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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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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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Second Canadian Citizen Disappears In China

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea.

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Via Zerohedge…


For a trade war that was supposed to be between the US and China, Canada has found itself increasingly in the middle of the crossfire. And so after the arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing in retaliation for the detention of the Huawei CFO in Vancouver, Canada said a second person has been questioned by Chinese authorities, further heightening tensions between the two countries.

The second person reached out to the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, at which point Canada lost contact with him. His whereabouts are currently unknown and Global Affairs Canada said they are in contact with his family.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Freeland told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea. He gained fame for helping arrange a visit to Pyongyang by former NBA player Dennis Rodman, and he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on that trip, the newspaper reported. Attempts to reach Spavor on his contact number either in China, or North Korean went straight to voicemail.

Spavor’s personal Facebook page contains several images of him with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un including one of him with both Jong-un and former Dennis Rodman at an undisclosed location.

Michael P. Spavor, right, pictured here with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, and Dennis Rodman.

Another image shows the two sharing a drink on a boat.

The unexplained disappearance takes place after China’s spy agency detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Beijing on Monday, who was on leave from the foreign service. The arrest came nine days after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. DOJ. While Canada has asked to see the former envoy after it was informed by fax of his arrest, Canada is unaware of Kovrig current whereabouts or the charges he faces.

“Michael did not engage in illegal activities nor did he do anything that endangered Chinese national security,” Rob Malley, chief executive officer of the ICG, said in a written statement. “He was doing what all Crisis Group analysts do: undertaking objective and impartial research.”

One possibility is that Kovrig may have been caught up in recent rule changes in China that affect non-governmental organizations, according to Bloomberg. The ICG wasn’t authorized to do work in China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing Wednesday.

“We welcome foreign travelers. But if they engage in activities that clearly violate Chinese laws and regulations, then it is totally another story,” he said, adding he had no information on Kovrig specifically.

As Bloomberg further notes, foreign non-governmental organizations are now required to register with the Chinese authorities under a 2017 law that subjects them to stringent reporting requirements. Under the law, organizations without a representative office in China must have a government sponsor and a local cooperative partner before conducting activities. ICG said this is the first time they’ve heard such an accusation from the Chinese authorities in a decade of working with the country. The company closed its Beijing operations in December 2016 because of the new Chinese law, according to a statement. Kovrig was working out of the Hong Kong office.

Meanwhile, realizing that it is increasingly bearing the brunt of China’s retaliatory anger, Trudeau’s government distanced itself from Meng’s case, saying it can’t interfere with the courts, but is closely involved in advocating on Kovrig’s behalf.

So far Canada has declined to speculate on whether there was a connection between the Kovrig and Meng cases, with neither Freeland nor Canadian Trade Minister Jim Carr saying Wednesday that there is any indication the cases are related. Then again, it is rather obvious they are. Indeed, Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, says the link is clear. “There’s no coincidence with China.”

“In this case, they couldn’t grab a Canadian diplomat because this would have created a major diplomatic incident,” he said. “Going after him I think was their way to send a message to the Canadian government and to put pressure.”

Even though Meng was granted bail late Tuesday, that did not placate China, whose foreign ministry spokesman said that “The Canadian side should correct its mistakes and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou immediately.”

The tension, according to Bloomberg,  may force Canadian companies to reconsider travel to China, and executives traveling to the Asian country will need to exercise extra caution, said Andy Chan, managing partner at Miller Thomson LLP in Vaughan, Ontario.

“Canadian business needs to look at and balance the reasons for the travel’’ between the business case and the “current political environment,’’ Chan said by email. Chinese officials subject business travelers to extra screening and in some case reject them from entering, he said.

Earlier in the day, SCMP reported that Chinese high-tech researchers were told “not to travel to the US unless it’s essential.”

And so, with Meng unlikely to be released from Canada any time soon, expect even more “Chinese (non) coincidences”, until eventually China does detain someone that the US does care about.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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