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5 reasons the Astana ‘safe zone’ Memorandum is good for Russia and Syria

Russia’s master chess move has made things better for Syria and worse for Syria’s enemies.

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The controversial move has sparked a great deal of debate, some measured and some outlandishly suggesting that Russia ‘sold out’ its Syrian partner.

Here are the key reasons why it was a masterful geo-political move by Russia that will help keep Syria safe, stable and sovereign.

1. It Simply Reinforces Existing Realities 

Currently, Syria is operating under a Russian authored ceasefire which the UN Security unanimously passed late last year. Even Obama’s United States didn’t dare veto the Russian resolution.

READ MORE: UN Security Council unanimously passes a Russian resolution for a Syrian ceasefire

The carefully worded ceasefire establishes a  non-aggression agreement whereby the Syrian led anti-terrorist coalition and certain militant/terrorist groups are bound not to engage in combat. The biggest terrorist groups operating in Syria are not covered by the ceasefire. That means that fighting against groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda/Nusra and others can and indeed is still being fought by the coalition that includes Russia and Iran.

Today’s Memorandum creating safe-zones merely formalises certain areas that will be both literally and figuratively fenced off in order to bolster the existing ceasefire.

This will allow responsible parties like Syria, Russia and Iran to monitor the situation more closely as well as have an even clearer opportunity to fight and destroy the dangerous groups correctly not covered by the ceasefire.

2. Turkey and America Are Politically Neutralised in Syria 

Turkey and America have both been pushing for the establishment of safe-zones which in effect are no fly zones. In the last months of the Obama administration, the US was pushing for US controlled no-fly zones that would have attempted to ground Syrian and Russian jets. This was totally unacceptable to both Russia and Syria and could have led to Russian and NATO planes shooting each other out of the sky. The consequences would have been dire.

The current situation sounds similar but is in fact very different. On paper,both Turkey and America have gotten what they want.

In reality, it means that Russia and Iran along with Turkey will be the enforcers of the safe-zones. Turkey as the ‘outsider’ partner in the Astana group is not about to drive a rift between Ankara on the one side and Moscow and Tehran on the other in such an overt fashion. If Turkey did, it would expose Turkey as a totally unreliable partner in the Astana format. The consequences of this would mean Turkey being forced out of the Astana format. It would not lead to the collapse of the Astana format. Turkey is outnumbered in more ways than one in this respect.

READ MORE: Russia calls the bluff of Turkey and so-called Syrian opposition and wins

Turkey has effectively been backed against the wall.

Russia has put the ball in Erdogan’s court. Erdogan is now bound by an agreement to be enforced by countries whose role in Syria has been a positive one, one that supports the Syrian government and consequently the Syrian people.

To put it in more mercenary terms, Russia and Iran have ‘colonised’ the intellectual debate from Turkey and America. They now control the safe-zones which are in effect no-fly zones. This means that Turkey can not act unilaterally without breaking an accord which it is a joint signatory of.

It also means that Turkey and the US are now increasingly distant in terms of alignments in Syria. Turkey must now help enforce an agreement drafted without the United States. Turkey is in the ‘big boys club’, so to speak, but the biggest military force in NATO isn’t a member.

This is compounded by existing tensions that Turkeys and the US have created themselves due to America’s refusal to abandon Kurdish SFD forces and Turkey’s refusal to abandon attacking Kurdish forces. Trouble in NATO paradise is a phrase which comes to mind.

In one swift move, Russia and Iran have not only preserved the status quo in Syria, but have simultaneously clipped the wings of Turkey and isolated America from any attempts to move and shake events without risking a total war against Syria, Russia, Iran and even Turkey.

READ MORE: Erdogan’s chief adviser claims Turkey may ‘accidentally’ attack US troops

3. Syria Supports the Move 

Syria’s chief diplomatic envoy Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari has conveyed Syria’s approval of the move. Syria is not about to support a move against its own interests, neither its short term nor long term interests.

Vladimir Putin made clear in his press conference with Turkish President Erdogan that no safe-zones could be established against the will of Syria. Putin has lived up to his word and Syria is not about to betray its on cause so late in the game.

Syria is winning the battle against terrorists on the ground . America’s illegal attack from the 6th of April has not retarded the progress of the Syrian Arab Army in this respect. Syria is supporting the move for the same reason Russia is. Syria, in supporting the Memorandum, has the opportunity to call Turkey’s bluff for the world to see and likewise call the bluff of the militant factions that are part of the Astana talks.

If the safe-zones fail, Syria is vindicated, if they succeed, Syria is one step closer to restoring normalcy.

4. The Militants/Terrorists Are Angry

The militant factions which are part of the Astana talks angrily stormed out of the session where the memorandum was signed by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey.

They know full well that their bluff has been called. Their talk of peace has been exposed as the sham that many all ready knew it was and that Syria had constantly said it was.

If the militants do not abide by the protocols of the soon to be established safe zones, the world will then see that their penultimate goal is conquest rather than peace. They will be unmasked as insurgents rather than ‘opposition forces’.

Syria will at long last be vindicated. This may likely happen sooner than expected.

In this sense, Russia, Iran and Syria can turn around to Turkey and the United States and have a big ‘I told you so’ moment. With such a diverse coalition of nations and organisations  in favour of the agreement, those who are opposed are the isolated parties. They will have no leg to stand on. They will have to resort to either humility or unilateral war.

Much though the Trump administration is unpredictable, unilateral war seems incredibly unlikely at this stage.

5. It Has Real International Support

Whilst the US acted unilaterally and illegally in its  bombing of Syria,  the Memorandum at Astana has been welcomed by the Secretary General of the United Nations.

An official statement from the UN reads,

“The Secretary-General is encouraged by the agreement today in Astana, Kazakhstan, by guarantor countries Iran, Russia and Turkey to de-escalate violence in key areas in Syria.

It will be crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians. The Secretary-General welcomes the commitments to ceasing the use of all weapons, particularly aerial assets; to rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access; and to creating conditions for the delivery of medical aid and meeting civilians’ basic needs. The commitments made should not affect the rights of Syrians to seek and enjoy asylum.

The UN will continue to support de-escalation within the framework of the Security Council resolutions on Syria. The UN has also been proactively supporting discussions in Astana regarding detainees and humanitarian demining.

The Secretary-General welcomes the affirmation from the Astana meeting of the fundamental importance of a political solution and the full support expressed there for the UN-led intra-Syrian talks process in Geneva within the framework of Security Council resolution 2254.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is in consultation with all concerned as he finalises the date for the next round of the intra-Syrian talks”.

While the US, UK and France have frequently disregarded the UN, it is essential that this plan, which has Syrian approval, is also in line with the voice of the United Nations.

This again reinforces just how isolated the US and radical Sunni militants are at this time. The UN, Russia, Iran, Syria, Turkey and the UN are on one side, while the US and armed radicals are on another.

There is of course a danger that such an agreement could lead to the federalisation of Syria. This however is opposed by a country who supports the agreement, Syria, as well as a signatory of the agreement, Iran.

While some have accused Russia of agnosticism over federalisation, ultimately Russia has always said that it is a Syrian issue for Syria to decide. Connecting the dots leads to the conclusion that Russia will not bank on federalisation against the wishes of Damascus.

The Memorandum changes few manifest realities on the ground in Syria but it shifts the political trajectory of the situation vastly in favour of Syria, Russia and Iran. Turkey has been boxed into a corner and America doesn’t even have a corner to be boxed into.

Russia’s ‘long game’ strategy appears to have paid off.

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Theresa May goes to Brussels and comes back with a big fat donut (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 39.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Theresa May’s trip to Brussels to try and win some concessions from EU oligarchs, only to get completely rebuked and ridiculed, leaving EU headquarters with nothing but a four page document essentially telling the UK to get its act together or face a hard Brexit.

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Via Zerohedge


Any confidence boost that might have followed Theresa May’s triumph this week over her party’s implacable Brexiteers has probably already faded. Because if there was anything to be learned from the stunning rebuke delivered to the prime minister by EU leaders on Thursday, it’s that the prime minister is looking more stuck than ever.

This was evidenced by the frosty confrontation between the imperturbable May and her chief Continental antagonist, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, which was caught on film on Friday shortly before the close of a two-day European Council summit that descended into bitter recriminations. After offering token praise of May’s leadership, Brussels’ supreme bureaucrat criticized her negotiating strategy as “disorganized”, provoking a heated response from May.

Earlier, May desperately pleaded with her European colleagues – who had adamantly insisted that the text of the withdrawal agreement would not be altered – to grant her “legally binding assurances” May believes would make the Brexit plan palatable enough to win a slim victory in the Commons.

If there were any lingering doubts about the EU’s position, they were swiftly dispelled by a striking gesture of contempt for May: Demonstrating the Continent’s indifference to her plight, the final text of the summit’s conclusions was altered to remove a suggestion that the EU consider what further assurances can be offered to May, while leaving in a resolution to continue contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Even the Irish, who in the recent past have been sympathetic to their neighbors’ plight (in part due to fears about a resurgence of insurrectionary violence should a hard border re-emerge between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), implied that there patience had reached its breaking point.

Here’s the FT:

But Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, warned that the EU could not tolerate a treaty approval process where a country “comes back every couple of weeks following discussions with their parliament looking for something extra…you can’t operate international relations on this basis.”

Senior EU officials are resisting further negotiations — and suggestions of a special Brexit summit next month — because they see Britain’s requests as in effect a bid to rewrite the exit treaty.

Mr Varadkar noted that many prime ministers had been called to Brussels “at short notice” for a special Brexit summit “on a Sunday in November,” adding: “I don’t think they would be willing to come to Brussels again unless we really have to.”

In response, May threatened to hold a vote on the Brexit plan before Christmas, which would almost certainly result in its defeat, scrapping the fruits of more than a year of contentious negotiations.

Given that Mrs May aborted a Commons vote on her deal this week because she feared defeat by a “significant margin,” her comments amounted to a threat that she would let MPs kill the withdrawal agreement before Christmas.

Mrs May made the threat to German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk as the two day Brussels summit descended into acrimony, according to diplomats.

“At the point where there is no prospect of getting anything more from the EU, that’s when you would have to put the vote,” said one close aide to Mrs May.

If this week has taught May anything, it’s that her plan to pressure the EU into more concessions (her preferred option to help her pass the Brexit plan) was an unmitigated failure. And given that running out the clock and hoping that MPs come around at the last minute (when the options truly have been reduced to ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’) leaves too much room for market-rattling uncertainty, May is left with a few options, two of which were previously ‘off the table’ (though she has distanced herself from those positions in recent weeks).

They are: Calling a second referendum, delaying a Brexit vote, pivoting to a softer ‘Plan B’ Brexit, or accepting a ‘no deal’ Brexit. As the BBC reminds us, May is obliged by law to put her deal to a vote by Jan. 21, or go to Parliament with a Plan B.

If May does decide to run down the clock, she will have two last-minute options:

On the one hand she could somehow cancel, delay, soften or hold another referendum on Brexit and risk alienating the 17.4 million people who voted Leave.

But on the other hand, she could go for a so-called Hard Brexit (where few of the existing ties between the UK and the EU are retained) and risk causing untold damage to the UK’s economy and standing in the world for years to come.

Alternatively, May could accept the fact that convincing the Brexiteers is a lost cause, and try to rally support among Labour MPs for a ‘softer’ Brexit plan, one that would more countenance closer ties with the EU during the transition, and ultimately set the stage for a closer relationship that could see the UK remain part of the customs union and single market. Conservatives are also increasingly pushing for a ‘Plan B’ deal that would effectively set the terms for a Norway- or Canada-style trade deal (and this strategy isn’t without risk, as any deal accepted by Parliament would still require approval from the EU).

But as JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank anticipated last week, a second referendum (which supporters have nicknamed a “People’s Vote”) is becoming increasingly popular, even among MPs who supported the ‘Leave’ campaign, according to Bloomberg.

It’s not the only previously unthinkable idea that May has talked about this week. Fighting off a challenge to her leadership from pro-Brexit Conservative members of Parliament, the premier warned that deposing her would mean delaying Britain’s departure from the European Union. That’s not something she admitted was possible last month.

The argument for a second referendum advanced by one minister was simple: If nothing can get through Parliament — and it looks like nothing can — the question needs to go back to voters.

While campaigners for a second vote have mostly been those who want to reverse the result of the last one and keep Britain inside the EU, that’s not the reason a lot of new supporters are coming round to the idea.

One Cabinet minister said this week he wanted a second referendum on the table to make clear to Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party that the alternative to May’s deal is no Brexit at all.

Even former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is urging his supporters to be ready for a second referendum:

Speaking at rally in London, Press Association quoted Farage as saying: “My message folks tonight is as much as I don’t want a second referendum it would be wrong of us on a Leave Means Leave platform not to get ready, not to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.”

Putting pressure on Brexiteers is also the reason there’s more talk of delaying the U.K.’s departure. At the moment, many Brexit-backers are talking openly about running down the clock to March so they can get the hard Brexit they want. Extending the process — which is easier than many appreciate — takes that strategy off the table.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has continued to call for May to put her deal to a vote principally because its defeat is a necessary precursor for another referendum (or a no-confidence vote pushed by an alliance between Labour, and some combination of rebel Tories, the SNP and the DUP).

“The last 24 hours have shown that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. “She’s failed to deliver any meaningful changes. Rather than ploughing ahead and recklessly running down the clock, she needs to put her deal to a vote next week so Parliament can take back control.”

The upshot is that the Brexit trainwreck, which has been stuck at an impasse for months, could finally see some meaningful movement in the coming weeks. Which means its a good time to bring back this handy chart illustrating the many different outcomes that could arise:

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Ukraine’s President Says “High” Threat Of Russian Invasion, Urges NATO Entry In Next 5 Years

Poroshenko is trying desperately to hold on to power, even if it means provoking Russia.

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Via Zerohedge


Perhaps still seeking to justify imposing martial law over broad swathes of his country, and attempting to keep international pressure and media focus on a narrative of “Russian aggression,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced what he called the high “threat of Russian invasion” during a press conference on Sunday, according to Bloomberg.

Though what some analysts expected would be a rapid flair up of tit-for-tat incidents following the late November Kerch Strait seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and their crew by the Russian Navy has gone somewhat quiet, with no further major incident to follow, Poroshenko has continued to signal to the West that Russia could invade at any moment.

“The lion’s share of Russian troops remain” along the Russian border with Ukraine, Poroshenko told journalists at a press conference in the capital, Kiev. “Unfortunately, less than 10 percent were withdrawn,” he said, and added: “As of now, the threat of Russian troops invading remains. We have to be ready for this, we won’t allow a repeat of 2014.”

Poroshenko, who declared martial law on Nov. 26, citing at the time possible imminent “full-scale war with Russia” and Russian tank and troop build-up, on Sunday noted that he will end martial law on Dec. 26 and the temporarily suspended presidential campaign will kick off should there be no Russian invasion. He also previously banned all Russian males ages 16-60 from entering Ukraine as part of implementation of 30 days of martial law over ten provinces, though it’s unclear if this policy will be rescinded.

During his remarks, the Ukrainian president said his country should push to join NATO and the EU within the next five years, per Bloomberg:

While declining to announce whether he will seek a second term in the office, Poroshenko said that Ukraine should achieve peace, overcome the consequences of its economic crisis and to meet criteria to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during next five years.

But concerning both his retaining power and his ongoing “threat exaggeration” — there’s even widespread domestic acknowledgement that the two are clearly linked.

According to The Globe and Mail:

While Mr. Poroshenko’s domestic rivals accuse him of exaggerating the threat in order to boost his own flagging political fortunes — polls suggest Mr. Poroshenko is on track to lose his job in a March election — military experts say there are reasons to take the Ukrainian president’s warning seriously.

As we observed previously, while European officials have urged both sides to exercise restraint, the incident shows just how easily Russia and the West could be drawn into a military conflict over Ukraine.

Certainly Poroshenko’s words appear designed to telegraph just such an outcome, which would keep him in power as a war-time president, hasten more and massive western military support and aid, and quicken his country’s entry into NATO — the latter which is already treating Ukraine as a de facto strategic outpost.

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The Stampede of the Gadarene Swine: US Leaders Allowing Ukraine to Pull Them into Global War

There is no way in any sane assessment that the Ukrainian forces – and certainly not the neo-Nazi militias recruited in the west of the country to terrorize the east – can be regarded as “brothers” of the US armed forces.

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Authored by Martin Sieff via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


George Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel was right – Again: The only thing the human race learns from history is that it learns nothing from history.

In 1914,the British Empire, largest in human history and one of the longest-lasting, charged into World War I to defend “gallant little Belgium” whose King Leopold over the previous 30 years had carried out one of the longest, largest genocides of all time, killing 10 million people in the Congo.

Germany, wealthiest, most prosperous nation in Europe, blundered into the same needless war when feckless Kaiser Wilhelm II causally gave sweeping approval to Austria-Hungary to annihilate the tiny nation of Serbia. Millions of brave and idealistic Russians eagerly volunteered to fight in the war to protect “gallant little Serbia.” Most of them died too. There is no record that any of the Serbian leaders after the war visited any of their mass graves.

Now it is the United States’ turn.

Since the end of the Cold War US policymakers, presidents and their congresses have carried out virtually every stupidity and folly imaginable for any major power. The only one they have so far avoided has been the danger of stumbling into a full scale world war.

However, now, with the escalating and increasingly hysterical US support for the shady and risk-taking junta in Kiev, President Donald Trump risks committing that most dire and unforgivable of all horrors.

Trump today is no more than putty in the hands of his national security adviser John Bolton, one of the masterminds of the catastrophe that was the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Bolton is just like his hero Winston Churchill a century ago during World War I. He always gets his way, always gets the wars and battles he wants and bungles them embarrassingly every time. And like the young Churchill, Bolton never learns, never mellows and he never changes. It is always everybody else’s fault.

Churchill finally did grow and learn. His famous activities of the 1930s were not meant to start a new world war with Germany under the far worse leadership of Adolf Hitler: He wanted to avert such a war.

The invaluable diaries of Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Union’s ambassador to Britain through the 1930s make clear that even then Churchill was eager – alone in the British ruling classes – to establish a serious close defensive alliance with Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union. He recognized that would be the only way to box in Hitler and prevent a global catastrophe.

But Bolton has not learned from his hero – Quite the reverse. He is now impelling Trump on a reckless course of empowering the dangerous adventurers who with US support have seized Ukraine and have spent the past nearly five years wrecking it.

Even worse, the same kind of absurd sentimentalizing of an obscure, tiny or unstable ally that doomed Britain, Russia and Germany to unimaginable suffering and loss in 1914 now permeates US decision-makers, strategists and their pontificating pundits about Ukraine. On March 1, 2016, US General Philip Breedlove, then NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) memorably referred to “our Ukrainian brothers and sisters” in a Pentagon press briefing

There is no way in any sane assessment that the ramshackle Ukrainian forces – and certainly not the neo-Nazi militias recruited in the west of the country to terrorize the east – can be regarded as “brothers” of the US armed forces. The US and Soviet troops who met on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945 after advancing a combined more than 2,000 miles to liberate Europe from the darkest tyranny in its history could truly be called “brothers.”

However, the US military today and the Ukrainian forces they are being drawn in to protect certainly are not “brothers and sisters.” No poll has been taken since then across the United States, as far as I am aware as to whether the American people would be willing to risk full-scale nuclear war to defend a government in Ukraine that is demonstrably unpopular among its own people.

Trump was elected president in November 2016 precisely because he was the only candidate in that shock election who unambiguously called for the United States to end its 70-year fixation with getting pulled into one endless war and confrontation after another around the world. It would be the darkest of ironies if instead he took America into its last and most catastrophic conflict – a nuclear confrontation from which there could be no recovery, no escape and no survival.

Britain, Russia and Germany in 1914 were all destroyed by the deliberate plotting and manipulations of vastly smaller or weaker allies run by psychopathic gamblers. The rulers of Kiev today, in their entirely reckless disregard for the dangers of global thermonuclear war clearly fit into that category.

Policymakers in Moscow recognize this dire reality. Their counterparts in Washington remain amazingly totally blind to it. Their only idea of strategy is the suicidal stampede of the Gadarene Swine in the Gospels off the end of a cliff. And they are taking the entire human race with them.

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