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World War could begin in north-east Syria

The Turkish incursion into Syria to capture the ISIS held town of Jarablus is the product of the growth of Kurdish and ISIS influence in north east Syria. It is also the result of US backing for the Kurds, which by encouraging them to seize territory is uniting the Turkish and Syrian government against them.

Alexander Mercouris

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The security situation in north eastern Syria is becoming increasingly complicated with clashes between the Kurdish militia and the Syrian army in the town of Al-Hasakah, a US warning that it will respond to Syrian air strikes against its troops in the area, and a Turkish incursion into Syria to capture the border town of Jarablus.

All this comes shortly after the capture by Kurdish militia (calling themselves the “Syrian Democratic Forces”) of the previously ISIS controlled town of Manbij. 

That town was captured following heavy US air strikes, which caused severe losses to the local population, and are of a sort which when allegedly carried out by the Syrian air force in Aleppo can be relied upon to provoke a media storm in the West and the harsh condemnation of the US and the UN.

What lies behind this sudden deterioration of the situation in north east Syria?

Though there were doubtless various factors behind the outbreak of clashes between the Syrian army and the Kurdish militia in Al-Hasakah, the underlying cause appears to be the desire of the Kurdish militia to carve out an autonomous region for itself in north east Syria. 

It seems that following the capture of Manbij the Kurdish militia has felt emboldened to try to take control of the whole of this territory, and has moved to oust the Syrian government troops who were still present in the area.  This has led directly to the clashes in Al-Hasakah, which in turn provoked the Syrian air strikes, which led in turn to the warning from the US.

The major complicating factor is the role of the US.  The US warning which has attracted so much attention is not in fact a departure from standard US policy, which is to protect its troops wherever they are.  However it does show how complicated and dangerous because of US involvement the situation in north east Syria has become. 

Having committed itself simultaneously to the overthrow of the Syrian government and the defeat of ISIS, and having also branded the other major player in the Syrian war – Al-Qaeda’s local franchise Jabhat Al-Nusra – a terrorist organisation, the US is short of effective allies on the ground in Syria. 

Accordingly it has embraced the Kurds, who do possess an effective militia, but whose interests are ultimately focused on securing autonomy for their own region rather than gaining power in Damascus.

This is very much in the style of US “third force” strategies, pursued by the US in various conflicts during and since the Cold War, which the US still from time to time ventures into despite their almost invariable record of failure.

The result is that though the Kurdish militia and the Syrian army were sometime uneasy allies in the Syrian war, they are now in conflict with each other, with the Russians however trying to broker a ceasefire between them.

US policy meanwhile has alarmed Turkey, for whom Kurdish separatism is an existential issue.  Coming on top of the Kurdish advances in Manbij and Al-Hasakah, and following the recent ISIS terror attack in Gaziantep, this has provoked the Turkish incursion into Syria to capture Jarablus from ISIS, presumably before the Kurds do.

The main focus of the war in Syria is not in the north east.  It is further west in Aleppo. 

What is happening in the north east of Syria is in military terms a sideshow, though one which has had an impact on the fighting in Aleppo with reports of clashes between Syrian troops and Kurdish militia who were previously cooperating with each in the city. 

The very latest reports however suggest that Russian mediation has managed to end these clashes.

Whilst it is in Aleppo and further west in Idlib (held by Jabhat Al-Nusra) that the outcome of the war in Syria will be decided, that does not mean that the fighting in north east Syria is without consequences.

It is difficult to avoid the feeling that the US has been deliberately building up the Kurdish militia and encouraging it to seize territory, not just or even principally in order to fight ISIS, but in order to use the Kurds to gain influence in Syria. 

The strategy seems to be similar to the one the US eventually followed in the 1990s in Iraq, where the US helped the Kurds carve out an autonomous zone in the north of the country, allowing the US to maintain a presence on the ground in Iraq even after the 1991 war had ended. 

The effect of this policy is however to escalate the violence, feed the alarm of the US’s erstwhile Turkish ally – provoking the Turkish advance on Jarablus which is now underway – and paradoxically giving the Turkish and Syrian governments a shared interest with each other.

This follows the pattern of other conflicts where the US has followed “third force” strategies.  US sponsorship of “third forces” has never decided the outcome of any conflict in the US’s favour.  What it invariably does is complicate and exacerbate the conflict, escalating the violence and making a lasting solution more difficult.

If the Syrian government is able to recapture eastern Aleppo and ultimately Idlib, and if it also manages to relieve the desert city of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria (currently besieged by ISIS) then it will have won the war. 

ISIS will be confined to a pocket of north east Syria around Raqqa, fighting the Kurds in the same area, and with both the Kurds and ISIS in conflict with neighbouring Turkey, which will have a vested interest in achieving the defeat of both. 

It is not difficult to see how at that point the Turkish and Syrian governments might finally come together, with Turkey supporting the restoration of the Syrian government’s authority in north east Syria.  From Turkey’s point of view that would be a far preferable outcome to having either ISIS or the Kurds in continued control of areas of north east Syria adjoining Turkey.

The recent signals of possible Turkish plans for a rapprochement with the government of Syria that have attracted so much attention do not seem to signal any weakening of Turkish support for the Syrian rebels fighting the Syrian government in Aleppo and Idlib. 

Rather they look to be a case of Turkey positioning itself for a scenario of a Syrian army victory in Aleppo and Idlib, paving the way for Turkey in that case to support the Syrian government as it seeks to regain control in north east Syria from ISIS and the Kurds.

In the meantime the Iranian news agency Fars reports that the deputy head of Turkish military intelligence – the same organisation that saved Erdogan’s government during the recent coup attempt, and which was tipped off by the Russians about the coup – is visiting Damascus for apparently not so secret talks with the Syrian government.

If these reports are true then it is likely that it was the situation in north east Syria that was discussed, with the Turks possibly informing the Syrians of their intended advance on Jarablus, and with the Syrians conceivably even giving the green light for it.

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US Pressures Germany To Ditch Huawei Over ‘Security Concerns’

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

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Via Zerohedge


First it was Australia, New Zealand and Japan, now the US is pressing the German government to refuse to use equipment manufactured by Chinese telecom giant Huawei as Europe’s largest economy seeks to build out its 5G infrastructure.

According to Bloomberg, a US delegation met on Friday with German Foreign Ministry officials in Berlin to talk about the security risks presented by Huawei’s equipment, which the US says is vulnerable to spying. The meeting in Germany follows a report from late last month claiming the US had launched an “extraordinary outreach campaign” to warn its allies against using Huawei equipment (while its vulnerability to Chinese spying has been cited as the reason to avoid Huawei, it’s also worth noting that the US and China are locked in a battle for who will dominate the global 5G space…a battle that Huawei is currently winning).

Germany is set to hold an auction early next year to find a supplier to help expand its 5G network. The Berlin meeting took place one day after Deutsche Telekom said it would reexamine its decision to use Huawei equipment.

US officials are optimistic that their warnings are getting a hearing, though any detailed talks are in early stages and no concrete commitments have been made, according to one of the people.

The US pressure on Germany underscores increased scrutiny of Huawei as governments grapple with fears that the telecom-equipment maker’s gear is an enabler for Chinese espionage. The Berlin meeting took place a day after German carrier Deutsche Telekom AG said it will re-evaluate its purchasing strategy on Huawei, an indication that it may drop the Chinese company from its list of network suppliers.

France is also reportedly considering further restrictions after adding Huawei products to its “high alert” list. The US has already passed a ban preventing government agencies from using anything made by Huawei. But the telecoms equipment provider isn’t taking these threats to its business lying down.

U.S. warnings over espionage are a delicate matter in Germany. Revelations over the scale of the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence, including reports of tapping Merkel’s mobile phone, are still fresh in Berlin five years after they came to light.

Huawei is pushing back against the accusations. The company’s rotating chairman warned this week that blacklisting the Chinese company without proof will hurt the industry and disrupt the emergence of new wireless technology globally. Ken Hu, speaking at a Huawei manufacturing base in Dongguan, cited “groundless speculation,” in some of the first public comments since the shock arrest of the company’s chief financial officer.

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. In an editorial published Sunday, the Global Times, an English-language mouthpiece for the Communist Party, warned that China should retaliate against any country that – like Australia – takes a hard line against Huawei. So, if you’re a German citizen in Beijing, you might want to consider getting the hell out of Dodge.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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