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Lavrov – Kerry agreement falls apart after only 10 days; Syrian war resumes

Failure of ceasefire leads to a resumption of the war, putting an end to agreement agreed by Lavrov and Kerry in Geneva on 9th September 2016.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Lavrov – Kerry agreement has collapsed.

The ceasefire the agreement was supposed to put in place has never come into effect.  The Jihadis – far from separating themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra as they were required by the Lavrov Kerry agreement to do – instead united with Jabhat Al-Nusra and have exploited the Syrian military’s temporary stand-down to launch more attacks on Aleppo.

Further east near Deir Ezzor the US air force attacked Syrian military positions defending the city’s airport, allowing a Syrian defence line to be overrun by ISIS fighters.  I have already explained why I do not believe that this attack was a mistake.

Perhaps not coincidentally, at a time when the US was on the diplomatic defensive over its air strike on Deir Ezzor, reports have appeared of an attack on a convoy providing relief supplies near Aleppo.

The US is accusing either the Russians or the Syrians of launching an air strike against this convoy.  The Russians and the Syrians deny this and are hinting that the convoy was not attacked by aircraft at all but was attacked by ground missiles launched by local Jihadi fighters.

Regardless of the truth about this incident, amidst a deteriorating military picture movement of all relief convoys across Syria has now been brought to a stop.

In light of the Jihadi attacks on their positions, the Syrian military – and implicitly the Russian air force – have now confirmed that they no longer consider the ceasefire to be in effect.  Though Lavrov and Kerry are meeting again the Kremlin has said that it has “little hope” of the ceasefire being revived.

This has been ill-starred agreement from the start.  To see why that was so, it is merely necessary to look at the negotiations that led up to it.

An agreement was supposedly reached between the Russians and the US in February, which required the US to arrange for Syrian opposition fighters to separate themselves from the two Jihadi terrorist groups – ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra – in return for a stop to attacks on them by the Russian air force and the Syrian military.

The agreement was never implemented.  The Syrian opposition fighters, instead of separating themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra, joined with Jabhat Al-Nusra, and tried to exploit the cessation of attacks on them by the Russian air force and the Syrian military by launching a succession of offensives.

Reports began to circulate in April of a major Jihadi offensive being in preparation, with large numbers of military supplies being sent to the Jihadis via Turkey from their foreign sponsors amongst the Gulf Arab states.  A joint Jihadi headquarters was set up to manage this offensive, whose objective appears to have been the capture of Aleppo.

The US appears to have been involved in these preparations for an offensive, with US Secretary of State Kerry making threats in May that action would follow if the Russians did not submit to US demands for a “political transition” in Syria (ie. Assad’s removal) by 1st August 2016.  As the Moon of Alabama correctly reported, it is a virtual certainty these threats from Kerry referred to the ongoing preparations for the Jihadi offensive.

Kerry then had a succession of meetings with Lavrov and Putin in which he presented the Russians with his plan.  I discussed these meetings previously (see here and here).  All the indications are that the terms Kerry offered the Russians were a place in the US led coalition against ISIS in return for their agreement that President Assad should step down.  I said that these terms would be unacceptable to the Russians, and so it proved.

Whilst these negotiations were underway the fighting in Syria restarted.  By late July the Syrian military with Russian air support managed to recapture the Castello road north of Aleppo, encircling the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo. 

Simultaneously the major Jihadi offensive against Aleppo was launched, which attempted to storm the city through the Ramousseh district in the city’s south west. 

By mid August this Jihadi offensive had however been fought to standstill, allowing the Syrian military to go back on the offensive in the area to the south west of the city at the beginning of September, enabling it recapture the city’s Ramousseh district which the Jihadis had briefly captured at the start of their offensive.

In parallel with all this fighting the balance of the negotiations between the Russians and the US shifted again, with the Russians insisting on a return to what appeared to have been agreed in February – a US commitment to the separation of Syrian opposition fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra.  Following intense negotiations between Lavrov and Kerry and Obama and Putin an agreement to that effect appeared to have been reached in Geneva on 9th September 2016.  That the agreement was however obviously unpopular with many people in Washington is shown by the fact that it took 9 hours for the US to commit itself to its terms, and by Washington’s insistence that its terms be kept secret. 

A further important indicator that the US was unhappy with the agreement is that US President Obama has never publicly committed himself to it.  He has not even publicly commented on it.  Instead he has maintained an ominous silence, and has gone to ground.

The unhappy story of how the Lavrov Kerry agreement was negotiated shows why it has now failed.  Quite simply the Russians and the US have – as my colleague Adam Garrie has previously said – fundamentally conflicting objectives in Syria, which make cooperation between them all but impossible.

The Russians want to defeat Jihadi terrorism in Syria and bring peace to the country.  The US remains obsessively focused on regime change.

Beyond this fundamental difference of objective, there also appears to be an inability of the two countries to understand each other. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry never seems quite able to accept that the US would rather see Syria destroyed and militant Jihadism let loose on the country rather than compromise on its objective of regime change there. 

One senses that the highly rational and realistic diplomats of the Russian Foreign Ministry find such nihilistic behaviour in the end incomprehensible, and can never quite bring themselves to believe that the US really does think and behave in this irrational way.

By contrast the US never seems quite able to accept that the Russians actually intervened in Syria because they were worried about the threat of violent Jihadi terrorism gaining hold there. 

Instead they attribute to the Russians all sorts of cynical ulterior motives – such as holding on to their base in Tartus or getting the US to treat them as equals – which the Russians have never expressed, and almost certainly do not have. 

They are therefore constantly baffled that whenever they make offers to the Russians that appear to satisfy these “real” motives they attribute to the Russians in return for the Russians agreeing to regime change, the Russians always say no.

The result is a series of negotiations between the US and the Russians in which the two sides negotiate at cross-purposes, failing to understand each other, so that they end up with agreements which cannot work.

The big question is what happens now.  Despite Jihadi gains around Aleppo on Monday – including the seizure of a part of the Castello road – I suspect that with the ceasefire over, and with the gloves off, the Syrian military backed by the Russians will quickly regain control of the situation.

If so then with the situation of the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo becoming increasingly desperate, the future will be decided by how far the US is prepared to go. 

I still think it is unlikely that the US is prepared to challenge the Russians head on in Syria by – for example – declaring a no fly zone there, or allowing the Turkish army to come to the rescue of the Jihadis in Aleppo.  Such steps would seriously risk an armed clash with the Russians, which I suspect neither the uniformed US military nor the US public in the last weeks of the election campaign would be prepared to countenance.  If that is right then the Syrian military will probably win its fight in Aleppo and should secure its control of the city over the next few weeks.

Unfortunately the fanatical language of some of the people in Washington means it is impossible to be sure of this.  If a decision is made to escalate then the halt in the movement of relief convoys  provides the pretext.  Once again the situation in Syria is plunged in uncertainty and has become dangerous.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence.

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Authored by Tom Luongo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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