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Assad will not go, Syria to remain united under Russian-Turkish peace plan

Contrary to Turkish inspired media reports, there are no secret Russian-Turkish agreements to ‘federalise” Syria, or to carve it up into “zones of influence”, or for the removal from power of President Assad.

Alexander Mercouris

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On 28th December 2016, the day before the Russian and Turkish Foreign Ministries communicated their ceasefire plan to the UN Secretary General and to the UN Security Council, a report appeared in Reuters which claimed that Russia and Turkey have come to a private understanding to divide Syria into “zones of influence”.

Supposedly this also involves the ultimate removal from power of Syrian President Assad, though supposedly Iran has not agreed to this.

The relevant paragraphs in the Reuters report read as follows

Syria would be divided into informal zones of regional power influence and Bashar al-Assad would remain president for at least a few years under an outline deal between Russia, Turkey and Iran, sources say.

Such a deal, which would allow regional autonomy within a federal structure controlled by Assad’s Alawite sect, is in its infancy, subject to change and would need the buy-in of Assad and the rebels and, eventually, the Gulf states and the United States, sources familiar with Russia’s thinking say…..

Assad’s powers would be cut under a deal between the three nations, say several sources. Russia and Turkey would allow him to stay until the next presidential election when he would quit in favor of a less polarizing Alawite candidate.

Iran has yet to be persuaded of that, say the sources. But either way Assad would eventually go, in a face-saving way, with guarantees for him and his family.

Careful reading of the report shows that the “sources” it refers to are almost entirely Turkish.  The only Russian source appears to be Andrey Kortunov, a well known Russian academic and commentator on international affairs, who is the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, and who is also connected to the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

Though Kortunov is a serious scholar he is not an official of the Russian government, and the extent to which he is familiar with the details of the negotiations that have been going on between the Russian and Turkish governments must be open to doubt.

Talk about a federal structure for Syria may have its origin in a proposal some Russian officials are known to have made for a possible ‘federal solution’ for Syria’s Kurdish problem.  I discussed this proposed ‘federal solution’ involving the Kurds on 25th October 2016, and pointed out that it is not properly speaking a federal solution at all, but rather

…..the sort of arrangement that exists within Russia, where areas like Tatarstan are recognised to have a distinct ethnic identity, and where special provisions are made to recognise and accommodate this fact.

As it happens the Syrian government has flatly rejected this proposal, and though the Kurds appear to be still pushing it, it is far from clear that there is any life still left in it.

The Reuters piece suggests it is Turkey that is currently pushing the federalisation proposal.  If so then it is most unlikely Turkey would want such a ‘federal solution’ for Syria’s Kurds, especially if (as would almost certainly be the case) its effect was to entrench the anti-Turkish YPG in power in Syria’s Kurdish areas along the Turkish border.  Since it is however very difficult to see how a ‘federal solution’ for Syria could work without the Kurds, that in itself is a good reason for doubting that the Turkish calls for a ‘federal solution’ for Syria are intended seriously.

The fundamental difficulty the ‘federal  solution’ anyway faces is that outside the Kurdish areas there is practically no support for it in Syria.

The Syria war is often described as a sectarian war between an Alawite dominated Syrian regime drawing its support from Syria’s minority communities, who are mainly to be found in the populous coastal regions of western Syria, and Syria’s Sunni majority, which accounts for almost the whole of the population of Syria’s central and eastern regions.  The ‘federal solution’ idea is for Syria to be divided into three parts on ethnic and sectarian lines, with an Alawite dominated region in western Syria along the coast, a Kurdish area in the north, and a Sunni region in the vast though thinly populated regions of Syria’s interior in the centre and east

Syrians I have spoken to have however told me that this conception of Syria is wrong. Syria is not divided along sectarian lines.  The great majority of Syrians identify themselves first and foremost as Arabs and Syrians irrespective of whatever might be their personal religious faith.  It is a mistake to assume that the violent Wahhabi/Salafi sectarianism that has been imported into Syria in the last few years, and which is the driving force of the war, and the marginally less violent Sunni sectarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood which preceded it, are representative of the attitudes of most Syrians.

Since the majority of Syrians oppose being divided on sectarian lines, carving up Syria into a federation along such lines has no support and makes no sense.   As it happens all opinion surveys which have taken place in Syria since the start of the war show that the great majority of Syrians (over 70%) want their country to remain united.

In summary, the federal proposal has no obvious attractions and little to no prospect of success, so it is difficult to see why the Russians, whose interest is in maintaining a united Syria, would want to support it.

As it happens the main supporters of the ‘federal solution’ for Syria have until recently been certain hardliners in the US, who having given up hope of achieving regime change in Syria, have instead been quietly lobbying for the creation of a pro-US Sunni client state in Syria’s central and eastern regions.  The very fact this supposed ‘federal solution’ to Syria’s crisis has had some US backing is however a good reason to doubt the Russians are interested in it.

If the ‘federal solution’ has no attraction to the Russians, and has almost certainly not been agreed by them, why are the Turks talking about it?

The reason is almost certainly connected to internal Turkish politics.

The fundamental problem the Turkish government faces is that having committed itself so wholeheartedly and so publicly to the regime change project in Syria, it is now faced with the prospect of its total failure.

Not only must that be very difficult for some Turkish officials to accept, but there must be many people in Turkey who would see that as a defeat.  In a few cases some might even see it not just as a defeat but as a betrayal.

In the circumstances it is not surprising if some Turkish officials are busy reassuring the Turkish public – and one suspects in part themselves – that it is all really just part of some cunning plan to carve up Syria into “zones of influence” with Russia, preserving Turkey’s influence in Syria, whilst getting President Assad to stand down.

The fact that there is total silence about any of this from Moscow is the best possible reason for doubting that any of it is true.  Why anyway would the Russians, after the defeat of the Jihadis in Aleppo, agree to any of this?

It is actually most unlikely the Russians would agreed to any of these Turkish ideas, and the Turks must privately know they won’t.  Doing so would completely contradict longstanding Russian policy, which is that these are all issues the Syrians must decide for themselves in talks between them, and that they have nothing to do with Russia.

If the Russians consistently refused to change this policy under US pressure, why would they do it to please the Turks?

The only agreement the Russians are known to have made with the Turks is the one that was communicated by the Russians and the Turks to the UN Security Council on 29th December 2016.

That agreement makes no reference to Syria being carved up into “zones of influence: or into any sort of federal structure.  Nor does it say anything about President Assad standing down.

There are no grounds to speculate on any further Russian-Turkish agreements for Syria, including agreements about Syria’s division into “zones of influence” or its federalisation or about President Assad’s eventual removal, and it is a virtual certainty that no such agreements, informal or otherwise, exist.

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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New Satellite Images Reveal Aftermath Of Israeli Strikes On Syria; Putin Accepts Offer to Probe Downed Jet

The images reveal the extent of destruction in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport.

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Via Zerohedge


An Israeli satellite imaging company has released satellite photographs that reveal the extent of Monday night’s attack on multiple locations inside Syria.

ImageSat International released them as part of an intelligence report on a series of Israeli air strikes which lasted for over an hour and resulted in Syrian missile defense accidentally downing a Russian surveillance plane that had 15 personnel on board.

The images reveal the extent of destruction on one location struck early in attack in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport. On Tuesday Israel owned up to carrying out the attack in a rare admission.

Syrian official SANA news agency reported ten people injured in the attacks carried out of military targets near three major cities in Syria’s north.

The Times of Israel, which first reported the release of the new satellite images, underscores the rarity of Israeli strikes happening that far north and along the coast, dangerously near Russian positions:

The attack near Latakia was especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.

The Russian S-400 system was reportedly active during the attack, but it’s difficult to confirm or assess the extent to which Russian missiles responded during the strikes.

Three of the released satellite images show what’s described as an “ammunition warehouse” that appears to have been completely destroyed.

The IDF has stated their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” This statement came after the IDF expressed “sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but also said responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express regret over the incident while offering to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report — something which Putin agreed to.

According to Russia’s RT News, “Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event and the pre-mission information the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry condemned the “provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said Russia reserves “the right to an adequate response” while Putin has described the downing of the Il-20 recon plane as likely the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and downplayed the idea of a deliberate provocation, in contradiction of the initial statement issued by his own defense ministry.

Pro-government Syrians have reportedly expressed frustration this week that Russia hasn’t done more to respond militarily to Israeli aggression; however, it appears Putin may be sidestepping yet another trap as it’s looking increasingly likely that Israel’s aims are precisely geared toward provoking a response in order to allow its western allies to join a broader attack on Damascus that could result in regime change.

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“Transphobic” Swedish Professor May Lose Job After Noting Biological Differences Between Sexes

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded”

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Via Zerohedge


A university professor in Sweden is under investigation for “anti-feminism” and “transphobia” after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded” and that genders cannot be regarded as “social constructs alone,” reports Academic Rights Watch.

For his transgression, Germund Hesslow – a professor of neuroscience at Lund University – who holds dual PhDs in philosophy and neurophysiology, may lose his job – telling RT that a “full investigation” has been ordered, and that there “have been discussions about trying to stop the lecture or get rid of me, or have someone else give the lecture or not give the lecture at all.”

“If you answer such a question you are under severe time pressure, you have to be extremely brief — and I used wording which I think was completely innocuous, and that apparently the student didn’t,” Hesslow said.

Hesslow was ordered to attend a meeting by Christer Larsson, chairman of the program board for medical education, after a female student complained that Hesslow had a “personal anti-feminist agenda.” He was asked to distance himself from two specific comments; that gay women have a “male sexual orientation” and that the sexual orientation of transsexuals is “a matter of definition.”

The student’s complaint reads in part (translated):

I have also heard from senior lecturers that Germund Hesslow at the last lecture expressed himself transfobically. In response to a question of transexuallism, he said something like “sex change is a fly”. Secondly, it is outrageous because there may be students during the lecture who are themselves exposed to transfobin, but also because it may affect how later students in their professional lives meet transgender people. Transpersonals already have a high level of overrepresentation in suicide statistics and there are already major shortcomings in the treatment of transgender in care, should not it be countered? How does this kind of statement coincide with the university’s equal treatment plan? What has this statement given for consequences? What has been done for this to not be repeated? –Academic Rights Watch

After being admonished, Hesslow refused to distance himself from his comments, saying that he had “done enough” already and didn’t have to explain and defend his choice of words.

At some point, one must ask for a sense of proportion among those involved. If it were to become acceptable for students to record lectures in order to find compromising formulations and then involve faculty staff with meetings and long letters, we should let go of the medical education altogether,” Hesslow said in a written reply to Larsson.

He also rejected the accusation that he had a political agenda – stating that his only agenda was to let scientific factnot new social conventions, dictate how he teaches his courses.

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