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Russia’s ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria: a serious proposal, a diplomatic ploy or a trap?

Russia’s proposed ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria are obviously intended as an alternative to the US proposal for ‘safe havens’

Alexander Mercouris

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Russian President Vladimir Putin rounded off three days of non-stop diplomacy with a telephone conversation with US President Trump and a meeting with Turkish President Erdogan.  This came directly after his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Putin obviously discussed the Syrian conflict with all three.  Moreover it is known that over the course of the same discussions Putin mooted with all three of them – but especially with Trump and Erdogan – a new Russian proposal for something the Russians are calling ‘de-escalation zones’.

That this is so was confirmed during the joint news conference Putin and Erdogan gave after their meeting.  Here is what the two of them had to say about this proposal

Question(retranslated): I have a question about resolving the Syrian crisis and creating safe zones in Syria. Did the two leaders discuss this issue and, if so, did they reach an agreement?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: There is a new initiative in this regard. As you may be aware, from the very outset, I have been using the term ”safe zone“. I will continue to use it. However, a new term – ”de-escalation zone“ – has gained currency recently. As you may be aware, refugees from Aleppo have found shelter in the province of Idlib. Unfortunately, problems occasionally emerge in Idlib. A ”green zone“, that is, a ”de-escalation zone“ has been created there. We hope that the de-escalation zone will be preserved.

This is critical for the Astana process. I hope that the decision on the de-escalation zone will be adopted and acted upon to further resolve this issue.

Vladimir Putin: The President and I operate on the premise – I already mentioned this – that the Syrian crisis can be resolved exclusively by political means. However, to set this political process in motion it is necessary to ensure a ceasefire. As the countries that made the greatest contribution to this formula and the practical side of ending hostilities, Russia, Turkey, and Iran have never stopped thinking about ways to bolster the ceasefire.

One way to do so is to create safe zones, or de-escalation zones, as the President just said. We have heard the US President mention de-escalation zones as well. Yesterday, I discussed this issue on the phone with Mr Trump. As far as I understand, the US administration is supportive of these ideas. Earlier, Russia held consultations with Damascus and Tehran, and we believe that we need to work toward creating mechanisms that would guarantee an end to the bloodshed and create conditions for starting a political dialogue. In this sense, I am on the same page with the President of Turkey. We proceed from the premise that the participants in the conflict who gathered in Astana today will make the final decision, because, ultimately, the future of their country depends on them. As guarantors of the ceasefire, Turkey, Iran, and Russia will do their best to ensure that these mechanisms get better and are effective. We will support this proposal.

This is all extremely vague, and does not provide any clear explanation of what these so-called ‘de-escalation zones’ are supposed to be about or what they will consist of.  However it seems from these words that Erdogan, Trump and the Syrian and Iranian leadership are all to a greater or lesser degree supportive of this proposal, which given their differences on so many other issues is an extraordinary fact in itself.

A few days ago Al-Masdar, which has reliable sources within the Syrian government, published an interesting article about how the Russians are supposedly planning to establish four zones in Syria, which are presumably the proposed ‘de-escalation zones’.  The article reads as follows

Russia proposed the creation of four zones in Syria as part of a wider plan to de-escalate the tension in the war-torn country.

The proposed zones will have safety lines along them and monitoring centers in order to avoid direct fire among the warring parties, as well as granting safe access to unarmed civilians and aid convoys.

The Russian proposal also involves the possibility of the three guarantor states (Russia, Iran and Turley) to form a working group and send troops in order to enhance the application of the proposal.

Putting this article with what Putin and Erdogan said together, it seems that what the Russians are proposing is that the Syrian authorities and the various Turkish backed Jihadi groups which are supposed to be participating in the Russian-Turkish sponsored ceasefire and in the Astana process agree between them certain zones (the Russians have apparently proposed four such zones) which are to be completely demilitarised and to which civilians can escape in order to avoid the fighting.

Putin was quite clear that the setting up of these ‘de-escalation’ zones and their boundaries had to be agreed by the Syrian government and by the Turkish backed Jihadis as part of the Astana peace process.

We proceed from the premise that the participants in the conflict who gathered in Astana today will make the final decision, because, ultimately, the future of their country depends on them

However it seems that once the boundaries are agreed the three guarantor powers – Iran, Turkey and Russia – will take steps to secure them.   Here is what Putin had to say about that

As guarantors of the ceasefire, Turkey, Iran, and Russia will do their best to ensure that these mechanisms get better and are effective

What this means in practice is unclear.  The Al-Masdar article speaks of the setting up of a ‘working group’ and of troops being sent ‘in order to enhance the application of the proposal’.  That suggests peacekeepers being sent to police the zones.

The question of whose troops those would be is the key one.

The Syrians would be deeply unhappy if Turkish troops were introduced into Syria in order to police the zones, since this would legitimise the presence of Turkish troops in Syria, which up to now has been illegal.  Given how the Syrians feel about Turkey – which has been their most relentless enemy – they would be bound to object strenuously to any proposal which legitimised the presence of Turkish troops in their country.  The Russians in light of their own difficulties with Turkey might be reluctant to pressure the Syrians to agree to it.

The US, the Israelis and the Saudis for their part would however undoubtedly strongly object to the introduction of Iranian troops into Syria for such a purpose.  All three of these countries have spoken of their determination to end any Iranian presence in Syria.  They would certainly not agree to Iranian troops entering the country to police ‘de-escalation zones’.  The Turkish backed Jihadis would be bound to object strenuously also.

That might well mean that the bulk of the troops would have to come from Russia.  A short time ago rumours circulated in the Middle East media that the Russians were considering sending ground troops to Syria.  If so then that might be as part of this proposal rather than in the active combat role the rumours claim.  Presumably if an agreement were reached it would be backed by a Resolution of the UN Security Council authorising Russia, probably with the help of troops from some other powers, to send troops to Syria to police the zones.

Any suggestion that Russian ground troops be sent to Syria, even following an international agreement and with the authority of the UN Security Council, would still however be hugely controversial in Russia.  It is far from certain the Russian government is considering it.  So far there is no confirmation of it.

Whilst the form and purpose of the proposed ‘de-escalation zones’ is still unclear, the reason for Russia proposing them is not.  They give every impression of being a Russian response to President Trump’s revived talk since the alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack of ‘safe havens’.

The difference between ‘safe havens’ and ‘de-escalation zones’ is that ‘safe havens’ are supposed to be set up by the US and Turkey unilaterally, whilst ‘de-escalation zones’ are supposed to be agreed by the Syrian government as part of the ceasefire talks underway in Astana.  Moreover the Russians would have a role in monitoring and perhaps administering the ‘de-escalation zones, whilst they would have no such role in guarding the ‘safe havens’.  Setting up the ‘safe havens’ would amount to a US-Turkish invasion of Syria, which would dramatically worsen the crisis there.  “De-escalation zones’, in theory at least, would not.

From the Russian point of view (and possibly that of Damascus and Tehran) ‘de-escalation zones’ would also have the further advantage that their form and boundaries – unlike those of the ‘safe havens’ – would be agreed, at least in theory, by the Syrian government in Damascus, bringing them within the legal jurisdiction of the Syrian state.

That the ‘de-escalation zones’ are different, or are supposed to be different, from the ‘safe havens’ was implicitly admitted by President Erdogan during his joint news conference with Putin

There is a new initiative in this regard. As you may be aware, from the very outset, I have been using the term ”safe zone“. I will continue to use it. However, a new term – ”de-escalation zone“ – has gained currency recently

President Erdogan’s words however also point to the problem: even if the ‘de-escalation zones’ are supposed to be different from the ‘safe havens’, in practice they may amount to the same thing.

Ever since the Russian-Turkish ceasefire was agreed fighting has continued in Syria largely unabated, with the Turkish backed Jihadi groups which supposedly signed up to the ceasefire regularly joining Al-Qaeda in attacks against the Syrian army.  Some of these groups were for example involved in the recent offensives in northern Hama and in Damascus.

These same Jihadi groups have also repeatedly staged walk outs from the Astana talks, and they have just done so again.

Given this record there has to be a serious possibility that if ‘de-escalation zones’ are ever set up these same Jihadi groups will try to take them over and convert them into base areas from which to attack the Syrian army.  That after all is precisely what they intended that the ‘safe havens’ would be.  Needless to say in trying to do this the Jihadis would have the support of the US and the Turks, who would then have a pretext to come to the defence of the Jihadis in the ‘de-escalation zones’ if the Syrian army sought to attack them there.

The Russians and the Syrians will of course do everything they can to prevent this situation from arising.  However it is easy to see how setting up ‘de-escalation zones’ could go horribly wrong, and -more to the point – how, precisely because the Jihadi groups might try to convert the ‘de-escalation zones’ into base areas whilst the Russians and the Syrians would try to prevent them from doing so, the whole process of setting up the ‘de-escalation zones’ might become bogged down in furious argument.

Which however raises another possibility, which is that like the Russian draft for a ‘Syrian constitution’ about which so much was heard a few weeks ago, but which has since vanished without trace, this Russian proposal to set up ‘de-escalation zones’ may not be intended seriously and may be nothing more than a diplomatic stratagem.

From the Russian point of view the priority in Syria at the moment must be to prevent the various parties – the Syrians, the Turks, the US and the Kurds – from getting drawn into an all-out war with each other.  Donald Trump’s recent re-floating of the idea of ‘safe havens’ has however seriously increased that possibility. Proposing ‘de-escalation zones’ might be the Russians’ way of getting Trump off the hook – which may be why he has apparently welcomed this proposal so enthusiastically – whilst giving the parties a topic they can talk about and argue over instead of fight each other.  Meanwhile the Syrian army would be left alone to carry on the fight against Al-Qaeda and ISIS unhindered.

In that case even if actual agreement on the ‘de-escalation zones’ is never reached, floating the proposal would have served its purpose.

As I said before during my discussion of the Russian draft for a Syrian constitution, these sort of stratagems were once a commonplace of diplomacy, though they scarcely ever happen today because the US and the Western powers never use them.  The Russians however have retained a gift for them, and it may be that this whole nebulous idea of ‘de-escalation zones’ is just another example.

Whether that is so or not, and whether the proposal for ‘de-escalation zones’ is intended seriously or is in fact simply a stratagem, is something which the next few weeks should make clear. One way or the other however this proposal repays careful watching.

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Why did Trump recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory?

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the reasons behind US President Trump’s sudden recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Following Trump’s statements as US President, acting Israeli Foreign Minister is saying that Trump will make it official and sign an executive order to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Syrian border territory on Monday.

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Via DW

Israel says White House officials are preparing an official document to codify support for Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, which will be signed by US President Donald Trump on Monday.

The signing of the decree will be witnessed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks with Trump at the White House, Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz (pictured), said in a Tweet.

“Tomorrow, President Trump, in the presence of PM Netanyahu, will sign a decree recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan. Israel-US ties are closer than ever,” Katz said.

Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, subsequently annexing it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.

Trump’s tweet annoys allies

Trump broke with decades of US Middle East policy when he posted a Tweet on Thursday that said it was time to accept Israel’s widely-contested claim to the border territory.

The decision has been criticized by many US allies — Germany, Britain, France and the EU have all said they still consider the Golan Heights to be “occupied” by Israel.

Syria and other states in the region said the recognition, if confirmed, would violate international law.

Netanyahu has long pushed for Washington’s endorsement, and many analysts see Trump’s comments as a campaign gift ahead of Israel’s April 9 election.

In 2017, Trump drew condemnation throughout the Middle East when he recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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Russia Gives US Red Line On Venezuela

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


At a high-level meeting in Rome this week, it seems that Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, President Donald Trump was again bragging that the military option was still on the table, in his press conference with Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. Trump is bluffing or not yet up to speed with being apprised of Russia’s red line.

The meeting in the Italian capital between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had an air of urgency in its arrangement. The US State Department announced the tête-à-tête only three days beforehand. The two officials also reportedly held their two-hour discussions in a Rome hotel, a venue indicating ad hoc arrangement.

Abrams is no ordinary diplomat. He is a regime-change specialist with a criminal record for sponsoring terrorist operations, specifically the infamous Iran-Contra affair to destabilize Nicaragua during the 1980s. His appointment by President Trump to the “Venezuela file” only underscores the serious intent in Washington for regime change in Caracas. Whether it gets away with that intent is another matter.

Moscow’s interlocutor, Sergei Ryabkov, is known to not mince his words, having earlier castigated Washington for seeking global military domination. He calls a spade a spade, and presumably a criminal a criminal.

The encounter in Rome this week was described as “frank” and “serious” – which is diplomatic code for a blazing exchange. The timing comes at a high-stakes moment, after Venezuela having been thrown into chaos last week from civilian power blackouts that many observers, including the Kremlin, blame on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation with the Venezuelan military over humanitarian aid deliveries last month from neighboring Colombia.

The fact that Washington’s efforts to overthrow the elected President Nicolas Maduro have so far floundered, might suggest that the Americans are intensifying their campaign to destabilize the country, with the objective of installing US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido. He declared himself “acting president” in January with Washington’s imprimatur.

Given that the nationwide power blackouts seem to have failed in fomenting a revolt by the civilian population or the military against Maduro, the next option tempting Washington could be the military one.

It seems significant that Washington has recently evacuated its last remaining diplomats from the South American country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the evacuation by saying that having US personnel on the ground “was limiting” Washington’s scope for action. Also, American Airlines reportedly cancelled all its services to Venezuela in the past week. Again, suggesting that the US was considering a military intervention, either directly with its troops or covertly by weaponizing local proxies. The latter certainly falls under Abrams’ purview.

After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly: “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

One of those warnings delivered by Ryabkov is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.

For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand. “No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters.

“A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.

The arrogance of the Americans is staggering. Abrams seems, according to US reporting, to have flown to Rome with the expectation of working out with Ryabkov a “transition” or “compromise” on who gets the “title of president” of Venezuela.

That’s what he no doubt meant when he said after the meeting “there was not a meeting of minds”, but rather he got “a better understanding” of Russia’s position.

Washington’s gambit is a replay of Syria. During the eight-year war in that country, the US continually proffered the demand of a “political transition” which at the end would see President Bashar al Assad standing down. By contrast, Russia’s unflinching position on Syria has always been that it’s not up to any external power to decide Syria’s politics. It is a sovereign matter for the Syrian people to determine independently.

Nearly three years after Russia intervened militarily in Syria to salvage the Arab country from a US-backed covert war for regime change, the American side has manifestly given up on its erstwhile imperious demands for “political transition”. The principle of Syrian sovereignty has prevailed, in large part because of Russia’s trenchant defense of its Arab ally.

Likewise, Washington, in its incorrigible arrogance, is getting another lesson from Russia – this time in its own presumed “back yard” of Latin America.

It’s not a question of Russia being inveigled by Washington’s regime-change schemers about who should be president of Venezuela and “how we can manage a transition”. Moscow has reiterated countless times that the legitimate president of Venezuela is Nicolas Maduro whom the people voted for last year by an overwhelming majority in a free and fair election – albeit boycotted by the US-orchestrated opposition.

The framework Washington is attempting to set up of choosing between their desired “interim president” and incumbent Maduro is an entirely spurious one. It is not even worthy to be discussed because it is a gross violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. Who is Washington to even dare try to impose its false choice?

On Venezuela, Russia is having to remind the criminal American rulers – again – about international law and respect for national sovereignty, as Moscow earlier did with regard to Syria.

And in case Washington gets into a huff and tries the military option, Moscow this week told regime-change henchman Abrams that that’s a red line. If Washington has any sense of rationale left, it will know from its Syria fiasco that Russia has Venezuela’s back covered.

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

Now, the desperate Americans could still try more sabotage, cyber or financial. But their options are limited, contrary to what Trump thinks.

How the days of American imperialist swagger are numbered. There was a time when it could rampage all over Latin America. Not any more, evidently. Thanks in part to Russia’s global standing and military power.

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With RussiaGate Over Where’s Hillary?

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain. She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


During most of the RussiaGate investigation against Donald Trump I kept saying that all roads lead to Hillary Clinton.

Anyone with three working brain cells knew this, including ‘Miss’ Maddow, whose tears of disappointment are particularly delicious.

Robert Mueller’s investigation was designed from the beginning to create something out of nothing. It did this admirably.

It was so effective it paralyzed the country for more than two years, just like Europe has been held hostage by Brexit. And all of this because, in the end, the elites I call The Davos Crowd refused to accept that the people no longer believed their lies about the benefits of their neoliberal, globalist agenda.

Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the Presidency was to be their apotheosis along with the Brexit vote. These were meant to lay to rest, once and for all time, the vaguely libertarian notion that people should rule themselves and not be ruled by philosopher kings in some distant land.

Hillary’s failure was enormous. And the RussiaGate gambit to destroy Trump served a laundry list of purposes to cover it:

  1. Undermine his legitimacy before he even takes office.
  2. Accuse him of what Hillary actually did: collude with Russians and Ukrainians to effect the outcome of the election
  3. Paralyze Trump on his foreign policy desires to scale back the Empire
  4. Give aid and comfort to hurting progressives and radicalize them further undermining our political system
  5. Polarize the electorate over the false choice of Trump’s guilt.
  6. Paralyze the Dept. of Justice and Congress so that they would not uncover the massive corruption in the intelligence agencies in the U.S. and the U.K.
  7. Isolate Trump and take away every ally or potential ally he could have by turning them against him through prosecutor overreach.

Hillary should have been thrown to the wolves after she failed. When you fail the people she failed and cost them the money she cost them, you lose more than just your funding. What this tells you is that she has so much dirt on everyone involved, once this thing started everyone went along with it lest she burn them down as well.

Burnin’ Down da House

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain

She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

And she was willing to tear it down to keep him from having it no matter how much damage it would do. She’s worse than the Joker from The Dark Knight.

Because while the Joker is unfathomable to someone with a conscience there’s little stopping us from excising him from the community completely., even though Batman refuses.

Hillary hates us for who we are and what we won’t give her. And that animus drove her to blackmail the world while putting on the face of its savior.

And that’s what makes what comes next so obvious to me. RussiaGate was never a sustainable narrative. It was ludicrous from the beginning. And now that it has ended with a whimper there are a lot of angry, confused and scared people out there.

Mueller thought all he had to do was lean on corrupt people and threaten them with everything. They would turn on Trump. He would resign in disgrace from the public outcry.

It didn’t work. In the end Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone all held their ground or perjured themselves into the whole thing falling apart.

Andrew Weissman’s resignation last month was your tell there was nothing. Mueller would pursue this to the limit of his personal reputation and no further.

Just like so many other politicians.

Vote Your Pocketbook

With respect to Brexit I’ve been convinced that it would come down to reputations.

Would the British MP’s vote against their own personal best interests to do the bidding of the EU?

Would Theresa May eventually realize her historical reputation would be destroyed if she caves to Brussels and betrays Brexit in the end?

Always bet on the fecklessness of politicians. They will always act selfishly when put to the test. While leading RussiaGate, Mueller was always headed here if he couldn’t get someone to betray Trump.

And now his report is in. There are no new indictments. And by doing so he is saving his reputation for the future. And that is your biggest tell that HIllary’s blackmail is now worthless.

They don’t fear her anymore because RussiaGate outed her as the architect. Anything else she has is irrelevant in the face of trying to oust a sitting president from power.

The progressives that were convinced of Trump’s treason are bereft; their false hope stripped away like standing in front of a sandblaster. They will be raw, angry and looking for blood after they get over their denial.

Everyone else who was blackmailed into going along with this lunacy will begin cutting deals to save their skins. The outrage over this will not end. Trump will be President when he stands for re-election.

The Wolves Beckon

The Democrats do not have a chance against him as of right now. When he was caving on everything back in December it looked like he was done. That there was enough meat on the RussiaGate bones to make Nancy Pelosi brave.

Then she backed off on impeachment talk. Oops.

But the Democrats have a sincere problem. Their candidates have no solutions other than to embrace the crazy and go full Bolshevik. That is not a winning position.

Trump will kill them on ‘socialism.’

The Deep State and The Davos Crowd stand revealed and reviled.

If they don’t do something dramatic then the anger from the rest of the country will also be palpable come election time. Justice is not done simply by saying, “No evidence of collusion.”

It’s clear that RussiaGate is a failure of monumental proportions. Heads will have to roll. But who will be willing to fall on their sword at this point?

Comey? No. McCabe? No.

There is only one answer. And Obama’s people are still in place to protect him. I said last fall that “Hillary would indict herself.” And I meant it. Eventually her blackmail and drive to burn it all down led to this moment.

The circumstances are different than I expected back then, Trump didn’t win the mid-terms. But the end result was always the same. If there is no collusion, if RussiaGate is a scam, then all roads lead back to Hillary as the sacrificial lamb.

Because the bigger project, the erection of a transnational superstate, is bigger than any one person. Hillary is expendable.

Lies are expensive to maintain. The truth is cheap to defend. Think of the billions in opportunity costs associated with this. Once the costs rise above the benefits, change happens fast.

If there is any hope of salvaging the center of this country for the Democrats, the ones that voted against Hillary in 2016, then there is no reason anymore not to indict Hillary as the architect of RussiaGate.

We all know it’s the truth. So, the cheapest way out of this mess for them is to give the MAGApedes what they want, Hillary.

And hope that is enough bread and circuses to distract from the real storm ahead of us.

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