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Following Turkey’s capture of Al-Bab, Erdogan ‘going to Moscow’

Turkish President Erdogan to meet Russian President Putin in Moscow for tough discussions about bilateral relations and the Syrian conflict following Turkish capture of Syrian town of Al-Bab.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Kremlin has confirmed that Turkish President Erdogan is travelling to Moscow on 9th and 10th March 2017 for a summit meeting with Russian President Putin and with other top officials of the Russian government.

The Turkish media in discussing news of the visit has said that the full range of Russian – Turkish relations will be discussed.  This will cover military and economic relations – doubtless including the mooted sale of advanced S-400 anti aircraft missiles by Russia to Turkey – and of course the conflict in Syria.

On the subject of sales of S-400 missiles to Turkey, given that Turkey remains a NATO country and that part of the S-400’s effectiveness is that the US knows little about it, I suspect the Russians will be very wary of selling it to Turkey less details of the system are compromised and leaked to Israel and the US.

Apart from economic relations, the focus of the talks between Putin and Erdogan will be Syria.

The two countries have jointly agreed a ceasefire between the Syrian army and the Jihadi groups that Turkey is backing, and for the greater part this has been holding.  Turkey is also a co-sponsor along with Russia of the Astana peace conference.

Discussions between the Russian and Turkish Presidents about Syria will however be far more easy.

Given Turkey’s sustained effort over the past six years to overthrow the Syrian government, it is understandable that the negotiated capture by the Turkish army of Al-Bab from ISIS is causing concern, though I personally strongly doubt that the people of Al-Bab would prefer rule by ISIS to rule by the Turkish army.

However it is worth remembering that the Russian air force actually helped the Turkish army take Al-Bab by providing air to ground support to the Turkish troops there, making the conclusion unavoidable that the Turkish army took Al-Bab with Russia’s agreement.

There is therefore clearly a measure of cooperation between the Russians and the Turks in Syria at the moment, though it is likely that the degree of agreement between them is limited, and it is easy to see how things could quickly unravel.

As to the reasons behind the cooperation between the Russians and the Turks in Syria, it is not difficult to see what they are.

For the Russians the key point is that they need the help of the Turks to keep both the ceasefire and the talks in Astana going.

The motivating factor here is the limited size of the Syrian army.  I have written about this often, most recently on 28th January 2017

Events since the Syrian army’s capture of eastern Aleppo highlight its continuing problems.

The Syrian army has been obliged to send reinforcements to repel ISIS offensives in Deir Ezzor and Palmyra regions, and to repel an attempt by ISIS to cut the Khanasser road, which connects Aleppo to the heartland areas under the Syrian government’s control in central and southern Syria.

At the same time the Syrian army has to find troops to protect Aleppo itself, whilst carrying out an advance towards the strategic ISIS held town of Al-Bab to the north of Aleppo.

The Syrian army also needs to contain a large and dangerous concentration of Al-Qaeda fighters in northern Hama province, whilst maintaining pressure on the Al-Qaeda’s main bastion, which is Idlib province.

Lastly, it has been forced to commit troops to clearing the countryside around Damascus, including taking control of Wadi Barada in order to restore the water supply to Damascus, whilst maintaining security in Damascus itself and in the various town and cities under the government’s control.

So many operations on so many widely dispersed fronts stretches the Syrian army’s limited resources, and puts intense strain on its soldiers, even despite the fact that they must now feel that they have the momentum of victory behind them.

Quite simply the Syrian army cannot be overwhelmingly strong everywhere at the same time, which is why it occasionally has to retreat, and why its advances – unlike those of its opponents when they occur – have to be incremental.

This point was recently made by – of all people -the director of Russia’s Hermitage Museum (whose museum is responsible for the restoration of Palmyra), who has explained ISIS’s recapture of Palmyra by the delay in launching the offensive to capture eastern Aleppo, which meant that there were insufficient numbers of high quality Syrian troops available in and around Palmyra to defend the town.  This is of course essentially the same point the Russian military has also made.

Criticisms of the various ceasefires in Syria that the Russians broker (including the present one), which sometimes explain them in terms of divisions within the Russian government, in my opinion fail to accord sufficient weight to this factor.

Precisely because the Syrian army’s resources are both limited and so highly extended, it is the Syrian army not its opponents which benefits most from the ceasefires, which give it the time and space it needs to rest and resupply, and to concentrate its otherwise over-stretched forces in those places where fighting continues to take place.

The Syrian war is a gruelling war of attrition.  The Syrian army’s limited resources mean it cannot be otherwise.  Ceasefires are an inseparable part of the sort of war the Syrian army has to fight.  They key point is that it is winning it.

Since the Syrian army does not have enough troops to be strong everywhere, it needs a ceasefire against the Turkish backed groups so that it can take the offensive against its two most dangerous enemies: Al-Qaeda in the west of Syria, and ISIS in the east.  That is the military reality which lies behind the Russians’ agreement of the ceasefire and the Astana talks with Erdogan and Turkey and why, since it is the Turks who are in a position to decide whether there is a ceasefire or not, the Russians have to work with the Turks and acquiesced in the Turkish capture of Al-Bab.

The Russians definitely did not give Erdogan the green light back in August to launch Operation Euphrates Shield and send his troops into Syria.  On the contrary they were taken badly by surprise when Erdogan did it.  However given the reality of the need to obtain Turkish support to preserve the ceasefire, the Russians have been obliged to hide their anger and cooperate with the Turks in Syria, though only to a limited degree, and with no formal statement of support from them for Operation Euphrates Shield or for the Turks being there.

On the subject of Al-Bab, given the extent to which President Erdogan’s personal prestige had become bound up with the Turkish army’s capture of the town, the Russians – given their need to work with Erdogan in Syria in order to preserve the ceasefire there – had no option but to help Erdogan take Al-Bab.

A Syrian army attempt to take Al-Bab would have risked a direct clash with the Turkish army, whilst the only other option would have been the intolerable one of leaving Al-Bab under ISIS control.

Either of these options would moreover have risked causing the whole edifice of Russian – Turkish cooperation in Syria to unravel, with Erdogan in either case feeling that the Russians were working against him.  It is easy to see how in that case the ceasefire might have collapsed, causing the fighting between the Syrian army and the Turkish backed Jihadi groups to resume, multiplying the Syrian army’s problems.

If the realities on the ground in Syria have obliged the Russians to work with Erdogan and to acquiesce in the Turkish capture of Al-Bab, they will nonetheless almost certainly seek to use the talks in Moscow to lay down red lines, warning Erdogan of how far they are prepared to allow him to go.  Undoubtedly they will rule out any further Turkish advance towards Aleppo, and quite possibly they will warn Erdogan against any Turkish advance on Raqqa, which might cause a clash with the Kurds.

There are objectively good reasons why President Erdogan might accept these red lines.  My colleague Adam Garrie has described the surrender of Al-Bab to the Turkish army by ISIS as the replacement of “a comparatively weak occupational force by one of the strongest forces in the world”.

I question whether the Turkish army really is “one of the strongest forces in the world”.  Though the Turkish military is numerically big and is indeed – as Adam Garrie correctly says – on paper the second biggest in NATO, the Turkish army has been repeated bested by ISIS in a string of battles in and around Al-Bab.  To some extent this may reflect the disorganisation of the Turkish army by the mass purge of Turkish officers which has been underway since the attempted coup in July.  However it is mainly the product of President Erdogan’s unwillingness to embrace the huge political risks of sending large numbers of conscript Turkish infantry into Syria.

The result is that the Turkish forces in Syria are thin on the ground and vulnerable to attack either by ISIS or by the well-organised local Kurdish militia the YPG.

So far US and Russian diplomacy has prevented a full-scale clash between the Turkish military in Syria and the YPG.  However given that the two consider each other mortal enemies, it is not difficult to see how that could happen, in which case Erdogan’s and Turkey’s problems in Syria could multiply.

Operation Euphrates Shield is in fact a good example of President Erdogan’s repeated mistakes in diplomacy.  In August, in the aftermath of the coup attempt and with efforts to patch up relations with Moscow underway, he saw an opening and used it to steal a march on the Russians by launching Operation Euphrates Shield by sending his troops into Syria.  However as always he did not calculate the risks fully, and over the last weeks has looked dangerously close to seeing his troops in Syria becoming bogged down whilst suffering heavy losses.  In order to avoid this debacle he first had to call on the Russians for help, and then was finally forced to strike a deal with ISIS to get them to withdraw from Al-Bab.

Having now taken Al-Bab – thereby preserving his prestige – the sensible thing for President Erdogan to do is to quit whilst he is ahead, and to leverage such gains as he has achieved through Operation Euphrates Shield to improve his position in the talks about Syria’s future in Astana.  If so then he should have no difficulty accepting Moscow’s red lines.

The problem with President Erdogan is that he is absolutely not the sort of person who can be relied upon to do what is sensible.  There is unfortunately a very real risk that having taken Al-Bab the “success” will go to his head and – forgetting how close he came to disaster there – he will instead forge ahead and gamble further.  Already there is delusional talk of setting up a Turkish backed ‘protectorate’ in northern Syria, a venture which over time can only involve Turkey in more conflict on the ground in Syria with the Syrian government, the Kurds, Iran and Russia, which Turkey cannot afford, and which will only drain away its resources.

President Putin and the Russians will no doubt try to explain all this to President Erdogan when he comes to Moscow in March.

There have been moments over the last year when President Erdogan has seemed to show glimmers of understanding of this and of the limitations that ought to constrain Turkey’s actions.  However he has never seemed able to do this for long and he seems temperamentally unable to put his overweening ambitions for himself and for Turkey behind him.  The success or failure of the talks in Moscow will ultimately depend on whether and if so to what extent he is able to let calculations of self-interest rule his emotions, and unfortunately no-one who has followed Erdogan’s career carefully would put any money on that.

As for the Russians, it must be frustrating for them to have to deal in Erdogan with a partner who is so volatile that he cannot be trusted.  It is a reflection both of the extent of Russia’s commitment to Syria and of the difficulty of dealing with President Erdogan that they are having to spend so much time doing so.

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Is this man the puppet master of Ukraine’s new president or an overhyped bogeyman?

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

RT

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Via RT…


It doesn’t actually matter if Ukrainian-Israeli billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is the real power behind Volodymyr Zelensky – the president elect has to get rid of the oligarch if he is to make a break with the country’s corrupt past.

The plots, deceits and conflicts of interest in Ukrainian politics are so transparent and hyperbolic, that to say that novice politician Zelensky was a protégé of his long-time employer was not something that required months of local investigative journalism – it was just out there.

Zelensky’s comedy troupe has been on Kolomoisky’s top-rated channel for the past eight years, and his media asset spent every possible resource promoting the contender against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a personal enemy of the tycoon, who hasn’t even risked entering Ukraine in the past months.

Similarly, the millions and the nous needed to run a presidential campaign in a country of nearly 50 million people had to come from somewhere, and Kolomoisky’s lieutenants were said to be in all key posts. The two issued half-hearted denials that one was a frontman for the other, insisting that they were business partners with a cordial working relationship, but voters had to take their word for it.

Now that the supposed scheme has paid off with Zelensky’s spectacular victory in Sunday’s run-off, Ukrainian voters are asking: what does Kolomoisky want now, and will he be allowed to run the show?

‘One-of-a-kind chancer’

Born in 1963, in a family of two Jewish engineers, Kolomoisky is the type of businessman that was once the staple of the post-Soviet public sphere, but represents a dying breed.

That is, he is not an entrepreneur in the established Western sense at all – he did not go from a Soviet bloc apartment to Lake Geneva villas by inventing a new product, or even setting up an efficient business structure in an existing field.

Rather he is an opportunist who got wealthy by skilfully reading trends as the Soviet economy opened up – selling Western-made computers in the late 1980s – and later when independent Ukraine transitioned to a market economy and Kolomoisky managed to get his hands on a large amount of privatisation vouchers that put many of the juiciest local metals and energy concerns into his hands, which he then modernised.

What he possesses is a chutzpah and unscrupulousness that is rare even among his peers. Vladimir Putin once called him a “one-of-a-kind chancer” who managed to “swindle [Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich himself.” In the perma-chaos of Ukrainian law and politics, where all moves are always on the table, his tactical acumen has got him ahead.

Kolomoisky’s lifeblood is connections and power rather than any pure profit on the balance sheet, though no one actually knows how that would read, as the Privat Group he part-owns is reported to own over 100 businesses in dozens of Ukrainian spheres through a complex network of offshore companies and obscure intermediaries (“There is no Privat Group, it is a media confection,” the oligarch himself says, straight-faced.)

Unsurprisingly, he has been dabbling in politics for decades, particularly following the first Orange Revolution in 2004. Though the vehicles for his support have not been noted for a particular ideological consistency – in reportedly backing Viktor Yushchenko, then Yulia Tymoshenko, he was merely putting his millions on what he thought would be a winning horse.

Grasp exceeds reach

But at some point in the post-Maidan euphoria, Kolomoisky’s narcissism got the better of him, and he accepted a post as the governor of his home region of Dnepropetrovsk, in 2014.

The qualities that might have made him a tolerable rogue on TV, began to grate in a more official role. From his penchant for using the political arena to settle his business disputes, to creating his own paramilitary force by sponsoring anti-Russian battalions out of his own pocket, to his somewhat charmless habit of grilling and threatening to put in prison those less powerful than him in fits of pique (“You wait for me out here like a wife for a cheating husband,” begins a viral expletive-strewn rant against an overwhelmed Radio Free Europe reporter).

There is a temptation here for a comparison with a Donald Trump given a developing country to play with, but for all of the shenanigans, his ideological views have always been relatively straightforward. Despite his Russia-loathing patriotism, not even his fans know what Kolomoisky stands for.

The oligarch fell out with fellow billionaire Poroshenko in early 2015, following a battle over the control of a large oil transport company between the state and the governor. The following year, his Privat Bank, which at one point handled one in four financial transactions in the country was nationalized, though the government said that Kolomoisky had turned it into a mere shell by giving $5 billion of its savings to Privat Group companies.

Other significant assets were seized, the government took to London to launch a case against his international companies, and though never banished, Kolomoisky himself decided it would be safer if he spent as long as necessary jetting between his adopted homes in Switzerland and Tel Aviv, with the occasional trip to London for the foreseeable future.

But the adventurer falls – and rises again. The London case has been dropped due to lack of jurisdiction, and only last week a ruling came shockingly overturning the three-year-old nationalization of Privat Bank.

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

Own man

Zelensky must disabuse him of that notion.

It doesn’t matter that they are friends. Or what handshake agreements they made beforehand. Or that he travelled to Geneva and Tel-Aviv 13 times in the past two years. Or what kompromat Kolomoisky may or may not have on him. It doesn’t matter that his head of security is the man who, for years, guarded the oligarch, and that he may quite genuinely fear for his own safety (it’s not like nothing bad has ever happened to Ukrainian presidents).

Volodymyr Zelensky is now the leader of a large country, with the backing of 13.5 million voters. It is to them that he promised a break with past bribery, graft and cronyism. Even by tolerating one man – and one who makes Poroshenko look wholesome – next to him, he discredits all of that. He will have the support of the people if he pits himself against the puppet master – no one would have elected Kolomoisky in his stead.

Whether the oligarch is told to stay away, whether Ukraine enables the financial fraud investigation into him that has been opened by the FBI, or if he is just treated to the letter of the law, all will be good enough. This is the first and main test, and millions who were prepared to accept the legal fiction of the independent candidate two months ago, will now want to see reality to match. Zelensky’s TV president protagonist in Servant of the People – also broadcast by Kolomoisky’s channel, obviously, would never have compromised like that.

What hinges on this is not just the fate of Zelensky’s presidency, but the chance for Ukraine to restore battered faith in its democracy shaken by a succession of compromised failures at the helm.

Igor Ogorodnev

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Roger Waters – The People’s Champion for Freedom

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there.

Richard Galustian

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Submitted by Richard Galustian 

Roger Waters is one of Britain’s most successful and talented musicians and composers but more importantly is an outstanding champion for freedom in the world, beyond compare to any other artist turned political activist.

By way of background, he co-founded the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965.

A landmark turning point of his political activism occurred in 1990, when Waters staged probably the largest rock concert in history, ‘The Wall – Live in Berlin’, with an attendance of nearly half a million people.

In more recent years Waters famously narrated the 2016 documentary ‘The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States’ about the insidious influence of Zionist Israel to shape American public opinion.

Waters has been an outspoken critic of America’s Neocons and particularly Donald Trump and his policies.

In 2017, Waters condemned Trump’s plan to build a wall separating the United States and Mexico, saying that his band’s iconic famous song, ‘The Wall’ is as he put it “very relevant now with Mr. Trump and all of this talk of building walls and creating as much enmity as possible between races and religions.”

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there, or any place else for that matter.

Here below is a must see recent Roger Waters interview, via satellite from New York, where he speaks brilliantly, succinctly and honestly, unlike no other celebrity, about FREEDOM and the related issues of the day.

The only other artist turned activist, but purely for human rights reasons, as she is apolitical, is the incredible Carla Ortiz.

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ISIS Says Behind Sri Lanka Bombings; Was ‘Retaliation’ For New Zealand Mosque Massacre

ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. 

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Via Zerohedge…


Shortly after the death toll from Sunday’s Easter bombings in Sri Lanka climbed above the 300 mark, ISIS validated the Sri Lankan government’s suspicions that a domestic jihadi organization had help from an international terror network while planning the bombings were validated when ISIS took credit for the attacks.

The claim was made via a report from ISIS’s Amaq news agency. Though the group has lost almost all of the territory that was once part of its transnational caliphate, ISIS now boasts cells across the Muslim world, including in North Africa and elsewhere. Before ISIS took credit for the attack, a Sri Lankan official revealed that Sunday’s attacks were intended as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims during last month’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

However, the Sri Lankan government didn’t offer any evidence for that claim, or the claim that Sunday’s attacks were planned by two Islamic groups (though that now appears to have been substantiated by ISIS’s claim of responsibility). The group is believed to have worked with the National Tawheed Jamaath, according to the NYT.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks had increased to 40 from 24 as of Tuesday. The government had declared a national emergency that allowed it sweeping powers to interrogate and detain suspects.

On Monday, the FBI pledged to send agents to Sri Lanka and provide laboratory support for the investigation.

As the death toll in Sri Lanka climbs, the attack is cementing its position as the deadliest terror attack in the region.

  • 321 (as of now): Sri Lanka bombings, 2019
  • 257 Mumbai attacks, 1993
  • 189 Mumbai train blasts, 2006 166 Mumbai attacks, 2008
  • 151 APS/Peshawar school attack, 2014
  • 149 Mastung/Balochistan election rally attack, 2018

Meanwhile, funeral services for some of the bombing victims began on Tuesday.

Even before ISIS took credit for the attack, analysts told the Washington Post that its unprecedented violence suggested that a well-financed international organization was likely involved.

The bombings on Sunday, however, came with little precedent. Sri Lanka may have endured a ghastly civil war and suicide bombings in the past – some credit the Tamil Tigers with pioneering the tactic – but nothing of this scale. Analysts were stunned by the apparent level of coordination behind the strikes, which occurred around the same time on both sides of the country, and suggested the attacks carried the hallmarks of a more international plot.

“Sri Lanka has never seen this sort of attack – coordinated, multiple, high-casualty – ever before, even with the Tamil Tigers during the course of a brutal civil war,” Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Financial Times. “I’m not really convinced this is a Sri Lankan thing. I think the dynamics are global, not driven by some indigenous debate. It seems to me to be a different kind of ballgame.”

Hinting at possible ISIS involvement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Monday press conference that “radical Islamic terror” remained a threat even after ISIS’s defeats in Syria.

Of course, ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. The extremist group said the attacks were targeting Christians and “coalition countries” and were carried out by fighters from its organization.

Speculation that the government had advanced warning of the attacks, but failed to act amid a power struggle between the country’s president and prime minister, unnerved citizens and contributed to a brewing backlash. Following the bombings, schools and mass had been canceled until at least Monday, with masses called off “until further notice.”

 

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