Archive for the ‘Russia – Syrian war’ category

Hizballah’s trust in Russia – strategic dilemma for Israel

March 19, 2017

Hizballah’s trust in Russia – strategic dilemma for Israel, DEBKAfile, March 18, 2017

Israel is not planning action against Russian forces in Syria, but if the Russian army, whether deliberately or unintentionally, grants Iran and Hizballaha military protection, as they counted on having at T4, Israel would not hesitate to disabuse them.

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Israel finally took a hand in the swiftly moving events looming from Syria over its northern borders by launching multiple air raids against the key northern Syrian air base known as T4 near Palmyra early Friday night March 17.

Those events are spearheaded by the pro-Iranian Hizballlah’s drive to capture the Golan in line with its war of “resistance” on the Jewish state.  This fixation came into sharp focus the day after the air strike in a rare admission by Hizballah of the loss of a commander. He was named Badee Hamiyeh and was described as having been killed “in the southern Syrian region of Quneitra near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.”  This was the first anyone had heard of any recent battle on the Golan.

A week earlier, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and IDF Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Hertzl Halevi showed President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin maps depicting the various military movements ongoing in Syria, with the accent on an armored convoy of several hundred Hizballah troops driving out of their Syrian stronghold of Zabadani towards Mt. Hermon. The convoy was clearing a path by overrunning some 30 Syrian rebel villages on the Hermon slopes, which command the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra and the Israeli border.

This evidence demonstrated that Hizballah had developed a single military stratagem for threatening Israel-held Hermon, ruling central Golan and gearing up for battle to restore the entire Golan area to Syrian sovereignty under Hizballah control.

Netanyahu had hoped that Putin would agree to stop the Hizballah convoy and keep his promise not to let Iran and Hizballah deploy on the Israeli border. However, the Russian leader was unresponsive. Not only were Russian commanders in Syria not instructed to restrain Hizballah, they acted to persuade Syrian rebels on the Hermon and the Golan to surrender to he Lebanese Shiite invaders.

And indeed, as the Hizballah advance continued. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah contrived an equation to justify his assault on the Golan. “They brought ISIS to the Beqaa [Hizballah’s Lebanese stronghold] and so the ‘resistance’ [Hizballah] went to Syria. They wanted this group to reach Beirut, and so, today, we are in Golan.”

Seeing Hizballah on the move unchecked and gearing up for an expeced showdown with Israel, Netanyahu and the IDF decided to take matters in their own hands. They ordered several air force strikes Friday on the relatively remote strategic T4 air base near Palmyra in northeastern Syria and hit several birds with one stone.

DEBKAfile’s military sources describe T4 as the main terminal for Iranian planes to land day by day and unload  war materials for their own forces as well as the Syrian army and Hizballah.This air base also houses Russian attack helicopters and special operations troops, whose presence there was trusted by Tehran and Nasrallah to be an effective shield against Israeli attack.

The IAF air strike Friday proved them wrong.

These developments were the subtext of the video statement by Netanyahu that was broadcast Friday night by Israeli media: “I can assure you that our resolve is firm, as attested to by our actions,” he said. “This is something that everyone should take into account, everyone!.” When he said, “everyone,” he was not just addressing Tehran and Beirut, but Moscow as well.

Israel is not planning action against Russian forces in Syria, but if the Russian army, whether deliberately or unintentionally, grants Iran and Hizballaha military protection, as they counted on having at T4, Israel would not hesitate to disabuse them.

The Kremlin got the message and, a few hours after the Israeli air strikes, Israeli Ambassador Cary Koren was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry. There was no official protest, but Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov firmly informed the ambassador that Moscow would not tolerate any further Israeli attacks on Syrian bases where Russian forces were present.

In the course of the raid, Israel’s advanced anti-missile Arrow system made its first operational appearance. IDF chiefs feared that the Syrian anti-air missiles fired against the Israeli jets might fall on a populated location inside Israel and so decided it was necessary to intercept any incoming projectiles.

Israel’s military experts got into an argument, which will no doubt go on for years, over whether Arrow’s first appearance in this situation was a good or a bad move. However, the deafening bang that the IDF wonder weapon inflicted on millions of Israeli ears, within a radius of more than a 150 kilometers from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean, offered an inkling of how much worse it will be in a full-scale conflict.

US armored column at Manbij to block Russians

March 6, 2017

US armored column at Manbij to block Russians, DEBKAfile, March 6, 2017

But now, as Russian units geared up to enter Manjib, the Trump administration warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if they did move in, they would face American forces.

The Trump administration has thus taken its first direct military action in Syria to cut off the expansion of Russian forces in the North.

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The Pentagon announced Tuesday, March 6, that a US armored convoy was deployed around the disputed northern Syrian town of Manbij, and in an unusual move, released a video depicting the convoy and its men.

A US military spokesman tweeted that the US deployment was a deliberate action taken to assure that forces within the US-led coalition deterred aggression and kept the focus on defeating ISIS.

Affirming that the US-led coalition was aware of the location of Russian-backed Syrian forces, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters Monday.

“They are certainly aware of where we are, and we are aware of where they are. There is no intention between the two of there being any conflict against any party other than ISIS.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the US armored force landed in the middle of a complicated crisis around the important town of Manjib, ever since a mixed Kurdish-Syrian Arab force captured it from ISIS last year with US air and military support.

A few days ago, the Kurdish YPG militia handed over some of the villages and military positions around the town to Russian and Syrian army units, as we revealed in an article (Monday, March 5) on ramped-up Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria, in the absence of American moves.

But now, as Russian units geared up to enter Manjib, the Trump administration warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if they did move in, they would face American forces.

The Trump administration has thus taken its first direct military action in Syria to cut off the expansion of Russian forces in the North.

Our military sources reveal that the Russian units assigned to Manjib consist mainly of a Chechen commando brigade brought over by Moscow three months ago.

Our sources added:  Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump phoned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu while he was being questioned by the police at his residence. That call almost certainly dealt with the possibility of a US-Russian military clash in Manjib, two days before Netanyahu sets out of Moscow for talks with the Russian president.

Putin ramps up Syria pact with Iran in US absence

March 5, 2017

Putin ramps up Syria pact with Iran in US absence, DEBKAfile, March 5, 2017

sdf_3-17

Constantly bombarded by allegations that his campaign associated with Russian intelligence, US President Donald Trump has held back from going through with his original plan for teaming up with Moscow in Syria for the important campaigns of wiping out the Islamic State and relieving Syria of Iran’s iron grip.

His entire Middle East policy is up in the air, while he grapples with domestic foes. The much talked-of US coalition with its regional allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, is also in abeyance.

Amid the uncertainty about the Trump administration’s future steps, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is unlikely to make much headway in his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, March 9,

DEBKAfile’s intelligence and military sources report that, even if does persuade Putin to stick to his promise to prevent Iran and Hizballah from deploying troops on the Syrian-Israeli border opposite the Golan, he won’t get far in his bid to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military and naval presence in Syria.

This is the situation stacking up against Netanyahu:

1. The Trump administration has decided not to decide on Middle East policy – and Syria, in particular – while engaged in dodging his domestic enemies’ Russian arrows.

2. Some of the president’s advisers maintain that the state of indecision in Washington may turn out into an advantage. It might not be a bad thing for Moscow to carry the heavy lifting of tackling ISIS, Iran and Hizballah, rather than putting US troops in harm’s way.

3. Putin is not waiting for Trump and is already on the move, DEBKAfile’s sources report.

Friday, March 3, Russian special operations units recovered the Syrian town of Palmyra from the Islamic State.

That day too, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), composed predominantly of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and Arab tribesmen from the north, agreed to hand over their positions in the strategic town of Manjib to the Russians and the Syrian army,

The SDF was created, trained, armed and funded by the United States as the potential spearhead force for the offensive against the Islamic State. This force was able to last year to capture the small (pop: 50,000) northern town of Manjib, 30km west of the Euphrates, thanks only to US aerial bombardments of ISIS positions and American advisers.

How come that this important US ally suddenly surrendered its positions to the Russians and Assad’s army?

There is more than one reason. Firstly, the SDF’s Kurdish and Arab commanders apparently decided to give up on waiting for Washington to come round, especially since the only weapons they had received from the Obama administration for fighting ISIS were Kalashnikov AK-74 rifles.

Moreover, the Kurds’ most implacable arch enemy is breathing down their necks. On March 1, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to order his army, which has occupied northern Syria since last year, to seize Manjib. He said: “Manjib is a city that belongs to the Arabs and the SDF must not be in Raqqa either.”

The Kurdish-Arab force decided to take the Turkish leader at his word. Believing him to be close to Trump, its leaders decided their services were being dispensed with. They saw no point therefore in wasting and risking their troops in battles in the US interest.  In this situation, Moscow looked like a better bet.

DEBKAfile’s military sources stress that, when the Russians say they are working with the Syrian army, they really mean the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah, because most Syrian army’s units were decimated by nearly six years of civil war, or exist only on paper.

That being so, even if Putin does promise Netanyahu to distance Iranian and pro-Iranian troops from the Syrian-Israeli border, he may not be in a position to honor his pledge. With the Americans far away, they are Russia’s main partners on the ground for achieving his future goals in Syria.

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.

Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei: ‘Our Elite Was Lucky With Obama. He Was A Rather Weak President… Trump Could Apply Very Strong Pressure… And Within A Very Short Time’

February 10, 2017

Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei: ‘Our Elite Was Lucky With Obama. He Was A Rather Weak President… Trump Could Apply Very Strong Pressure… And Within A Very Short Time’, MEMRI, February 10, 2017

The Russian media outlet Fotanka.ru published a long interview by Irina Tumakova on events Russian lawmakers should anticipate in 2017 with one of the most influential and highly quoted intellectuals, Professor Valery Solovei.[1]In the interview, Solovei stated that Russia will witness “the start” of a “very serious political crisis in 2017,” which will last for about three years. He further explained that the political crisis will be characterized by the “growing incapacity of the state power to make decisions”, and implement them. “And at the same time it’s the increase of mass discontent; the society refuses to trust this power. And the refusal gathers strength. I think this process will take two or three years. But it will start in 2017. And the presidential election of 2018 will be an important, maybe even critical, stage of this crisis,” Solovei stated.

According to the Russian intellectual, Russian President Vladimir Putin may for run for the presidency in 2018. However, a constitutional reform would allow Putin to retire from the presidency but retain control. In a previous interview with Russia’s daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, Solovei reported about a large-scale constitutional reform in the works that will reduce the Russian presidency to implementing primarily ritualistic and representative functions, but will confide real power to the hands of the head of the State Council. “A post that Putin, naturally, will assume,” Solovei added. At the moment, the State Council is a consultative and extra-constitutional organ, this is the reason why a constitutional reform would be needed.[2]

Commenting on U.S.-Russia relations, Solovei said that Moscow can offer Washington to “to untie the Syrian knot”, and to put pressure on North Korea. However, he added that “Americans don’t care about Russia,” since “they are busy with their own problems.” Solovei stressed: “And if they decide that we are their problem, they will exercise pressure. In the meantime, we are trying to pretend that we are not a problem for them.” Solovei also warned that contrary to U.S. former president Barack Obama, who “was a rather weak president in the sphere of foreign policy,” U.S. President Donald Trump could apply “very strong pressure” on the Russian elite, within “a very short time.”

Below are excerpts from the interview with Solovei:[3]

znakcom-709673-890x591-1Valery Solovei (Source: znak.com)

Solovei: ‘The [Russian] Authorities Cannot Offer… The Society Any Positive Prospect, In Any Sphere Of Life’

Q: “What political events of 2016 do you consider important enough to impact 2017?”

Solovei: “Last year was not very rich in political events. One cannot claim that the State Duma election, especially in the way it was conducted and its results, was important or in any way fateful. More memorable are the events of the end of the year. Such as minister [Alexey] Ulyukaev’s arrest[4] or Alexei Navalny’s declaration that he was planning to run for the office of president of the Russian Federation.[5] That’s why I think that when historians evaluate 2016, they will not measure its abundance in events but rather the trends that were formed during this year. First and foremost, it is the start of gradual politicization of the Russian society. It is not clearly seen to the naked eye, but I think that it in 2017 it will already be quite clear.”

Q: “How does this politicization manifest itself?”

Solovei: “Our state interferes in all spheres of life, including private life. It is even interested in who sleeps with whom and in what way. When it starts intruding everywhere, it produces growing resentment. The resentment will sooner or later spread into the area of politics. Because any matter where the authorities interfere becomes a matter of politics by definition.  It is not unique to Russia, but is a worldwide phenomenon: any issue where the powers interfere immediately becomes a political issue. If the authorities interfere everywhere, they are the ones turning any issue into politics.”

Q: “Why do they do that?”

Solovei: “Out of fear. They want to control everything. They think that if they are in total control, there will be fewer unexpected developments. But in this way, they provoke mounting resentment and aggression in people.”

Q: “That is, the opposite effect is achieved?”

Solovei: “Precisely. And some people are even beginning to realize that. Characteristically there are already attempts to call [Culture] Minister [Vladimir] Medinsky to order, to try and avoid politicization of culture. Because we used to have culture. For example, you didn’t want to know anything about politics, it was all esthetically disagreeable to you. Suddenly, you realize you cannot visit an exhibition or go to a concert anymore, because there are some church banner waving, anti-Maidan militia units there. Because minister Medinsky starts telling you how to evaluate certain historical events. And the minister is a state official. And this causes strong resentment.”

Q: “The second half of 2016 was relatively quiet. Putin, in his address to the Federal Assembly was peacefulness itself.[6] Is this a manifestation of the fact that certain things have gotten through to the authorities?”

Solovei: “No, it’s a manifestation of the fact that [first deputy chief of chief of the Presidential Administration, Sergey] Kiriyenko has received an instruction to patch up relations with masters of culture.[7] But the machine has been put in motion. It has strong momentum, you cannot just stop it. What is the easiest job for the law (or lawlessness) enforcement bodies? Catching those who like or repost social network posts. They will register a crime solved, and they don’t even have to sweat for it, it’s enough to join [the Russian social network] VKontakte.”

Q: “Politicization of society is one trend. What are others?”

Solovei: “The authorities cannot offer the people, the society any positive prospect, in any sphere of life. This ‘peacefulness’ you’ve noticed in the presidential address is easily explained: he has nothing to say. Simply nothing about what is actually troubling people.”

Q: “Previously, when those in power had nothing to say, they explained to us that it was all the fault of ‘our Western partners’.”

Solovei: “No, earlier, from 2003 to 2014, Putin had something to say because the economic situation was not bad, despite the crisis of 2008-2009. People had hopes for the future. And they would invent and construct what was missing in their heads. They knew that we were in the upward trend. And as long as we are in the uptrend, those in power may be forgiven many things.”

Q: “But I meant the explanations after 2013.”

Solovei:Then, for two years, from 2014 to 2015, the authorities kept explaining to us that greatness comes with a price. But the problem is that you can’t feed people with greatness. And this propaganda of greatness stopped being effective long before now – a year ago, at the turn of 2015-2016. And now the president has nothing to say. When will we see the light at the end of the tunnel? He cannot even tell people when the tunnel will end. This creates apprehensions in people – even those who don’t think about it (and those are the majority). People get the feeling that this crisis is here for a long time that the authorities cannot offer any solution. Accordingly, they cannot feed us the stability spiel any longer. What kind of stability is it when life gets worse and worse? Incomes decrease. Two years ago the president said: you need to be patient for two years – and then everything will be OK.”

Solovei: ‘The Official Forecasts Predict 15-20 Years Of Poverty’

Q: “Two years have passed, and the situation is not as dire as it seemed.”

Solovei: “Yes, but the official forecasts predict 15-20 years of poverty.”

Q: “How many of the 86% of the population see these forecasts?”

Solovei: “They don’t have to see them. People feel. Many things that people are unaware of, that they don’t reflect upon, they sense instinctively. And they react by their behavior. Why do people spend less money? Not only because their income has decreased. They have some savings. But they feel instinctively – this crisis is serious. And the state sees this. And it says: so, you don’t want to give your money to us – then we’ll take it from you. We will introduce entry fee into the city, entry fee into courtyards, we will pull the money out of your pockets.”

Q: “This is definitely something people don’t like at all.”

Solovei: “That’s what I’m talking about: the state offers nothing, gives no hope, and wants to take from you. This produces resentment. And it all started to become apparent in 2016.”

Q: “In what way will this discontent and this politicization manifest themselves?”

Solovei: “They are already apparent. For example, the so-called urban activism is on the rise. There are more and more organizations in Moscow that defend the rights of hoodwinked stakeholders and car owners and protest against infill construction. I know that the same is happening in other large cities. This movement is not political in and of itself. It pursues no political goals. It just says: let us live normally, let us have a say in the decisions on issues that are relevant to us. People are just protecting their interests.”

Q: “Has this reached the level where people don’t care what to protest against as long as they can give vent to their frustration?”

Solovei: “No, people are not making a stand against anything. They say: we don’t want this or that because it decreases our income, makes our lives worse, negatively affects the urban environment. They do not make any political demands; they do not say it’s all because of Putin or United Russia. But sooner or later, it will come to that.

Q: “How can this happen? There are those who understand this, but most people, as I understand from my talks with them, have to have this connection explained to them.”

Solovei: “There’s no need to explain anything! Or to raise political consciousness. People will get to it themselves. They cannot change anything because such is the nature of power. And if such is the nature of power, sooner or later you find yourself faced with a dilemma: either I go on suffering or I make a stand against this power. And there are always 3-4 percent of people who say: we will no longer tolerate this. This is quite enough. You don’t need 86 percent. These figures – 86%, 14% – mean nothing for politics. They matter in voting only, not in mass public politics. Because 86% always sit at home, whereas 14% may actually take to the streets.”

Q: “But the people in power are no fools, they must be aware of this.”

Solovei: “Firstly, let’s not overestimate their intellectual capabilities. The power in Russia, like everyone else, acts on the principle of ‘as long as everything’s quiet – thank God’, the people have swallowed this until now, so they’ll continue to do so, and somehow it will go away. And if it does not – we have law enforcement agencies. But the problem is that there are no law enforcement agencies. It’s all a giant sham.”

Q: “What about the National Guard?”

Solovei: “What about it? There is no National Guard. It was meant to be some sort of elite unit. But as it turned out, it was not elite at all. Moreover, the efficiency of police has decreased abruptly. The National Guard consists of the same former policemen whose lives have become much worse. When they joined the National Guard, they lost some of their income. They are taxpayers, just like everybody else, but the authorities demand more from them, and the people are not very fond of them. Their lives are no picnic. So it all hangs by a thread.”

Q: “What happens if this thread snaps?”

Solovei: “It can still hold on. You know, it’s always like that in Russia: there is nothing temporary that could not be turned into a permanent fixture. A building is about to fall down – let’s reinforce it with piles. There is a crack in the wall – let’s put some wallpaper on it, it’ll hold the wall together.”

Q: “The appointment of Kiriyenko to the post of deputy head of the presidential administration, in charge of domestic policy, is it one of those ‘patches’?”

Solovei: “No, there are other reasons behind it. And not only political ones. Simply put, a certain group wanted to remove Kiriyenko from Rosatom [State Atomic Energy Corporation], take Rosatom under its own control. And Kiriyenko did not want to leave. Nevertheless, Putin trusts him personally and values him highly. Kiriyenko was picked, firstly, for the election campaign, and, secondly, for the constitutional reform. And there are several versions of this constitutional reform that are being prepared under his supervision.”

Q: “What do they want to change in the Constitution?”

Solovei: “To redistribute authority in state government bodies and create new government bodies. The most well-known part of what they discussed is the establishment of the State Council, a competent state authority. It is not the only variant, there are several of them, but it does not mean all of them will be implemented. Or any of them. Because the National Guard experiment has turned out to be most unsuccessful, and this curtails the implementation of the reform. There are preparations for it, to be sure; maybe the preparations are over already. In the same way, the economic reform is being prepared. Putin gave the assignment– and it’s under preparation. First, it was [former Minister of Finance Alexey] Kudrin who was responsible. Now they are speaking about some integrated governmental program, into which Kudrin’s ideas will be incorporated. There are already several versions of reform lying in the basements of the [Russian Prime Minister’s] White House, but it does not mean anything.”

Q: “Political protests, constitutional and economic reforms – how come everything grows, ripens, but does not actually come to fruition?”

Solovei: “It can all go on for quite a long time at a slow pace. And then, one day at an ugly moment and for someone else perhaps a gorgeous moment it can all explode.  A weak spot will reveal itself, and – after all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Solovei: ‘I Do Not Rule Out The Possibility That [Putin] Will Not Run [For The Presidency In 2018]’

Q: “Should we fear it in 2017?”

Solovei: “Nobody can tell you that. I believe that we will see the start of a very serious political crisis in 2017. I’d like to emphasize – only its start. The crisis itself will last for about three years.”

Q: “What do you mean by the words ‘political crisis’? What will it look like?”

Solovei: “It is a growing incapacity of the state power to make decisions, and what’s more – to implement them. And at the same time it’s the increase of mass discontent; the society refuses to trust this power. And the refusal gathers strength. I think this process will take two or three years. But it will start in 2017. And the presidential election of 2018 will be an important, maybe even critical, stage of this crisis.”

Q: “Can you already tell who will run for presidency in 2018?”

Solovei: “I can’t even tell whether Putin is going to be a candidate. He is getting ready for the elections, but it has not been finally decided yet.”

Q: “He said recently that he was very tired and that he would like to travel but the president’s job does not let him.”

Solovei: “He said it twice over the past two months, which is not typical of him. So, I do not exclude the possibility that he will not run.”

Q: “I will ask the pet question: if not Putin – who then?”

Solovei: “Dmitry Medvedev. He is the most suitable candidate.”

Q: “And how do you evaluate Navalny’s chances?”

Solovei: “If he can work out the right message to give to the country, he could have a good chance. He has the social networks, the population of large cities that he can win over… I think his chances are underappreciated. If he approaches it in a competent and sensible way, he can challenge Putin. And even defeat him.”

Q: “Medvedev or even Navalny – will Putin simply retire and travel?”

Solovei: “I don’t think so. This is what the constitutional reform is about: to let him retire but retain control. But nothing is decided yet. Any decision in Russia, especially now, is put off till the last moment.”

Q: “What do you mean by the ‘last’ moment?”

Solovei: “When you can no longer delay the decision, you have to make it. That is, you had to make it yesterday, so you’ll make it today. Because you always count on the chance that the circumstances will change for the better. By the way, it was Putin who started it. This hope that fate may throw you a surprise: oil prices will go up, Brexit, Trump will be elected president, etc.”

Q: “How can Trump’s election affect Russia? Watching the news, one gets the impression that his victory in the U.S. is Russia’s new national holiday, as if a new ‘good supervisor’ was appointed instead of evil Obama.”

Solovei:Such is the Russocentric character of our propaganda; it shows that the entire world revolves around Russia. Everybody thinks only about how to do it harm, all that’s going on should be seen from our point of view. Of course, it is not so. But there is a chance to come to an agreement and weaken the sanctions. There’s a chance – it does not mean everything is settled, but it is possible. With Hillary Clinton it would hardly be possible. But with Trump you can talk, which is good for Russia. Or, more precisely, for its authorities.”

Q: “Why for the authorities?”

Solovei: “Because, firstly, it would relax the grip of the economic vise. Secondly, it would remove the American pressure on the elite – which is what it is really afraid of. By the way, our elite was lucky with Obama. He was a rather weak president in the sphere of foreign policy. Any strong American president, like Ronald Reagan, or even Trump, could apply very strong pressure on our elite – much more powerful than the pressure it is experiencing now. And within a very short time.

Q: “Maybe, this is what Trump will do? Contrary to all the rejoicing in the Russian press, the team he has formed could not be described as great lovers of Russia.”

Solovei: “That is true. But that depends on whether we can come to an agreement. Americans don’t care about Russia; they are busy with their own problems. And if they decide that we are their problem, they will apply pressure. In the meantime, we are trying to pretend that we are not a problem for them.”

Q: “It is clear what we want from America. But Trump is a businessman. What can we offer in return, in what can we interest him?”

Solovei: “We can’t offer much, but we do have something. We can offer to untie the Syrian knot, we can participate in it together. We can offer to put pressure on North Korea, although here we are not as strong as, say, China.”

Q: “And that’s it?”

Solovei: “I think so, yes.”

Q: “Isn’t it too little to exchange for Crimea and sanctions?”

Solovei: “Nobody in Russia can possibly hope that the Crimea issue will be resolved! And after all, the most serious sanctions were applied against us not because of Crimea, but because of Donbass. Especially since the sanctions can be, in fact, watered down without announcing their removal. Which is what we hope for: that if we reach an agreement on Syria, we will then be able to come to an agreement on sanctions.”

Q: “In the beginning of our conversation you mentioned Ulyukaev’s arrest as an important event of 2016. In what way can it draw attention to itself in 2017?”

Solovei: “Actually, Ulyukaev’s arrest is the third trend what was formed in 2016. Not an event, but a trend. And a very important one: transformation of punitive measures into a mechanism for controlling the economy and politics. This is the meaning of repressive crackdowns: they must be illogical. So that people would be afraid. Imagine: you are under threat, but you don’t understand the logic behind it. Will you be eager to work? You will hardly try very hard if you know that any initiative on your part serve as the basis for launching a criminal investigation.”

Q: “Are they trying very hard now?”

Solovei: “At least they work. But the risk of persecution decreases their efficiency. It gets harder and harder to make decisions and ensure their implementation. That’s why it is yet another trend that will bring about the political crisis.”

Q: “I believe there were conversations similar to ours in early 1916; at that time, Lenin said that there would be no revolution in his generation.”

Solovei: “To be precise, he said it in January 1917. Three weeks before the revolution in Russia started. But no revolution in the world history has ever been predicted. I wrote an entire book about revolution [titled ‘Revolution! The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Struggle in Modern Times’], which is very popular, especially in the State Duma. You can spend an evening telling people that ‘everything is peaceful in Baghdad’ [reference to a popular movie and song], and the next day you’ll find yourself in a revolutionary country.”

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[1] The conversation was conducted by journalist Irina Tumakova.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6698, Russian Daily Mk.ru Removed Interview With Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei Predicting That ‘It Is Not Unlikely That [Putin] Will Have To Be Absent From The Public Spotlight For A Few Months’, December 2, 2016.

[3] Fotanka.ru, January 4, 2017.

[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6685, Russia This Week – November 13-20, 2016, November 20, 2016.

[5] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6756, Echo Of Moscow Interviews Russia’s Anti-Corruption Crusader Navalny Following His Announcement That He Will Run For President In 2018, January 26, 2017. This week a Russian court in a retrial found Navalny guilty of corruption charges, and the guilty verdict, even it does not involve jail time, will disqualify him from running. Themoscowtimes.com, February 8, 2017.

[6] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6704, Russia This Week – November 27-December 8, 2016, December 8, 2016.

[7] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6698, Russian Daily Mk.ru Removed Interview With Renowned Scholar Valery Solovei Predicting That ‘It Is Not Unlikely That [Putin] Will Have To Be Absent From The Public Spotlight For A Few Months’, December 2, 2016.

Russia freezes Syrian, Iranian military movements

January 31, 2017

Russia freezes Syrian, Iranian military movements, DEBKAfile, January 31, 2017

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The ban came from Moscow to prevent military reprisals against the Putin-Trump deal for Syria.

Iran can no longer doubt that the two powers, America and Russia, have ganged up to push the Islamic Republic out of their way. Trepidation in Tehran was articulated on Monday, Jan. 30, at a convention staged in the Iranian capital to celebrate 515 years of Iranian-Russian relations, an anniversary that would not normally be marked by a special event.

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An order to remain stationary was issued Thursday night, Jan. 26, by the Russian Commander in Syria Lt. Gen. Alexander Zhuravlev to the high commands of the Syrian army and of the Iranian and Shiite forces positioned in Aleppo, as well as Hizballah units in all parts of Syria. Gen. Zhuravlev, acting on instructions from Moscow, prohibited any movement by those forces out of their current positions as of noon local time.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the order banned the opening of new battlefronts anywhere in Syria and the movement of Syrian air force units between bases.

This order has been obeyed to date.

The ban came from Moscow to prevent military reprisals against the Putin-Trump deal for Syria. There was no mention of penalties for disobedience, but the tone was peremptory. The three army commanders did not need reminding that the Russians are capable of using their electronic warfare systems to disrupt unauthorized military movements, jam their communications, and withhold fuel, ammo and spare parts to create havoc in their armies.

lieutenant_general_alexander_zhuravlev_120Russian Lt. Gen. General Alexander Zhuravlev

Moscow has never resorted to extreme action of this kind in previous Russian military interventions in Middle East lands.

The decision was taken shortly after the Kremlin was notified that US President Donald Trump had agreed to join forces with President Vladimir Putin in Syria.

Since then, the Trump administration has kept all dealings with Moscow over Syria under a cloak of secrecy, including the outcome of President Trump’s first phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. All other concerned parties, such as Israel, have been left groping in the dark about what happens next.

The Russian standstill order in Syria came shortly before the US presidential decree that barred Iranians from entering the United States (along with the nationals of six other terror-prone Muslim countries)

Iran can no longer doubt that the two powers, America and Russia, have ganged up to push the Islamic Republic out of their way. Trepidation in Tehran was articulated on Monday, Jan. 30, at a convention staged in the Iranian capital to celebrate 515 years of Iranian-Russian relations, an anniversary that would not normally be marked by a special event.

In his opening remarks, Foreign Minster Mohammed Zarif Javad said: that Iran and Russia “need to have far more extensive relations,” and “few countries in the world have relations as deep and historical as Iran and Russia.” This sounded like an appeal to Moscow for protection against the new US president. It most likely fell on deaf ears. Putin is fully engaged in promoting his new relations with Donald Trump.

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.

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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.