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Did Russia really impose a “No-Fly Zone” against the US in Syria?

The Safe Zone Memorandum relies on the good will of the often discordant parties which have agreed to back the deal.

Andrew Korybko

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The introduction of “de-escalation” zones in Syria and specifying remarks by Russia’s chief diplomat to the Astana talks Aleksander Lavrentiev have led to the conclusion that Russia has imposed a “no-fly” zone against the US in Syria, but the reality of the matter is much more nuanced than that. There’s no debating that the game-changing plan actually does call for this measure within the very text of the document itself, but there are questions about its implementation, enforcement, and outcome, all of which lead to a much more complex reality than the simplified one that Russia has flexed its muscles and scared off the US in Syria.
Symbolism vs Substance
For starters, the “de-escalation” zones north of Homs and in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta are small isolated patches of territory which are geographically insignificant from the airpower point of view. It’s very likely that terrorism will indeed be eliminated from these tiny pockets sooner or later, beginning with the successful separation of terrorists from the “moderate opposition” and then following up with joint operations between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the said “rebels”.
This model might also work in parts of southern Syria as well such as the area surrounding Daraa.
As for Idlib and Quneitra, events might not unfold in the same way. The key difference between these latter two “de-escalation” zones and the aforementioned is that they’re geographically contiguous to Syria’s top two enemies, Turkey and “Israel”, respectively. This means that both Ankara and Tel Aviv have a stake in preserving their influence in these regions through the institutionalization of their proxies’ control, most likely envisioned as having the terrorists “switch hats” to become “moderate rebel opposition” members and then subsequently pressing for a “decentralized” political settlement in these areas as per a manipulation of the clauses suggested in the Russian-written “draft constitution” for Syria unveiled in late January.
What this means in practice is that shrewd “diplomacy” and not airpower will be the defining factor in determining the post-Daesh political future of these two much more geostrategically significant regions, and that the implementation of a “no-fly” zone over their territories is essentially a moot point as much of the air action in Syria anyhow is being conducted as part of the “Race for Raqqa”, the results of which will also serve as much more powerful of a catalyst for Syria’s potential “Balkanization” than any other development in the country.
Enforceability Issues 
Referring back to the analysis’ focus on “de-escalation” zones, this brings the discussion around to exploring exactly how Russia plans to enact its decree that no air forces be allowed to conduct strikes in the designated areas. Given the precedents established over the past year and a half of the US conducting bombing operations in Syria despite the Russian military presence in the Arab Republic, it’s dubious to infer that Moscow would all of a sudden expand its military mandate from strictly fighting terrorism to shooting down US jets which violate parts of Syria’s airspace.
Furthermore, contemporary air units and their precision-guided munitions are so technologically developed that warplanes don’t even have to be physically above their area of intended operations in order to carry out strikes there, as they could launch their missiles from miles away without ever technically entering the restricted zones. Along the same note, cruise missiles could also be used as substitutes for conventional air power, thereby still allowing for force projection in the “de-escalation/no-fly” zones without having to rely on warplanes to do so.
This exposes a serious loophole in Russia’s plans, one is amplified by First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on International Affairs Vladimir Jabarov’s statement  immediately following Trump’s cruise missile strike on the SAA that “Russia has no intentions to use its Aerospace Forces against US missiles if Washington decides to carry out new strikes in Syria as it could lead to a large-scale war.” Therefore, considering that Russia won’t shoot down any incoming cruise missiles and is also highly unlikely to expand its military mandate to the point of targeting US and “coalition” aircraft violating the “de-escalation” zones, the only feasible solution for “enforcing” them rests on the US’ own “goodwill” towards this initiative.
President Trump reportedly had a positive reaction to his Russian counterpart’s proposal when they spoke about it by phone on Tuesday, so it can be cautiously inferred that he won’t seek to violate the “de-escalation” zones in the abovementioned manner, or at least not right away. There’s the threat, however, that the Pentagon could “go rogue” and sabotage this implicit understanding just like they did in Deir ez Zor under his predecessor’s in September of last year, but there’s no surefire way to tell whether that will happen this time again or not.
The “Israel” Factor
Finally, last but not least, the one point which hasn’t been commented on in regards to the “de-escalation” zones and their “no-fly” zone conditional is whether or not these terms will apply to “Israel”. Lavrentiev’s statement on the matter addressed the role of “coalition” aircraft over these regions, yet Tel Aviv isn’t a formal member of that group and publicly operates independently of it.
Given that Russia has never attempted to stop any of “Israel’s” bombing operations in Syria and actually agreed to a military coordination mechanism with Tel Aviv right around the start of Moscow’s anti-terrorist operation in the country, there is almost no likelihood that Russia would stop “Israel” if it decides to violate the “no-fly” restrictions in the Quneitra “de-escalation” zone abutting the occupied Golan Heights.
As with the US, the only factor influencing “Israel’s” adherence to Russia’s terms in these areas is “goodwill” on the part of its leadership. Bearing in mind that President Putin and Netanyahu are close friends with one another, there’s a possibility that Tel Aviv might abide by Moscow’s conditions at least in the beginning, though again just like with Washington, there’s no telling whether this implicit agreement will last.
Concluding Thoughts 
In the grand scope of things, Russia and its Iranian and Turkish Tripartite members’ “de-escalation” zone agreement is commendable in the sense that it intends to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but upon further examination, its “no-fly zone” conditions are flimsy and will probably not be enforced for a number of practical reasons.
Russia won’t suddenly expand its military mandate from anti-terrorism to protecting Syria’s borders (even only part of them as designated in the “de-escalation” zone document), let alone without a serious public debate in the Duma, as this could lead to it shooting down American aircraft and starting a larger war, which Moscow has officially said that it is taking its utmost care to avoid. Similarly, nor would Russia shoot down any cruise missiles targeting the territories within these “no-fly zones”, despite that obviously being a ‘workable loophole’ in getting around the technical anti-aircraft provisions.
“Israel” isn’t a party to this agreement, and it’s also not a member of the US-led “coalition”, so it too might present a “loophole” to this entire framework if the high level of “goodwill” between Tel Aviv and Moscow doesn’t hold, or if “Israel” senses or pretends to detect any Iranian or Hezbollah presence near the Quneitra “de-escalation” zone which prompts it to unilaterally carry out another one of its many illegal strikes on Syrian territory (all of which have hitherto been unopposed by Russia because of their irrelevancy to Moscow’s military mandate).
Additionally, the point needs to be emphasized that even if Russia enacted a “hardline” implementation of its “no-fly zone” decree and made it clear that it will indeed shoot down any warplanes or cruise missiles violating the “de-escalation” zones, this will still do little to alter the dynamics of the War on Syria in the sense that it wouldn’t be applicable whatsoever to the large swath of northeastern Syria where the “Race for Raqqa” endgame and potential “Balkanization” of the Arab Republic are taking place.
Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the “no-fly” restrictions nominally associated with the “de-escalation” zones are essentially unenforceable and can only be upheld by the “goodwill” of all potential violating parties. Considering how Russia is actively engaged in complex and multivectoral diplomacy with each of them, however, there are grounds for cautious optimism that the “no-fly zones” will be respected, at least at the very beginning of their “implementation”.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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