Connect with us

Latest

Analysis

News

Russia’s ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria: a serious proposal, a diplomatic ploy or a trap?

Russia’s proposed ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria are obviously intended as an alternative to the US proposal for ‘safe havens’

Alexander Mercouris

Published

on

3,118 Views

Russian President Vladimir Putin rounded off three days of non-stop diplomacy with a telephone conversation with US President Trump and a meeting with Turkish President Erdogan.  This came directly after his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Putin obviously discussed the Syrian conflict with all three.  Moreover it is known that over the course of the same discussions Putin mooted with all three of them – but especially with Trump and Erdogan – a new Russian proposal for something the Russians are calling ‘de-escalation zones’.

That this is so was confirmed during the joint news conference Putin and Erdogan gave after their meeting.  Here is what the two of them had to say about this proposal

Question(retranslated): I have a question about resolving the Syrian crisis and creating safe zones in Syria. Did the two leaders discuss this issue and, if so, did they reach an agreement?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: There is a new initiative in this regard. As you may be aware, from the very outset, I have been using the term ”safe zone“. I will continue to use it. However, a new term – ”de-escalation zone“ – has gained currency recently. As you may be aware, refugees from Aleppo have found shelter in the province of Idlib. Unfortunately, problems occasionally emerge in Idlib. A ”green zone“, that is, a ”de-escalation zone“ has been created there. We hope that the de-escalation zone will be preserved.

This is critical for the Astana process. I hope that the decision on the de-escalation zone will be adopted and acted upon to further resolve this issue.

Vladimir Putin: The President and I operate on the premise – I already mentioned this – that the Syrian crisis can be resolved exclusively by political means. However, to set this political process in motion it is necessary to ensure a ceasefire. As the countries that made the greatest contribution to this formula and the practical side of ending hostilities, Russia, Turkey, and Iran have never stopped thinking about ways to bolster the ceasefire.

One way to do so is to create safe zones, or de-escalation zones, as the President just said. We have heard the US President mention de-escalation zones as well. Yesterday, I discussed this issue on the phone with Mr Trump. As far as I understand, the US administration is supportive of these ideas. Earlier, Russia held consultations with Damascus and Tehran, and we believe that we need to work toward creating mechanisms that would guarantee an end to the bloodshed and create conditions for starting a political dialogue. In this sense, I am on the same page with the President of Turkey. We proceed from the premise that the participants in the conflict who gathered in Astana today will make the final decision, because, ultimately, the future of their country depends on them. As guarantors of the ceasefire, Turkey, Iran, and Russia will do their best to ensure that these mechanisms get better and are effective. We will support this proposal.

This is all extremely vague, and does not provide any clear explanation of what these so-called ‘de-escalation zones’ are supposed to be about or what they will consist of.  However it seems from these words that Erdogan, Trump and the Syrian and Iranian leadership are all to a greater or lesser degree supportive of this proposal, which given their differences on so many other issues is an extraordinary fact in itself.

A few days ago Al-Masdar, which has reliable sources within the Syrian government, published an interesting article about how the Russians are supposedly planning to establish four zones in Syria, which are presumably the proposed ‘de-escalation zones’.  The article reads as follows

Russia proposed the creation of four zones in Syria as part of a wider plan to de-escalate the tension in the war-torn country.

The proposed zones will have safety lines along them and monitoring centers in order to avoid direct fire among the warring parties, as well as granting safe access to unarmed civilians and aid convoys.

The Russian proposal also involves the possibility of the three guarantor states (Russia, Iran and Turley) to form a working group and send troops in order to enhance the application of the proposal.

Putting this article with what Putin and Erdogan said together, it seems that what the Russians are proposing is that the Syrian authorities and the various Turkish backed Jihadi groups which are supposed to be participating in the Russian-Turkish sponsored ceasefire and in the Astana process agree between them certain zones (the Russians have apparently proposed four such zones) which are to be completely demilitarised and to which civilians can escape in order to avoid the fighting.

Putin was quite clear that the setting up of these ‘de-escalation’ zones and their boundaries had to be agreed by the Syrian government and by the Turkish backed Jihadis as part of the Astana peace process.

We proceed from the premise that the participants in the conflict who gathered in Astana today will make the final decision, because, ultimately, the future of their country depends on them

However it seems that once the boundaries are agreed the three guarantor powers – Iran, Turkey and Russia – will take steps to secure them.   Here is what Putin had to say about that

As guarantors of the ceasefire, Turkey, Iran, and Russia will do their best to ensure that these mechanisms get better and are effective

What this means in practice is unclear.  The Al-Masdar article speaks of the setting up of a ‘working group’ and of troops being sent ‘in order to enhance the application of the proposal’.  That suggests peacekeepers being sent to police the zones.

The question of whose troops those would be is the key one.

The Syrians would be deeply unhappy if Turkish troops were introduced into Syria in order to police the zones, since this would legitimise the presence of Turkish troops in Syria, which up to now has been illegal.  Given how the Syrians feel about Turkey – which has been their most relentless enemy – they would be bound to object strenuously to any proposal which legitimised the presence of Turkish troops in their country.  The Russians in light of their own difficulties with Turkey might be reluctant to pressure the Syrians to agree to it.

The US, the Israelis and the Saudis for their part would however undoubtedly strongly object to the introduction of Iranian troops into Syria for such a purpose.  All three of these countries have spoken of their determination to end any Iranian presence in Syria.  They would certainly not agree to Iranian troops entering the country to police ‘de-escalation zones’.  The Turkish backed Jihadis would be bound to object strenuously also.

That might well mean that the bulk of the troops would have to come from Russia.  A short time ago rumours circulated in the Middle East media that the Russians were considering sending ground troops to Syria.  If so then that might be as part of this proposal rather than in the active combat role the rumours claim.  Presumably if an agreement were reached it would be backed by a Resolution of the UN Security Council authorising Russia, probably with the help of troops from some other powers, to send troops to Syria to police the zones.

Any suggestion that Russian ground troops be sent to Syria, even following an international agreement and with the authority of the UN Security Council, would still however be hugely controversial in Russia.  It is far from certain the Russian government is considering it.  So far there is no confirmation of it.

Whilst the form and purpose of the proposed ‘de-escalation zones’ is still unclear, the reason for Russia proposing them is not.  They give every impression of being a Russian response to President Trump’s revived talk since the alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack of ‘safe havens’.

The difference between ‘safe havens’ and ‘de-escalation zones’ is that ‘safe havens’ are supposed to be set up by the US and Turkey unilaterally, whilst ‘de-escalation zones’ are supposed to be agreed by the Syrian government as part of the ceasefire talks underway in Astana.  Moreover the Russians would have a role in monitoring and perhaps administering the ‘de-escalation zones, whilst they would have no such role in guarding the ‘safe havens’.  Setting up the ‘safe havens’ would amount to a US-Turkish invasion of Syria, which would dramatically worsen the crisis there.  “De-escalation zones’, in theory at least, would not.

From the Russian point of view (and possibly that of Damascus and Tehran) ‘de-escalation zones’ would also have the further advantage that their form and boundaries – unlike those of the ‘safe havens’ – would be agreed, at least in theory, by the Syrian government in Damascus, bringing them within the legal jurisdiction of the Syrian state.

That the ‘de-escalation zones’ are different, or are supposed to be different, from the ‘safe havens’ was implicitly admitted by President Erdogan during his joint news conference with Putin

There is a new initiative in this regard. As you may be aware, from the very outset, I have been using the term ”safe zone“. I will continue to use it. However, a new term – ”de-escalation zone“ – has gained currency recently

President Erdogan’s words however also point to the problem: even if the ‘de-escalation zones’ are supposed to be different from the ‘safe havens’, in practice they may amount to the same thing.

Ever since the Russian-Turkish ceasefire was agreed fighting has continued in Syria largely unabated, with the Turkish backed Jihadi groups which supposedly signed up to the ceasefire regularly joining Al-Qaeda in attacks against the Syrian army.  Some of these groups were for example involved in the recent offensives in northern Hama and in Damascus.

These same Jihadi groups have also repeatedly staged walk outs from the Astana talks, and they have just done so again.

Given this record there has to be a serious possibility that if ‘de-escalation zones’ are ever set up these same Jihadi groups will try to take them over and convert them into base areas from which to attack the Syrian army.  That after all is precisely what they intended that the ‘safe havens’ would be.  Needless to say in trying to do this the Jihadis would have the support of the US and the Turks, who would then have a pretext to come to the defence of the Jihadis in the ‘de-escalation zones’ if the Syrian army sought to attack them there.

The Russians and the Syrians will of course do everything they can to prevent this situation from arising.  However it is easy to see how setting up ‘de-escalation zones’ could go horribly wrong, and -more to the point – how, precisely because the Jihadi groups might try to convert the ‘de-escalation zones’ into base areas whilst the Russians and the Syrians would try to prevent them from doing so, the whole process of setting up the ‘de-escalation zones’ might become bogged down in furious argument.

Which however raises another possibility, which is that like the Russian draft for a ‘Syrian constitution’ about which so much was heard a few weeks ago, but which has since vanished without trace, this Russian proposal to set up ‘de-escalation zones’ may not be intended seriously and may be nothing more than a diplomatic stratagem.

From the Russian point of view the priority in Syria at the moment must be to prevent the various parties – the Syrians, the Turks, the US and the Kurds – from getting drawn into an all-out war with each other.  Donald Trump’s recent re-floating of the idea of ‘safe havens’ has however seriously increased that possibility. Proposing ‘de-escalation zones’ might be the Russians’ way of getting Trump off the hook – which may be why he has apparently welcomed this proposal so enthusiastically – whilst giving the parties a topic they can talk about and argue over instead of fight each other.  Meanwhile the Syrian army would be left alone to carry on the fight against Al-Qaeda and ISIS unhindered.

In that case even if actual agreement on the ‘de-escalation zones’ is never reached, floating the proposal would have served its purpose.

As I said before during my discussion of the Russian draft for a Syrian constitution, these sort of stratagems were once a commonplace of diplomacy, though they scarcely ever happen today because the US and the Western powers never use them.  The Russians however have retained a gift for them, and it may be that this whole nebulous idea of ‘de-escalation zones’ is just another example.

Whether that is so or not, and whether the proposal for ‘de-escalation zones’ is intended seriously or is in fact simply a stratagem, is something which the next few weeks should make clear. One way or the other however this proposal repays careful watching.

Advertisement
Comments

Latest

It’s Official: ‘Britain’s Democracy Now At Risk’

It’s not just campaigners saying it any more: democracy is officially at risk, according to parliament’s own digital, culture, media and sport committee.

The Duran

Published

on

Via True Publica, authored by Jessica Garland – Electoral Reform Society:


Britain’s main campaign rules were drawn up in the late 1990s, before social media and online campaigning really existed. This has left the door wide open to disinformation, dodgy donations and foreign interference in elections.

There is a real need to close the loopholes when it comes to the online Wild West.

Yet in this year’s elections, it was legitimate voters who were asked to identify themselves, not those funnelling millions into political campaigns through trusts, or those spreading fake news.

The government trialled mandatory voter ID in five council areas in May. In these five pilot areas alone about 350 people were turned away from polling stations for not having their papers with them — and they didn’t return. In other words, they were denied their vote.

Yet last year, out of more than 45 million votes cast across the country, there were just 28 allegations of personation (pretending to be someone else at the polling station), the type of fraud voter ID is meant to tackle.

Despite the loss of 350 votes, the pilots were branded a success by the government. Yet the 28 allegations of fraud (and just one conviction) are considered such a dire threat that the government is willing to risk disenfranchising many more legitimate voters to try to address it. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Indeed, the fact-checking website FullFact noted that in the Gosport pilot, 0.4 per cent of voters did not vote because of ID issues. That’s a greater percentage than the winning margin in at least 14 constituencies in the last election. Putting up barriers to democratic engagement can have a big impact. In fact, it can swing an election.

In the run-up to the pilots, the Electoral Reform Society and other campaigners warned that the policy risked disenfranchising the most marginalised groups in society.

The Windrush scandal highlights exactly the sort of problems that introducing stricter forms of identity could cause: millions of people lack the required documentation. It’s one of the reasons why organisations such as the Runnymede Trust are concerned about these plans.

The Electoral Commission has now published a report on the ID trials, which concludes that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns” on this front.

The small number of pilots, and a lack of diversity, meant that sample sizes were too small to conclude anything about how the scheme would affect various demographic groups. Nor can the pilots tell us about the likely impact of voter ID in a general election, where the strain on polling staff would be far greater and a much broader cross-section of electors turns out to vote.

The Electoral Reform Society, alongside 22 organisations, campaigners and academics, has now called on the constitution minister to halt moves to impose this policy. The signatories span a huge cross-section of society, including representatives of groups that could be disproportionately impacted by voter ID, from Age UK to Liberty and from the British Youth Council to the Salvation Army and the LGBT Foundation.

Voters know what our democratic priorities should be: ensuring that elections are free from the influence of big donors. Having a secure electoral register. Providing balanced media coverage. Transparency online.

We may be little wiser as a result of the government’s voter ID trials. Yet we do know where the real dangers lie in our politics.

Continue Reading

Latest

Corrupt Robert Mueller’s despicable Paul Manafort trial nears end (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 79.

Alex Christoforou

Published

on

Paul Manafort’s legal team rested its case on Tuesday without calling a single witness. This sets the stage for closing arguments before the judge hands the case to jurors for a verdict.

Manafort’s defense opted to call no witnesses, choosing instead to rely on the team’s cross-examination of government witnesses including a very devious Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy, and several accountants, bookkeepers and bankers who had financial dealings with Manafort.

Closing arguments are expected on Wednesday. Jurors may begin deliberating shortly after receiving their final instructions from judge Ellis.

Manafort case has nothing to do with Mueller’s ‘Trump-Russia collusion witch-hunt’ as the former DC lobbyist is accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied a defense motion to acquit Manafort on the charges because prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the circus trial of Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, and how crooked cop Robert Mueller is using all his power to lean on Manafort, so as to conjure up something illegal against US President Donald Trump.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via Zerohedge

Prosecutors allege he dodged taxes on millions of dollars made from his work for a Ukrainian political party, then lied to obtain bank loans when cash stopped flowing from the project.

The courtroom was sealed for around two hours Tuesday morning for an unknown reason, reopening around 11:30 a.m. with Manafort arriving around 10 minutes later.

The decision to rest their case without calling any witnesses follows a denial by Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort after his lawyers tried to argue that the special counsel had failed to prove its case at the federal trial.

The court session began at approximately 11:45 a.m.:

“Good afternoon,” began defense attorney Richard Westling, who corrected himself and said, “Good morning.”

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Judge Ellis responded.

Ellis then heard brief argument from both sides on the defense’s motion for acquittal, focusing primarily on four counts related to Federal Savings Bank.

Federal Savings Bank was aware of the status of Paul Manafort’s finances,” Westling argued. “They came to the loans with an intent of doing business with Mr. Manafort.”

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye fired back, saying that that even if bank chairman Steve Calk overlooked Manafort’s financial woes, it would still be a crime to submit fraudulent documents to obtain the loans.

“Steve Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued, adding that while Caulk may have “had a different motive” — a job with the Trump administration — “I’m not really sure there’s evidence he knew the documents were false.”

Ellis sided with prosecutors.

The defense makes a significant argument about materiality, but in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said, adding. “That is true for all the other counts… those are all jury issues.”

Once that exchange was over, Manafort’s team was afforded the opportunity to present their case, to which lead attorney Kevin Downing replied “The defense rests.

Ellis then began to question Manafort to ensure he was aware of the ramifications of that decision, to which the former Trump aide confirmed that he did not wish to take the witness stand.

Manafort, in a dark suit and white shirt, stood at the lectern from which his attorneys have questioned witnesses, staring up at the judge. Ellis told Manafort he had a right to testify, though if he chose not to, the judge would tell jurors to draw no inference from that. – WaPo

Ellis asked Manafort four questions – his amplified voice booming through the courtroom:

Had Manafort discussed the decision with his attorney?

“I have, your honor,” Manafort responded, his voice clear.

Was he satisfied with their advice?

“I am, your honor,” Manafort replied.

Had he decided whether he would testify?

“I have decided,” Manafort said.

“Do you wish to testify?” Ellis finally asked.

“No, sir,” Manafort responded.

And with that, Manafort returned to his seat.

Continue Reading

Latest

One more step toward COMPLETE de-dollarization

Over the past several months, sitting here in Moscow, it has become increasingly obvious that while the US Dollar is unquestionably the world’s leading and liquid reserve currency, it comes with an ever increasing high price (of sovereignty and FX) if you are not the USA.

Published

on

I have opined and written about the trend towards de-dollarization before, but with the latest US –Turkish spat it has hit the wallets, mattresses and markets of a number of countries, be they aligned with Washington or not. One thing they all have in common was that in this recent era of low cost available money, many happily fed at the US dollar trough.

Support The Duran – Browse our Shop >>

This serves as a further albeit loud example to many nations for the need to diversify to an extent away from the greenback, or risk being caught up in its volatile, sudden and unpredictably risky increasingly politicized directions.

The Dollar and the geopolitical winds from Washington are today as never before openly being used as policy, which can be called the “carrot and stick”, a distinctly Pavlovian approach. Sadly, few if any can make out where or what the carrot is in this recent US worldview branding.

Tariffs, sanctions, pressured exchange rates, the Federal Reserve loosening or tightening, trade agreements and laws ignored or simply trashed… there is a lot going on which seems to democratically affect America’s allies as well as those on Washington’s politically popular and dramatic “poo-poo” list.

Just now from a press conference in Turkey, I watched Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov say that through the actions shown by the US, the role of the US dollar as a secure global reserve currency for free trade will diminish as more countries switch to national currencies for international trade.

He clearly spoke for many nations when he said; “It will make more and more countries that are not even affected by US sanctions go away from the dollar and rely on more reliable, contractual partners in terms of currency use.” Putting the situation in a nutshell he went on to say “I have already said this about sanctions: they are illegal, they undermine all principles of global trade and principles approved by UN decisions, under which unilateral measures of economic duress are unlawful.”

Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally and a key line of western defense during the long cold war years fully agreed with his Russian counterpart. The Turkish foreign minister Mr. Cavosoglu openly warned that US sanctions or trade embargoes can and are being unilaterally imposed against any country at any time if they do not toe DC’s political line.

He said at the same press conference; “Today, sanctions are imposed on Turkey, and tomorrow they can be used against any other European state. If the United States wants to maintain respect in the international arena, then it is necessary for it to be respectful of the interests of other countries.”

What is happening in Turkey is symptomatic of the developed and emerging markets globally. When trillions of dollars of newly issued lucre was up for grabs, thanks to several developed country central banks, it was comparatively easy for governments and companies just like Turkey’s to borrow funds denominated in dollars and not their national currencies.

Turkey has relied on foreign-currency debt more than most EM’s. Corporate, financial and other debt denominated mostly in dollars, approximates close to 70% of it’s economy. Therefore as the Turkish lira plunges, it is very costly for those companies to repay their dollar-denominated loans, and even now it is patently clear many will not.

The concern rattling around the underbelly of the global markets is what can be reasonably expected for assets and economies that were inflated by cheap debt, the United States included. All this points not so much to a banking crisis as has happened eight years ago, but a systemic financial market crisis.

This is a new one, and I doubt if any QE, QT, NIRPs, or ZIRPs will make much of a difference, despite the rocket-high equity markets the US has been displaying.

One financial trader I spoke to, whom I have known since the early 1980’s (and I thought him ancient then) muttered to me “we’re gettin’ into the ecstasy stage, nothing but the high matters, everything else including the VIX is seen as boring denial, and not the warning tool it is. Better start loading up on gold.”

Meanwhile, de-dollarization is ongoing in Russia and is carefully studied by a host of countries, especially as the Russian government has not yet finished selling off US debt; it still has just a few billion to go. The Russian Finance Minister A. Siluanov said this past Sunday that Russia would continue decreasing holdings of Treasuries in response to sanctions.

The finance minister went on to say that, Russia is also considering distancing itself from using the US dollar for international trade, calling it an unreliable, conditional and hence risky tool for payments.

Between March and May this year, Russia’s US debt holdings were sold down by $81 billion, which is 84% of its total US debt holdings, and while I don’t know the current figure it is certain to be even less.

The latest round of tightening sanctions screws against Russia were imposed by the State Department under a chemical and biological warfare law and should be going into effect on August 22. This in spite of the fact that no proof was ever shown, not under any established national or international law, or with any of several global biochemical conventions, not even in the ever entertaining court of public opinion.

Whatever Russia may continue to do in its relationship with US debt or the dollar, the fact of the matter is that Russia is not a heavyweight in this particular financial arena, and the direct effects of Russia’s responses are negligible. However, the indirect effects are huge as they reflect what many countries (allied or unallied with the US) see as Washington’s overbearing and more than slightly unipolar trade and geopolitical advantage quests, be they Mexico, Canada, the EU, or anyone else on any hemisphere of this globe.

Some of the potential indirect effects over time may be a similar sell-off or even gradual reduction of US debt exposure from China or any one of several dozens of countries deciding to reduce their exposure to US debt by reducing their purchases and waiting for existing Treasuries to mature. In either case, the trend is there and is not going away anytime soon.

When Russia clears its books of US dollarized debt, then who will be next in actively diversifying their US debt risk? Then what might be the fate of the US Dollar, and what value then will be the international infusions to finance America’s continually growing debt, or fuel the funds needed for further market growth? Value and the energy of money has no politics, it ultimately trends towards areas where there is a secure business dynamic. That being said, looks like we are now and will be living through the most interesting of disruptive times.

Continue Reading

JOIN OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Advertisement

Your donations make all the difference. Together we can expose fake news lies and deliver truth.

Amount to donate in USD$:

5 100

Waiting for PayPal...
Validating payment information...
Waiting for PayPal...

Advertisement
Advertisements

Quick Donate

The Duran
EURO
DONATE
Donate a quick 10 spot!
Advertisement

Advertisements

The Duran Newsletter

Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending