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Turkey calls on Russia, Iran to get Syrian army under control

Turkey is displeased that Syrian government forces are liberating areas held by Ankara’s ‘moderate’ opposition allies

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(Al-Monitor) – Even as Russia plans further peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war, elite Syrian army forces are tearing through Idlib province, wrenching control of towns along the way from jihadi forces — or, as some believe, moderate opposition fighters.

​The Syrian army’s ultimate objective is to control Idlib city. The first phase of its operations on Dec. 26 targeted Abu Zuhur base from Ashtan. The army’s elite Tiger Forces moved rapidly under Russian air support and on Jan. 9 captured 12 settlements, moving to within a few miles of the base.

These aggressive moves are making Turkey so tense that it summoned the ambassadors of Iran and Russia and warned them that the Syrian army’s moves violate the accord reached in Astana, Kazakhstan, which provides for de-escalation zones guaranteed by Iran, Russia and Turkey. Idlib is in one of those zones. Turkey — no friend to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — believes he is attacking moderate opposition forces under the guise of combating terrorists.

“Iran and Russia are guarantors of the [Syrian] regime. We are the guarantor of the moderate opposition. Iran and Russia should shoulder their responsibilities and halt the regime,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a Jan. 10 interview with Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu New Agency. “If Russia and Iran would use their weight, the regime couldn’t do what it is doing. The action against Idlib is not only air attacks; the regime is advancing inland.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily repeated Turkey’s intention to launch operations against Kurds in Afrin and Manbij, which are currently behind American and Russian barriers.

“The time has come to totally eradicate the project of the separatist organization to create a terror corridor in Syria,” he said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). “We will advance the step we took with the Euphrates Shield operation and complete that process at Afrin and Manbij.”

Turkey’s anger over Idlib thus became public. Erdogan has been saying since Oct. 6, just before launching the Idlib operation, “Russia will provide security of Idlib from the periphery and Turkey internally in the town.”

Ankara is calling for pressure on Damascus, but that is not the only force involved: Iranian-supported militias are helping the Syrian army at Idlib, as are the Russians with air support.

The struggle at Idlib is considered by many to be the last act of the war against a jihadi group that is basically controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham under the leadership of al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham labels the Astana and Geneva peace processes as treason, so the cease-fire Russia formulated excludes Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as well as the Islamic State (IS). From the outset, Russia said the cease-fire covers only “moderate” opposition groups; operations against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and IS will not cease. Turkey, on the other hand — despite its approval of the Astana process — decided to place Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in a different category. Ankara first tried to reshape that organization as it had earlier with Ahrar al-Sham. When that didn’t work, Turkey tried to split Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. When that didn’t work as well, Ankara accepted the facts of life and decided to cooperate.

Ankara’s plan was to keep Idlib out of the operation no matter who controlled it until a political solution was found. In October, when Turkey first deployed its troops in Idlib, in line with the de-escalation zone plan, it was actually executing its own plans. When deploying Turkish troops north of Idlib closer to Afrin, Turkey made a deal with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and coordinated its moves with the group.

According to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham sources, there were three conditions to allow Turkey’s army to enter the area without encountering any opposition. One was that the target would be Afrin, where the Kurds have declared autonomy.A second would be that there would be no operation against groups controlling Idlib. The third was that local groups affiliated with Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield would not enter the area.

Turkey’s deployment — approved and escorted by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — was not compatible with Iran’s and Russia’s definition of the de-escalation zone. Turkey was indirectly providing a shield for the organizations already dominating Idlib.

But cooperation with Turkey caused friction within Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. According to reports, disagreement between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham wing under Abu Mohammed al-Golani, who advocated cooperation with Turkey, and others in the militant group have caused serious, at times bloody, discord. Some sources said killings of at least 35 senior members between September and November were due to these internal frictions. Others thought Turkey was behind this liquidation campaign.

Certain groups also broke off from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham when it took action against groups that decided to go to Astana in cooperation with Turkey. The Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement and Jaish al-Ahrar split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in July because of efforts to cleanse Idlib of Ahrar al-Sham and its allies. After Hayat Tahrir al-Sham reached an agreement with Turkey, humanitarian assistance and trade with Idlib resumed through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, certainly implying that Turkey had recognized Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as the dominant force at Idlib. There was one more significant split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham: Ansar al-Furqan — established by former Hayat Tahrir al-Sham member Jordanian Sami al-Urediti — issued a declaration banning cooperation with the Turkish military.

A crisis was inevitable, given the divergences in interpretation of the de-escalation zones between Russia and Turkey. The operations toward Abu Zuhur continued despite Turkey’s objections.

The clashes have intensified in an area some 40 miles (64 kilometers) away from the Turkish line of deployment. Turkey has been determined to avoid any clash with the Syrian army until a political solution is found. But that risk is growing by the day.

Some incidents after the Syrian offensive against Idlib have elements that could trigger confrontation between Russia and Turkey. On Dec. 31, Khmeimim air base, used by Russia, was hit with artillery fire. The Russian Defense Ministry said two Russian soldiers were killed. Syria’s official SANA news agency, quoting Russian sources, said the Vasilyok-type artillery used in the attack had entered Syria via Turkey.

On Jan. 5, the Russian Defense Ministry said, 13 drones were used to attack Russian bases at Tartus and Khmeimim. It said seven drones were destroyed and six were seized. According to Russian newspaper Zvezda, after this attack the ministry sent letters to Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and Turkey’s intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, to underline the “necessity for Turkey to fulfill its obligations to assure the armed groups controlled by Turkey respect” the de-escalation arrangement.

There were comments in Russian media that Turkey intentionally directed these attacks against the Russians to secure a green light to attack Afrin.

Because the drones used in the attacks took off from Idlib’s Muazara area, Russia said that area will no longer be immune to operations. On Jan. 8, near Darat Izza north of Idlib, a rocket struck within a few feet of a Turkish army convoy. The unknown type of rocket from an unknown source was interpreted as warning fire.

It’s not yet certain where the fragile relations between Russia and Turkey will go in this tense atmosphere, but it’s clear Idlib is becoming a dangerous final stage in the war. It’s possible that, in such a risky atmosphere, Ankara is hoping to hold on to Idlib and the triangle of al-Bab, Jarablus and Azaz that Turkey had secured in Operation Euphrates Shield, to use them as a card against Damascus in a settlement process. Such a card would have serious ramifications for the fate of the Syrian president and the future of the Kurds as they seek to build their autonomy in the north.

Until he gets the concessions he seeks for these two key issues, Erdogan doesn’t want the Syrian army to approach the Turkish border and face Turkish troops.

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Russia Lures International Arms Buyers With Half-Priced, More Effective Missile System

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery.

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Via Zerohedge


Russia has been pitching a rival missile platform that costs half of those made by US companies, reports CNBC, which has resulted in several countries dealing with the Kremlin “despite the potential for blowback.”

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery, while a THAAD battery made by Lockheed Martin costs just about $3 billion, according to people with first-hand knowledge of a US intelligence assessment.

Nearly 13 countries have expressed interest in buying Russia’s S-400, a move that could trigger potential U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which President Donald Trump signed in August 2017. In September, the U.S. slapped sanctions on China  for buying fighter jets and missiles from Russia. However, the U.S. could grant sanction waivers. –CNBC

Turkey, meanwhile, may be hit with US sanctions over their decision to purchase the S-400 defense system, which the United States says poses a risk to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

Meanwhile, India called the United States’ bluff over sanctions in late Ocotber, standing its ground in its decision to buy the S-400.

One of the reasons Russian systems are generally considered less expensive than their American counterparts is because they don’t include pricey ongoing maintenance.

“When foreign militaries buy American, above and beyond the purchase, they are buying a partnership with the U.S. military,” Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. “And that plus the maintenance and technical assistance is a big part of the cost difference.

The S-400 system made its debut in 2007, succeeding the S-200 and S-300 missile systems. According to CNBC, “the Russian-made S-400 is capable of engaging a wider array of targets, at longer ranges and against multiple threats simultaneously,” vs. US-made systems.

In terms of capability, one source noted that while there is no perfect weapon, the S-400 eclipses even THAAD, America’s missile defense crown jewel.

When asked why nations seek to buy the S-400 instead of America’s Patriot or THAAD systems, one of the people with knowledge of the intelligence report explained that foreign militaries aren’t willing to stick with the cumbersome process of buying weapons from the U.S. government. –CNBC

“Many of these countries do not want to wait for U.S. regulatory hurdles,” said a CNBC source with first hand knowledge of the assessment. “The S-400 has less export restrictions and the Kremlin is willing to expedite sales by skipping over any regulatory hurdles.

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Britain’s Enemy Is Not Russia But It’s Own Ruling Class, UN Report Confirms

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

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Authored by John Wright. op-ed via RT.com:


As the UK political establishment rips itself to pieces over Brexit, a far greater crisis continues to afflict millions of victims of Tory austerity…

A devastating UN report into poverty in the UK provides incontrovertible evidence that the enemy of the British people is the very ruling class that has gone out of its way these past few years to convince them it is Russia.

Professor Philip Alston, in his capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spent two weeks touring the United Kingdom. He did so investigating the impact of eight years of one of the most extreme austerity programs among advanced G20 economies in response to the 2008 financial crash and subsequent global recession.

What he found was evidence of a systematic, wilful, concerted and brutal economic war unleashed by the country’s right-wing Tory establishment against the poorest and most vulnerable section of British society– upending the lives of millions of people who were not responsible for the aforementioned financial crash and recession but who have been forced to pay the price.

From the report’s introduction:

“It…seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

Though as a citizen of the UK I respectfully beg to differ with the professor’s claim that such social and economic carnage seems “contrary to British values,” (on the contrary it is entirely in keeping with the values of the country’s Tory establishment, an establishment for whom the dehumanization of the poor and working class is central to its ideology), the point he makes about it being “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes,” is well made.

For it is now the case that in every town and city centre in Britain, it is impossible to walk in any direction for more than a minute before coming across homeless people begging in the street. And the fact that some 13,000 of them are former soldiers, casualties of the country’s various military adventures in recent years, undertaken in service to Washington, exposes the pious platitudes peddled by politicians and the government as reverence for the troops and their ‘sacrifice,’ as insincere garbage.

Overall, 14 million people in the UK are now living in poverty, a figure which translates into an entire fifth of the population. Four million of them are children, while, according to Professor Alston, 1.5 million people are destitute – that is, unable to afford the basic necessities of life.

And this is what the ruling class of the fifth largest economy in the world, a country that parades itself on the world stage as a pillar of democracy and human rights, considers progress.

The values responsible for creating such a grim social landscape are compatible with the 18th not 21st century. They are proof positive that the network of elite private schools – Eton, Harrow, Fettes College et al. – where those responsible for this human carnage are inculcated with the sense of entitlement and born to rule ethos that defines them, are Britain’s hotbeds of extremism.

Professor Alston:

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.”

Here, set out above in bold relief, is the barbarism that walks hand in hand with free market capitalism. It is the same barbarism that was responsible for pushing post-Soviet Russia into a decade-long economic and social abyss in the 1990s, and the values that have pushed 14 million people in the UK into the same economic and social abyss in our time.

Austerity, it bears emphasizing, is not and never has been a viable economic response to recession in a given economy.

Instead, it is an ideological club, wielded on behalf of the rich and big business to ensure that the price paid for said economic recession is borne exclusively by those least able to bear it – namely, the poor and working people. It is class war by any other name, packaged and presented as legitimate government policy.

However, in Britain’s case in 2018, this is a war like no other because, as Professor Philip Alston’s report lays bare, only one side in this war has been throwing all the punches and only one side has been taking them.

With Christmas season upon us, the scale of human suffering across the UK ensures that the elaborate ad campaigns inviting us to shop and indulge to our heart’s content – ads depicting the middle class dream of affluence and material comfort – take on the character of a provocation. In fact, they call to mind the truism that wars take place when the government tells you who the enemy is, while revolutions take place when you work it out for yourself.

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

 

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‘Iron’ Mike Pence Stares-Down Putin In APEC Showdown

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were seen shaking hands and chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

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Via Zerohedge


Forget the All-Blacks ‘Haka’, ignore Foreman-Frasier, Drago-Balboa, and Ortiz-Liddell, the honor of the greatest (or perhaps most awkward) staredown in history now goes to US Vice President Mike Pence…

Having been blamed for everything from Trump’s election victory to USA soccer team’s loss to England last week, Russia faced accusations all weekend and was reportedly confronted by the US contingent over “meddling.”

As The Sun reports, Pence and Putin “discussed the upcoming G20 Summit and touched on the issues that will be discussed when President Trump and President Putin are both in Argentina for the summit,” according to the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah.

An NBC reporter tweeted: “New per the @VP’s Office—> The VP’s office says Vice President Pence directly addressed Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a conversation with Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Singapore.

“The conversation took place following the plenary session this afternoon at ASEAN.”

But, it was the following clash of the titans that caught most people’s attention.

As the Russian president joined the that Pence shook Putin’s ‘deadly’ hand, met his ‘steely KGB-trained’ gaze, and desperately tried not to smile or blink for 20 seconds as Putin appeared to chat amicably with the US VP…

While Putin has (if his accusers are to be believed) grappled his opponents to death with his bare hands (remember he is a sinister KGB agent and jiu-jitsu expert); we suspect the only thing VP Pence has gripped tightly in his hands is his bible.

Sadly, John Bolton then blew the tough guy act (or is he Mike Pence’s ‘good cop’) as he does his best impression of a teenage girl meeting their popstar idol for the first time…

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