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Russian media tries to sort out source of attack on Syria air base

An attack on Russia’s Khmeimim air base suffered an assault on Dec. 31st – from whom is not totally clear

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(Al-Monitor) – The last day of 2017 turned out to be one of the gloomiest for the Russian military in Syria. First, one of its helicopters crashed north of Hama due to a technical failure, killing two servicemen. Then, rumors spread that on Dec. 31 militants had shelled the Russian Khmeimim air base, which President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had visited about three weeks beforehand.

News of the attack wasn’t reported until Jan. 3, when the authoritative Kommersant newspaper published a story saying two “political diplomatic sources” confirmed the air base had suffered one of its worst attacks during Russia’s entire military campaign in Syria. According to the report, Islamist militants shelled the air base, allegedly destroying at least four Su-24 attack aircraft, two Su-35S multirole fighter aircraft and one An-72 transport aircraft, as well as an ammunition depot that detonated after it was hit by a missile. The report said that more than 10 servicemen were injured.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Jan. 4 denied that seven planes were destroyed, calling that part of the report “fake,” but acknowledged that two military personnel were killed in the attack.

During the four days it took Moscow to comment on the incident, numerous journalists found sources with differing stories, multiplying the number of theories about what happened at the key Russian military facility and sowing doubt about the accuracy of the official narrative. Moreover, subsequent days saw more reports of attacks or attempted attacks on Khmeimim air base: On Jan. 4, Russian anti-air defense systems downed two handmade drones over Latakia. That same day, an Il-76 heavy transport plane flying from Russia to Syria couldn’t land at the air base for undisclosed reasons and had to go back. On Jan. 6, the Russian air base reportedly was attacked yet again by small armed drones.

The official version from the Russian Defense Ministry reads: “On December 31, at nightfall, the [Khmeimim] airfield came under a sudden mortar fire from a mobile militant subversive group. Two military servicemen were killed in the shelling.” However, the ministry added, “Russia’s air group in Syria is combat ready and continues to accomplish all its missions in full.”

Franz Klintsevich, the deputy head of the Defense and Security Committee of the Russian Senate, argued that “foreign intelligence” was behind the Khmeimim attacks.

Some Russian military experts suggested the “mobile militant subversive group” mentioned by the Defense Ministry approached the base by car, coming as close as 2 miles carrying mobile 82 mm mortars. If that were the case, the attack should have lasted no more than a few minutes and the air defense systems wouldn’t have detected the mortar rockets due to their size (3.2 inches), which is smaller than that of unguided rockets. Others argued the attackers used 2B9 Vasilek (Cornflower) — an automatic 82 mm gun mortar. This type of weapon is easy to move as it fits into a van, can be loaded with cassettes for four shots each and used on repeat fire.

The Syrian army and different loyal militias provide security to the base. However, the base is difficult to secure because of the absence of a clear-cut front line, difficult terrain features, alleged corruption and the relative weakness of Syrian intelligence services. Besides, the attacks might not have been carried out by jihadis. As Syrian government forces, with the support of the Russian airpower, continue their offensive against the opposition in de-escalation zones, it is possible that any rebel faction could be behind the incidents.

In most cases, journalists’ theories don’t actually contradict the official narrative but rather complement it or interpret it differently.

According to Russian business news outlet RBC, militants shelled the base using mortars and multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS). RBC cites its own source in the Defense Ministry as saying, “Defense of the base was duly organized: Rockets were downed by respective air defense systems, yet mortars are almost impossible to tackle.” The source mentioned the fire came from the “zone under control of the Syrians” and said one helicopter and a Su-24 aircraft were damaged.

“You aren’t always ready when they shoot you in the back,” he added.

Hypothetically, the extended coverage range of the BM-21 Grad MLRS is able to reach Khmeimim from such settlements as Nahr al-Bared (about 22 miles away) and Qalaat al-Madiq (25 miles away) in the Hama province.

Roman Saponkov, a Russian military correspondent, posted images allegedly showing the damage at Khmeimim, suggesting six Su-24 aircraft were hit as well as one Su-35S, one An-72, one An-30 spy plane and one Mi-8 helicopter. According to him, the Russian military didn’t know the militants had “achieved a new technological level” and could reach the base, thus insinuating the attackers had “foreign backup.”

Alternative theories propelled by liberal media insinuate the base was not attacked Dec. 31 and that the ammunition depot might have been accidentally detonated by New Year’s celebrations in Latakia. This could in part explain why no group has yet claimed responsibility for the Khmeimim attacks. Opposition media outlets report the Latakia province saw some shooting on that night resulting in a number of civilian injuries and one death, yet local residents didn’t confirm any serious blasts.

On specialized online forums, some commenters — allegedly retired Russian military personnel — speculate that only two aircraft were damaged as a result of the night attack by mortar fire and homemade drones. The tail unit of one jet, according to them, was damaged not by a mortar, but by a crash with a car that happened during the confusion of the shelling.

Proponents of all theories seem to share a view that the government might have leaked some initial details of the story as Moscow wanted it presented, and chose Kommersant specifically because the paper is known for its quality and reliability, so the account wouldn’t be questioned. But once Kommersant fleshed out more details, and so many contradictions surfaced, the Defense Ministry might have turned to Sputnik to say the some of the Kommersant story was fake. The ministry’s “alternative facts,” however, didn’t strike many as being terribly credible.

It’s also possible the government simply doesn’t know what happened, so multiple sources shared various theories.

Some pro-government Russian experts insist that no opposition group claimed responsibility for the attack because they fear the Russian military will take revenge. Yet previously, the opposition hasn’t been afraid to “sign” the missiles they launched toward Syrian government forces in Latakia, saying in reference to peace talks in Russia and Kazakhstan, “Neither Astana nor Sochi, we are for Hama,” and “Sochi is yours, Hama is ours.”

The experts also deny the attacks might have been a provocation by pro-Assad forces, though the Syrian opposition suggests that might have been the case. Ayman al-Asami, a member of the delegation of the Syrian Revolutionary Forces to the Astana peace talks, said the Khmeimim base was shelled from the Bustan al-Basha settlement in Latakia by the pro-Iranian group Imam al-Murtada to block Moscow-led initiatives on the political settlement of the Syrian conflict. Another opposition media outlet shared a document — allegedly issued by Syrian intelligence — that orders an investigation of the attacks delivered from Bustan al-Basha, which is under the control of the pro-government militia the National Defense Forces.

Moscow declared that from now on the base will be better guarded. But the Russian military long ago should have taken measures such as spreading its aircraft across the base and mounting reinforced-concrete shelters that could protect the aircraft, ammunition and fuel from mortar shelling and missile and bombing raids. Most importantly, however, instead of just increasing the fighting in de-escalation zones, Russia should take the appropriate political steps to support the cease-fire and increase pressure on its allies in Damascus and Tehran.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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