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CONFIRMED: Russia sends S-300 advanced missile system to Syria, U.S. runs out of options

As US struggles to respond to Syrian army advances, reports circulate of Russia deploying advanced S-300VM Antey-2500 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

Alexander Mercouris

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Shortly before the US announcement of its decision to suspend talks with Russia on the ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement reached by US Secretary State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on 9th September 2016, a clearly well-sourced article setting out US options was published by Reuters.

This article was clearly written on the basis of information provided by senior officials of the US government.  It confirms that “staff level” discussions are underway in the US in light of the collapse of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement and the Syrian army’s advances in Aleppo, though as of the date of publication of the Reuters article (29th September 2016) no suggestions of what to do had been made to Obama.

Here is a list of the options apparently being considered

(1) “supporting rebel counter attacks elsewhere with additional weaponry or even air strikes, which “might not reverse the tide of battle, but might cause the Russians to stop and think””;

(2) “a U.S. air strike on a Syrian air base far from the fighting between Assad’s troops and rebel forces in the north” (the Syrian air base in question is probably the one at Deir Ezzor);

(3) “sending more U.S. special operations forces to train and advise Kurdish and Syrian rebel groups”;

(4) “deploying additional American and allied naval and airpower to the eastern Mediterranean, where a French aircraft carrier is already en route”.

Apparently the idea of supplying more shoulder held surface to air missiles to the Jihadis has been ruled out because “the Obama administration fears (they) could fall into the hands of Islamic State militants or al Qaeda-linked groups”.

As for the idea of a no-fly zone (“a humanitarian airlift to rebel-held areas (NB: this almost certain refers to Aleppo – AM), which would require escorts by U.S. warplanes”) this has apparently been deemed “too risky” and has been “moved down the list”.

This list of options exposes how completely out of options the US really is. 

Options (1) and (2) cannot influence the course of the fighting in Aleppo and US officials apparently admit as much.  On past experience option (1) is less likely to make the Russians “stop and think” than to make them more determined and more angry. 

Option (3) is a case of more of the same.  The US has been doing this for years without achieving any results. 

Option (4) is essentially symbolic unless it is intended to prepare the way for the declaration of a no-fly zone, which however US officials seem to be ruling out.

If reports are to be believed the Russians may be taking more steps to guard against the possibility of the US declaring a no-fly zone.  Fox News is reporting US officials as saying that the Russians have reinforced the S400 anti aircraft missile system they have already deployed to Syria with a number of advanced S-300VM “Antey-2500″ anti aircraft systems. 

Whilst the Russians have not confirmed this report, if it is true then it makes any US attempt to impose a no-fly zone even more risky.  A sign that the report probably is true is that the Kremlin is pointedly failing to deny it.

The Russians have also pointedly reminded the US that they know the whereabouts of all US military personnel in Syria, including presumably those supposedly present in the various Jihadi headquarters (or “operations rooms”) existing in the country. 

This looks frankly like a threat to retaliate against US military personnel if Russian military personnel in Syria are attacked by the US. 

There have been unconfirmed reports that the Russians did exactly that by attacking a Jihadi “operations room” partly staffed by US and Western military personnel following the US attack on the Syrian military near Deir Ezzor.  If those reports are true then the implied threat the Russians are making to retaliate against US troops in the event of attacks upon their own military is not an empty one.

One way or the other, it is not difficult to see why the US might conclude that imposing a no-fly zone is “too risky” and why this option has been “moved down the list”.

Possibly because the US has no real options short of steps that might threaten a nuclear war with Russia, Kerry spoke twice by telephone to Lavrov over the weekend, presumably in an attempt to get the Russians to get the Syrians to pull back in Aleppo so as to preserve the US’s bluff.  However it is clear he found Lavrov immoveable. 

Lavrov has instead been issuing a series of statements accusing the US of siding with Jabhat Al-Nusra (ie. Al-Qaeda), questioning whether President Obama is any longer in control of the US military, and calling into question Kerry’s good faith.  

Further twisting the knife, Valentina Matviyenko, the Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament) and a member of Russia’s top executive body, the Security Council, has dismissively characterised the US decision to suspend work with Russia on implementing the Kerry-Lavrov agreement as the

“…. agony of the ingloriously outgoing administration which has totally failed its foreign policy in the Middle East”

Here I would say that I am personally somewhat baffled by some of the alarm expressed over the US decision to pull out of further talks on implementing the Kerry-Lavrov agreement.  Since the agreement has completely collapsed I for once agree with the US that there is little point continuing to talk about implementing it. 

The US is not saying that it is suspending all diplomatic contact with Russia over Syria, as some commentators appear to think.  On the contrary diplomatic and military contacts between the US and Russia over Syria are continuing as before.

As I have said previously, given the fanatical nature of some of the people in Washington it is impossible to be sure that a dangerous escalation will not happen.  Advocates of imposing a no-fly zone and of attacks on the Syrian military and by extension on the Russian military in Syria (eg. Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham and General David Petraeus) are certainly still there. 

However the risks seem so wildly out of proportion to the potential gains that it is difficult to believe that such things will happen, and the Reuters report appears to confirm that these madly dangerous ideas are continuing to be ruled out.

The reality is that on any sane assessment it is the Russians who now hold all the cards in Syria.  Even a commentator such as the BBC’s Mark Mardell, who is no friend or admirer of Putin’s or of Russia’s, has now acknowledged as much

“No-one I have spoken to can explain to me why Russia will not get its way in Syria and, by extension, how President Assad could be removed from power, unless President Putin wills it.

This may not be a desirable state of affairs but, unless I am missing something profound, it is the state of the world in which we live.”

As time runs out for the Jihadis in Aleppo that is the reality which the paucity of viable US options in Syria exposed by the article Reuters makes increasingly obvious.

POSTSCRIPT: Since the above article was first published the Russian Defence Ministry has confirmed the deployment of advanced S-300VM “Antey-2500” surface to air missiles to Syria.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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