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Here’s what Russia has accomplished in Syria over the last two years

Russia’s agreement to assist its Syrian ally is credited with turning the wide of the Syrian conflict against terrorists.

The Duran

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Saturday marks the second anniversary of the anti-terror operation carried out by the Russian Armed Forces in Syria at request of Damascus.

The Syrian conflict that had flared up in March 2011 continues to this day. Several hundred illegal paramilitary units are fighting against government forces and among themselves. The Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fatah al Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front) terrorist groups, both banned in a number of countries, including in Russia, are among the most serious enemies of the Syrian government forces. The so-called moderate Syrian opposition is yet another party to the conflict. During the beginning of the conflict, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was one of the moderate opposition’s most combat effective parts. The Kurds, who are also one of the most combat-ready warring parties, have initially sided with the FSA but later decided to carry out their own operations.

On September 30, 2015, then-Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office Sergei Ivanov said that Syrian President Bashar Assad had called on Moscow to provide military assistance. Russian President Vladimir Putin requested the Federation Council’s consent for deploying Russian military contingent abroad. The lawmakers had unanimously supported the president’s request.

That same day, acting in accordance with Putin’s decision aircraft of Russia’s Aerospace Forces launched high-precision strikes against IS ground targets in Syria. In an effort to coordinate their anti-terror activities, Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria established an information center in Baghdad. Its experts started gathering, processing, summarizing and analyzing data on the regional situation. They also moved to quickly provide this data to the general staffs of the countries participating in the center’s activities.

A battle group of Russia’s Aerospace Forces featuring over 50 planes and helicopters began to carry out combat missions. This group consisted of Su-24M and Su-34 fighter-bombers, Tu-22M3 bombers, Su-25SM strike aircraft, Su-30SM and Su-35S fighters, Mi-24 and Mi-8AMTSH helicopters. The Russian side also began to use reconnaissance satellites and drones in the anti-terror struggle.

Russian servicemen involved in the aerial operation are stationed at the Hmeimim air base near Latakia. The air base receives all its logistic supplies from Russia. A reinforced Marine tactical battalion group is involved in guarding and defending the base. The Russian Navy’s Mediterranean task force defends the base against possible air strikes and also ensures the delivery of required supplies.

During the first month of the Syrian operation, the Russian aircraft conducted 1,391 combat missions and destroyed 249 command and communications centers, 51 terrorist training camps, 35 plants and workshops, 131 ammunition and fuel depots, 371 strongpoints and fortified areas, 786 field camps and bases. On October 7, 2015, Russian warships joined the anti-terror operation for the first time and launched 26 Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea. The missiles destroyed 11 targets of the terrorists.

On November 17, Russia used its strategic bombers for the first time during the aerial operation. Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M3 bombers carried out a large-scale strike against IS positions in the Middle Eastern state. This day will go down in history because Russia’s Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers have never been used in combat before. They received their baptism of fire in the Syrian skies.

On November 20, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Aerospace Force’s group had been increased up to 69 aircraft. At that moment, Russia’s naval group participating in the anti-terror operation comprised of 10 warships, including six ones in the Mediterranean Sea.

On November 24, a Turkish F-16 aircraft downed a Russian Su-24 over the Syrian territory. After that incident, Putin ordered to equip the Russian air base in Syria with S-400 air defense systems.

On December 8, Russia’s submerged Kilo-class Rostov-on-Don submarine launched its Kalibr cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea for the first time and hit all designated targets.

Initially, Russian warplanes hit enemy command centers, headquarters, communications facilities, weapons, ammunition and petroleum, fuel depots, tiny plants manufacturing improvised explosive devices and car bombs for IS militants.

Eventually, the Russian side focused on the efforts to deprive radical Islamists of their sources of revenue. They hit IS-controlled oil rigs, refineries and oil transportation facilities. Russian aircraft also started flying search-and-destroy missions against fuel trucks.

Due to Russian airstrikes, the militants started retreating and lost most of their frontline weapons and equipment. According to reconnaissance and intelligence reports, terrorists changed their tactics, became more cautious and started resorting to camouflage more often.

The Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation forced the opposition to enter into peace talks with Damascus in order to settle the crisis by political means.

The intra-Syrian talks began on January 29, 2016 in Geneva in line with the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2254.

On February 22, Russia and the United States announced a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian government forces and the opposition’s paramilitary units.

The Syrian ceasefire regime officially entered into force in the early hours of February 27. It did not involve IS and the Nusra Front as well as other groups listed as terrorist organizations by the UNSC.

The activities of the Russian Aerospace Forces were significantly curtailed after the ceasefire agreement had been reached.

On March 14, Putin ordered Shoigu to start withdrawing the Russian air group from Syria starting from March 15.

From September 2015 through March 2016, Russian aircraft carried out over 9,000 sorties, killed thousands of militants and destroyed 209 oil refineries and processing facilities. The Russian airstrikes helped the troops loyal to Damascus to liberate about 400 settlements and over 10,000 square kilometers (some 3,800 square miles) of the country’s territory.

While withdrawing the group from Syria, Russia did not renounce its obligations to supply the Syrian government with weapons and military equipment and to train military experts. The Hmeimim air base and the Russian Navy’s logistics support facility in Tartus continued their operations.

On December 29, Putin announced the signing of three important documents. The first document stipulated a ceasefire between the Syrian government and the armed opposition in Syria. The second document listed various measures to monitor the ceasefire regime. And the third one noted a readiness to launch talks on the Syrian peace settlement.

It became possible to sign these documents after two-month Turkish-mediated talks between the Russian Defense Ministry, leaders of the moderate Syrian opposition groups and Damascus.

A total of seven groups, which were the core of the Syrian armed opposition including some 60,000 militants, signed ceasefire agreements.

The ceasefire regime entered into force across the Syrian territory at midnight December 30, with Russia, Turkey and Iran acting as its guarantors.

On January 18, 2017, Russia and Syria signed an agreement on expanding and upgrading the Russian naval maintenance facility in Tartus, as well as a protocol setting forth terms for the deployment of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ aircraft in Syria. The agreement on expanding and upgrading the Tartus facility has duration of 49 years and automatically extends for subsequent 25-year periods. Under the document, Tartus can simultaneously accommodate 11 Russian warships, including nuclear-powered vessels, provided that nuclear and environmental safety standards are complied with.

From September 2015 through September 2017, the Russian Aerospace Force flew over 30,000 combat missions, launched over 92,000 air strikes and hit over 96,000 terrorist facilities. The Russian forces destroyed 8,332 command centers, 17,194 strongpoints, 53,707 militant groups, 970 training camps, 6,769 weapons and ammunition warehouses, 212 oil deposits, 184 refineries, 132 fuel pumping stations and fuel truck convoys and 9,328 other facilities.

As of September 2017, IS militants have been expelled from over 87 percent of Syria’s territory.

The activities of the International Mine Action Center of the Russian Armed Forces had resulted in demining of 60,384 explosive devices on the territory of 5,295 hectares (over 13,000 acres), including in Palmira, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor. Russian specialists have already prepared 586 Syrian sappers and 102 more Syrians are currently being trained by the center.

Russian forces have seriously damaged the terrorists’ control system and logistics support infrastructure. The main weapons and ammunition supply routes are no longer used. Terrorist organizations have lost their profit from illegal oil trade.

The military are currently fighting terrorists in eastern and central Syria. In early September, government forces and their allies managed to lift the three-year siege around the city of Deir ez-Zor. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said that this operation was the most important victory over extremists in Syria during the entire war.

Air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles with a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (over 930 miles) are also used by the Russian Armed Forces to destroy the most important terrorist facilities. They are launched by warships, submarines, long-range and strategic bombers.

Russian special operations units play an important role in the conducted anti-terror operations. They eliminate terrorist leaders, destroy vital facilities of the militants and adjust the airstrikes of the Russian aircraft.

Russian military advisers also provide significant support to the Syrian army’s high command being actively involved in planning military operations, training and preparing Syrian servicemen.

An integrated air defense system has been established in Syria. Moscow and Damascus have ensured the interoperability of their airspace reconnaissance systems. Syrian radars relay all air situation data to the Russian military group’s command centers.

Air defense elements near the Hmeimim air base include a radio-technical battalion, one battery of Pantsir-S missile air defense systems and S-400 systems. Russian air defense systems can hit all aerial targets up to 400 kilometers away and at altitude of up to 35 kilometers.

The Syrian operation allowed the Russian military to train simultaneous air and naval strikes that had confirmed the Russian Navy’s ability to hit the enemy on any scale.

Since the beginning of the operation, Russia has tested over 200 weapon systems that have proved their high effectiveness. The Russian servicemen focused on new weapons, in order to quickly detect and eliminate their drawbacks.

In order to exchange the information about the situation in air and to rule out the incidents involving military aircraft, the command of the Russian group started cooperating with the US operational center in Jordan, the Qatar-based center of joint US air operations, the Turkish Air Force’s control center and the Israeli command center.

A troop control system, deployed in Syria, helps maintaining close cooperation between the Russian Aerospace Forces, government forces, the Republican Guard, self-defense units and militias.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation continues to operate, with 2,237 settlements joining the nationwide peace process through its efforts.

Talks are underway to involve the armed opposition’s units in the Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Homs and Quneitra governorates in the ceasefire regime.

Syrian peace settlement talks are held in the two cities, namely Geneva and Astana.

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European Court of Justice rules Britain free to revoke Brexit unilaterally

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Britain can reverse Article 50.

RT

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The UK is free to unilaterally revoke a notification to depart from the EU, the European Court has ruled. The judicial body said this could be done without changing the terms of London’s membership in the bloc.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) opined in a document issued on Monday that Britain can reverse Article 50, which stipulates the way a member state leaves the bloc. The potentially important ruling comes only one day before the House of Commons votes on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU.

“When a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that Member State is free to revoke unilaterally that notification,” the court’s decision reads.

By doing so, the respective state “reflects a sovereign decision to retain its status as a Member State of the European Union.”

That said, this possibility remains in place “as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that Member State has not entered into force.” Another condition is: “If no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU.”

The case was opened when a cross-party group of British politicians asked the court whether an EU member such as the UK can decide on its own to revoke the withdrawal process. It included Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and David Martin, Scottish MPs Joanna Cherry Alyn Smith, along with Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer.

They argued that unilateral revocation is possible and believe it could provide an opening to an alternative to Brexit, namely holding another popular vote to allow the UK to remain in the EU.

“If the UK chooses to change their minds on Brexit, then revoking Article 50 is an option and the European side should make every effort to welcome the UK back with open arms,” Smith, the SNP member, was quoted by Reuters.

However, May’s environment minister, Michael Gove, a staunch Brexit supporter, denounced the ECJ ruling, insisting the cabinet will not reverse its decision to leave. “We will leave on March 29, [2019]” he said, referring to the date set out in the UK-EU Brexit deal.

In the wake of the landmark vote on the Brexit deal, a group of senior ministers threatened to step down en masse if May does not try to negotiate a better deal in Brussels, according to the Telegraph. The ministers demanded that an alternative deal does not leave the UK trapped within the EU customs union indefinitely.

On Sunday, Will Quince resigned as parliamentary private secretary in the Ministry of Defense, saying in a Telegraph editorial that “I do not want to be explaining to my constituents why Brexit is still not over and we are still obeying EU rules in the early 2020s or beyond.”

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Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


On November 25, two artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, the Berdiansk and Nikopol, one tugboat, the Yany Kapu, as well as 24 crew members of the Ukrainian Navy, including two SBU counterintelligence officers, were detained by Russian border forces. In the incident, the Russian Federation employed Sobol-class patrol boats Izumrud and Don, as  well as two Ka-52, two Su-25 and one Su-30 aircraft.

Ukraine’s provocation follows the advice of several American think-tanks like the Atlantic Council, which have been calling for NATO involvement in the Sea of Azov for months. The area is strategically important for Moscow, which views its southern borders, above all the Sea of Azov, as a potential flash point for conflict due to the Kiev’s NATO-backed provocations.

To deter such adventurism, Moscow has deployed to the Kerch Strait and the surrounding coastal area S-400 batteries, modernized S-300s, anti-ship Bal missile systems, as well as numerous electronic-warfare systems, not to mention the Russian assets and personnel arrayed in the military districts abutting Ukraine. Such provocations, egged on by NATO and American policy makers, are meant to provide a pretext for further sanctions against Moscow and further sabotage Russia’s relations with European countries like Germany, France and Italy, as well as, quite naturally, to frustrate any personal interaction between Trump and Putin.

This last objective seems to have been achieved, with the planned meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 in Buenos Aires being cancelled. As to the the other objectives, they seem to have failed miserably, with Berlin, Paris and Rome showing no intention of imposing additional sanctions against Russia, recognizing the Ukrainian provocation fow what it is. The intention to further isolate Moscow by the neocons, neoliberals and most of the Anglo-Saxon establishment seems to have failed, demonstrated in Buenos Aires with the meeting between the BRICS countries on the sidelines and the bilateral meetings between Putin and Merkel.

On November 30, following almost two-and-a-half months of silence, the Israeli air force bombed Syria with three waves of cruise missiles. The first and second waves were repulsed over southern Syria, and the third, composed of surface-to-surface missiles, were also downed. At the same time, a loud explosion was heard in al-Kiswah, resulting in the blackout of Israeli positions in the area.

The Israeli attack was fully repulsed, with possibly two IDF drones being downed as well. This effectiveness of Syria’s air defenses corresponds with Russia’s integration of Syria’s air defenses with its own systems, manifestly improving the Syrians’ kill ratios even without employing the new S-300 systems delivered to Damascus, let alone Russia’s own S-400s. The Pantsirs and S-200s are enough for the moment, confirming my hypothesis more than two months ago that the modernized S-300 in the hands of the Syrian army is a potentially lethal weapon even for the F-35, forbidding the Israelis from employing their F-35s.

With the failed Israeli attack testifying to effectiveness of Russian air-defense measures recently deployed to the country, even the United States is finding it difficult to operate in the country. As the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War confirms:

“Russia has finished an advanced anti-access/area denial (A2AD) network in Syria that combines its own air defense and electronic warfare systems with modernized equipment. Russia can use these capabilities to mount the long-term strategic challenge of the US and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, significantly widen the geographic reach of Russia’s air defense network. Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria. The US and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East amidst any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.”

The final blow in a decidedly negative week for Washington’s ambitions came in Buenos Aires during the G20, where Xi Jinping was clearly the most awaited guest, bringing in his wake investments and opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefit, as opposed to Washington’s sanctions and tariffs for its own benefit to the detriment of others. The key event of the summit was the dinner between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump that signalled Washington’s defeat in the trade war with Beijing. Donald Trump fired the first shot of the economic war, only to succumb just 12 months later with GM closing five plants and leaving 14,000 unemployed at home as Trump tweeted about his economic achievements.

Trump was forced to suspend any new tariffs for a period of ninety days, with his Chinese counterpart intent on demonstrating how an economic war between the two greatest commercial powers had always been a pointless propagandistic exercise. Trump’s backtracking highlights Washington’s vulnerability to de-dollarization, the Achilles’ heel of US hegemony.

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn. The struggle between the Western elites seems to be reaching a boil, with Frau Merkel ever more isolated and seeing her 14-year political dominance as chancellor petering out. Macron seems to be vying for the honor of being the most unpopular French leader in history, provoking violent protests that have lasted now for weeks, involving every sector of the population. Macron will probably be able to survive this political storm, but his political future looks dire.

The neocons/neoliberals have played one of the last cards available to them using the Ukrainian provocation, with Kiev only useful as the West’s cannon fodder against Russia. In Syria, with the conflict coming to a close and Turkey only able to look on even as it maintains a strong foothold in Idlib, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States are similarly unable to affect the course of the conflict. The latest Israeli aggression proved to be a humiliation for Tel Aviv and may have signalled a clear, possibly definitive warning from Moscow, Tehran and Damascus to all the forces in the region. The message seems to be that there is no longer any possibility of changing the course of the conflict in Syria, and every provocation from here on will be decisively slapped down. Idlib is going to be liberated and America’s illegal presence in the north of Syria will have to be dealt with at the right time.

Ukraine’s provocation has only strengthened Russia’s military footprint in Crimea and reinforced Russia’s sovereign control over the region. Israel’s recent failure in Syria only highlights how the various interventions of the US, the UK, France and Turkey over the years have only obliged the imposition of an almost unparalleled A2AD space that severely limits the range of options available to Damascus’s opponents.

The G20 also served to confirm Washington’s economic diminution commensurate with its military one in the face of an encroaching multipolar environment. The constant attempts to delegitimize the Trump administration by America’s elites, also declared an enemy by the European establishment, creates a picture of confusion in the West that benefits capitals like New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran who offer instead stability, cooperation and dialogue.

As stated in previous articles, the confusion reigning amongst the Western elites only accelerates the transition to a multipolar world, progressively eroding the military and economic power of the US.

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Is Silicon Valley Morphing Into The Morality Police?

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

The Duran

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Authored by Adrian Cohen via Creators.com:


Silicon Valley used to be technology companies. But it has become the “morality police,” controlling free speech on its platforms.

What could go wrong?

In a speech Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Hate tries to make its headquarters in the digital world. At Apple, we believe that technology needs to have a clear point of view on this challenge. There is no time to get tied up in knots. That’s why we only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence: You have no place on our platforms.”

Here’s the goliath problem:

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

Will Christians who don’t support abortion rights or having their tax dollars go toward Planned Parenthood be considered purveyors of hate for denying women the right to choose? Will millions of Americans who support legal immigration, as opposed to illegal immigration, be labeled xenophobes or racists and be banned from the digital world?

Yes and yes. How do we know? It’s already happening, as scores of conservatives nationwide are being shadow banned and/or censored on social media, YouTube, Google and beyond.

Their crime?

Running afoul of leftist Silicon Valley executives who demand conformity of thought and simply won’t tolerate any viewpoint that strays from their rigid political orthodoxy.

For context, consider that in oppressive Islamist regimes throughout the Middle East, the “morality police” take it upon themselves to judge women’s appearance, and if a woman doesn’t conform with their mandatory and highly restrictive dress code — e.g., wearing an identity-cloaking burqa — she could be publicly shamed, arrested or even stoned in the town square.

In modern-day America, powerful technology companies are actively taking the role of the de facto morality police — not when it comes to dress but when it comes to speech — affecting millions. Yes, to date, those affected are not getting stoned, but they are being blocked in the digital town square, where billions around the globe do their business, cultivate their livelihoods, connect with others and get news.

That is a powerful cudgel to levy against individuals and groups of people. Wouldn’t you say?

Right now, unelected tech billionaires living in a bubble in Palo Alto — when they’re not flying private to cushy climate summits in Davos — are deciding who gets to enjoy the freedom of speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and who does not based on whether they agree with people’s political views and opinions or not.

You see how dangerous this can get — real fast — as partisan liberal elites running Twitter, Facebook, Google (including YouTube), Apple and the like are now dictating to Americans what they can and cannot say online.

In communist regimes, these types of folks are known as central planners.

The election of Donald Trump was supposed to safeguard our freedoms, especially regarding speech — a foundational pillar of a democracy. It’s disappointing that hasn’t happened, as the censorship of conservative thought online has gotten so extreme and out of control many are simply logging off for good.

A failure to address this mammoth issue could cost Trump in 2020. If his supporters are blocked online — where most voters get their news — he’ll be a one-term president.

It’s time for Congress to act before the morality police use political correctness as a Trojan horse to decide our next election.

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