly showing signs of truly getting fed-up with the endless stream of threats and demands coming from across the Atlantic. You could say that Russia agreed to a tactical concession in order to secure a strategic objective.

The Germans and the French, in particular, seemed to have finally(!) realized that they gained nothing and lost a lot in their subservience to the US . The Russian plan is quite simple, really: show the EU that Russia has more than enough force to smash any US/NATO/EU attacking force while, at the same time, indicating that Russia is more than willing to cooperate, and even compromise, to establish normal, civilized, relations with Europe. This being said, Russia will only agree to relatively minor compromises, simply because her real priorities, political and economic, are not in the West anymore, but in the South, North and East and, especially, China (quick reminder: the top exports of Russia are crude petroleum ($96.6B), refined petroleum ($58.4B), petroleum gas ($19.8B), coal briquettes ($16.1B) and wheat ($7.93B); the top export destinations of Russia are China ($39.1B), the Netherlands ($27.7B), Germany ($19.9B), Belarus ($18.5B) and the United States ($15.4B).] Yes, the EU is still important to Russia, but not a top priority anymore.

How can all this be summed up?

Well, and paraphrasing a famous quote by Foreign Minister Lavrov, we could say that

  • the US plan is to turn allies into friends, turn friends into partners, turn partners into neutrals and turn neutrals into enemies and
  • the Russian plan is to turn enemies into neutrals, turn neutrals into partners, turn partners into friends and turn friends into allies.

I will let you decide which of these two plans is viable and which one is not.

I wish you all the best in 2020, especially peace.

MILITARY AND POLITICAL TRENDS OF 2019 THAT WILL SHAPE 2020

South Front

In the year 2019 the world was marked with a number of emerging and developing crises. The threat of terrorism, conflicts in the Middle East, expanding instability in South America, never-ending military, political and humanitarian crises in Africa and Asia, expansion of NATO, insecurity inside the European Union, sanction wars and sharpening conflicts between key international players. One more factor that shaped the international situation throughout the year was the further collapse of the existing system of international treaties. The most widely known examples of this tendency are the collapse of the INF and the US announcement of plans to withdraw from the New START. Meanwhile, the deterioration of diplomatic mechanisms between key regional and global actors is much wider than these two particular cases. It includes such fields as NATO-Russia relations, the US posture towards Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, unsuccessful attempts to rescue vestiges of the Iran nuclear deal, as well as recent setbacks in the diplomatic formats created to de-escalate the Korean conflict.

One of the regions of greatest concern in the world, is the Middle East. The main destabilizing factors are the remaining terrorist threat from al-Qaeda and ISIS, the crises in Libya, Syria and Iraq, the ongoing Saudi invasion of Yemen, the deepening Israeli-Arab conflict, and a threat of open military confrontation involving the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf. These factors are further complicated by social and economic instability in several regional countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran.

After the defeat of ISIS, the war in Syria entered a low intensity phase. However, it appears that the conflict is nowhere near its end and the country remains a point of instability in the region.

ISIS cells are still active in the country. The announced US troop withdrawal appeared to be only an ordinary PR stunt as US forces only changed their main areas of presence to the oil-rich areas in northeastern Syria. Washington exploits its control over Syrian resources and influence on the leadership of the Syrian Kurds in order to effect the course of the conflict. The Trump administration sees Syria as one of the battlegrounds in the fight against the so-called Iranian threat.

The province of Idlib and its surrounding areas remain the key stronghold of radical militant groups in Syria. Over the past years, anti-government armed groups suffered a series of defeats across the country and withdrew towards northwestern Syria. The decision of the Syrian Army to allow encircled militants to withdraw towards Idlib enabled the rescue of thousands of civilians, who were being used by them as human shields in such areas as Aleppo city and Eastern Ghouta. At the same time, this increased significantly the already high concentration of militants in Greater Idlib turning it into a hotbed of radicalism and terrorism. The ensuing attempts to separate the radicals from the so-called moderate opposition and then to neutralize them, which took place within the framework of the Astana format involving Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia, made no progress.

The Summer-Fall advance of the Syrian Army in northern Hama and southern Idlib led to the liberation of a large area from the militants. Nevertheless, strategically, the situation is still the same. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, controls most of the area. Turkish-backed ‘moderate militants’ act shoulder to shoulder with terrorist groups.

Turkey is keen to prevent any possible advances of the government forces in Idlib. Therefore it supports further diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran to promote a ‘non-military’ solution of the issue. However it does not seem to have enough influence with the Idlib militant groups, in particular HTS, to impose a ceasefire on them at the present time. Ankara could take control of the situation, but it would need a year or two that it does not have. Therefore, a new round of military escalation in the Idlib zone seems to be only a matter of time.

Syria’s northeast is also a source of tensions. Turkey seized a chunk of territory between Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad in the framework of its Operation Peace Spring. The large-scale Turkish advance on Kurdish armed groups was halted by the Turkish-Russian ‘safe zone’ agreement and now the Syrian Army and the Russian Military Police are working to separate Kurdish rebels from Turkish proxies and to stabilize Syria’s northeast. If this is successfully done and the Assad government reaches a political deal with Kurdish leaders, conditions for further peaceful settlement of the conflict in this part of the country will be created. It should be noted that Damascus has been contributing extraordinary efforts to restore the infrastructure in areas liberated from terrorists by force or returned under its control by diplomatic means. In the eyes of the local population, these actions have an obvious advantage over approaches of other actors controlling various parts of Syria.

Israel is another actor pursuing an active policy in the region. It seeks to influence processes which could affect, what the leadership sees as, interests of the state. Israel justifies aggressive actions in Syria by claiming to be surrounded by irreconcilable enemies, foremost Iran and Hezbollah, who try to destroy Israel or at least diminish its security. Tel Aviv makes all efforts to ensure that, in the immediate vicinity of its borders, there would be no force, non-state actors, or states whose international and informational activities or military actions might damage Israeli interests. This, according to the Israeli vision, should ensure the physical security of the entire territory currently under the control of Israel and its population.

The start of the Syrian war became a gift for Israel. It was strong enough to repel direct military aggression by any terrorist organization, but got a chance to use the chaos to propel its own interests. Nonetheless, the rigid stance of the Israeli leadership which became used to employing chaos and civil conflicts in the surrounding countries as the most effective strategy for ensuring the interests of the state, was delivered a blow. Israel missed the moment when it had a chance to intervene in the conflict as a kind of peacemaker, at least on the level of formal rhetoric, and, with US help, settle the conflict to protect its own interests. Instead, leaders of Israel and the Obama administration sabotaged all Russian peace efforts in the first years of the Russian military operation and by 2019, Tel Aviv had found itself excluded from the list of power brokers in the Syrian settlement. Hezbollah and Iran, on the other hand, strengthened their position in the country after they, in alliance with Damascus and Russia, won the war on the major part of Syrian territory, and Iran through the Astana format forged a tactical alliance with Turkey.

Iran and Hezbollah used the preliminary outcome of the conflict in Syria, and the war on ISIS in general, to defend their own security and to expand their influence across the region.  The so-called Shia crescent turned from being a myth exploited by Western diplomats and mainstream media into a reality. Iran and Hezbollah appeared to be reliable partners for their regional allies even in the most complicated situations.

Russia’s strategic goal is the prevention of radical Islamists from coming to power. Russia showed itself ready to enter dialogue with the moderate part of the Syrian opposition. Its leadership even demonstrated that it is ready to accept the interests of other actors, the US, Israel, Kurdish groups, Turkey, Iran, and Hezbollah, if this would help in reaching a final deal to settle the conflict.

Summing up the developments of 2019, one might expect that the current low-intensity state of the Syrian conflict would continue for years. However, several factors and developments could instigate the renewal of full-fledged hostilities:

  • A sudden demise or forceful removal of President Bashar al-Assad could create a situation of uncertainty within the patriotic component of the Syrian leadership;
  • Changes within the Russian political system or issues inside Russia which could lead to full or partial withdrawal of support to the Syrian government and withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria;
  • A major war in the Middle East which would turn the entire region into a battlefield. In the current situation, such a war could only start by escalation between the US-Israeli-led bloc and Iran.

The Persian Gulf and the Saudi-Yemen battleground are also sources of regional instability. In the second half of 2019, the situation there was marked by increased chances of open military confrontation between the US-Israeli-Saudi bloc and Iran. Drone shoot-downs, oil tanker detentions, open military buildups, and wartime-like rhetoric became something common or at least not very surprising. The US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel point to Iran as the main instigator of tensions.

Iran and its allies deny responsibility for the escalation reasonably noting that their actions were a response to aggressive moves by the US-Israeli-Saudi axis. From this point of view, Iran’s decision to limit its commitments to the already collapsed Nuclear Deal, high level of military activity in the Persian Gulf, shoot down of the US Global Hawk spy drone, and increased support to regional Shia groups are logical steps to deter US—led aggression and to solidify its own position in the region. Iran’s main goal is to demonstrate that an open military conflict with it will have a devastating impact to the states which decide to attack it, as well as to the global economy.

The US sanctions war, public diplomatic support of rioters, and the Trump administration’s commitment to flexing military muscle only strengthen Tehran’s confidence that this approach is right.

As to Yemen’s Houthis, who demonstrated an unexpected success in delivering retaliatory strikes to Saudi Arabia, they would continue to pursue their main goal – achieving a victory in the conflict with Saudi Arabia or forcing the Kingdom to accept the peace deal on favorable terms. To achieve this, they need to deliver maximum damage to Saudi Arabia’s economy through strikes on its key military and infrastructure objects. In this case, surprising missile and drone strikes on different targets across Saudi Arabia have already demonstrated their effectiveness.

The September 14 strike on Saudi oil infrastructure that put out of commission half of the Saudi oil output became only the first sign of future challenges that Riyadh may face in case of further military confrontation.

The unsuccessful invasion of Yemen and the confrontation with Iran are not the only problems for Saudi Arabia. The interests and vision of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East have been in conflict for a long time. Nonetheless, this tendency became especially obvious in 2019. The decline of influence of the House of Saud in the region and inside Saudi Arabia itself led to logical attempts of other regional players to gain a leading position in the Arabian Peninsula. The main challenger is the UAE and the House of Maktoum.

Contradictions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE turned into an open military confrontation between their proxies in Yemen. Since August 29th, Saudi Arabia has provided no symmetric answer to the UAE military action against its proxies. It seems that the Saudi leadership has no will or distinct political vision of how it should react in this situation. Additionally, the Saudi military is bogged down in a bloody conflict in Yemen and struggles to defend its own borders from Houthi attacks.

The UAE already gained an upper hand in the standoff with Saudi Arabia in the economic field. This provided motivation for further actions towards expanding its influence in the region.

During the year, Turkey, under the leadership of President Recep Erdogan, continued strengthening its regional positions. It expanded its own influence in Libya and Syria, strengthened its ties with Iran, Qatar, and Russia, obtained the S-400, entered a final phase in the TurkStream project, and even increased controversial drilling activity in the Eastern Mediterranean. Simultaneously, Ankara defended its national interests -repelling pressure from the United States and getting off with removal from the F-35 program only. Meanwhile, Turkish actions should not be seen as a some tectonic shift in its foreign policy or a signal of ‘great friendship’ with Russia or Iran.

Turkish foreign policy demonstrates that Ankara is not seeking to make ‘friends’ with other regional and global powers. Turkey’s foreign policy is mobile and variable, and always designed to defend the interests of Turkey as a regional leader and the key state of the Turkic world.

Developments in Libya were marked by the strengthening of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and backed by the UAE, Egypt, and to some extent Russia. The LNA consolidated control of most of the country and launched an advance on its capital of Tripoli, controlled by the Government of National Accord. The LNA describes its main goal as the creation of the unified government and the defeat of terrorism. In its own turn, the Government of National Accord is backed by Turkey, Qatar, the USA and some European states. It controls a small part of the country, and, in terms of military force, relies on various militias and even radical armed groups linked with al-Qaeda. Ankara signed with the Tripoli government a memorandum on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, it sees the GNA survival as a factor which would allow it to justify its further economic and security expansion in the region. This clash of interests sets conditions for an escalation of the Libyan conflict in 2020.

Egypt was mostly stable. The country’s army and security forces contained the terrorism threat on the Sinai Peninsula and successfully prevented attempts of radical groups to destabilize the country.

By the end of the year, the Greater Middle East had appeared in a twilight zone lying before a new loop of the seemingly never-ending Great Game. The next round of the geopolitical standoff will likely take place in a larger region including the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Consistently, the stakes will grow involving more resources of states and nations in geopolitical roulette.

The threat that faces Central Asia is particularly severe since the two sets of actors have asymmetrical objectives. Russia and China are rather interested in the political stability and economic success of the region which they view as essential to their own political and security objectives. It is not in the interest of either country to have half a dozen failed states in their immediate political neighborhood, riven by political, economic, and religious conflicts threatening to spread to their own territories. In addition to being a massive security burden to Russia and China, it would threaten the development of their joint Eurasian integration projects and, moreover, attract so much political attention that the foreign policy objectives of both countries would be hamstrung. The effect would be comparable to that of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on the US political and military establishment. The monetary price of these wars, the sheer political distraction, wear and demoralization of the armed forces, and the unfortunately frequent killings of civilians amount to a non-tenable cost to the warring party, not to mention damage to US international “soft power” wrought by scandals associated with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and “black sites”. Even now, shock-waves in the US military hierarchy continue to be felt regarding the court-martialed senior-ranking US Navy “SEAL” commando charged for the wanton killing of civilians in Northern Iraq during the US military’s anti-ISIS operations.

By contrast, this dismal scenario would be enough to satisfy the US foreign policy establishment which, at the moment, is wholly dominated by “hawks” determined to assure the continuation of US hegemony.  Preventing the emergence of a multi-polar international system by weakening China and Russia is their desire.  This sets the stage for another round of great power rivalry in Central Asia. While the pattern is roughly the same as during the 19th and late 20th centuries—one or more Anglo-Saxon powers seeking to diminish the power of Russia and/or China—the geography of the battlefield is considerably larger for it encompasses the entirety of post-Soviet Central Asian republics.  Also included is China’s province of Xinjiang which has suddenly attracted considerable Western attention, manifested, as usual, by concern for “human rights” in the region.  Historically, such “concern” usually precedes some form of aggressive action. Therefore the two sets of great power actors—the US and other interested Western powers on the one hand, with Russia and China on the other—are locked in a standoff in the region.

The key security problem is militancy and the spread of terrorism. The US and its NATO partners remain unable to achieve a military victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban reached a level of influence in the region, turning it into a rightful party to any negotiations involving the United States. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that a fully-fledged peace deal can be reached between the sides. The Taliban’s main demand is the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country. For Washington, conceding to this would amount to public humiliation and a forceful need to admit that the superpower lost a war to the Taliban. Washington can achieve a military victory in Afghanistan only by drastically increasing its forces in the country. This will go contrary to Trump’s publicly declared goal – to limit US participation in conflicts all around the world. Therefore, the stalemate will continue with the Taliban and the US sitting at the negotiating table in Qatar, while Taliban forces slowly take control of more and more territory in Afghanistan.

Besides fighting the US-backed government, in some parts of the country, the Taliban even conducts operations against ISIS in order to prevent this group from spreading further. Despite this, around 5,000 ISIS militants operate in Afghanistan’s north, near the border with Tajikistan. Member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization are concerned that ISIS militants are preparing to shift their focus to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Russia. The terrorists are infiltrating CIS states, incorporating with organized crime, creating clandestine cells, brainwashing and recruiting new supporters, chiefly the socially handicapped youth and migrants, [and] training them to carry out terrorist activities. The worsening situation in Central Asia contributes to the spread of radical ideas. Now the main threat of destabilization of the entire Central Asian region comes from Tajikistan. This state is the main target of militants deployed in northern Afghanistan.

Destabilization of Central Asia and the rise of ISIS both contribute to achievement of US geopolitical goals. The scenario could devastate Russia’s influence in the region, undermine security of key Russian regional ally, Kazakhstan, and damage the interests of China. The Chinese, Kazakh, and Russian political leadership understand these risks and engage in joint efforts to prevent this scenario.

In the event of further destabilization of Central Asia, ISIS sleeper cells across the region could be activated and a new ISIS self-proclaimed Caliphate could appear on the territory of northern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. Russia and China would not benefit from such a development. In the case of China, such instability could expand to its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, while in Russia the main targets could be the Northern Caucasus and large cities with high numbers of migrant laborers from Central Asian states.

Armenia now together with Georgia became the center of a US soft power campaign to instigate anti-Russian hysteria in the Caucasus. Ethnic groups in this region are traditionally addicted to US mainstream propaganda. On the other hand, the importance of the South Caucasus for Russia decreased notably because of the strong foothold it gained in the Middle East. 2020 is looking to be another economically complicated year for Georgia and Armenia.

Throughout 2019, China consolidated its position as a global power and the main challenger of the United States. From the military point of view, China successfully turned the South China Sea into an anti-access and area-denial zone controlled by its own military and moved forward with its ambitious modernization program which includes the expansion of China’s maritime, airlift, and amphibious capabilities. The balance of power in the Asia-Pacific has in fact shifted and the Chinese Armed Forces are now the main power-broker in the region. China appeared strong enough to fight back against US economic and diplomatic pressure and to repel the Trump Administration’s attempts to impose Washington’s will upon Beijing. Despite economic war with the United States, China’s GDP growth in 2019 is expected to be about 6%, while the yuan exchange rate and the SSE Composite Index demonstrate stability. The United States also tried to pressure China through supporting instability in Hong Kong and by boosting defense aid to Taiwan. However, in both cases, the situation appears to still be within Beijing’s comfort zone.

An interesting consequence of US-led pressure on China is that Washington’s actions provided an impetus for development of Chinese-Russian cooperation. In 2019, Moscow and Beijing further strengthened their ties and cooperation in the economic and military spheres and demonstrated notable unity in their actions on the international scene as in Africa and in the Arctic for example.

As to Russia itself, during the year, it achieved several foreign policy victories.

  • The de-facto diplomatic victory in Syria;
  • Resumption of dialogue with the new Ukrainian regime and the reanimation of the Normandy format negotiations;
  • Improvement of relations with some large European players, like France, Italy, and even Germany;
  • Implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project despite opposition from the US-led bloc;
  • Implementation of the Turkish Stream project with Turkey;
  • Strengthening of the Russian economy in comparison with previous years and the rubble’s stability despite pressure from sanctions. Growth of the Russian GDP for 2019 is expected to be 1.2%, while the Russia Trading System Index demonstrated notable growth from around 1,100 points at the start of the year to around 1,500 by year’s end.

The salient accomplishment of the Russian authorities is that no large terrorist attack took place in the country. At the same time, the internal situation was marked by some negative tendencies. There was an apparent political, media, and social campaign to undermine Chinese-Russian cooperation. This campaign, run by pro-Western and liberal media, became an indicator of the progress in Chinese-Russian relations. Additionally, Russia was rocked by a series of emergencies, corruption scandals linked with law enforcement, the plundering of government funding allocated to the settlement of emergency situations, the space industry, and other similar cases. A number of Russian mid-level officials made statements revealing their real, rent-seeking stance towards the Russian population. Another problem was the deepening social stratification of the population. Most of the citizens experienced a decrease in their real disposable income, while elites continued concentrating margin funds gained through Russia’s successful actions in the economy and on the international level. These factors, as well as fatigue with the stubborn resistance of entrenched elites to being dislodged, caused conditions for political instability in big cities. Liberal and pro-Western media and pro-Western organizations exploited this in an attempt to destabilize the country.

Militarization of Japan has given the US a foothold in its campaign against China, Russia, and North Korea. The Japan Self-Defense Forces were turned into a fully-fledged military a long time ago. Japanese diplomatic rhetoric demonstrates that official Tokyo is preparing for a possible new conflict in the region and that it will fight to further expand its zone of influence. The Japanese stance on the Kuril Islands territorial dispute with Russia is an example of this approach. Tokyo rejected a Russian proposal for joint economic management of four islands and nearby waters, while formally the islands will remain within Russian jurisdiction -at least for the coming years. Japan demands the full transfer of islands a term which is unacceptable to Russia from a military and political point of view. The social and economic situation in Japan was in a relatively stable, but guarded state.

Denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea reached a stalemate after the North Korean leadership claimed that Washington was in no hurry to provide Pyongyang with acceptable terms and conditions of a possible nuclear deal. The example of the US unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran also played a role. The positive point is that tensions on the Korean Peninsula de-escalated anyway because the sides sat down at the negotiation table. Chances of the open military conflict involving North Korea and the United States remain low.

In February 2019, the Indian-Pakistani conflict over the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir put the greater region on the brink of a large war with potential for the use of nuclear weapons. However, both India and Pakistan demonstrated reasonable restraint and prevented further escalation despite an open confrontation between their militaries which took place at the same moment. Meanwhile, the February escalation demonstrated the growing power of Pakistan. In the coming years, look to Jammu and Kashmir as a point of constant instability and military tensions, with very little chance that the sides will find a comprehensive political solution to their differences.

The threat of terrorism is another destabilizing factor in the region. In 2019, ISIS cells made several attempts to strengthen and expand their presence in such countries as Malaysia and Indonesia. Law enforcement agencies of both countries are well aware of this threat and contribute constant and active efforts to combat this terrorism and radicalism. It should be noted that Malaysia is in conflict with the Euro-Atlantic elites because of its independent foreign policy course. For example, its government repeatedly questioned the mainstream MH17 narrative and officially slammed the JIT investigation as politicized and nontransparent. So, the leadership of the country is forced to be in a state of permanent readiness to repel clandestine and public attempts to bring it into line with the mainstream agenda.

While the European Union is, theoretically, the world’s biggest economy using the world’s second most popular currency in international transactions, it remains to be seen whether, in the future, it will evolve into a genuine component of a multi-polar international system or become a satellite in someone else’s—most likely US—orbit. There still remain many obstacles toward achieving a certain “critical mass” of power and unity. While individual EU member states, most notably Germany and France, are capable of independent action in the international system, individually they are too weak to influence the actions of the United States, China, or even Russia. In the past, individual European powers relied on overseas colonial empires to achieve great power status. In the 21st century, European greatness can only be achieved through eliminating not just economic but also political barriers on the continent. At present, European leaders are presented with both incentives and obstacles to such integration, though one may readily discern a number of potential future paths toward future integration.

Continued European integration would demand an agreement on how to transfer national sovereignty to some as yet undefined and untested set of European political institutions which would not only guarantee individual rights but, more importantly from the point of view of national elites, preserve the relative influence of individual EU member states even after they forfeited their sovereignty. Even if the Euro-skeptics were not such a powerful presence in EU’s politics, it would still be an insurmountable task for even the most visionary and driven group of political leaders. Such a leap is only possible if the number of EU states making it is small, and their level of mutual integration is already high.

The post-2008 Euro zone crisis does appear to have communicated the non-sustainability of the current EU integration approach, hence the recent appearance of “two-speeds Europe” concept which actually originated as a warning against the threat of EU bifurcation into well integrated “core“ and a less integrated “periphery”. In practical terms it would mean “core” countries, definitely including Germany, France, and possibly the Benelux Union, would abandon the current policy of throwing money at the less well developed EU member states and, instead, focus on forging “a more perfect Union” consisting of this far more homogeneous and smaller set of countries occupying territories that, over a thousand years ago, formed what used to be known as the Carolingian Empire. Like US territories of the 19th century, EU states outside of the core would have to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” to earn membership in the core, which would require them to adopt, wholesale, the core’s political institutions.

The deepening disproportion of EU member state economies, and therefore sharpening economic disputes, are the main factor of instability in Europe. The long-delayed withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the union, which is finally expected to take place in 2020, might trigger an escalation of internal tensions over economic issues which might blow up the EU from the inside. Other cornerstones of European instability are the extraordinary growth of organized crime, street crime, radicalism, and terrorism, most of which were caused by uncontrolled illegal migration and the inability of the European bureaucracy to cut off the flows of illegal migrants, integrate non-radicalized people into European society, and detect all radicals and terrorists that infiltrate Europe with migrants.

The situation is further complicated by the conflict in Ukraine and the destruction of international security treaties, such as the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and its planned withdrawal from the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). These developments go amid constant military and political hysteria of micro-states and Poland instigated by the Euro-Atlantic elites. The EU bureaucracy is using this state of hysteria and ramping up speculations about a supposed military threat from Russia and an economic and political threat from China to distract the public and draw attention away from the real problems.

The return of Russia as the diplomatic and military great power to Africa marked a new round of the geo-economic standoff in the region. The apparent Russian-Chinese cooperation is steadily pushing French and British out of what they describe as their traditional sphere of influence. While, in terms of economic strength, Russia cannot compete with China, it does have a wide range of military and diplomatic means and measures with which to influence the region. So, Beijing and Moscow seem to have reached a non-public deal on a “division of labor”. China focuses on implementation of its economic projects, while Russia contributes military and diplomatic efforts to stabilize the security situation, obtaining revenue for its military and security assistance. Moscow plays a second violin role in getting these guaranteed zones of influence. Terrorism is one of the main threats to the region. The Chinese-Russian cooperation did not go without a response from their Western counterparts that justified their propaganda and diplomatic opposition to Beijing-Moscow cooperation by describing Chinese investments as “debt-traps” and the Russian military presence as “destabilizing”. In 2019, Africa entered into a new round of great powers rivalry.

The intensification of US “soft power” and meddling efforts, social, economic tensions, activities of non-state actors, and organized criminal networks became the main factors of instability in South America. Venezuela and Bolivia were targeted by US-backed coups. While the Venezuelan government, with help from China and Russia, succeeded in repelling the coup attempt, Bolivia was plunged into a violent civil conflict after the pro-US government seized power. Chile remained in a state of social economic crisis which repeatedly triggered wide-scale anti-government riots. Its pro-US government remained in power, mainly, because there was no foreign ‘democratic superpower’ to instigate the regime change campaign. Actions of the government of Colombia, one of the key US regional allies, undermined the existing peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and forced at least a part of the former FARC members to take up arms once again. If repressions, killings, and clandestine operations aimed at the FARC members committed to the peace continue, they may lead to a resumption of FARC-led guerrilla warfare against the central government. The crisis developing in Mexico is a result of the growth of the drug cartels-related violence and economic tensions with the United States. The right-wing Bolsonaro government put Brazil on track with the US foreign policy course to the extent that, the country worked with Washington against Venezuela, claiming that it should not turn into ‘another Cuba’. A deep economic crisis in Argentina opened the road to power for a new left-centric president, Alberto Fernandez. Washington considers South America as its own geopolitical backyard and sees any non pro-US, or just national-oriented government, as a threat to its vital interests. In 2020, the US meddling campaign will likely escalate and expand, throwing the region into a new round of instability and triggering an expected resistance from South American states. An example of this is the situation in Bolivia. Regardless of the actions of ousted President Evo Morales, the situation in the country will continue escalating. The inability of the pro-US government to deliver positive changes and its simultaneous actions to destroy all the economic achievements of the Morales period might cause Bolivia to descend into poverty and chaos causing unrest and possibly, a civil war.

During 2019, the world superpower, led by the administration of President Donald Trump, provided a consistent policy designed to defend the interests of US domestic industry and the United States as a national state by any means possible. This included economic and diplomatic pressure campaigns against both US geopolitical competitors and allies. The most widely known Trump administration move of this kind was the tariff war with China. However, at the same time, Washington contributed notable efforts in almost all regions around the globe. For example, the United States opposed Chinese economic projects in Africa, Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Europe, tried to limit exports of the Russian defense industry, pressured NATO member states who did not want to spend enough on defense, and proposed that US allies pay more for the honor and privilege of provided “protection”. Additionally, Trump pressured the Federal Reserve Board of Governors into lowering interest rates and announced plans to lower interest rates even further to weaken the dollar in order to boost national industry and increase its product availability on the global market. These plans caused strong resistance from international corporations and global capitalists because this move may undermine the current global financial system based upon a strong US dollar. This straightforward approach demonstrated that Trump and his team were ready to do everything needed to protect US security and economic interests as they see them. Meanwhile, it alienated some “traditional allies”, as in the case of Turkey which decided to acquire Russian S-400s, and escalated the conflict between the Trump Administration and the globalists. The expected US GDP growth in 2019 is 2.2%. The expected production growth of 3.9% reflects the policy aimed at supporting the real sector. In terms of foreign policy, the White House attempted to rationalize US military presence in conflict zones around the world. Despite this, the unprecedented level of support to Israel, confrontation with Iran, China, and Russia, militarization of Europe, coups and meddling into the internal affairs of sovereign states remain as the main markers of US foreign policy. Nevertheless, the main threat to United States stability originates not from Iranians, Russians, or Chinese, but rather from internal issues. The constant hysteria in mainstream media, the attempt to impeach Donald Trump, and the radicalization of different social and political groups contributes to destabilization of the country ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The year 2019 was marked by a number of dangerous developments. In spite of this, it could have been much more dangerous and violent. Political leadership by key actors demonstrated their conditional wisdom by avoiding a number of open military conflicts, all of which had chances to erupt in the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, South America, and even Europe. A new war in the Persian Gulf, US military conflict with North Korea, an India-Pakistan war -none of these were started.  A peaceful transfer of power from Petro Poroshenko to Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine allowed for the avoidance of a military escalation in eastern Europe. China and the United States showed their restraint despite tensions in the Asia-Pacific, including the Hong Kong issue. A new global economic crisis, expected for some time by many experts, did not happen. The lack of global economic shocks or new regional wars in 2019 does not mean that knots straining relations among leading world powers were loosened or solved. These knots will remain a constant source of tension on the international level until they are removed within the framework of diplomatic mechanisms or cut as a result of a large military conflict or a series of smaller military conflicts.

Chances seem high that 2020 will become the year when a match will be set to the wick of the international powder keg, or that it will be the last relatively calm year in the first quarter of the 21st century. The collapse of international defense treaties and de-escalation mechanisms, as well as accumulating contradictions and conflicts among world nations give rise to an especial concern.

Pipeline News – Russia Will Persist! Gas Situation in Europe In Chaos

December 24, 2019

From Vesti news, starting with the Pipeline to the East, following up with the ‘agreement’ with the Ukraine and then at the 10:00 minute mark, quotes from the letter from the US authorities that went to Allseas.

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