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Lavrov – Kerry agreement falls apart after only 10 days; Syrian war resumes

Failure of ceasefire leads to a resumption of the war, putting an end to agreement agreed by Lavrov and Kerry in Geneva on 9th September 2016.

Alexander Mercouris




The Lavrov – Kerry agreement has collapsed.

The ceasefire the agreement was supposed to put in place has never come into effect.  The Jihadis – far from separating themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra as they were required by the Lavrov Kerry agreement to do – instead united with Jabhat Al-Nusra and have exploited the Syrian military’s temporary stand-down to launch more attacks on Aleppo.

Further east near Deir Ezzor the US air force attacked Syrian military positions defending the city’s airport, allowing a Syrian defence line to be overrun by ISIS fighters.  I have already explained why I do not believe that this attack was a mistake.

Perhaps not coincidentally, at a time when the US was on the diplomatic defensive over its air strike on Deir Ezzor, reports have appeared of an attack on a convoy providing relief supplies near Aleppo.

The US is accusing either the Russians or the Syrians of launching an air strike against this convoy.  The Russians and the Syrians deny this and are hinting that the convoy was not attacked by aircraft at all but was attacked by ground missiles launched by local Jihadi fighters.

Regardless of the truth about this incident, amidst a deteriorating military picture movement of all relief convoys across Syria has now been brought to a stop.

In light of the Jihadi attacks on their positions, the Syrian military – and implicitly the Russian air force – have now confirmed that they no longer consider the ceasefire to be in effect.  Though Lavrov and Kerry are meeting again the Kremlin has said that it has “little hope” of the ceasefire being revived.

This has been ill-starred agreement from the start.  To see why that was so, it is merely necessary to look at the negotiations that led up to it.

An agreement was supposedly reached between the Russians and the US in February, which required the US to arrange for Syrian opposition fighters to separate themselves from the two Jihadi terrorist groups – ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra – in return for a stop to attacks on them by the Russian air force and the Syrian military.

The agreement was never implemented.  The Syrian opposition fighters, instead of separating themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra, joined with Jabhat Al-Nusra, and tried to exploit the cessation of attacks on them by the Russian air force and the Syrian military by launching a succession of offensives.

Reports began to circulate in April of a major Jihadi offensive being in preparation, with large numbers of military supplies being sent to the Jihadis via Turkey from their foreign sponsors amongst the Gulf Arab states.  A joint Jihadi headquarters was set up to manage this offensive, whose objective appears to have been the capture of Aleppo.

The US appears to have been involved in these preparations for an offensive, with US Secretary of State Kerry making threats in May that action would follow if the Russians did not submit to US demands for a “political transition” in Syria (ie. Assad’s removal) by 1st August 2016.  As the Moon of Alabama correctly reported, it is a virtual certainty these threats from Kerry referred to the ongoing preparations for the Jihadi offensive.

Kerry then had a succession of meetings with Lavrov and Putin in which he presented the Russians with his plan.  I discussed these meetings previously (see here and here).  All the indications are that the terms Kerry offered the Russians were a place in the US led coalition against ISIS in return for their agreement that President Assad should step down.  I said that these terms would be unacceptable to the Russians, and so it proved.

Whilst these negotiations were underway the fighting in Syria restarted.  By late July the Syrian military with Russian air support managed to recapture the Castello road north of Aleppo, encircling the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo. 

Simultaneously the major Jihadi offensive against Aleppo was launched, which attempted to storm the city through the Ramousseh district in the city’s south west. 

By mid August this Jihadi offensive had however been fought to standstill, allowing the Syrian military to go back on the offensive in the area to the south west of the city at the beginning of September, enabling it recapture the city’s Ramousseh district which the Jihadis had briefly captured at the start of their offensive.

In parallel with all this fighting the balance of the negotiations between the Russians and the US shifted again, with the Russians insisting on a return to what appeared to have been agreed in February – a US commitment to the separation of Syrian opposition fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra.  Following intense negotiations between Lavrov and Kerry and Obama and Putin an agreement to that effect appeared to have been reached in Geneva on 9th September 2016.  That the agreement was however obviously unpopular with many people in Washington is shown by the fact that it took 9 hours for the US to commit itself to its terms, and by Washington’s insistence that its terms be kept secret. 

A further important indicator that the US was unhappy with the agreement is that US President Obama has never publicly committed himself to it.  He has not even publicly commented on it.  Instead he has maintained an ominous silence, and has gone to ground.

The unhappy story of how the Lavrov Kerry agreement was negotiated shows why it has now failed.  Quite simply the Russians and the US have – as my colleague Adam Garrie has previously said – fundamentally conflicting objectives in Syria, which make cooperation between them all but impossible.

The Russians want to defeat Jihadi terrorism in Syria and bring peace to the country.  The US remains obsessively focused on regime change.

Beyond this fundamental difference of objective, there also appears to be an inability of the two countries to understand each other. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry never seems quite able to accept that the US would rather see Syria destroyed and militant Jihadism let loose on the country rather than compromise on its objective of regime change there. 

One senses that the highly rational and realistic diplomats of the Russian Foreign Ministry find such nihilistic behaviour in the end incomprehensible, and can never quite bring themselves to believe that the US really does think and behave in this irrational way.

By contrast the US never seems quite able to accept that the Russians actually intervened in Syria because they were worried about the threat of violent Jihadi terrorism gaining hold there. 

Instead they attribute to the Russians all sorts of cynical ulterior motives – such as holding on to their base in Tartus or getting the US to treat them as equals – which the Russians have never expressed, and almost certainly do not have. 

They are therefore constantly baffled that whenever they make offers to the Russians that appear to satisfy these “real” motives they attribute to the Russians in return for the Russians agreeing to regime change, the Russians always say no.

The result is a series of negotiations between the US and the Russians in which the two sides negotiate at cross-purposes, failing to understand each other, so that they end up with agreements which cannot work.

The big question is what happens now.  Despite Jihadi gains around Aleppo on Monday – including the seizure of a part of the Castello road – I suspect that with the ceasefire over, and with the gloves off, the Syrian military backed by the Russians will quickly regain control of the situation.

If so then with the situation of the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo becoming increasingly desperate, the future will be decided by how far the US is prepared to go. 

I still think it is unlikely that the US is prepared to challenge the Russians head on in Syria by – for example – declaring a no fly zone there, or allowing the Turkish army to come to the rescue of the Jihadis in Aleppo.  Such steps would seriously risk an armed clash with the Russians, which I suspect neither the uniformed US military nor the US public in the last weeks of the election campaign would be prepared to countenance.  If that is right then the Syrian military will probably win its fight in Aleppo and should secure its control of the city over the next few weeks.

Unfortunately the fanatical language of some of the people in Washington means it is impossible to be sure of this.  If a decision is made to escalate then the halt in the movement of relief convoys  provides the pretext.  Once again the situation in Syria is plunged in uncertainty and has become dangerous.



The End Of The US Unipolar Moment Is Irreversible

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment.



Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:

The past weeks have shown how part of the American establishment is weighing the pros and cons of the Trump administration’s strategies around the world. I have a strong feeling that in the coming weeks we will see the destabilizing effects of American politics, especially towards its closest allies.

A disastrous flip of events appears to be on its way, in case Trump were to lose the November midterm elections (the House and Senate elections). If this were to happen, the Trump administration would probably exploit the Russia gate conspiracy claiming that Moscow had now acted in favour of Democrats. Trump could argue that Moscow was disappointed by the lack of progress in softening US sanctions against Russia; indeed, by Trump’s measures against Russia (expulsions, sanctions, property seizures) and its allies (China, Iran and Syria).

Trump would not hesitate to claim Russian interference in the midterms to aid the Democrats, citing intelligence reports. He would say that Russia aims to create chaos in the US by placing roadblocks in the way of attempts to “Make America Great Again” and handing the House and Senate to the Democrats. He would use the electoral defeat to blame his accusers of getting aid from Russia. In doing so, he would be accelerating the implosion of his administration in an all-out war with the establishment. The mainstream media would dismiss Trump’s accusations against the Democrats of collusion with Russia as a conspiracy theory of an unravelling presidency. All this, summed up, would lead to the Democrats having majority in both houses, easily proceeding to the impeachment of Trump.

Italy is piggybacking on the US, operating side by side with Washington to expand its role in North Africa, especially in Libya. However, Rome will have to offer something in return to please Trump. Evidence points to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) as the quid pro quo, the US encouraging Italy to complete it in order to put pressure on Germany’s North Stream II project and undermine Russian gas deliveries to the EU. I have the impression that the only card available for Italy to play (and which interests Trump) is an endorsement of Washington’s positions on Iran, given that Italy already shares in common with Washington differences with Paris and Berlin on many issues. In this sense, Conte’s words about US intelligence info on the JCPOA paves the way for further decisions:

“”I didn’t take a specific stand. I said we are willing to evaluate the necessity to take more rigorous stances if the (nuclear) accord is shown to be ineffective. We are waiting to have elements of intelligence, Italy would like to evaluate it with its EU partners”

As evidence of Washington’s failed strategy towards Iran, India continues to buy crude oil from Iran, increasing the amount in the last month by 52%. China is also increasing its importation from Iran. Meanwhile, Iran is working with other countries to circumvent the US dollar in order to sustain their mutual trade within a new framework of agreements. Washington is especially disappointment with New Delhi, with American officials continuing to reiterate that India’s intentions align with Washington’s. Since November, with the imposition of counter-sanctions on countries that continue to work with Iran, Washington’s bluff will become evident to everybody, much to the disappointment of the Trump administration.

In the meantime, relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia have almost completely broken down on account of human rights. Ambassadors have been expelled and there is a continuing war of words, with trade between the two countries being brought to a stop. This is the latest example of the divisions manifesting themselves within the Western elites, with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration being in opposition to the likes of France, Germany and Canada.

What is also clear is that the issue of energy is central to Washington’s strategy. Between criticism of the German Nord Stream II and invitations to Italy to finish the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, it is clear that both the Trump administration and the policy makers of the deep state are strongly concerned about what actions allies and enemies could take to overcome the pressure brought to bear by Washington on the issues of energy, Iran, and sanctions. This shows that the US is very fearful of de-dollarization, especially coming from its allies.

Bypassing sanctions with currencies other than US dollar, or creating creative finance structures that bypass the SWIFT payment system, are the only means of maintaining relations between countries in spite of Washington’s sanctions. The US strategy is limited in the short term and certainly harmful in the long term for US Dollar financial hegemony.

That Washington’s allies are even entertaining such possibilities places US financial hegemony at great risk in the long run. This worries the American deep state a great deal, even without Trump, who in any case will not be in charge past 2024 (should he be re-elected in 2020).

One of the points of greatest tension is precisely this strategic difference between the Trump administration and the policy makers in the deep state (AKA Langley and Foggy Bottom). While the former can increase the pressure on allies (through NATO, the JCPOA, TTIP and TPP) to obtain immediate solutions and benefits, the latter must above all consider the effects in the medium and long term, which are often harmful for US interests. The imposition of sanctions on Iran, and the obligation of European allies to comply with this directive, is a prime example.

Another of Washington’s strategies revolves around the price of oil. The United States would have no problem seeing the price of crude oil skyrocket. Secretly, many in the administration hope that Iran will take the first false step by closing the Strait of Hormuz (Teheran will not make this move as things stand now); some even hope that the crisis between Canada and Saudi Arabia will have some impact on the cost of crude oil.

Even trade war and tariffs should be seen as part of Trump’s short-term strategy to demonstrate to his base that something is being done against countries that he thinks are taking advantage of the United States. In reality, Trump knows, or should know, that there is no way of stopping China’s growth, a result of globalization that has been the engine of free-market capitalism, making the western elite richer than ever before. Trump deceives his base with trade wars and tariffs, but in the long run the costs will be borne by American consumers, many of whom are Trump’s voters.

Trump thinks in the very short term, constantly aiming to present himself before his electors with a list of ticked boxes ( Peter Lavelle of Crosstalk gets trademark of this definition), confirming that he is fulfilling his electoral promises. In this way he hopes to win the midterms in November. To succeed in this endeavor, the economy must pick up to a gallop (for now this is happening thanks to a series of tax cuts and the continuous pumping of easy money from the Fed) and he must put pressure on his allies as well as aggressively confront Iran, Russia and China through sanctions, cutting energy supplies and forcing Tehran to negotiate once again the nuclear agreement.

What many analysts struggle with when trying to analyse Donald Trump is that there is no overarching strategy uniting his actions into a coherent policy. Trump acts extemporaneously, often with a very short strategic outlook and for internal political motivations.

Nevertheless, if there is something that worries the deep state, it is the long-term impact of tariffs, trade war, sanctions and impositions on allies; or, to put it most simply, de-dollarization. If there is anything that scares the Trump administration, it is remaining entangled in a destabilizing war with Iran that would lead to the early end of the Trump presidency and destroying its legacy, as Bush’s legacy was destroyed by Iraq.

In all this uncoordinated and inconsistent behaviour, there is the hope of a major rise in the price of oil that would help slow down China’s growth and transform the US shale-gas industry into an ultra-profitable business, further boosting the US economy and allowing Trump to present further evidence to his base of his ability to improve their lives.

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment and is struggling to come to terms with the downsizing of its role in the world. Its ruling elite cannot accept the prospect of sharing power, preferring to oppose by all means possible the transition to a world order involving more powers. If this situation is already complex for any superpower enough to manage, a president has been elected who has little regard for compromise and mediation.

Ultimately, in addition to an obvious problem in defining Washington’s role in the world over the next few years, the United States finds itself with a president who is in almost open warfare with an important part of the US establishment. The deep state is still living on the hope of impeaching Trump to halt the loss of US influence, deluding themselves that things can return to how they were at the height of the unipolar moment in the 1990s.

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America’s Lengthening Enemies List

17th years in Afghanistan and America’s list of enemies continues to grow.

Patrick J. Buchanan



Authored by Patrick J. Buchanan

Friday, deep into the 17th year of America’s longest war, Taliban forces overran Ghazni, a provincial capital that sits on the highway from Kabul to Kandahar.

The ferocity of the Taliban offensive brought U.S. advisers along with U.S. air power, including a B-1 bomber, into the battle.

“As the casualty toll in Ghazni appeared to soar on Sunday,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “hospitals were spilling over with dead bodies, corpses lay in Ghazni’s streets, and gunfire and shelling were preventing relatives from reaching cemeteries to bury their dead.”

In Yemen Monday, a funeral was held in the town square of Saada for 40 children massacred in an air strike on a school bus by Saudis or the UAE, using U.S.-provided planes and bombs.

“A crime by America and its allies against the children of Yemen,” said a Houthi rebel leader.

Yemen is among the worst humanitarian situations in the world, and in creating that human-rights tragedy, America has played an indispensable role.

The U.S. also has 2,000 troops in Syria. Our control, with our Kurd allies, of that quadrant of Syria east of the Euphrates is almost certain to bring us into eventual conflict with a regime and army insisting that we get out of their country.

As for our relations with Turkey, they have never been worse.

President Erdogan regards our Kurd allies in Syria as collaborators of his own Kurdish-terrorist PKK. He sees us as providing sanctuary for exile cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan says was behind the attempted coup in 2016 in which he and his family were targeted for assassination.

Last week, when the Turkish currency, the lira, went into a tailspin, President Trump piled on, ratcheting up U.S. tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel. If the lira collapses and Turkey cannot meet its debt obligations, Erdogan will lay the blame at the feet of the Americans and Trump.

Which raises a question: How many quarrels, conflicts and wars, and with how many adversaries, can even the mighty United States sustain?

In November, the most severe of U.S. sanctions will be imposed on Iran. Among the purposes of this policy: Force as many nations as possible to boycott Iranian oil and gas, sink its economy, bring down the regime.

Iran has signaled a possible response to its oil and gas being denied access to world markets. This August, Iranian gunboats exercised in the Strait of Hormuz, backing up a regime warning that if Iranian oil cannot get out of the Gulf, the oil of Arab OPEC nations may be bottled up inside as well. Last week, Iran test-fired an anti-ship ballistic missile.

Iran has rejected Trump’s offer of unconditional face-to-face talks, unless the U.S. first lifts the sanctions imposed after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

With no talks, a U.S. propaganda offensive underway, the Iranian rial sinking and the economy sputtering, regular demonstrations against the regime, and new sanctions scheduled for November, it is hard to see how a U.S. collision with Tehran can be avoided.

This holds true as well for Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Last week, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia for its alleged role in the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.

Though the U.S. had already expelled 60 Russian diplomats for the poisoning, and Russia vehemently denies responsibility — and conclusive evidence has not been made public and the victims have not been heard from — far more severe sanctions are to be added in November.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is warning that such a U.S. move would cross a red line: “If … a ban on bank operations or currency use follows, it will amount to a declaration of economic war. … And it will warrant a response with economic means, political means and, if necessary, other means.”

That the sanctions are biting is undeniable. Like the Turkish lira and Iranian rial, the Russian ruble has been falling and the Russian people are feeling the pain.

Last week also, a U.S. Poseidon reconnaissance plane, observing China’s construction of militarized islets in the South China Sea, was told to “leave immediately and keep out.”

China claims the sea as its national territory.

And North Korea’s Kim Jong Un apparently intends to hold onto his arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“We’re waiting for the North Koreans to begin the process of denuclearization, which they committed to in Singapore and which they’ve not yet done,” John Bolton told CNN last week.

A list of America’s adversaries here would contain the Taliban, the Houthis of Yemen, Bashar Assad of Syria, Erdogan’s Turkey, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China — a pretty full plate.

Are we prepared to see these confrontations through, to assure the capitulation of our adversaries? What do we do if they continue to defy us?

And if it comes to a fight, how many allies will we have in the battles and wars that follow?

Was this the foreign policy America voted for?

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In Private Meeting, Facebook Exec Warns News Outlets to Cooperate or End Up Dying in ‘Hospice’

“Anyone who does care about news needs to understand Facebook as a fundamental threat.”

The Duran



Via Common Dreams

During a closed-door and off-the-record meeting last week, top Facebook executive Campbell Brown reportedly warned news publishers that refusal to cooperate with the tech behemoth’s efforts to “revitalize journalism” will leave media outlets dying “like in a hospice.”

Reported first by The Australian under a headline which read “Work With Facebook or Die: Zuckerberg,” the social media giant has insisted the comments were taken out of context, even as five individuals who attended the four-hour meeting corroborated what Brown had stated.

“Mark doesn’t care about publishers but is giving me a lot of leeway and concessions to make these changes,” Brown reportedly said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We will help you revitalize journalism… in a few years the reverse looks like I’ll be holding hands with your dying business like in a hospice.”

As The Guardian reported on Monday, Facebook is “vehemently” denying the veracity of the comments as reported by The Australian, referring to its own transcript of the meeting. However, Facebook is refusing to release its transcript and tape of the gathering.

Brown’s warning about the dire prospects for news outlets that don’t get on board with a future in which corporate giants like Facebook are the arbiters of what is and isn’t trustworthy news comes as progressives are raising alarm that Facebook’s entrance into the world of journalism poses a major threat to non-corporate and left-wing news outlets.

As Common Dreams reported in July, progressives’ fears were partly confirmed after Facebook unveiled its first slate of news “segments” as part of its Facebook Watch initiative.

While Facebook claims its initiative is part of an effort to combat “misinformation,” its first series of segments were dominated by such corporate outlets as Fox News and CNN.

Reacting to Brown’s reported assertion that Zuckerberg “doesn’t care about publishers,” Judd Legum, who writes the Popular Information newsletter,argued, “Anyone who does care about news needs to understand Facebook as a fundamental threat.”

“In addition to disputed quote, there are also Facebook’s actions, which are fully consistent with the quote,” Legum added. “We desperately need to develop alternative delivery mechanisms to Facebook.”

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