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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.

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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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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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