Archive for the ‘Russia and Trump’ category

Russian Reactions To Flynn’s Resignation

February 21, 2017

Russian Reactions To Flynn’s Resignation, MEMRI, February 21, 2017

(Please see also, Is a Trump-Putin Detente Dead? — DM)

While part of Russian officialdom dodged comment on Michael Flynn’s resignation from the post of national security adviser or downplayed its importance, the consensus view was that this represented a negative signal for Russia. Russia would have to retrench its hopes for improved Russia-US relations under President Trump as the new president was finding it difficult to exercise control over an anti-Russian establishment. Some commentators believed that an anti-Russia cabal was behind Flynn’s ouster and that Flynn was merely the appetizer with Trump being the main course. These rogue officials backed by the media would not rest till they had ousted Trump and set back Russian-American relations.

We present a sampling of official and press reactions to the Flynn resignation.

trumpandflynn1Source: Gazeta.ru)

Senator Pushkov’s Tweetstorm

Senator Alexey Pushkov, a member of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on International Affairs and an avid tweeter, took to Twitter to present his categorical assessment of the forces behind the resignation and their motivation:

“Flynn ‘was forced out’ not due to his missteps, but due to a vast aggressive campaign. “Russian –get out ” clamored the newspapers. This is paranoia and witch hunt.”

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, February 14, 2017)

“Flynn leaves, but the Russian problem at Trump’s White House persists” – his enemies write. Flynn’s banishment was only the first act. Now – Trump is the target.”

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, February 13, 2017)

“Flynn’s departure is probably the earliest resignation of a US National Security Advisor in history. Yet, Flynn was not the target, relations with Russia were.”

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, February 13, 2017)

“It’s not going to end  with Flynn’s resignation. Trump’s enemies with the help of the security special services and media will eradicate him ( Trump) until the impeachment. Trump himself is now the objective.”

impeach(Twitter.com, February 14, 2017)

“Lots of money invested in the new cold war against Russia. Those who oppose the war are at high risk. Flynn’s massacre is clear evidence.”

(Twitter.com, February 14, 2017)

push-shove(Alexey Pushkov, Source: Pravda-tv.ru)

Senator Kosachev: ‘Russophobia Has Already Engulfed The New Administration From Top To Bottom’

Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on International Affairs, wrote on his Facebook page: “Dismissing the national security adviser for contacts with Russia’s ambassador (ordinary diplomatic practice) is not just paranoia, but something much worse.” He then added: “Either Trump has not gained the desired independence and he is being consistently (and not unsuccessfully) pushed into a corner, or Russophobia has already engulfed the new administration from top to bottom.”

(Tass.com, February 14, 2017)

kosKonstantin Kosachev (Source: Rt.com)

Valery Garbuzov, Director of the Institute for US and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Russian news agency TASS: “I believe the Russian issue is one of the most difficult for the U.S. administration in the sense that it has not yet developed recipes for tackling the Russian issue in general and in particular. These are the issues of sanctions, the issue of Ukraine, Crimea and so on.” He then said: “The U.S. president’s national security adviser is a significant figure who, along with the US secretary of state, takes part in shaping the country’s foreign policy. Flynn’s resignation indicates that internal contradictions, perhaps, internal struggles, begin to appear in the emerging US administration. Flynn’s resignation was a manifestation of this struggle. He was considered if not a pro-Russian member of Trump’s team, then a person who was committed to resuming pragmatic dialogue with Russia.”

(Tass.com, February 14, 2017)

The Deputy Chair of the Duma’s International Affairs committee, Alexey Chepa: “Flynn has just begun working, he did not have an opportunity build himself a reputation. Before the inauguration he’d had some consultations with our ambassador Kislyak. I don’t know to what extent he informed his superiors regarding the consultations. I don’t know either how it could lead to a possible blackmailing… In general, there was not enough time to arrange improved contacts, so I think this [resignation] won’t strongly affect [our relations with the US]”

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

Presidential spokesperson Dmitri Peskov declined comment on Flynn’s resignation: “We do not want to comment on it in any manner. It’s America’s internal affair, the Trump administration’s internal affair. It’s not our business.”

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

The Resignation Reduces Russia’s Confidence In The Trump Administration

According to Leonid Slutsky, chair of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee: “The situation regarding the resignation of national security advisor Michael Flynn, bears a provocative character. This is a form of negative signal concerning the building of a Russia-US dialog. It’s obvious that Flynn was forced to write the resignation announcement under pressure. Trump received this resignation. The excuse, which was chosen, is contacts with the Russian ambassador, though it’s common diplomatic practice.  In these circumstances, the conclusion arises that the Russia-US relations were the set target. This erodes confidence in the US administration”.

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

The TASS agency quotes Slutsky a bit differently: “Flynn’s resignation might be a provocation – it could well be that he will pop up again in US public administration. At the moment, it looks like a thrust and a sort of  negative signal towards Russia, implying that we had discussed something improper with the US national security advisor, for which he paid for with his job … It’s an incredible assumption that Flynn, a very experienced person, divulged some state secrets”. According to Slutsky, “the whole buzz is aimed at Russia’s positioning as a strategic opponent amongst the American establishment”.

(Tass.ru, February 14, 2017)

slutLeonid Slutsky (Source: Polytika.ru)

According to Vladimir Batyuk, head of the Center for Military-Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ US and Canada Institute and professor of world politics at the Higher School of Economics :

“Flynn’s resignation is a powerful blow to the US administration. Flynn, as a national security advisor, was one of the key figures. Given that this man turned out to be undisciplined and incompetent, it’s a definite blow to the administration’s authority and to US-Russia relations. Moscow, from now on, will have far less confidence in the new administration and its ability to conduct confidential negotiations on delicate international matters and problems of bilateral relations. It will have negative consequences for the future Russo-American dialog.”  Representatives of the Russian Federation will now fear approaching Trump administration officials. “When Ambassador Kislyak communicated with Flynn he was completely sure that he was talking to the Trump’s representative, rather than to private person, Mr. Flynn. Now, it’s not the case as it turns out and this is a blow to Moscow’s trust in the new administration. This trust usually carries high importance in diplomacy.”

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

The Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta published an article by Igor Dunaevsky, where the author assumes that Flynn’s resignation was initiated by the secret services:

“It can’t be excluded that Flynn was “taken out” by the secret services. His Russian connections presented themselves as an excuse and were not the real reason. According to local media publications, Flynn, who headed MOD intelligence department in the Obama administration, was not popular in the American intelligence community and he reciprocated this attitude.  Flynn’s resignation will not extensively affect White House’s approaches towards a dialog with Russia, but rather it will prove instrumental for those who want to impede that process.”

(Rg.ru, February 14, 2017)

Highly Classified National Security Information Must Not be Leaked

February 20, 2017

Highly Classified National Security Information Must Not be Leaked, Dan Miller’s Blog, February 20, 2017

(The views expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Warsclerotic or its other editors. — DM)

Evidence of political corruption should be.

It has been obvious since the early Republican primaries that most media coverage of a Trump presidency would be adverse and presented out of context. Perhaps a recent editorial at The Week Magazine explains why, albeit inadvertently. Or maybe this cartoon better explains the media view:

Trump and Putin as seen by the lamebrain media

Trump and Putin as seen by the lamebrain media

According to The Week Magazineall leaks are equal. However, we approve of those which fit our politics and disapprove of those which don’t.

Live by the leak, die by the leak. When WikiLeaks was releasing a steady stream of embarrassing emails hacked from Democratic officials during the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and her supporters cried foul, and urged the press not to report their contents. Donald Trump applauded every new revelation, saying the leaks provided voters with important information, and gleefully invited the Russians to find and publish emails she had deleted. “Boy, that WikiLeaks has done a job on her, hasn’t it?” Trump exulted. Now that it’s Trump who is being tortured by leaks, he’s complaining they’re illegal and “un-American.” Democrats, meanwhile, are welcoming the torrent like a rainstorm after a long drought. (See Main Stories.) When it comes to leaks, everyone is a hypocrite. “Good” leaks are ones that damage our opponents. “Bad” leaks are those that hurt Our Side. [Emphasis added.]

But let’s set partisanship aside for a moment. Is it always in the public interest for government officials to leak, and for the media to publish leaked material? Crusading journalist Glenn Greenwald—who angered the Obama administration by publishing Edward Snowden’s trove of stolen NSA documents—argues in TheIntercept.com this week that all leaks exposing “wrong-doing” are good ones, regardless of the leaker’s motives. “Leaks are illegal and hated by those in power (and their followers),” Greenwald says, “precisely because political officials want to be able to lie to the public with impunity and without detection.” The implication of this argument, of course, is that governments, politicians, and organizations should not keep any secrets—that when people in power conceal documents, emails, or information that could embarrass them, they are by definition deceiving the public. Radical transparency certainly sounds noble—but I suspect it’s a standard no public official, or indeed most of us, could survive. It’s so much more convenient to have a double standard: Transparency for thee, but not for me.

I disagree. Leaks of unclassified materials demonstrating corruption of the political process by either party are necessary for an effectively functioning democracy. Leaks of highly classified national security information — particularly in the area of foreign policy — endanger our democracy, are crimes and the perpetrators should be dealt with accordingly. When the media sensationalize leaks of the latter type, they are complicit and must be criticized vigorously.

The press has long served as an objective fail-safe to protect the public from the powers-that-be. That objectivity is now absent and the media’s role in our democratic society is in jeopardy. Rather than self-reflect as to how they got off course, the press have opted to label the man who exposed this derailment as un-American.

What’s un-American is the belief that the press should be unaccountable for its actions. What’s un-American is the belief that any attempt to criticize the press should be viewed as heresy. What’s un-American is the belief that the press is akin to a golden calf that compels Americans, presidents included, to worship the press.

Two very different types of leaks

a. DNC and Podesta e-mails:

The DNC and Podesta e-mails were released as written and posted by DNC officials and Podesta for transmission on unsecured servers easily hacked by modestly competent teenage hackers. I have seen no suggestion that the e-mails were classified. The intelligence community opined that Russian agents had done the hacking, but offered no significant proof beyond that the methods used by the hacker(s) were comparable to those used by Russian hackers in the past.

They found no discrepancies between the original e-mails and those posted by WikiLeaks (which denied that Russia had been the source). The e-mail leaks damaged the Clinton campaign because they portrayed, accurately — and in their own words —  dishonest efforts of high-level DNC and Clinton campaign personnel to skew the Democrat primary process in Ms. Clinton’s favor. They did not involve American foreign policy until Obama — who had previously done nothing of significance to halt Russia’s hacking of highly classified information from our intelligence establishment beyond asking, “pretty please, stop” — decided that Russia must be punished for Hillary’s loss of the general election through sanctions and by the expulsion of thirty-five of its diplomats.

Russian president Vladimir Putin had been expected to respond in kind, with the expulsion of US diplomats from its territory.

However, he later said he would not “stoop” to “irresponsible diplomacy”, but rather attempt to repair relations once Donald Trump takes office.

Mr Trump praised the decision as “very smart.”

b. Flynn telephone conversations:

Neither transcripts nor audio recordings of the Flynn telephone conversations were released. Instead, conclusions of the leakers were released. According to House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes,

“I think there is a lot of innuendo out there that the intelligence agencies have a problem with Donald Trump. The rank and file people that are out doing jobs across the world — very difficult places — they don’t pay attention to what is going on in Washington,” the California representative told CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson.

“What we have is we do have people in the last administration, people who are burrowed in, perhaps all throughout the government, who clearly are leaking to the press,” Nunes added. “And it is against the law. Major laws have been broken. If you believe the Washington Post story that said there were nine people who said this, these are nine people who broke the law.” [Emphasis added.]

Nunes said the FBI and other intelligence agencies ought to investigate who has leaked information to the press because so few people in the administration knew these secrets, that it would have had to have been someone at the “highest levels of the Obama administration” who is an acting official until Trump replaces him or her.

Did the leaker(s) try to present the conversations honestly, or to damage President Trump’s efforts to deal with Russia in matters of foreign policy where American and Russian interests coincide? To disrupt America’s badly needed “reset” with Russia which seemed likely to succeed under President Trump after Clinton’s and Obama’s efforts had failed?

resetbutton

Remember the Obama – Romney debate when Romney characterized Russia as America’s greatest geopolitical threat and Obama responded that the cold war was over and that “the 1980’s are calling and want their foreign policy back”?

The position now asserted by the Democrats and the media seems rather like the position that Obama rejected. If the position(s) of the Democrats and the media are now correct and Russia is again our enemy, might it be due to actions which Obama took or failed to take over the past eight years?

It is unfortunate that there has been a resurgence of Democrat (and some Republican) Russophobia when Russia is reassessing her relationship with Iran and America.

On January 22, 2017, the Russian media outlet Pravda.ru published an analysis on Russia-Iran relations. According to the article’s author, Dmitri Nersesov, Iran is becoming a problem for Russian interests. Nersesov also added that Iran wants Russia to choose between Iran and Washington. “Iran wants Russia to recognize that Teheran holds the key to the regulation of the Syrian crisis. Should Russia decide that the real strategy is built on the cooperation between Moscow and Washington, rather than Moscow and Teheran; the Islamic Republic will be extremely disappointed,” Nersesov wrote. [Emphasis added.]

An American – Russian realignment in areas of mutual concern — which as suggested below had seemed to be progressing well until General Flynn ceased to be involved — would be good, not bad. We have many areas of mutual concern, and Iran is one of them. The war in Syria is another. When were Russians last directed to yell Death to America? Or to refer to America as the “Great Satan?”

c. General Flynn, Russia and Iran

General Flynn had, at President Trump’s request, been dealing with Russia concerning the future roles of Iran, Russia and America in the Syria debacle:

Overlaying US President Donald Trump’s extraordinary, hour-long skirmish with reporters Thursday, Feb. 16, was bitter frustration over the domestic obstacles locking him out from his top security and foreign policy goals. [Emphasis added.]

Even before his inauguration four weeks ago, he had arranged to reach those goals by means of an understanding with President Vladimir Putin for military and intelligence cooperation in Syria, both for the war on the Islamic State and for the removal of Iran and its Lebanese surrogate Hizballah from that country. [Emphasis added.]

But his antagonists, including elements of the US intelligence community, were turning his strategy into a blunderbuss for hitting him on the head, with the help of hostile media.

Thursday, in a highly unconventional meeting with the world media, he tried to hit back, and possibly save his strategy.

That won’t be easy. The exit of National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, the prime mover in the US-Russian détente, sent the Kremlin a negative signal. The Russians began unsheathing their claws when they began to suspect that the US president was being forced back from their understanding. The SSV 175 Viktor Leonov spy ship was ordered to move into position opposite Delaware on the East Coast of America; Su-24 warplanes buzzed the USS Porter destroyer in the Black Sea.

Before these events, Washington and Moscow wre moving briskly towards an understandingdebkafile’s intelligence sources disclose that the Kremlin had sent positive messages to the White House on their joint strategy in Syria, clarifying that Moscow was not locked in on Bashar Assad staying on as president. [Emphasis added.]

They also promised to table at the Geneva conference on Syria taking place later this month a demand for the all “foreign forces” to leave Syria. This would apply first and foremost to the pro-Iranian Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghan militias brought in by Tehran to fight for Assad under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers, as well as Hizballah. [Emphasis added.]

Deeply troubled by this prospect, Tehran sent Iran’s supreme commander in the Middle East, the Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, to Moscow this week to find out what was going on.

Flynn’s departure put the lid on this progress. Then came the damaging leak to the Wall Street Journal, that quoted an “intelligence official” as saying that his agencies hesitated to reveal to the president the “sources and methods” they use to collect information, due to “possible links between Trump associates and Russia.. Those links, he said “could potentially compromise the security of such classified information.”

A first-year student knows that this claim is nonsense, since no agency ever share its sources and methods with any outsider, however high-placed.

What the leak did reveal was that some Washington insiders were determined at all costs to torpedo the evolving understanding between the American and Russian presidents. The first scapegoat was the strategy the two were developing for working together in Syria. [Emphasis added.]

Defending his policy of warming relations with Moscow, Trump protested that “getting along with Russia is not a bad thing.” He even warned there would be a “nuclear holocaust like no other” if relations between the two superpowers were allowed to deteriorate further.

It is too soon to say whether his Russian policy is finally in shreds or can still be repaired. Trump indicated more than once in his press briefing that he would try and get the relations back on track.

Asked how he would react to Russia’s latest provocative moves, he said: “I’m not going to tell you anything about what responses I do. I don’t talk about military responses. I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea,” he stressed.

At all events, his administration seems to be at a crossroads between whether to try and salvage the partnership with Russia for Syria, or treat it as a write-off. If the latter, then Trump must decide whether to send American troops to the war-torn country to achieve his goals, or revert to Barack Obama’s policy of military non-intervention in the conflict. [Emphasis added.]

Substantially more is generally involved in matters of foreign policy than is facially apparent or than government officials should discuss publicly, particularly while negotiations with foreign powers are underway. Leaks by held-over members of the intelligence community did much to reveal the opinions of the leakers but little to reveal what General Flynn had been doing, while upsetting the chances of better American – Russian relations in areas of mutual concern.

Conclusions — The Administrative State

The Federal Government has grown far too big for its britches, giving the unelected “administrative state” substantially more authority, and hence power, than is consistent with a properly functioning democracy. As they have been demonstrating in recent months, holdovers from one administration can succeed, at least partially, in paralyzing a new and democratically elected president. Holdovers with political appointee status can generally be fired. Few others who should be can be.

Getting rid of the obstructionist “civil servants” who have become our masters should rank very high on President Trump’s “to do” list and should be accomplished before it’s too late. The task may be difficult but is not impossible. Perhaps some particularly obnoxious Federal agencies (or departments within those agencies) can be relocated to places less congenial than Washington. Inner City Chicago comes to mind. So do otherwise pleasant cities in California, where housing prices are much higher than in the Washington, D.C. area. How many Federal employees faced with the choice of relocating or resigning would choose the latter option?

There are likely other and probably better ways to get rid of the fatheads. President Trump’s administration should devise them.

US-Russian steps vs Iran await new NSC chief

February 14, 2017

US-Russian steps vs Iran await new NSC chief, DEBKAfile, February 14, 2016

flynnout_eng_480

Michael Flynn’s abrupt resignation as National Security Adviser Monday night, Feb. 13, was a crippling blow to Donald Trump’s foreign policy strategy, less than a month after he entered the White House. Flynn was the architect and prime mover of the president’s plans for close cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was brought down by misinforming Vice President Mike Pence – and very likely the president too – on the content of the conversation he held with the Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration.

Although retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg takes over as acting NSA, the White House is urgently considering a permanent replacement to fill Flynn’s large shoes. Former CIA Director David Petraeus’ name has come up, but his indiscretions over state secrets still count against him. Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, is a strong contender, although more may emerge.

Even before picking his next national security adviser, Trump will need to determine how to proceed with his détente with Putin, the highly sensitive details of which were managed personally and confidentially by Mike Flynn as the centerpiece of the new administration’s foreign policy.

His contacts with Moscow were under heavy fire from the president’s friends and foes alike, both before and after the November election. It was defended stalwartly by Trump himself, Pence and Flynn. However, neither the president nor the vice president can tell exactly what Flynn promised the Russians and to what deals he committed them. Therefore, his successor will be required to start building Washington’s ties with Moscow from scratch.

While Flynn’s departure has caused havoc in the Trump administration, it is a catastrophe for the Middle East, because a core objective of the US-Russian partnership, which he shaped as a model for other regions, was to have been to clip Iran’s wings and cut down its standing down as premier Middle East power conferred by Barack Obama.

(How the Flynn mechanism was to work plus detailed analysis of the fallout from his departure will be covered exclusively in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out next Friday).

Flynn alone was privy to arrangements concluded with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh, Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman, President Putin in Moscow, Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisis in Cairo and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Some of his output began taking shape on the day he stepped down, when Syrian rebel groups led by Jordanian special operations officers attacked Syrian army positions in the southern town of Daraa. This was the start of an operation to drive Syrian government forces and their Iranian and Hizballah allies from the lands bordering on Jordan and Israel.

In Cairo, too, President Michel Aoun of Lebanon and his host, El-Sisi were hashing out a plan for the Egyptian army and Gulf forces to go into action against Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon.

Wednesday, Feb. 15, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to visit the White House for his first meeting with Trump as president. They too were scheduled to discuss US operations against Hizballah and the role Israel would play.

In the coming hours, Trump will have to decide whether to go ahead with these initiatives in the absence of Flynn and his detailed knowledge of how they should go forward, or simply put them on hold until his successor is in place and has time for a full study of their complicated ins and outs. At the same time, a different national security adviser in the White house might have different plans to those laid out by his predecessor.

Trump-Putin deal on Syria bears on Israel security

January 28, 2017

Trump-Putin deal on Syria bears on Israel security, DEBKAfile, January 28, 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars during his visit in the Northern district border of Israel on August 18, 2015. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO *** Local Caption *** ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ????? ????? ???? ????

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars during his visit in the Northern district border of Israel on August 18, 2015. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

1. Will Washington and Moscow go through with the expulsion from Syria of Iranian forces and their proxies, including Hizballah – and take it all the way until it is accomplished?

2. After they are gone, who will take over the areas they evacuate?

3. Will Bashar Assad stay on as president, or has his successor been nominated?

4. The most burning question of all is the level of Hizballah’s armament. Not only must Hizballah forces be pushed out of Syria, but it is essential to strip them of their sophisticated new weaponry, including missiles. Israel’s military and security chiefs assess Hizballah’s arsenal as having been upgraded in recent weeks to a level that directly impinges on Israel’s security.

**************************

It would be a mistake to take it for granted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s talks with President Donald Trump in Washington early next month will be plain sailing or produce an automatic shower of benefits for the Jewish state. It is understood in Jerusalem that a new order is unfolding close to Israel’s borders, which is not yet fully in the sights of its government, military and intelligence leaders. This process is going forward at dizzying speed in Syria, currently the central Middle East arena, where Presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to cooperate.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May picked up fast on the new power equation. After standing before the media with the US President Friday, Jan. 27, and declaring hopefully, “Britain and the US can once again lead the world together,” she decided to fly straight from Washington to Ankara Saturday, before returning home.

The outcome of her first meeting with President Erdogan was one of the fastest defense collaboration pacts ever negotiated for trade and the war on terror. The British leader lost no time in getting down to brass tacks on how British military and intelligence can be integrated in the joint US-Russian-Turkish military steps for Syria. Erdogan did not exactly receive her with open arms. He did not afford his visitor the courtesy of placing a British flag in the reception room in his palace.

Israel is in much the same position. Israel stayed out of military involvement in the Syrian civil war, according to a policy led by Netanyahu, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Avivi Kochavi (then Direct of Military Intelligence). This policy has left Israel out of today’s decision-making loop on Syria’s future.

Towards the end of 2015, shortly after Russia embarked on its massive military intervention in the Syrian conflict, Netanyahu took steps for safeguarding Israel’s security interests by setting up a direct line with the Russian president. It was translated into a military coordination mechanism between the Russian air force command in Syria and the Israeli air force, with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, and Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Israel’s Deputy Chief of Staff, in charge of this direct military link.

Any problems that could not be solved at the military level were promptly turned over to be addressed at meetings or in phone calls between Netanyahu and Putin.

In one example, the prime minister obtained an undertaking from the Russian president to keep Iranian forces and Iran’s Shiite surrogates, including the Lebanese Hizballah, away from the Syrian-Israeli border, or allow them to use borderlands to send terrorists into Israel.

Shortly after Trump’s election victory (Nov. 8, 2016), the spadework on his collaboration with Putin was quietly begun by their national security advisers, Michael Flynn, in New York and Nikiolai Platonovich Patrushev in Moscow.

Jerusalem knew what was going on, but was taken aback by the speed at which those close understandings ripened into US-Russian deals on the ground. Before Trump had finished his first week in the White House, US warplanes had escorted a Russian air strike against ISIS in Syria.

This rush of events injects further urgency into Netanyahu forthcoming talks with the US president.  Whereas in the second term of the Obama presidency, the Israeli leader was wont to travel to Moscow or Sochi to sort out security problems relating to Syria, henceforth he must directly engage Donald Trump as the lead player.

So when the Israeli premier travels to the White House next month, he will have to address four pressing concerns, all relating to the fast-moving Syrian scene:

1. Will Washington and Moscow go through with the expulsion from Syria of Iranian forces and their proxies, including Hizballah – and take it all the way until it is accomplished?

2. After they are gone, who will take over the areas they evacuate?

3. Will Bashar Assad stay on as president, or has his successor been nominated?

4. The most burning question of all is the level of Hizballah’s armament. Not only must Hizballah forces be pushed out of Syria, but it is essential to strip them of their sophisticated new weaponry, including missiles. Israel’s military and security chiefs assess Hizballah’s arsenal as having been upgraded in recent weeks to a level that directly impinges on Israel’s security.

President Of The Pro-Kremlin Think Tank RIAC: ‘The Process Of ‘Perestroika’ Induced By The New Global Balance Of Power… Will Probably Stretch Far Beyond Trump’s Presidency’

January 23, 2017

President Of The Pro-Kremlin Think Tank RIAC: ‘The Process Of ‘Perestroika’ Induced By The New Global Balance Of Power… Will Probably Stretch Far Beyond Trump’s Presidency’, MEMRI, January 23, 2017

A common assessment made by the Russian media is that with the advent of a Donald Trump presidency, a new “perestroika” has begun. Igor Ivanov, president of the pro-Kremlin think tank Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and formerly Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (1998–2004), believes that this “perestroika” (i.e. reconstruction) process was induced by the “new global balance of power” and finds its representative in Trump. This process like Gorbachev’s “perestroika” is now out of the bag, unlikely to be “quick and easy”, and “will probably stretch far beyond Trump’s presidency”. A Trump-lead “perestroika” in the West by Trump will compel Washington “to take a fresh look at the role the United States plays in global affairs, the parameters of the country’s leadership, and the idea of American exceptionalism as such”.

As for Russia-U.S. relations, Ivanov predicts that under no circumstances will today’s international relations return to the “bipolar model of the second half of the 20th century”. Nevertheless the establishment of ground rules is a must irrespective of whether bilateral relations are head for rivalry or more hopefully partnership. However, he believes that “even limited success in this area would undoubtedly have a great positive impact on the overall situation in the world.”

Below are excerpts of Ivanov’s article, titled “Trump and Russia”, published in RIAC’s website:[1]

ivanIgor Ivanov (Source: Russiancouncil.ru)

‘Voting For Trump The American People Showed That They Were Tired Of Anti-Russian Propaganda’

“Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States. How could this happen? Politicians, experts, journalists will long be debating this question. But no matter how analysts assess this event, they all agree that American society and the U.S. political system are experiencing serious, even fundamental shifts. The presidential election held in November, 2016 became the starting point of a new era in the American political and public life development.

“Such a major shift was bound to happen sooner or later. Stagnation cannot go on forever; Russia learned this lesson first hand. The old socio-political system that has existed virtually unchanged in the United States for decades is no longer compatible with the new reality that has developed both in the United States and in the world as a whole. The electoral campaign turned into a fierce battle between those who wanted to preserve the status quo no matter what, and those who made destroying the status quo their goal. The American people opted for change in domestic and foreign policies, sometimes without realizing the exact nature of those changes.

“What will be achieved during Trump’s presidency? Hardly anyone is ready to give a certain answer to this question. Judging by the President-elect’s statements, it appears that in the coming years, we will witness out-of-the-box decisions, some of which may be a success, while others may be quite the opposite. This applies both to domestic politics and economic development in the United States, as well as to the country’s foreign policy.

“Speaking of the long-term foreign policy implications of the Trump ‘revolution,’ it is likely that Washington will be forced to take a fresh look at the role the United States plays in global affairs, the parameters of the country’s leadership, and the idea of American exceptionalism as such. The process of ‘perestroika’ induced by the new global balance of power is unlikely to be quick and easy, and will probably stretch far beyond Trump’s presidency. But, as Mikhail Gorbachev’s favorite phrase goes, ‘the process has started,’ and it will not only affect the United States, but also the global situation as a whole.

“Russia, of course, is mostly interested in the way changes in the United States will affect relations between the two countries. Contrary to common sense, Russia all but became the primary focus of the presidential campaign. The Democrats followed the Cold War stereotypes and attempted to demonize Russia, while Donald Trump, on the other hand, spoke about his willingness to actively cooperate with Russia on a wide range of issues. Only time will tell whether he truly thought so, or whether he was just trying to distance himself and his party from the Democrats. In any case, the Washington hawks failed in their attempts to play the “Russian card.” Voting for Trump the American people showed that they were tired of anti-Russian propaganda and were less and less inclined to see Russia as a source of ‘evil’ threatening the interests of their country.

‘Under No Circumstances Will Today’s International Relations Return To The Bipolar Model Of The Second Half Of The 20th Century’

When we think about the future of Russia–United States relations, we would first need to explain the failure of the ‘reset’ policy announced by Barack Obama during his first presidential term. Both countries pinned significant hopes on this ‘reset’ policy. Eight years ago, many people believed that all the conditions for the ‘reset’ to succeed were there. Indeed, much has been done in terms of cooperation in various spheres, including security. Suffice it to mention the signing in April 2010 of the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the new START treaty) by presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama. Nevertheless, the Obama administration leaves the White House with relations between Russia and the United States at their lowest point since the long since forgotten times of the Cold War.

“We can talk about certain mistakes and miscalculations made by both parties, unreasonably high expectations, and bureaucratic inertia here. All of that is true, but I believe that the ‘reset’ policy’s historical failure occurred due to deeper, systemic reasons. Since the latest détente in relations between Russia and the United States, both parties have focused on resolving important, yet quite specific issues, without paying proper attention to developing and articulating new basic bilateral relations principles that would reflect the strategic interests of both countries. As a result, stand-alone achievements failed to take US–Russia relations to a qualitatively new level and create the necessary margin of safety. This is why the ‘reset’ failed the test of the latest international crises – most notably the crisis in Ukraine.

“Hence the principal lesson for the future: when resolving important issues with the new U.S. administration, Russia should initiate a serious dialogue with regard to the strategic interests of the two countries, yet considering both the existing potential and the objective limits for bilateral cooperation. During my tenure as the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, we tried to engage in such work with the George W. Bush administration, but as the United States was not ready for it, we did not achieve any viable results. However, this does not cross out the crucial importance of this task.

“What questions should be made a priority? The main question that both parties have to answer – both to each other and to themselves is: ‘Are Russia and the United States irreconcilable enemies in the world today? Or, given all their possible differences, could they still be partners?’ If the two countries are bound to be enemies, then our key task is to work out and agree on ‘rules of the game’ that would minimize the risks of a direct confrontation between Russia and the United States in the event of a conflict, for such a confrontation would threaten international security. We could turn to the experience of the Cold War, when Moscow and Washington knew very well where the ‘red line’ was located.

“If Russia and the United States are prepared to work together as partners, in the interests of advancing stability, security, and jointly respond to global challenges, then we need to construct effective forms of dialogue at all levels – from the very top down to specific agencies and civil society – so that the relations between the two countries can be open and predictable. Thus, should any differences arise, which is natural for U.S.–Russia relations, we are able to overcome them with mutual respect, without allowing the situation to escalate into a major crisis.

“Creating a multi-layered architecture of bilateral relations in this way would make these relations more stable and create opportunities for a constructive dialogue on key global issues today, which cannot be resolved without the active participation of both Russia and the United States. There is a significant pile of such issues: what the future world order should look like; how to restore manageability of international affairs; how to fight terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction proliferation; what to do about the increasing number of regional conflicts; etc. Being permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia and the United States bear special responsibility for these problems’ resolution, and they have a lot of potential to do just that.

“Clearly, even the most productive relations between Russia and the United States are not able to solve all the global issues. Under no circumstances will today’s international relations return to the bipolar model of the second half of the 20th century. Yet even limited success in this area would undoubtedly have a great positive impact on the overall situation in the world.”

[1] Russiancouncil.ru, January 20, 2017.

Astana floored by Russian pick as Assad successor

January 23, 2017

Astana floored by Russian pick as Assad successor, DEBKAfile, January 23, 2017

(The rift between Russia and Iran deepens. — DM)

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Gen. Tlass, 53, son of the eminent Gen. Mustafa Tlass, defense minister under President Hafez Assad, was awarded high honors by his son Bashar as one of his closest friends. Although appointed commander of the prestigious 104thBrigade in the Syrian Republican Guard, Manas chose to defect and flee the country in 2012, not long after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising.

Iran threatens to be one of the main obstacles to any reduction in Assad’s powers. For Tehran, he stands as a bulwark against the expulsion of its own and Hizballah forces from the country. As long as he is in charge, Iran will have the use of a land bridge to Lebanon and its proxy, Hizballah, via Iraq and Syria.

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Syrian government and rebel groups launch a fresh peace conference in the Kazakh capital of Astana Monday, Jan.23 in freezing temperatures of minus 20 Centigrade. Although the event is jointly sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, Moscow is the real power-broker.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that the delegations on both sides of the table were caught off-balance by the arrival of Bashar Assad’s former close friend, Gen. Manas Tlass, whom Russia flew in from his place of exile in a Gulf emirate to a prominent seat with the opposition delegation.

Gen. Tlass, 53, son of the eminent Gen. Mustafa Tlass, defense minister under President Hafez Assad, was awarded high honors by his son Bashar as one of his closest friends. Although appointed commander of the prestigious 104th Brigade in the Syrian Republican Guard, Manas chose to defect and flee the country in 2012, not long after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising.

Our sources report that Moscow has chosen him as lead player in Syria’s post-Assad era, initially in the transition government in Damascus which is scheduled to start evolving from the peace process kicked off at Astana this week. This does not imply that Bashar Assad will be gone in a day – only that a new mechanism will be put in place to start curtailing his powers.

How quickly and how far this process will unfold cannot yet be determined.

Iran threatens to be one of the main obstacles to any reduction in Assad’s powers. For Tehran, he stands as a bulwark against the expulsion of its own and Hizballah forces from the country. As long as he is in charge, Iran will have the use of a land bridge to Lebanon and its proxy, Hizballah, via Iraq and Syria.

At the same time, Russia, Turkey and the Syrian rebel groups backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia are demanding the removal from Syrian soil of Iranian forces and pro-Iranian Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias (30,000 fighters in all)  as well as the 10,000 Hizballah combatants.

Neither Hizballah, nor the Shiite militias are represented at the Astana conference which leaves them deliberately at a disadvantage.

But Iran is preparing to make its removal from Syria as difficult as possible. One way is to start dominating Syria’s strategic infrastructure. And so, on Jan. 18. Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis, who was on a visit to Tehran, signed five accords granting Iran exclusive rights as the sole operator and developer of Syria’s country’s cell phone network.

And, according to our intelligence sources, a number of secret provisions were buried in those deals. One gave Iran permission to interlink the cell phone networks between Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon as a device to guarantee the Lebanese terror group’s permanent presence in Syria.

Deliberations at the Astana conference will focus at its first sessions Monday on stabilizing the ceasefire between government and Syrian rebel groups (excluding the jihadist ISIS and Nusra Front). This ceasefire has for the most part held up since it went into effect late last month.

The effort to turn the truce into a more permanent cessation of hostilities will be long and arduous, entailing negotiations on such tough issues as land swaps and rights to use main traffic and supply routes.  Only when they are resolved, can the two sides approach the next stage, a discussion of Syria’s political future, i.e. the fate of the regime headed by Bashar Assad.

Although Moscow invited the new Trump administration to send a representative to the Kazakh conference, it was declined. Washington only sent the US ambassador to Kazakhstan to attend as an observer.

This does not mean that President Donald Trump has decided to leave the resolution of the Syrian issue solely in Russian hands. Washington and Moscow are still in the middle of discussing this and other critical questions and no final decisions have been reached in either capital.

Moscow acts to oust Iran from Syria, bombs ISIS

January 21, 2017

Moscow acts to oust Iran from Syria, bombs ISIS, DEBKAfile, January 21, 2017

4-3ISIS suicide bombers at Deir ez-Zour

Although Vladimir Putin’s spokesman spoke reservedly Saturday, Jan. 21, about Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president the day before – It would be “an illusion” to expect Russian-US ties to be “free of disagreement” – Moscow’s actions in Syria were clearly designed to meet the new US president more than half way.

Trump in his inauguration speech pledged to wipe radical Islamist terrorism “off the face of the earth.”

His words were still reverberating when Russian long-range Tu-22M3 bombers flying in from bases in Russia smashed Islamic State targets in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zour the next day. The bombers hit ISIS base camps, weapons stockpiles and armored vehicles, covered overhead by Russian fighter jets from their Syrian air base at Hmeimim. After the sortie, the Tupolev bombers flew home.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources interpret the heavy Russian bombardment of ISIS as one of several signals Putin is sending out of his willingness to go the extra mile for a common effort with Trump to root ISIS and all its works out of the Middle East.

The Russians stepped in massively when, after holding out for many months of siege and assault at the important provincial town of Deir ez-Zor,, Syrian government forces were about to fold and the town and air base fall to ISIS.

Last Wednesday, Russian transport helicopters flew hundreds of Syrian troops to relieve them: Two brigades from the 15th Infantry Division, belonging to the elite Republic Guard, were lifted out of the northern Qamishli region.  When the Syrian lines were still in danger, the Russian helicopters turned around and flew back with members of the Lebanese Hizballah’s elite Radwan Force, to bolster the Syrian stand and save Deir ez-Zour.

For Putin, the injection of Hizballah into a major Syrian battle came at an awkward moment in terms of his diplomatic strategy on the eve of the Syrian peace conference that opens in Astana, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Jan. 23, under his joint sponsorship with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

The Russian leader had already give his co-sponsor a commitment to initiate a resolution at Astana demanding the withdrawal of all pro-Iranian militias from Syria, including Hizballah. This aimed at pacifying Syrian opposition groups, but was also meant to demonstrate to President Trump that Moscow would be a strong partner in the war on ISIS while also ready to clip Iran’s wings and influence in the affairs of Syria and Lebanon.

At the same time, Russian war strategists appreciate the urgency of averting the fall of Deir ez-our and its air base to the Islamists. This catastrophe would negatively impact the entire campaign against the terrorist organization on its three main fronts, Mosul, Raqqa and Palmyra, and count as ISIS’ biggest victory in the past year.