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Obama ASEAN Comments Signal Return to Regime Change Policy in Syria

Next Cold War Roundup 2/17/16

Obama’s Harsh Remarks for Russia

_ At the ASEAN conference, Obama received questions about recent advances by the Syria-Russia coalition.  His position sounds very much like a return to the aggressive, neocon + interventionist blend that had been toned down in the past month or so.  The full transcript is linked below and should be read because the message, like the American policy in Syria, is still mixed and muddled.

Now, what I said was, is that Russia would involve itself in a quagmire.  Absolutely, it will.  If there’s anybody who thinks that somehow the fighting ends because Russia and the regime has made some initial advances — about three-quarters of the country is still under control of folks other than Assad.  That’s not stopping anytime soon. [Transcript]

_ Assessment of Obama’s comments at ASEAN at SST is that Obama himself is driving the interventionism that you hear in the words of Sec Def Ash Carter and NATO’s Breedlove and that he’s made it clear “Russian assertiveness as something not to be endured.”

_ RT sums up Obama’s comments at ASEAN below and a member of the anti-war ANSWER coalition concludes that he has reverted to “the old policy of championing regime change in Damascus”.

The US president has claimed that Russian involvement in Syria is a sign of weakness and has pressed for regime change in Damascus, brushing aside ongoing peace talks and ignoring steady gains by the Syrian army and Kurdish forces against terrorists.

Obama was doubling down on a claim made in December last year that Russia was getting bogged down in an “inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict” in Syria. He dismissed the recent victories of the Syrian Arab Army and the Kurdish fighters north of Aleppo as “initial advances,” and said that three quarters of Syria was still controlled by forces other than the government in Damascus.

US-Backed Forces in Syria Working at Cross Purposes

 

 

Aleppo

_ Kurdish forces now have full control of Tel Rifaat, several kilometers from the Turkish border, north of Aleppo.  Syrian army is getting very close to ISIS-held area in northern Aleppo region.

_ A hospital and school were struck by “projectiles” in Azaz, killing at least 22 people.  Turkish prime minister, in Kiev, claimed they were hit by Russian cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea. CNN says it is unclear who is responsible for the strikes. Russia’s Ministry of Defence denies accusations and says “we have no ships in the Caspian flotilla which are able to launch such strikes.” The Kremlin also denied that they were responsible for the four rockets that hit an MSF-affiliated hospital in Idlib. A member of Russia’s upper house of Parliament said the airstrikes on the hospital were launched by “an aircraft departing Incirlik airbase in Turkey.” The Syrian ambassador to Moscow accused the US and said there is intelligence to prove it.  This would be the second accusation of US airstrikes on a hospital that were then blamed on Russia, the previous accusation resulting in a social media battle last week between the US anti-ISIS spokesman and the Russian Ministry of Defence.

_ Aleppo rebel groups are uniting under leadership of former Ahrar al-Sham chief Hashem al-Sheikh aka Abu Jaber. Ahrar al-Sham itself will be part of the new alliance along with some FSA groups backed by the US and other groups. The fact that they are uniting under Ahrar al-Sham, an extreme Salafist group that works with al Qaeda, doesn’t bode well for negotiations where Russia and Syria consider them to be a terrorist group.

Turkey

_ The head of Russian parliament’s Defense and Security Committee, Viktor Ozerov, said Russia will not enter into a confrontation with Turkey, as long as Turkey is not striking the Russian military in Syria.  “Considering the fact that Turkish military personnel are not striking the Russian military in Syria, and the goal of our military in Syria is countering terrorism, Russia will not enter into a confrontation with the militaries of other countries that are not included as terrorists so as not to make the tense relations worse than they already are.”  On the same day, Russia’s foreign ministry publicly accused Turkey of supporting terrorism.

_ Mixed messages from Turkey: CNN reports that Turkey’s defense minister, Ismet Yilmaz, said “his country has no intention of sending ground troops into Syria.” Turkey’s main opposition party CHP demands that the government must brief parliament and inform the public about their military’s shelling of Kurds across the border in Syria. Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said ““We are worried about Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian quagmire.” One day earlier he wrote on Twitter that “CHP is against all decisions to plunge Turkey into war.” He said that Erdogan’s foreign policy is not in Turkey’s best interest and tells PM Davutoglu to choose a side, implying that Erdogan and Davutoglu “make politics according to their personal calculations and interests.”

_ On Monday, Angela Merkel told a German newspaper that she supported some kind of a no-fly zone. “In the current situation it would be helpful, if there could be such an area, where none of the parties are allowed to launch aerial attacks, that is to say, a kind of no-fly zone.”

Russia and Iran Warn Against Saudi and/or Turkish Invasion of Syria by Air or Ground

_  Both Russia and Iran are threatening retaliation against foreign forces whose ground forces or air force enter Syria without consent from the Syrian government. Iranian air force Brig. Gen Ismaili said Iran is “ready to defend Syria’s airspace if called upon by Damascus.”  Ismaili said Iran opposes foreign intervention without the consent of Syria’s sovereign government and “any presence there without the cooperation of the Syrian government will fail.” In a quote from a Russian official via Al Rai Media’s Elijah Magnier, “Russian air force will hit Saudi Arabia and Turkish ground forces if these walk into Syria without prior coordination.”

_ Iran will purchase $8 billion in arms from Russia.

 

Saudi and Russian Oil Ministers Meeting

_ Someone leaked information about a “back channel talks” in Qatar, planned in secret, between oil officials of Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela in an attempt to coordinate on oil production. Later, on Wednesday, Iran’s OPEC envoy “snubbed a proposal agreed to by four influential oil producers to cap their crude output if others do the same, with a senior Oil Ministry official saying Tehran has no intention of freezing oil output levels.”

Sunni Arab Army Military Exercise on Iraqi Border: “Northern Thunder”

_ The Saudi announced Sunni Arab Army is conducting a ” large-scale military maneuver” along its border with Iraq. The manuever began shortly after the Saudis announced that it was ready to send ground troops into Syria. Hezbollah’s deputy chief “Sheikh Naim Qasser, dismissed the notion that Riyadh has its own foreign policy or plans in Syria and also dismissed the kingdom as a mere servant of American interests in the region. ” The exercise is the largest ever in the region and being held at “King Khalid Military City, Hafr AlBatin, Northern Province of Saudi Arabia” from Feb. 14 to March 10, 2016.

Syrian Eastward Advance Toward ISIS-Held Al Tabqa Air Base

_ There are reports of an ISIS retreat as the Syrian army “Syrian Arab Army’s 555th Brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division – in close coordination with the National Defense Forces (NDF), Liwaa Suqour Al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade), Fouj Al-Joulan (Golani Regiment), and the pro-government Palestinian militia “Liwaa Al-Quds)” advance to the east.

Palmyra

_ CNN goes to Palmyra to report on Syrian Army progress against ISIS

ISIS Used Chemical Weapons Against Peshmerga

_ OPCW tests “confirmed that Islamic State (ISIS) attacked Kurdish Peshmerga forces with mustard gas last year.”

Ukraine Government Falling Apart

_ Another “reformer” in Ukraine government quit and the IMF is threatening to cut off aid. Calls to reshuffle the Yatsenyuk cabinet continue but they’d like to do it without triggering new elections at a disadvantageous time for them.  A no-confidence vote was held and Yatsenyuk survived it, reportedly with the help of a powerful oligarch. This happened some hours after Ukraine president Poroshenko asked Yatsenyuk to step down. “Recent opinion polls suggest that support for Mr Yatsenyuk’s bloc is at 1%.”

Turkey-Israel Reconciliation

_ Turkey and Israel are close to negotiating terms for reconciliation.  The fact that both want to play a role in becoming significant suppliers of natural gas (via a pipeline from the Med, through Turkey and Greece to the rest of Europe) is helping the reconciliation along, especially since the TurkStream deal between Russia and Turkey fell through.

Free Syrian Army TOW in Homs (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia
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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.