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The Trump-Putin ceasefire in Syria may hold. Here’s why

The ceasefire agreed by Presidents Putin and Trump has better prospects of success than the previous ceasefires agreed by Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov because the Trump administration is more united and has a more realistic policy towards Syria than did the Obama administration.

Alexander Mercouris

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During his press conference following his meeting with President Macron, US President Trump spoke with hope and some pride about the ceasefire in southern Syria he agreed with Russian President Putin during their meeting on the margins of the G20 summit

Here is what President Trump said

One of the great things that came out if this meeting, by the way, was the fact that we got the ceasefire that now has lasted for almost five days. Five days doesn’t sound like a long period of time. In terms of a ceasefire in Syria it’s a very long period of time……

That was a result of having communication with a country. During that five day period a lot of lives have been saved, a lot of people were not killed, no shots have been fired in a very, very dangerous part of the world and this is one of the most dangerous parts of Syria itself.

By having some communication and dialogue we were able to have a ceasefire and it’s going to go on for a while. And frankly we’re working on the second ceasefire in a very rough part of Syria.

(bold italics added)

One senses in these words the pride of a man who sees himself first and foremost as a deal maker who has just done a successful deal.

Moreover in what he says President Trump is not wrong.  The previous ceasefire negotiated by by the US and Russia in Syria – the one agreed in September by US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov – required weeks of agonising negotiating to come into effect and then lasted just four days.

There are three reasons why this ceasefire however stands a better prospect of success than the two ceasefires Kerry and Lavrov agreed with each other over the course of 2016, the first in February and the second in September.

The first is that President Trump agreed it himself.   Unlike President Obama, who never wholeheartedly committed himself to either of the two ceasefires negotiated by Kerry, that means that this ceasefire has behind it the authority of the President himself.

Even when a President is as much in conflict with the bureaucracy as President Trump is, it is nonetheless far more difficult for disaffected members of the bureaucracy to sabotage a policy that is backed by the President himself.

The second is that on this issue the President may actually have the support of the key figures in the bureaucracy.

It has not been widely noted but President Trump has a far more coherent foreign policy team than President Obama ever did.

Obama’s practice was to balance supposed ‘realists’ within his administration with ideological liberal interventionists or neocons by giving both posts in his administration in a way that made it easier for him to play them off against each other.

This was justified as an inclusive ‘team of rivals’ approach supposedly borrowed from the one used by President Lincoln in the Civil War.  My opinion is that it was actually intended to cover Obama’s tracks, making it possible for him to let one member of his administration carry the can for a policy, and then using another member of the administration to undermine or overturn the policy if it ran into trouble.

A classic example was the way Ashton Carter – Obama’s neocon Defense Secretary – was allowed to sabotage the ceasefire Kerry painstakingly negotiated with Lavrov last September as soon as it became clear that it was unpopular with the regime change hardliners in Congress and the media and within the administration itself.

Though this was clever politics, it made negotiating with the Obama administration on a subject like Syria ultimately impossible.

By contrast one gets the sense that the top members of Donald Trump’s foreign policy team – Tillerson, Mattis and McMaster – are on the same page and work well with each other as a united team.  Importantly it seems that all three of them are fully signed up to the President’s Syrian policy, and want to make the ceasefire work.

The key figure is Defense Secretary Mattis.  Not only does he appear to be especially close to the President – apparently they meet regularly and often lunch together – but as a former Marine General he appears to have the  US military in Syria fully under control.

It has become increasingly clear over the last few weeks that it is Mattis who has day to day control of US policy in Syria.  Moreover he appears to be a voice of (relative) moderation.  Strikingly, following Sean Spicer’s phoney ‘warning’ to President Assad of a few weeks ago it was Mattis who stepped in to calm the situation by saying that the ‘warning’ ‘appeared to have been heeded’ so that an attack on Syria was not actually necessary.

With Mattis in control of the US military in Syria and backing the ceasefire there is much less risk of US action being taken to undermine the ceasefire than was the case with the ceasefire agreed last September.

Thirdly and lastly, despite all the problems and obstacles – some of which it must be said are self-created – the Trump administration overall has a much more realistic policy in Syria than did the Obama administration.

The Obama administration never gave up its objective of achieving regime change in Syria by overthrowing President Assad’s government in Damascus.

In the summer of 2015 it was preparing to declare a no-fly zone over Syria – ie. start a bombing campaign against the Syrian military – even at the risk of allowing ISIS to capture Damascus.  In the spring of 2016 it supported a Jihadi offensive to capture Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.   In the autumn of 2016 some of its more militant members appear pressed for military action to stop the Syrian military liberating the Jihadi controlled eastern district of Aleppo.

By contrast the Trump administration has accepted that the forcible overthrow of President Assad’s government is unachievable.  Instead it is focused on gaining leverage in Syria by establishing areas controlled by its proxies there whilst at the same time making genuine efforts to achieve the destruction of ISIS.

Recently, in the face of the rapid advances by the Syrian army, the Trump administration seems to have given up its plan to establish a big statelet controlled by its Sunni proxies in central and eastern Syria, and appears to be more focused on building up a large pro-US Kurdish controlled statelet in the north.

In my opinion this policy will also eventually fail, and I believe that the whole of Syria, including its northern Kurdish areas, will eventually be brought back under the control of President Assad’s Syrian government in Damascus.

Whether or not I am right about that, it still remains the case that this is a much more realistic policy than the Obama’s administration’s policy of seeking regime change in Damascus.

Given that the Trump administration’s objectives in Syria are more realistic and limited than those of the Obama administration, and do not include regime change in Damascus, that means that a ceasefire in southern Syria will not be perceived by members of the Trump administration as a defeat, as the two ceasefires negotiated by Kerry were perceived by members of the Obama administration.

None of this unfortunately guarantees the success of the latest ceasefire.  Given that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are still on the loose in Syria, and given that countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey are all still active there, confidence that any ceasefire anywhere in Syria is likely to hold would be foolhardy.

However President Trump is right to say that this ceasefire is more likely to hold than the earlier ones.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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