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Putin and Erdogan speak on Syria ceasefire

Russian and Turkish Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan discuss Syrian ceasefire by telephone and agree it is generally observed. However in many parts of Syria fighting still continues, the date of the Astana peace conference has still not been agreed, and there is no confirmation that Turkey is preventing reinforcements and supplies reaching the Jihadis in Syria from across the Turkish border.

Alexander Mercouris

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Russian President Putin and Turkish Erdogan had a further telephone conversation today, in what has now become a regular series of such calls.

I believe I am right in saying that Putin and Erdogan spoke to each other more often than any two other world leaders in the second half of 2016, and that they speak to each other more often than either of them does to any other world leader (Putin also speaks regularly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to German Chancellor Angela Merkel; he probably also speaks regularly to Chinese President Xi Jinping, but it is likely that the majority of these calls are kept secret).

Regardless of what private feelings Putin and Erdogan have for each other, this is a very intense dialogue, and they must know each other very well by now.

The Kremlin’s summary of the telephone conversation shows that the two discussed the conflict in Syria, and that they are broadly satisfied with the situation there

The two leaders focused on the situation in Syria. They pointed out that the ceasefire agreements reached between the Syrian Government and the moderate opposition through the mediation of Russia and Turkey have been mostly complied with and agreed to continue their joint efforts to prepare the intra-Syrian talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.

They also discussed bilateral issues, including the full revival of trade and economic ties and holding a meeting of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council, which is co-chaired by the two heads of state, in the near future.

The relative success – so far – of the Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan is in stark contrast to the utter failure of the Kerry-Lavrov ceasefire plans of February and September 2016.

It is important to say that Syria is not at peace.  Fighting still continues near Damascus.  The Jihadis appear to have gone back on their promise to quit Wadi Barada, and water supplies from there to Damascus are still being disrupted.  Al-Qaeda remains in control of Idlib province, including the provincial capital, and fighting is continuing in the countryside south west of Aleppo.  In the north east the Turkish army is still fighting ISIS at Al-Bab, and is still in conflict with the Kurdish YPG militia, which confusingly is still engaged in a three cornered with ISIS.  Further east and south, the conflict between the Syrian army and ISIS near Palmyra and Deir Ezzor continues undiminished, with reports of the Syrian army continued to make gains in the countryside west of Palmyra, and of ISIS launching more attacks on Deir Ezzor.

As for the peace conference in Astana, there is no news yet of when it will convene or of who will attend, though there are reports of Turkish anger as the US continues to lobby for the Kurdish YPG militia to be given a place at the UN’s ongoing (and stalemated) Syrian peace conference in Geneva.  One of the attractions for the Turks of Putin’s proposed peace conference is that it will almost certainly exclude the YPG.

Meanwhile there are reports that Erdogan has arranged a meeting in Turkey of the various Jihadi groups in Syria which Turkey backs in order to try to get them to come together into a single umbrella group.  This could be so that they can present a united front in Astana.  However it also seems to be an attempt to increase Turkish control over them (controlling Jihadi groups being rather like herding cats), and possibly in order to strengthen the Turkish backed Jihadis on the ground in Syria in case the present ceasefire breaks down.

The Jihadi meeting in Turkey is therefore a sign that Erdogan has still not fully given up his plans for Syria.

The ultimate test for Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria is not the present ceasefire.  It is whether Turkey is prepared to stop reinforcements and supplies going to the various Jihadis groups in Syria across the Turkish border.  Until a few weeks ago that traffic was undiminished, and there are no reports so far that it has ended.

Almost certainly that is the main subject of discussion between the Russians and the Turks at the present time, though it is probable that Putin and Erdogan only touched on it in their latest conversation and that most of the detailed discussions are going on between Turkish military intelligence in Ankara and the Russian military command at the Russia’s Syrian air base in Khmeimim.

In the meantime earlier reports that the Russians have actually reinforced their air group at the Khmeimim air base have proved to be wrong.  It seems that with the fall off in the fighting following the ceasefire the Russians have withdrawn their SU24 bombers from Khmeimim air base and have partially replaced them with lighter SU25 ground attack aircraft.   The more sophisticated aircraft at Khmeimim air base – the SU34 fighter bombers and the SU35 fighters – are however all still there.   As the Kremlin’s summary of the conversation between Putin and Erdogan shows, the Russians are guardedly optimistic but are keeping their powder dry.

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Tape recorded evidence of Clinton-Ukraine meddling in US election surfaces (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a look at new evidence to surface from Ukraine that exposes a plot by the US Embassy in Kiev and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to leak Paul Manafort’s corrupt dealings in the country, all for the benefit of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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Via Zerohedge


Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Hill’s John Solomon, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko

“Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko said last week, according to The Hill

Lutsenko is probing a claim from a member of the Ukrainian parliament that the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Artem Sytnyk, attempted to the benefit of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

A State Department spokesman told Hill.TV that officials aware of news reports regarding Sytnyk. –The Hill

“According to the member of parliament of Ukraine, he got the court decision that the NABU official conducted an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” said Lutsenko, speaking with The Hill’s John Solomon about the anti-corruption bureau chief, Artem Sytnyk.

“It means that we think Mr. Sytnyk, the NABU director, officially talked about criminal investigation with Mr. [Paul] Manafort, and at the same time, Mr. Sytnyk stressed that in such a way, he wanted to assist the campaign of Ms. Clinton,” Lutsenko continued.

Solomon asked Lutsenko about reports that a member of Ukraine’s parliament obtained a tape of the current head of the NABU saying that he was attempting to help Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, as well as connections that helped release the black-ledger files that exposed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort‘s wrongdoing in Ukraine.

“This member of parliament even attached the audio tape where several men, one of which had a voice similar to the voice of Mr. Sytnyk, discussed the matter.” –The Hill

What The Hill doesn’t mention is that Sytnyk released Manafort’s Black Book with Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko – discussed in great length by former Breitbart investigator Lee Stranahan, who has been closely monitoring this case.

Serhiy Leshchenko

T]he main spokesman for these accusations was Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian politician and journalist who works closely with both top Hillary Clinton donors George Soros and Victor Pinchuk, as well as to the US Embassy in Kyiv.

James Comey should be asked about this source that Leshchenko would not identify. Was the source someone connected to US government, either the State Department or the Department of Justice?

The New York Times should also explain why they didn’t mention that Leshchenko had direct connections to two of Hillary Clinton biggest financial backers. Victor Pinchuk, the largest donor to the Clinton Foundation at a staggering $8.6 million also happened to have paid for Leshchenko’s expenses to go to international conferences. George Soros, whose also founded the International Renaissance Foundationthat worked closely with Hillary Clinton’s State Department in Ukraine, also contributed at least $8 million to Hillary affiliated super PACs in the 2016 campaign cycle. –Lee Stranahan via Medium

Meanwhile, according to former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, Leshchenko was a source for opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

Nellie Ohr, a former contractor for the Washington, D.C.-based Fusion GPS, testified on Oct. 19 that Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist turned Ukrainian lawmaker, was a source for Fusion GPS during the 2016 campaign.

“I recall … they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian,” Ohr said when asked who Fusion GPS’s sources were, according to portions of Ohr’s testimony confirmed by The Daily Caller News Foundation. –Daily Caller

Also absent from The Hill report is the fact that Leshchenko was convicted in December by a Kiev court of interfering in the 2016 US election.

A Kyiv court said that a Ukrainian lawmaker and a top anticorruption official’s decision in 2016 to publish documents linked to President Donald Trump’s then-campaign chairman amounted to interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The December 11 finding came in response to a complaint filed by another Ukrainian lawmaker, who alleged that Serhiy Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk illegally released the documents in August 2016, showing payments by a Ukrainian political party to Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The documents, excerpts from a secret ledger of payments by the Party of Regions, led to Manafort being fired by Trump’s election campaign.

The Kyiv court said that the documents published by Leshchenko and Sytnyk were part of an ongoing pretrial investigation in Ukraine into the operations of the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The party’s head had been President Viktor Yanukovych until he fled the country amid mass protests two years earlier.

-RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty (funded by the US govt.).

So while Lutsenko – Solomon’s guest and Ukrainian Prosecutor is currently going after Artem Sytnyk, it should be noted that Leshchenko was already found to have meddled in the 2016 US election.

Watch:

Meanwhile, you can also check out Stranahan’s take on Leshchenko being left out of the loop.

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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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