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Russia ready to shoot down US aircraft and missiles in Syria. The US military knows it.

Russia has repeatedly warned it will shoot down US aircraft and missiles in Syria if its troops are threatened. The US has always heeded these warnings.

Alexander Mercouris

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There has been some discussion, especial on social media, as to whether or not Russia might shoot down US aircraft or missiles attacking Syria, and of the circumstances in which that might happen.

There have even been some suggestions that there are no circumstances where the Russians would ever shoot down US aircraft or missiles in Syria, and that the whole Russian military position in Syria is limited to fighting Jihadi terrorists and with respect to the US is essentially a bluff.

This is certainly wrong and is contradicted by the Russians’ own statements and by the actions they have taken.  Since this is a vitally important point, I have decided to discuss it in some detail.

Firstly, it is necessary to go back to the summer of 2015, when the Russians decided to intervene militarily in Syria.

At that point the military situation in Syria was in deep crisis.  With Saudi and Turkish support Al-Qaeda had brought together a coalition of Jihadi groups under the umbrella title of the ‘Army of Conquest’, which stormed the province of Idlib, capturing the provincial capital and threatening Aleppo, which by the late summer was completely surrounded and was about to fall.  Simultaneously ISIS, which had declared its Caliphate the previous year, captured Palmyra and brought all the eastern territories of Syria previously captured by the Jihadis under its control.

The greatest threat to the Syrian state came however from a plan – widely and openly discussed in the Western media and agreed by the US and Turkey – for the US to declare a no-fly zone over Syria whilst the Turkish army established ‘safe havens’ supposedly to protect civilians in Syria, but in reality intended as a cover for an armed invasion of the country.  As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, in Western parlance ‘no-fly zone’ means today unrestricted bombing campaign, and that is undoubtedly what in the summer of 2015 was being planned.  Subsequent events shows that it together with the Turkish invasion was planned to start sometime in September 2015.

The Russians were informed of these plans and were told that unless they arranged a ‘political transition’ (ie. the removal from power of President Assad) the Syrian government would soon collapse as a result of the Jihadi offensives, the incursions by the Turkish army and the US bombing campaign, and that ISIS would be in control of Damascus by October.  This was confirmed by Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to Britain, in an article published in the British media written in February 2016

Last summer we were told by our Western partners that in October Damascus would fall to IS (ie. the Islamic State – AM).

What they were planning to do next we don’t know.  Probably, they would have ended up painting the extremists white and accepting them as a Sunni state straddling Iraq and Syria.

Yakovenko’s claim received unexpected but conclusive corroboration when Wikileaks published secret recordings of comments US Secretary of State John Kerry made to a group of Syrian opposition leaders at the UN General Assembly last year.  During those comments – which have received startlingly little attention – Kerry frankly admitted that the US had not been fighting ISIS in Syria before the Russians intervened there because it was using ISIS to scare President Assad into stepping down.  Here is what Kerry said

And we know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that DAESH [the IS] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened.  (We) thought, however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.  I lost the argument for use of force in Syria.

The entirety of Kerry’s highly revealing comments can be heard here.

As Kerry admitted, the ploy failed because rather than allow the US to put its plans into effect and risk the fall of Damascus to ISIS Russia unexpectedly chose to intervene militarily in Syria.  The Russian action was intended to forestall and defeat the US plan, which it succeeding in doing.  In October 2015 the Financial Times admitted that the Russian deployment had scuppered US plans to declare a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria.

Implicit in all of this is of course the implicit threat of military action by the Russians in the event that the US were to attempt to carry out its plan despite the Russian military presence in Syria.  The point is that though the Russians took on no legal obligation to defend Syria from US attack when they deployed there, there was no doubt even then that they would defend themselves in Syria if threatened or attacked, which is what imposing a ‘no fly zone’ would have required.  The US was not willing to take on the enormous risks of doing it, and this made the whole ‘no fly zone’ plan effectively impossible.

This became even clearer in November 2015 after the Turkish air force shot down a Russian SU-24 fighter bomber in Syria.  The Russians responded by deploying the S-400 surface to air missile system to Syria.  The purpose of that deployment was to defend Russia’s military forces from air attack – whether by Turkey or anyone else – with no conceivable reason to deploy such a system to Syria for any other purpose.

The US military fully understood this, which is why in September 2016, when talk of the US declaring a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria re-started in the West in connection with the attack on the humanitarian convoy earlier that month and the fighting in Aleppo, General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Congressional testimony, said this would require the US to take control of Syrian air space, which would risk war with Russia

Right now… for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia

General Dunford’s full comments can be heard here.

The talk of the US imposing a ‘no fly zone’ and thereby intervening in the fighting in Aleppo, together with the US air raid on Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor in September 2016, provoked the Russians in October to deploy the S-300VM Antey-2500 surface to air missile system to Syria to supplement the S-400 system already deployed there.  The S-300VM Antey 2500 system is specifically designed to shoot down cruise missiles as well as aircraft.

The Russians also publicly declared that they would defend their troops in Syria if they were attacked, and warned the US of the capability of their air defence system in Syria.  This is what General Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman of the Russian Defence Ministry, said

Most officers of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties currently work ‘on the ground,’ delivering humanitarian aid and conducting negotiations with heads of settlements and armed groups in most Syrian provinces. 

That is why any missile or air strikes on the territory under control of the Syrian government, will create an obvious threat for Russian military.

And finally, I draw attention of ‘hotheads’ that after a strike on Syrian troops in Deir ez-Sor by planes of the coalition on September 17, we have taken all necessary measures to rule out any such ‘mistakes’ against Russian military and military facilities in Syria (NB: this clearly refers to the deployment of the S-300VM Antey-2500 systems to Syria – AM).

The crews on duty will hardly have the time to calculate the missile’s flight path or try to find out their nationality. As for the laymen’s illusions about the existence of ‘invisible planes’ they may confront a disappointing reality.

These missile deployments and warnings from the Russians caused the US a week later to back down and declare publicly that they had no plans to intervene militarily in Syria.  Subsequently, a few weeks later, James Clapper, President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, confirmed in Congressional testimony the capability of the Russian air defence system and Russia’s readiness to use it if its personnel were threatened

I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft if they felt that was threatening to their forces on the ground.  The system they have there is very advanced, very capable and I don’t think they’d do it – deploy it – if they didn’t have some intention to use it

Simultaneously articles began to appear in the media obviously sourced from the US military that spoke of the US military’s apprehensions about the capability of the Russian air defence system and of the irresponsibility of calls by certain politicians and journalists to challenge it.

Thus an article appeared in The Washington Post which said the following

While there is some disagreement among military experts as to the capability of the Russian systems, particularly the newly deployed S-300, “the reality is, we’re very concerned anytime those are emplaced,” a U.S. Defense official said. Neither its touted ability to counter U.S. stealth technology, or to target low-flying aircraft, has ever been tested by the United States.  “It’s not like we’ve had any shoot at an F-35,” the official said of the next-generation U.S. fighter jet. “We’re not sure if any of our aircraft can defeat the S-300

Whilst an article appeared in the Guardian sourced from retired US military officials saying the following about Hillary Clinton’s talk of declaring a ‘no fly zone’

Retired senior US military pilots are increasingly alarmed that Hillary Clinton’s proposal for “no-fly zones” in Syria could lead to a military confrontation with Russia that could escalate to levels that were previously unthinkable in the post-cold war world.

The proposal of no-fly zones has been fiercely debated in Washington for the past five years, but has never attracted significant enthusiasm from the military because of the risk to pilots from Syrian air defenses and the presence of Russian warplanes.

Many in US national security circles consider the risk of an aerial confrontation with the Russians to be severe….

…..the most distinguishing feature of a Syria no-fly zone in 2017 would be the aerial presence of another great-power air force with an objective which is diametrically opposed to Washington’s.

Russia and the US currently share the skies above Syria and maintain a military-to-military communication channel to avoid confrontation.

But since they operate over different parts of the country and with different objectives – the US in the east against the Islamic State, Russia to the west against Assad’s opposition – a US-imposed no-fly zone would put their objectives into conflict. No one knows how either side would respond if Russian aircraft violated a US air cordon, nor how to de-escalate a clash before it spiralled into extended combat.

In recent days, in connection with the US missile strike on Syria’s Sharyat air base, the Russians have again reiterated their warnings about the capabilities of their air defence system in Syria and of their willingness to use it defend their troops there.

Thus five days ago, on 8th April 2017 – the day after the US missile strike – Lieutenant General Viktor Gumenny, Russian Air Defence and Missile Defence Troops commander and Aerospace Forces deputy commander, went on the radio station Ekho Mosvky to say the following

We have set up a group of forces in Syria over the past two years in line with the decision of the supreme commander-in-chief and the defence minister. Our bases in Khmeimim are protected today. Navy facilities in Tartus are protected. In such a way, we ensured our Aerospace Forces’ activities in terms of aircraft use

The Russians have made their position completely clear, and they have been doing so since the start of their intervention in Syria in September 2015.  Whilst they have taken on no legal obligations to defend Syria from external attack, they have repeatedly said they will defend themselves if they are themselves attacked or threatened in Syria, and they have also said they have the capability to do it.

The US for its part has repeatedly said it understands and accepts this.

Given that the US – as General Dunford has admitted – cannot intervene militarily to overthrow the Syrian government by for example declaring a ‘no fly zone’ over the whole of Syria without risking military confrontation with Russia, in any half-ways rational world that in effect rules the entirety of that option out.

This is why the US was so careful to inform Russia in advance of the missile strike on Sharyat air base, why the US has gone to such lengths since the missile strike to say that it is not planning a wider intervention in Syria to overthrow President Assad’s government, and why the US has been obliged to scale back its air operations in Syria since the Russians switched off the deconfliction hotline between their military in Syria and that of the US.

I have laboured these points because there seems to be some doubt about the extent of Russian willingness to shoot down US aircraft and missiles in Syria.  This is strange because the Russians have issued repeated warnings that they are prepared to do it, and that they will do it if they decide their personnel in Syria are being threatened, whilst the US for its part has gone out of its way to say that it has heeded these warnings and has adjusted its strategy in Syria in response to them.

Everything I have just said is a matter of fact and of public record.  It has been confirmed in public statements by members of both the Russian and US militaries.  It has also been confirmed by their actions. To refuse to recognise it is an exercise in denial.

None of this is to say that the situation has not become much more dangerous since the missile strike.

The point is that both the Jihadis in Syria and the regime change hardliners in Washington and elsewhere have now been emboldened, and an inexperienced US President obsessed with demonstrating his ‘toughness’ has shown that he can be easily pressured and manipulated by them.  The seeds for further escalation are now there, and unfortunately one can no longer be confident it will not happen.

However it is a fundamental error to think that if a truly major escalation – one going far beyond an isolated and ineffectual missile strike on a single Syrian air base – is threatened, the Russians will simply sit back and let it happen.  On the contrary they have clearly signalled that they won’t, and the US military has repeatedly made clear that it recognises the fact.  The Russian decision to switch off the deconfliction hotline is intended as a reminder to the US of this reality, and the scaling down by the US military of US air operations in Syria is intended at least in part as an acknowledgement of this signal.

General McMaster’s public comments show that he fully understands the situation, and that in his role as the President’s National Security Adviser he is explaining it to the President, and the President’s public comments show that for the moment he is listening to General McMaster’s and the US military’s advice.

The big unanswered question is whether the President – if he is goaded again – will continue to listen to the advice of General McMaster and of his other military chiefs, and what they – McMaster, Mattis and Dunford – will do if one day he does not.

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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.

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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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