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Ukraine Compromise and Russian Sanctions Deal in the Making?

Next Cold War Roundup 1/20/16

Immediately After Iran Sanctions Lifted, a Flurry of Diplomacy on Ukraine, Russia, EU, Turkey, China, and Last Minute Prep for Syria Peace Talks

_ There are a lot of closed door meetings happening on Ukraine with some heavy hitters in Ukraine, US, Russia, Germany, France.  This comes at a time when the US and Russia seem to be forming an alliance on Syria too and just prior to a critical next step in Lavrov/Kerry Syrian peace talks.  And, of course, just after the lifting of Iran sanctions. Would a compromise or backroom deal involve both? A article “Ukraine: Euromaidan’s godmother engages Kremlin grey cardinal” describes the meetings held last week between Victoria Nuland and Vladislav Surkov. A Donetsk People’s Republic representative, Denis Pushilin, said there would be more “subgroup” meetings Jan. 19-20 in Minsk.  Putin is sending a heavy hitter and someone very close to him, Boris Gryzlov, to Donbass. There may be a “Ukraine-Russia peace deal brewing“. There is more talk of lifting the Russian sanctions.

Sec of State John Kerry and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Zurich. Jan. 20, 2016 (Dept of State)

Sec of State John Kerry and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Zurich. Jan. 20, 2016 (Dept of State)

_ Along with all of this, Stratfor says VP Biden and Victoria Nuland will hold talks with Turkish leaders at the end of this week too. Stratfor suggests that Turkey is willing to deploy ground troops in Syria but they can’t while Russia is guarding that border, and while there is a state of de facto war between the two countries after the fighter jet was shot down. And don’t forget China’s Xi Jinping’s state visits in the Middle East this week (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran).

_ Kremlin reported the phone call from Obama on Weds. Jan 13. as a “substantive discussion on issues of settling the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East with a focus on finding ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, as well as the situation on the Korean Peninsula.” Kerry’s recent trip to Moscow was a “prelude” and related to the Obama call.  The day after Obama called,  King Abdullah II of Jordan called Putin about Syria.

Germany Will Not Allow Destabilization of Libya and Wave of Refugees to Europe

_ Germany is considering deploying troops to Libya as “advances by Islamic militants in Libya pose a new threat to Europe and could unleash a new wave of refugees.”  Their defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said “Western ground troops would be a wrong answer in this situation” but also said it would provide support and that the Libyan government “will soon need assistance in restoring law and order in this country. As well as in the fight against Daesh which threatens Libya.” Von der Leyen said if ISIS in Libya allies with Boko Haram “an axis of terror will be created that will be able to destabilize large swathes of Africa,” she said. “This would result in a new refugee influx, which we cannot allow.” [Emphasis added.] This sounds like an official preparing the German public for more than just a supporting role.

_ Sending German troops would be a shift toward interventionism for Germany who opposed the NATO intervention and overthrow of Gaddafi, though they only abstained on the UN resolution and did not vote against it. But Germany has favored “negotiations and dialogue” over the use of force, a view that has “dominated German politics since at least summer 2002” and this played a big role in the JCPOA Iran deal.

Indeed, in a 2009 book about Germany and Iran, the German political scientist Matthias Küntzel referred to the emergence of a “new constellation. On the one side, the Western powers, the USA, France and Great Britain and on the other side, Russia, China and the Federal Republic of Germany.” [Emphasis added]

_ There have been rumors of other western nations intervening in Libya besides Germany along with “open secret” of US and other (British, French and Italian) special operations forces (SOF) there. “senior military official” said SOF are there to gather information and look for fighting forces to ally with.  Like Syria, US has difficulties finding reliable ground forces to ally with in the fight against AQIM ISIS who “has in the past few months redirected several hundred foreign fighters originally bound for Syria to its camps in Libya.”


Turkish Army Crossed Border Into Syria

Border crossing at Jarabulus, Syria on west bank of the Euphrates

Border crossing at Jarabulus, Syria on west bank of the Euphrates

_ Kurdish news agency is reporting the Turkish army entered Syria with heavy equipment at the Jarablus border crossing Tuesday night. This is something Joe Biden and Victoria Nuland were supposed to discuss with Turkish leaders later this week.  If the invasion is happening with no coordination, could spell big trouble. “Sources reported that ISIS gangs in the area were all unresponsive to the activity of Turkish soldiers, and just watched them as they moved.”


Kurds Participation in Syria Peace Talks

_ Sputnik and basnews reports that Syrian officials traveled to meet with Syrian Kurdish groups to talk about participation in the peace talks.


Fighting in Turkmen Mountains near Turkish Border in Latakia, Syria

_ Battles continue in the Turkmen Mountains as al Nusra and FSA launched a counter offensive to try to regain territory recently lost to the Syrian army and allies. One report claims failure and a retreat on Monday.

Activity at Previously Secret US Airbase in Northeastern Syria

New (unconfirmed) US air base in northeast Syria - Rimelan, Al Hasakah

New (unconfirmed) US air base in northeast Syria – Rimelan, Al Hasakah

_ There were rumors of a new US base in Hasakah region of Syria (northeast) more than a month ago (we reported here) — a cropdusting farm converted into an airbase.  That would be the first official US military base in Syria, if it is confirmed.


_ Via Al Rai’s Magnier: “USA pushes Iran out of Iraq and leaves Syria to Russia“. Bottom line is that Iran was not able to save Iraq from ISIS. A source in Iraqi PM’s office told Magnier that the US delay in responding to ISIS was deliberate — “Teach Iraq a lesson for rejecting U.S. military bases.” The Kurds are building a pipeline with Turkey where Iraqi gas will be extracted and transported to the Turkish market.

“The split within the “Shia house” is coming out to public in Iraq […] For the Kurds, the will for an independent state is overwhelming. Oil is exported to several countries and natural gas deal is signed off with Turkey without asking Baghdad’s opinion […] the influence of the “Islamic State” (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh) group on the ground is in decline, as well as the Iranian impact among the Iraqi decision-makers in Baghdad for the benefit of the United States of America. […] But [Iran’s] support was not enough to stop the ISIS expansion.”

Batchelor and Cohen on Flurry of Diplomatic Activity in Ukraine

_ Via last night’s weekly radio show with John Batchelor and Stephen F. Cohen about all the calls, meetings with leaders and diplomats.  Here are some of the interesting points they made:

  • Batchelor – sources tell him that activists in Washington have published and are distributing “Wanted” posters for Yatsenyuk and others; DNI Clapper says Russia is fighting hybrid warfare in the Black Sea basin by funding right-wing nationalist groups like Golden Dawn
  • Cohen – if the rumors of a secret deal are true we’ll know soon.  Obama intensely dislikes Putin but he called him.  Putin appointed men close to him, “problem solvers”, sent one to Kiev and the other to Donbass.  Soon after, Victoria Nuland met with one of them and it was a meeting of the “two Darth Vaders”, the people who escalated things on each side. “This is clearly an attempt to resolve the Ukraine conflict.” Cohen says Putin wants a stable Ukraine and does not want Donbass to separate from it, pressures them to settle for semi-autonomous regions in a federalized Ukraine where they elect their own local & regional governments. If that happened, according to Cohen, ‘Kiev could get their borders back.’ (Notably, Daniel Fried, State Dept.’s Coordinator for Sanctions Policy talked about borders too, and Russia ‘getting out of the Donbass‘).
  • Cohen – there’s trouble at the Kremlin during the past two week. “A kind of civil war over power and policy has broken out in the political class over economic and foreign policy and it came down to, this week, a demand, by people who think Putin is too liberal economically and too soft in foreign policy, not hawkish enough, that he get rid of his prime minister Dmitri Medvyedev because Medvyedev represents the so called pro-Western liberal economics, free market group of policy makers in Russia. The fact that calls for Medvyedev’s removal would be made now…means that things are getting very tense over policy” and one paper blamed Putin for “the mess that Russia’s in today.”
  • Batchelor – Biden and Nuland are being sent to Turkey to try to mediate between Russia and Turkey.

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Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.