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What’s going on in Gambia?

By Andrew KORYBKO | Oriental Review | January 20, 2017

An international scandal has been unfolding over the past month due to supposedly outgoing President Jammah’s flip-flopping remarks, with even the UN Security Council asking him to respect the democratic vote of the people and step down like he promised. Just yesterday, in fact, the regional military-economic integrational bloc of ECOWAS launched an invasion in order to depose him. However, everything needs to be put into context here because the situation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems.

Yes, Jammah did lose the vote, and yes, he did initially recognize it as having been free and fair, but in the immediate electoral aftermath, presumable President-elect Adama Barrow and his campaign vowed to go on a political witch hunt and imprison Jammah within the next year. Worse still, they even pledged to reverse his decision to withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, or ICC. What this amounts to is essentially a top-to-bottom purge of the Gambian “deep state”, or its permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies under the presumed justification of carrying out “international justice” against a former “dictatorial regime”.

Adama Barrow

It’s thus somewhat understandable why Jammah so abruptly reversed his former position and perceptively seems to have the backing of the military and police as well. The fact remains that they’re interested in self-preservation, and that Barrow’s witch hunt was a politically premature move to declare when he hadn’t even entered into power yet and had chance of carrying it out. He likely did this to please his foreign patrons, which had been waging a concerted infowar against Jammah due to his domestic policies. The clearest indication of unipolar grand strategic connivance against Jammah and the Gambia comes from former US ambassador to Senegal and Gambia and former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Herman J. Cohen, who penned an op-ed at allafrica.com titled “Gambia: A message to the Gambia – Build that Bridge.” Former diplomats are usually much more candid than presently serving ones are and thus tend to directly say what the US wants as opposed to ‘diplomatically’ beating around the bush.

Former Ambassador Cohen said that “several African nations have suffered from psycopathic regimes during the past five decades, but the Jammeh dictatorship has assuredly been the worst“. One of the steps that he suggests Barrow’s new government take in rebuilding the country is to, ironically enough, dismantle it through what he says should be “the re-establishment of a confederation between the two nations [meaning with Senegal], including a joint military and a federal parliament.” The former diplomat is surprisingly undiplomatic by characterizing Gambia’s decision to pull out of that former arrangement as a “stupid mistake.” So what we can surmise from all of this lobbying and the ongoing post-election political crisis in Gambia is that the US wants Barrow to purge Jammah and all of his institutional supporters out of the country under the cover of the ICC in order for the country’s sovereignty to be ceded to Senegal under a so-called “confederation”.

January 20, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Talks in Astana will give green light to the peace process in Syria

Dr Alexander Yakovenko | RT | January 20, 2017

It is important to clarify some of Russia’s approaches to the negotiations between representatives of the Syrian Government and armed opposition groups in Astana on January 23.

We believe that the best is to limit the number of foreign participants to representatives of the countries-guarantors of the ceasefire – Russia, Turkey and Iran. The new US administration has been invited too. We hope that Deputy Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General R.Ramzi will act as a mediator at the talks.

The meeting in Astana is not a substitute for the intra-Syrian talks, which begin on February 8 in Geneva. On the contrary, it will contribute to the further development of the negotiation process by inviting the representatives of the armed opposition, who have real influence “on the ground.” We hope that they will also agree to participate in the Geneva talks as an equal and permanent member of the united delegation of the Syrian opposition.

On the agenda – discussions on strengthening the ceasefire, delivering humanitarian aid, building confidence, ensuring free movement of citizens throughout the country except in areas controlled by the terrorists, who are not a party to any agreement and must be defeated as endorsed by the UNSC resolutions.

We hope that a substantive discussion of the modalities of the constitutional reform in Syria will be launched, including the creation of the Constitutional Commission to get the work on a new Constitution started. The members of this Commission will include representatives of both the government and the various political opposition groups, which is provided for in the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

We hope that the meeting in Astana will contribute to the peace process in Syria and strengthen counter-terrorism efforts.

Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko

January 20, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Marine Le Pen: Crimea Was Never Ukrainian, I Will Recognize Crimea as Part of Russia

Marine Le Pen 2 7d8db

American Herald Tribune | January 18, 2017

The French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has reiterated her support for Russia’s claim on Crimea in a newspaper interview in which she made another decisive tilt towards Moscow.

With three months before France goes to the polls, the Front National leader said she recognised Crimea as being part of Russia and if elected, she would push for a dropping of sanctions against Russia which France had backed simply because it was following German orders.

She told the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, that the referendum in the peninsula in 2014 to become part of Russia showed the “agreement of the people to join Russia”.

“Ukraine’s ownership of Crimea was just an administrative issue from Soviet times, the peninsula was never Ukrainian,” she said.

“I regret that the referendum, organised as a demonstration of the will of the people of the peninsula, was not recognised by the international community and the UN.”

Le Pen had made the comments about Crimea on French television earlier in January after which the Ukrainian security service SBU proposed banning her from entering the country for five years.

She described sanctions against Russia as “senseless” and “a pretty stupid method of diplomacy” and that “all countries should show respect for each other, to negotiate on equal terms and to accept a compromise solution acceptable to all”.

“We don’t have to have a situation whereby the major powers impose their policies on other states, behaving like stubborn children,” she told the paper.

( Image Credit: European Parliament/ flickr).

January 18, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

From Mumia to Peltier, US Political Prisoners Still Locked Up

teleSUR | January 18, 2017

Many members of the Black Panthers and New Afrika party remain behind bars, some under dubious circumstances.

In the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning and Oscar Lopez Rivera, teleSUR takes a look at some of the more prominent political prisoners who remain behind bars for their activism and fight for justice.

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested and charged with killing white police Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia in December 1981. One year later, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

In 2011, the United States Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in his case, and he was re-sentenced to life in prison without parole. He and many activists have maintained that he is innocent.

Leonard Peltier

Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted under the dubious murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975, has continually maintained his innocence. In the 40 years since his trial, evidence continues to surface showing that Peltier was in fact convicted under false pretenses

Simon Trinidad

Simon Trinidad joined Colombia’s FARC rebel group in 1987, rising through the ranks to eventually serve as the group’s de facto foreign minister. On a diplomatic visit to Ecuador in 2004, Trinidad was arrested and deported to Colombia, where on trumped up charges he was extradited to the U.S. After two hung juries Trinidad was ultimately convicted of conspiracy charges related to the kidnapping of two Plan Colombia agents and sentenced to 60 years at a supermax prison. Speaking of the sacrifices he’s made for his beliefs Trinidad said, “If I don’t do this, what am I? A traitor. That’s why I put up with pain and suffering to fight for what we lack. That’s why I took up the guerrilla struggle.”

Mutulu Shakur

Mutulu Shakur, a Black Liberation Army and Republic of New Afrika member who was stepfather to the late rap artist Tupac Shakur, was jailed in 1988 on charges of “conspiracy to aid bank expropriation.” Due to his activism, he had previously been placed on the FBI’s illegal COINTELPRO surveillance program, which was also used against Martin Luther King Jr. and other radical Black activists.

“Sonia” aka, Omaira Rojas Cabrera

Born to a Colombian peasant family, Omaira Rojas Cabrera, known by her nom de guerre “Sonia,” joined the FARC rebel group as a teenager and rose to become one of their top female commanders. She was kidnapped by Colombian special forces in 2004, and eventually extradited to the U.S. where she was put on trial over drug charges. She was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to 16 years, a fraction of the 55 to 60 years the prosecutors had asked for. Both she and Simon Trinidad were the subject of prisoner exchange negotiations between the FARC and then Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, launched by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

David Gilbert

David Gilbert is a radical U.S. leftist organizer and member of the Weather Underground Organization, who worked with members of the Black Liberation Army. In 1983, he was convicted and sentenced to 75 years for three counts of felony murder over an attempted bank robbery attempt along with the activists.

Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz

Russell “Maroon” Shoatz was convicted back in 1970 for the first-degree murder of a Philadelphia police officer, in an attack that was conducted at the Philadelphia police station. A former member of the Black Panther Party and “soldier” of the Black Liberation Army, he was held in solitary confinement for 22 years, only being returned to the general prison population in 2014.

Sundiata Acoli

Black Panther Sundiata Acoli was convicted of killing a state trooper during a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. Acoli is one of at least 15 former members of the Black Panther Party who are still in prison.

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin was a Black activist who worked with the Black Panthers, and was previously known as H. Rap Brown. He was convicted of shooting two deputies in March 2000 as they approached him with an arrest warrant for offenses including impersonating a police officer. He is serving a life sentence.

Al-Amin and his supporters have long argued that he was framed by a government that has feared him since his days in radical anti-racist politics.

Black Panthers

Ever since its founding in Oakland in 1966 the Black Panthers were ruthlessly persecuted by the FBI and other domestic security forces. From the illegal Cointelpro program to the infamous Panther 21 trial, when 21 members of the Party were tried on 156 charges which were all eventually dropped, the U.S. government set out to destroy the grassroots movement. In addition to the former Panthers listed above, there are 11 Black Panthers who remain in jail on a variety of charges: Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald in California; Ed Poindexter in Nebraska; Joseph Bowen in Pennsylvania; Jalil Muntaqim in New York; Romaine Fitzgerald jailed since 1969; Herman Bell imprisoned in New York since 1971; Veronza Bowers, in prison since 1973; Robert Seth Hayes, jailed since 1973; Zulu Whitmore, in prison in Louisiana since 1977; Maliki Shakur, jailed since 1979; and Kamau Sadiki, imprisoned since 2002.

January 18, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 1 Comment

US Builds Database of Foreign-Funded NGOs, Other Groups in United States

Sputnik – 13.01.2017

The United States is entering the final phase of a multi-year plan to establish a uniform database to track and report on foreign assistance to groups that are active on its territory, the US Department of State announced in a press release on Friday.

The Foreign Assistance Data Review (FADR) program was established in 2014 and is being implemented in four phases, the first step being a December 2015 study, with recommendations on how to track and report foreign assistance data.

“Phase Two concluded in September 2016, producing an FADR Data Element Index (Index), which identifies 57 data elements that must be standardized and incorporated into the enterprise-wide data management systems,” the release stated.

The final two phases will establish reporting requirements and a budget for resources needed to develop the database. The release gives no explanation of the term “foreign assistance,” but presumably it involves non-governmental organizations (NGOs), cultural organizations and advocacy groups that receive funding from foreign governments.

The effort comes amid increased criticism of the United States from many countries over operations of the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — and related organizations — which have been accused of promoting a policy of “regime change” by organizing subversive networks and anti-government protests in nations that are at odds with Washington.

January 13, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | | 1 Comment

Government workers enter Damascus water-source area to restore supply after deal with rebels

RT | January 13, 2017

The Syrian capital’s crippling water shortage will soon come to an end after rebels allowed engineers to enter a damaged pumping station, according to a regional governor. More than 5 million people have faced dire conditions amid the shortage.

The governor of Damascus Countryside Province, Alaa Ibrahim, told reporters on Friday that the engineers have entered the facilities at Ain al-Fijah in the Wadi Barada area after a deal has been reached for the army to take control of the area.

“We have halted military operations in Ain al-Fijah and started reconciliation with the militias there,” Ibrahim told reporters from an area near the site, as quoted by AFP.

“God willing, the pipe will be fixed within three days… rapid measures will be taken to get water to Damascus tomorrow,” he added.

The governor said that the rebels who refused the deal will be allowed to leave for the rebel-held Idlib province.

“All of Wadi Barada will be secured within hours,” he added. “Water will not be cut off to the city of Damascus again.”

A restoration of the supply would put an end to the devastating shortage which has left more than 5 million people without water for almost two weeks.

The Damascus Water Authority cut the supply in late December, after it said the Barada River – the source of the water – had been contaminated with diesel fuel by militants.

The result has been devastating for residents of Damascus, with shop shelves completely stripped of any trace of water.

Such dire conditions raise concerns about the risks of water-borne diseases, especially among children, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told RT, noting that it is delivering water in trucks to schools. Other humanitarian agencies are also on the ground.

But as civilians struggle to obtain clean water, rebels have laid blame on the Syrian government, claiming its bombing campaign has damaged vital infrastructure.

The governor said the Friday agreement is part of a wider deal for rebels to stop fighting in Wadi Barada. The deal would also include the departure of some of them for other insurgent-held areas in the country, and a settlement with others who would remain there, Reuters reported.

Wadi Barada has become the most intense battlefront in the Syrian civil war, with fighting continuing despite the start of a truce brokered by Russia, a Syrian ally, and rebel-backer Turkey in late December.

January 13, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | | 1 Comment

Transnistria and Donbass: Historical Parallels and Possible Similar Scenarios for the Future

By Halyna Mokrushyna | CounterPunch | January 13, 2017

On January 4, President Igor Dodon of Moldova met with Vadim Krasnoselskiy, the head of the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria). The meeting took place in Bendery, on the right bank of Dniester river, on the territory of the Transnistria. It was initiated by the president of Moldova.

Igor Dodon was elected Moldovan president on November 13 on a platform advocating improved relations with Russia.

During the meeting, both sides established a good contact and expressed openness and willingness to compromise. Concrete decisions have been taken to improve relations between Moldova and Transnistria. “Citizens on both sides of the Dniester River (which runs through the territory of Moldova and the right (eastern) border of Transnistria) should see the concrete results during 2017,” stated President of Moldova Igor Dodon .

The president of Transnistria Vadim Krasnoselskiy stressed the importance of compromise with Moldova for people living on both sides. “We must create the conditions so that people are not held hostage to politics, so that decisions taken by politicians are for the benefit of the people. We must respect the people of Moldova and Transnistria and find a compromise in any case”, stated Vadim Krasnoselskiy.

During the meeting, the first in eight years, the presidents of Moldova and Trasnistria discussed a whole range of practical issues that have accumulated in recent years, including problems in education, registration of vehicles, communication, movement of citizens, rail transport, recognition of diplomas and car plates.

At the same time, political issues were not discussed. Recognition of the independence of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) by Chisinau remains the main bone of contention between the two republics. Chisinau designates PMR as the Transnistria autonomous territorial unit with special legal status. PMR is not recognized by any country, member of the UN, while the UN itself considers PMR to be part of Moldova.

PMR emerged as a reaction of the mostly Slavic population of this territory to the rise of pro-Romanian nationalism among ethnic Moldovans in the late 1980s, the period of Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost in Russia. The most prominent movement formed at that time, the Popular Front of Moldova, formulated three main demands: that Moldovan be declared the only state language, that the Moldovan language switch to use of the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic one, and that Moldovan ethnic identity be recognized as identical to Romanian one. The radical factions of the Popular Front called for minority populations, particularly the Slavs (mainly Russians and Ukrainians) and Gagauz, to leave or be expelled from Moldova.

The Supreme Council of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic followed through on main three demands: on August 31, 1989 it adopted Moldovan as the only official language, while retaining Russian for secondary purposes; it introduced the Latin alphabet; and it declared a shared Moldovan-Romanian linguistic identity. The publicly stated intentions of the Moldovan authorities to bring the country closer to Romania, as well as the ethnocentric rhetoric of the Popular Front, provoked serious concerns of ethnic minorities in the country. Transnistria’s population was predominantly Slav – 60% were Ukrainians and Russians, while less than 40% were ethnic Moldovans. The overall majority of the population, including some ethnic Moldovans, spoke Russian as their mother tongue.

The nationalist Popular Front won the first free parliamentary elections in the Moldavian SSR in the spring of 1990. On 2 September 1990, the Second Congress of the Peoples’ Representatives of Transnistria proclaimed the creation of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. Violence escalated when in October 1990, the Popular Front called for volunteers to form armed militias to stop an autonomy referendum in Gagauzia. In response, volunteer militias were formed in Transnistria.

Limited armed clashes between Transnistrian militia and Moldova started in November of 1990. Volunteers from Russia came to support Transnistrians. In early 1992, the fighting intensified. The former Soviet 14th Guards Army, stationed in Transnistiria, which remained neutral throughout the fighting, entered the conflict in its final stage, swearing allegiance to Transnistrian authorities and opening fire against Moldovan forces. A ceasefire agreement was signed on 21 July 1992 and has held to the present day.

The history of the emergence of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic holds several striking similarities with the current conflict in Ukraine. There, the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine rebelled against the nationalist rhetoric of the Euromaidan movement and the government brought to power through a coup d’état on February 21-22, 2014. One of the first steps of that government was to abolish the existing law on languages in Ukraine granting Russian a special status in Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine. Ukrainian is the only official language in Ukraine. Changes to the language law in 2013 granted Russian a special status in areas of majority or large minority Russian speakers, but the law was bitterly opposed by Ukrainian nationalists.

Another similarity is the linguistic profiles of Ukraine and Moldova. Like Transnistria, where the majority of population speaks Russian, Donetsk and Lugansk regions are the only regions of Ukraine, where Russian language is spoken by the large majority of the population. Population of these regions of Ukraine has always been close to Russia culturally, as with the population of Transnistria. Russian volunteers poured into Transnistria to help locals to defend their rights against Moldovan nationalism; in the same way 20 years later, Donetsk and Lugansk received the support of volunteers from Russia in their fight against Ukrainian nationalism and against a forceful integration into the European Union by the coup government that came to power in 2014. They wanted closer ties with Russia. However, Russia has not officially recognized the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as it has not recognized the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. Russia does provide extensive humanitarian assistance to both entities and maintains extensive economic and cultural relations.

Moldova has not officially recognized Transnistria. But at least it stopped waging war against against the breakaway republic, and it has settled into an uneasy coexistence. The relations between Moldova and Transnistria are often characterized as a “frozen conflict”. All attempts to find a formula for political settlement of the unrecognized status of the PMR between the PMR and Moldova have not produced any result.

Since independence in 1991, Moldova, like Ukraine some 20 years later, set out on a course of economic integration into the European Union. Even the so-called ‘pro-Russian’ Moldovan presidents over the years, such as Vladimir Voronin (2001-2009), followed this course very closely. For example, in 2003, Voronin refused to sign a memorandum proposed by the Russian Federation outlining plans for a unification of Moldova and the PMR into a federal state of Moldova. Voronin stated that since Moldova plans to join European Union, such a plan needed the approval of ‘European structures’, beginning with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’, and therefore he could not endorse it.

In the current conflict between Kyiv and Donetsk and Lugansk republics, Russian officials have stated on many occasions that the two republics (comprising the historic industrial region called ‘Donbass’) should be granted a large autonomy within a unitary Ukraine, in spite of the evident desire of the populations of the two breakaway republics to desire to integrate into the Russian Federation.

The ceasefire and political-settlement agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus on Feb 12, 2015 (termed ‘Minsk-2’, text here) with the endorsement of France, Germany, and Russia, outline beginning principles of this autonomy, but Kyiv has been stubbornly sabotaging the agreement.

The new president of Moldova, Igor Dodon, is proving himself a wiser and more mature politician compared to Ukrainian leaders, as shown by his visit to the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic. He declared that Moldova under his presidency will remain a neutral country, not choosing between European Union or Russia. The population of Moldova, like the population of Ukraine, has always been split in its political and cultural sympathies towards Europe and Russia. Most Moldovans and probably a majority of Ukrainians believe the best way to keep their country safe and whole is by preserving a neutral status between the EU and the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union to the east. Dodon has demonstrated a practical approach of compromise and negotiation in the interests of the population of both Moldova and the PMR.

Kyiv should follow Dodon’s example because it is the only path to peace in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the current political regime in Kyiv is unlikely to do that. The news of Dodon’s meeting with the president of the PMR was not even reported by mainstream Ukrainian media.

The recent call of one of the richest Ukrainian oligarchs, Viktor Pinchuk, to make painful compromises with Russia and implement Minsk-2 and return to a neutral status for Ukraine to reach peace in Donbass, has been repudiated by Poroshenko’s administration. Konstantin Eliseev, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, stated that Ukraine will never turn away from integration into the European Union and NATO . (See my Dec 31, 2016 article ‘ Prominent member of Ukraine’s elite issues call for peace in Donbass’.)

But to the ongoing consternation of officials of the Kyiv government, full membership of Ukraine in the European Union has always been treated cautiously and even reluctantly by European Union officials. They have used the idea to foment conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which is not the same as supporting and facilitation it, as Ukrainians are today learning.

Ukrainians blindly mistook a loose economic association with Europe as being a step toward an inevitable, full integration into the European Union. They naively hoped that the European Union will solve the economic disaster that the country became following independence in 1991, particularly following the failed ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2005 in which competing interests among the country’s economic elite fought for domination amidst a backdrop of deep, social protest by ordinary Ukrainians.

This blind, naïve hope has brought further economic disaster and civil war in Ukraine. The official Ukrainian propaganda blames Russia for all of the troubles beginning in 2013 and it refuses to recognize Kyiv’s fault in its unleashing of a so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation (complete with its own, catchy acronym—the ‘ATO’) against its own people. Kyiv relied heavily on U.S. support in the conflict with Russia. Now, that support may dwindle if President-elect Donald Trump carries through his various, offhand statements that he is interested in seeking improved relations with Russia.

Kyiv should review its categorical refusal to accommodate Donetsk and Lugansk if it wants to keep Donbass within Ukraine. Otherwise the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics will follow the path of the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic in exercising a permanent autonomy. It is a very plausible scenario, given the fact that the conflict in Donbass has been frozen for more than two years and Ukraine continues to punish the two republics with unceasing artillery fire and a punishing economic blockade.

Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought.  Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at halouwins@gmail.com.

January 13, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tunisians Protest against Return of Terrorists from Conflict Zones

Al-Manar – December 25, 2016

Hundreds of people took to the streets of the Tunisian capital to protest against the repatriation of fellow citizens suspected of having links with various extremist groups.

The protest took place after Germany announced that it would speed up the process of sending rejected Tunisian asylum seekers home, and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said that authorities could not prevent the return of terrorists.

Tunisians staged a rally in front of the national parliament that was attended by hundreds of people.

People were holding placards that read “close the doors to terrorism” and “no tolerance, no return” as well as were waving Tunisian flags and singing the national anthem.

December 25, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

When the guns fall silent in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 24, 2016

A Kremlin readout on the phone call made by President Vladimir Putin to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Friday to formally congratulate the latter on the liberation of Aleppo, highlighted that the Russian leader “stressed that the main task now is to focus on furthering the peace process, in particular by signing an agreement on comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis.”

Putin’s remark is an important signpost of the way forward in Syria. Moscow disfavours continuation of military operations by the Syrian government forces to regain control of the entire country (which would be the likely preference of Damascus and Tehran) and prefers that conditions must be made available to open the peace track. At any rate, all 5 major cities in Syria and the entire Mediterranean coast, where the bulk of Syrian population is concentrated, is in government hands already and the opposition is left to hold Idlib and isolated pockets in the south and east, with supply lines under immense pressure.

A ceasefire all across Syria is in the making. This appears to be the understanding reached at the 2-track ‘trilateral’ of the foreign and defence ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran which was held in Moscow on Tuesday. Interestingly, at a meeting in the Kremlin on Friday to report to Putin on the conclusion of the operations to liberate Aleppo and the successful downstream activities to evacuate civilians and render humanitarian assistance (in terms of a deal between Turkey, Russia and Iran), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu also made a significant remark that “In our (military’s) opinion, we are close to reaching an agreement on a complete ceasefire across Syria.” Putin responded:

  • Together with our partners from Iran and Turkey, and of course with the Syrian government, other countries in the region and all countries concerned, we will need to continue efforts to achieve a final settlement. We must make the greatest effort now to end hostilities everywhere in Syria, and we will, at least, do our sincerest best to achieve this goal.

Of course, the campaign against the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda affiliates will continue. A ceasefire all across Syria has been a key demand by Turkey. Interestingly, Putin referred to the objective of drawing “other countries in the region” (other than Turkey and Iran) into these processes. The reference is to Saudi Arabia and Qatar principally. Conceivably, Russian diplomacy is at work on this front.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said he expected the peace talks to take place in Astana in mid-January. But TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying: “I wouldn’t talk now about timing. Right now contacts are being made and preparation is under way for the meeting.” He said Putin would have a series of international telephone calls later to discuss the Astana talks.

Whether the Gulf sheikhs will be willing to drink from the chalice of poison remains to be seen. But what alternative is left for them now that the ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria is off the rails? Equally, a shift in Saudi and Qatari policies, away from further intervention in the Syrian conflict, will also at some point raise another ticklish question: What about the role of Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militia groups from Iran and Iraq who have been fighting in Syria? How an all-Syria ceasefire will be enforced remains to be seen.

Moscow’s objective will be to create new facts on the ground by the time the Trump administration shifts gear on Syria policies. Moscow has signalled on Friday that it is preparing for the long haul as well, with Putin signing a presidential decree ordering the signing of a deal with Syria that will “expand the territory” of Russia’s naval facility in Tartus and allow Russian warships into Syrian waters. The Soviet-era base is currently inadequate to serve most of the modern ships in the Russian Navy.

If the Syrian peace talks take off in the coming weeks, it will amount to a huge victory for Russia’s prestige in the Middle East and for Putin, in particular. But that is a big ‘if’. The good part is that with a relatively cooperative US administration settling down in Washington soon, which may be inclined to collaborate with Russia.

December 24, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump & Kremlin united by common cause to ‘trash’ Americans – ex-US envoy to Russia

RT | December 24, 2016

Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has accused US President-elect Donald Trump of teaming up with the Kremlin in an effort to “trash” Americans. McFaul has called on Republicans to “speak up.”

“Why is Trump so militantly against an investigation into Putin’s meddling in our elections?” McFaul wrote on Twitter on Friday. “What does he have to hide? This love fest is odd.”

Earlier this month, the former US ambassador to Russia even suggested registering RT and Sputnik news agency as “foreign agents,” claiming that they supported Donald Trump during the presidential elections.

“We know that Russian-government-controlled ‘media’ outlets such as RT and Sputnik campaigned openly for one candidate, Donald Trump,” McFaul wrote in his article for the Washington Post. While he accused the Russian news outlets of meddling in the US election, he offered no proof to support his claims.

Last month, McFaul was prohibited by the Russian Foreign Ministry from entering Russia for what it described as purposeful damage to relations between Moscow and Washington. In a Facebook post, he said that he was told he is “on the Kremlin’s sanctions list because of close affiliation with Obama” and “will take that as a compliment.”

Trump set off an avalanche of criticism after agreeing with the Russian leader’s assessment of the Democrats’ attempts to blame the 2016 election on external factors, instead of accepting it with dignity.

Brushing aside evidence-free claims that Russia interfered with the US election process, Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists during his annual news conference in Moscow on Friday that the Democrats are exclusively responsible for their political failures.

“There are attempts by the Democrats and the current administration to blame their failures on external factors. The Democrats didn’t just lose the presidential election, but the House and the Senate as well. Did I do that as well? They need to learn to lose with dignity,” Putin said.

Reacting to Putin’s statement, Trump tweeted “So true!” triggering a cascade of criticism on Twitter in response, with social media users calling the next US president a traitor, embarrassment, Kremlin puppet, and in Vladimir Putin’s “back pocket.”

December 24, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

Middle Eastern Media Sources Discuss Aleppo’s Fall

By Yuriy Zinin – New Eastern Outlook – 22.12.2016

The liberation of Aleppo and the withdrawal of radical militants from this Syrian city provoked a storm of responses and comments across various Middle Eastern media sources.

While trying to downplay this major Damascus’ success, media sources from the anti-Syrian camp have been trying to raise arguments. They perceive the fall of Aleppo as the direct result of various intrigues and conspiracies, while admitting that there were serious miscalculations made by the so-called “opposition”. At the same time those media sources curse the West for it allegedly turning its back on the Syrian “revolutionary fighters” and Turkey for the “betrayal of their cause”, etc.

The Pro-Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, however, was forced to recognize the liberation of Aleppo as a major victory of Damascus that was achieved with an extensive amount of support provided by Russia.

At the same time it’s getting clear that the sponsors of the so-called opposition, especially those of the Persian Gulf, are determined to deny any responsibility for the failure of their militants. One of the most influential Saudi newspaper Okaz is critisizing the anti-Assad camp for living in luxury hotels outside Syria. It is outraged that, in the light of the recent events in Aleppo these “ungrateful salon revolutionaries” have started criticizing Persian Gulf monarchies for not providing enough support for them. They look at the kingdom as a “cash machine”, the newspaper argues, the only purpose of which is to refill their pockets with golden coins by taking advantage of the bloodshed and suffering of their fellow citizens.

Other media sources from the anti-Assad camp are cheerfully noting that they’ve lost a battle, but they didn’t lose a war.

The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir believes that the fall of Aleppo is the direct result of the failure of the pro-Western forces in Syria. Even though the so-called opposition had the control of large Syrian cities for years, they have already shown that they are unable to govern effectively even in those territories that they were occupying. In fact, what they’ve done resulted in a complete paralysis of all government structures, that may soon result in the complete Somaliazation of the whole country. The opposition could only achieve success in a certain area, but haven’t had any comprehensive strategy worth mentioning. In contrast, government forces are aiming at liberating the territories of their country and at rebuilding them.

Against this background, we’ve witnessed an intensified media war, with at least 60 different major TV stations purposefully trying to distort the events in Syria. This propaganda machine is being fueled by the petrodollars provided by the Persian Gulf monarchies, and the latter aren’t going to stop.

It seems that we’ve heard it all already, Damascus being accused of the use of chemical weapons against the population, Syrian and Russian troops being involved in the nonexistent “atrocities” against the civilian population, the alleged destruction of schools and hospitals; the assertion that Russia’s policy in Syria and throughout the region is one-sided.

Today in the ranks of the anti-Assad propagandists one can spot signs of massive confusion. According to the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, four “media activists” of a number of jihadist groups in Aleppo surrendered to authorities long before the fall of the city. This got the opposition puzzled since those who escaped were involved in covert operations and fund raising.

The liberation of Aleppo, says the Iraqi Sawt al-Iraq news site, means that millions of dollars have been thrown to the wind, wasted on the financing of anti-government groups and supplying them with information from different sources. It’s clear at this point that back in 2011 when President Obama announced that Assad’s days were numbered he made a serious mistake. It’s the days of Barack Obama that are numbered now, argues the newspaper, since the former doesn’t have much time in power left.

The Western world is engulfed in hysteria over Aleppo. But they remained silent all the time that the city was occupied by ISIS, al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations, so why start bothering now?

Yury Zinin is a Leading Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

December 22, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Moscow wants Saudi Arabia to join Russia-Turkey-Iran efforts for Syria peace – UN envoy

RT | December 21, 2016

Moscow says that Saudi Arabia should join efforts to find peace in Syria undertaken by Russia, Iran and Turkey, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN envoy, said.

The Foreign Ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to draft a joint statement aimed at resolving the long term conflict in Syria.

According to Churkin, the document was “an extra effort by our three countries” to, among other things, prepare opposition forces “to negotiate with the government, and put them at the same table with the government, so they can develop between themselves some arrangements that would advance the political process.”

It is “very important” that the statement by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara “contained an invitation to other countries that have influence ‘on the ground’ to join such efforts,” he said.

“It seems to me it would be very important for Saudi Arabia to take a similar stance and work in the same direction,” the envoy told Rossiya 24 channel.

The Russia-US talks on resolving the Syrian crisis have stalled, but Churkin says that the situation may change when Donald Trump replaces Barack Obama in the White House.

“I’m going to share my personal interpretation of the things I’ve heard recently,” he said.

According to Churkin’s information, the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he planned to convene a new round of talks about Syria on February 8, 2017.

“I’m sure he (de Mistura) did it only after he had found an opportunity to contact the people on Donald Trump’s team and to coordinate the date with them,” the Russian UN ambassador said.

“That’s good enough a sign because it could be indicative of the ability of the Trump Administration to steer the situation towards a rapid enough unfolding of the political process (in Syria),” Churkin said, again stressing that it was just his “personal interpretation of events.”

He said that Russia is ready to cooperate with Nikki Haley, who Trump plans to propose for the next US envoy at the United Nations.

“She’s a quite young governor of South Carolina, lacking international experience, but I heard some good comments about her,” the Russian envoy said.

However, he stressed that he doesn’t know Haley in person, which makes it hard to predict how the US delegation will act under her in the UN and with the Security Council.

“Anyway, I think it’s early to relax and expect that we’re going to have some kind of nirvana in our work at the UN. It’s going to be a bit more complicated in real life,” Churkin said.

The pullout of militants from the Syrian city of Aleppo “is being completed,” Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Wednesday.

Aleppo was the last major city being held by the rebels in the country, with their withdrawal being agreed though Russian and Turkish mediation.

According to estimates by Russian officials, the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo, which has been under rebel control since 2012, is expected to conclude in a few days.

December 21, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , | 3 Comments