Turkey’s Detente With Russia; Dispute Over Thwarted Terror Attack on Crimea
Next Cold War Roundup 8/12/16
Turkish Pres. Erdogan and Russian Pres. Putin held a summit in Russia, and continue discussions about Syria, where a large gap between their positions remain. US special forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to stabilize the situation in Manbij, and outgoing commander MacFarland says SDF has proven itself and their next mission is Raqqa. Russia announced that Ukraine special forces and saboteurs attempted a terrorist attack on Crimea last weekend which was repelled by Russian forces, and security in Crimea will be ramped up considerably. Ukraine denies the allegations, saying Russia is trying to discredit them, using it as a pretext to dodge peace talks, and to justify incursions into eastern Ukraine, and other reasons. There are rumblings about war between Russia and Ukraine. Yemen peace talks failed, Saudis are bombing Sana’a again and the US approved more weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Manbij Was a Proving Ground for SDF Taking Raqqa
_ Gen. MacFarland, outgoing commander of the anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve, believes that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “has established itself as capable of playing a key role in the eventual fight to reclaim Raqqa” and Manbij will be the staging ground and preparation area for attacks on Raqqa several months from now.
MacFarland: “They have gone a really long way to ensuring us that they can be the defeat mechanism for the enemy in Syria, at least around Raqqa […] They have the wherewithal, the capacity, and the will to close with and defeat the enemy in a dense, urban fight, and they’re doing a very good job of it.”
_ MacFarland was asked by Kevin Baron of DefenseOne whether the US and our coalition will get to Raqqa before the Russians and Syrians. MacFarland: “I always bet on the United States, so I’ll put my money on the nose of Uncle Sam.”
“Spy Ring” Planned Terrorist Attack in Crimea
_ Russian intelligence reported that they shut down a “spy ring organized by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry in Crimea” who were planning terrorist attacks on Crimea. Both Russian and Ukrainian nationals were arrested. One Russian intelligence (FSB) agent and one Russian serviceman were killed in the process of shutting down the attacks, on August 6-8.
- On Aug. 6, a group of “diversionaries” were found in northern Crimea on near the Ukraine border with “20 homemade devices with a total of 40kg of explosives,” and “ammunition, mines, grenade, and specialised weapons commonly used by Ukrainian special forces,” according to FSB.
- On Aug. 8 there were two more attempts to get saboteurs across the border. The “sabotage reconaissance group” was from Ukrainian defense ministry special operations forces. There was “massive firing” and “armoured Ukrainian vehicles.” A Russian soldier was killed.
_ Putin mentioned the “the compromises that we have talked about in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” as being rejected by Kiev in favor of terrorism. He said Ukraine was playing a “dangerous game,” “stupid and criminal” actions that were intended to provoke violence and distract the Ukrainian public from its problems. Putin said security measures would be ramped up in Crimea, “including serious additional measures.” Putin said he won’t meet with Ukraine president Poroshenko at the September G20 summit in China, where a new round of Minsk Accord peace talks had been planned on the sidelines.
Ukraine Denies Accusations About Attack on Crimea, Calls it Russian Provocation
_ Ukrainian officials denied the accusations, said the information was fake, and said the buildup of military forces near the Crimea/Ukraine border “could mean Moscow’s preparing for offensive operations“. A Ukraine foreign ministry spokesman said: “Putin wants more war. Russia escalates, desperately looks for casus belli against Ukraine, tests West’s reaction.”
_ US-sponsored Radio Free Europe, reported that Ukraine Pres. Poroshenko said: “Russian accusations toward Ukraine of terrorism in the occupied Crimea sound as preposterous and cynical as the statements of the Russian leadership about the absence of the Russian troops in [eastern Ukraine]. These fantasies are only a pretext for more military threats against Ukraine.” He said that Moscow was trying to discredit Ukraine so they could get the sanctions lifted.
_ According to Unian (Ukraine media), a representative from Ukraine’s intelligence unit at their defense ministry claims that Russia “has deployed carriers of nuclear weapons in Crimea” and “these are grounds-based or air-delivered ” but the nuclear weapons themselves are stored separately in depots in other parts of Russia. Poroshenko said “we would never ever use terror to de-occupy Crimea” and that Russia is the one that supports terrorism in occupied areas of Ukraine with money and arms and it resembles the “Soviet Great Terror.”
_ After the Russian reports and Ukraine denials, Michael Weiss chimed in with a Daily Beast article: “Is Ukraine Just About to Blow?” Weiss cites the Facebook pages of two Crimean Tatar activists reporting large groups of Russian military equipment “moving towards the northern towns of Dzhankoy and Armyansk,” and “video evidence” and reports of Russian military hardware, vehicles, a missile ship, helicopters and drones in various places on the peninsula, including the ferry town of Kerch where equipment and tourists can be transported across the strait from mainland Russia.
_ Weiss interprets this as possible “final stages of preparation” for “another big clash.” He claims that there have been “whispers inside Ukraine and among the foreign press” about this clash because of the unusual activity in Crimea. He spends
_ Weiss also reports a buildup of Ukrainian troops and hardware near the Crimean border in the Kherson region, and frames this as a response to a Russian buildup independent of the FSB-reported operation to shut down terrorist attacks.
_ Crimean Tatar activists and others frame the broader situation as a Russian conspiracy, and say that the story about the attack on Crimea is a fabrication and there are “some indications that Putin has something special planned for Crimea and Ukraine” and that the accusations were a “pretext to boycott Crimea peace talks.” One thing is clear — the Ukraine government and pro-Kiev parties do not want to take the blame and repercussions for the alleged planned terrorist attacks.
_ The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an op-ed with no byline, calling the Crimea incident “Putin’s August Surprise,” and refer to the FSB accusations of a thwarted terror attack as “his latest tantrum over Crimea” that he is using “as an excuse to pull out of peace talks aimed at de-escalating the Russia-instigated conflict in eastern Ukraine.” WSJ claims there is “no plausible evidence.” They go on to repeat similar talking points as the ones that have been pouring (and accelerating) out of US media for the past two days — that Russia might be using this to justify incursions into Ukraine. There are also many mentions of Europe lifting sanctions on Russia and references to the 2008 conflict in Georgia in these articles.
Will There Be War Between Ukraine and Russia?
_ Alexander Mercouris analyzes whether Ukraine Pres. Poroshenko is preparing an attack on Donbass and Crimea. Both Poroshenko and Putin convened their security councils after the thwarted attack on Crimea. “Poroshenko has also put the Ukrainian military in Donbass and along the border with Crimea on alert.” Mercouris says there is already a low level war in Donbass and the “political situation in Ukraine is so unstable and the anti-Russian atmosphere there is so strong that it would be foolish to count on Ukraine showing any sort of restraint.” However, Mercouris believes that the US and EU governments are almost certainly doing whatever they can to prevent Ukraine from launching another full offensive and the Russians are unlikely to initiate one.
_ Michael Weiss signals the War Party bitterness that the geopolitical situation “doesn’t bode well for Ukraine” because their “most stalwart defenders” (Carl Bildt, Radek Sikorski, Geoffrey Pyatt) are out of office or reassigned, Europe seems exhausted with Ukraine and preoccupied with migrants, “rapprochement with Moscow is everywhere occurring,” and Donald Trump is flattering Putin. “With the Olympics still on in Rio, and Donald Trump still on television, who’d even notice or care if a short little war broke out again in Europe?” says Weiss after spending 40+ paragraphs on what looks like a cover story for the attempted attack on Crimea and after laying out scenarios in which a full blown war between Ukraine and Russia could still break out. All of this is under the inflammatory headline: “Is Ukraine Just About to Blow?”
_ Christopher Miller, who has done a lot of pro-Maidan propaganda work since the beginning of the protests and coup for Kyiv Post, writes for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: “Guns of August: Fears of Full-Scale War Return as Casualties Mount in Ukraine.” He is in Maryinka. in the Donetsk province in eastern Ukraine, on the frontlines where the “armistice is unraveling” and the fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has escalated to levels he hasn’t seen in a year.
_ Miller says that the Aidar Battalion (a neo-Nazi battalion attached to Ukraine government that has been reported by Amnesty International for war crimes and blocking humanitarian aid) is 20kim south of Maryinka near the village of Solodke, just 300 meters from separatist positions, and pushing eastward, and eager to “retake the separatist-held section of Donbas by force.” Miller claims that the spike in fighting “has fed a growing desire” by some in the Ukraine government and “many on the front line” to take back separatist territory “by force rather than by diplomacy.” Miller paints the Ukraine army and its ultra-national battalions as much stronger than before when their “Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO)” offensives resulted in so called cauldrons and great losses, or when native Ukrainian soldiers were unwilling to attack their countrymen in the East. He describes three units, “Donbas Ukraine, the Aidar Battalion, and the 8th Battalion,” who comprise Ukraine’s 10th Brigade, and says they are all positioned around Donetsk. Some soldiers are quoted saying the Minsk deal is dead and they are “preparing for what they see as an imminent return to full-scale war.”
_ Oleksandr Turchynov, chief of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said he might impose martial law. Poroshenko squashed the idea for fear that “international financial backers would freeze much-needed assistance.” Separatist leader Denis Pushlin warned last week that things are tense and “at any moment it could break out and escalate into full-fledged clashes.” Separatists have long wanted to take more territory in eastern Ukraine (e.g. Mariupol) but it is an open secret that they have been held back by the Russian government.
_ The next G20 will be held in Beijing in just a few weeks. There was a deal in the works between Russia and Ukraine, that was discussed during talks in Nagorno-Karabakh. The parties to the Minsk Accord planned to convene on the G20 sidelines, with possibly some additional countries joining, in hopes of coming to a compromise solution. The War Party seems to think the deal is serious and not in their best interests, perhaps even trying to scuttle it. After the attempted attacks on Crimea, Russian Pres. Putin said the deal was off.
Former British Ambassador to Russia Calls for “Thaw in Relations”
_ In a Telegraph op-ed, a former UK ambassador to Russia, Tony Brenton, says UK relations with Russia “have been at a counterproductive low for far too long” and that the “dangerous nonsense” of the new Cold War “has to stop” He makes the usual western claims and accusation against Russia but strongly calls for the new foreign minister to get involved in the peace talks for Syria and Ukraine. Brenton notes that and the sanctions have been useless and support for them is weakening and there is the “growing queue of senior ministers and even prime ministers visiting Moscow” and the UK is now an “outlier” because other Western countries have already begun to “rebuild their links”.
Putin-Erdogan Summit, Turkey & Russia Coordinate in Syria
_ From an Erdogan interview with TASS (Russian media) on the eve of the summit:
- Erdogan said he didn’t want Syria to be split up, but the condition for preventing it is that Assad has to leave. “Syria’s unity cannot be kept with Assad.”
- The Geneva conference and “the opposition based here,” presumably meaning in Turkey, “insist on one thing: a solution without Assad.” according to Erdogan. (This position is, notably, exactly the same position that Saudi Arabia and the CIA take)
- Erdogan insists that al Nusra (aka al Qaeda aka Fatah al-Sham) is not a terrorist organization because they’re fighting ISIS. Erdogan continues to deny any involvement with ISIS oil exports and claims no evidence was offered.
- In the TASS interview, Erdogan talks about a broader coalition working together to ‘establish peace in Syria,’ and mentions Turkey, Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and America. (Erdogan adds Iran reluctantly, reportedly against the wishes of US and Saudi Arabia).
- If broader coalition is not possible, Erdogan says Russia and Turkey “can take some steps, without violating Syria’s sovereignty.” He said Russia is “key and most important player in establishing peace in Syria.”
_ After the summit, Russia and Turkey announced that they had ‘massively upgraded their cooperation – however, agree to differ over Syria’ and would be discussing Syria after the summit. After the summit, more information about their plans were reported.
- Turkish air force will now be allowed to “conduct and join operations in Syria.”
- Russia will conduct naval exercises in the eastern Med starting Aug. 15.
- Turkey will inform Russia about the locations of civilians & moderate opposition groups in Syria.”
_ Alexander Mercouris at the Duran notes, based on the TASS interview, the outcome of the summit and other things, this does not look like a “fundamental realignment” but instead it is “beyond detente” [relaxation of tensions], but still a “limited rapprochement.” Mercouris says Erdogan is unlikely to stop supporting the Syrian rebels because there would be backlash from Turkish supporters of the Syrian opposition and from jihadists that would turn on Turkey at a time when their military and security forces have been weakened.
War and Elections
_ Ex-CIA Philip Giraldi mocks Michael “I Ran the CIA” Morrell. He wonders: “How can one be both unwitting and a recruited agent?” He says Morrell was a desk analyst “and never acquired or ran an actual spy in his life”, has had no legal access to classified information since his retirement three years ago, and he’s now “a product of Washington groupthink and a major beneficiary of Establishment politics.” Morrell sells security consulting and fearmongering that helps the business of the firm he works for, Beacon Global Strategies, founded by two members of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle.
_ Three anonymous sources leaked to Reuters about extremely top secret information related to US intelligence agencies monitoring the hacking of the Democratic party. It was allegedly so top secret that it had “additional restrictions and assigned a unique codeword, limiting access to a small number of officials who needed to know that U.S. spy agencies had concluded that two Russian intelligence agencies or their proxies were targeting the Democratic National Committee.” The “gang of eight” in Congress was briefed on it a year ago but could not tell the targets of the hacks about it. None of the “gang of eight” members of Congress would comment but Nancy Pelosi called it the “electronic Watergate” and claimed the Russians were behind it.
Analysis and Opinion
_ Gareth Porter: “The sham rebrand of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.“
_ Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore: “Military Dissent is Not an Oxymoron: Freeing Democracy From a Perpetual War.”
_ Nick Kristof says “Obama’s Worst Mistake” was “allowing Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged.” He compares it to the US refusing Jewish refugees during WWII and failure to prevent massacres and genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Then he calls for US military intervention in Syria, via war party members James Cartwright and Madeline Albright, who call for partitioning Syria by invading and occupying parts of it for decades. He cites Operation Provide Comfort as a model. He also calls for rebuilding those parts of Syria that the US would occupy. (There seems to be an obsession about who will get the reconstruction contracts in Syria.)