Russia will be deploying S-400 missile defense systems to Syria, the Russian defense minister says.
“The S-400 anti-aircraft missile system will be deployed to the Hmeimim airbase,” Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday, referring to the Russian airbase outside the port city of Latakia in western Syria.
The system is the most advanced one owned by Russia in the field of air defense. The missile system, an upgrade of the S-300 family, is capable of intercepting and destroying airborne targets such as aircraft and ballistic and cruise missiles at distances of up to 400 kilometers (250 miles).
The official’s remarks came a day after the Turkish Air Force shot down a Sukhoi Su-24M Fencer, which they had accused of having violated Turkish airspace. Russia denies the allegation.
Russian presidential press officer Dmitry Peskov also said Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed with the proposal made by the Defense Ministry to transfer the missile systems to Hmeimim.
Also on Tuesday, Russian media reported that Russian missile cruiser Moskva equipped with the Fort air defense system, similar to S-300, will be stationed off the coast of Syria’s Latakia province.
Since September 30, Russia has been conducting aerial operations against Daesh, al-Nusra Front, and the other terrorist groups that have been sowing fear and destruction among the Syrian country’s civilian population.
Damascus has hailed the Russian military engagement, which came upon the Syrian government’s request saying that since the beginning of the campaign, terrorists had begun to retreat and flee in thousands.
The foreign-sponsored conflict in Syria has thus far claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and left over one million injured, according to the United Nations.
A US-led coalition has also been pounding purported Daesh positions inside Syria without any authorization from Damascus or a United Nations mandate since last September. The mission has fallen severely short of dislodging the terrorists.
The delivery of Russian S-300 anti-missile rocket systems to Iran has started, Iran’s ambassador to Moscow said in an interview. Iran is getting one of the latest versions of the air defence complex.
The delivery is underway, ambassador Mehdi Sanaei told Persian-language daily, Etemaad, as cited by Tasnim news agency.
The news was not welcome in Washington, with US State Department spokesman Mark Toner reiterating the US stance on the issue in a briefing on Monday.
“We made clear time and again our objections to any sale of the S-300 missile system to Iran,” Toner told reporters.
Earlier this month Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan announced Tehran is going to get Russian air defence systems by the end of the year, which in Iran ends on March 20, 2016.
Brigadier General Dehghan stressed that a major batch of the hardware is going to be delivered in less than two months’ time.
“Iran has bought as many S-300 air defense systems as it needs,” Dehghan said, adding that Iranian operators of S-300 system are being trained in Russia.
The initial S-300 contract between Moscow and Tehran was signed in 2007 and implied the delivery of five S-300 squadrons worth $US 800 million.
In 2010 the contract was put on hold by then-President Dmitry Medvedev due to the UN imposing sanctions on Iran. In return, Iran lodged a $4 billion lawsuit at an international court in Geneva against Russia’s arms export agency Rosoboronexport.
In April 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin repealed the ban. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on the decision, saying Moscow’s voluntary embargo on S-300 deliveries was no longer necessary due to the progress in talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
In October, Iran’s Defense Ministry confirmed Moscow’s readiness to deliver the S-300 system under an agreement signed between the two countries.
Sergey Chemezov, the head of the Russian state-owned high-tech giant Rostec, said that the new contract came into force on November 9.
Iran has bought Russia’s most well-known air defense systems in one of its latest versions S-300PMU-2 Favorite, TASS reported earlier this month during the Dubai Airshow 2015.
The last time Russia supplied S-300 systems abroad was in 2010, when 15 squadrons were delivered to China.
On Sunday, Argentina held a runoff vote to pick its next president, resulting in a narrow victory for conservative Let’s Change coalition candidate Mauricio Macri over his center-left Front for Victory coalition opponent, Daniel Scioli. The question on everybody’s mind now is: what should Argentinians, and the world, expect from the new government?
An estimated 80% of Argentina’s 32 million eligible voters went to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president, in a runoff vote between the two leading candidates from the first round of voting, held in late October. With 51.5% of the votes cast in favor of conservative candidate Mauricio Macri, the favorite of the country’s big business and private media, the country is set for a hard right turn.In the run up to the election, analysts in both Latin America and across the loose global coalition of countries opposed to a unipolar world order had worryingly suggested that a Macri victory would result in a rollback to the policies pursued by Buenos Aires over the past decade aimed at challenging US hegemony, both in the region and around the world.
Daniel Scioli, the candidate of the Peronist, center-left Front for Victory electoral alliance, had promised to continue outgoing President Cristina Fernandez’ center-left-oriented politics domestically, and to pursue an independent foreign policy course abroad.
Throughout Fernandez’ tenure (she was elected in 2007) and that of her late husband, Nestor Kirchner (elected in 2003), Argentina had aligned itself with the string of left-wing Latin American governments emerging in the region in the early 2000s, while pushing for new economic and political ties with the BRICS countries, including Russia and China. Now, with Macri’s victory, the country’s multipolar outlook is under threat.
At the moment, Russian-Argentinian political and economic ties are believed to be at historic highs, characterized by the Russian ambassador to Buenos Aires as “excellent” and “extremely constructive and trusting.” Earlier this year, ahead of Fernandez’ official state visit to Moscow in April, Argentina’s Ambassador to Russia, Pablo Anselmo Tettamanti, went so far as to describe relations to be at the highest levels they have ever been in the countries’ 130-year-long history of bilateral relations.
During her visit to Russia, President Fernandez met with President Vladimir Putin, signing over 20 memorandums on economic cooperation, said to amount to an “all-encompassing strategic partnership.”
The agreements included joint projects on the development of hydroelectric, nuclear and fossil-based energy in Argentina, including the construction of the sixth bloc at the Atucha nuclear power plant, along with a $2 billion memorandum on the construction of a new hydroelectric dam. Meanwhile, Russian energy giant Gazprom signed a memorandum on the exploration and development of gas fields with Argentine state gas company YPF, a deal amounting to $1 billion in investments. Russian company Uralmash was also tapped to build a plant manufacturing oil extraction equipment, amounting to an additional $1.9 billion in investments.
In the course of the visit, the two sides promised to conduct consultations on the use of each other’s national currencies for trade, pledging to increase cooperation in the military-technical sphere, accelerating construction of the GLONASS satellite navigation systems, and negotiating on the prospects of increasing bilateral food trade (presently amounting to about $1.3 billion).In the sphere of political cooperation, President Fernandez voiced her support for Moscow’s position that the situation in Ukraine could only be resolved by peaceful means, with the Russian president, for his part, pledging support for “Argentina’s striving for direct talks with Britain to achieve prompt resolution to the Mavinas [Falklands] Islands dispute.”
Visiting Moscow in July, Argentinian Vice President Amado Boudou emphasized that Argentina’s diplomatic moves toward improving relations with Russia were based on the fact that the two countries “share a very strong position with a common vision of the need for a multipolar world to ensure the existence of an inclusive and autonomous policy.”
Now, following Macri’s election victory, Argentina’s strategy of promoting regional integration in Latin America, and a multipolar world order, may be coming to an end. With Mexican economist Ariel Noyola Rodriguez suggesting only months ago that the Russian-Argentinian partnership signaled “Washington’s incapacity to sabotage the construction of a multipolar world,” it seems that the analyst may have spoken too soon.
With Fernandez (and her husband before her) becoming a major thorn in Washington’s side, the latter unhappy over the Peronists’ efforts to extract the country and the region from its subservient position in the US’s so-called ‘backyard’, the election of Macri, who promised to immediately improve relations with Washington, must come as a welcome change.
The conservative politican has already hinted that he would give less weight to Mercosur –the South American trade bloc aimed at ensuring regional economic integration and development, and shift the country’s diplomacy away from close cooperation with the leftist governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil.
And while his victory may not nullify the economic and other cooperation agreements reached with Russia, China, and other BRICS countries over the past decade, it does threaten Buenos Aires’ general trajectory of development –the country’s moves toward regional integration and a multipolar world independent of Washington’s influence.
For the Argentinian People: A Return to Neoliberalism?
As far as the Argentinian people are concerned, Macri’s victory is feared by his critics to mark a throwback to neoliberal dogmas which plagued the country prior to Kirchner’s 2003 election victory.
For their part, the British and American business press couldn’t help but gloat in the moment, with Financial Times suggesting it was “the beginning of a new political era for South America’s second-largest economy,” and The Wall Street Journal trash-talking Fernandez and her party, and suggesting that her economic policies, “uncivil rants against her political opponents, and a substantial loss of judicial independence and press freedom during kirchnerismo” contributed to Scioli’s defeat. Bloomberg Business, naturally, focused on the election’s effects on the markets, finding it crucial to point out that “in anticipation of a Macri victory, bond yields fell to an eight-year low and the local stock market rallied to a record high.”
But not everyone is convinced that this ‘new political era’ will bring positive changes, at least for ordinary Argentinians. In the run up to the voite, Scioli and his supporters warned that Macri’s proposals, which promised a return to neoliberal economic policies, would amount to “savage capitalism,” eroding social welfare and creating an economy which catered to a wealthy minority.
It’s worth recalling that before the Kirchners, Argentina was viewed as a textbook example of a developing country enveloped by the so-called Washington Consensus, a set of neoliberal economic dogmas which resulted in extremely high unemployment (over 25% in 2003), high poverty rates (nearly 55%), and a high Gini index.Under Kirchner and Fernandez, the country pursued social and economic policies that amounted to the creation of a mixed Keynesian economy, promoting government intervention where necessary, support for medium and small businesses, and a push for export growth via regional economic integration.
According to pan-Latin American news channel Telesur, these efforts resulted in the reduction of unemployment to 6.6% in 2015 (with 5 million jobs created over the past ten years), the reduction of poverty from over 50% to 6.5%, the creation of 50,000 small and medium-sized businesses, a major industrialization drive via the Industrial Parks National Program, increases in the share of GDP spent on education and pensions (from 3.6% and 4.1% in 2003 to 6.5% and 7.7% of GDP in 2013, respectively), and the near doubling of public investment, all the while reducing the national debt from 166% of GDP in 2003 to 41%.
In the areas of social policies, Kirchner and Fernandez began a comprehensive reform of the country’s justice system (making the Supreme Court independent), while annulling the ‘laws of pardon’ which gave immunity to the leaders of the country’s military dictatorship of 1976-1983 accused of crimes against humanity. The country also became the first in Latin America, and the tenth in the world, to pass equal marriage laws, in 2010.
Now, these gains, which came at a cost of high inflation (offset to an extent by annual negotiations between unions, employers and employees on adjusting wages) are under threat, with Macri’s critics saying his policies (including tax cuts, social spending cuts, and privatization schemes) will favor big business and the country’s oligarchs, sidelining the problems of social inequality, and reverting the country to its 90s’ era social and economic malaise.
Critics have also pointed to Macri’s promises of beginning negotiations with the predatory ‘vulture fund‘ creditors that rejected the debt restructuring which took place following the country’s default in 2002, giving an indication not only of his upcoming domestic economic policy, but also his possible subservience to the Western-dominated economic institutions which Argentina rejected under the Kirchners.Ultimately, only time will tell whether Argentina’s new government will continue to pursue policies based on economic and political pragmatism which have brought Buenos Aires closer to those countries looking to challenge global unipolarity (with some analysts already suggesting that they will).
As far as Argentina itself is concerned, it remains unclear how a return to the neoliberalism which devastated the country’s economy in the early 2000s will do it any good. As Russian social media users commenting on the election results lamented, it seems that too many Argentinians have forgotten the neoliberal catastrophe and ‘de-sovereignization’ of the 90s, processes which Russians themselves know all too well.
RAMALLAH – The number of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli gunfire since October 1, has reached 82, Jerusalem Center for Israeli-Palestinian studies revealed. 78% of the reported victims were executed in cold-blood.
The majority of the reported victims were from al-Khalil where 28 youths were executed by Israeli gunfire in the city.
16 children and seven women were also among the victims, the center added.
The Jerusalem Center called on international human rights groups to seriously work on putting an end to the Israeli crimes and violations of international laws.
Arab nations, who initially took part in the US-led airstrikes against ISIL, have grown wary of Washington’s scheming in the Middle East and have switched their efforts to tackle what they perceive as real threats, military expert Vladimir Prohvatilov told Radio Sputnik.
“Many know perfectly well that the US is not really interested in defeating ISIL. Washington’s true aim is to create a zone of controlled chaos in the Middle East to deal with geopolitical and geo-economic issues. America’s task is to spark a bloody conflict and drag others into it,” the analyst asserted.
Washington’s plans for the Middle East, according to Prohvatilov, prompted Canada’s newly elected prime minister to pull out of the anti-ISIL bombing campaign. Delivering on this promise would mean that Justin Trudeau does not view the operation led by the US as beneficial for Canada.
This stance is not exclusive to Ottawa, the expert maintains. Many Arab countries which nominally take part in the US-led efforts share this position.
“People [in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar] are used to high living standards and do not want to take part in a war. The Saudi Army is essentially manned by Pakistani mercenaries. Saudi nationals have no wish to fight,” he asserted.
Washington’s Arab allies have switched their attention to Yemen and see tackling the Houthis as a priority.
“Riyadh views the Houthis as a threat since they are capable of calling to arms as many as 200,000 seasoned fighters. The same goes for Jordan and Qatar. They perceive Yemen as a real threat while ISIL is a subtle game engineered by the US,” Prohvatilov noted.
Washington’s stance towards Moscow’s counterterrorism efforts in Syria is also a part of this game.
“The Americans want the Russians either to stop the campaign (so that Washington could accuse Moscow of a military defeat or cowardice) or to expand it so that Russia would bear all the cost” of a major military engagement, he added.
Britain’s most famous crown jewel, the Koh-i-Noor, could be returned to India if a group of Bollywood stars and businessmen succeed in their lawsuit against the UK.
David de Souza, co-founder of Indian leisure group Titos, is helping to fund the legal action that claims the diamond – once the world’s largest – was stolen by the British during India’s colonization.
The move coincides with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK this week, during which he will meet the Queen for lunch at Buckingham Palace.
The British government has so far rejected claims to the jewel.
The 105-carat diamond was acquired by the British when Punjab was annexed by the East India Company in 1849.
The last ruler of the Sikh Empire, then 13-year-old Dulip Singh, was brought to England to present it to Queen Victoria in 1850.
It was worn by the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, at the coronation of her husband, King George VI, in 1937 and again by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953.
“The Koh-i-Noor is one of the many artifacts taken from India under dubious circumstances,” De Souza told the Sunday Telegraph.
“Colonization did not only rob our people of wealth, it destroyed the country’s psyche itself. It brutalized society, traces of which linger on today in the form of mass poverty, lack of education and a host of other factors.”
A group which calls itself the ‘Mountain of Light’ – a direct translation of the Koh-i-Noor – is launching the lawsuit through Birmingham-based law firm Rubric Lois King.
Bollywood star Bhumicka Singh is adding her support to the claim.
“The Koh-i-Noor is not just a 105-carat stone, but part of our history and culture and should undoubtedly be returned,” she said.
Lawyer Satish Jakhu said the litigants are basing their case on the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act, which gives national institutions in the UK the power to return stolen art.
He added they would argue that the British government had stolen the diamond under the common law doctrine of “trespass to goods.”
News of the lawsuit has irked some apologists for British imperialism, with historian Andrew Roberts describing it as “ludicrous.”
“Those involved in this ludicrous case should recognize that the British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernization, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratization of the sub-continent,” he told the Mail on Sunday.
Lebanon’s former President Emile Lahoud says the Israeli regime has benefited most from political assassinations in the country, including that of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, Press TV reports.
In an exclusive interview with Press TV, segments of which were aired on Saturday, Lahoud rejected accusations that the Syrian government and Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah had a role in the 2005 assassination of Hariri.
The Tel Aviv regime was the entity that largely benefited from Hariri’s killing and other assassinations in Lebanon, Lahoud stated.
He also cited as a proof the fact that the satellites that were watching over the area where Hariri was killed in Beirut belonged to Israel and the United States. Neither Tel Aviv nor Washington later accepted to share their data and images on the assassination, he said.
The former Lebanese president said the West and Israel have accused everybody in Lebanon for the killing, so that they can divert public attention from their own potential role in the incident.
Lahoud said the assassination of Hariri showed that the United States and Saudi Arabia have been doing what Israel wants them to do in the Middle East.
Ankara is worried about possible Kurdish-American collaboration after the backing the Kurds got from Moscow, says Dr. Jamal Wakim, Professor of History and International Relations at Lebanese University.
Turkey says it will carry out a military operation against ISIS in the near future, without specifying when.
RT: Turkey’s already carrying out air strikes. What kind of military operation does it have in mind now?
Dr. Jamal Wakim: Well, I believe that Turkey’s declaration that it intends to launch a military operation against ISIL is a mere cover up for its real intention to wage a war against the Kurds. It is on the Kurds and against the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] militants. Especially that Turkey is worried now; mainly Erdogan is worried about the prospects of Kurdish-American collaboration after the backing that the Kurds got from Moscow.
In this case the Kurds of Turkey, who are spread over 40 percent of Eastern Anatolia, will be in a better position to pressure for getting their own rights within Turkey on the one hand, and maybe they can push for autonomy or even independence as they claimed in the past four decades. So that is why I believe that the real intention is to wage a war against the Kurds and marginalize them at the time when the Kurds are getting support from both the US and Russia at the same time.
RT: Turkey has been using its air strikes to take out Kurdish targets. Is fighting ISIL just a pretext?
Dr. JW: In the past two years the main support that ISIL got was from Turkey. Mainly there were media reports in the West about logistical support, about using Turkish airports – ISIL militants would go to Turkish airports and then go by land to Northern Syria and Iraq. When Turkey declared that it was launching attacks on ISIL, actually its main attacks were on the Kurds of Northern Syria.
There were even media reports that said that ISIL served the purpose of Turkey to clear out the Kurds from Northern Syria, especially in the case of Kobani at one point, and to target the Christian population that is considered as hostile to Turkish influence in Northern Syria. That is why I don’t believe that the intention of Turkey is really to fight ISIL.
The Infamous Video of an Aircraft Exploding in Air at High Altitude and the “Big Chutzpah” Construct
By Doug E. Steil | Aletho News | November 7, 2015
Only a day after the Russian Metrojet airliner Flight 9268 went down, killing 224 people, a short video went onto the Internet on YouTube, purporting to show the explosion of the Airbus 321-200 aircraft in mid-air, at roughly 30 thousand feet elevation. This video was immediately ridiculed because the group claiming responsibility for bringing down the airliner, ISIS, which was said to have presented the video as proof, did not have the sophisticated military capacity, according to intelligence analysts, to shoot down any aircraft at such an altitude. Yet the video did not show a missile approaching the jet, nor did the group claim to have shot it down in such a manner. It simply showed an explosive burst, consistent with a bomb being detonated, and heavy black smoke trailing the aircraft as it subsequently descended.
Even though a civilian style aircraft, with two engines mounted below its wings, can be discerned, and no such video had previously been seen — nor were there reports of any civilian aircraft with such features having exploded in mid-air during daytime — the video was denounced as a fake (computer generated imagery) nonetheless, perhaps because the video quality was poor or not sufficiently specific, which was suspiciously indicative of an attempt to obfuscate any confirmatory information.
A dose of skepticism is certainly legitimate when being presented with such videos, which may be intended to convey false political propaganda. However, since no compelling proof of the imagery not possibly showing what was claimed has yet been presented, the authenticity cannot be completely discounted. Indeed, this question is currently a point of discussion on some technical forums. What appears to be the case is that the shaky nature of both embedded videos — a second version appears at 20 seconds in the 32 second video — both came from two mobile phone camera recordings that were taken of a screen playback of the explosion. It has also been suggested that the imagery was actually shot from another aircraft following the fateful jet from farther below. Though this was likely the case, it would not necessarily invalidate the claimed authenticity of this particular jet being shown.
It should be noted that a professional quality video recording, filmed through a heavy zoom lens mounted upon a camera on a stationary tripod, would provide investigators with sufficient information to calculate a small circle on the ground from where the shots were most probably taken, which would likely not be in the interest of the perpetrators or co-conspirators. If, for the sake of argument, one presumes the authenticity of what was being filmed, then the most interesting and compelling proof of a desire to obfuscate and mislead comes from the obvious image reversal, which is particularly evident during the first second. The sky to the left of the screen is bright whereas, in stark contrast, it is dark on the right side, though exactly the opposite should be the case because the jet was then flying northward at a track of 340° in the morning, shortly after sunrise.
The ground track in the eastern portion of the Sinai peninsula during the final minutes of flight was exactly parallel to and 40 km away from the border between Israel and Egypt. The mid-air explosion occurred west of the highest mountain in the Negev Desert (Har Raman, 1035 meters), not hard to make out on a topographic map of the area. The impulse of the explosion and its aerodynamic effects then changed the heading of the aircraft by more then 15°. When viewing the video through a mirror to correct the image reversal, one sees that the vantage point of the camera is behind, below, and to the right (east) of the aircraft’s flight path. When one accepts the notion that the incident was filmed from another aircraft, pursuing the Airbus in roughly the same direction, then one must logically conclude that the video was taken from within — or just slightly outside of — Israeli airspace, likely by a surveillance drone, operating in the southern region, north of Eilat. One would expect Israeli surveillance drones to operate here on a regular basis because this region, at the northernmost part in the Gulf of Aqaba, is strategically important; the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt nearly converge here.
While the notion of a military drone operating near this particular region on a Saturday morning may not be unusual, what certainly should raise some questions is that the Russian Metrojet aircraft — assuming, as before, that the video is not a fake but authentic — would have been pursued and filmed (surveillance operations would be more interested in what happens on the ground rather than pursuing a civilian airliner emitting its tracking data by beacon and not posing a potential threat). Even more worthy of question or inquiry is that these modified (second-hand) video versions of the on-board explosion and descent of the aircraft would be loaded onto the Internet the next day, allegedly by the ISIS terrorist group, which has been publicly exposed to be in an alliance with Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia in the Syrian battleground.
While the concept of the “Big Lie” is based on the idea that (nearly) everyone will believe a major fabrication that is completely untrue because these heavily conditioned people couldn’t possibly imagine that their government would dare lie to them so blatantly about something so important, viewers of the video may have been subjected to the opposite phenomenon, namely “Big Chutzpah”, the raw truth presented right in your face in such a brazen way that (nearly) everyone will still refuse to believe it because these people cannot possibly imagine that the Israeli government would dare to actually do something like that.
A recent poll carried out by France’s Le Figaro newspaper has indicated that at least 72 percent of respondents want Syrian President Bashar Assad to remain in power.
The survey, published on Thursday, asked: “Should world powers demand Bashar Assad to leave?” At least 28 percent from 21,314 respondents have voted “Yes” so far, while the majority – 72 percent – have said “No”.
The poll was conducted ahead of the Vienna talks, where 19 global powers gathered to find a solution for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria. The fate of Assad remained the stumbling block during discussions.
The US and its allies including Saudi Arabia repeatedly said the Syrian president, whose term expires in 2021, must resign.
“There is no way President Assad can unite and govern Syria,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said during the meeting, adding, “Syrians deserve a different choice.”
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Syrian people “should define the future of their country… including Assad’s fate.”
Earlier in October, a member of Moscow’s parliamentary delegation told TASS that Assad had agreed to hold preliminary elections in the country, provided the move has the people’s backing.
Syria has been caught up in a civil war since 2011, when violent protests erupted as part of the so-called Arab spring. During the turmoil, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS) militants managed to capture large amounts of territory in Syria and Iraq.
On September 30, Moscow launched a military operation targeting IS positions following a formal request from Assad.
A Russian legislator says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has expressed preparedness to run for another seven-year term in office in the future presidential election should the Arab nation support such a move.
“He is ready to conduct elections with the participation of all political forces who want Syria to prosper,” Russian lawmaker, Alexander Yushchenko, said following talks with Assad in Syria’s capital, Damascus, on Sunday.
Yushchenko added that the Syrian leader is ready to take part in the polls “if the people are not against it.”
“At our meeting, Mr. Assad announced his readiness to discuss changes to the Constitution of Syria, as well as hold free parliamentary elections with the participation of all political forces committed to the prosperity of the Syrian Republic,” the Russian parliamentarian pointed out.
He noted that Assad drew a parallel between the ongoing events in Ukraine, and the current situation in Syria, saying, “Although these countries are different, the architect behind what is happening today is the same. Nationalists in Ukraine and Daesh terrorists are receiving orders from one center.”
Assad secured a landslide victory in Syria’s last presidential elections on June 3, 2014. The poll was held in government-held areas, and amid high security.
Syria’s parliament speaker, Jihad al-Laham, said Assad had garnered 88.7 percent of the votes, while his two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3 percent and 3.2 percent respectively. The supreme constitutional court put turnout at 73.42 percent.
The foreign-sponsored conflict in Syria, which flared in March 2011, has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and left over one million injured, according to the United Nations.
The world body says 12.2 million people, including more than 5.6 million children, remain in need of humanitarian assistance. The foreign-sponsored militancy has displaced 7.6 million people.
Germany, Turkey and Italy will maintain their current troop levels in Afghanistan, NATO officials said on Monday after the United States announced that it will prolong its military presence there.
General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander in Europe, said he had assurances that NATO countries will continue alongside the nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
“Several of our largest contributors have already communicated with us that they will remain in their current posture,” Breedlove told Reuters.
Germany, NATO’s top contributor, has around 850 troops in Afghanistan, followed by Italy with 760 and about 500 for Turkey, according to the latest NATO data.
The decision comes after the Taliban’s brief takeover of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, which raised concern about the strength of Afghan state forces.
“We should make any changes on our troop structure based on conditions on the ground, not on schedules,” Breedlove said.
US President Barack Obama had aimed to withdraw all but a small US force before leaving office. But now he will instead maintain the current force of 9,800 through most of 2016 before starting to trim numbers 2017.
Unlike the United States, NATO has never set an end date to its “Resolute Support” training mission in Afghanistan, which now stands at 6,000 troops from some 40 countries.
US-led NATO invaded Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ousting the Taliban government from Kabul.