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Fears Russia is aiming to ‘federalise’ Syria are groundless. Here’s why.

Though the unity of the Syrian state is endangered, the threat to Syria’s unity does not come from Russia, which almost certainly does not plan to federalise the country.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Russian proposal to create ‘de-escalation areas’ in Syria has triggered further fears of Syria’s fragmentation, with the ‘de-escalation areas’ seen as providing the building blocks for the ‘federalisation’ of Syria supposedly envisaged by the draft constitution for Syria which the Russians circulated to the participants of the Astana conference a few weeks ago.

These fears are by no means unfounded.  There are many factors within Syria that work against the reunification of the country into a unitary state.  However I doubt the Russians are one of them.

The political map of Syria today is divided into a patchwork of areas controlled by a variety of armed groups.  Though the Syrian government now firmly controls all the major population centres and what is sometimes called ‘useful Syria’ (the densely populated and wealthy area of western Syria), its control of the countryside even in those parts of Syria which it nominally controls is often tenuous, with even many of the local militias nominally allied to the Syrian government and the Syrian army by no means always responsive to the Syrian government’s control.

This process of fragmentation has been made worse by the Syrian government’s practice of trying to supplement the Syrian Arab Army’s shortage of manpower by raising new armed formations often paid for by prominent businessmen to supplement those of the regular army.  Whilst these formations do come under the Syrian Arab Army’s chain of command, in practice it seems they have drawn men and equipment from the army’s regular units, thereby to some extent privatising the army, and making it less responsive to the government.

Over and beyond these problems, the territorially greater part of the country is still controlled by armed Jihadi groups hostile to the Syrian government, especially ISIS in the east and Al-Qaeda in the west.

In addition to these groups, one of most powerful and politically ambitious militias in Syria – the Kurdish YPG – operates completely outside the Syrian government’s control, and is quite obviously motivated by a political agenda of its own.  Its relationship with the central government in Damascus is to put it mildly a fractious one.

Lastly there is the fact that Syria has become a major field of conflict between the Great Powers five of whom – the US, Russia, Turkey, Israel and Iran – actually have troops in Syria.  Of these Russia and Iran are allied to the Syrian government but have their own interests and agendas, whilst the US, Israel and Turkey are implacably hostile to it.

In this situation concerns about whether Syria will hold together and whether the Syrian government will be successful in restoring its control over the whole country are fully legitimate and those concerned for the future of Syria are fully entitled to express them.

Before giving up all hope for the unity of Syria it is important however to say that there are three factors that still work for the continued unity of the country.

The first is that every opinion survey I have seen shows that this is the wish of the Syrian people, who have consistently resisted attempts to divide them on ethnic, religious and sectarian lines.

The second is that except in those areas controlled by ISIS the Syrian bureaucracy continues to function across most of Syria with its wages continuing to be paid by the government in Damascus.  This means that the Syrian government continues to have a presence in most of Syria, even in places which for the moment are outside the control of the Syrian army.

The third is that for all its weaknesses the Syrian Arab Army is by far the strongest single military force directly involved in the Syrian war, and with the backing of Russia and Iran its superiority over the various Jihadi groups has become decisive.  This means that unless the hostile external powers – the US, Israel and Turkey – intervene in Syria to prevent its victory, the Syrian Arab Army will eventually sweep all before it, though it may take time before that happens.  As I have discussed previously, the Russian presence in Syria makes that sort of external intervention dangerous and in the end unlikely.

This however points to Russia’s key role in determining the extent to which Syria will remain united.  Since it is the Russians whose military intervention has tipped the balance of military power in Syria decisively in the Syrian army’s favour, if they were ever to come down heavily in favour of Syria’s ‘federalisation’ there would have to be a high possibility it would happen.

I have already set out my reasons for doubting that the notorious ‘draft constitution’ the Russians proposed a few weeks ago is really intended by the Russians to be any sort of blueprint for Syria’s future, much less for its ‘federalisation’.

The Russians do have long established links with the Kurds extending far back into the Soviet period.  They have made it fairly clear that they would like to see some sort of political and cultural space improving on the status the Kurds had in Syria before the war granted to the Kurds.

However I doubt they intend this to be pushed to the point where it would seriously endanger Syria’s unity.  On the Kurdish question my views are essentially the same as those of the independent analyst Mark Sleboda.  I suspect that both the Russians and the YPG understand that there are limits to how far the Kurdish question can be pushed, and that both understand that it is ultimately in their interests to settle for something much less than the sweeping autonomy for the Kurdish areas that some fear and others hope for.

What I am quite sure of is that the plan for ‘de-escalation areas’ does not threaten Syria’s unity.  It is quite clear that the ‘de-escalation areas’ are intended as a temporary measure to bolster the ceasefire and to eliminate Al-Qaeda.  They do not create, and are not intended to create, the territorial building blocks for a future Syrian federation.  Indeed the memorandum about them the Russians signed in Astana with the Iranians and the Kurds actually excludes that possibility, limiting their existence to just 6 months, though with the option of keeping them in existence for longer.

The big question about the plan for the ‘de-escalation areas’ is not whether setting them up would threaten Syria’s unity.  It is whether the plan for them is realistic and workable, and whether they will be set up at all.  With Al-Qaeda and the other Jihadi groups opposing them, the plan’s success ultimately depends too much on President Erdogan for anyone to be confident about it.

Whether Syria will remain in the end a unitary state is unforeseeable.  However on balance I think it will, and I do not share the fear of some that Russia is actively working towards fragmenting Syria and turning it into some sort of federation.   I think the Russians are realistic enough to see the problems involved in doing that, and I don’t see why they would think that doing it is in their interests.

I think it is a mistake to read too much into the tactical manoeuvres the Russians engage in in Syria – such as floating a draft constitution and proposing the establishment of ‘de-escalation areas’ – and to try to construe from them a Russian strategy to remake Syria.  I doubt such a strategy exists, or that the Russians actually are much concerned about the precise nature of the constitutional or political arrangements Syria will have after the war.

However I am sure that the Russians would far prefer Syria to remain united under a government which is both stable and strong – so that Syria can defend itself external aggression and from Jihadi terrorism and provide protection for the big network of bases the Russians are building there – without needing help from Russia.  That points to Syria remaining a unitary state, and I am sure that that is what the Russians prefer.

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Trump Has Gifted “No More Wars” Policy Position To Bernie Sanders (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 148.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss how US President Donald Tump appears to have ceded his popular 2016 ‘no more wars’ campaign message and policy position to Bernie Sanders and any other US 2020 candidate willing to grad onto a non-interventionist approach to the upcoming Democrat primaries.

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“Is Bernie Stealing Trump’s ‘No More Wars’ Issue?” by Patrick J. Buchanan…


The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016.

“The president has said that he does not want to see this country involved in endless wars… I agree with that,” Bernie Sanders told the Fox News audience at Monday’s town hall meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Then turning and staring straight into the camera, Bernie added:

“Mr. President, tonight you have the opportunity to do something extraordinary: Sign that resolution. Saudi Arabia should not be determining the military or foreign policy of this country.”

Sanders was talking about a War Powers Act resolution that would have ended U.S. involvement in the five-year civil war in Yemen that has created one of the great humanitarian crises of our time, with thousands of dead children amidst an epidemic of cholera and a famine.

Supported by a united Democratic Party on the Hill, and an anti-interventionist faction of the GOP led by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee of Utah, the War Powers resolution had passed both houses of Congress.

But 24 hours after Sanders urged him to sign it, Trump, heeding the hawks in his Cabinet and National Security Council, vetoed S.J.Res.7, calling it a “dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities.”

With sufficient Republican votes in both houses to sustain Trump’s veto, that should be the end of the matter.

It is not: Trump may have just ceded the peace issue in 2020 to the Democrats. If Sanders emerges as the nominee, we will have an election with a Democrat running on the “no-more-wars” theme Trump touted in 2016. And Trump will be left defending the bombing of Yemeni rebels and civilians by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Does Trump really want to go into 2020 as a war party president?

Does he want to go into 2020 with Democrats denouncing “Trump’s endless wars” in the Middle East? Because that is where he is headed.

In 2008, John McCain, leading hawk in the Senate, was routed by a left-wing first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who had won his nomination by defeating the more hawkish Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

In 2012, the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was far more hawkish than Obama on Russia, lost.

Yet, in 2016, Trump ran as a different kind of Republican, an opponent of the Iraq War and an anti-interventionist who wanted to get along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and get out of these Middle East wars.

Looking closely at the front-running candidates for the Democratic nomination of 2020 — Joe Biden, Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker — not one appears to be as hawkish as Trump has become.

Trump pulled us out of the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and reimposed severe sanctions.

He declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, to which Iran has responded by declaring U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization. Ominously, the IRGC and its trained Shiite militias in Iraq are in close proximity to U.S. troops.

Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy there, closed the consulate that dealt with Palestinian affairs, cut off aid to the Palestinians, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights seized from Syria in 1967, and gone silent on Bibi Netanyahu’s threat to annex Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Sanders, however, though he stands by Israel, is supporting a two-state solution and castigating the “right-wing” Netanyahu regime.

Trump has talked of pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the troops are still there.

Though Trump came into office promising to get along with the Russians, he sent Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and announced a pullout from Ronald Reagan’s 1987 INF treaty that outlawed all land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

When Putin provocatively sent 100 Russian troops to Caracas — ostensibly to repair the S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system that was damaged in recent blackouts — Trump, drawing a red line, ordered the Russians to “get out.”

Biden is expected to announce next week. If the stands he takes on Russia, China, Israel and the Middle East are more hawkish than the rest of the field, he will be challenged by the left wing of his party, and by Sanders, who voted “no” on the Iraq War that Biden supported.

The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016. And the anti-interventionist wing of the GOP is growing.

And when added to the anti-interventionist and anti-war wing of the Democratic Party on the Hill, together, they are able, as on the Yemen War Powers resolution, to produce a new bipartisan majority.

Prediction: By the primaries of 2020, foreign policy will be front and center, and the Democratic Party will have captured the “no-more-wars” political high ground that Candidate Donald Trump occupied in 2016.

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Over 200 killed, hundreds injured in series of blasts at Sri Lankan hotels & churches

A series of bombings hit churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 200 people.

RT

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Via RT…


A series of eight explosions rocked Catholic churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka as Christians began Easter Sunday celebrations, with over 200 killed and hundreds injured, media reported, citing police.

The blasts started at around 8:45am local time at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic-majority town outside of the capital. The Zion Church in Batticaloa on the eastern coast was also targeted. At around the same time, the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury five-star hotels were also hit, police confirmed.

Two more explosions happened later in the day, targeting two more locations in Colombo. All attacks appear to have been coordinated.

At least 207 people were killed, Reuters reported, citing police. More than 450 were injured in the attacks.

Alleged footage of the aftermath, shared on social media, showed chaos and large-scale destruction inside at least one of the churches.

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Mike Pompeo reveals true motto of CIA: ‘We lied, we cheated, we stole’ (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 147.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at a Texas A&M University speech, and subsequent interview, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The former CIA Director admitted, ‘as an aside’ to the question asked, that the Intelligence agency he headed up before being appointed as the top US Diplomat had a motto “we lied, we cheated, we stole”…which, according to Pompeo, contained entire CIA training courses based on ‘lying, cheating and stealing.’

Pompeo finally speaks some truth.

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