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Russia calls U.S. bluff on Syria, Washington rages

With the Kerry – Lavrov agreement having collapsed and the US military ruling out imposition of a no-fly zone, the US can only rage as the Syrian army closes in on the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo.

Alexander Mercouris

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Over the course of the last week, following the collapse of the Kerry – Lavrov agreement and the ceasefire, and with the Syrian army closing in on the Jihadis trapped in eastern Aleppo, the reality of pending defeat in Aleppo has finally struck home with the Western powers.   

The result is a round of frantic diplomatic and media activity to try to embarrass the Russians to bring the Syrian army’s offensive in Aleppo to a stop.

The reason for this activity is the further advance of the Syrian army in Aleppo since the breakdown of the ceasefire. 

Having defeated and driven back the Jabhat Al-Nusra led Jihadi offensive against the south west of Aleppo by the first week of September, the Syrian army since the collapse of the ceasefire has consolidated its control of the Castello road by capturing the now deserted area of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp.  It is also, following intense artillery shelling and bombing, advancing from the area of the Aleppo citadel and from the Ramousseh district into the Jihadi controlled areas of eastern Aleppo, apparently in order to consolidate its control of the suburbs of south western Aleppo and – possibly – so as to cut Jihadi controlled eastern Aleppo in half.

Reports from Aleppo speak of the Syrian military and its allies concentrating substantial forces near or in the city to support the offensive.  The Russian marines are still at the Castello road, and there are reports that up to 8,000 Iranian commanded Iraqi Shia militia have also arrived in the city.  The main strike force however remains the Syrian army.

It appears that the Russian aerial strike force at Khmeimim air base has also been reinforced.  A video released on Saturday 24th September 2016 by Russian Ruptly TV supposedly shows Syrian troops advancing against Jihadi fighters in Lattakia province following the collapse of the ceasefire.  The video shows SU25 aircraft providing ground support. Russia deployed SU25 aircraft to Khmeimim air base in September last year.  However they were all withdrawn in March.  It seems they are now back.

The key point to understand, and which explains all the furious rhetoric of the last few days, is that the Western powers cannot stop the Syrian offensive against the Jihadis trapped in Aleppo. 

At a US Senate hearing on Thursday 22nd September 2016 US General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained why.  Pressed by Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker to say if the US could take “decisive action” by imposing a no-fly zone – something which Wicker said he had discussed with the Democrats and which might have bipartisan support – Dunford replied

“For now, for us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war with Syria and Russia. That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”

Dunford’s comment provoked an intervention by Republican Senator John McCain, a perennial war hawk and interventionist who constantly presses for US military action at any and every opportunity and especially so in any conflict involving Russia.  McCain tried to get Dunford to say that a no-fly zone was not the same as  “total control of the Syrian airspace”, which would require  war with Russia and Syria.

The reality, as both McCain and Dunford know, is that the US has never imposed a no-fly zone over a country over which it did not have “total control of the airspace”.  It is inconceivable the US would try to impose a no-fly zone over Syria if it did not have “total control of the airspace”.  Dunford’s admission that “total control of the airspace” cannot be achieved in Syria without going to war with Russia for all practical purposes rules the whole idea of a no-fly zone over Syria out.

Unable to impose a no-fly zone, there is nothing in practical terms that the US can do to change the course of the fighting in Aleppo.  

It is this US awareness of its own impotence as its Jihadi proteges in Aleppo face total defeat which accounts for all the angry rhetoric and cranking up of atrocity stories we have been seeing over the last week.  These have now culminated  in some typically furious denunciations of Russia by US ambassador Samantha Power on Sunday’s 25th September 2016 at the UN Security Council, over the course of which she actually accused Russia of “barbarism”.  

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in an unguarded comment for which he is probably already being taken to task, slipped the truth out during a television interview on Sunday 25th September 2016

“If you say to me the West is too impotent, I would have to agree. I would have to agree that, since we took those decisions in 2013, when those red lines were crossed, we have not really had a viable military response, or any kinetic response to what is going on. I don’t think there is any real appetite for such a thing.”

(bold italics added)

Johnson then went on to say that the only thing the West could do in this situation is to try to embarrass the Russians into calling a stop.  He explained this by saying that “the one thing the Russians respond to is adverse global public opinion”. 

This explains all the current talk of war crimes, encompassing charges of (the unproved) Russian guilt for the attack on the relief convoy, complaints about the deliberate cutting off of Aleppo’s water supply, charges of the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas of Aleppo, claims of the use of firebombs there etc. – all things which happen in Syria all the time, and which having been happening continuously there ever since the war started, but which are now being talked about as war crimes.  

In the same interview Johnson put it this way

“They (the Russians – AM) are in the dock of the court of international opinion. They are guilty of making the war far more protracted and far more hideous, and yes, when it comes up, the bombing of civilian targets, we should be looking … to see if the targeting is done in the knowledge they are wholly innocent civilian targets, [because] that is a war crime.”

To Western dismay the Russians however show no sign of bending. 

The key point about the events at the UN General Assembly last week was that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov – despite coming under intense concerted pressure from the US and its allies – flatly ruled out any more unilateral ceasefires by the Syrian army.  

Instead he made it crystal clear that a ceasefire could only happen if the Syrian opposition fighters genuinely committed themselves to it and separated themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra, as the US promised in February and in the recent Kerry – Lavrov agreement that they would do.

At the UN Security Council meeting on Sunday 25th September 2016 Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the same thing

“The American side de facto signed that it was unable to influence the groups it sponsors and to deliver on the deal as it promised. First of all, to separate those groups from terrorists and mark their positions on the ground accordingly.

The ceasefire can only be salvaged now on a collective basis. It’s not us that have to prove something to somebody unilaterally. We have to see proof that there is a genuine desire to separate US-allied rebel groups from the Al-Nusra Front, then destroy the Al-Nusra Front and bring the opposition into a political process. Otherwise our suspicions that this was only meant to shield the Al-Nusra Front would only grow stronger.”

(bold italics added)

Two weeks ago I said that the likely motivation of the realists in Washington who supported the Kerry -Lavrov agreement was to save the Jihadis in Aleppo and preserve them as a coherent force by evacuating them from the city, where they had become trapped and where their position had become untenable.  That was why – as I speculated on the strength of certain comments made by Russian military officials – it appeared that the Kerry – Lavrov agreement made provision for their withdrawal from Aleppo by way of the Castello road.

As it turns out the Kerry – Lavrov agreement did indeed provide for that.  This has now been confirmed by the text of the part of the Kerry – Lavrov agreement the US has disclosed (through the bizarre device of a leak to the Associated Press).  This is the specific provision in the text

“Any Syrians can leave Aleppo via Castello Road, including armed opposition forces with their weapons, with the understanding that no harm will come to them and they can choose their destination. Opposition forces leaving Aleppo with weapons must coordinate ahead of time with UN representatives as to the time they will be using Castello Road and the number of personnel and weapons and military equipment departing.”

(bold italics added)

The document the US has published is only one document of the five which together make up the Kerry – Lavrov agreement.  The other documents no doubt go into much greater detail about the separation of the fighters the US supports from Jabhat Al-Nusra.  It is likely that these documents specify which fighters were to leave Aleppo via the Castello road, and what would happen to those who remained.

In the event the intentions of the realists were defeated because the hardliners in Washington and the Jihadis on the ground in Syria rejected the Kerry – Lavrov agreement. 

The result was that instead of separating themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra – as the Kerry-Lavrov agreement required them to do – the Jihadi fighters have remained united with Jabhat Al-Nusra, and tried to exploit the ceasefire to carry out more attacks on the Syrian army.

Following the collapse of the ceasefire, and with the forcible imposition of a no-fly zone for all practical purposes ruled out, the US has found itself left with nothing other than US Secretary of State Kerry’s absurd proposal that Russia and Syria impose a no-fly zone on themselves.  The moment the Russians rejected this proposal – as they were bound to do – the US’s bluff was effectively called. 

It is this awareness on the part of the US that its bluff has been called, and that its impotence to effect militarily the course of the battle of Aleppo has been laid bare, which is behind the furious denunciations we are now hearing from the US and its allies, as they scramble desperately to try to get the Russians to call off the battle of Aleppo so as to save their Jihadi proteges in Aleppo from total defeat, and themselves from the humiliation of the public failure of their strategy.

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European Court of Justice rules Britain free to revoke Brexit unilaterally

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Britain can reverse Article 50.

RT

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Via RT…


The UK is free to unilaterally revoke a notification to depart from the EU, the European Court has ruled. The judicial body said this could be done without changing the terms of London’s membership in the bloc.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) opined in a document issued on Monday that Britain can reverse Article 50, which stipulates the way a member state leaves the bloc. The potentially important ruling comes only one day before the House of Commons votes on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU.

“When a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that Member State is free to revoke unilaterally that notification,” the court’s decision reads.

By doing so, the respective state “reflects a sovereign decision to retain its status as a Member State of the European Union.”

That said, this possibility remains in place “as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that Member State has not entered into force.” Another condition is: “If no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU.”

The case was opened when a cross-party group of British politicians asked the court whether an EU member such as the UK can decide on its own to revoke the withdrawal process. It included Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and David Martin, Scottish MPs Joanna Cherry Alyn Smith, along with Green MSPs Andy Wightman and Ross Greer.

They argued that unilateral revocation is possible and believe it could provide an opening to an alternative to Brexit, namely holding another popular vote to allow the UK to remain in the EU.

“If the UK chooses to change their minds on Brexit, then revoking Article 50 is an option and the European side should make every effort to welcome the UK back with open arms,” Smith, the SNP member, was quoted by Reuters.

However, May’s environment minister, Michael Gove, a staunch Brexit supporter, denounced the ECJ ruling, insisting the cabinet will not reverse its decision to leave. “We will leave on March 29, [2019]” he said, referring to the date set out in the UK-EU Brexit deal.

In the wake of the landmark vote on the Brexit deal, a group of senior ministers threatened to step down en masse if May does not try to negotiate a better deal in Brussels, according to the Telegraph. The ministers demanded that an alternative deal does not leave the UK trapped within the EU customs union indefinitely.

On Sunday, Will Quince resigned as parliamentary private secretary in the Ministry of Defense, saying in a Telegraph editorial that “I do not want to be explaining to my constituents why Brexit is still not over and we are still obeying EU rules in the early 2020s or beyond.”

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Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


On November 25, two artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, the Berdiansk and Nikopol, one tugboat, the Yany Kapu, as well as 24 crew members of the Ukrainian Navy, including two SBU counterintelligence officers, were detained by Russian border forces. In the incident, the Russian Federation employed Sobol-class patrol boats Izumrud and Don, as  well as two Ka-52, two Su-25 and one Su-30 aircraft.

Ukraine’s provocation follows the advice of several American think-tanks like the Atlantic Council, which have been calling for NATO involvement in the Sea of Azov for months. The area is strategically important for Moscow, which views its southern borders, above all the Sea of Azov, as a potential flash point for conflict due to the Kiev’s NATO-backed provocations.

To deter such adventurism, Moscow has deployed to the Kerch Strait and the surrounding coastal area S-400 batteries, modernized S-300s, anti-ship Bal missile systems, as well as numerous electronic-warfare systems, not to mention the Russian assets and personnel arrayed in the military districts abutting Ukraine. Such provocations, egged on by NATO and American policy makers, are meant to provide a pretext for further sanctions against Moscow and further sabotage Russia’s relations with European countries like Germany, France and Italy, as well as, quite naturally, to frustrate any personal interaction between Trump and Putin.

This last objective seems to have been achieved, with the planned meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 in Buenos Aires being cancelled. As to the the other objectives, they seem to have failed miserably, with Berlin, Paris and Rome showing no intention of imposing additional sanctions against Russia, recognizing the Ukrainian provocation fow what it is. The intention to further isolate Moscow by the neocons, neoliberals and most of the Anglo-Saxon establishment seems to have failed, demonstrated in Buenos Aires with the meeting between the BRICS countries on the sidelines and the bilateral meetings between Putin and Merkel.

On November 30, following almost two-and-a-half months of silence, the Israeli air force bombed Syria with three waves of cruise missiles. The first and second waves were repulsed over southern Syria, and the third, composed of surface-to-surface missiles, were also downed. At the same time, a loud explosion was heard in al-Kiswah, resulting in the blackout of Israeli positions in the area.

The Israeli attack was fully repulsed, with possibly two IDF drones being downed as well. This effectiveness of Syria’s air defenses corresponds with Russia’s integration of Syria’s air defenses with its own systems, manifestly improving the Syrians’ kill ratios even without employing the new S-300 systems delivered to Damascus, let alone Russia’s own S-400s. The Pantsirs and S-200s are enough for the moment, confirming my hypothesis more than two months ago that the modernized S-300 in the hands of the Syrian army is a potentially lethal weapon even for the F-35, forbidding the Israelis from employing their F-35s.

With the failed Israeli attack testifying to effectiveness of Russian air-defense measures recently deployed to the country, even the United States is finding it difficult to operate in the country. As the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War confirms:

“Russia has finished an advanced anti-access/area denial (A2AD) network in Syria that combines its own air defense and electronic warfare systems with modernized equipment. Russia can use these capabilities to mount the long-term strategic challenge of the US and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, significantly widen the geographic reach of Russia’s air defense network. Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria. The US and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East amidst any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.”

The final blow in a decidedly negative week for Washington’s ambitions came in Buenos Aires during the G20, where Xi Jinping was clearly the most awaited guest, bringing in his wake investments and opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefit, as opposed to Washington’s sanctions and tariffs for its own benefit to the detriment of others. The key event of the summit was the dinner between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump that signalled Washington’s defeat in the trade war with Beijing. Donald Trump fired the first shot of the economic war, only to succumb just 12 months later with GM closing five plants and leaving 14,000 unemployed at home as Trump tweeted about his economic achievements.

Trump was forced to suspend any new tariffs for a period of ninety days, with his Chinese counterpart intent on demonstrating how an economic war between the two greatest commercial powers had always been a pointless propagandistic exercise. Trump’s backtracking highlights Washington’s vulnerability to de-dollarization, the Achilles’ heel of US hegemony.

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn. The struggle between the Western elites seems to be reaching a boil, with Frau Merkel ever more isolated and seeing her 14-year political dominance as chancellor petering out. Macron seems to be vying for the honor of being the most unpopular French leader in history, provoking violent protests that have lasted now for weeks, involving every sector of the population. Macron will probably be able to survive this political storm, but his political future looks dire.

The neocons/neoliberals have played one of the last cards available to them using the Ukrainian provocation, with Kiev only useful as the West’s cannon fodder against Russia. In Syria, with the conflict coming to a close and Turkey only able to look on even as it maintains a strong foothold in Idlib, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States are similarly unable to affect the course of the conflict. The latest Israeli aggression proved to be a humiliation for Tel Aviv and may have signalled a clear, possibly definitive warning from Moscow, Tehran and Damascus to all the forces in the region. The message seems to be that there is no longer any possibility of changing the course of the conflict in Syria, and every provocation from here on will be decisively slapped down. Idlib is going to be liberated and America’s illegal presence in the north of Syria will have to be dealt with at the right time.

Ukraine’s provocation has only strengthened Russia’s military footprint in Crimea and reinforced Russia’s sovereign control over the region. Israel’s recent failure in Syria only highlights how the various interventions of the US, the UK, France and Turkey over the years have only obliged the imposition of an almost unparalleled A2AD space that severely limits the range of options available to Damascus’s opponents.

The G20 also served to confirm Washington’s economic diminution commensurate with its military one in the face of an encroaching multipolar environment. The constant attempts to delegitimize the Trump administration by America’s elites, also declared an enemy by the European establishment, creates a picture of confusion in the West that benefits capitals like New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran who offer instead stability, cooperation and dialogue.

As stated in previous articles, the confusion reigning amongst the Western elites only accelerates the transition to a multipolar world, progressively eroding the military and economic power of the US.

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Is Silicon Valley Morphing Into The Morality Police?

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

The Duran

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Authored by Adrian Cohen via Creators.com:


Silicon Valley used to be technology companies. But it has become the “morality police,” controlling free speech on its platforms.

What could go wrong?

In a speech Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Hate tries to make its headquarters in the digital world. At Apple, we believe that technology needs to have a clear point of view on this challenge. There is no time to get tied up in knots. That’s why we only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence: You have no place on our platforms.”

Here’s the goliath problem:

Who gets to define what words and phrases protected under the First Amendment constitute hate — a catchall word that is often ascribed to any offensive speech someone simply doesn’t like?

Will Christians who don’t support abortion rights or having their tax dollars go toward Planned Parenthood be considered purveyors of hate for denying women the right to choose? Will millions of Americans who support legal immigration, as opposed to illegal immigration, be labeled xenophobes or racists and be banned from the digital world?

Yes and yes. How do we know? It’s already happening, as scores of conservatives nationwide are being shadow banned and/or censored on social media, YouTube, Google and beyond.

Their crime?

Running afoul of leftist Silicon Valley executives who demand conformity of thought and simply won’t tolerate any viewpoint that strays from their rigid political orthodoxy.

For context, consider that in oppressive Islamist regimes throughout the Middle East, the “morality police” take it upon themselves to judge women’s appearance, and if a woman doesn’t conform with their mandatory and highly restrictive dress code — e.g., wearing an identity-cloaking burqa — she could be publicly shamed, arrested or even stoned in the town square.

In modern-day America, powerful technology companies are actively taking the role of the de facto morality police — not when it comes to dress but when it comes to speech — affecting millions. Yes, to date, those affected are not getting stoned, but they are being blocked in the digital town square, where billions around the globe do their business, cultivate their livelihoods, connect with others and get news.

That is a powerful cudgel to levy against individuals and groups of people. Wouldn’t you say?

Right now, unelected tech billionaires living in a bubble in Palo Alto — when they’re not flying private to cushy climate summits in Davos — are deciding who gets to enjoy the freedom of speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and who does not based on whether they agree with people’s political views and opinions or not.

You see how dangerous this can get — real fast — as partisan liberal elites running Twitter, Facebook, Google (including YouTube), Apple and the like are now dictating to Americans what they can and cannot say online.

In communist regimes, these types of folks are known as central planners.

The election of Donald Trump was supposed to safeguard our freedoms, especially regarding speech — a foundational pillar of a democracy. It’s disappointing that hasn’t happened, as the censorship of conservative thought online has gotten so extreme and out of control many are simply logging off for good.

A failure to address this mammoth issue could cost Trump in 2020. If his supporters are blocked online — where most voters get their news — he’ll be a one-term president.

It’s time for Congress to act before the morality police use political correctness as a Trojan horse to decide our next election.

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