Russia

Syria, by Jeremy Salt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/02/2018 - 3:05pm in

In analysing foreign policy, no doubt the first mistake is to assume that policymakers know what they are doing. The recent announcement by the Pentagon that a new 30,000-strong ‘border security’ force is being trained in north-eastern Syria was immediately contradicted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for whom ‘the entire situation has been mis-portrayed, mis-described, some people mis-spoke. We are not creating a border security force at all’.

The reason for the contradiction was the rage of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who threatened to drown this new formation at birth. Tillerson tried to pacify him with an explanation that was far from convincing. Far from being a border force, let alone the North Syrian army, as it has also been called, he said the United States is only setting up a training program for ‘local Arab and Kurdish border guards’. In other words, yes, a border force after all, summoned into existence to guard the 28,000-square-kilometre Kurdish enclave the United States is carving out of northern Syria. This will be a US protectorate, nominally advancing the interests of the Kurds but, of course, primarily serving the interests of America.

Tillerson says the US presence in Syria is ‘conditions-based’. Al Qaida and the Islamic State (IS) have to be defeated not just substantially but completely. A ‘post-Assad’ leadership will have to be elected. Iran’s ‘malicious influence’ will have to be reduced, the refugees will have to be returned, and all weapons of mass destruction eliminated. Refugees would be helped to return only to ‘liberated’ areas. Towards this end, ‘the US, the EU and regional partners will not provide reconstruction assistance to any area under control of the Assad regime’. Furthermore, the United States would ‘discourage’ economic relations between the Syrian ‘regime’ and any other country. Free elections would end in the ‘permanent departure of Assad and his family from power’.*

Clearly, the United States is planning to stay in Syria for a long time to come. Never mind that its presence grossly violates not just international law but its own congressional War Powers Act; never mind that the government in Damascus represents Syria at the United Nations and remains the legitimate government of the country; never mind that the majority of the Syrian people have given their support to this government in presidential and general elections, held in very difficult conditions since 2011 and monitored by teams of outside observers to ensure their fairness; never mind that Syria does not have weapons of mass destruction, having never had nuclear weapons and having had its chemical-weapons stocks removed under international supervision in 2013–14. Never mind the best interests of the Syrian people, which are not served by US support for armed groups. All that matters in Washington is that the United States gets what it wants.

The Tillerson remarks were a tissue of distortions and demands that the United States has no right to make but are fully in conformity with the bullying ‘national security’ policy outlined by Condoleezza Rice when she was secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. According to that policy, the United States would not respect the sovereignty of any state it regarded as actually or potentially threatening to the United States in any way. While it has always done what it wants to, this was an open declaration of war on international law. The word was quickly followed by the deed: drone missile attacks on Yemen, Somalia and other countries; wars of aggression against Iraq, Libya and Syria; and, through the supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the war on Yemen.

Current US policy on Syria is only the latest phase in a cycle of hostility that goes back to the Iranian revolution of 1979. Supporting the Iranian revolution and supporting both Hamas and Hezbollah, the Syrian government is an enemy the United States and Israel remain determined to break. The partitioning of Syria through the creation of a Kurdish enclave would be fully in accord with Israel’s Yinon Plan of 1982, the arguments of which centre on breaking down the central lands of the Middle East into ethno-religious statelets. The establishment of an autonomous Kurdish governorate in northern Iraq certainly fits these prescriptions, and the collapse of the independence movement following the ill-timed referendum of September 2017 came as a severe blow to its principal outside supporters, the United States and Israel. A US ‘protectorate’ over the Kurds in Syria would go some way towards making up for this loss.

Through the Syria Accountability Act, passed in 2003 and repeatedly reinforced, the United States has tried to break Syria through economic means. The ‘Arab spring’ came as an opportunity to break it by military means. China and Russia blocked the US-led attempt at the UN Security Council to secure support for an air war: as a substitute, the United States and its allies, calling themselves ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’, resorted to war fought by armed proxies, presented as ‘moderates’ but mostly takfiri extremists adhering to the same ideology as IS. This brutal campaign has ensured the death of about half a million people but has failed to secure ‘regime change’.

 

Turning the war around

In the autumn of 2015 Russia, at the request of Syria, intervened in support of Syrian army operations. Its intensive aerial campaign in coming months turned the war around. With talks in Geneva repeatedly blocked by the United States and its ‘rebel’ proxies, Russia then set up the tripartite talks (with Iran and Turkey) in Astana that have achieved real progress. Humiliated by Russia and kept out of the talks in Astana, the United States responded by building up its military presence. Apart from its Kurdish enclave it has several thousand troops and special forces positioned at more than ten bases, including one at Al Tanf, to the southwest on the Iraq–Syria border, where US special forces are training new brigades of ‘rebels’, ostensibly to fight IS.

Russia has beefed up its own military presence, if not to the same degree. It is expanding its Khmeimim air base, in Latakia province, in the west, and is also expanding its naval base at Tartus to accommodate up to eleven warships, including nuclear-armed warships, rather than one at present. Russia recently signed a 49-year lease on the bases: according to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, ‘we have begun forming a permanent presence there’.

The Kurds have a long history of being used and then betrayed. While they may feel they have no choice but to make hard choices, when squeezed between the interests of rival powers, they are running the same risk again in Syria, where the United States has created a largely Kurdish proxy militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and, in addition, is backing the Peoples Protection Units (YPG), the military arm of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). If the United States’ new ‘border force’ comes into existence, most probably as a replacement for the SDF, it will also be largely Kurdish.

The Kurds are now the focal point of military operations inside Syria by Turkey, which regards the YPG and the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) as one terrorist group with branches on different sides of the Turkey–Syria border. The United States accepts the designation of the PKK as a terrorist organisation but can hardly apply the same label to the Kurds it is working with in Syria. Its refusal to put them in the same category has greatly angered its erstwhile NATO ally, which, it has to be said, would not have this problem had it not jumped into the campaign to destroy the government in Damascus. Without Turkey’s full participation it is doubtful whether this war could even have been launched in the first place.

Up to 2011 there was no Kurdish problem as such in Syria. There were Kurdish grievances but nothing that the Syrian government could not handle. All this changed after the launching of the proxy war in 2011. While it failed to dislodge the government in Damascus, the war broke its authority across the country, creating a vacuum that others quickly filled. By early 2014, Raqqa had fallen to IS, with its ideological clone, Jabhat al Nusra (Al Qaida in Syria), sharing the lead in the fight against the ‘regime’. With the Syrian army too hard-pressed on other fronts to protect the north, the Kurds seized their own opportunity. They declared autonomy in predominantly Kurdish areas along the Turkish border and proceeded to set up their own civil administration.

In August 2016, Turkey launched ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ inside Syria, with the declared aim of clearing IS from its positions along the border with Syria and preventing Kurdish YPG units from moving to the west bank of the Euphrates River. Eventually extended to Al Bab, 40 kilometres northeast of Aleppo, the operation came to an end in March 2017, leaving Turkey in occupation of a large chunk of Syrian territory. Turkey has now launched another large-scale operation, ‘Olive Branch’, this time directed against the YPG in the predominantly Kurdish Afrin region of the Aleppo governorate. The operation quickly took in Azaz, close to the border, with Turkey warning that it intended to advance on Manbij, run by a SDF military council supported by the YPG and US troops, raising the possibility of a direct United States–Turkey military standoff. Manbij lies on the west bank of the Euphrates, and Turkey says the presence of the Kurdish fighting groups there breaches a commitment the United States made not to allow them to cross the river from the east. Erdogan turned up the heat even further by saying Turkey intended to advance all the way to the Iraqi border. Infuriated by US support for the YPG, Turkey says it will not back off; as the Kurds are the mainstay of the US position in northern Syria the United States cannot back off either.

 

The Islamic State card

Behind its expressed horror at the vileness of IS, the evidence suggests that the United States has been playing ducks and drakes with the late caliphate. The curiosities begin with the IS seizure of Mosul in June 2014. In a region saturated with surveillance from land and air, is it even remotely possible that US satellites and drones did not see hundreds of IS fighters racing across the Syrian desert from Raqqa in pickup trucks to seize Mosul and help themselves to an enormous quantity of US arms and military equipment? In May 2015, IS fighters seized Ramadi, 400 kilometres south of Mosul, before seizing in the same month the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, 200 kilometres from Raqqa and 700 kilometres from Ramadi. The United States must have seen these convoys as they crossed the Iraqi and Syrian deserts. It was spring, the weather was fine, the pickup trucks would have been kicking up plumes of sand—they were out in the open, fully exposed, and could have been completely obliterated from the air, but they weren’t.

Consider also the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memorandum of 2012 that supported the establishment of a ‘salafist’ principality in eastern Syria as a means of keeping pressure on the government in Damascus. Having taken most of the city in 2014, the IS presence in Deir al Zor fitted the bill perfectly. In September 2016, US and ‘allied’ aircraft (some Australian) launched dozens of missile strikes against Syrian military positions on the Tharda mountains, overlooking Deir al Zor and its besieged Syrian air-force base, killing scores of soldiers and wounding many more. The instant the attack was over, IS moved out of Deir al Zor to take the Syrian positions over. The United States claimed the attack was a mistake, which was surely a lie, conveniently accepted by the Australian government: the evidence, including the aerial monitoring of Syrian troop movements over a period of days, suggests that it was carefully planned.

Before Deir al Zor was finally liberated by the Syrian army in November 2017, Russian drone cameras picked up US special forces and SDF mingling with IS fighters north of the city. According to some reports, the US helicoptered IS commanders out of the city before the Syrian army moved in. If this somehow seems a contradiction of stated US policy aims to destroy IS, the capture of Raqqa, the Syrian seat of the caliphate, in October 2018 was more of a handover, with hundreds of armed IS fighters and their dependants, a total of thousands of people, allowed to leave the city—some headed for the Turkish border, others for Idlib, the centre of intensive fighting against the Syrian army by various takfiri groups.

Finally, the United States allowed IS to continue the oil trade that was a mainstay of its finances. After Russia launched its war in support of Syria in September 2015, it released reconnaissance photos showing hundreds of tankers lined up on both sides of the Syria–Iraq border waiting to transport oil to Turkey, and not just oil from territories seized by IS but oil from the Kurdish governorate of northern Iraq, then in disagreement with the central government over oil profits. The United States obviously knew of this trade but did nothing to stop it, perhaps because of the Kurdish connection. It was only after Russia launched devastating attacks on tankers, depots and refineries that the United States stepped up its own war on IS. Russia did more damage to the caliphate in weeks than the United States had done in a year: it was Russia, supporting Syrian troops on the ground, that broke the caliphate’s back in Syria, not the United States and its proxy allies.

 

Seducing Erdogan

Two NATO members are now occupying large parts of Syria. Their conflict over the Kurds only drives further downhill a relationship that has been deteriorating for years. The principal markers have been the US refusal to extradite the Pennsylvania-based Muslim guru Fethullah Gulen, blamed for orchestrating the failed coup attempt of July 2016, and the trial in the United States of a senior manager of Turkey’s Halk Bank, accused of playing a central role in Turkish money-laundering for Iran.

As the Turkish pendulum has swung away from the United States, so it has swung towards Russia. Relations between the two countries recovered rapidly after the shooting down of a Russian fighter aircraft by a Turkish F-16 in November 2015. They have close economic ties: Turkey has been buying more than half of its natural gas from Russia, and Russia is a lucrative market for Turkish primary produce. These ties were only temporarily damaged after the downing of the Russian plane. Since then Erdogan has been cleverly seduced by Putin. He was brought into the Astana peace talks, and Russia clearly gave Turkey some kind of green light to launch its operation in Afrin, following the YPG’s refusal—since reversed—to align itself with the Syrian government. Turkey’s purchase of sophisticated Russian weaponry (S400 surface-to-air missiles) was received very badly by the United States and NATO. In Syria, for the moment, Turkey’s interests lie with Russia and not the United States. How far this will go remains to be seen, but the drift is there.

The United States is trying to pull Turkey out of the Russian orbit. Its efforts at conciliation have included an offer by Tillerson to set up a jointly run ‘security zone’ along the Turkey–Syria border, its statement that it has withdrawn heavy weapons from the YPG, and its threat to cut arms supplies to the SDF if it fights any enemy other than IS, which hardly exists in Syria any more except for remnants. Someone is going to be sacrificed here and most probably—almost certainly—it is going to be the Kurds. Erdogan has caused offence in Europe and the United States through his abrasive manner and the suppression of human rights in Turkey under his government, but Turkey is too important a player on the regional and global scene to let go.

Although vulnerable in its landlocked north-eastern corner of Syria, the United States is clearly determined to stay in Syria. As with Afghanistan, it could be there for decades. It has a land base from which it can project its power across the region, a base that could be used for war (as in a war between Israel and Hezbollah/Iran/Syria in which the United States would be able to support Israel from inside Syria) or for bullying purposes in political bargaining over Syria’s future. Turkey’s intentions are similarly open to interpretation. It could also be in northern Syria for a long time to come: its campaign will be a test for a military command purged of nearly half its senior officers after the coup attempt of 2016 and an army facing a well-trained Kurdish opponent that will fight hard for every inch of land. Erdogan has promised a quick and successful end to operation ‘Olive Branch’; an alternative view is that he has stuck his hand into a Kurdish wasp nest.

By late January the Turkish offensive had compelled the YPG-dominated Kurdish administration of Afrin to return to the Syrian national fold. Almost certainly the Syrian military would not be able to respond to its call to protect the northern border against Turkish attack: what was very significant in this communiqué was the commitment made to the territorial unity of Syria. Afrin was described as ‘an inseparable part of Syria’ in which the YPG, by fighting Al Qaida and IS, had contributed to ‘the preservation of the unity of the Syrian lands and national institutions’. Whether this signalled a general realignment of the YPG with the Syrian government, at the expense of its relationship with the United States, remains to be seen.

If there is one thing the Syrian war is not about it is the best interests of the Syrian people. The Kurds, the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are all trying to get what they can out of it. They have overlapping interests as well as separate interests. Seven years later, the United States has made it clear that the war is still about the overthrow of the Syrian government and confrontation with Iran, which it is pursuing on other fronts, in coordination with Israel. Russian intervention has added an axiomatic new reason for staying. There are those who are saying the war is over, but this is far from true: too many governments still have too much at stake to bring it to an end.

* The EU has set aside €6 billion for Syrian humanitarian relief but has linked reconstruction aid to political transition. The allocation of funds will be discussed at a conference scheduled for the northern spring. Russia says Syria needs aid immediately; the US says not a dollar should go to areas under the control of the government (most of the country) until the government has been replaced. In the meantime, Syria has signed numerous reconstruction contracts with Russia and Iran. Chinese companies are ready to move in, with Brazil indicating that it also will be seeking contracts. Estimates of the cost of repairing the material damage done to Syria since 2011 run at well over US$200 billion.

Interactive Timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/02/2018 - 7:50am in

When it comes to Donald Trump, his campaign and their dealings with Russia past and present, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the players without a scorecard. We have one of sorts — a deeply comprehensive timeline detailing what actually happened and what’s still happening in the ever-changing story of the president, his inner circle and a web of Russian oligarchs, hackers and government officials. Continue reading

The post Interactive Timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The growing gap between Ukraine and Russia – and the people trying to bridge it

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/02/2018 - 5:02pm in

Tags 

Russia, Conflict

Ukraine and Russia are mired in a self-perpetuating conflict. Ukrainian and Russian activists recognise the problem, but will they be able to overcome it? RU

“Write a letter to Moscow” - an action in Kyiv, 2015. From left to right: Andrey Ignatchuk, an actor from Minsk; Varya Darevskaya, Natalia Bugreeva. Photo: Elena Podgornaya.Of all the possible post-Soviet models of political behaviour that might be adopted in the face of separatist conflict, Ukraine appears to have opted for the least successful one of all – namely, the Azerbaijan-style strategy of blockading territories not under its control and limiting contacts with its neighbouring state. In these conditions, the actual everyday experiences of citizens of both countries are easily supplanted by propagandist bravado, and any attempt at diplomacy from below becomes risky. It feels as if the conflict is hooked up to a kind of perpetual motion machine, whereby it replicates itself on all possible levels, forcing even local governments to keep the flywheel of confrontation constantly spinning.

Without the opportunity to operate freely in their own country, some Russian nationals who have come out against the war in the Donbas have attempted to participate in Ukrainian civic life. The response they’ve met with, however, has been less than enthusiastic. Motivated as they are by the best of intentions, Russian activists grow disillusioned when they encounter a wall of antagonism across the border.

Today, no one’s awaiting any magnanimous gestures in Kyiv or Dnipro. The only thing people are waiting for is the day Russia leaves Ukraine alone – and they’re transferring all their grievances from those who are really to blame (specific politicians) to people within range (activists and volunteers). The resentment is quickly becoming mutual: Russian anti-war activists expect Ukrainians to oppose any continuation of the armed conflict in the Donbas, without realising that you can’t protest against a war fought in self-defence.

“Your fear is no better than our fear”

“I had a meeting with some local youngsters in Gorlovka [a town west of Donetsk, inside the separatist-controlled territories], and invited the people in attendance to write letters to Kyiv. They really brightened up: ‘To Kyiv?!’ For them this was like writing a letter to Mars.”

At a table in my Kyiv kitchen, Varya Darevskaya lays out stacks of handwritten letters, children’s drawings and postcards. Varya’s idea is to persuade the opposing sides in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict to “start talking”: hence the letters, and hence, too, Varya’s Facebook page, which she uses to urge the parties in question to exchange views on developments in Ukraine and Russia.

“When people enter into direct dialogue with one another – even if they end up quarrelling – I think it becomes harder to pull the trigger. After all, the injunction ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is deeply ingrained in us,” she tells me.

Letters and drawings as a way to start a conversation. Photo courtesy of the author.According to Varya’s scheme, I can answer any of the letters she’s brought over from Russia and the territories in Ukraine’s east outside of state control. The letter mustn’t contain anything insulting or offensive. And yet several letters remain unclaimed – they were penned from people living in the Donbas to Ukrainian soldiers, but the latter are keen only on letters which praise them. Varya’s Donbas letters, however, are full of bitterness and exhaustion more than anything else.

Varya, too, is tired and disillusioned. She’s been doing this work at her own expense since 2014. In addition to her postal services, she delivers medical supplies for the Ukrainian military and collects humanitarian aid for civilians affected by the war.

Varya hasn’t found the response she was counting on in Ukraine. At first, she says, she was upset at not being invited to the west of the country – before realising that the Donbas interests only people with direct links to the region. As for the Donbas itself, militants operating in areas beyond Kyiv’s control have even threatened to kill Varya, and to punish any local residents with links to her.

“At first I found it very upsetting that Ukraine had such hatred for us. Yes, there’s Putin and there was Crimea. But we tried to take a stand against that”

“Many Russians went into complete shock on account of the war. They were ready to help, and did so,” Varya recalls. “They sent money over, found medical supplies, uniforms and much else besides. They looked into what was going on in our military units and went to fight for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of roubles have passed through my hands alone. As I was saving Lugansk’s grannies, I was sure that I was doing all this for Ukraine. And then they told us that, since we couldn’t stop the war, we could all do one – good guys or bad, it didn’t matter. And a great many people stopped helping.

“At first I found it very upsetting that Ukraine had such hatred for us. Yes, there’s Putin and there was Crimea. But we tried to take a stand against that. But now, believe it or not, it’s all the same to me how Ukrainians behave towards us, and towards me personally. This is why I haven’t got any ideas about reconciliation at the moment. That goes for both reconciliation between Ukraine and Russia and even between Ukraine and the Donbas.”

Ukrainian activists who’ve made attempts to initiate or respond to initiatives akin to that promoted by Varya encounter condemnation or even aggression from their compatriots – and pull the plug on their endeavours as a result.

“Your fear is no better than our fear,” she says.

A country of free people

“Some separatists have arrived and are staging a rally by the Eternal Flame. I’m instructing the legal department to draw up a suit to ensure that there won’t be any provocations on the eve of Independence Day.” This was the response given by Ruslan Martsinkiv, mayor of the west Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, to a “shared kitchen” event staged in 2016 by activists who’d relocated from Luhansk together with their Russian colleagues.

Yaroslav Minkin, one of the rally’s organisers, says that its format was jointly developed by Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists involved in a project run by the Human Rights House NGO in Chernihiv, which is supported by the OSCE. The activists concluded that controversial issues ought to be discussed in public forums, giving anyone keen to speak out the opportunity to do so. The name “Shared Kitchen” – a nod to the fact that apartment kitchens were the primary forums of the Soviet era – hints not so much at the danger of talking openly, but rather an intimacy of sorts.

“Shared kitchen” event in Ivano-Frankivsk, 2016. Source: Facebook.“We wanted to establish an open dialogue with people who’re sticking up for Ukraine on the territory of Russia,” says Minkin, who hails from Luhansk, lives in Ivano-Frankivsk and heads the STAN youth organisation. “It seemed obvious to us that patriotically inclined Ukrainians would support the desperate guys prepared to speak out for justice on the territory of the aggressor country. Instead, however, the reaction of the majority turned out to be a negative one. We began to receive threats from people with close links to the local authorities, and from radically inclined citizens as well.”

STAN was able to hold three more “shared kitchens”, after which the event was transformed into an “open dialogue”, conducted with the same participants, but now without any involvement from Russian nationals.

Another Ukrainian NGO, Country of Free People, also recently encountered attacks of this kind. “Friends, you must agree, this is out of all proportion – to bring in a psychologist specialising in work with military men from Moscow and Grozny to train up Ukrainian psychologists who work with Ukrainian soldiers. And this event will take place tomorrow or the day after tomorrow in Kyiv.” The head of another NGO wrote this on Facebook last November, attaching to his post a scan of his appeal to the Security Service of Ukraine. “Who are these ‘experts’? What motivated them to come to Ukraine and make speeches at the conference? Could it be that they’re cooperating with the intelligence services of the Russian Federation?” the NGO head asked in his appeal. On the day of the conference, a crowd of aggressive youths gathered in front of the hotel where it was taking place with the intention of disrupting the event. The organisers were forced to call security.

Nadiya Khomenko, who heads Country of Free People, maintains that Russian psychologists and trauma therapists are her favourite professional partners. This partnership was made possible thanks to projects run by the German-Russian Exchange, which is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office; prior to the outbreak of war, the parties in question knew nothing about each other.

“We don’t convene simply to bandy about slogans like ‘We are brothers’ and ‘Peace, friendship, chewing gum’. The boundaries remain demarcated”

“We’re dealing with an enemy that used the same modus operandi in Russia – methods grounded in deceit, wiliness, propaganda, intimidation. Their support is therefore important to us: they’re the senior, more experienced players, they’ve been through more than we have. On the other hand, they draw inspiration from our example. In their eyes, we represent a new generation of people fighting for our country,” says Nadezhda about her organisation’s Chechnya-based partners. She’s glad they can still hold meetings in Ukraine, even if doing so isn’t difficulty-free, since going to Russia is dangerous for patriotically minded Ukrainian activists and volunteers. The risk of ending up in a Russian prison remains significant.

Country of Free People do more than simply train Ukrainian psychologists for work with sufferers of post-traumatic disorders. CFP and their Russian colleagues also co-administer projects involving engagement with children and young people, as well as those aimed at countering domestic violence in the families of Ukrainian servicemen – projects that encompass areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts not currently under Kyiv’s control. They’re planning to hold a peace camp for children from Russia and Ukraine, including children from the self-proclaimed “republics”, during the summer.

“We realise that this won’t break the Putin regime,” Nadiya Khomenko admits. “We haven’t invented some kind of magic machine that’s going to solve all our problems. We don’t convene simply to bandy about slogans like ‘We are brothers’ and ‘Peace, friendship, chewing gum’. The boundaries remain demarcated: there’s black and there’s white, there’s annexation and there’s military aggression. But when politicians are incapable of reaching any consensus, human relations must endure nevertheless. When you’re overwhelmed by hatred, thinking straight becomes impossible. Cooperating with our friends from the North Caucasus – for me, this is a pill against hate.”

The failure of intervention

The idea of participating in peace-making projects, however, provokes nothing but scepticism in many other Ukrainian activists. For certain people in Ukraine, peace-making has, to put it bluntly, become a lucrative area of ​​activity: Western donors don’t stint when it comes to financing any such initiatives, although in practice participants in these kind of initiatives are sometimes unwilling to hold even the most rudimentary of dialogues with the opposite side, understanding the notion of “peace” only in terms of that side’s surrender.

Like CFP, the humanitarian organisation Vostok-SOS was established at the peak of the conflict in 2014 to provide assistance to civilians in the Donbas. Initially, Vostok-SOS also played a part in the peace-making project run by the German-Russian Exchange. But the organisation quickly left the project, considering any efforts at mediation with Russian participation – regarded here solely as attempts to “reconcile Ukrainians with Ukrainians” – as out-and-out hypocrisy.

“They’re looking where it’s light, and not where everything is lost,” asserts Vostok-SOS co-founder Konstantin Reutsky, referring to the organisers of these kind of peace-making projects.

Reutsky doesn’t doubt that it is imperative to reconcile the warring sides – but only after the cessation of hostilities. As long as the war in the Donbas continues to smoulder, he says, representatives of Russian civil society can assist their Ukrainian counterparts only by working to expedite regime change in Russia itself.

“It’s completely possible to turn them [Russian civil society] into allies simply by adopting a decent attitude towards them”

Ilya Ponomarev, a former deputy of the Russian State Duma, is in partial agreement with this stance. He was far from a household name in Ukraine until early 2014, when he became the only Duma deputy to vote against the annexation of the Crimea. Residing in Kyivv since his forced departure from Russia, Ponomarev acknowledges the fragmentation of Russian civil society. Differing attitudes to the “Ukrainian question” and differing tactics of behaviour under conditions of regime pressure, says Ponomarev, have divided Russian civil society into two factions, one exclusively civic and one exclusively political, with the former becoming more moderate and the latter more radical. In his opinion, Ukraine has many opportunities to influence the situation within Russia by supporting separate camps in these factions. Unfortunately, he notes, Kyiv is letting these opportunities slip by.

“It’s completely possible to turn them [Russian civil society] into allies simply by adopting a decent attitude towards them, by holding regular joint events and facilitating media cooperation,” the former deputy says with conviction. “However, the dominant stance here is this: ‘It’d be great if Russians just stayed out of our way.’ No one wants to work with a potentially toxic asset. This is a mistake, in my opinion – we have to work with them.”

Ilya Ponomarev. Photo: Wiki Commons.Russian NGOs, Ponomarev notes, are more robust and more dependable than numerous others across the post-Soviet space, including many Ukrainian ones, relying as they do on internal resources rather than the support of foreign donors. At the same time, he believes that civic life in the Russian regions is more active and diverse than the capital, and that the Ukrainians could certainly look for suitable partners there.

“I’m generally a supporter of an interventionist approach to foreign policy,” says Ponomarev. “In other words, if I need something from someone – whether from my friends or my enemies – I’m going to engage with them in an active fashion and not just sit there and wait for things to happen of their own accord.”

Konstantin Reutsky, for his part, notes that Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists cooperate effectively on international platforms and under the aegis of structures such as the UN and the OSCE. In particular, they make joint monitoring visits to the conflict zone before reporting to the international community on conflict-related challenges facing civilians in the Donbas, thereby influencing public opinion abroad. According to Reutsky, however, there’s a lack of similar efforts on the part of Russian nationals to influence public opinion in Russia itself.

“We offered a number of Russian colleagues the opportunity to work together in an attempt to change the situation inside Russia, because we believe that doing so is crucial”

“We offered a number of Russian colleagues the opportunity to work together in an attempt to change the situation inside Russia, because we believe that doing so is crucial if the conflict in the east of Ukraine is to be resolved,” says Konstantin. “We for our part have always expressed our willingness to play a part in such efforts, relaying intelligence and making trips to Russia, despite full awareness of the risks involved. Unfortunately, we can see that our Russian colleagues shrink from work of this sort. They don’t say that it’s bad or unnecessary, but they do talk about the associated risks and opt for neutral tactics – tactics we believe to be completely ineffective and perhaps even harmful.”

Russian activists themselves, however, can’t help but recall the fate of Boris Nemtsov, the fate of the people behind the various “federalisation marches”, the fate, too, of teacher Alexander Byvshev, on trial in Russia for penning a poem in support of Ukraine. Worse still, they think back to the murder of Duma deputy Denis Voronenkov in Kyiv, to the attempt on the lives of Adam Osmayev and Amina Akuyeva – Russians who travelled to Ukraine to fight on the Ukrainians’ side only to be abandoned to their fate by Kyiv and denied any legal status or documentation, with the threat of court proceedings and extradition to Russia frequently hanging over them. No public initiatives will in and of themselves tackle the conflict without the broad involvement of the Ukrainian state and society. Ukraine, after all, has never boasted its own instruments of soft power, whether in Russia or anywhere else.

As the victims of military aggression, Ukrainians believe that the Russians are in their debt and must repay that debt unconditionally. The burden of the debt, however, falls not on those who unleashed the war or supported it, but on those who attempted, by one means or another, to take a stand against it.

As for the future, it’s likely that mutual grievances and misunderstandings will accumulate; internal pressure will be exerted on activists in both countries; and the public sphere will be corrupted by investments from donors for the sake of simulating any kind of activity, whereby funding and encouragement is given to people willing to make the right moves and say the right words, and not those who possess real social clout and are capable of making a real impact.

Ukrainians have long since decided not to mention their partners and colleagues from Russia and the Donbas territories outside of Kyiv’s control, acutely aware of the dangers facing them both in Russia and Ukraine. This has been driven home to them by the most active and aggressive strata of Russian and Ukrainian societies – and by certain individuals in power – that they’re less than pleased with these contacts and interactions. And without publicity, these joint ventures won’t change anything.

Here, the most natural thing that’s likely to happen is mutual isolation à la Azerbaijan or Armenia. Diplomacy from below remains the only means to counter the hatred poisoning these feuding countries, not least because government-level negotiations have dragged fruitlessly on for decades. And vice versa: when people stop talking, it becomes easier for them to kill each other.

 

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The struggle for new blood and the future of Russia’s Left

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/02/2018 - 6:42am in

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Russia

A new candidate is helping to reinvigorate Russia's left-wing politics ahead of the presidential election, but what space will there be for voices and movements from below?

Gennady Zyuganov, head of KPRF. (c) Emile Alain Ducke/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.In a televised interview broadcast before the Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s (KPRF) party congress, Gennady Zyuganov, the party’s head, announced that the KPRF had already laid the basis not only for the 2018 Russian presidential elections, but also beyond. Curious phrasing for a party that had only just put forth a candidate with less than three months to go before the elections. Still more curious was how Zyuganov deflected when asked a question about whether or not he intended to run, as he has in all but two of Russia’s post-Soviet presidential elections:

“I am the leader of one of the largest parties. This isn't any one person's party. If Zhirinovsky [head of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party] leaves, it all falls apart. It’s the people's party, for the people and defense, and we have created a powerful, authoritative organisation.”

The party’s congress took place just before New Year, and one of its main tasks was to rejuvenate the party that has actually been “one person’s” for some time. After an abortive announcement earlier in the year, Zyuganov took a step back and was not the party’s pick for presidential candidate at the December congress. That honour now belongs to one Pavel Grudinin, a relative unknown and head of one of the few collective farms, or sovkhozy, operating privately in Russia today.

After so many years at the helm, what’s prompting this change? Overall, it’s been a trying year for Zyuganov: a public spat with Chechen leader Ramzan Kaydrov over whether or not Lenin should be buried, a seemingly singular focus on a “back to the USSR” mentality at the expense of a broader electoral platform, and for the first time, a dip in popularity — the bombastic Vladimir Zhirinovsky now slightly outperforms Zyuganov among the Russian electorate. This is part of a larger tendency of the party’s decline: whereas once the pro-Kremlin United Russia party saw the KPRF as its main political opponent, given how the party forced the 1996 elections into a second-round runoff and their continued (though diminishing) presence in the Duma, it seems the Kremlin now believes that any viable competition to Putin’s 2018 presidential bid has yet to ripen.

January: KPRF's presidential candidate Pavel Grudinin (centre) at the Kirov Factory in St Petersburg. Source: KPRF. These recent setbacks speak to a larger malaise that has set in among the party base, which is dissatisfied with the party’s leadership as they have been since its first days on the political scene. From its founding in 1993, the KPRF has had to delicately balance managing the expectations of its rank-and-file members and the electoral needs of the party’s leadership. Ostensibly operating within a multi-party system, the Communists had to adjust their politics in the pursuit of enlarging their electoral share, a process described in great detail in Luke March’s biography of the party, The Communist Party in Post-Soviet Russia. Under Zyuganov’s leadership, the party adopted more moderate views and outmaneuvered more radical groups, often co-opting their members for party aims. This cynical approach to grassroots movements colours the party leadership’s relationship with local members and activists to the present day.

To get a sense of the party’s criticism from the left, I spoke with Yevegeny Myshayev, a municipal KPRF deputy in Moscow, and Vladimir Zhuravlev, an activist from Left Block. Though their views are by no means uniformly accepted across the KPRF and overall Russian left, they do demonstrate the tensions inherent between party leadership and the rank-and-file, and leftist activists outside of the party.

From power to opposition

The story of how the KPRF adapted to playing the role of sanctioned opposition has already been told. The party initially relied on the votes of the disaffected working-class and mid-tier party functionaries who had been swept aside with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Overtime, however, as other parties adapted to the post-Soviet political landscape and stripped away this working-class base, the party was left with an electorate of elderly pensioners and committed leftists.

In a bid to expand this narrowing demographic, the party leadership, with Gennady Zyuganov at the helm, opted to “reinvigorate” its vision: not just a return to the policies of the Soviet Union, but a revamped socialism, with Russian state interests at its centre. This “red-brown” alliance of communists and nationalists has left its mark on the party, most notably in terms of ideology and legislative action. Commentators have noted that the party toes the Kremlin line in all foreign policy matters, a result of adopting outright nationalist views. This was most evident in the party’s unanimous vote on the recognition of the seizure of Crimea.

“Even high-ranked members in the district don’t do any work that would yield results because there’s no ‘political’ will for this in the KPRF’s leadership”

It is perhaps this willingness to play within certain bounds that has allowed the KPRF to hold on to its official opposition designation. Vladimir Putin and the United Russia party that supports him have made use of nationalism in a similar fashion as a way to realise their ambitions of reestablishing Russia as a global hegemon, with an imperialist foreign policy as the main implement to see this through. Even if the KPRF leadership by-and-large did not support this foreign policy, it would risk a lot to openly defy the Russian government’s foreign policy aims. After all, the only parliamentary deputy that voted against the recognition of the Crimean referendum was later threatened with expulsion and ultimately investigated for embezzlement, effectively leaving him in exile abroad. If the party were to follow a similar course, it could face the sorts of repercussions the Communist Party of Ukraine dealt with, when it was banned outright in 2015 after the Maidan revolution.

Domestically, the party has more leeway to express its opposition views. A glance at the vote tallies for the controversial Yarovaya Laws, which aimed to subject telecommunications data to government collection, was opposed by the KPRF as a bloc, without a single vote in favour. At the local level, however, party activity is noticeably more muted.

Enter Yevgeny Myshayev. Elected to the municipal council of Moscow’s Strogino district in 2012 under the KPRF banner, Yevgeny Myshayev, 59, immediately set his sights on fighting corruption and abuses of power. In 2015, Myshayev and two of his KPRF colleagues visited a site where illegal demolitions were taking place. The foreman assaulted one of Myshayev’s fellow deputies, and Myshayev physically intervened, earning him an arrest. His confrontational demeanor has earned him the party’s reproach: they have tried to expel him twice before, and he thinks the next attempt is not too far off.

Yevgeny Myshayev. Source: "I'm a resident of Koptevo". Joining the party ranks in 2011, Myshayev has since become disillusioned with its milquetoast political strategy.

“Even high-ranked members in the district don’t do any work that would yield results because there’s no ‘political’ will for this in the KPRF’s leadership. I’ve come to understand that I have to act on my own and not count on the KPRF struggling for power. As practice has shown, the KPRF only fights for power in words and not deeds, and reforming the party is impossible.”

The problem, in Myshayev’s view, is that the party is dominated by retirees who willingly submit to the official party leadership. This demographic issue is indicative of the KPRF’s reformulation after the disbanding of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Myshayev complained that the party’s primary activity is the collection of party fees and not much else. Although the party has an advantageous logistical situation, with district committees all over Moscow, it appears to be squandered:

“In every Moscow district, there are pressure points, usually related to the violations of residents’ rights. No party or social organisation helps them to stand up for their rights and interests. [The district party members] don’t carry out any work with the residents, who need organisational and legal help.”

These local issues are the main points of contention between the party and Myshayev. The most recent flare-up centered around the September 2017 Moscow municipal elections. These elections were a blowout for Yabloko, a center-left party that put a lot of effort into cultivating the exact types of local relationships Myshayev feels the KPRF has neglected. This helped Yabloko catapult their candidates into gaining a stunning 152 seats across the city’s various districts. The communists, meanwhile, lost a comparable amount of seats: 159.

Before voters even went to the polls, the KPRF threatened to not recognise the results, citing what they called campaign violations. They joined a chorus of opposition voices who complained that voters had not been sufficiently informed about the elections and where they could vote. With turnout at 15%, even Russia’s Central Election Commission agreed with this notion, saying the Moscow city government had failed in its efforts at notifying its citizens. At the eleventh hour, however, Zyuganov personally intervened and pressured the party’s city committee to walk back this threat of non-recognition. This infuriated Myshayev, who started to petition the Moscow authorities to annul the results in several districts. In his words, this is what will precipitate the next attempt at expelling him from the party, as he is going against what he feels is an agreement between the party and the Moscow authorities. “This is just one example of when I have come into conflict with the party, but there have been many such conflicts.”

Focusing on electoral work at the expense of other political projects is a sore point for leftist organisations across the world

Myshayev’s disagreements go far beyond electoral politics, however. With the worsening economic and social situation, he feels the time is ripe for the creation of “a real Communist party, because there is no political force in the country that could organise the people in the struggle for power.” Although he cites his experience living under socialism in the Soviet Union and still adheres to Marxism-Leninism (you would be hard-pressed to find many socialists in Russia who do not), Myshayev went on to state:

“Now the proletariat does not exist, and in the struggle for power, you have to rely only on the young, the working people, who have to be organised since nowadays a revolution can only be achieved through ‘colour approaches’ [a reference to the various “colour” revolutions that have swept across some countries of the former-Soviet Union]. The KPRF is only concerned with parliamentary work.”

Despite his other qualms with the party, Myshayev’s last line of thinking reflects another shift the party undertook in the 1990s, namely, abandoning the idea that systemic change can only come about through revolutionary and not evolutionary means.

His maligning of the party’s almost singular focus on parliamentary puppet theatre reflects the extent to which the KPRF has abdicated even its nominal role in the worker’s movement, diminished as it may be by Myshayev’s calculations.

1 May 2016: Russian labour activist Alexey Etmanov leads a demonstration of autoworkers through St Petersburg. Source: MPRA / Facebook.Recently, a court liquidated one of the largest and most politically active unions in Russia under the auspices of Russia’s “foreign agent” law, whereby any individual or organisation receiving any level of funding from abroad open themselves to government scrutiny. Aside from publishing a piece on this in its central committee’s paper, Pravda, the KPRF has not done much else to address what is undoubtedly a major blow for the working people of Russia during economically challenging times. The KPRF’s absence in this arena is all the more striking because worker grievances are on the rise in Russia, suggesting that a more energised and combative left movement has some fertile ground on which to work.

The youth question and the non-systemic left

Focusing on electoral work at the expense of other political projects is a sore point for leftist organisations across the world, and Russia is of course no exception. The idea that young people can also form the basis of a new left movement is not exclusive to Russia either. One need only look at Podemos in Spain or the Democratic Socialists of America in the United States. I asked Myshayev what prospects he sees for achieving this goal of a “party of a new type” with a broad youth base: “Young people are especially sensitive to injustice. The disposition in the youth scene is becoming more and more radical.” Myshayev, born in 1958, cannot reasonably be seen as part of the “youth”. His views, however, have become commonplace among young leftists in Russia.

There is a slew of non-systemic (that is, not taking part in official party politics) leftist organisations in Russia, like the Russian Socialist Movement, Left Front, and Left Bloc. The last two are perhaps the most interesting because they represent the tensions inherent in the left today, a legacy of the KPRF’s role as the official leftist opposition and its reconfiguration to accommodate nationalist views. Left Front, founded in 2008 and currently led by Sergey Udaltsov, is a conglomeration of leftist organisations that has long been rumored to have deep ties to the KPRF. Udaltsov, who spent several years behind bars as a result of his protest activity in 2012, has spent the months since his release trying to reconstitute the organisation into a viable political force.

Sergey Udaltsov, of Left Front, is currently campaigning on behalf of Pavel Grudinin in Russia's presidential election. (c) Finistre Arnaud/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Left Front’s focus for the past few months had been choosing a candidate for the 2018 presidential elections. At the end of October of this year, Udaltsov announced that Left Front would be holding “online primaries” to determine who would stand for the left in the upcoming elections. Voters were invited to choose from almost 80 candidates in an effort to find the best person to put forth in the elections. Demonstrating Zyuganov’s lack of appeal, he came in 15th place. After two turns, the winner was none other than the aforementioned Pavel Grudinin. Prior to the conclusion of the primaries, Udaltsov did not respond when asked exactly how this candidate would declare his candidacy and through which party’s organisation. The lack of transparency surrounding the primaries further perturbed leftist observers. The fact that the KPRF has now nominated Grudinin and that Udaltsov continued to openly support this move shows the degree to which the Left Front and the party are interconnected.

The fact remains that for now, the KPRF has a lock on orienting leftist politics by virtue of its size and role as sanctioned opposition

The similarities go beyond political work. Ideologically speaking, Left Front mirrors the “red-brown” approach the KPRF innovated. In fact, some of the founders of the latest newcomers to the leftist-opposition scene, Left Block, split from Left Front when it explicitly supported the annexation of Crimea and the creation of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics.

Vladimir Zhuravlev, a Moscow activist in Left Block who was recently detained protesting the excesses of Russia’s elite, described relations between the two groups: “We are happy that leader of Left Front Sergey Udaltsov is free now but we [aren’t] sure that [the] restarted Left Front will be a point to unite the left. It is more left-patriotic than we are and I think we just have different views and goals…We are against any capitalistic government - Russia, Ukraine, ‘people republics’, etc.”

Vladimir Zhuravlev at a 2017 rally in defence of internet freedom. Source: Facebook. Zhuravlev’s view on the KPRF differ little from those of Myshayev, the disenchanted KPRF municipal deputy:

“It is a highly bureaucratic, nation-oriented and corrupted puppet of the regime. But there are lot of good people inside of it and we are trying to cooperate with them and use resources of the KPRF. The head of KPRF doesn’t want to cooperate with anyone, only to use our activists as youth crowd scene.”

This cynical use and neglect of the youth activists is a point Myshayev returned to later in our conversation. In his assessment, the youth scene needs a radical guiding force, though he wasn’t sure Left Front could provide this.

“I think that Left Front isn’t capable of bringing a lot of young people into the movement, let alone struggle, apart from sanctioned meetings and marches. People of different political views and those dissatisfied with the current authorities do take part in the movement, but the leader of Left Front Udaltsov doesn’t have an idea about how he plans to come to power, and that’s why the group’s main activity is organising protests and marches. He can’t and doesn’t know what to propose. It’s for this reason that the movement’s composition isn’t constant.”

He was more optimistic about Left Block: “Left Block is more radically oriented and despite it also having ideological discord and vacillation, it’s exactly this radical attitude that keeps them in.” Nevertheless, Left Block has a ways to go before it can truly have an impact on leftist politics. By Zhuravlev’s calculations, the group counts on the support of about 300 members nationwide, though a lax approach towards dues collection and different tiers of membership and supporters complicate this count a bit.

"Capitalism is shit": officers in the elite Moscow district of Barvhikha demonstrate protesters' banner inside the police station. Source: Left Block. No matter the true number, the fact remains that for now, the KPRF has a lock on orienting leftist politics by virtue of its size and role as sanctioned opposition. Myshayev welcomes the KPRF’s recent soul searching and apparent desire to reinvigorate itself by shaking up its leadership. More has to be done, however:

“The loss of the party’s vanguard nature of its activity (or rather, inactivity) has paralysed the people’s will for victory over counterrevolution, the forces of which have only strengthened in just a quarter century that was lost for the country’s development on the path to socialism. The party has to publicly offer an apology to the people for forfeiting (by its own volition) its vanguard role in constructing socialism and issue a Leninist appeal to join the party to all legal-aged citizens who recognise the objective necessity of the resumption of constructing socialism in the country taking into account the material conditions. Without a large scale appeal and an influx of new energy, there’s nothing but a dead end, the people can’t organise on their own!”

Judging by the decisions made at the December congress, the KPRF has also taken some of these lessons to heart. In announcing his decision to not run in the elections, Zyuganov cited his age and the need for “fresh blood” in the party. He will, however, continue to be the party’s Chairman and will lead Grudinin’s campaign headquarters. This gambit may also not pay off. As both official and independent polling demonstrates, Grudinin, once enjoying a lead on Vladimir Zhirinovksy, has now come neck-and-neck with him. Also, due to Zyuganov’s long-lasting hold on the party, many in the electorate are not even aware that the KPRF has nominated someone else. In short, a nominal reshuffling at the top a reinvigorated leftist opposition party does not make.

 

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Do Russiagate Skeptics Go Too Far?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/02/2018 - 1:55am in

A Russiagate debate.

“Yanks to the rescue”: Time’s not-so secret story of how Americans helped Yeltsin win 1996 presidential election

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/02/2018 - 7:00am in

Imagine Izvestia ran a headline in January 2018 titled “Rescuing Donald”, in which it proudly boasted that a group of crack Russian election-fixers had been sent over to Washington to make sure Trump beat Hillary. Does anyone imagine it would stop short of impeachment for Trump and maybe even hot war with Russia? Yet 22 years ago Time magazine ran just such a feature on how four Americans and an ex-pat Russian had managed the 1996 Russian presidential election to ensure a win for Boris Yeltsin. And apparently that was something to openly boast about

A Consensus Emerges: Russia Committed an “Act of War” on Par With Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Should the U.S. Response Be Similar?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/02/2018 - 2:27am in

In the wake of last week’s indictments alleging that 13 Russian nationals and entities created fake social media accounts and sponsored political events to sow political discord in the U.S., something of a consensus has arisen in the political and media class (with some notable exceptions) that these actions not only constitute an “act of war” against the U.S., but one so grave that it is tantamount to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Indeed, that Russia’s alleged “meddling” is comparable to the two most devastating attacks in U.S. history has, overnight, become a virtual cliché.

The claim that Russian meddling in the election is “an act of war” comparable to these events isn’t brand new. Senators from both parties, such as Republican John McCain and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, have long described Russian meddling in 2016 as an “act of war.” Hillary Clinton, while promoting her book last October, described Russia’s alleged hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s email inbox as a “cyber 9/11.” And last February, the always war-hungry Tom Friedman of the New York Times said on “Morning Joe” that Russian hacking “was a 9/11-scale event. They attacked the core of our democracy. That was a Pearl Harbor-scale event.”

But the last few days have ushered in an explosion of this rhetoric from politicians and journalists alike. On Friday night’s Chris Hayes show on MSNBC, two separate guests — Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler and longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines — posited Pearl Harbor as the “equivalent” of Russian meddling, provoking a shocked reaction from Hayes:

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty, complaining about President Donald Trump’s inaction, asked readers to “imagine how history would have judged Franklin D. Roosevelt in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, if he had taken to the radio airwaves to declare that Tokyo was ‘laughing their asses off.’ Or if George W. Bush had stood in the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn and launched a name-calling tirade against the Democrats.”

David “Axis of Evil” Frum went back a century earlier to write that Trump’s inaction amounts to “a dereliction of duty as grave as any since President Buchanan looked the other way as Southern state governments pillaged federal arsenals on the eve of the Civil War.” Podesta — who served as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, as well as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chair — called Trump a “draft dodger” for failing to engage what he called this “war” with Russia.

Let’s leave aside what a stinging indictment this claim is of the Obama presidency. It not only means that Barack Obama allowed an attack of the magnitude of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to happen on his watch, but worse, did very little — basically nothing — in response, allegedly due to fears that any retaliation would be criticized by Republicans as partisan. But for those who really believe this rhetoric, can fears of political attacks really justify inaction by the commander-in-chief — whose primary duty, we’re so often told, is to protect the nation — in the face of a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11? To posit this equivalence is to condemn Obama in the harshest possible terms, to accuse him of utter malfeasance in protecting the nation.

But the more important question is the one these chest-beating politicians and pundits notably refrain from addressing. If Russian election meddling is on par with the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks, then should the U.S. response be on par with its response to those attacks? Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor prompted U.S. involvement in a world war and, ultimately, dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan; 9/11 initiated wars in multiple countries that still, 17 years later, have no end in sight, along with a systematic and still-worsening erosion of basic civil liberties.

This has been a long-standing tactic during the war on terror of neoconservatives: They love to accuse everyone of being insufficiently “tough” or “aggressive” with whatever country they crave heightened tensions, but they never specify what greater “toughness” is needed, because to do so would expose their extremism. Indeed, for years, GOP hawks such as John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush often accused Obama — who repeatedly tried to accommodate and even partner with Russian President Vladimir Putin — of being insufficiently “tough” on the Russians, of being too “weak” to “stand up” to the Russian leader, without specifying what they wanted him to do beyond arming Ukrainians. Regarding Obama’s alleged weakness toward Putin, McCain said in 2014 that “history will judge this administration incredibly harshly.”

The only specific proposal one hears now when it comes to responding to Russian meddling is a call for “sanctions.” But if one really believes that Russia’s actions amount to Pearl Harbor or 9/11, then sanctions seem like a very lame — indeed, a woefully inadequate — response. To borrow their rhetoric, imagine if Roosevelt had confined his response to Pearl Harbor to sanctions on Japanese leaders, or if Bush had announced sanctions on Al Qaeda as his sole response to 9/11. If you really believe this rhetoric, then you must support retaliation beyond mere sanctions.

Indeed, Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for years, but critics like McCain insisted that it had no hope of changing Putin’s behavior, let alone imposing any real punishment. “The only thing that will dissuade Vladimir Putin from what he is doing is when coffins come back to the families in Russia,” McCain said of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

At least McCain, for all his faults, is following his rhetoric through to its logical conclusions. If you really believe that Putin attacked the U.S. on a level even close to what was done at Pearl Harbor or on 9/11, then of course you’d be arguing for retaliation far greater than sanctions; you’d be arguing for military action such as arming Russia’s enemies if not beyond that, as McCain has done. You’d also be furious with Obama for allowing it to happen on his watch and then doing so little in response, as McCain is:

All of this underscores the serious dangers many have pointed to for more than a year about why all this unhinged rhetoric is so alarming. If you really believe that Russia — with some phishing links sent to Podesta and some fake Facebook ads and Twitter bots — committed an “act of war” of any kind, let alone one on par with Pearl Harbor and 9/11, then it’s inevitable that extreme retaliatory measures will be considered and likely triggered. How does one justify a mere imposition of sanctions in the face of an attack similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11? Doesn’t it stand to reason that something much more belligerent, enduring, and destructive would be necessary?

At the very least, no politician or pundit should be able to get away with issuing rhetoric of this type without being required to specify what they think ought to be done. Here, for instance, is “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, doing his best 2002 impression of Bill Kristol, decreeing in a predictably viral tweet that all patriotic Americans are duty-bound to focus on the question of what we should do to “punish Russia”:

Note, though, that Todd himself neglects to specify what “punishment” he advocates. This is reckless rhetoric of the most irresponsible kind: demanding that everyone agree that “punishment” toward Russia is warranted (upon pain of being found guilty of bad citizenship), while failing to specify what punishment would be just, warranted, and rational. To do that is to deliberately beat the drums of war, cultivate an atmosphere of belligerence and aggression, without any limits or notions of proportionality.

That’s exactly what is being done by those who keep declaring the U.S. to be “at war” with Russia, and especially those who invoke the worst attacks in U.S. history when doing so, all while refusing to state what they think should be done in response. It’s simultaneous reckless and cowardly.

Top photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall before a meeting of the Victory Organizing Committee at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 17, 2015.

The post A Consensus Emerges: Russia Committed an “Act of War” on Par With Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Should the U.S. Response Be Similar? appeared first on The Intercept.

Oswald Mosley’s Qualified Support for the State of Israel

Okay, it’s been a few days since I put up anything critical of the Israel lobby and their libellous mouthpieces in this country and the Labour Party, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement, previously Paole Zion. So here goes.

The fanatics in the Israel lobby have a very simple metric for determining who is and who isn’t an anti-Semite: support for Israel. Or at least silence over its 70 year long campaign of violence, massacre and ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Palestinians. Within limits, a European politician can be as anti-Semitic as they like, provided that they support Israel. Concerns have been raised about the increasingly anti-Semitic and racist policies of the current Polish government. This has recently outlawed blaming Poles for the crimes of the Nazis, and the Polish authorities have also given their backing to a campaign to whitewash the village of Jedwabne of its part in an anti-Semitic pogrom during the Second World War. This was when the villagers rounded up the local Jewish community, and burned them alive in a barn. But there is now a campaign ‘to preserve the good name of Jedwabne’ that denies this occurred, which is receiving official backing.

Despite this, Andrew Pollard, the head of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, stuck his head up and appeared in the pages of the Groaniad a little while ago to declare that the current Polish president was not an anti-Semite, because ‘he is a good friend of Israel’.

What Pollard and his chums overlook, and desperately hope everyone forgets, is that anti-Semites and Fascists did back initially Jewish emigration abroad and a separate homeland for the Jews as way of removing them from this country. But they want this covered up. When anyone mentions the Ha’avara Agreement between Nazi Germany and the embryonic Jewish state in Palestine to send Jews there, as Ken Livingstone did, the CAA and JLM go bug-eyed with rage and start libelling them as ‘anti-Semites’. Just as they’ve done to Mike, for daring to point out that Livingstone and the others were historically correct on this issue.

So where did the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, stand on the issue of Israel and Palestine? Mosley was the leader of the British Union of Fascists, which later in the 1930s under the influence of the rise of the Nazis renamed itself the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists. Mosley was interned during the War, but attempted to return to British politics as head of a new Fascist movement called British Union during the 1950s and ’60s. His opinion on Israel in this later phase of his political career can be found on pages 137-8 of his 1961 book Mosley-Right or Wrong (London: Lion Books). This reads

Question 136. What is your attitude to Israel?

Answer. I adhere to the policy of a Jewish national home, which I suggested in The Alternative (published in 1947) as follows: –

” For over two thousand years the Jews have asked for a national home, and sought again to become a nation … To this end I propose the partition of Palestine and the placing of Jerusalem under a super-national authority which will afford Christian, Arab and Jew impartial access to their Holy Places. It is plain that even the whole of Palestine would not afford an adequate home to the Jewish population, even if it all were available without outrage of justice in the treatment of the Arabs. Such statesmanship would, therefore, in any case, be confronted with the problem of finding additional living room for the Jews. It is, naturally, desirable to provide such accommodation as near as possible to the Home Land of Palestine. But this consideration is not now so pressing in view of the rapid facilities for travel provided by modern transport… No insuperable difficulty should be encountered, therefore, even if the main bulk of the Jewish population had to live at some distance from the traditional national home. Palestine would remain a home to them in the same sense that the Dominions regard England as home.”

And I have emphasised repeatedly that this entire problem must be solved in a manner that humanity, as a whole, will approve.

Unfortunately, comprehensive settlements, which combine morality with foresight, are not customary in the world of the old parties, and the Jewish state of Israel was born amid the savage brutality which occurs when such governments yield to force what they refuse to reason. The consequence has been a legacy of cumulative hatred, perpetuated by western incompetence and aggravated by Soviet arms-dealing. But we still seek a progressive and peaceful solution for the future.

First, we must eliminate all possibility of another armed conflict in that area, especially in view of the increasing availability of atomic weapons. We should make it clear that we shall not permit any Arabs to cut two million Jewish throats. And equally we cannot allow aggressive expansion of the Israelis into neighbouring lands; they already have a million dispossessed Arabs on their conscience and our hands. it is quite possible to keep order in these easily accessible regions, without plunging about in the minor military operations that have previously disgraced a British government, slow to defend the interests of our own people but hysterically eager to act on behalf of others.

A united Europe-co-operating with a friendly and helpful America- would have little difficulty in developing new lands and organising any required sorting out of populations. Large-scale migration may well be inevitable, if friction between various unsuitable peoples is not to degenerate into chaos and bloodshed; this has become pressing in Africa. As I wrote in The European in December 1953: “There is plenty of room for both Jews and Arabs in the great area of the middle-East, all that is lacking is union, will and energy to accomplish the task. Whatever policy emerges must be based on reason, justice and the consent of the leading minds in both the Jewish and Arab peoples; all parties and opinions have behind them errors in this sphere which must never be repeated. Let us never again clash with the conscience of the world.”

Mosley by this time was trying to deny that he’d ever been an anti-Semite, and the first part of the chapter containing this passage contains his denials. Richard Thurlow, in his Fascism in Britain 1918-1985 argued that Mosley himself had originally not been an anti-Semite, and was genuine puzzled by the Jewish community’s hostility to his movement. He gave the issue over to one of his lieutenants to explain. This Nazi came to the BUF from one of the smaller, anti-Semitic Fascist groups, and so eagerly explained it to Mosley as part of the supposed Jewish conspiracy theories flying around in those groups. This then caused Mosley to make anti-Semitism an integral part of BUF policy. In fact Stephen Dorril, in his biography of Mosley, Blackshirt, has shown that Mosley was an anti-Semite from the start.

And a few years ago I remember reading an article in the Heil by a Jewish journalist, who had interviewed Mosley in Nice in the 1970s. He stated that the wannabe British Fuhrer was still very anti-Semitic, with deeply abhorrent views about the Holocaust.

Mosley’s own views in the 1930s on the ‘Jewish problem’ were expressed in his pamphlet Tomorrow We Live. In it, he stated that under his Fascist regime, the majority of the Jewish population would be deported. A few Jews would remain after being carefully examined to make sure they conformed to British values and civilisation, but would be kept away from gentile Brits through a system of apartheid.

Regarding his later views on Israel, this largely follows the UN recommendations at the time. The only exception is his statement that the Middle East could be developed as a home for both Jews and Arabs. This seems to follow his general plans to develop the world’s resources through careful planning. Which included developing East Africa for White Europeans.

Mosley was the leader of the largest, and most infamous of the British Fascist groups before the Second World War, and despite ‘Mosleyite’ being used as a term of abuse within Fascist circles today, his influence in the British Far Right is still extremely strong. But after the War he gave his qualified support to the creation of the Jewish state, at least in his rhetoric and published statements.

This is a fact of history. And the question is, do the CAA, JLM and the Israel Advocacy Movement want people to know about this? Or would they scream and libel as anti-Semitic anyone who dared to point this out?

Answers on a postcard please.

As you can guess, it’s almost certainly the latter.

It’s about time we all admit that Putin has prevailed in Syria

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/02/2018 - 4:49am in

The end game is clear: Assad, Russia and Iran will emerge victorious.

lead lead Syrian Presidency/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (2nd L, Front) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (2nd R) view a military parade in the Russian-run Hmeimim Air Base in the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, on Dec. 11, 2017. Syrian Presidency/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The conflict in Syria has been the most vicious in contemporary history, creating a geo-political hall of mirrors pitting Syrian against Syrian, Saudi Arabia against Iran and Russia against the United States.

To say that it is the most complicated proxy war of our times is an understatement. The war has had international and regional dimensions which have served to prolong, fuel and perpetuate the crisis.

The latest of which, a dramatic clash between Syria and Israel leading to the unprecedented downing of an Israeli F-16 after the latter targeted a group of Iranian installations in Syria, has threatened to further escalate to conflict. But in stepped Russia, and after promises made to either side, the situation calmed down, for now.

This only highlighted the growing importance of Moscow in Syria and the increasingly brave power plays Putin is making in the region.

In Syria, Russia strode in where the west was hesitant, and just over two years on from the riskiest move in post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, the end game is clear. Assad, Russia and Iran will emerge victorious, and that is a direct result of Moscow’s decision to intervene in 2015 when its long-term ally, Assad, was on the ropes and struggling to survive.

Any hopes the US had of being a powerbroker in Syria ended in September 2015. The presence of Russia immediately limited almost all western policy options that sought to oust Assad.

Russia didn’t have to worry about the Turkish-Kurdish dimension, it was too busy steamrolling Syria’s disjointed opposition. ISIS to Russia was no different to other rebel groups; in the eyes of Moscow they were all a threat to Assad and warranted an iron fist.

As Russia began to crush the anti-Assad opposition, the west could only watch from afar as the balance of power tilted in favour of the Syrian government.

The lack of western policy decisiveness is due to many factors; the emergence of a US backed Kurdish powerhouse in the north of Syria and Turkish efforts to quell that rise. The sharp rise of ISIS and other Jihadist groups further muddied the waters, creating an extra element of risk for a possible US intervention. This all played into Putin’s hands.

Over two years on from Moscow’s much maligned decision to intervene and prop up its long term Syrian ally, the Russians have been vindicated, insofar as the so-called Islamic State has been defeated and expelled from all Syrian cities, the last of which in Deir-Ezzor broke the back of the terror group.

The Syrian army, with assistance from Iranian backed militias, Hezbollah and Russian firepower is now on the victory march towards the remaining opposition strongholds in Idleb, Eastern Ghouta, Daraa and Qunaitra, possibly finishing the military side of the conflict by the end of 2018.

In December 2017 President Putin victoriously declared a withdrawal of a "significant part" of Russia's military forces in Syria, and heralded a successful end to the military operation.

The echoes of negativity and criticism of Russia by the US seem but a distant memory, and President Obama’s claim that Russia would be caught in a "quagmire" never truly transpired.

Putin’s bold remarks came during a visit to Hmeymim air base in Latakia where he told his forces that they had “fought brilliantly” and that the operation to destroy terrorism in Syria had neared a successful completion.

Russia has a new found appetite for power politics in the Middle East. 

The Russians had an official casualty list of 41 soliders, though the real number may be higher, it is far removed from the thousands killed in the Soviet Union’s long and brutal insurgency war in Afghanistan.

Most important of all, Russia saved its only genuine ally in the Middle East, maintaining and expanding its power and military bases whilst sending out a strong message to the world: Russia has a new found appetite for power politics in the Middle East.   

Russia's decision to intervene in Syria marked a culmination of sorts, this was the first real 'great power' involvement in the conflict on a large scale. Moscow had seen the anti-Assad opposition grow and weaponise, and it didn't act for some time, save for some strong language and the use of Veto’s at the UNSC.

September 2015, however, marked a new stage of the Syrian war, one where Moscow would emerge as victor and powerbroker. 

As the US failed in creating a consistent and well defined policy towards the crisis, the Russians saw an opportunity and were prepared to step in.

Moscow’s intervention in Syria was timely, it checked a large-scale rebel advance on Assad’s coastal heartland and utilised the international mood towards groups such as ISIS and Al-Nusra, at a time after atrocities in Paris, San Bernardino and Ankara were committed. Moscow played on the west’s fear of the influx of refugees and terrorism.

The legitimate fear the coastal areas in Syria may be overrun, thus placing the Russian Naval base in Tartus under direct attack spurred Moscow on to take matters into their own hands. The naval base is not large or incredibly sophisticated, it generally holds around ten Russian ships and other auxiliary vessels at any one time. Its significance is mainly due to the huge distance between Russian sea ports and the Mediterranean.

Russia also has one eye on the future. In December it confirmed it will maintain a permanent military presence at its air and naval bases in Syria. The agreement signed for 49 years with Damascus will allow Moscow to harbour eleven warships in Tartus including nuclear ships.

Russian intervention, in the words of foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, prevented the collapse of a “country whose capital was two to three weeks away from being seized by the terrorists.”

Although this admission may have been slightly exaggerated, it still cemented the fact that Russia felt the necessity to act and did so.

Had the US been brave and acted in either 2013 after the chemical weapons accusations or in 2015 when the Syrian government was flailing and desperate, it could have been in Russia’s position today.  

Moscow didn’t act without reason, it waited for one year of western airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, and years of support for anti-Assad groups before acting. With a swift and brutal intervention, led by thousands of attacks and airstrikes against rebel groups, and at times unfortunate civilians, of which hundreds if not thousands have been killed, Russia turned the tide of the conflict towards Assad.

Moscow ensured a position of strength for itself in Syria’s geo-political war, in the greater scope of things, it emerged victorious from a risky and dangerous decision to enter a foreign conflict.

Russia has secured its long term interests in Syria

By decisively backing President Assad Russia has secured its long term interests in Syria, gained considerable more influence in the region and sent a powerful message to the world, that Russia is growing in strength and ambition.

Russia’s firepower was also aided by soft diplomacy; the Russians helped to broker a ceasefire in Al-Waer district in Homs, the last remaining anti-government stronghold in the city, which was the nucleus of the uprising.

The agreement on 2 December 2015 entailed 300 rebels leaving the district with aid going the other way. Since then Aleppo, Daraa and areas around Damascus have all seen Russian brokered ceasefires. Russia established a center for reconciliation at the Hemeimim air base in Lattakia in 2015 to negotiate rebel surrenders and defections.

Russia is also set for a long term economic investment in the country and has secured a long-term foothold in Syria’s energy sector potentially making Syria a future long term transit hub for oil and gas shipments to Europe. This allows Russia to expand and cement its control over a European gas supply.

Soyuzneftegaz, the Russian energy giant, obtained exclusive rights to explore offshore gas reserves off Syria’s coastline, while contracts, both current and pre-war, between the two countries are worth $1.6 billion alone.

It is no surprise that President Putin declared “mission accomplished” in a visit to Syria in early December. Russia has no doubt altered the trajectory of the Syrian conflict, ultimately dictating a winning outcome.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Syria's wars: a new dynamic

The Kremlin as seen from Kobane

Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights

To the victors, the ruins: the challenges of Russia’s reconstruction in Syria

Russian soldiers in Damascus: politics isn’t everything

A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia

Why sectarianism fails at explaining the conflict in Syria

Why are Russians indifferent to the Syrian conflict?

Country or region: 

Syria

Russia

Iran

Israel

United States

Topics: 

Conflict

Democracy and government

International politics

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CC by NC 4.0

It’s about time we all admit that Putin has prevailed in Syria

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/02/2018 - 4:49am in

The end game is clear: Assad, Russia and Iran will emerge victorious.

lead lead Syrian Presidency/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (2nd L, Front) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (2nd R) view a military parade in the Russian-run Hmeimim Air Base in the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, on Dec. 11, 2017. Syrian Presidency/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The conflict in Syria has been the most vicious in contemporary history, creating a geo-political hall of mirrors pitting Syrian against Syrian, Saudi Arabia against Iran and Russia against the United States.

To say that it is the most complicated proxy war of our times is an understatement. The war has had international and regional dimensions which have served to prolong, fuel and perpetuate the crisis.

The latest of which, a dramatic clash between Syria and Israel leading to the unprecedented downing of an Israeli F-16 after the latter targeted a group of Iranian installations in Syria, has threatened to further escalate to conflict. But in stepped Russia, and after promises made to either side, the situation calmed down, for now.

This only highlighted the growing importance of Moscow in Syria and the increasingly brave power plays Putin is making in the region.

In Syria, Russia strode in where the west was hesitant, and just over two years on from the riskiest move in post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, the end game is clear. Assad, Russia and Iran will emerge victorious, and that is a direct result of Moscow’s decision to intervene in 2015 when its long-term ally, Assad, was on the ropes and struggling to survive.

Any hopes the US had of being a powerbroker in Syria ended in September 2015. The presence of Russia immediately limited almost all western policy options that sought to oust Assad.

Russia didn’t have to worry about the Turkish-Kurdish dimension, it was too busy steamrolling Syria’s disjointed opposition. ISIS to Russia was no different to other rebel groups; in the eyes of Moscow they were all a threat to Assad and warranted an iron fist.

As Russia began to crush the anti-Assad opposition, the west could only watch from afar as the balance of power tilted in favour of the Syrian government.

The lack of western policy decisiveness is due to many factors; the emergence of a US backed Kurdish powerhouse in the north of Syria and Turkish efforts to quell that rise. The sharp rise of ISIS and other Jihadist groups further muddied the waters, creating an extra element of risk for a possible US intervention. This all played into Putin’s hands.

Over two years on from Moscow’s much maligned decision to intervene and prop up its long term Syrian ally, the Russians have been vindicated, insofar as the so-called Islamic State has been defeated and expelled from all Syrian cities, the last of which in Deir-Ezzor broke the back of the terror group.

The Syrian army, with assistance from Iranian backed militias, Hezbollah and Russian firepower is now on the victory march towards the remaining opposition strongholds in Idleb, Eastern Ghouta, Daraa and Qunaitra, possibly finishing the military side of the conflict by the end of 2018.

In December 2017 President Putin victoriously declared a withdrawal of a "significant part" of Russia's military forces in Syria, and heralded a successful end to the military operation.

The echoes of negativity and criticism of Russia by the US seem but a distant memory, and President Obama’s claim that Russia would be caught in a "quagmire" never truly transpired.

Putin’s bold remarks came during a visit to Hmeymim air base in Latakia where he told his forces that they had “fought brilliantly” and that the operation to destroy terrorism in Syria had neared a successful completion.

Russia has a new found appetite for power politics in the Middle East. 

The Russians had an official casualty list of 41 soliders, though the real number may be higher, it is far removed from the thousands killed in the Soviet Union’s long and brutal insurgency war in Afghanistan.

Most important of all, Russia saved its only genuine ally in the Middle East, maintaining and expanding its power and military bases whilst sending out a strong message to the world: Russia has a new found appetite for power politics in the Middle East.   

Russia's decision to intervene in Syria marked a culmination of sorts, this was the first real 'great power' involvement in the conflict on a large scale. Moscow had seen the anti-Assad opposition grow and weaponise, and it didn't act for some time, save for some strong language and the use of Veto’s at the UNSC.

September 2015, however, marked a new stage of the Syrian war, one where Moscow would emerge as victor and powerbroker. 

As the US failed in creating a consistent and well defined policy towards the crisis, the Russians saw an opportunity and were prepared to step in.

Moscow’s intervention in Syria was timely, it checked a large-scale rebel advance on Assad’s coastal heartland and utilised the international mood towards groups such as ISIS and Al-Nusra, at a time after atrocities in Paris, San Bernardino and Ankara were committed. Moscow played on the west’s fear of the influx of refugees and terrorism.

The legitimate fear the coastal areas in Syria may be overrun, thus placing the Russian Naval base in Tartus under direct attack spurred Moscow on to take matters into their own hands. The naval base is not large or incredibly sophisticated, it generally holds around ten Russian ships and other auxiliary vessels at any one time. Its significance is mainly due to the huge distance between Russian sea ports and the Mediterranean.

Russia also has one eye on the future. In December it confirmed it will maintain a permanent military presence at its air and naval bases in Syria. The agreement signed for 49 years with Damascus will allow Moscow to harbour eleven warships in Tartus including nuclear ships.

Russian intervention, in the words of foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, prevented the collapse of a “country whose capital was two to three weeks away from being seized by the terrorists.”

Although this admission may have been slightly exaggerated, it still cemented the fact that Russia felt the necessity to act and did so.

Had the US been brave and acted in either 2013 after the chemical weapons accusations or in 2015 when the Syrian government was flailing and desperate, it could have been in Russia’s position today.  

Moscow didn’t act without reason, it waited for one year of western airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, and years of support for anti-Assad groups before acting. With a swift and brutal intervention, led by thousands of attacks and airstrikes against rebel groups, and at times unfortunate civilians, of which hundreds if not thousands have been killed, Russia turned the tide of the conflict towards Assad.

Moscow ensured a position of strength for itself in Syria’s geo-political war, in the greater scope of things, it emerged victorious from a risky and dangerous decision to enter a foreign conflict.

Russia has secured its long term interests in Syria

By decisively backing President Assad Russia has secured its long term interests in Syria, gained considerable more influence in the region and sent a powerful message to the world, that Russia is growing in strength and ambition.

Russia’s firepower was also aided by soft diplomacy; the Russians helped to broker a ceasefire in Al-Waer district in Homs, the last remaining anti-government stronghold in the city, which was the nucleus of the uprising.

The agreement on 2 December 2015 entailed 300 rebels leaving the district with aid going the other way. Since then Aleppo, Daraa and areas around Damascus have all seen Russian brokered ceasefires. Russia established a center for reconciliation at the Hemeimim air base in Lattakia in 2015 to negotiate rebel surrenders and defections.

Russia is also set for a long term economic investment in the country and has secured a long-term foothold in Syria’s energy sector potentially making Syria a future long term transit hub for oil and gas shipments to Europe. This allows Russia to expand and cement its control over a European gas supply.

Soyuzneftegaz, the Russian energy giant, obtained exclusive rights to explore offshore gas reserves off Syria’s coastline, while contracts, both current and pre-war, between the two countries are worth $1.6 billion alone.

It is no surprise that President Putin declared “mission accomplished” in a visit to Syria in early December. Russia has no doubt altered the trajectory of the Syrian conflict, ultimately dictating a winning outcome.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Syria's wars: a new dynamic

The Kremlin as seen from Kobane

Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights

To the victors, the ruins: the challenges of Russia’s reconstruction in Syria

Russian soldiers in Damascus: politics isn’t everything

A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia

Why sectarianism fails at explaining the conflict in Syria

Why are Russians indifferent to the Syrian conflict?

Country or region: 

Syria

Russia

Iran

Israel

United States

Topics: 

Conflict

Democracy and government

International politics

Rights: 

CC by NC 4.0

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