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Russian – Turkish ceasefire plan for Syria (OFFICIAL TEXT AND ANALYSIS)

Whilst the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement offers the best route to peace in Syria, and in theory gives the Syrian army the space to rebuild and to take the war to Al-Qaeda and ISIS, its success ultimately depends too much on the commitment of Turkish President Erdogan to invest too much hope in its success.

Alexander Mercouris

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As my colleague Adam Garrie has previously reported, on 31st December 2016 the United Nations Security Council unanimously supported Resolution 2336, a Russian drafted Resolution enshrining the Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan for Syria.

Before discussing this ceasefire plan in detail, I would briefly say that it is Russia’s invariable practice to present documents of this sort to the UN Security Council, and to have them enshrined in a UN Security Council Resolution.  A good example is the February 2015 Minsk II agreement, when the Russians did exactly the same thing.  They also did the same thing following the abortive Syrian ceasefire agreements they negotiated with US Secretary of State John Kerry in February last year.

The reason the Russians act in this way is because firstly it is in their interest and is very much a part of their overall diplomatic strategy to emphasise the pivotal importance of the UN Security Council in the international system – so that they can better use it as a brake to restrain the US – but also because Resolutions of the UN Security Council have the authority of international law, and plans and agreements enshrined in UN Security Council Resolutions therefore carry the weight of international law.  This is potentially important in the event that these plans and agreements are breached, since it means that the party which has breached these plans and agreements is violating international law and is acting illegally.

The text of Resolution 2336 is short and cursory, the actual Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan being set out in a series of documents provided by the Russian and Turkish governments to the UN Secretary General and to the President of the Security Council.  These documents have not gained wide publicity and are difficult to find, so I herewith set them out in full.  I would say that various documents that have up to now appeared in the media (especially in the Middle East media), leaked principally by Turkish sources, and which purport to set out the details of the Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan, were in fact drafts, which were not as of the time of their publication formally agreed.  By contrast the text of the documents which I provide below is agreed by the Russian and Turkish governments, and sets out the actual ceasefire plan which the two governments have agreed

Letter dated 29 December 2016 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council

We have the honour to forward to you herewith a package of documents concerning the agreements reached today in the context of the settlement of the conflict in Syria (see annexes I-V).

We should be grateful if you would circulate the present letter and its annexes as a document of the Security Council.

Annex I to the letter dated 29 December 2016 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council

[Original: Russian]

Statement on establishing the ceasefire regime in the Syrian Arab Republic

With a view to fostering the necessary conditions for establishing a direct political dialogue among all conflicting parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as reducing violence, preventing casualties among civilians and providing unhindered humanitarian access, the Russian Federation, guided by the provisions of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), proposes to establish a ceasefire regime throughout Syria (excluding areas of combat operations against the terrorist groups Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Nusra Front) from 00:00 hours on 30 December 2016 (Damascus time).

From that time onward, all armed groups of opposing sides and their supporting forces are invited to make the following commitments:

To cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars and anti-tank guided missiles, and to cease using combat air forces;

To refrain from seizing or seeking to seize territory occupied by other parties to the ceasefire;

To use proportionate retaliatory force (only to the extent necessary for protection against an immediate threat) for self-defence purposes;

The Russian Federation urges the Government of Syria, armed opposition groups supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict and not affiliated with international terrorist organizations, and States with an influence on the parties to the conflict, to accede to the proposed terms of the ceasefire.

Annex II to the letter dated 29 December 2016 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council

[Original: English]

Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey

Press release regarding the announcement of a country-wide ceasefire between the warring parties in Syria

Turkey has been undertaking intensive efforts to end the violence and begin the flow of humanitarian aid in Syria and for the resumption of talks between the regime and the opposition for a comprehensive political solution of the Syrian conflict.

As a result of our efforts, the warring parties in Syria have reached an understanding on a country-wide ceasefire that will go into effect at 00:00 on 30 December 2016. We welcome this development.

Terrorist organizations designated by the United Nations Security Council as such are excluded from this ceasefire.

Turkey and the Russian Federation support this understanding as guarantors.

The parties, with this understanding, are committed to cease all armed, including aerial, attacks and to refrain from expanding the territories under their control at the expense of one another.

Adherence of all parties to this ceasefire is crucial. Turkey and Russia strongly support and will jointly monitor the ceasefire.

The support of the countries with influence on the parties on the ground in sustaining the ceasefire will also be vital.

Turkey played the decisive role in completion of humanitarian evacuations in Aleppo a few days ago and in ensuring the entry of force of the country-wide ceasefire, as of tomorrow.

Hopeful that, with the full observance of the ceasefire to realize a genuine political transition, based on the Geneva communiqué and Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), the regime and the opposition will soon meet in Astana, with the presence of the guarantor countries, to take concrete steps towards revitalizing the United Nations-led political process. Turkey will continue her efforts to that end incessantly.

Annex III to the letter dated 29 December 2016 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council

[Original: Russian]

Agreement on the mechanism to record violations of the ceasefire regime declared in Syria that will take effect on 30 December 2016, and on the regime for applying sanctions to violators

The Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey,

Assuming obligations as Guarantors (in the parts designated to each) of the ceasefire regime in Syria that will take effect on 30 December 2016;

Bearing in mind that Syrian armed opposition groups (hereinafter — the Opposition) and the Government of Syria consent to the drafting and adoption of a separate document — an Agreement on the mechanism to record violations of the ceasefire regime declared in Syria that will take effect on December 2016 and on the regime for applying sanctions against violators;

Have agreed as follows:

Article 1. Joint Commission

1. The Guarantors shall establish a Joint Commission that shall serve as the main body to consider all complaints and issues related to violations of the ceasefire regime.

2. The Joint Commission:

(a) Shall administer the activities of checkpoints to monitor compliance with the ceasefire regime by parties to the Syrian crisis (hereinafter — the Parties);

(b) Shall submit proposals to the Parties to hold to account persons guilty of violating the ceasefire regime, and shall also submit proposals to the Guarantors on imposing sanctions on violating parties.

3. Russian and Turkish offices of the Joint Commission shall be located in Moscow and Ankara respectively.

The Guarantors shall establish a direct communication channel between the offices.

Article 2. Checkpoints

1. With a view to recording violations by the Parties to the ceasefire regime, the Guarantors shall establish checkpoints in residential areas in the vicinity of the actual line of contact among the Parties in order to guarantee compliance with the ceasefire regime by the Parties.

Article 3. Imposition of sanctions on violating Parties

1. The Guarantors shall undertake all possible measures to resolve differences among the Parties on compliance with the ceasefire regime and the resolution of conflicts among them.

2. Should the Parties fail to reach agreement, the Joint Commission shall send to the violating Party a demand to cease the violations and to take measures to compensate the affected Party for harm inflicted on its population and infrastructure. If the demand is not complied with, the Guarantors shall apply enforcement measures to the violating Party.

Article 4. Final Provisions

1. This Agreement is concluded for the duration of the ceasefire regime.

2. The Guarantors agree to draft and sign thereafter an expanded version of this Agreement that will elaborate on its provisions.

3. Done at Ankara on 29 December 2016 in three copies, having equal legal force, each in the Russian, Turkish and Arabic languages.

Annex IV to the letter dated 29 December 2016 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council

[Original: Russian]

Agreement on establishing delegations to launch negotiations on a political settlement aimed at a comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis by peaceful means

The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, having declared a ceasefire in Syria on 30 December 2016,

Confirms that there is no alternative to a comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis and that there is a need to launch a political process in Syria pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254 (2015);

Acknowledging the need to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, safeguard the interests of the Syrian people, cease the bloodshed and guarantee national security, and seeking early stabilization in the country in coordination with the representatives of the Russian Federation, hereinafter — the Guarantor:

1. The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic shall commit to form a delegation, prior to 31 December 2016, to pursue negotiations on a political settlement. The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic shall determine the composition of the Delegation independently.

2. The Delegation shall begin joint work with the Delegation of the opposing side on 15 January, 2017, which shall take place in the city of Astana (Republic of Kazakhstan) with the participation of the United Nations.

3. The outcome of the joint work of both Delegations shall serve as a basis for elaborating, no later than __ _______ 2017, a road map to resolve the internal political crisis in Syria.

4. The work of both Delegations shall be conducted with the support of the Guarantor.

5. This Agreement shall enter into force at the time of signature by the plenipotentiary representative of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and shall become legally binding provided that an agreement with similar contents to this Agreement is signed by representatives of the opposing side, with the participation of the Russian Federation. The Guarantor shall inform the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic about the signature of such an Agreement in the shortest possible time.

Subsequently, both Agreements shall be considered by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the opposing side, and also by the Guarantor, as a single document regarding the establishment of delegations for the launch of negotiations on a political settlement aimed at a comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis by peaceful means.

Done at Damascus on _ December 2016 in two copies, having equal legal force, each in the Russian and Arabic languages.

Annex V to the letter dated 29 December 2016 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council

[Original: Russian]

Agreement on establishing delegations to launch negotiations on a political settlement aimed at a comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis by peaceful means

The leaders of Syrian armed opposition groups, hereinafter — the Opposition,

Support the ceasefire regime declared in Syria on 30 December 2016 and accede thereto;

Confirm that there is no alternative to a comprehensive political settlement of the Syrian crisis and that the launch of a political process in Syria must be expedited, as stipulated in the Geneva Communiqué (2012) and in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015);

Acknowledge full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and the need to safeguard the interests of the Syrian people, cease the bloodshed and enable a State that represents all Syrian people to exercise its authority;

Declare a comprehensive commitment to swiftly stabilizing the situation in the country, with the participation of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey as Guarantors (hereinafter — the Guarantors); and

Agree as follows:

1. By 16 January 2017, the Opposition, with the direct participation of the Guarantors, shall commit to establishing a delegation to pursue negotiations on a political settlement, aimed at a comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis by peaceful means (hereinafter — the Delegation).

The Opposition shall independently determine the composition of the Delegation.

2. The Delegation shall begin joint work with the Delegation of the opposing side, from 23 January 2017, which shall take place in the city of Astana (Republic of Kazakhstan) with the participation of the United Nations.

3. Based on the outcome of the joint work of both Delegations, a road map shall be drawn up as soon as possible to resolve the Syrian crisis.

4. The work of both Delegations shall be carried out with support of the Guarantors.

5. This Agreement shall enter into force at the time of signature by the Opposition and shall become legally binding provided that an agreement with similar contents to this Agreement is signed by a representative of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic with the participation of the Russian Federation. The Guarantors shall inform the Opposition about the signature of such an Agreement in the shortest possible time.

Subsequently, both Agreements shall be considered by the Opposition and the Government of Syria, as well as the Guarantors, as a single document — an Agreement on establishing delegations to launch negotiations on a political settlement aimed at a comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis by peaceful means.

Done at Ankara on 29 December 2016 in three copies, having equal legal force, each in the Russian, Turkish and Arabic languages.

In order to get a better understanding of what was agreed, it is also necessary to refer to the Kremlin’s summary of a meeting held in the Kremlin on 29th December 2016 by Russian President Putin with Russian Defence Minister Shoigu and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Defence Minister Shoigu was the main speaker at the meeting, a fact which incidentally confirms that the ceasefire plan is the result of negotiations between the Russian and Turkish militaries rather than between the two countries’ diplomats.  On 2nd November 2016 I wrote an article for The Duran in which I pointed out that the Russian and Turkish militaries were in direct negotiation with each other, and that the Russians, having despaired of reaching agreement over Aleppo and Syria with the US, were now negotiating directly with the Turks.  Here is what I said

Gerasimov is currently engaged in meetings in Moscow with General Hulusi Akar, the Chief of the Turkish military’s General Staff, who is currently visiting him in Moscow.

Having despaired of getting the US to separate Al-Qaeda/Jabhat Al-Nusra from the other Jihadis in Aleppo, and getting them to withdraw, it is likely the Russians are trying to agree the same thing with the Turks.  Indeed Gerasimov’s comments today essentially say as much.

Given that the Jihadis fighting in Syria totally depend on Turkey for their supplies, if the Turkish leadership tells them to quit eastern Aleppo there is a possibility that they may finally accept that the game is up and heed the call.  The same thing has after all recently happened in other Syrian towns and cities, including in the formerly Jihadi controlled suburbs of Damascus.

Note that Putin’s ultimatum is phrased differently from the way it was before. 

The Kerry-Lavrov agreement of 9th September 2016 offered the non Al-Qaeda Jihadis the option of staying in eastern Aleppo after they had separated themselves from Al-Qaeda/Jabhat Al-Nusra, who the agreement implicitly required to leave.

In the subsequent discussions in the UN Security Council that took place around the proposed French Resolution, the Russians made it clear that the Al-Qaeda/Jabhat Al-Nusra was required to leave, and this was the demand the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura supposedly supported, though as I have discussed previously the terms under which he did it actually nullified it.

Now Putin through Gerasimov is demanding that all Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo leave, irrespective of whether they belong to Al-Qaeda/Jabhat Al-Nusra or not.

In other words over the course of the autumn, as the US has hesitated and reneged on its promises, the Russians have quietly raised their demands.  They now want Aleppo totally rid of Jihadi fighters and handed over entirely to the Syrian government.

The successful Putin-Erdogan agreement to withdraw all Jihadi fighters from Aleppo, and the Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan, are the fruit of these negotiations, and show the extent to which the Russians have managed to fulfil the objectives they set themselves in the autumn.

In the meeting with Putin and Lavrov on 29th December 2016 in the Kremlin Defence Minister Shoigu explained the essence of the Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan

Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, acting on your instruction, the Defence Ministry, with Turkey acting as intermediary, spent two months in talks with leaders of the groups that make up the moderate Syrian opposition. These groups control the greater part of areas in Syria’s central and northern regions not under control of the government in Damascus. These detachments have more than 60,000 fighters. The most influential field commanders from seven opposition groups took part in the talks.

At the same time, we carried out the same work with the Syrian government. The talks made it possible for the parties to reach a common position and sign these three basic agreements that introduce a ceasefire, establish a monitoring regime, and set out procedures for organising talks on a peace settlement of the Syrian conflict.

The Defence Ministry has established a communications hotline for maintaining cooperation with Turkey, which is acting jointly with Russia as a guarantor of the ceasefire and respect for the agreements reached.

If you decide to let these agreements take effect, we are ready to guarantee the ceasefire’s introduction and organise ongoing monitoring to ensure it is respected.

I think that the conditions are in place now for a ceasefire to take effect on Syria’s territory and establish direct dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition groups that seek to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. This also creates the conditions we need to be able to reduce Russia’s military presence on Syrian territory.

Mr President, the groups with whom the talks were conducted are presented here. (Watch presentation.) They all signed these agreements this morning. In terms of their territorial location, here you see the territory under these groups’ control.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shoigu, these seven armed opposition groups, what and who do they represent?

Sergei Shoigu: Ahrar al-Sham, for example, has 80 detachments on Syrian soil, together with military hardware, T-55 and T-72 tanks and artillery. In terms of territory, Mr President, this…

Vladimir Putin: How many armed fighters are we talking about here?

Sergei Shoigu: Sixty-two thousand armed people. Over these two months, we spent the bulk of the time on making sure that the maps indicate what we at one point asked our American colleagues to do.

Vladimir Putin: So, these groups are the core, essentially, the nucleus. They make up the main armed opposition forces.

Sergei Shoigu: Yes, Mr President. They constitute the main opposition forces.

These are the areas currently under their control. Here is Aleppo and here is Damascus, and this area is practically entirely under their control. What’s more, they have indicated the exact coordinates of locations and settlements under their control. The same goes for the central region and the situation in the districts around Damascus. Thus, we see that this area is under these detachments’ control.

We have also established a direct communications line with our Turkish colleagues, who are acting as guarantors to ensure that all terms of the agreements are respected, particularly as regards monitoring the agreements’ enforcement. The main purpose of this monitoring work is to ensure that organisations that do not cease hostilities are listed as terrorist organisations, and the same kind of action will be taken against them as is being taken against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra throughout the remaining territory.

The Al-Masdar news agency, which has connections to the Syrian military, has provided a list of the “seven armed opposition groups” that are part of the ceasefire.  They are:

1. Feilak al-Sham

19 detachments, total strength: over 4,000 people.

Its formations conduct combat actions in the Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Homs provinces.

2. Ahrar al-Sham

The full name is Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya.

Over 80 detachments, total strength: about 16,000 people.

Formations of the grouping conduct combat actions in the Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, Idlib, Latakia, Hama and Homs provinces.

3. Jaysh al-Islam

64 detachments, total strength: about 12,000 people.

Jaysh al-Islam formations conduct combat actions in the Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, Latakia, Hama and Homs provinces.

4.  Thuwar al-Sham

8 battalions, total strength: about 2,500 people.

Armed formations conduct combat actions in the Aleppo, Idlib and Latakia provinces.

5.  Jaysh al-Mujahideen

13 detachments, total strength: about 8,000 people.

Armed formations conduct combat actions in the Aleppo city and provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama.

6. Jaysh Idlib

3 large detachments, total strength: more than 6,000 people.

Jaysh Idlib conducts combat actions in the Idlib province.

7.   Jabhat al-Shamiyah

5 large detachments, total strength: about 3,000 people.

The grouping’s detachments conduct combat actions in the Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus provinces.

Note that the two terrorist groups – Al-Qaeda (aka “Jabhat Al-Nusra” or “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham”) and ISIS – are specifically excluded.

There is a discrepancy between Shoigu’s numbers and those provided by Al-Masdar for the number of Jihadi fighters covered by the ceasefire.  Shoigu puts the number at 62,000, whereas Al-Masdar’s cumulative total is 51,500.  Almost certainly the difference is explained by their different sources of information: Shoigu is taking his numbers from the Turks and the Jihadi groups themselves, whilst Al-Masdar’s source is almost certainly the Syrian military.

The key point however is not the difference in the numbers but in the fact that Shoigu confirms that the Russians and the Turks have throughout November and December – in other words throughout the period covered by the negotiations between the two militaries which began at the beginning of November – been doing that which the US repeatedly promised to do but never did, which is delineate the areas controlled by the “moderate” Jihadis so as to distinguish them from the areas controlled by the two proscribed terrorist groups: Al-Qaeda and ISIS.  In Shoigu’s words

…….with Turkey acting as intermediary, [we] spent two months in talks with leaders of the groups that make up the moderate Syrian opposition…..At the same time, we carried out the same work with the Syrian government…….Over these two months, we spent the bulk of the time on making sure that the maps indicate what we at one point asked our American colleagues to do.

(bold italics added)

Shoigu’s words to Putin also confirm something else which had already become apparent: Lavrov’s negotiations with Kerry following the collapse of the 9th September 2016 Kerry-Lavrov agreement were diplomatic shadow play.  Whilst it was these fictional negotiations between Lavrov and Kerry which continued to hold the limelight, the real negotiations were going on behind the scenes between the militaries of Russia and Turkey, without the US being consulted or involved.

Moreover it is now clear from Shoigu’s words that the Turks made a political decision to come to a settlement with the Russians over Syria by October at the latest, so that the discussions which took place during November and December were of an essentially technical nature: determining what territories the groups that would be covered by the ceasefire actually controlled, getting the groups to sign up to the ceasefire plan, and agreeing the technicalities of monitoring the ceasefire and enforcing it.  Most of the ceasefire plan, the text of which I have provided above, sets out the monitoring and enforcement procedures, and confirms that Turkey has agreed to guarantee the compliance of the seven groups who have signed up to it.

Turkey’s involvement in the ceasefire plan as its guarantor is the key to its success.  As I said in my article of 2nd November 2016, the various Jihadi groups which operate in Syria depend on Turkey for their supplies of men and equipment.  That gives Turkey immense potential leverage over them, and means that if Turkey fully commits to enforcing the ceasefire plan then the seven Jihadi groups covered by it have no choice but to comply with it.

Why did the negotiations between Russia and Turkey succeed, where the negotiations between Russia and the US were such a complete failure?

From the Russian point of view, the ceasefire has given them what they want.  The overriding problem the Russians face in Syria is the limited size of the Syrian army.  Since this means that the Syrian army cannot be strong everywhere – the key fact which enabled ISIS to recapture Palmyra last month – and since deploying Russian ground troops to Syria has been ruled out, Russian diplomacy since Russia’s intervention in Syria in September 2015 has been aimed at reducing the number of enemies the Syrian army has to fight so that it can concentrate its forces on its two enemies who are the most dangerous: Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

If the Russians really can get seven armed groups amounting to between 50,000 to 60,000 men to stand down, freeing the Syrian army to focus on taking the war to Al-Qaeda and ISIS, then the Syrian army’s limited resources mean it is worth doing even if two of the seven groups are Jihadi groups Russia has previously designated terrorist organisations.

In the meantime, by ensuring that Aleppo – Syria’s biggest city and its main industrial centre – is restored to the full control of the Syrian government, the Russians have not only ensured the Syrian government’s survival, removing the possibility of regime change from the agenda, but have also provided the Syrian army with a secure base in Syria’s populous coastal western regions in which it can rebuild its strength.

As for Turkey, with the prospect of regime change in Syria taken off the agenda following the restoration of the Syrian government’s authority in Aleppo, the Russian offer of a peace conference in Astana to be co-chaired by Turkey provides Turkey with a face-saving – even generous – way out of a commitment to regime change in Syria which has effectively already failed.

The peace conference in Astana is not however just a sop to Turkey.  For the Turks a key provision of the ceasefire plan is that any future agreement about the future of Syria to be reached at Astana must be based – in the words of the ceasefire plan – upon “full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”.  In other words any possibility of an independent Kurdish state being carved out of Syrian territory is ruled out.

Will the plan work?

If Turkey’s commitment to the plan is the condition for its success, it is also its major weakness.

As should by now be obvious to anybody who has followed the Syrian conflict at all closely, not only has Turkish President Erdogan been personally committed up to now to achieving regime change in Syria, but he is not someone who has a habit of following through on his commitments with any degree of consistency.

Is he really prepared now to drop his plan for regime change in Syria, and to crack down on the seven Jihadi groups in Syria covered by the ceasefire if or rather when they try to break it?

Is he also prepared to ride out the inevitable violent blowback from the militant Jihadi groups that have now become embedded in Turkish society as a result of his own regime change policy in Syria, of which today’s Istanbul attack is probably merely a foretaste?

Since it is upon Erdogan that the future of this ceasefire agreement ultimately depends, it would be unwise to invest too many hopes in it.

That the Russians are not doing so is shown by the guarded comments of the participants of the Kremlin meeting on 29th December 2016.  Putin pointedly referred to the ceasefire agreement as “fragile”, and though the possibility of Russian military withdrawals from Syria was discussed, none were announced.

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“I’m Not A Racist, But I’m A Nationalist”: Why Sweden Faces A Historic Election Upset

Sweden is set to have a political earthquake in September.

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Via Zerohedge


“Trains and hospitals don’t work, but immigration continues,” Roger Mathson, a retired vegetable oil factory worker in Sweden, told Bloomberg on the same day as the violent, coordinated rampage by masked gangs of youths across five Swedish cities.

We noted earlier that Swedish politicians were quick to react with anti-immigrant party ‘Sweden Democrats’ seeing a surge in the polls ahead of the September 9th election.

“I’m not a racist, but I’m a nationalist,” Mathson said. “I don’t like seeing the town square full of Niqab-clad ladies and people fighting with each other.”

Is Sweden set to have its own political earthquake in September, where general elections could end a century of Social Democratic dominance and bring to power a little known (on the world stage), but the now hugely popular nationalist party often dubbed far-right and right-wing populist, called Sweden Democrats?

Sweden, a historically largely homogeneous population of 10 million, took in an astounding 600,000 refugees over the past five years, and after Swedes across various cities looked out their windows Tuesday to see cars exploding, smoke filling the skies, and possibly armed masked men hurling explosives around busy parking lots, it appears they’ve had enough.

Over the past years of their rise as a political force in Swedish politics, the country’s media have routinely labelled the Sweden Democrats as “racists” and “Nazis” due to their seemingly single issue focus of anti-immigration and strong Euroscepticism.

A poll at the start of this week indicated the Sweden Democrats slid back to third place after topping three previous polls as the September election nears; however, Tuesday’s national crisis and what could legitimately be dubbed a serious domestic terror threat is likely to boost their popularity.

Bloomberg’s profile of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, echoes the tone of establishment Swedish media in the way they commonly cast the movement, beginning as follows:

Viking rock music and whole pigs roasting on spits drew thousands of Swedes to a festival hosted by nationalists poised to deliver their country’s biggest political upheaval in a century.

The Sweden Democrats have been led since 2005 by a clean-cut and bespectacled man, Jimmie Akesson. He’s gentrified a party that traces its roots back to the country’s neo-Nazi, white supremacist fringe. Some polls now show the group may become the biggest in Sweden’s parliament after general elections on Sept. 9. Such an outcome would end 100 years of Social Democratic dominance.

The group’s popularity began surging after the 2015 immigration crisis began, which first hit Europe’s southern Mediterranean shores and quickly moved northward as shocking wave after wave of migrants came.

Jimmie Akesson (right). Image source: Getty via Daily Express

Akesson emphasizes something akin to a “Sweden-first” platform which European media often compares to Trump’s “America First”; and the party has long been accused of preaching forced assimilation into Swedish culture to be become a citizen.

Bloomberg’s report surveys opinions at a large political rally held in Akkeson’s hometown of Solvesborg, and some of the statements are sure to be increasingly common sentiment after this week’s coordinated multi-city attack:

At his party’s festival, Akesson revved up the crowd by slamming the establishment’s failures, calling the last two governments the worst in Swedish history. T-shirts calling for a Swexit, or an exit from the EU, were exchanged as bands played nationalist tunes.

Ted Lorentsson, a retiree from the island of Tjorn, said he’s an enthusiastic backer of the Sweden Democrats. “I think they want to improve elderly care, health care, child care,” he said. “Bring back the old Sweden.” But he also acknowledges his view has led to disagreement within his family as his daughter recoils at what she feels is the “Hitler”-like rhetoric.

No doubt, the media and Eurocrats in Brussels will take simple, innocent statements from elderly retirees like “bring back the old Sweden” as nothing short of declaration of a race war, but such views will only solidify after this week.

Another Sweden Democrat supporter, a 60-year old woman who works at a distillery, told Bloomberg, “I think you need to start seeing the whole picture in Sweden and save the original Swedish population,” she said. “I’m not racist, because I’m a realist.”

Sweden’s two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and Moderates, are now feeling the pressure as Swedes increasingly worry about key issues preached by Akesson like immigration, law and order, and health care – seen as under threat by a mass influx of immigrants that the system can’t handle.

Bloomberg explains further:

But even young voters are turning their backs on the establishment. One potential SD supporter is law student Oscar Persson. Though he hasn’t yet decided how he’ll vote, he says it’s time for the mainstream parties to stop treating the Sweden Democrats like a pariah. “This game they are playing now, where the other parties don’t want to talk to them but still want their support, is something I don’t really understand,” he said.

Akesson has managed to entice voters from both sides of the political spectrum with a message of more welfare, lower taxes and savings based on immigration cuts.

With many Swedes now saying immigration has “gone too far” and as this week’s events have once again thrust the issue before both a national and global audience, the next round of polling will mostly like put Sweden’s conservative-right movements on top

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The Turkish Emerging Market Timebomb

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him.

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Authored by Jim O’Neill, originally on Project Syndicate:


As the Turkish lira continues to depreciate against the dollar, fears of a classic emerging-market crisis have come to the fore. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him, and sooner or later, he will have to make nice with his country’s traditional Western allies.

Turkey’s falling currency and deteriorating financial conditions lend credence, at least for some people, to the notion that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” I suspect that many Western policymakers, in particular, are not entirely unhappy about Turkey’s plight.

To veteran economic observers, Turkey’s troubles are almost a textbook case of an emerging-market flop. It is August, after all, and back in the 1990s, one could barely go a single year without some kind of financial crisis striking in the dog days of summer.

But more to the point, Turkey has a large, persistent current-account deficit, and a belligerent leader who does not realize – or refuses to acknowledge – that his populist economic policies are unsustainable. Moreover, Turkey has become increasingly dependent on overseas investors (and probably some wealthy domestic investors, too).

Given these slowly gestating factors, markets have long assumed that Turkey was headed for a currency crisis. In fact, such worries were widespread as far back as the fall of 2013, when I was in Istanbul interviewing business and financial leaders for a BBC Radio series on emerging economies. At that time, markets were beginning to fear that monetary-policy normalization and an end to quantitative easing in the United States would have dire consequences globally. The Turkish lira has been flirting with disaster ever since.

Now that the crisis has finally come to pass, it is Turkey’s population that will bear the brunt of it. The country must drastically tighten its domestic monetary policy, curtail foreign borrowing, and prepare for the likelihood of a full-blown economic recession, during which time domestic saving will slowly have to be rebuilt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership will both complicate matters and give Turkey some leverage. Erdoğan has  constitutional powers, reducing those of the parliament, and undercutting the independence of monetary and fiscal policymaking. And to top it off, he seems to be reveling in an escalating feud with US President Donald Trump’s administration over Turkey’s imprisonment of an American pastor and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system.

This is a dangerous brew for the leader of an emerging economy to imbibe, particularly when the United States itself has embarked on a Ronald Reagan-style fiscal expansion that has pushed the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster than it would have otherwise. Given the unlikelihood of some external source of funding emerging, Erdoğan will eventually have to back down on some of his unorthodox policies. My guess is that we’ll see a return to a more conventional monetary policy, and possibly a new fiscal-policy framework.

As for Turkey’s leverage in the current crisis, it is worth remembering that the country has a large and youthful population, and thus the potential to grow into a much larger economy in the future. It also enjoys a privileged geographic position at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, which means that many major players have a stake in ensuring its stability. Indeed, many Europeans still hold out hope that Turkey will embrace Western-style capitalism, despite the damage that Erdoğan has done to the country’s European Union accession bid.

Among the regional powers, Russia is sometimes mentioned as a potential savior for Turkey. There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would love to use Turkey’s crisis to pull it even further away from its NATO allies. But Erdoğan and his advisers would be deeply mistaken to think that Russia can fill Turkey’s financial void. A Kremlin intervention would do little for Turkey, and would likely exacerbate Russia’s own .

The other two potential patrons are Qatar and, of course, China. But while Qatar, one of Turkey’s closest Gulf allies, could provide financial aid, it does not ultimately have the wherewithal to pull Turkey out of its crisis singlehandedly.

As for China, though it will not want to waste the opportunity to increase its influence vis-à-vis Turkey, it is not the country’s style to step into such a volatile situation, much less assume responsibility for solving the problem. The more likely outcome – as we are seeing in Greece – is that China will unleash its companies to pursue investment opportunities after the dust settles.

That means that Turkey’s economic salvation lies with its conventional Western allies: the US and the EU (particularly France and Germany). On August 13, a White House spokesperson confirmed that the Trump administration is watching the financial-market response to Turkey’s crisis “very closely.” The last thing that Trump wants is a crumbling world economy and a massive dollar rally, which could derail his domestic economic ambitions. So a classic Trump “trade” is probably there for Erdoğan, if he is willing to come to the negotiating table.

Likewise, some of Europe’s biggest and most fragile banks have significant exposure to Turkey. Combine that with the ongoing political crisis over migration, and you have a recipe for deeper destabilization within the EU. I, for one, cannot imagine that European leaders will sit by and do nothing while Turkey implodes on their border.

Despite his escalating rhetoric, Erdoğan may soon find that he has little choice but to abandon his isolationist and antagonistic policies of the last few years. If he does, many investors may look back next year and wish that they had snapped up a few lira when they had the chance.

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Why Scandinavia Isn’t Exceptional

Scandinavia is entirely unexceptional.

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Authored by Per Bylund via The Mises Institute:


[From the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.]

The Scandinavian countries, and primary among them Sweden, are commonly referred to as anomalies or inspirations, depending on one’s political point of view. The reason is that the countries do not appear to fit the general pattern: they are enormously successful whereas they “shouldn’t” be. Indeed, Scandinavians enjoy very high living standards despite having very large, progressive welfare states for which they pay the world’s highest taxes.

As a result, a large and growing literature, both propagandist and scholarly, has emerged that tries to identify the reasons for this Scandinavian exceptionalism—especially as pertains to their welfare states. I have myself contributed to this literature1 and have previously reviewed others’ contributions to it in this journal.2 But what has been missing is a summary analysis that is accessible to non-scholars. It was therefore a delight to read Nima Sanandaji’s Scandinavian Unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets, and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism, published by British Institute for Economic Affairs.

Dr. Sanandaji is a political-economy analyst and writer, well known in both Sweden and Europe, and as expected does an excellent job summarizing the state of scholarship. He also uses examples and quotes from articles published in Scandinavian news media to illustrate the narrative. The result is a short and informative but easy to read answer to both how and why the Scandinavian welfare states seem to work so well.

The short book provides the reader with insight into Scandinavian culture, an explanation of the causes of the nations’ exceptional rise from poverty, an overview of their recent political-economic history, the distinct structure and evolution of the Scandinavian welfare state, the origins of their egalitarianism and gender equality, and the effect of immigration. I will briefly touch on three of these areas.

First, Sanandaji makes clear that the rosy story of the Scandinavian welfare state, as it is usually told, is at best incomplete. The Scandinavian countries were among the European continent’s poorest by the end of the 19th century and were largely unaffected by the industrialization that had started centuries earlier in the United Kingdom. A combination of classical liberal reform and the adoption of industrialized production created a century-long “golden age,” as Bergh (2014) denotes the period approximately 1870–1970 in Sweden, of economic growth and rapidly rising standards of living.

This growth was partly also made possible by a distinct Scandinavian culture, which is characterized by the “[h]igh levels of trust, a strong work ethic and social cohesion [that] are the perfect starting point for successful economies” (p. 7). As Sanandaji points out, the market-aligned virtues of Scandinavian culture also explain the limited impact of the welfare state as it was erected and ballooned in the 1930s and beyond. Cultural change takes time, and thus old values lag in the face of political change. So it took time for the Scandinavian virtues to give way to the destructive incentives of the welfare state.

It should also be noted, though Sanandaji fails to make this point clearly, that after the welfare state was established, and during its several decades of expansion, it’s growth rate tended to be lower than that of the overall economy. The increasing burden was therefore, in relative terms, marginal. That is, until the radical 1960s and 1970s when Scandinavian governments, and the Swedish government in particular, adopted very expansionist welfare policies. (This political shift is analyzed in detail in, e.g., Bergh.)3

Sanandaji also presents interesting data with respect to Scandinavian gender equality. His discussion begins with the internationally enviable women’s labor market participation rate in Scandinavian countries, and especially Sweden. The background, however, is that Sweden’s government had adopted a radical agenda for population control formulated by Gunnar and Alva Myrdal (yes, the same Gunnar Myrdal who shared the 1974 economics prize with Hayek). The gist of this reform was to enforce a shared responsibility between parents and “the community” for children’s upbringing. By raising taxes on income while offering government-run daycare services, families were incentivized (if not “forced,” economically speaking) to secure two full-time incomes.

Interestingly, while this indeed rapidly increased women’s participation in the labor market, Sanandaji notes that “few women in the Nordic nations reach the position of business leaders, and even fewer manage to climb to the very top positions of directors and chief executives” (p. 102). Part of the reason is that jobs that women typically choose, including education and healthcare, are monopolized in the vast public sectors. As a result, women at trapped in careers where employers do not compete for their competence and many leadership positions are political.

This development is indirectly illustrated in a terrifying statistic from Sweden’s labor market: “Between 1950 and 2000, the Swedish population grew from seven to almost nine million. But astonishingly the net job creation in the private sector was close to zero” (p. 33).

Finally, Sanandaji addresses the issue of immigration and shows that the Scandinavian nations were exceptionally good at integration, with greater labor participation for immigrants than other Western nations, prior to the radicalization of the welfare state. Thereafter, due to rigid labor regulations and vast welfare benefits, immigrants were more or less kept out of Scandinavian job markets.

The literature identifies two potential explanations. First, the anti-business and job-protection policies practically exclude anyone with a lack of work experience, highly sought-after skills, or those with lacking proficiency in the language or limited network. This keeps immigrants as well as young people unemployed (the very high youth unemployment rates in Scandinavia illustrate this problem). Second, the promises of the universal welfare state tend to attract people who are less interested in working their way to the top and thus have a lacking work ethic.

This explains the recent problems in Scandinavia with respect to immigration, which is essentially an integration and policy problem — not a foreign-people problem.

Overall, Sanandaji’s book provides plenty of insights and a coherent explanation for the rise of the Scandinavian nations and their welfare states. Their impressive standard of living is a free-market story, which is rooted in an economically sound culture. This culture also supported the welfare state, until decades of destructive incentives eroded the nations’ sound values. The welfare state, after its radicalization, was soon crushed under its own weight, and Scandinavia has since undergone vast free-market reforms that again have contributed to economic growth and prosperity.

Considering the full story, Sanandaji summarizes the example of the Northern European welfare states simply and bluntly: “Scandinavia is entirely unexceptional.”

  • 1.Bylund, Per L. 2010. “The Modern Welfare State: Leading the Way on the Road to Serfdom.” In Thomas E. Woods, ed., Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books.
  • 2.2015. “Book Review: Sweden and the Revival of the Capitalist Welfare State by Andreas Bergh,” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 18, no. 1: 75–81.
  • 3.Bergh, Andreas. 2014. Sweden and the Revival of the Capitalist Welfare State. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar.

Per Bylund is assistant professor of entrepreneurship & Records-Johnston Professor of Free Enterprise in the School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. Website: PerBylund.com.

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