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US And Russia Compete For Dominance Of Vietnam Base Strategic To South China Sea

Next Cold War Roundup 5/20/16

The US and Russia are competing for dominance of a base in Vietnam, which is strategic to the South China Sea and could determine the outcome of the crisis. EU and NATO countries decided to arm the new UN-appointed government in Libya and JCS Dunford said US troops will have a “long term mission” there. Hezbollah withdrew from Aleppo and other areas after the US-Russia ceasefire deal in Syria. Russia’s hawks are pressuring Putin. NATO announced the addition of another Balkan country, Montenegro, and plans to modernize the military of Georgia, a Caucasus country bordering Russia. Russia says this will not improve the security of Europe and may have the opposite effect. The US and Europe and 20 countries are attempting to convene an Israel-Palestine peace process. PM Netanyahu resists and is appointing a new radical right-wing defense minister.

And It’s 1, 2, 3… Next Stop is Vietnam

Cam Ranh Bay, is “the largest sheltered harbor in Southeast Asia, and its most strategic because of its deep water.” The Russians have “privileged rights” at Cam Ranh Bay and use it for tanker aircraft. Russia is Vietnam’s arms supplier.  “It would also be costly for Vietnam to switch from heavy equipment made in Russia, long Vietnam’s main arms supplier, to American-made equipment […] But Vietnam wants to diversify from its reliance on Russian arms.” The New York Times says Vietnam might let the US military return because of China’s “increasing threat” in the South China Sea.

_ 2011-14 the Vietnamese “hired Russian consultants and purchased Russian technologies to re-open Cam Ranh Bay.” The purpose “naval maintenance and logistics facility for foreign warships.” The United States developed a major base and port facility there during the Vietnam war.  The bay had been abandoned in 1945 after the US destroyed Japanese facilities there. After the fall of Saigon, it became the a base for the Soviet Pacific Fleet and after expansions it became their largest naval base outside the Soviet Union. They withdrew from the base in 2002. There is also an important commercial port inside Cam Ranh Bay.

_ At the same time that the New York Times is reporting the possible return of the US military to Vietnam, Russia’s English language state media reports “Good Morning Vietnam! Why the Russian Navy is Returning to Cam Ranh Bay,” though it is admitted later in the article that it’s “still only talk.” The Russian navy currently has an agreement in place to enter the port for refueling, etc.

_ A Carnegie Endowment fellow explains the competing interests in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam’s current intention to allow multiple foreign forces to access it with none having exclusive use, and claims that the base will “decide the South China Sea’s fate.”

Ahrar al-Sham Atrocities, ISSG Group Agrees Rebel Groups’ Status Can Be Reviewed

_ RT produced eyewitness evidence (video report) and Ahrar al-Sham film of atrocities in the Alawite village of Zara and video of US State Dept spokesman scolding an RT journalist asking questions about it on Monday.

_ In a press conference on Tuesday after the Vienna talks (full video, statements begin at 1:41:30) Sec. State Kerry said the status of groups like Ahrar al-Sham could be submitted for review by the ISSG and could be put on the terrorist blacklist. Kerry, Lavrov and UN envoy de Mistura did a joint press conferences. Kerry talked about “a united Syria, non-sectarian” and frustration with competing interests, some of whom want the peace process to fail, and said “we can’t give vetoes to bad actors.”

_ Last week the US and allies blocked a Russian resolution in the UN Security Council to place Ahrar al-Sham on the terrorist blacklist. A State Dept. spokesman explained that any such designation would have to be agreed upon by the ISSG group.

4.4 Magnitude Earthquake Detected When ISIS Blew Up Gas Fields

_ “Abdel Rahman said IS was believed to have blown up several of Shaer’s pumping stations. He had no immediate word on casualties.” The Shaer gas field is “one of the biggest in the central province of Homs.”

The US-Russia Deal in Syria, Hezbollah’s Withdrawal

_ Al Rai’s war correspondent, Elijah Magnier, reports that Hezbollah has withdrawn from the Aleppo region and significantly reduced its involvement in the Syrian war after the US and Russia made agreements around the cessation of hostilities deal in April.  “According to a high level commanding officer in Syria, Hezbollah has decided to re-deploy, to regroup its forces and to return to the main cities of Homs, Hama, Damascus, Daraa and also to the Syrian-Lebanese border […] Hezbollah is not willing to engage in further battles if these aim only to improve the position of the Syrian government at the negotiation table in Geneva.”

_ Magnier’s article says that the US is serious about defeating al Nusra (al Qaeda) and compelling its proxies and those of its allies to detach from Nusra, and that the fight between Nusra and Division 13, and other infighting in the Damascus region, are evidence that this is happening.  Since Nusra has “been able to win the hearts and minds of a large part of the Syrian society” and has kept their success quiet by allowing rebel groups to take credit, it is a difficult task to stop them. Magnier claims that Nusra “did not receive money from any Middle Eastern government directly, thus making it impossible for the surrounding states to impose their will on the Mujahedeen.”

_ Russian state media, Sputnik, quoted a New Eastern Outlook article by Salman Rafi Sheikh, a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, about the US “double-bind”: “it can neither afford to really confront the House of Saud nor can it continue, politically speaking, to support its wars by making long terms military commitments that the House of Saud has been asking for since the beginning of the conflict.” Salman Rafi Sheikh notes that although Washington has been pressuring the Saudis about Riyadh’s connections to the 9/11 attack, “they still consider Saudi Arabia especially useful for the American ‘Assad-must-go’ project in Syria” and says they are still arming jihadists in Syria.

_ Saudi foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir repeated previous threats just this week, saying that Assad must go or he “will be removed by force.”  By force, Jubeir means the “Plan B” he has threatened before, escalating  the military intervention and basically invading Syria and toppling Assad.  It’s not clear whether this is a real threat, given the Saudi military’s failures in Yemen and the Pres. Obama’s unwillingness to deploy ground troops in any significant number. Plan B could be an attempt to bring more leverage to the negotiating table than they really have.

Russia’s Hawks Pressure Putin, NATO Adds Another Eastern European Country

_  “Putin Is Being Pushed to Abandon His Conciliatory Approach to the West and Prepare for War.” And the “only one who noticed was Stephen Cohen.” Cohen has long warned that Putin maintains a delicate balance in the Russian government between moderates and “statist” war party factions.

_ During this week’s show, Batchelor and Cohen talk about the dangerous, provocative idiocy of putting NATO German troops on the Russian border.  Cohen says he’s heard a report that the Germans are against this but were “compelled” by the Obama administration.

_ NATO decided to resurrect the NATO-Russia Council which was suspended after Crimea was annexed by Russia.  A meeting was held in April and now another is scheduled to happen before NATO’s big summit in Warsaw. NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg said NATO foreign ministers “all agreed in the current situation that we need a platform (like) the NATO-Russia Council to pursue transparency, predictability and to work for enhancing mechanisms for risk reduction to avoid dangerous situations, situations which can spiral out of control.” A Washington Post article says that as NATO ramps up troop deployment on Russia’s border, “a number of allies, including Germany and Italy, are backing another meeting of the NATO-Russia Council ahead of the July Warsaw summit—in an effort to soften the hard edge of the military actions the alliance is poised to take.”

EU Sanctions on Russia

_ Russia’s economic development minister said: “Of course I do not rule out that [the EU sanctions] will be extended. More than that, I think the chances are slim that the European colleagues will have the required degree of rationality and responsibility though they exist.”

NATO in Georgia and Montenegro

_ NATO Secretary General:”Everything NATO does in east is defensive, proportional & fully in line with NATO-Russia Founding Act.” “We’ll work with Georgia by providing political & practical support to implement reforms, modernize army, build institutions.”

_ NATO formally invited Montenegro to become the 29th member. The Kremlin spokesman said: “This process gives nothing from the viewpoint of European security, and on the contrary may result in further whipping up tensions on the continent.”

“Long Term Mission in Libya” for US Troops

_ Chairman of Joint Chiefs Gen. Dunford said: “There’s a lot of activity going on underneath the surface,[…] We’re just not ready to deploy capabilities yet because there hasn’t been an agreement. And frankly, any day that could happen […] There will be a long-term mission in Libya.” Dunford has said the Italians would lead but the Italian prime minister ruled out a “large invasion.” Dunford is expecting a coaliton of Misrata militias and Hiftar’s army.

_ Italy’s prime minister “said Monday that Italy will not send troops to Libya due to high security risks […] While under pressure to intervene in Libya, we have chosen a different approach”.  Sec. State Kerry discussed the situation in Libya with Egypt’s president Sisi during his trip this week.  “Britain and Germany are at odds over how to help Libya’s new so-called ‘unity government.‘”

_ In the view of a defense and security analyst and contractor, the “decision on Monday in Vienna to provide ‘arms’ to a Libyan Government that exists in name only, the GNA, has taken the international communities stance from the sublime to the completely ridiculous” and ensures the “Libyan quagmire to inevitably continue.” The proposal “landed with a thud” in the US Congress as “lawmakers were either blindsided by the announcement or downright skeptical.

Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act Passed by US Senate

_ The US Senate passed the controversial bill which would allow 9/11 victims to sue countries who aided the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack.

Israel’s New Defense Minister and Resistance to a Peace Process

_ The deep dispute between Israeli PM Netanyahu and his defense minister Ya’alon ends with Ya’alon being sacked and plans to replace him with an ultra right-wing nationalist, Avigdor Lieberman. The US and Europe are pressuring Israel to do a two-state solution as part of a big Middle East peace conference this summer and autumn  of 2017, the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement* which   French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who “said 20 states had accepted an invitation to take part in an international Middle East peace conference, among them Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab League members.”  (*Sykes-Picot and other agreements actually shaped the modern Middle East.)

_ John Kerry said he will attend the June 3 meeting on Israeli-Palestinian peace.  He visited Egypt this week “to mediate a reconciliation between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Ukraine’s Natural Resources Exploited and Smuggled After Maidan

The EU and the Deforestation of Ukraine: “EU is demanding from Ukraine to lift the ban on exporting timber/wood as a condition of obtaining the next EU macrofinancial aid (1.2 billion euro) […] There is a struggle for the checkpoint Tisa [west border], where there is a major flow of smuggled goods. Through this checkpoint the expensive timber is exported from Ukraine, which is illegally logged in the national parks across the Carpathians.”

_ Far-right “nationalists” including some of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion are threatening to overthrow the Ukraine president and parliament if elections are held in the Donbass region, which is one of the terms in the Minsk agreement.  Several thousand protesters are marching in protest with smoke bombs and came to a standoff with security forces surrounding the parliament building.

Analysis

_ The situation with the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria is complicated.  The Kurdish factions who have more autonomy seem less inclined toward a united Greater Kurdistan than the ones who don’t. The Barzani Kurdistan in northern Iraq is deeply indebted to the oil companies and reliant on Turkey for the export of their oil. The Syrian Kurds are using leverage with both the US and Russia, and exploiting the crisis in Syria and may opportunistically take land from ISIS that Kurds never occupied before. They don’t find Barzani’s Kurdistan to be a real success.

_ A “smarter intervention debate.

_ Oh my goodness.

_ America’s endless wars have “quietly come home” creating a national security state “Homeland” or “Cop Land,” with most of it being done in secret.

_ Victoria Nuland, Hillary Clinton’s “hawk-in-waiting”.

Chelsea Manning's prison mugshot from week she began hormone therapy (via Chelsea Manning Support Network)
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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.