Next Cold War Roundup 2/26/16
The Cessation of Hostilities in Syria is scheduled to begin today at 5pm Eastern (Feb 27 00:00 Damascus time). There was a significant contrast between the words and tones of Pres. Obama and Pres. Putin in their delivered messages to their respective countries on the ceasefire agreement with Obama’s being more skeptical and Putin’s somber but optimistic. Sec. of State Kerry adopted a more threatening tone, announcing a “Plan B” intervention if the agreement does not hold.
Cessation of Hostilities Agreement on Syria
_ On Tuesday, Kremlin press service reported Putin spoke with Syrian president Assad and Saudi King Salman. Kremlin refers to the cessation of hostilities deal as “Russian-U.S. agreement on the partial cease-fire“. Kremlin spokesman said the deal might “increase the level of trust” between the US and Russia, that it was prepared in “close bilateral talks” and that Assad “might have ‘his own view of the regulation.'” On Wednesday, Kremlin web site reported calls with Iran’s president Rouhani, Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu and a meeting with his security council.
_ As Stephen Cohen said in this week’s radio show with John Batchelor, “Putin has invested a lot of political capital” in the cessation of hostilities agreement, against the advice of his top advisors. Guardian’s Wintour is parroting that same line that Putin “appears to be investing political capital in making the truce a reality” and has taken “personal charge of the Syria ceasefire effort.” Putin reiterated on Friday, after a meeting with his “Federal Security Service” that the ceasefire does not apply to ISIS, al Nusra and other factions, and Russia “will keep hitting ‘terrorist organizations’ in Syria even as the U.S.-Russia-engineered truce goes into effect at midnight.” It is still not clear who will monitor this activity and decided whether specific strikes were fair game or not. It seems likely that opposition groups will claim Russia is violating the ceasefire agreement. On Friday, Putin’s spokesman said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a British org.) made false claims about Russian airstrikes outside Damascus and said the SOHR has made such false claims before.
_ Saudi-backed opposition umbrella group, High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said 97 rebel groups have agreed to the truce and they have “formed a military committee to follow up on the truce.”
_ Putin’s “Special Address” on TV to the Russian public begins with an explanation of the terms and the “hotline” method of monitoring. He then contrasts this process as an example of a better way to take action against terrorism as compared with with previous “one-sided actions” Somalia, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. [Transcript]
“Unfortunately, recent history has many examples where one-sided actions not sanctioned by the UN, which favour short-term political or opportunistic interests, have led to dramatic results. These examples are on everyone’s lips: Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Yemen.
Against this background, Russian-American agreements on the cessation of hostilities in Syria, and their joint implementation in coordination with all nations participating in the International Syria Support Group, can become an example of responsible actions the global community takes against the threat of terrorism, which are based on international law and UN principles.
I would like to hope that the Syrian leadership and all our partners in the region and beyond will support the set of actions chosen by representatives of Russia and the US.”
_ Pres. Obama held a “rare” meeting Thursday at the State Dept. with his National Security Council and told his team to “ramp up efforts” against ISIS. The anti-ISIS budget (not including covert activities) has been increased by 50% to $7.5 billion. Obama’s comments were skeptical about the ceasefire.
Obama: “If implemented, and that’s a significant if, this cessation could reduce the violence and get more food and aid to Syrians who are suffering and desperately needed. It could save lives […] There are plenty of reasons for skepticism […] but history would judge us harshly if we did not do our part in at least trying to end this terrible conflict with diplomacy […].”
“A lot of that is going to depend on whether the Syrian regime, Russia, and their allies live up to their commitments. The coming days will be critical, and the world will be watching […] Such a future cannot include Bashar al Assad. It’s clear that after years of his barbaric war against his own people — including torture, and barrel bombs, and sieges, and starvation — many Syrians will never stop fighting until Assad is out of power. There is no alternative to a managed transition away from Assad. It’s the only way to end the Syrian war and unite the Syrian people against terrorists. This is an area where there is still significant dispute between us and the Russians […] the Iranis and some other players on the ground.”
Kerry: Plan B if Peace Talks Fail Might Be Partition of Syria
_ Sec. of State, in a series of budget hearings this week, brought up a “Plan B” intervention/escalation the US threatens in the event of the failure of the cessation of hostilities agreement. Kerry said Obama would use the US military if necessary.
_ Kerry said it might be too late to keep Syria whole, which would renege on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 which calls for territorial integrity and unity. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations committee Washington “would support partition”. (Committee hearing video here.) This is disingenuous because Washington and allies agenda includes slicing up Syria. Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Patrick Wintour, says “some believe Putin would be content to see this happen.” But it looks like Kerry is using Plan B as a threat to force Assad to form a “transitional government process that is real,” and insisted that Assad could not remain leader. These sound similar to the Saudi demands voiced by the High Negotiating Committee (HRC).
_ Kerry’s testimony at recent hearings: Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations (full hearing video), Senate Foreign Relations Committee (CSPAN video), House Appropriations Committee (video included in transcript link), House Foreign Affairs Committee (CSPAN video).
_ US, Russia and other ISSG partners will meet in Geneva to work out details and “modalities” prior to the ceasefire scheduled to begin Saturday (22:00 GMT Friday).
_ Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair and war hawk Bob Corker claims he’s never seen Europe in such bad before and claims that they’re worried about what Russia will do because Russia is destabilizing Europe “using refugees as a weapon of war.” It’s an interesting position given that Turkey’s Erdogan has openly threatened to send more refugees to Europe and used it as a bargaining chip. (Feb. 11, 2016, The Guardian, “Turkish president threatens to send millions of Syrian refugees to EU“)
_ Russian media points out that Kerry’s threats about “Plan B” (more US intervention in Syria and a partitioning of the country) could actually motivate Syrian opposition to scuttle the cessation of hostilities deal and the peace talks because US intervention and partitioning is what they want. The opposition has lost the war and therefore their bargaining power at the negotiating table. Kerry and Obama are trying to get that power and clout back for them solely on the threat of the US military, when everyone pretty well knows the US does not want a large involvement. The other problem is that the transitional government that the Syrian opposition demands should take over the country, backed by the Saudis (+ Gulf States), Turkey and Israel has not demonstrated that they could back that transitional government in order to stabilize the country. The Assad government, on the other hand, with their allies, is in the process of demonstrating that they can.
_ The Russian foreign ministry and Syrian government issued statements saying they are not discussing any “Plan B” options but instead are following the roadmap to peace laid out in UN Resolution 2254 and a new resolution which will be formalized by the UN Security Council “within days”. The Russian foreign ministry refers to a “broad antiterrorist front” with the UNSC playing a “central role” and the “participation of Syrian and Iraqi armies, Kurdish self-defense forces, armed patriotic Syrian opposition and involvement of the regional and global players.” At least one report in US media suggested that Putin supported a “Plan B” partitioning of Syria.
Turkey says Saudi Air Force Deployment to Incirlik Has Begun
_ On Friday, an Erdogan spokesman “said the Saudi deployment to Incirlik air base has started.”
Kerry: Assad Must Go
_ In the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Kerry was back to the ‘Assad must go’ rhetoric that he has returned to since the Munich Conference in mid-February, soon after the Saudi foreign minister publicly insisted upon in a der Spiegel interview. It’s clearly an issue the Saudis will not budge on and they insist they will remove Assad if he does not step down, and Syria will be destroyed if they don’t have their way.
Kerry: Ultimately, people are going to have to come to the table to resolve whatever the aftermath is going to be. We’re trying to prevent that from being disastrous. And I hope that in the days ahead we can make this cessation work, get to the table, where we will test – I repeat, test – not provide certainty, but test the seriousness of Russia and Iran and others to find a political solution which provides Syria with a road ahead without an Assad, because you can’t end the war with him, that is going to provide a choice for the Syrian people. [Emphasis added]
Neocon Faction in Obama Administration Wants Less Support for YPG Kurds, Says Saudis Will Give Rebels MANPADS
_ A faction (neocon/neoliberal interventionist) in the Obama administration leaked information to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin about their desire to provide more support for Syrian “rebels” and less for Syrian Kurds (YPG). They claim the Kurds are cooperating with Syria, Russia and Iran and the PKK, designated as a terrorist group in the US. Lake and Rogin also cited an anonymous source (all sources in the article are anonymous) saying the Saudis plan to provide MANPADS to the “rebels” despite US objection. This article puts John Kerry on same side as Samantha Powers, pitted against, and losing influence to Brett McGurk (Special Presidential Envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition and also a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran) and JSOC.
Erdogan Asks Why Al Qaeda Considered Bad, Demands Kurds Excluded from Ceasefire
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) February 24, 2016
_ Turkey’s Erdogan demands that Syrian Kurdish militias, YPG, must be excluded from the ceasefire, like ISIS and al Qaeda.
Syrian Battlefield in Days Leading Up to Ceasefire
_ On Thursday, video was posted of Turkish motorcoaches transporting Al Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham fighters into Azaz. The video was later removed. Some screenshots were taken.
_ The Syrian government reported that pro-government forces “took three villages near the town of Khanaser, which they recaptured from the IS group the previous day” as they work to reopen the road to Aleppo cut off by ISIS earlier in the week when they captured Khanaser.
Latakia Province, Syria
_ “Most check points & obstacles around official institutions in # were removed today, as the province will be declared free soon”
_ Russian foreign ministry says the situation in Yemen is critical and very close to a humanitarian disaster
State and Military Officials at Budget Hearings
_ Insightful statement by CFR’s Micah Zenko, though not one any defense official would admit to:
"Hybrid Warfare" is the use of diplomacy, economic power, and propaganda to achieve national interests…when done by a US adversary.
— Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) February 25, 2016
_ Sec. Def. Carter in an defense appropriations hearing says the military is in a “new strategic era” with a new enemies list that has terrorism, the main focus for the past 15 years at least, at the bottom of the list and two of the “challenges” represent a return to a competition between “great powers.” The new enemies list is:
- North Korea
US Contractors Flood Back Into Iraq
_ “The number of private contractors working for the U.S. Defense Department in Iraq grew eight-fold over the past year. There are 2,028 Pentagon contractors and 5,800 contractors employed by other agencies. The US acknowledges 3,700 American troops in Iraq. Almost 70% of the contractors are Americans. 20% “third country nationals” and 10% locals. Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Warren said the number of contractors is not capped. The number of contractors employed by CIA and other intelligence agencies (e.g. Blackwater, DynCorp) is classified and not included in the numbers above.