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U.S. pleads with Russia for ‘mercy’, gives up on Aleppo and admits Syrians will win

Press conferences by John Kerry and Boris Johnson following Western foreign ministers’ meeting in London confirms military options to save Jihadi fighters have been abandoned and that the Western powers have accepted that the Syrian government with Russian support will recapture eastern Aleppo.

Alexander Mercouris

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As might be expected, the West’s public acceptance of defeat in Aleppo came quietly, but it has now come.

The events of the last few week can be summed up quickly.

Following the US climbdown in the first week of October after the Russian warning of Russia’s readiness to shoot down US aircraft carrying out bombing strikes against Syrian bases, a final attempt was made to scare and embarrass the Russians into getting the Syrians to call the Aleppo offensive off.

This centred on a failed and actually farcical attempt to isolate and embarrass the Russians at the UN Security Council (discussed in detail here), combined with empty threats to bring war crimes prosecutions against the Russians, and more empty threats of further sanctions against individual Russian officials (additional sectoral sanctions are out of the question).

A meeting of the US National Security Council took place on Friday, with some US officials telling the media anonymously that military options would again be discussed and presented to Obama for his consideration. 

This was a completely empty claim since Obama had publicly rejected these same military options the previous week.  The same US officials were therefore obliged to admit that it was “extremely unlikely” that Obama would approve these options, and he would probably “not make a decision”.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, Britain’s hapless Foreign Secretary, appeared to float an idea for a “no bombing zone”, though typically he never did so clearly or openly and most of the details had to be provided in off the record conversations to the British media.

The idea behind this “no bombing zone” was that the US and the Western powers would unilaterally announce a prohibition on bombing by the Syrians and the Russians in any part of Syria.  In the event that the Syrians or the Russians disregarded this announcement and continued bombing, the US and the Western powers would retaliate by launching strikes against Syrian bases and military facilities where no Russians were believed to be present.

It is not clear who was the originator of this plan but its half-baked nature suggests it was probably Boris Johnson himself.

The “no bombing zone” is simply a “no fly zone” without the aerial bombardment.  The US has never imposed a “no fly zone” without an aerial bombardment.  We have a detailed discussion of what a “no fly zone” involves and why an aerial bombardment is an integral part of it from no less a person than Hillary Clinton herself.

The US military would never agree to enforce a “no fly zone” (or a “no bombing zone”) without an aerial bombardment since by failing (in US parlance) to “degrade” the Syrian air defences through an aerial bombardment the US would be placing its aircraft and pilots enforcing the “no fly zone” (or “no bombing zone”) at risk. 

In a situation where the air defences in question are not merely Syrian but Russian – and therefore far more capable of shooting down US aircraft – the whole idea of enforcing a “no bombing zone” without an aerial bombardment to “degrade” these defences is inconceivable.  Only a complete civilian with no understanding of how the US military conducts operations would conceive of it, which is why its author is very likely to be Boris Johnson himself.

The “no bombing zone” would in fact depend for its enforcement on launching long range cruise missile strikes on Syrian bases from US warships, which for geographical and political reasons would have to be based in the eastern Mediterranean.

Some of the Russian air defence systems in Syria are probably capable of shooting down these cruise missiles.  The S-300MV Antey-2500 recently deployed to Syria was designed for this very purpose. 

The Russians say it is in Syria to protect Russia’s naval facility in Tartus.  That suggests its units have been stationed along the Syrian coast, in other words precisely in the area where they would most effectively intercept US cruise missiles launched from US warships from the eastern Mediterranean. 

That already puts the viability of enforcing the “no bombing zone” with cruise missiles from US warships in the eastern Mediterranean in question.

The key concern of the US would however be that the Russians have also warned that in case of US missile strikes on Syria killing Russian personnel they would retaliate with missile strikes of their own against facilities in Syria they know to be staffed by US personnel. 

There are persistent rumours the Russians have already done just that.  This was supposedly done in retaliation for the US air strike on the Syrian military near Deir Ezzor.  That is rumoured to have killed three Russian advisers stationed with the Syrian troops there.  In retaliation the Russians are supposed to have launched a cruise missile strike on a Jihadi headquarters staffed by Western military personnel – including some from the US – all or some of whom were killed.

Even if this strike never happened – and it has never been confirmed that it did – someone is spreading rumours about it.  Quite conceivably it is the Russians as their way of making clear that it is something they are prepared to do.

It is inconceivable that the US political and military leadership would put the lives of its personnel in Syria at risk in this way, especially in a situation which could easily escalate into a full-blown military confrontation with the Russians.

One way or the other the “no bombing zone” faces the same insuperable problems that a fully fledged “no fly zone” does.  An editorial in The London Times has now admitted as much. 

Quite simply, what makes it impractical is that it risks a head on confrontation with the Russian military in Syria.  That is something that neither the West’s political nor its military leadership is prepared to risk.

All this became entirely obvious at a meeting of Western foreign ministers in London on Sunday convened by Boris Johnson directly following Kerry’s meeting with Lavrov on Saturday in Lausanne.

It is clear that Kerry found Lavrov in Lausanne completely immoveable, with Lavrov sticking to the well-known Russian position that there can be no more unilateral ceasefires by the Syrian army, and that a precondition for a ceasefire is the separation of Syrian opposition fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra – as the US has repeatedly promised and as has repeatedly failed to happen.

In the face of this, and with military options ruled out, the Western foreign ministers in London were left with nothing other than to accept the inevitable, which is that the Syrian government is going to recapture eastern Aleppo. 

This became clear from the subsequent news conference, which significantly only Kerry and Johnson attended.

Both Kerry and Johnson admitted that there is no support in Europe for military action in Syria and that this option has been ruled out.  Here is what Kerry had to say about it

“I haven’t seen a big appetite in Europe of people to go to war. I don’t see the parliaments of European countries ready to declare war. I don’t see a lot of countries deciding that that’s the better solution here.

So we are pursuing diplomacy because those are the tools that we have, and we’re trying to find a way forward under those circumstances. Easy to say, where’s the action? But what is the action? I have a lot of people who have a lot of trouble defining that when you really get down to trying to do it.”

And here is what Boris Johnson had to say about it

“And to the gentleman there, look, no option is, in principle, off the table. But being no doubt that these so-called military options are extremely difficult and there is, to put it mildly, a lack of political appetite in most European capitals and certainly in the West for that kind of solution at present. So we’ve got to work with the tools we have. The tools we have are diplomatic….”

As to what has forced the West to take the “military option” in Syria off the table, Kerry spelled it out.  It is what The Duran has reported (see here and here), and what the Western media has ignored

“…..when a great power is involved in a fight like this, as Russia has chosen to be by going there and then putting its missiles in place in order to threaten people against military action, it raises the stakes of confrontation….”

With no military option available, and with all forms of pressure on the Russians having failed, there is nothing more the West can do.   

That this is so was most clearly admitted by Boris Johnson.  All he could come up with to save the Jihadi fighters in Aleppo was plead with the Russians for mercy

“And it is up to them (NB: the Russians – AM) to seize this moment to recognise the opportunity and, in my view, to show greatness and to show leadership…..it’s really up to them now to listen and to show mercy – show mercy to those people in that city, get a ceasefire going, get the negotiations going in Geneva, and let’s bring this slaughter to an end.”

(bold italics added)

When a Western foreign minister – even one as preposterous as Boris Johnson – is reduced to pleading with the Russians for mercy, then it is obvious that the game is over and the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ has been lost.

Kerry in fact all but admitted as much.  His comments make it clear the US now accepts the Syrian government is going to recapture eastern Aleppo, and that the Jihadi fighters there are doomed.  All he could say was that it would not be the end of the war.

“Now, some people ask what happens to Aleppo if it were to fall. Well, the Russians should understand, and Assad needs to understand, that that does not end the war. This war cannot end without a political solution. So even if Aleppo were to fall, even if they have utterly destroyed it, which they are doing, that will not change the fundamental equation in this war because other countries will continue to support opposition, and they will continue to create more terrorists, and Syria will be the victim in the end as well as the region.”

That continuing the war after the Syrian government recaptures eastern Aleppo is now the US objective was previously confirmed by the same US officials (quite possibly Kerry himself) who spoke anonymously to the media last week.  Here is how Reuters reports it in a despatch dated Friday 14th October 2016

“The ultimate aim of any new action could be to bolster the battered moderate rebels so they can weather what is now widely seen as the inevitable fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo to the forces of Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

The US and its allies do have the means to prolong the war in Syria at least for a time even after the Syrian government regains control of eastern Aleppo.  As Mark Sleboda and I have previously said, it is precisely in order to create a safe zone for the Jihadis in north east Syria – and therefore to prolong the war – that the Turkish military with US support invaded north east Syria in August

Whatever Jihadi entity is eventually created in the Turkish controlled safe zone in north east Syria, it cannot however convincingly claim to be the government of Syria.  That will always be the government in control of Syria’s great cities, first and foremost Aleppo and Damascus, and the densely populated region of western Syria in which they are located and where the great majority of Syria’s people live. 

It is now clear that for the foreseeable future the government of Syria will be the government of President Bashar Al-Assad, which is and always has been the legitimate UN recognised government of Syria. 

With the recapture of eastern Aleppo the future of this government will have been secured.  That means that for the foreseeable future the regime change project in Syria is dead.

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Republicans call Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr to testify, but where is British Spy Steele? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 78.

Alex Christoforou

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Representative Mark Meadows tweeted Friday…

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+ contacts with dossier author Chris Steele, as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth.”

Lawmakers believe former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr is a central figure to finding out how the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid PR smear firm Fusion GPS and British spy Christopher Steele to fuel a conspiracy of Trump campaign collusion with Russians at the top levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Sunday to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo…

So here you have information flowing from the Clinton campaign from the Russians, likely — I believe was handed directly from Russian propaganda arms to the Clinton campaign, fed into the top levels of the FBI and Department of Justice to open up a counter-intelligence investigation into a political campaign that has now polluted nearly every top official at the DOJ and FBI over the course of the last couple years. It is absolutely amazing,

According to Breitbart, during the 2016 election, Ohr served as associate deputy attorney general, and as an assistant to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His office was four doors down from Rosenstein on the fourth floor. He was also dual-hatted as the director of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Ohr’s contacts with Steele, an ex-British spy, are said to date back more than a decade. Steele is a former FBI informant who had helped the FBI prosecute corruption by FIFA officials. But it is Ohr and Steele’s communications in 2016 that lawmakers are most interested in.

Emails handed over to Congress by the Justice Department show that Ohr, Steele, and Simpson communicated throughout 2016, as Steele and Simpson were being paid by the Clinton campaign and the DNC to dig up dirt on Trump.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the role Bruce Ohr played in Hillary Clinton’s Deep State attack against the Presidency of Donald Trump, and why the most central of figures in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, British spy for hire Christopher Steele, is not sitting before Congress, testifying to the real election collusion between the UK, the Obama White House, the FBI and the DOJ.

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

Via The Washington Times

Republicans in a joint session of House committees are set to interview former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr this month to gauge whether a complex conspiracy against Donald Trump existed among Hillary Clinton loyalists and the Justice Department.

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+contacts with dossier author Chris Steele as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

His panel and the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a joint hearing to interview Mr. Ohr, according to The Daily Caller.

FBI documents show that the bureau bluntly told dossier writer Christopher Steele in November 2016 that it no longer wanted to hear about his collection of accusations against Mr. Trump.

But for months afterward, the FBI appeared to violate its own edict as agents continued to receive the former British spy’s scandalous charges centered on supposed TrumpRussia collusion.

 

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The US-Turkey Crisis: The NATO Alliance Forged in 1949 Is Today Largely Irrelevant

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via American Herald Tribune:


There has been some reporting in the United States mass media about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara and what it might mean. Such a falling out between NATO members has not been seen since France left the alliance in 1966 and observers note that the hostility emanating from both sides suggests that far worse is to come as neither party appears prepared to moderate its current position while diplomatic exchanges have been half-hearted and designed to lead nowhere.

The immediate cause of the breakdown is ostensibly President Donald Trump’s demand that an American Protestant minister who has lived in Turkey for twenty-three years be released from detention. Andrew Brunson was arrested 21 months ago and charged with being a supporter of the alleged conspiracy behind the military coup in 2016 that sought to kill or replace President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has asserted that the coup was directed by former political associate Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, but has produced little credible evidence to support that claim. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan has had himself voted extraordinary special powers to maintain public order and has arrested 160,000 people, including 20 Americans, who have been imprisoned. More than 170,000 civil servants, teachers, and military personnel have lost their jobs, the judiciary has been hobbled, and senior army officers have been replaced by loyalists.

Gulen is a religious leader who claims to promote a moderate brand of Islam that is compatible with western values. His power base consists of a large number of private schools that educate according to his curriculum, with particular emphasis on math and sciences. Many of the graduates become part of a loose affiliation that has sometimes been described as a cult. Gulen also owns and operates a number of media outlets, all of which have now been shut by Erdogan as part of his clamp down on the press. Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country.

It is widely believed that Erdogan has been offering to release Brunson in exchange for Gulen, but President Donald Trump has instead offered only a Turkish banker currently in a U.S. prison while also turning the heat up in the belief that pressure on Turkey will force it to yield. Washington began the tit-for-tat by imposing sanctions on two cabinet-level officials in Erdogan’s government: Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. Ankara has now also been on the receiving end of a Trump tweet and tariffs have been placed on a broad range of Turkish products, to include steel and aluminum.

The view that economic pressure will force the Turks to yield could be mistaken and demonstrates that the Administration does not include anyone who knows that Americans have been unpopular in Turkey since the Gulf War. The threats from Washington might actually rally skeptical and normally pro-western Turks around Erdogan but U.S. sanctions have already hit the Turkish economy hard, with the lira having lost 40% of its value this year and continuing to sink rapidly. Foreign investors, who fueled much of Turkey’s recent economic growth, have fled the market, suggesting that a collapse in credit might be on the way. Those European banks that hold Turkish debt are fearing a possible default.

It is a spectacle of one NATO member driving another NATO member’s economy into the ground over a political dispute. Erdogan has responded in his autocratic fashion by condemning “interest rates” and calling for an “economic war” against the U.S., telling his supporters to unload all their liquid valuables, gold and foreign to buy the plummeting lira, a certain recipe for disaster. If they do that, they will likely lose everything.

Other contentious issues involved in the badly damaged bilateral relationship are conflicting views on what to do about Syria, where the Turks have a legitimate interest due to potential Kurdish terrorism and are seeking a buffer zone, as well as Ankara’s interest in buying Russian air defense missile systems, which has prompted the U.S. to suspend sales of the new F-35 fighter. The Turks have also indicated that they have no interest in enforcing the sanctions on Iran that were re-imposed last week and they will continue to buy Iranian oil after the November 4th initiation of a U.S. ban on such purchases. The Trump Administration has warned that it will sanction any country that refuses to comply, setting the stage for a massive confrontation between Washington and Ankara involving the Turkish Central Bank.

In terms of U.S. interests, Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, is of strategic value because it is Muslim, countering arguments that the alliance is some kind of Christian club working to suppress Islam in the Middle East. And it is also important because of its geographic location close to hot spots where the American military is currently engaged. If the U.S. heeds Trump’s call to cut back on involvement in the region, Turkey will become less valuable, but currently, access to the Incirlik Airbase, near Adana and the Syrian border, is vital.

Indeed, Incirlik has become one of the flashpoints in the argument with Washington. Last week, a group of lawyers connected politically to Erdogan initiated legal action against U.S. officers at Incirlik over claimed ties to “terrorists” linked to Gulen. The “Association for Social Justice and Aid” has called for a temporary halt to all operations at the base to permit a search for evidence. The attorneys are asking for the detention of seven named American Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command based in Germany is also cited. If the lawyers are successful in court, it will mean a major conflict as Washington asserts the rights of the officers under the Status of Forces Agreement, while Turkey will no doubt insist that the Americans are criminals and have no protection.

Another trial balloon being floated by Erdogan is even more frightening in terms of the demons that it could be unleashing. Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist writing in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Atik, has suggested that there might well be a second terrorist attack on the United States like 9/11. Dilipak threatened that if Trump does nothing to reduce tension “…some people will teach him [to do] that. It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility.” Dilipak also warned that presumed Gulenist “U.S. collaborators” inside Turkey would be severely punished if they dared to go out into the streets to protest in support of Washington.

If recent developments in Turkey deteriorate further it might well suggest that Donald Trump’s instinct to disengage from the Middle East was the right call, though it could equally be seen as a rejection of the tactic being employed, i.e. using heavy-handed sanctions and tariffs to compel obedience from governments disinclined to follow Washington’s leadership. Either way, the Turkish-American relationship is in trouble and increasingly a liability for both sides, yet another indication that the NATO alliance forged in 1949 against the Soviet Union is today largely irrelevant.

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Is This The Most Important Geopolitical Deal Of 2018?

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water.

The Duran

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Authored by Olgu Okumus via Oilprice.com:


The two-decade-long dispute on the statute of the Caspian Sea, the world largest water reserve, came to an end last Sunday when five littoral states (Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) agreed to give it a special legal status – it is now neither a sea, nor a lake. Before the final agreement became public, the BBC wrote that all littoral states will have the freedom of access beyond their territorial waters, but natural resources will be divided up. Russia, for its part, has guaranteed a military presence in the entire basin and won’t accept any NATO forces in the Caspian.

Russian energy companies can explore the Caspian’s 50 billion barrels of oil and its 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan can finally start considering linking its gas to the Turkish-Azeri joint project TANAP through a trans-Caspian pipeline, while Iran has gained increased energy supplies for its largest cities in the north of the country (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) – however, Iran has also put itself under the shadow of Russian ships. This controversy makes one wonder to what degree U.S. sanctions made Iran vulnerable enough to accept what it has always avoided – and how much these U.S. sanctions actually served NATO’s interests.

If the seabed, rich in oil and gas, is divided this means more wealth and energy for the region. From 1970 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the Caspian Sea was divided into subsectors for Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – all constituent republics of the USSR. The division was implemented on the basis of the internationally-accepted median line.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the new order required new regulations. The question was over whether the Caspian was a sea or a lake? If it was treated as a sea, then it would have to be covered by international maritime law, namely the United Nations Law of the Sea. But if it is defined as a lake, then it could be divided equally between all five countries. The so-called “lake or sea” dispute revolved over the sovereignty of states, but also touched on some key global issues – exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Basin, freedom of access, the right to build beyond territorial waters, access to fishing and (last but not least) managing maritime pollution.

The IEA concluded in World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2017 that offshore energy has a promising future. More than a quarter of today’s oil and gas supply is produced offshore, and integrated offshore thinking will extend this beyond traditional sources onwards to renewables and more. Caspian offshore hydrocarbon reserves are around 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent (equivalent to one third of Iraq’s total oil reserves) and 8.4 trillion cubic meters of gas (almost equivalent to the U.S.’ entire proven gas reserves). As if these quantities were not themselves enough to rebalance Eurasian energy demand equations, the agreement will also allow Turkmenistan to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline, connecting Turkmenistan’s resources to the Azeri-Turkish joint project TANAP, and onwards to Europe – this could easily become a counter-balance factor to the growing LNG business in Europe.

Even though we still don’t have firm and total details on the agreement, Iran seems to have gained much less than its neighbors, as it has shortest border on the Caspian. From an energy perspective, Iran would be a natural market for the Caspian basin’s oil and gas, as Iran’s major cities (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) are closer to the Caspian than they are to Iran’s major oil and gas fields. Purchasing energy from the Caspian would also allow Iran to export more of its own oil and gas, making the country a transit route from the Caspian basin to world markets. For instance, for Turkmenistan (who would like to sell gas to Pakistan) Iran provides a convenient geography. Iran could earn fees for swap arrangements or for providing a transit route and justify its trade with Turkey and Turkmenistan as the swap deal is allowed under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA, or the D’Amato Act).

If the surface water will be in common usage, all littoral states will have access beyond their territorial waters. In practical terms, this represents an increasingly engaged Russian presence in the Basin. It also reduces any room for a NATO presence, as it seems to be understood that only the five littoral states will have a right to military presence in the Caspian. Considering the fact that Russia has already used its warships in the Caspian to launch missile attacks on targets within Syria, this increased Russian presence could potentially turn into a security threat for Iran.

Many questions can now be asked on what Tehran might have received in the swap but one piece of evidence for what might have pushed Iran into agreement in its vulnerable position in the face of increased U.S. sanctions. Given that the result of those sanctions seems to be Iran agreeing to a Caspian deal that allows Russia to place warships on its borders, remove NATO from the Caspian basin equation, and increase non-Western based energy supplies (themselves either directly or indirectly within Russia’s sphere of geopolitical influence) it makes one wonder whose interests those sanctions actually served?

By Olgu Okumus for Oilprice.com

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