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U.S. pleads with Russia for ‘mercy’, gives up on Aleppo and admits Syrians will win

Press conferences by John Kerry and Boris Johnson following Western foreign ministers’ meeting in London confirms military options to save Jihadi fighters have been abandoned and that the Western powers have accepted that the Syrian government with Russian support will recapture eastern Aleppo.

Alexander Mercouris

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As might be expected, the West’s public acceptance of defeat in Aleppo came quietly, but it has now come.

The events of the last few week can be summed up quickly.

Following the US climbdown in the first week of October after the Russian warning of Russia’s readiness to shoot down US aircraft carrying out bombing strikes against Syrian bases, a final attempt was made to scare and embarrass the Russians into getting the Syrians to call the Aleppo offensive off.

This centred on a failed and actually farcical attempt to isolate and embarrass the Russians at the UN Security Council (discussed in detail here), combined with empty threats to bring war crimes prosecutions against the Russians, and more empty threats of further sanctions against individual Russian officials (additional sectoral sanctions are out of the question).

A meeting of the US National Security Council took place on Friday, with some US officials telling the media anonymously that military options would again be discussed and presented to Obama for his consideration. 

This was a completely empty claim since Obama had publicly rejected these same military options the previous week.  The same US officials were therefore obliged to admit that it was “extremely unlikely” that Obama would approve these options, and he would probably “not make a decision”.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, Britain’s hapless Foreign Secretary, appeared to float an idea for a “no bombing zone”, though typically he never did so clearly or openly and most of the details had to be provided in off the record conversations to the British media.

The idea behind this “no bombing zone” was that the US and the Western powers would unilaterally announce a prohibition on bombing by the Syrians and the Russians in any part of Syria.  In the event that the Syrians or the Russians disregarded this announcement and continued bombing, the US and the Western powers would retaliate by launching strikes against Syrian bases and military facilities where no Russians were believed to be present.

It is not clear who was the originator of this plan but its half-baked nature suggests it was probably Boris Johnson himself.

The “no bombing zone” is simply a “no fly zone” without the aerial bombardment.  The US has never imposed a “no fly zone” without an aerial bombardment.  We have a detailed discussion of what a “no fly zone” involves and why an aerial bombardment is an integral part of it from no less a person than Hillary Clinton herself.

The US military would never agree to enforce a “no fly zone” (or a “no bombing zone”) without an aerial bombardment since by failing (in US parlance) to “degrade” the Syrian air defences through an aerial bombardment the US would be placing its aircraft and pilots enforcing the “no fly zone” (or “no bombing zone”) at risk. 

In a situation where the air defences in question are not merely Syrian but Russian – and therefore far more capable of shooting down US aircraft – the whole idea of enforcing a “no bombing zone” without an aerial bombardment to “degrade” these defences is inconceivable.  Only a complete civilian with no understanding of how the US military conducts operations would conceive of it, which is why its author is very likely to be Boris Johnson himself.

The “no bombing zone” would in fact depend for its enforcement on launching long range cruise missile strikes on Syrian bases from US warships, which for geographical and political reasons would have to be based in the eastern Mediterranean.

Some of the Russian air defence systems in Syria are probably capable of shooting down these cruise missiles.  The S-300MV Antey-2500 recently deployed to Syria was designed for this very purpose. 

The Russians say it is in Syria to protect Russia’s naval facility in Tartus.  That suggests its units have been stationed along the Syrian coast, in other words precisely in the area where they would most effectively intercept US cruise missiles launched from US warships from the eastern Mediterranean. 

That already puts the viability of enforcing the “no bombing zone” with cruise missiles from US warships in the eastern Mediterranean in question.

The key concern of the US would however be that the Russians have also warned that in case of US missile strikes on Syria killing Russian personnel they would retaliate with missile strikes of their own against facilities in Syria they know to be staffed by US personnel. 

There are persistent rumours the Russians have already done just that.  This was supposedly done in retaliation for the US air strike on the Syrian military near Deir Ezzor.  That is rumoured to have killed three Russian advisers stationed with the Syrian troops there.  In retaliation the Russians are supposed to have launched a cruise missile strike on a Jihadi headquarters staffed by Western military personnel – including some from the US – all or some of whom were killed.

Even if this strike never happened – and it has never been confirmed that it did – someone is spreading rumours about it.  Quite conceivably it is the Russians as their way of making clear that it is something they are prepared to do.

It is inconceivable that the US political and military leadership would put the lives of its personnel in Syria at risk in this way, especially in a situation which could easily escalate into a full-blown military confrontation with the Russians.

One way or the other the “no bombing zone” faces the same insuperable problems that a fully fledged “no fly zone” does.  An editorial in The London Times has now admitted as much. 

Quite simply, what makes it impractical is that it risks a head on confrontation with the Russian military in Syria.  That is something that neither the West’s political nor its military leadership is prepared to risk.

All this became entirely obvious at a meeting of Western foreign ministers in London on Sunday convened by Boris Johnson directly following Kerry’s meeting with Lavrov on Saturday in Lausanne.

It is clear that Kerry found Lavrov in Lausanne completely immoveable, with Lavrov sticking to the well-known Russian position that there can be no more unilateral ceasefires by the Syrian army, and that a precondition for a ceasefire is the separation of Syrian opposition fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra – as the US has repeatedly promised and as has repeatedly failed to happen.

In the face of this, and with military options ruled out, the Western foreign ministers in London were left with nothing other than to accept the inevitable, which is that the Syrian government is going to recapture eastern Aleppo. 

This became clear from the subsequent news conference, which significantly only Kerry and Johnson attended.

Both Kerry and Johnson admitted that there is no support in Europe for military action in Syria and that this option has been ruled out.  Here is what Kerry had to say about it

“I haven’t seen a big appetite in Europe of people to go to war. I don’t see the parliaments of European countries ready to declare war. I don’t see a lot of countries deciding that that’s the better solution here.

So we are pursuing diplomacy because those are the tools that we have, and we’re trying to find a way forward under those circumstances. Easy to say, where’s the action? But what is the action? I have a lot of people who have a lot of trouble defining that when you really get down to trying to do it.”

And here is what Boris Johnson had to say about it

“And to the gentleman there, look, no option is, in principle, off the table. But being no doubt that these so-called military options are extremely difficult and there is, to put it mildly, a lack of political appetite in most European capitals and certainly in the West for that kind of solution at present. So we’ve got to work with the tools we have. The tools we have are diplomatic….”

As to what has forced the West to take the “military option” in Syria off the table, Kerry spelled it out.  It is what The Duran has reported (see here and here), and what the Western media has ignored

“…..when a great power is involved in a fight like this, as Russia has chosen to be by going there and then putting its missiles in place in order to threaten people against military action, it raises the stakes of confrontation….”

With no military option available, and with all forms of pressure on the Russians having failed, there is nothing more the West can do.   

That this is so was most clearly admitted by Boris Johnson.  All he could come up with to save the Jihadi fighters in Aleppo was plead with the Russians for mercy

“And it is up to them (NB: the Russians – AM) to seize this moment to recognise the opportunity and, in my view, to show greatness and to show leadership…..it’s really up to them now to listen and to show mercy – show mercy to those people in that city, get a ceasefire going, get the negotiations going in Geneva, and let’s bring this slaughter to an end.”

(bold italics added)

When a Western foreign minister – even one as preposterous as Boris Johnson – is reduced to pleading with the Russians for mercy, then it is obvious that the game is over and the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ has been lost.

Kerry in fact all but admitted as much.  His comments make it clear the US now accepts the Syrian government is going to recapture eastern Aleppo, and that the Jihadi fighters there are doomed.  All he could say was that it would not be the end of the war.

“Now, some people ask what happens to Aleppo if it were to fall. Well, the Russians should understand, and Assad needs to understand, that that does not end the war. This war cannot end without a political solution. So even if Aleppo were to fall, even if they have utterly destroyed it, which they are doing, that will not change the fundamental equation in this war because other countries will continue to support opposition, and they will continue to create more terrorists, and Syria will be the victim in the end as well as the region.”

That continuing the war after the Syrian government recaptures eastern Aleppo is now the US objective was previously confirmed by the same US officials (quite possibly Kerry himself) who spoke anonymously to the media last week.  Here is how Reuters reports it in a despatch dated Friday 14th October 2016

“The ultimate aim of any new action could be to bolster the battered moderate rebels so they can weather what is now widely seen as the inevitable fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo to the forces of Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

The US and its allies do have the means to prolong the war in Syria at least for a time even after the Syrian government regains control of eastern Aleppo.  As Mark Sleboda and I have previously said, it is precisely in order to create a safe zone for the Jihadis in north east Syria – and therefore to prolong the war – that the Turkish military with US support invaded north east Syria in August

Whatever Jihadi entity is eventually created in the Turkish controlled safe zone in north east Syria, it cannot however convincingly claim to be the government of Syria.  That will always be the government in control of Syria’s great cities, first and foremost Aleppo and Damascus, and the densely populated region of western Syria in which they are located and where the great majority of Syria’s people live. 

It is now clear that for the foreseeable future the government of Syria will be the government of President Bashar Al-Assad, which is and always has been the legitimate UN recognised government of Syria. 

With the recapture of eastern Aleppo the future of this government will have been secured.  That means that for the foreseeable future the regime change project in Syria is dead.

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BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

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If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.

 

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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