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Russia holds the key to a negotiated settlement in Syria, but Iran’s worried

Moscow’s the only player participating in both the Geneva and Astana negotiating tracks, but Tehran is suspicious

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(Al-Monitor) – The Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi, widely known for its tourist attractions, has recently turned into a diplomatic hub, with dialogue over the Syrian crisis now serving as its main international attraction. On Nov. 22, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey attended a trilateral summit in Sochi to coordinate their efforts on the future of Syria. Just a day before, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in the resort, with his warm welcome catching the eyes of the media. Moscow has also declared its plans to host a national Syrian congress in Sochi, consisting of different Syrian factions, to discuss the political process as well as a new constitution for the country.

In a broader perspective, it could be said that with an eye to post-war Syria, the Russians are trying to play the main role on the Syrian stage.

First and foremost, by initiating various meetings with their partners in the Astana process, namely Iran and Turkey, and at the same time underlining the importance of Iran and Russia’s military support for the Syrian government in shaping developments on the ground, the Russians want to be recognized as the main pillar of military success over the Islamic State (IS) and other terrorists. Moscow’s frequent criticism of the US-led anti-IS coalition, accusing it of not being serious in fighting terrorism, could be interpreted in the same vein. In other words, Russia is trying to say that without its efforts there would be no end in sight to the rule of the United States, nor would it be possible to forge a compromise between Iran and Turkey’s military plans in Syria.

Second, Moscow has frequently insisted that it sees the Astana track as complementary to the UN-mediated Geneva peace process and not as an alternative. As the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov puts it, “If in Astana there was a team that extinguished the fire of the Syrian war, then in Geneva there will be designers and engineers to restore the building of the Syrian state.” The delicate point here, however, is that by continuing to be active in both the Geneva and the Astana tracks, Moscow is effectively the only link between the two different sets of actors involved in the Syrian conflict.

Third, by proposing its initiative for the national Syrian congress, Moscow is also seeking to have final say in the domestic equations in Syria during the transitional period ahead. While some hurdles, such as Turkey’s objection to the inclusion of Syrian Kurdish groups in the political process as well as the hard-line stances of some opposition groups regarding the role of Assad and his government in the future of Syria, have forced Moscow to delay the congress, Russia’s actions show a willingness to act as a mediator between different Syrian factions.

The key question here is, how do Moscow’s partners in the Astana process see their current multilayered Syrian policy?

As far as Iran is concerned, it seems that the final joint statement of the Sochi summit addresses some of its main concerns regarding the future of Syria. The statement underlines the necessity of preserving Syria’s unity and territorial integrity, without raising any preconditions for the start of the transitional period. The fact that Turkey was a signatory to the declaration without any further insistence on Assad’s removal was another success for Iran.

But this does not mean that Iran feels wholly safe in the face of Russia’s plans. First of all, Tehran sees Moscow’s desire to consider the Geneva track as an integral part of the political process as a challenge to its long-term interests in Syria. In fact, from an Iranian point of view, the Geneva process was primarily designed to sideline the role of Iran and its allied forces in Syria, and it was solely Iran’s active fight against terrorism in Syria that forced other actors to accept its role and interests, at least temporarily. So, any revalidation of the goals of the Geneva track could pose a direct threat against Iran’s interests. In fact, during the recent trilateral presidential summit in Sochi, it was only Putin who clearly spoke of the necessity of following up the Geneva process, while Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani’s main emphasis was on the need for Syria’s future to be decided by the Syrian people.

Iran’s second concern is related to Russia’s policy of working with everyone involved in the Syrian crisis. For instance, after his meeting with Assad, Putin held separate phone calls with US President Donald Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to brief them on the results of the Sochi summit. There is no doubt that Iran sees the American, Saudi and Israeli plans for Syria as opposed to its core interests and, therefore, is worried about the substance of any Russian agreement with these actors.

The joint statement issued by the presidents of Russia and the United States on the sidelines of the recent APEC summit in Vietnam, which entailed some hints about the exit of foreign troops in Syria, is a good example in this regard. Although it’s highly unlikely that Russia will put direct pressure on Iran to force it out of Syria, Moscow may not find particular issues with defining Lebanese Hezbollah or other pro-Iran forces in Syria as “foreign troops,” which could, in turn, weaken Iran’s position in the country.

Finally, although the three presidents in Sochi insisted on the necessity of holding the national Syrian congress, it is, in fact, Moscow that will have the main role in the endeavor. In this vein, what Russia sees as legitimate opposition forces, invited to attend the congress, may not necessarily match Iran’s viewpoint. In fact, during the six years of the Syrian conflict, Russia has tried to establish ties with various Syrian groups and factions, some of which Iran deems radicals or even terrorists. The case of Ahrar al-Sham is an example of such a difference of opinion.

Thus, although the Sochi summit was widely interpreted as a sign of the three countries’ willingness to coordinate their efforts on post-war Syria, Moscow’s attempt to centralize the political process around its own role could potentially alienate Iran down the road, thereby challenging their so-far-successful partnership in Syria.

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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EU’s ‘toothless’ response to creation of Kosovo army risks worsening the crisis – Moscow

Russia’s ambassador to the UN said that the EU could have and should have done more to stop the breakaway region from creating its own army.

RT

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The creation of Kosovo’s own 5,000-strong army is a threat to peace and security in a turbulent region and may lead to a new escalation, Russia’s UN envoy has warned, calling the EU’s lackluster response irresponsible.

Speaking at the UN Security Council emergency meeting on Kosovo, Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzya said that the EU could have and should have done more to stop the breakaway region from creating its own army to replace its lightly armed emergency response force.

“The EU reaction to the decision by Pristina cannot be described as other than toothless. This irresponsible policy has crossed the line,” Nebenzya said, after the UNSC meeting on Monday.

The diplomat said the lack of decisive action on the part of the 28-member bloc was a “great disappointment,” adding that the EU seems to “have turned a blind eye on the illegal creation of Kosovo’s ‘army.’”

The law, approved by Kosovo lawmakers on Friday, paves the way for doubling the size of the current Kosovo Security Force and for turning it into a de facto army, with 5,000 soldiers and 3,000 reservists.

The move did not go down well even with Kosovo’s usual backers, with both NATO and the EU voicing their indignation. NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg called the decision “ill-timed” and lamented that Kosovo’s authorities had ignored “the concerns expressed by NATO.”

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, has echoed those concerns, saying in a statement that the mandate of Kosovo’s forces “should only be changed through an inclusive and gradual process” in accordance with the state’s constitution.

The only nation to openly applaud the controversial move was the US, with its ambassador to Kosovo, Phillip Kosnett, saying that Washington “reaffirms its support” for the upgrade as it is “only natural for Kosovo as a sovereign, independent country” to have a full-fledged army.

The Kosovo MPs’ decision has drawn anger in the Serbian capital Belgrade and provoked a strong response from Moscow, which calledon the UN mission in Kosovo to demilitarize the area in accordance with UNSC resolution 1244, and to disband any armed units.

Nebenzya pointed out that the UN resolution does not allow any Kosovo Albanian military units to be present in the region’s territory. He accused Western countries, including members of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force (KFOR), of “condoning and supporting” the violation by Pristina of the resolution.

It is feared that the army, though a relatively small force, might inflame tensions in the region and impede attempts at reconciliation between Pristina and Belgrade. Serbia has warned that it might consider an armed intervention if the army becomes a threat to the 120,000-strong Serb minority in Kosovo.

“The advance of Kosovo’s army presents a threat to the peace and security in the region, which may lead to the recurrence of the armed conflict,” Nebenzya stated.

In addition to creating its own army, Kosovo in November hit Serbia with a 100 percent import tariff on goods, defying calls by the US and the EU to roll the measure back.

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Ukraine’s President Says “High” Threat Of Russian Invasion, Urges NATO Entry In Next 5 Years

Poroshenko is trying desperately to hold on to power, even if it means provoking Russia.

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Via Zerohedge


Perhaps still seeking to justify imposing martial law over broad swathes of his country, and attempting to keep international pressure and media focus on a narrative of “Russian aggression,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced what he called the high “threat of Russian invasion” during a press conference on Sunday, according to Bloomberg.

Though what some analysts expected would be a rapid flair up of tit-for-tat incidents following the late November Kerch Strait seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and their crew by the Russian Navy has gone somewhat quiet, with no further major incident to follow, Poroshenko has continued to signal to the West that Russia could invade at any moment.

“The lion’s share of Russian troops remain” along the Russian border with Ukraine, Poroshenko told journalists at a press conference in the capital, Kiev. “Unfortunately, less than 10 percent were withdrawn,” he said, and added: “As of now, the threat of Russian troops invading remains. We have to be ready for this, we won’t allow a repeat of 2014.”

Poroshenko, who declared martial law on Nov. 26, citing at the time possible imminent “full-scale war with Russia” and Russian tank and troop build-up, on Sunday noted that he will end martial law on Dec. 26 and the temporarily suspended presidential campaign will kick off should there be no Russian invasion. He also previously banned all Russian males ages 16-60 from entering Ukraine as part of implementation of 30 days of martial law over ten provinces, though it’s unclear if this policy will be rescinded.

During his remarks, the Ukrainian president said his country should push to join NATO and the EU within the next five years, per Bloomberg:

While declining to announce whether he will seek a second term in the office, Poroshenko said that Ukraine should achieve peace, overcome the consequences of its economic crisis and to meet criteria to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during next five years.

But concerning both his retaining power and his ongoing “threat exaggeration” — there’s even widespread domestic acknowledgement that the two are clearly linked.

According to The Globe and Mail:

While Mr. Poroshenko’s domestic rivals accuse him of exaggerating the threat in order to boost his own flagging political fortunes — polls suggest Mr. Poroshenko is on track to lose his job in a March election — military experts say there are reasons to take the Ukrainian president’s warning seriously.

As we observed previously, while European officials have urged both sides to exercise restraint, the incident shows just how easily Russia and the West could be drawn into a military conflict over Ukraine.

Certainly Poroshenko’s words appear designed to telegraph just such an outcome, which would keep him in power as a war-time president, hasten more and massive western military support and aid, and quicken his country’s entry into NATO — the latter which is already treating Ukraine as a de facto strategic outpost.

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