OPINION by Kennedy Applebaum
Written for Quemado Institute
September 21, 2018
Putin seems clearly the enemy of Syria’s elected President Bashar al-Assad—and the worst kind of enemy, having postured as an ally, then twisting 180 degrees and sabotaging Assad’s strategy for the penultimate phase of the Syrian civil war—the liberation by Syrian loyalists of Turkish-controlled and terrorist-ruled Idlib Province. This sabotage, a Putin tactic familiar from his betrayal of Novorossiya in Donbass, was plotted on September 17, 2018 during a bilateral summit in Sochi, where the Russian President and Turkish leader Recep Erdogan slashed out a pact for their own exclusive control of Syria’s northern border region.
Bashar al-Assad, elected president of Syria, has been conspicuously absent from these summits, although Syrian sources claim he was involved in preliminary discussions. Yet regardless of Russia’s “intent”—which is today a target of scrutiny, tepid adulation and fierce condemnation—and regardless of possible if unlikely peaceful outcomes, the overt shunning of Syria’s president, and thus of Syrian national interests and the wishes of the Syrian people, does not just ring an alarm bell, it signals duplicity if not treachery on the part of Russia. That Turkey, the US, UK, France and Israel are enemies of Assad does not need repeating. But Russia’s seeming emergence into this pack of rabid hyenas surprised and disheartened many observers.
Those hailing the Sochi pact claim Assad has agreed to its terms. But after apparent betrayal by his closest ally, what choice did the Syrian President have? And why, in all the media hubbub, is Assad’s viewpoint virtually never presented? If Assad wanted this Turkish-Russian deal, why would he have prepared for the liberation of Idlib right up to the day of the summit? Moreover, why would Assad trust Erdogan, his unequivocal enemy, to liberate the northern province and return it to Syria?
Alternate media opinion roils in chaos. Consensus is absent among anti-globalist commentators, some reviling Putin’s seeming betrayal and others praising his restraint, thwarting as it might the Western lust for World War III. The swift rise of censorship has exacerbated this splintering of opinion, as a near media blackout eclipses the crisis that now threatens global security.
Below I present articles offering factual background and analysis. First is a commentary by Paul Craig Roberts, written in his trademark uncompromising style. Following that is an editorial by Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria. A more sober account of the facts is given by Andrés Perezalonso of Sott.net. Below that are quotes on Turkish goals by Syrian experts at SouthFront, as well as opinion from Global research, along with two messages from Twitter pundit AJSB Last is a brief but shocking video on US support for terrorists.
My opinion is shared by few. I suspect, first, that Turkey has seized Idlib as a permanent annexation of territory, second, that Putin will continue to bask in his own glory while bowing to Israel and the Kremlin globalists, and third, that the West will launch further assaults for which pretexts are no longer needed.
Yet through all these challenges, Bashar al-Assad remains an unwaivering leader who has dared to oppose, for the cause of his country, the ruthless drive by the globalist elite to destroy the sovereignty of nations.
Putin’s Hesitation Has Lost Syria’s Idlib Province
By Paul Craig Roberts
Paul Craig Roberts official website
September 20, 2018
The provocations that Putin invites are now escalating. Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, points out that Washington has quickly taken advantage of Putin’s hesitancy in Syria to escalate the pretexts on which Washington will launch a military attack on the Syrian forces. Formerly Washington’s pretext was to be a false flag “chemical attack” that would be blamed on Syria. Washington’s new pretext precludes the liberation of Idlib as Washington has declared that any attempted liberation of the province from Washington’s terrorist allies will result in a US military attack on Syria. Indeed, even a refugee flow whether or not caused by a Syrian attack is deemed to be a “humanitarian issue” that justifies a US military attack on Syria. President Trump’s Special Envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, just announced that the United States will not tolerate an attack, period. https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/09/19/idlib-lull-before-hurricane.html [Full article reprinted below.]
Clearly, the Syrian/Russian liberation of Idlib from Washington’s terrorists cannot now happen, unless Putin is willing to establish such air superiority over Syria, backed up by Russian weapons, that the US would be incapable of launching an attack. Washington’s escalation of its provocations means that Putin would have to accept the risk of destroying any US attack forces that were sufficiently reckless to test the defenses.
Another puzzle is Putin’s decision to pacify Erdogan by substituting a demilitarized zone in Idlib instead of liberating the province. How did Putin and Erdogan reach the fantasy conclusion that the US and its terrorist allies in Idlib province would cooperate with their demilitarization plan? Has Russian foreign policy dissolved into self-delusion? https://www.globalresearch.ca/video-al-qaeda-militants-reject-demilitarization-zone-agreement-in-idlib/5654577
We are watching unfold my concern that the acceptance of provocations results in more provocations and that the provocations escalate in their danger. What will Putin do now? If he backs down again, he can expect a yet more dangerous provocation until the only choice becomes surrender or nuclear war.
Washington’s provocations would not have reached the current level of intensity if Putin had put his foot down several provocations ago. Indeed, the entire Syrian crisis would have been over except for the repeated hesitations and premature withdrawals of Russian forces.
Does the Russian government not understand that Washington is conducting war against Russia, not against terrorists?
Idlib: Lull Before the Hurricane
By Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria
Original source: timhayward.wordpress.com
September 19, 2018
It appears that the Russians have pressed the pause button on their plans for an offensive alongside the Syrian government to retake Idlib. By the time they return to play mode the martial music may have changed.
New US policies for Syria
Without fanfare the US has just reformulated its position to create the conditions for it to launch devastating strikes on Syria no longer just on the pretext of alleged use of chemical weapons but on any ‘humanitarian’ pretext the US sees fit. In an interview with the Washington Post on 6 September, James Jeffrey, the hawkish new Special Envoy for Syria fresh from the neocon incubator of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, did not mince words:
“We’ve started using new language,” Jeffrey said, referring to previous warnings against the use of chemical weapons.
Now, he said, the United States will not tolerate “an attack. Period.” “Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation” he said. “You add to that, if you use chemical weapons, or create refu¬gee flows or attack innocent civilians.”
Jeffrey’s remarks were little noticed because he was that day announcing something else more immediately striking: a ‘new’ policy on Syria involving cancellation of Trump’s announced departure of US troops before the end of 2018 and instatement of a plan to stay on indefinitely until achievement of the twin goals of removing all trace of the Iranian presence in Syria and installation of a Syrian government which would meet US conditions – conditions which President Asad would by Jeffrey’s own admission not be likely to meet.
The headlines naturally focussed on this latest Washington folly – do they think Iran will up sticks as long as there is a single US soldier on Syrian soil, or that there is Syrian Mandela waiting in the wings? – and the importance of the remarks about Idlib was missed. Yet those words may be about to bring the world to the brink of global war.
New doctrine for US intervention
What Jeffreys was saying was quite clear. That with or without alleged use of chemical weapons, a sudden exodus of frightened civilians from a part of Idlib, use of the fabled ‘barrel bombs’, or launch of a major offensive will be taken by the US as a trigger for drastic and probably sustained bombing aimed at bringing the government of Syria to its knees.
Until now successive US administrations have been careful to draw the red line for intervention in Syria at use of chemical weapons, presumably on the grounds that there is universal agreement and international law to the effect that use of prohibited weapons is taboo. WMD after all were the casus belli for Iraq, even if it turned out to be false. Now suddenly we have a new, broader and consequently more dangerous doctrine.
The State Department has not yet favoured the American public, Congress or anyone else with an explanation or justification for the change, but we can speculate. Can it be, for example, that US policy makers realise that when the next alleged use of chemical weapons occurs in Syria, as surely it will, it will be more difficult to sell intervention to the public than the first two times because the game has now been rumbled? Not only has the idea that the White Helmets might not be all they seem entered the bloodstream of media discourse, but the OPCW inspectors, able for once after Douma actually to visit a crime site, failed to find any proof of use of prohibited weapons. Add to that those pesky Russians unhelpfully telling the world exactly how and where the White Helmets were going to stage their next Oscar-winning performances. So why bother with all that rigmarole over chemical weapons when Western opinion is already sufficiently primed to accept any intervention whatever as long as it is somehow ‘humanitarian’ and doing down the evil Russians?
Responsibility to Protect
Step up ‘Responsibility to Protect’, the innocuous-sounding UN-approved doctrine beloved of interventionists of both Left and Right. Never mind that most legal scholars utterly reject the notion that this doctrine legalises armed aggression other than with Security Council approval or in self-defence. Was it not effectively invoked in the British government’s legal position statement provided at the time of the post-Douma strikes? (The US administration, knowing their audience, never bothered to provide any legal justification whatever.)
Slight snag: although the British government have preemptively sought with their legal statement to give themselves cover to commit acts of war on a whim, and without recourse to Parliament, as long as it can be dressed up as humanitarian, nevertheless there might be considerable disquiet in Parliament and possibly even among service chiefs were the government to appear to be about to launch strikes alongside the US had there not been even the appearance of a chemical weapons incident.
For this reason it is likely that the British government will attempt to persuade the US not to give up just yet on chlorine. Is it this new amplified threat – of strikes whether or not Asad obliges or appears to oblige with suicidal use of chlorine – which has given the Russians reasons to call off the dogs, pro tem at least? Probably not, because the Russians were taking it as read that fake chemical attacks were coming anyway. They will take note however that the US has just effectively lowered the bar on its own next heavy intervention in Syria and will not be deterred by any blowing of the gaff.
For those who naively but sincerely believed that if Asad laid off the chlorine he would not get bombed the world has suddenly become a lot more dangerous. For realists however the new doctrine merely removes a hypocrisy, or rather introduces an inflexion into the hypocrisy, whereby the itch felt by those salivating at the prospect of striking Syria, Russia and Iran can be masked as a humanitarian concern which goes beyond abhorrence of chemical weapons.
Russia Brings Turkey to the Right Side of History,
Terrorists and Israel React Badly to Sochi Agreement on Idlib
By Andrés Perezalonso
Thursday, September 20, 2018
With Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria and its support of militant groups in Idlib, it was to be expected that the Syrian Army offensive in the region would be postponed until a compromise was reached between Erdogan and Assad’s allies, as I explained earlier. Russian president Vladimir Putin held talks with his Turkish counterpart Erdogan, for the third time in less than a month, in Sochi on September 17th. They agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib; later, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed to journalists there would not be a large military operation in the province.
According to Russian diplomatic sources who spoke with Al-Watan newspaper, the Russian-Turkish agreement will be implemented in three stages: The first stage will go into effect by mid October to create a 15 to 20 km weapons-free zone along the contact line between militant groups and government forces. All radical groups, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra/Al Qaeda will have to leave this zone, which will be patrolled jointly by Russian and Turkish military units. In the second stage the heavy weapons will be collected from the region until November 10 and the militants will leave civilian areas. In the third stage, lasting to the end of this year, state institutions will resume activities in Idlib.
Notice that for the completion of all three stages, the cooperation of militant groups is necessary. This is the point that may result in the partial or complete collapse of the demilitarization efforts – but that is not necessarily a failure. South Front reports that pro-militant sources claim that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (the coalition affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda in Syria) and some other groups, including the Islamic Turkistan Party (composed of die-hard Uyghur Muslims from China) have rejected the agreement. (It was originally reported that Jaish al-Izza, a Free Syria Army group, had also rejected it, but now that appears to be incorrect). Furthermore, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation warned after the Putin-Erdogan meeting that the White Helmets and members of Al-Nusra were still preparing a false-flag chemical attack to blame the Assad government. This is not surprising; after all, Syria is dealing with jihadi factions – literally terrorists – not with a mix of “moderate rebels” and a few bad apples as the Western narrative insists.
By definition, terrorists are uncooperative to say the least, especially when asked to give up their weapons and let the state do its job.
If the information on the reaction of the terrorist groups is correct, the Turkey-sponsored and FSA-affiliated Jabhat al-Wataniya al-Tahrir (aka the National Front for Liberation) and Jaish al-Izza would be the only parties potentially willing to go along with the plan. In fact, Putin and Erdogan never expected or intended to make deals with groups everyone recognizes as radical – particularly with Al-Nusra, which was singled-out by Putin at the Sochi press conference, while Erdogan vowed to “clear these territories of radical elements”. Therefore, in the context of Idlib, when we hear Russia or Turkey discuss ‘moderate rebels’, they mean Turkish proxies.
Before the latest Sochi summit, Erdogan demanded a political solution to the situation in Syria, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, when in reality he had three objectives:
1. To salvage the forces in the area loyal to Turkey.
2. To minimize the amount of refugees and jihadists crossing the border into Turkey.
3. To retain as much influence on the future of Northern Syria as he could.
Clearly, Putin understood that Turkey would not simply leave the region of its own accord, and thus the Idlib offensive would have risked a dangerous direct confrontation between states. So he agreed to proceed via the ‘political route’, fully aware that Turkey would then have to . . . READ MORE AT SOTT.NET>>
In the September 21, 2018 detailed historical account by South Front, entitled Turkish Strategy In Syria: Military Operations, Proxies And Idlib Issue, reposted at Veteran’s Today, the author says:
“At the regional level, Ankara wants to position itself as the most important player in the matter of resolving the Syrian crisis. Turkey is actively supporting only those formations in Syria, which are loyal to and affiliated with it. The purpose is to turn Syria into a country loyal to Turkey, to neutralize Kurdish armed formations, to replace the Assad government, and to create a reliable pathway for energy supplies, especially oil, to Turkey. To achieve these goals, Ankara is using the rhetoric of counter-terrorism, though in reality it will support any organization ready to help to achieve its goals.” In the conclusion, the author says, “The Assad government is still viewed as illegitimate by Ankara, though Erdogan prefers not to mention it officially if this is possible. Turkish authorities have also repeatedly claimed that Ankara is fulfilling its obligations under the de-escalation zones agreement. However, no practical steps have been made by Ankara to separate Turkish-backed “moderate” factions from the terrorist groups in Idlib or to combat the terrorists there.”
“[S]ome Russian experts claim that Turkey is allied with the US against Russia, which does have some basis. Turkey is in NATO, Ankara has supported and is still supporting the opposition, especially radical armed groups in Idlib, which are not willing to negotiate with Assad…. However, Turkey’s, Syria’s, and therefore also Russia’s interests coincide on the question of Syrian Kurdistan. After Russian forces were dispatched to Syria and particularly after the liberation of Aleppo in 2017, Moscow tried to act as an intermediary between the Kurds and Damascus, trying to convince the latter to create Kurdish autonomy. But the Kurdish leaders rejected talks with Damascus and instead placed their hopes in an alliance with the US.”
[Read more at source.]
In a September 21 analysis entitled What the Idlib Deal Means for the Syrian War, posted at Global Research (source New Eastern Outlook), author Salman Rafi Sheikh says:
“While a crisis has been prevented in Idlib through a deal between Russia and Turkey, the deal in itself also contains sufficient substance that brings America’s role in Syria down to zero…. With Idlib being the last major terrorist stronghold in Syria and with the US having no say in it, there is little gainsaying that the US will have little to no say on the final outcome of the war it had orchestrated 6 years ago.” The author adds, “While western political pundits have been pointing out as to how this deal could fail like the many deals made in the past, this analysis does hardly take into account how Russia-Turkey relations have already changed into strong enough ties to fulfill these deals. Turkey and Russia are increasingly becoming trade and diplomatic partners, and Russia is building Turkey’s first nuclear reactor. On top of it is the fact that Turkey’s own relations with the US and EU countries aren’t strong enough to allow for greater protection of its interests in and outside Syria.” And in conclusion, “Convincing or even forcing the rebels and the radicals is, therefore, a crucial task that Turkey has to [perform].. If it succeeds in doing so, it will make Idlib’s return to Syria’s control relatively peaceful; if it fails, Turkey will hardly be in any position to ask for another deal, leaving the ground open for the Syrian and Russian military to clear Idlib through hard military means.”
[Salman Rafi Sheikh is research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.]
[Read more at source.]
AJSB tweets on Sep 21, 2018 15:00 UTC: “IMHO: ALL plans to make Idlib factions voluntarily reconcile will FAIL for several reasons, starting right away with the fact that “Moderate Rebels” have been making (massive) arrests of ANYONE that dares to express ANY opinion favorable to reconciliation w/ #Damascus.”
Another AJSB tweet from September 20 (apparently now deleted) claimed that Turkey had already sent some 135 truckloads of weapons and ammunition to the “moderate rebels” (terrorists) it supports in Idlib.