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Vladimir Putin initiates call with Erdogan amid possibility of renewed fighting in Syria

Deteriorating situation in Syria prompts urgent talks between Russian and Turkish leaders amidst suggestions of a summit with Iran

Alexander Mercouris

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As I predicted a few days ago, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria has prompted an urgent telephone call between Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan.

The Kremlin’s summary of the call does not make clear who initiated the call.  However most likely it was the Russian leader.

Since President Putin visited Syria in December and announced a limited withdrawal of Russian forces there, the situation in Syria has spiralled downwards.

I should say that I do not think this is a coincidence.

Though Russia’s Aerospace Forces continue to maintain a very active presence in Syria – calling into question the extent to which a withdrawal has actually taken place – the announcement of the withdrawal was inevitably interpreted by the host of other actors in the Syria war as a sign of a weakening of Russian resolve, and appears to have emboldened them to attack more aggressively.

The result has been a multiplication of attacks on Russian facilities in Syria, with mortar and drone attacks on Khmeimim air base and the shooting down by a MANPADS missile of a Russian SU-25 attack aircraft over Idlib province.

Meanwhile the announcement of US support for a 30,000 strong Kurdish border force has provoked a Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish held enclave of Afrin.

The Syrian government, which has had strained relations with the Kurds hitherto, is now actively supporting them in their fight with the Turkish army, and the Syrian Kurds have also received verbal support from Iran.

The Syrian army for its part has launched a large scale offensive against the Jihadi controlled enclave of Idlib province.  The Russian Aerospace Forces have been active in backing this offensive.  However the Turkish military has been deployed to Idlib province, apparently with the intention of blocking the Syrian advance, leading to exchanges of fire between the Syrian and Turkish militaries.

Further east ISIS is undergoing a revival in areas which it formerly controlled east of the Euphrates as US backed Kurdish militia redeploy from there to fight the Turkish military in the west.

This in turn has led to an advance by Syrian tribal fighters allied to the Syrian government into areas previously captured by the Kurds from ISIS east of the Euphrates.  This advance has in turn led to a bombing raid on these fighters by the US, leaving between 25 and 150 of them dead (accounts differ).

There are suggestions that the US bombing raid was intended to prevent these tribal fighters from taking control of Syrian oil wells from other tribal fighters who were previously allied to ISIS but who are now allied to the US backed Kurds.

That has in turn provoked an angry response from the Russian Defence Ministry, which has accused the US of trying to take control of Syrian economic assets.  Here is how TASS reports its comments

“The recent incident once again shows that the United States’ illegal military presence in Syria is actually aimed at taking control of the country’s economic assets and not at fighting against the ISIL international terror group [the former name of the Islamic State – TASS],” the statement reads.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, on February 7, “a pro-government militia unit, conducting surveillance and research activities near the al-Isba oil refinery (17 kilometers southeast of the Salhiyah settlement) to eliminate a militant group shelling the positions of government troops, was shelled with mortars and multiple-launch rocket systems.” “The attack was followed by an air raid by the US-led coalition’s helicopters. As a result, 25 Syrian militiamen suffered wounds.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the reason for the incident was that the Syrian militia unit had failed to inform the Russian operational group in Salhiyah about its plans to conduct a surveillance and research operation.

To say that this is a worrying and confusing picture would be a gross understatement.

Meanwhile Russian acquiescence in the Turkish attack on Kurdish controlled Afrin has led to Kurdish charges of ‘betrayal’ by Russia, whilst support for the Kurds from the Syrian government and Iran has led to talk of a Russian-Turkish ‘alliance’ against the Kurds, Syria and Iran.

By contrast the always astute former Indian diplomat turned international affairs commentator M.K. Bhadrakumar has spoken – far more plausibly – of Russian-Turkish relations being close to ‘meltdown’ because of bad blood between Russia and Turkey over the Syrian offensive into Idlib province.

Bhadrakumar even speaks of this leading to a rapprochement between the US and Turkey, with the US encouraging the falling out between Russia and Turkey by dangling before Turkey the prospect of US support for the establishment of what looks rather like a Turkish protectorate over Syria

For Turkey, the knot is three-fold. Firstly, it cannot come to terms with the new reality that Russia (which has civilizational ties with Greece and Cyprus) has today become the dominant power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Secondly, it disapproves of ongoing Syrian military operations, supported by air power, to regain control of Idlib from opposition groups that have enjoyed Turkish support. And, above all, thirdly, Erdogan’s grand design to establish a permanent Turkish foothold in Syria (which was ruled by the Ottomans), will remain a pipedream so long as Russia underpins Syria’s unity and territorial integrity. Turkey has all along viewed Moscow’s links with the Kurds in Afrin suspiciously.

Erdogan is well aware that the US will see advantages in the developing situation to push its containment strategy against Iran more effectively in Syria and to isolate the Assad regime

Typically, therefore, Erdogan will now seek a modus vivendi with the US. Of course, it will be a dream come true for the US if the hairline crack in the Russian-Turkish axis in Syria widens and becomes a rift in the coming weeks. In their opposition to the establishment of Russian bases in Syria, Washington and Ankara are on the same page.

On the other hand, the Pentagon will expect Erdogan to give up his plans to launch any military operation to attack the Kurds in Manbij. The US simply cannot accede to the Turkish demand that it break its alliance with Syria’s Kurds. US Defence Secretary James Mattis hinted on Friday that talks are going on with Turkey to dissuade Erdogan from ordering an operation on Manbij.

For his part, Erdogan will seek a tradeoff with the Trump administration to create conditions for a broader rapprochement with the US. He is well aware that the US will see advantages in the developing situation to push its containment strategy against Iran more effectively in Syria and to isolate the Assad regime. Indeed, a rift in the Russian-Turkish axis in Syria opens an entirely new ball game in the country, one that enables the US to create new facts on the ground and negotiate harder on the terms of a future Syrian settlement. Israel is also a stakeholder here.

Erdogan all along hankered for an enhanced role for Turkey as the flag carrier in the West’s strategies in Syria, fancying himself to be the role model for the Muslim Middle East. But President Barack Obama was disinterested in any such dalliance with the mercurial Sultan in Ankara.

Bhadrakumar’s claims of an incipient realignment of Turkey with the US against Russia in Syria is not inherently implausible.

An article in Al-Monitor shows that President Erdogan remains as implacably hostile to Syrian President Assad as ever, and has categorically rejected demands which are now spreading in Turkey for a rapprochement with President Assad and with the Syrian government

Opposition parties along with retired generals and analysts [in Turkey] argue that cooperating with Damascus is the only way to ensure Turkey’s security interests along its long border with Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains adamantly opposed to talking with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however, even though Ankara established low-level contacts with Damascus prior to launching its onslaught against the YPG in Afrin…..

Erdogan remains defiant and is angry with calls for him to make peace with Assad. He blasted Kilicdaroglu [a Turkish opposition politician who has called for a rapprochement with President Assad – AM] prior to flying to Rome on Feb. 4 on a state visit to the Vatican. “What kind of business is this?” Erdogan said in response to a question from reporters. “Here is a man who is heedlessly trying to bring us together with a man that caused the death of a million people.”

Given this attitude, it is far from impossible that Erdogan might decide to side with the US by taking further action against the Syrian government.

All this highlights the fundamental weakness of Russian strategy in Syria.  It depends far too much on the cooperation of President Erdogan, Turkey’s volatile and unpredictable President, whilst at the same time acting to thwart his regional ambitions.

The extent to which Russian diplomacy over the last two years has succeeded in keeping President Erdogan on track in light of this is remarkable, but it has required continuous and unremitting work with President Erdogan by President Putin and his diplomats.

The emerging crisis in Syria now requires President Putin to go to work with Erdogan again.  Here is the Kremlin’s summary of their conversation

The two presidents continued their discussion on the situation in Syria. Turkey’s leader expressed his condolences to the Russian President on the death of Russian military pilot Roman Filipov, who was piloting a Sukhoi Su-25 on February 3 and was attacked by militants in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

It was agreed to improve coordination of the Russian and Turkish troops and special services against terrorist groups that are violating the ceasefire.

Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan stressed the importance of strict and unfailing adherence to the Astana agreements on de-escalation zones in Syria. They reaffirmed mutual commitment to the political and diplomatic resolution of the crisis based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, in line with the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which took place on January 30, 2018 in Sochi.

In this context, the two leaders noted the importance of continuing cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran regarding Syria. They discussed future contacts in this format at various levels.

Though it is difficult to glean much from these words, the last paragraph clearly hints that a tripartite summit between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran to discuss the growing crisis in Syria is in the works.

Reports from the Middle East confirm this and suggest that the summit will take place shortly in Istanbul.

Given the escalating crisis in Syria the three Presidents – assuming they meet – will have a great deal to discuss.

It is to be hoped that they are able to come to some sort of arrangement with each other, which will prevent the crisis deepening, and which will keep the Syrian process on track.

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Trump Orders Immediate Release Of All Text Messages, Carter Page FISA Application From Russia Investigation

Trump has ordered the DOJ to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions.

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Via Zerohedge

President Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions, of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also released will be specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr.

The statement reads in full:

“At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr

***

As we reported last Monday, Trump had been expected to release the documents any time – with specific attention to the Page documents and the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship  with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months.

  • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election — a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.)
  • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page — all to take down Trump. –Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill‘s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele.

Last month Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions  “Justice” Department? A total joke!”

Trump’s threat came one day after two tweets about Ohr, noting a connection to former FBI agent Peter Strzok, as well as a text sent by Ohr after former FBI Director James Comey was fired in which Ohr says “afraid they will be exposed.”

According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign.

“Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help.”

“After two years of investigations and accusations from both sides of the aisle about what documents indicate, it is past time for documents to be declassified and let the American people decide for themselves if DoJ and FBI acted properly,” Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows told Axios earlier Sunday.

In early August, journalist Paul Sperry tweeted that Trump may use his presidential authority to declassify “20 redacted pages of a June, 2017 FISA renewal, “and possibly” 63 pages of emails and notes between “Ohr & Steele,” and FD-302 summaries of 12 interviews.”

President Trump threatened to declassify documents two weeks ago – one day after the New York Times allegedly published an anonymous Op-Ed claiming to be from a White House official claiming to be part of an unelected “resistance” cabal within the Trump administration.

“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do,” Trump tweeted earlier this month, adding: “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”

Trump’s threat comes as calls by frustrated GOP legislators to release the documents have hit a fevered pitch. Spearheading the effort are Republican Reps. Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Lee Zeldin – who have repeatedly asked Trump to declassify more of the heavily redacted FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016.

In June, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee asked President Trump to declassify key sections of Carter Page’s FISA warrant application, according to a letter obtained by Fox News.

Carter Page, the DOJ/FBI’s person of interest, weighed in on the matter in late August, tweeting: “The Corrupt DOJ, co-conspirators in the DNC and their high-priced consultants correctly believed they had American democracy and the FISA Court over a barrel in 2016.”

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Via Strategic Culture

This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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Democrat dirty ‘MeToo’ flavored trick could succeed

Fear of the Left’s “virtue signaling” trick is a real test for the American people, and they are likely to fail without honest critical thought.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The developments of the last-minute sexual allegation against Judge Brett Kavanaugh that was brought up, ostensibly as a last-minute tactic, a dirty trick, to delay or block his confirmation vote to the US Supreme Court.

The issue here is not at all about the doings of a young high-school age man to a girl when she was seventeen, it is a test to see how well the “sexual harassment” card actually works against one of the top players hand-picked by President Trump.

There is absolutely no call to “virtue” at all. All a critical thinker has to do is to consider these points:

  • Consider what side of the aisle this came from: The Democrats. The champions of every perverse sexual desire one can imagine, but dead-set against men being men and women being women.
  • The timing of the release of the allegation: The Democrats deliberately used this as ammo against Kavanaugh. If there was such a concern about the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford (a feminist, as most of these feminists like to go by three names) and her suffering, this would have been broached years ago – after all, she was 17 when it allegedly happened and she is now 36 years older. If #MeToo was really about finding a way to live virtuously, this would have been addressed day zero of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.
  • Consider the alignment of the people on the Democrat side AND the Republicans who are now beginning to voice the “need to wait”: Again this is not about any wrong doing being fixed. It is obvious sheer dirty trickery, and in classical liberal style, the “call to virtue” is only that which is politically expedient for the Democrats, the party of gay marriage, child pornography (check WikiLeaks email dump of Hillary Clinton’s advisor John Podesta for that one), spirit dinners (a nice name for what is ostensibly a satanic Black Mass – style ritual, also from Podesta’s group of friends)
  • Last and most important – how does this situation benefit Christine Blasey Ford? – If this is truly an issue that happened (which is apparently showing holes already), then how does taking the Judge down benefit her?
  • Further still, why has this woman allowed herself to be, frankly, used again, but this time by opportunistic politicians?

These points are just a suggested beginning. There are probably hundreds of other things to consider, such as why is this even an issue. A lot of boys made advances on girls in their teenage years, and a lot girls summarily fight them off and win. The snowflakes of the world are loath to admit this, but this is quite frankly a large part of growing up. Granted sometimes it goes too far and someone rapes someone else. That is a terrible thing. But it is also statistically extremely rare, and a randy teenager is hardly a rapist.

This type of “virtue signaling” as it has come to be known is the ultimate in hypocrisy, and it is completely devoid of contact with reality, yet the Congress is wavering on what to do. And why? Because the American male has been successfully cowed by feminist women. He has allowed this from trying to appease and honor such women, but for these women, who consider pregnancy a disease for which abortion is the cure, and who have been brainwashed to consider men the enemy, they greedily took all the power they could.

There is a lot to be said about this on many levels, but the point here is that this sort of manipulation is presently deployed for political reasons and no more. We saw this happen with Judge Roy Moore in January and it worked. And as soon as the Judge was out of the running, the charges magically vanished into the mist. It is being tried again now, and it may work.

This is beyond disgusting – it is actually frightening to consider that such a transparently political allegation may actually defeat a terrific candidate who has categorically and fully denied the allegation.

One one hand, if the nomination falls through, it’s no big deal. President Trump will likely pick Amy Barrett and that will shut down the feminists for a while and probably the whole #MeToo machine.

Unless they determine magically that Mrs. Barrett is a sexual predator. However her seven children are unlikely to support such a crazy idea.

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