Explaining Russia’s Position on Idlib

June 04, 2019

by Ollie Richardson for The Saker Blog

Explaining Russia’s Position on Idlib

Over the past five years my work in the information space has been consciously aimed at explaining why the Russian military does and doesn’t do certain things, whether it be in relation to Ukraine, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, etc, and why demanding that Putin bombs everything in sight is exactly what the CIA wants so-called “pro-Russians” to say. Yet I haven’t exhausted (maybe I never will exhaust it?) this topic because it is so vast and, ultimately, complex. And it is because of this seemingly insurmountable complexity that questions like “Why doesn’t Russia liberate all of Ukraine”“Why doesn’t Russia save Donetsk and Lugansk in the same way it saved Crimea?”“Why doesn’t Russia boot America out of Syria?”, etc are asked on social media.

But one statement that I haven’t really addressed (until now) is “Why doesn’t Russia liberate all of Idlib in one fell swoop?”. Many “geniuses” like to say that Putin is in bed with the “Ottoman butcher” Erdogan and has thus “betrayed Syria”, similar to how shaking hands with Netanyahu means that Putin is a Zionist and has “betrayed Syria”, or even that a visit of the Saudi King to Moscow means that Putin has the blood of Yemen on his hands.

So, those “pro-Russian” readers who fear that they may be one step ahead of the Kremlin and can see an iceberg on the horizon needn’t worry – another Putin-esque zugswang is in progress!

When Russia sent its aviation to Hmeymim airbase in Syria in 2015 the primary mission was simple: remove Turkey – the main belligerent – from the game. Ankara benefited from ISIS’ theft of Syrian oil and controlled many jihadist groups on the ground (Ahrar al-Sham being the main one). Then in November 2015 the CIA (via the PM at the time Ahmet Davutoğlu) decided to float a test balloon and see how Russia would react to a carefully designed scenario. A Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24. It didn’t matter if the Turkish jet was in Syrian airspace or not, as Moscow knew exactly what had happened, and all the other players knew that Moscow knew. The actual murder of one of the ejecting Russian pilots was carried out by a proxy (a Grey Wolf), and not by a Turkish soldier. But in any case, this test miserably failed, because Russia did not react in a way that would contravene international law (the immediate response happened hours after the shootdown – Russian “advisors” and Syrian troops went to Latakia with MLRS and wiped out the “terrorists who were responsible”, who just happened to be Turkmen). Since military operations generally take place within the framework of economic conflicts (securing assets), the manner in which Russia responded to Turkey in the format état-à-état was the equivalent of what the lunatic Zhirinovsky suggested to do, just without the war crimes.

The sanctions on Turkey (aimed at the CIA-Gulen bloc in reality) negated what Ankara was gaining from stealing Syrian oil, and so the Syrian theater became a zero-sum game for Erdogan. In May 2016 Davutoğlu was removed from the picture. Erdogan was forced to take part in the Astana Agreement and start the process of throwing his proxies in Syria under the bus (or onto green buses!) within the framework of what was given the reputation-saving name of “de-escalation zones”.

This was Moscow’s way of countering the game orchestrated by John Kerry, where a pocket in Eastern Syria would magically open (ISIS would go on an offensive) at a time when al-Nusra was on the ropes in Western Syria. This tactic hoped to tire out the Syrian Army and Russian “advisors” and maximise their casualties. Whilst never admitted in public by Moscow (naturally), “de-escalation zones” actually meant “we will liberate Aleppo and thus recapture all of the ‘useful’ (where most people live, in the West) part of Syria, after which the pace of the theater will have been slowed down enough to start work on eliminating the other players”.

After Aleppo was liberated (the Turkish-controlled groups magically withdrew), Russia continued, via the “de-escalation zones”, to whittle down the large list of terrorist groups into two categories: terrorists no longer supported by Turkey (loyal to al-Nusra leader Jolani) and tame terrorists still supported by Turkey. The former category would be shipped to Idlib via green buses, and the latter category would be used to keep the trecherous Kurds and the CIA-Mossad “Rojava” plan at bay.

In parallel to this, the Astana group managed to smash the Gulf bloc into fragments, liquidating their pet terrorist proxies in Syria and forcing them one by one to normalise relations with Assad, since the dollar is becoming a suitcase without a handle.

The question of the S-400 is more complex and isn’t just about defending Turkish skies. It symbolises more a commitment to play by the rules of the newly emerging world order (based on self-defence and international law) and to no longer indulge in the casino known as “Responsibility to Protect” (or in simpler terms – multipolarity vs unipolarity). Similarly, Turkish Stream is another example of Moscow thrusting a lance through the rotting corpse of NATO. In general, Turkey is geographically positioned almost in the center of the battle of superpowers. For Ankara, bearing in mind that the US tried to stage a coup there in 2016 and had a hand in the assasination of Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, it is more profitable to look East than it is to look West, and this was why Turkey wasn’t in a hurry to join the EU, since it saw the geopolitical storm brewing on the horizon and wasn’t prepared to kiss the ass of the IMF anymore.

So, returning back to the Syrian timeline, whilst al-Nusra was being herded into Idlib, and since Trump cut aid to US-backed terrorists, Turkey was able to monopolise the “Free Syrian Army” aesthetics (abandoned by the US) and occupy areas of Northern Syria whilst making it look like they are “Syrian rebels” and not Turkish proxies, all for the purpose of preventing the Kurds from travelling any more Westward than they already have. And here is where the array of interests becomes interesting:

  • Russia and Iran have basic diplomatic relations with the YPG/SDF (they are Syrian citizens after all) and want them to abandon the US/Tel Aviv/Riyadh;
  • The Syrian State wants the YPG/SDF to return to the bosom of the state and hand over the territories they occupy back to the Syrian Army;
  • Turkey wants the YPG/SDF removed from the picture/disbanded entirely, but has developed ties with Russia and Iran;
  • The YPG/SDF will not negotiate with Turkey unless it can hide behind America’s skirt;
  • Formally, Syria views Turkey as an aggressor, although behind the curtain Damascus has a pragmatic consensus with Moscow, which gave Turkey the green light to enter Syria in order to quell Rojava, and which is trying to stabilise the region and include all regional players in the Eurasian bloc;

Yes, it’s complicated. But here is a simple fact that helps the layperson to understand the situation: America has nuclear weapons. This is why Russia cannot stop the US from occupying Northeast Syria (which was plan B, plan A being a replica of Gaddafi’s removal, which failed after Russia cemented the Minsk Agreements in Ukraine). It can squash its proxies that are West of the Euphrates, yes, but it cannot touch US (non-proxy) assets, in the same way that Washington cannot touch Russian (non-proxy) assets. Or rather – they can directly touch each other’s assets, but any “victory” will be completely pyrrhic. From Russia’s perspective, the aim is to make friends with everyone, since the fewer enemies one has, the better.

While the core of the Turkish proxies is busy caging in (so-called “outposts”) al-Nusra militants in Idlib governorate, repelling the Kurds, and occasionally killing US soldiers, a kind of negotiation game between Turkey and Russia is ongoing:

  • Turkey needs a terroristified Idlib as leverage against all players but is happy to hand the governorate over to Assad piece by piece in exchange for pieces of the S-400/Turk Stream/general Eurasian bloc project;
  • Russia occasionally bombs Idlib in order to exercise its superior leverage over Turkey (the media presents this as “there were talks, but Russia continues to bomb Idlib”), the interim “ceasefire deals” are simply checkpoints in these grand negotiations;
  • Turkey turns a blind eye to al-Nusra’s oil operations (which feed their occupation of the governorate);
  • As an act of “hybrid war”, Russia and friends assist in the process of assassinating the commanders of al-Nusra in Idlib, since the less leverage Turkey has, the quicker the Idlib circus can end;
  • The West broadcasts propaganda about hospitals being bombed simply to cover up the fact that they have been arming and funding Al Qaeda for decades.

The “x-factor” in this conundrum is Trump’s “pull-out”. If US troops pull out of Northeast Syria completely, it would be in Russia’s interests if Turkey filled the void and proverbially herded the Kurds back towards Assad. For America, the sooner this war ends the quicker US troops can return home, but Trump won’t exit without getting something in return. However, there is a big problem – Zionism. Tel Aviv tries to keep America in Syria. Netanyahu didn’t spend all that time begging Uncle Sam to invade Iraq just for him to leave when the going got tough. Moreover, Iraq is already falling into the hands of Iran, and sooner or later the S-400 will be sat in Mesopotamia. Not to mention the fact that Russia is entrenching itself in Lebanon. Did I mention that Trump’s (purposeful?) decisions (and failed “deals of the century”) are strengthening the Palestinian resistance (example)? So what in all honesty does Israel hope to do?

Well, since everything that happened in the Middle East since 2001 (and arguably even earlier) is mainly in Israel’s interests, especially the Syrian war, it’s not a surprise that 8 years of full-scale local proxy warfare has reduced to… Israel taking aerial pot shots at a limited slice of Syrian territory. I have already explained why Russia doesn’t react to these airstrikes in the way that social media guerrillas would like, and all that has happened since is Netanyahu’s election victory. I would only add that bombing Syria became even riskier for Tel Aviv, since the SAA air defence units gain more experience with each new raid. Moscow managed to make a nice gesture to Israel, recovering from Syria the remains of an Israeli soldier missing since the 1982 war in Lebanon, but it wasn’t done for the purpose of stopping the airstrikes. It was simply a typical Russian diplomatic move based on the concept of “violence doesn’t beget violence”. Deflecting Israel’s airstrikes is the job of the Syrian air defences. The Israeli media presents this as “Russia has friendly relations with Israel and knows that Jerusalem considers Iran its leading existential threat, so does not block Israeli strikes at Iranian targets and those of its proxies, but on one condition: Stay out of Russia’s way and give ample warning so there won’t be a repeat of incidents like the one in which Syria shot down a Russian spy plane, possibly because of confusing signals by Israel”. However, in reality Russia wants Syria to become an independent adult, capable of defending itself without requiring Russia’s help, and it is only in this way that Syria will be able to successfully integrate itself into the Eurasian bloc. Of course, logically speaking, if Israel just left Syria alone and minded its own business, then Iranian forces wouldn’t even be in Syria. But I think that most know by now that Israel wanted (and maybe still wants) to carve Syria into 3 pieces along sectarian lines.

Another layer of the Israel problem is the fact that America is standing behind it (and thus the diplomatic support of many banana republics) and an illegal nuclear program, so it’s leverage when compared to Syria’s is superior, hence why the airstrikes happen in the first place. The incident with the downing of the Russian surveillance plane didn’t really change much, because Moscow knows that apartheid Israel is the main troublemaker in the Middle East (and even more so in Ukraine – those who truly understand Ukrainian history will understand why I say this), and the Syrian war coming to an end (whilst strengthening Israel’s neighbours in parallel) is in itself a blow to Tel Aviv.

What is very common to see now is countries seemingly sat on two chairs – the West and Eurasia. For example: Serbia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia show signs of looking both West and East. What is going on in reality is many tugs of war between superpowers, and the stronger Russia’s military and China’s economy become, the more it tips the scales in their favour, and the more “multipolar” the world becomes. It’s not that the US’ influence in a “converted” country disappears (the creation of NGOs is not illegal, and liberalism as an ideology cannot be physically destroyed), but more that the influence becomes less as the country adjusts to the new global economic reality. Although if Trump is indeed playing 4D chess with the “deep state” and is deliberately de-globalising the planet, then this shrinking of influence may be more fluid and less volatile than it seems.

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In summary: Turkey – the driving force behind the Anglo-Israeli proxies in Syria – was forced to abandon its plans in Syria after NATO’s Su-24 shootdown gambit failed; Ankara and Moscow now mutually exchange a piece of Idlib for a piece of S-400; the Syrian war is now at the “exit negotiations” stage, but Israel doesn’t want to be left alone with a stronger Syrian Army, Hezbollah, and Palestinian resistance at its border; Russia isn’t in a hurry to liberate Idlib, since an alternative plan is to let the jihadists kill each other like spiders in a jar, thus the lives of SAA soldiers are not put in danger unnecessarily.

PS I am well aware that Turkey creates local councilsmilitary adminstrations, and civilian infrastructure in North Syria, and I am not an advocate of such behavior but I don’t pretend to be more qualified than the Kremlin when it comes to solving such problems. I doubt that the Kurds would have behaved any different had they succeeded to create “rojava” in the summer of 2016. As for America, just look at what it has done to Raqqa and Mosul. Out of these options, I would prefer a temporary Turkish occupation, knowing that in the near future the situation would improve.

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Foreign backed terrorism in Iran: Part two – US/Israeli backed insurgency and separatism in western Iran

April 18, 2019

By Aram Mirzaei for the Saker blog

Foreign backed terrorism in Iran: Part two – US/Israeli backed insurgency and separatism in western Iran

In the previous article, we examined the prevalence of US/Israeli backed terrorism in eastern Iran where Baluchi Salafists have received arms and funding from the CIA and Mossad. In this second part of the article series we will examine the US/Israeli support for terrorists and separatists in western Iran among the Kurdish ethnic group.

The Kurdish situation in western Iran

The Kurdish question in Iran is a long running one that stretches back to the WWII era. While Kurdish revolts occurred already during the 1920s these were not motivated out of nationalist sentiment but rather out of tribal opposition to the monarchy’s attempts to centralize the state of Iran. The Qajar dynasty and later the Pahlavi dynasty attempted to consolidate power around Tehran in a time when the Iranian nation was fragmented into areas of tribal and ethnic influence. Simko Shikak was one of the powerful Kurdish chieftains that with Ottoman backing led the first revolt in 1918, against the Qajar dynasty, as the Ottoman’s were fierce rivals of the severely weakened Iranian state, attempted to gain influence over western Iran. Another reason for the Ottoman involvement was motivated by the slaughter of the large Iranian Armenian population in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran. But it was not only the Ottomans that backed these separatist tribal ambitions as Tehran repeatedly called out British influence and support for the tribal rebellions. The British role was mainly motivated by their desire to remove the Qajar dynasty from power and install a new Shah that they could more easily control, thus also triumphing over the Russian Empire in the struggle for influence over Iran.

British intervention in Persia was at its height during the coup d’etat of 1921. Although the coup itself was executed by Persians, it received vital assistance from, and was probably actually initiated by, certain British military officers and officials in Iran, most importantly Major-General Sir Edmund Ironside, Commander of Norperforce, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Smyth, who was unofficially and “almost secretly” attached to the Cossacks at Qazvin, and Walter A Smart, the Oriental Secretary.

After the coup, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the new Shah of Iran ultimately crushed the Kurdish tribal rebellion and the subsequent ones imitated during 1929 and 1941. It wasn’t until 1946 when the real danger of separatism became prevalent in Iran with the Iranian crisis of 1946 and the aftermath of the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran during WWII. One of the first crises of the Cold War was initiated in 1946 when Stalin refused to relinquish occupied Iranian territory as the Soviets felt that the successor to Reza Shah Pahlavi, his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a staunch anti-communist was a danger to Soviet interests, especially with regards to the Truman doctrine. By mid-December 1945, with the use of troops and secret police, they had set up two pro-Soviet “People’s Democratic Republics” in northwestern Iran, the Azerbaijan People’s Republic headed by Sayyid Jafar Pishevari and the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad under Pesheva Qazi Muhammad and Mustafa Barzani, father to current US puppet Mahmoud Barzani who was the previous president of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq before last year’s scandalous attempt at independence for the KRG (Kurdish regional government). Though Mustafa Barzani fled Iran and went back to Iraq, so called Marxist oriented parties such as Komala and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDP-I) continued their hostilities not just with the Pahlavi regime but also later on with Islamic Republic after 1979, although these parties moved on from advocating separatism to specific demands and requests. This is due to the relatively low interest in separatism among the Kurdish public in Iran, mainly because of the close cultural, linguistic and historical relations that the Kurdish people and the rest of the Iranian society share.

Kurdish Insurrection after the Islamic Revolution and Israeli activities in western Iran

Since 2004, an armed conflict has been ongoing in the western provinces of Iran between the Iranian government forces and the so called “Party for a free life in Kurdistan” (PJAK). The group is said to be a branch of the PKK terrorist group in Turkey. The group settled in the area controlled by the PKK on the slopes of Mount Qandil, less than 16 kilometres from the Iranian border. Once established at Qandil and operating under the PKK’s security umbrella, the group began conducting sporadic attacks on Iranian border guards and security forces until a ceasefire commenced in 2011.

With the outbreak of the Syrian and Iraqi wars against terrorism, and with Iran focusing heavily on supporting the Syrian and Iraqi governments, the conflict resurged and intensified in 2016, this time with several other Kurdish militant groups also joining in, as US and Israeli support for Kurdish groups across the Middle East escalated. In an obvious show of solidarity with the Zionist state’s growing worries about the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal), the KDP-I stated that it was returning to militancy after two decades of cessation of hostilities: “Since Iran has signed the atomic [nuclear deal] agreement, Iran thinks whatever they do, the outside world does not care. That is why we were forced to choose this approach,” Hassan Sharafi, the deputy leader of the PDKI said. Conveniently for the Zionist state and Washington, PJAK and leftist group Komalah immediately expressed their support for renewed hostilities and began attacking Iranian security forces respectively in the midst of Iran’s struggle against Takfiri terrorists across the region.

The Zionist state has for long had close relations to Kurdish groups across the Middle East as part of their “Alliance of the periphery” doctrine which calls for Israel to develop close strategic alliances with non-Arab Muslim states in the Middle East to counteract the united opposition of Arab states. After the fall of the Iranian monarchy and with Turkey’s recent Islamic resurgence, the strategy is mainly applied towards the Kurdish people, with Israeli government officials providing extensive support to Kurdish political parties and their aspirations for greater self-government and even independence. The government of Iraqi Kurdistan has maintained open ties with Israel and is an influential lobby for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Israel and Iraq. Israel remains today the closest regional ally of the YPG forces in Syria as well as the KRG in Iraq.

Documents leaked in 2010 by Wikileaks prove that Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan wanted to use Kurds and ethnic minorities to topple the Iranian government. The Israeli spy service wanted to have a weak divided Iran, like in Iraq where the Kurds have their own government, the spy chief told an U.S. official. According to a memo from August 2007, Dagan described to Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns the five pillars of Israel’s Iran policy, among them the desire to spark a revolution. The memo noted, ‘instability in Iran is driven by inflation and tension among ethnic minorities. This, Dagan said, “presents unique opportunities, and Israelis and Americans might see a change in Iran in their lifetimes.”

Dagan noted that Iran could end up like Iraq. “As for Iraq, it may end up a weak, federal state comprised of three cantons or entities, one each belonging to the Kurds, Sunnis and Shias.” He added that Iran’s minorities are “raising their heads, and are tempted to resort to violence.”

“It’s Realpolitik. By aligning with the Kurds Israel gains eyes and ears in Iran,” observed a former Israeli intelligence officer. Interestingly, PJAK themselves claim they receive no support from Washington or Tel Aviv. In an interview with Slate magazine in June 2006, PJAK spokesman Ihsan Warya stated that he “nevertheless points out that PJAK really does wish it were an agent of the United States, and that [PJAK is] disappointed that Washington hasn’t made contact.” The Slate article continues stating that the PJAK wishes to be supported by and work with the United States in overthrowing the government of Iran in a similar way to the US eventually cooperated with Kurdish organisations in Iraq in overthrowing the government of Iraq. Surely by now it is no secret that Kurdish chieftains and officials love to be the staunch vassals of Washington and Tel Aviv.

The KRG has even been so generous to offer its territory as a base for Mossad terrorists to launch operations inside Iran. According to several sources, the Mossad operates in the KRG to launch covert operations inside Iran and acquire intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. “Israeli drones are said to be operating against Iran from bases inside the KRG,” wrote Patrick Seale, a British expert on the Middle East.

The London-based Sunday Times reported that, according to “Western intelligence sources,” during early 2012 Israeli commandos and special forces members carried out missions in Iran that were launched from the KRG. The Zionist terrorists, dressed in Iranian military uniforms, entered Iran in modified Black Hawk helicopters and travelled to Parchin, the site of an Iranian military complex just 30 kilometres southeast of Tehran, and Fordow, an Iranian military base with an underground uranium enrichment facility. The report claims that these forces utilized advanced technology to monitor radioactivity levels and record explosive tests carried out at the military facilities. Whether this report is true or part of a psychological war, I guess we’ll never know.

In addition to all of this, Arab separatism is on the rise in the western Khuzestan province where a large Arab minority reside. The 2018 Ahvaz Military Parade terrorist attack where 29 people were killed was evidence of a recent surge in Arab separatist activities. The Islamic Republic suspects that both Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states offer political and financial support to Arab separatist groups and personalities operating in the West, who in turn funnel the cash to militant networks inside Iran. Suspicions that regional rivals had a hand in the terror attack was intensified by pathetic comments made by Abdul Khaliq Abdullah, a former advisor to the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, that the Ahvaz attack did not constitute an act of terrorism since it was aimed at a military target. The significance of this inflammatory remark lies in Saudi Crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s statement that Saudi Arabia would take the battle “inside” Iran. Since the Saudi monarchy themselves are Zionist agents, we should again look for Washington and Tel Aviv’s hand in this latest campaign targeting yet another minority group in Iran.

The Islamic Republic is under attack from all sides with Washington and Tel Aviv specifically targeting ethnic minorities living in the border areas in the eastern and western regions of Iran. As Washington and Tel Aviv have admitted in the past, a full scale invasion of Iran is highly unlikely due to the size of the country and the large popular support the Islamic Republic enjoys, instead the Zionist Empire has deemed insurgency and fomenting a civil war to be the best way to weaken their adversaries, just like they did in Syria and Iraq. I expect these campaigns to escalate as the Islamic Republic gains more influence across the region and the Zionist Empire growing more and more frustrated each day.

Finian Cunningham: “Kurds in Fateful Triangle as US Moves to Redeploy IS Terror Groups”

Written by Finian Cunningham; Originally appeared on strategic-culture.org

Kurdish fighters have been used by the US to ostensibly defeat the remaining Islamic State holdouts in eastern Syria. But what is emerging is not a final defeat of the terrorists, more a redeployment to further destabilize the Arab country.

Potentially, the Kurds could wind up not with the regional autonomy they desire, but as part of a rebranded American dirty war army whose ranks include the very terrorist the Kurdish militias have been successfully battling against.

Finian Cunningham: "Kurds in Fateful Triangle as US Moves to Redeploy IS Terror Groups"

President Donald Trump has been lately crowing about how US-backed Kurdish forces have wiped out the IS self-proclaimed caliphate around Baghouz in eastern Syria. “They’re losers… they’re gone tonight,” he boasted about supposedly vanquishing the jihadists.

However, things are not that clear-cut. Syria’s envoy to the United Nations Bashar al Jaafari dismissed Trump’s victory celebrations as a “bluff”. He said that IS was not defeated in areas under US control, but rather were being shunted off to various camps for retraining.

There are credible reports that thousands of jihadists who surrendered or were captured in the fighting around Baghouz have since been relocated by US forces to its military base at al Tanf near the border with Iraq and Jordan, as well as to nearby refugee camps such as Rukban, where some 40,000 detainees are held. Suspiciously, the Americans are refusing international access to these camps, even for UN humanitarian relief agencies. As Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out recently, the detention centers are being used by the Americans as a pretext for illegally occupying Syrian territory.

We can also add the purpose of clandestine military recruitment for US proxies.

Despite Trump’s announcement four months ago that US military was pulling out of Syria, there seems no sign that his plan is being implemented. That’s why Moscow reacted angrily to Washington’s demand for Russian troops to leave Venezuela. The Kremlin responded testily that the US should first deliver on its promise to withdraw from Syria, where its forces are illegally present unlike Russian personnel in Venezuela under bilateral agreement.

In Syria’s supposedly post-war scenario what seems to be happening is the US seeking to find a way to reconfigure its destabilizing intervention in the Arab country. The past eight years of US-sponsored covert war has failed in its objective for regime change against President Bashar al Assad, who is allied with Russia and Iran. What the US is aiming to do now is keep military footprints in the country, effectively annexing swathes of territory, especially in the oil and gas-rich eastern region around the Euphrates River.

That accounts for why supposedly defeated enemy terrorists are being retrained by US special forces at al Tanf. They are reportedly being tasked with capturing the oil and gas fields in Deir ez-Zor province as well as production infrastructure in Homs province.

This puts the Kurdish forces in an invidious position. There is little doubting the courage and fighting ability of the Kurdish men and women who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its spearhead YPG militias. The Kurds have managed to liberate up to 30 per cent of Syria’s territory in the northeast and east from the IS jihadists. They have dealt a decisive blow to the residual caliphate at Baghouz. American air power augmented the Kurds in their offensive.

But what the US is maneuvering to do is to combine the defeated jihadists with the Kurds in order to push its agenda for breaking up Syria and controlling its eastern mineral-rich resources.

The Special Monitoring Mission to Syria reports that IS militants captured by the SDF are being redeployed by the Americans for seizing oil and gas production facilities.

Still another crucial objective for Washington is to control the Deir ez-Zor east-west corridor from Iraq to Damascus so as to contain Iranian presence in Syria.

This is the context for Trump’s brazen declaration recognizing Israel’s annexation of Syria’s southern Golan Heights. Washington’s game plan is to keep Syria destabilized and fragmented, partly to appease Israel and partly for the US’s own imperial designs for dominance in the region.

In this insidious US maneuvering, the Kurds face a potentially treacherous situation. They have been well armed and supported by Washington, but are finding they are being used like a disposable asset. The Kurds may have calculated that accepting Washington’s patronage in recent years was a way to earn political capital for building a future separate independent Kurdish state. What seems to be emerging, however, is that the Americans only intend to exploit the Kurds as a fighting force to do its dirty work of breaking up Syria – in the same way that the Americans have covertly used jihadist terror groups in other parts of Syria.

The Kurds have been very effective in routing IS in the latter’s remaining strongholds in eastern Syria. But the result is the Kurds are being used as a recruitment agency for the Americans to redeploy the “defeated” terrorists in its ongoing covert war against the Syrian state.

There are signs, though, that the Kurds are well aware of the treacherous danger in dealing with Washington. When Trump made is troop withdrawal announcement, there were palpable concerns among the Kurds about being betrayed to the mercy of Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to send his military forces into Syria to crush the SDF and YPG militia whom Ankara views as “terrorist” affiliates of its own separatist Kurdish movement, the PKK.

It’s not clear if the US will implement a withdrawal of its estimated 2,000 troops in Syria. There are indications it won’t happen, despite Trump’s claims. Nevertheless, the surprise announcement was enough to undermine Kurdish confidence its patron. With the result that Kurdish leaders have begun reaching out to the Assad government in Damascus in the hope of dialogue producing a future federal arrangement.

The Kurds have reportedly requested Russia to mediate with the Syrian government.

Kurdish forces have not heretofore been at war with the Syrian Arab Army. They share the same common enemy of IS and assorted jihadist terror groups.

In the past, President Assad has rebuffed Kurdish aspirations for regional autonomy. But apparently, Damascus has shifted to be more open on forming a new federal constitution for Syria in which the Kurds would gain important regional independence – in a way analogous to the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.

In this fateful political triangle that the Syrian Kurds find themselves, they would be advised to throw their lot in with the Damascus government. If a mutual pact could be established that would bring the two major chunks of Syria’s territory back into territorial integrity.

If, on other hand, the Kurds accede to Washington’s nefarious agenda, they run the risk of losing independence and being eviscerated from exploitation in endless dirty-war machinations by the Americans. An ominous sign is that after bravely fighting to rout IS, the Kurdish militia are being set up to form a devil’s bargain with the same terrorists – to satisfy Washington’s geopolitical interests.

The Kurds would do well to remember a cynical maxim in Washington, whereby the US “does not have allies, only interests”.

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – APRIL 1, 2019: US SAYS SYRIAN ARMY MUST WITHDRAW FROM GOLAN HEIGHTS’ CONTACT LINE

SOUTH FRONT

01.04.2019

Over 50 ISIS members were eliminated by strikes of the US-led coalition in the outskirt of the town of al-Baghuz al-Fawqani in the Euphrates Valley over the past few days, local sources reported. The airstrikes were a part of the operation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the coalition in the area, which is ongoing despite a formal US statement declaring defeat over ISIS.

According to local sources, a notable number of ISIS members is still hiding in a network of caves and underground tunnels in the area.

Besides this, ISIS cells within the SDF-held area have recently carried out a series of attacks killing at least 10 SDF members near the town of Diban and in the area of the Omar oil fields, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

On March 28, General Commander of the SDF Ferhat Abdi Sahin claimed that the group, which includes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their all-female faction, the Woman’s Protection Units (YPJ), had made a decision to capture the area of Afrin from Turkish forces.

“We are preparing and making arrangements in order to liberate Afrin … Because this is a military matter, everyone should know that when the time is suitable, the liberation phase will begin,” he said in an interview with Sterk TV.

Currently, the SDF has no land route to Afrin from northeastern Syria while YPG and YPJ control only a few positions to south and southeast of the area. Therefore, SDF statements regarding the military advance on Afrin should are just a political move designed in an attempt to buy support of the Syrian population. The group, which deeply relies on the foreign support to control northeastern Syria, is currently facing notable problems with the control over the Arab-populated areas seized from ISIS.

While the SDF has no real chances to capture Afrin itself, YPG and YPJ cells conduct attacks on Turkey-led forces on a regular basis. On March 31, a Turkish service member was killed and one was injured an attack by Kurdish rebels, according to Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense.

Following the announcement, the Turkish military artillery fired more than 100 shells at YPG positions in the towns of Tatmrsh and Shuargha. No casualties as a result of the shelling were reported.

The US-led coalition and its proxies from the so-called Revolutionary Commando Army continue to prevent evacuation of civilians from the Rukban refugee camp. They even held a live-fire drill involving High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems near the US garrison of al-Tanf located in the same area.

The situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone remains unchanged. The ceasefire regime is violated almost on a daily basis. Firefights and artillery dues are especially intense in northern Hama and southern Idlib.

On March 28, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came with a new statement claiming that his  country will continue working against Iranian presence in Syria. The statement shows that the Israeli military is set to continue its military campaign in Syria.

In own turn, the US did not limit its recent actions in support of Tel Aviv to recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. It also demanded the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to withdraw from the separation line area established in the framework of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement. US-Israeli efforts to force the SAA to do so could easily turn the Golan Heights into a new hot point and fuel the Syrian conflict further.

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Syrian War Report – Feb. 21-22, 2019: Iran Took Control Of Several US Drones Flying Over Syria, Iraq

South Front

22.02.2019

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the National Defense Forces (NDF) have finished their combing operation in the central Syrian desert, the NDF media center said in a statement.

According to the released statement, the SAA and the NDF eliminated several ISIS members and seized loads of weapons and equipment in the framework of the operation, which covered desert areas of Homs, Rif Dimashq, Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces. Despite this, ISIS cells still control a large chunk of the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert.

On February 21, a car bomb exploded near the Deir Rasm hospital in the center of the Turkish-occupied city of Afrin injuring up to 10 people. The attack took place a few hours after a military parade held  by Turkish-backed militants in the city. Opposition activists accused YPG-linked rebels of carrying out the attack. Since early 2018, YPG-linked cells had conducted multiple IED attacks and ambushes on positions of Turkey-led forces in the region.

A car bomb hit a bus currying workers returning from the Omar oil fields. At least 15 people were killed and multiple others were injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but local sources say that it was likely conducted by ISIS cells.

Multiple convoys carrying men, women and children, mostly ISIS members and their families, left the ISIS-held pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the last 2 days. These persons are being transferred to filtration camps controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). According to reports, about 250 ISIS fighters remained besieged in the area because they refuse to surrender.

It is interesting to note that pro-SDF sources pretend that the group allows civilians only to leave the pocket. However, evidence from the ground contradicts to these claims. On February 21, it appeared that the US-backed group had handed over 500 ISIS members to the Iraqi military.

On February 19, Russian forces opened two humanitarian corridors allowing refugees to leave the camp. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were stationed at the checkpoints to provide medical aid to refugees leaving the camp.

However, according to the Russian Reconciliation Centre, militants have blocked the exit from the camp by building an earth berm. They also threatened the refugees with “jail and death” on the territory under the control of the Damascus government.

Head of the Centre Sergei Solomatin added that at the same time, “the possibility of exit of foreign fighters from the 55-kilometer zone to Jordan and Iraq is not limited” and ISIS militants and their families are being moved to the camp from the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. From its side, US-backed militants continue to repeat that the Damascus government is persecuting and punishing refugees returning to their homes.

The Iranian Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) have got control of 7-8 US unnamed aerial vehicles operating in Syria and Iraq, IRGC Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said adding that the IRGC extorted intelligence data from the aircraft. The IRGC media also released videos confirming its claims.

While ISIS is de-facto defeated in Syria and Iraq, a possible escalation of the long-standing conflict between the US-Israeli-led bloc and Iran continues to pose a threat to regional security.

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SYRIAN, IRAQI WAR REPORT – JAN. 28, 2019: KURDISH LEADERSHIP AT CROSSROADS BETWEEN TURKEY AND ASSAD

South Front

On January 25, hundreds of Kurdish protesters stormed a Turkish military base near the northern Iraqi city of Dahuk in response to Turkish airstrikes that killed two Kurdish civilians on January 23. According to the pro-Kurdish NRT TV, Turkish soldiers opened fire at the protestors killing at least one and injuring many others. Despite resistance, protesters managed to breach the base and set it on fire. Protestors captured most of the Turkish soldiers who were inside the base and several units of military equipment. Two agents of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, known as MIT, were injured. Later, the captured Turks were reportedly handed over to Peshmerga, a force of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Over the past year, the Turkish Air Force has carried out multiple airstrikes on positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). These strikes are a part of the campaign to undermine the group’s capabilities and to prevent further PKK attacks on Turkish territory. Despite this, the Kurdish group keeps a large presence in northern Iraq having multiple bases in this area.

Ankara pursues similar goals in northern Syria claiming that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), are just a local offshoot of the PKK.

On January 26th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that a Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria would allow millions of refugees to return to the country. The Turkish President went on to claim that the Turkish invasion in northwestern Syria has allowed 300,000 Syrians to return to their homeland. He also said that the Adana agreement justified an attack on northeastern Syria.

In response, the Syrian Foreign Ministry accused Turkey of violating the agreement since 2011 by supporting terrorism and directly occupying parts of the country.

In the Turkish-occupied areas, the YPG-linked Afrin Liberation Forces (ALF) continued attacks on Turkey-led forces. On January 25, a Turkish-backed militant was killed in Azaz. On January 22, Kurdish rebels killed three more Turkish-backed militants in Azaz with an ATGM. On January 20, 3 Turkish-backed militants were killed in an ATGM strike in Abla and another one died from sniper fire in Sherawa.

Ilham Ahmed, a co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) told Bloomberg that Kurdish forces are negotiating with the Damascus government in order to protect northeastern Syria from any attack that Turkey may launch after the nearing withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“If we were cornered into choosing between a Turkish militia attacking our areas,” and reaching an accord with President Bashar al-Assad, she said in an interview in Washington, “we would go with the regime,” she claimed.

The official confirmed that the SDC has provided President Bashar al-Assad and Russia with an 11-point road map reintegrating the region under the Damascus government. According to her, Syria should be “decentralized” but united.

150 ISIS fighters surrendered themselves to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during the clashes in the middle Euphrates Valley, pro-Kurdish media outlets reported on January 25. On January 25, the SDF press center claimed that more than 82 terrorists were killed in clashes and US-led coalition airstrikes.

On January 24th, the Syrian Army and the Russian Military Police for the first time deployed in the area north of the SDF-held town of Manbij. This development could be seen as an indication of some progress in talks between the SDC/SDF and Damascus.

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Talk of Western intervention in the Black Sea is pure fantasy

January 19, 2019

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times by special agreement with the author)Talk of Western intervention in the Black Sea is pure fantasy

Crimea is essential to Russia strategically and economically, but speculation over Ankara helping to boost the US presence in the Black Sea is far-fetched given Turkey’s energy deals with Moscow.

A power struggle over the Black Sea between Russia and the US plus NATO has the potential to develop as a seminal plot of the 21st century New Great Game – alongside the current jostling for re-positioning in the Eastern Mediterranean.

By now it’s established the US and NATO are stepping up military pressure from Poland to Romania and Bulgaria all the way to Ukraine and east of the Black Sea, which seems, at least for the moment, relatively peaceful, just as Crimea’s return to Russia starts to be regarded, in realpolitik terms, as a fait accompli.

After a recent series of conversations with top analysts from Istanbul to Moscow, it’s possible to identify the main trends ahead.

Just as independent Turkish analysts like Professor Hasan Unal are alarmed at Ankara’s isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean energy sphere by an alliance of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, Washington’s military buildup in both Romania and Bulgaria is also identified as posing a threat to Turkey.

It’s under this perspective that Ankara’s obstinance in establishing a security “corridor” in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates river, and free from the YPG Kurds, should be examined. It’s a matter of policing at least one sensitive border.

Still, in the chessboard from Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, Turkey and Crimea, the specter of “foreign intervention” setting fire to the Intermarium – from the Baltics to the Black Sea – simply refuses to die.

Ukraine Russia map

‘Russian lake’?

By the end of the last glacial era, around 20,000 years ago, the Black Sea – separated from the Mediterranean by an isthmus – was just a shallow lake, much smaller in size than it is today.

The legendary journey of Jason and the Argonauts, before the Trojan war, followed the Argo ship to the farther shore of Pontus Euxinus (the ‘Black Sea’) to recover the Golden Fleece – the cure for all evils – from its location in Colchis (currently in Georgia).

In Ancient Greece, steeped in mythology, the Black Sea was routinely depicted as the boundary between the known world and terra incognita. But then it was “discovered” – like America many centuries later – to the point where it was configured as a “string of pearls” of Greek trading colonies linked to the Mediterranean.

The Black Sea is more than strategic, it’s crucial geopolitically. There has been a constant drive in modern Russian history to be active across maritime trade routes through the strategic straits – the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus and Kerch in Crimea – to warmer waters further south.

As I observed early last month in Sevastopol, Crimea is now a seriously built fortress – incorporating S-400 and Iskander-M missiles – capable of ensuring total Russian primacy all across the eastern Black Sea.

A visit to Crimea reveals how its genes are Russian, not Ukrainian. A case can be made that the very concept of Ukraine is relatively spurious, propelled by the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the 19th century and especially before World War I to weaken Russia. Ukraine was part of Russia for 400 years, far longer than California and New Mexico have been part of the US.

Now compare the reconquest of Crimea by Russia, without firing a shot and validated by a democratic referendum, to the US “conquests” of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Moreover, I saw Crimea being rebuilt and on the way to prosperity, complete with Tatars voting with their feet to return; compare it to Ukraine, which is an IMF basket case.

Crimea is essential to Russia not only from a geostrategic but also an economic point of view, as it solidifies the Black Sea as a virtual “Russian lake”.

It’s immaterial that Turkish strategists may vehemently disagree, as well as US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker who, trying to seduce Turkey, dreams about increasing the US presence in the Black Sea, “whether on a bilateral basis or under EU auspices.”

Under this context, the building of the Turk Stream pipeline should be read as Ankara’s sharp response to the rampant Russophobia in Brussels.

Ankara has, in tandem, consistently shown it won’t shelve the acquisition of Russian S-400 missile systems because of American pressure. This has nothing to do with pretentions of neo-Ottomanism; it’s about Turkey’s energy and security priorities. Ankara now seems more than ready to live with a powerful Russian presence across the Black Sea.

It all comes down to Montreux

Not by accident the comings and goings on NATO’s eastern flank was a key theme at last summer’s biennial Atlanticist summit. After all, Russia, in the wake of reincorporating Crimea, denied access over the eastern Black Sea.

NATO, though, is a large mixed bag of geopolitical agendas. So, in the end, there’s no cohesive strategy to deal with the Black Sea, apart from a vague, rhetorical “support for Ukraine” and also vague exhortations for Turkey to assume its responsibilities.

But because Ankara’s priorities are in fact the Eastern Mediterranean and the Turkish-Syrian border, east of the Euphrates river, there’s no realistic horizon for NATO to come up with permanent Black Sea patrols disguised as a “freedom of navigation” scheme – as much as Kiev may beg for it.

What does remain very much in place is the guarantee of freedom of navigation in the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits controlled by Turkey, as sanctioned by the 1936 Montreux Convention.

The key vector, once again, is that the Black Sea links Europe with the Caucasus and allows Russia trade access to southern warm waters. We always need to go back to Catherine the Great, who incorporated Crimea into the empire in the 18th century after half a millennium of Tatar and then Ottoman rule, and then ordered the construction of a huge naval base for the Black Sea fleet.

By now some facts on the ground are more than established.

Next year the Black Sea fleet will be upgraded with an array of anti-ship missiles; protected by S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems; and supported by a new “permanent deployment” of Sukhoi SU-27s and SU-30s.

Far-fetched scenarios of the Turkish navy fighting the Russian Black Sea fleet will continue to be peddled by misinformed think tanks, oblivious to the inevitability of the Russia-Turkey energy partnership. Without Turkey, NATO is a cripple in the Black Sea region.

Intriguing developments such as a Viking Silk Road across the Intermarium won’t alter the fact that Poland, the Baltics and Romania will continue to clamor for “more NATO” in their areas to fight “Russian aggression”.

And it will be up to a new government in Kiev after the upcoming March elections to realize that any provocation designed to drag NATO into a Kerch Strait entanglement is doomed to failure.

Ancient Greek sailors had a deep fear of the Black Sea’s howling winds. As it now stands, call it the calm before a (Black Sea) storm.

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