Friday, October 9, 2015

Russia's Aim in Syria Is to Strategically Defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda 

(Huffington Post)  BEIRUT -- As soon as Russia launched the first stages of its military campaign in Syria, world media erupted with epic slights on President Vladimir Putin and the deprecation of Russia's strategic motives in Syria. Is this information operation simply a recrudescence of Cold War neuralgia, or is there something more profound at work here?
For the past few decades, NATO effectively made all the decisions about war and peace. It faced no opposition and no rival. Matters of war were effectively a solely internal debate within NATO -- about whether to proceed or not, and in what way. That was it. It didn't matter much about what others thought or did. Those on the receiving end simply had to endure it. But whilst its destructive powers were evident, its strategic benefits have been far from evident -- especially across the Middle East.

What probably irks the West most is that Russia has unfolded -- and begun -- a sophisticated military campaign in the flash of an eye. NATO bumbles along much more slowly with its complicated structures. Iraqis have long complained that in military terms, assistance promised by the NATO powers takes (literally) years to materialize, whereas requests to Russia and Iran are expeditiously met. So Tom Friedman's condescension towards the Russian military intervention does have more than a whiff of orientalism to it.

But all the hoo-ha probably stems also from the sense that this Russian initiative could mark the coming into birth of something more serious -- of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a putative military alliance. Admittedly, the "4+1 alliance" -- Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq, plus Hezbollah -- is not branded as SCO (and the coalition partners do not overlap with SCO membership), but the 4+1 alliance venture might well yet prove to be a "pilot" in non-Western, successful coalition-operating. Furthermore, its objective is precisely to preempt NATO-style regime change projects -- a prime SCO concern. This prospect certainly would irk the Western security establishment -- and would potentially change many an existing NATO calculus.

USS Porter located near Crimea, heads in direction of Odessa — source

MOSCOW, October 8. /TASS/. US Navy destroyer USS Porter that entered the Black Sea on Tuesday is currently positioned in its eastern part not far from the Crimean peninsula, a military and diplomatic source told TASS on Thursday.
"USS Porter is currently positioned in neutral waters near the Crimean peninsula. Judging by its movements, there are grounds to assume it is heading in the direction of the Ukrainian port of Odessa," the source added.
"In accordance with routine practice," the US destroyer is under constant control of intelligence services and the Black Sea Fleet, the source noted.

"The destroyer is closely followed by a reconnaissance ship collecting radio intelligence data. From the air, the actions of the destroyer are watched by naval aviation. From the shore, including from the Crimean shore, it is watched from ground-based radar stations," the source explained.
Winter Is Coming. And So Is Ukraine’s Far Right.

(Foreign Policy) There’s a reason most revolutions in Eastern Europe begin in the winter, from Russia in 1905 to Ukraine’s Maidan in 2013. Once the cold settles in, a government’s empty promises are laid bare. Over the next several days, forecasters are predicting, the temperature in Ukraine will plunge to freezing. When President Petro Poroshenko looks at the thermometer, he should be worried.
Up to this point, more or less, the far right and Kiev have shared a common enemy: Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. But as the violence in the eastern regions abates, the ultranationalists — including their affiliated (and heavily armed) battalions — are turning their attention inward. Over the past several months, these groups have been increasingly ratcheting up the pressure on Poroshenko, declaring his administration to be an “internal occupation” and calling, as Right Sector put it, for the “new phase” of the revolution.
Under the most optimistic scenario, a far-right uprising would greatly destabilize Ukraine; Poroshenko wouldn’t be able to continue implementing IMF reforms if he were busy fending off an armed insurrection in the middle of Kiev. At worst, this would set off a chain of events that would rapidly turn the country into a fractured, failed state of 45 million people in the middle of Europe.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Kosovo MPs stage tear gas protest in parliament

Opposition MPs in Kosovo have let off tear gas in the national parliament chamber in a noisy protest over a government deal with Serbia.
The gas disrupted the session and made two MPs faint. There were also loud whistles and insults from the opposition, Kosovapress news reported.
The EU-brokered deal grants more powers to the mainly Serb areas of Kosovo.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians broke away from Serbia in an armed revolt in 1999, then declared independence in 2008.

Merkel slams east Europeans on refugees in private talk: Politico 

(Reuters)  German Chancellor Angela Merkel rounded on east European governments that refuse to take in refugees, accusing them of yielding to prejudice and ignoring their own history, the Politico website reported on Thursday."
The conservative German leader assailed the response of Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and some Baltic leaders to Europe's refugee crisis, without naming them, saying they should know better having lived behind a fence themselves.
The chancellor dismissed such arguments, saying: "It’s not acceptable that we have free movement of goods and of people, but that some countries say 'this we can't do, and that we can't, and we can't take in Syrians, because we’re not ready yet'.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Russia Fires Cruise Missiles in Syria as Assad Begins a Ground Attack

(NYT)  BEIRUT, Lebanon — Russia and Syria unleashed a coordinated assault by land, air and sea on Wednesday, seeking to reverse recent gains by rebel groups that were beginning to encroach on President Bashar al-Assad’s last bastion of power.

Moscow said it had fired 26 cruise missiles on Syrian targets from naval vessels in the Caspian Sea, 900 miles away, though it was not immediately clear whether they hit targets in the area of the ground offensive.

The ground assault, and airstrikes, seemed to focus on an area of northern Hama Province and southern Idlib Province, around three villages that insurgents consider the first line of defense of the strategic Jebel al-Zawiyah area.
At certain points in Wednesday’s fighting, rebels fired advanced TOW antitank missiles, supplied covertly by the C.I.A., at Syria’s Russian-made tanks, leaving the impression of a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Videos posted by rebel groups, including the American-backed Division 17 and Suqour al-Ghab, showed the guided missiles sailing toward approaching tanks and destroying them.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Vladimir Putin’s secret weapon for a Syrian end game? Diplomacy.

(Reuters)  Russia’s rapidly expanding military presence in Syria is viewed by many as an attempt to bolster the regime of President Bashar al-Assad rather than attack Islamic State forces. There are strong indications, however, that Moscow is coming to grips with the idea that a political solution for the region would include a post-Assad Syria.

Russian officials have talked about the need to transform the current Syrian regime into an inclusive government, one built on a power-sharing deal between it and certain opposition elements. The Kremlin has even reconsidered its opposition to allowing anti-Assad Islamic groups to participate in a settlement. To this end, it has raised the possibility of early parliamentary elections.

The real question may turn out to be whether outside players can put aside their anger over Putin’s in-your-face military moves and join forces with Moscow to finally end this tragedy.
To persuade the international community, the Kremlin has adopted a two-track approach. On the diplomatic front, Moscow is engaged in active dialogue with the West and Middle Eastern countries, particularly the Gulf States. Militarily, Russia’s support is helping guarantee that the Assad regime can hold out long enough for the Kremlin to achieve a desirable breakthrough on the diplomatic track.

Putin may be able to use Russia’s military actions in Syria as important leverage. The presence of Russian forces in Syria ensures that any decision on Syria’s future cannot be made without Moscow’s participation. It is not a coincidence that in the 48 hours since Russia launched its air raids in Syria, the intensity of diplomatic contacts between Moscow and the West have increased.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ukraine: Witnessing clashes outside Kiev parliament

By Svyatoslav Khomenko
BBC Ukrainian, Kiev

Several hundred activists had been protesting close to the Ukrainian parliament building from early in the morning.
Initially it was calm, even after MPs had voted for the draft bill that the activists were protesting against.
I was covering the vote inside parliament.
But some minutes after the speaker brought the session to a close I heard noises coming from the square near the parliament. Almost everything was visible through the window.

Not a word what the protest was about

Friday, October 2, 2015

Everything is PR

Putin and Surkov discussing how to control the media

“Everything is PR” has become the favorite phrase of the new Russia; my Moscow peers were filled with a sense that they were both cynical and enlightened. When I asked them about Soviet-era dissidents, like my parents, who fought against communism, they dismissed them as naive dreamers and my own Western attachment to such vague notions as “human rights” and “freedom” as a blunder. “Can’t you see your own governments are just as bad as ours?” they asked me. I tried to protest—but they just smiled and pitied me. To believe in something and stand by it in this world is derided, the ability to be a shape-shifter celebrated.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kyrgyzstan set to cling to Russia in face of security threats

(Reuters) - Pro-Russian parties look set to retain their dominance when Kyrgyzstan elects a new parliament on Sunday, but the apparent stability masks ethnic tensions and rising Islamist radicalism in the former Soviet republic.

The mostly Muslim country of six million people has swung closer to Moscow and further away from the West: under a deadline set by its parliament, the United States last year shut down an airbase in Kyrgzystan that had served U.S. operations in Afghanistan since 2001.

Russia retains a military airbase in the Central Asian state, fearing an advance of militant Islam in the region. Also closely watching is China, whose restive Xinjiang region borders Kyrgyzstan and which is present in several Kyrgyz industries, including energy and mining.
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