Monday, January 23, 2017

Astana Talks: "Russia faces a new set of challenges as it attempts to move from participant in the conflict to peace broker." - The Guardian

“The presence of foreign militias invited by the regime, most notably the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Hezbollah … contributes to the continuation of bloodshed and obstructs any opportunity for a ceasefire,” Alloush said. 
The harsh and uncompromising tone delivered by the two sides, so soon after the talks started with an opening ceremony and speeches by various representatives, was a bad omen for the gathering. 
The political leader of Jaysh al-Islam described the government as a "terrorist" entity and called for groups fighting alongside it, including Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, to be placed on a global list of terrorist organisations.
Mr Alloush said the rebels wanted to stop "the horrific flow of blood" by reinforcing the truce brokered by Russia and Turkey at the end of last month, which both sides have accused each other of violating.
He warned: "A political solution in Syria is our choice but it is not the only one because we fight for our rights; our right to live; the right of freedom; the right to decide our fate and the people's right to decide who will represent them."


M.N.: Putin wants to extricate himself from the Syrian conflict because of the potential risks this continuing involvement carries for the Russian economy, deep unhappiness about it among the Russian military and the parts of the elites, and most importantly, the risk of his removal from power as the result of these factors. However, as always, he wants to turn his weakness into strength, and to claim the "mission accomplished", by marking this checkbox as his "success and victory", adding to his list of "credits". This is the real reason behind his hypocritical, "pragmatic", but in fact, self-defeating compromises with the opposed to each other Turkey and Iran, with the some of the rebel groups, and, most visibly, his shameful betrayal of the Kurds under the Turkish pressure. It is highly unlikely that this "high wire" juggling act and performance will succeed, and he might end up with the gaping failure of the Syrian conflict resolution due to the unrealistic and impossible option of reconciling the irreconcilable, and he also risks to be removed from power anyway, due to this and other geopolitical and internal failures. His famed political agility and acumen appear to be wearing off, well past their prime, due to the almost invisible but unmistakable general intellectual and emotional decline, probably, and at least in part related to his serious health problems. If he, indeed, leaves or is removed from power, with or without some benevolent heavenly assistance, it is foreseeable, that with Medvedev constitutionally filling the Presidential chair, Shoigu will be considered for the Premiership, with the consequent changes in the military leadership. 

Встреча с Заместителем Председателя Правительства Дмитрием Рогозиным.

Встреча с Заместителем Председателя Правительства Дмитрием Рогозиным. - 1.23.17 

I read in this facial expression some surprise, almost shock, sorrow, sadness, some understanding and compassion, and at the same time a call to calmness, rationality, patience, and sobriety. 

С Заместителем Председателя Правительства Дмитрием Рогозиным.

"Для тех компаний, которые будут закупать российскую авиационную технику, мы предоставим необходимые льготы, включая и правильный, выгодный маршрут, а также специальные льготы экономического характера, в том числе связанные с лизингом авиационной техники. Поэтому работа идёт по плану, и думаю, что в начале весны мы будем готовы Вам доложить уже о первых результатах."

С председателем правления компании «Роснефть» Игорем Сечиным.

With I. Sechin. 


Image result for Russia takes power-broking role as Syria peace talks to begin in Astana

Russia takes power-broking role as Syria peace talks to begin in Astana - The Guardian - Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor - Monday 23 January 2017 02.36 EST

Russia faces a new set of challenges as it attempts to move from participant in the conflict to peace broker. 
Leaders of the Syrian opposition delegation, representing as many as 12 factions, claimed on the eve of the Astana talks that Moscow genuinely wanted to move to a neutral stance but was being held back by the Iranian and the Syrian governments. 
Mohammed Alloush, the leader of the opposition delegation, said the failure of Moscow to put pressure on Iran and the Syrian government to end what the opposition says are widespread violations of the Turkish-Russian brokered ceasefire would be a blow to its influence in Syria. 
In return for the Turkish flexibility, Russia has gone along with the continued Turkish insistence that the Syrian Kurdish PYD is barred from talks. Washington has relied on the PYD, particularly its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to oust Isis in north-west Syria and it looks as if the Trump administration has not yet acceded to a Turkish request to abandon the Kurds. 
Turkey and Russia are working together militarily in northern Syria to show they can provide an alternative to the PYD. 
With the talks formally due to end at lunchtime on Tuesday - early in the morning UK time - any agreement is unlikely to spread beyond the terms for deepening the ceasefire and providing humanitarian access, as well as agreeing on broad principles for a future Syria. 
But the talks may reveal the extent to which tensions between Tehran and Moscow over the future of Syria can be contained. 

So far, there has been silence, for example, over whether the Iranian-backed Hezbollah should be forced to quit Syria. 

Russia and Iran are both seeking to exploit the military and political victory with commercial and military deals with Assad. 


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“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” said Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of organizations including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). 
Never mentioned are the Iranian people and their interests. The mullahs only seek to preserve their establishment, at all costs. And yet with the sudden death of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the regime in its entirety is now utterly weakened as he played the highly important role of a balancing mast.
This is a regime bracing for further strategic defeats. 


Fateh al-Sham Prepares Militarily in Anticipation for Infighting Following Astana Talks

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Militants of the Syrian rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer after a Russian helicopter was shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. Reuters
Beirut – Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, anticipated the outcomes of Astana talks that will be held on Monday by preparing militarily on large scale.
The group opened its spare warehouses and launched a workshop for booby-trapping vehicles, repairing armors and four-wheeled military vehicles in order to fight Syrian moderate opposition factions that accepted to participate in the conference.
Fateh al-Sham commenced implementing its schemes, aiming at deporting factions that constitute danger to it after Astana talks, by attacking brigades from Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib and sending military queue to the countryside to guarantee its forces stay close to military centers of “Fastaqim Kama Umirt Union” faction, which will participate in the talks.
In this matter, an opposing military source in the Free Syrian Army said that a military official from Fateh al-Sham confirmed that the extremist group, which is included in the international terrorism lists, fear the outcomes of Astana talks could seek mobilizing Syrian opposition forces to fight Fateh al-Sham.
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the extremist official tried to camouflage the reasons by saying that these are “routine security procedures taken to protect the headquarters from the continued strikes by the international coalition.”
According to the same opposing official, “the case is different from what it seems to be like since Fateh al-Sham’s preparations in the north is taken from two perspectives.”
The first, he said, is defensive to protect headquarters and centers while the second is offensive to anticipate and possible attacks based on dismantling the organizations before attacking Fateh al-Sham.
He said that this is what Fateh al-Sham has done by attacking the headquarters of its supposed allies like Ahrar al-Sham on Thursday.
Usually, Fateh al-Sham touts the same tactic to attack suspected opponents proactively, and it is repeating what it has started in 2015 when it attacked “Syria Revolutionaries Front» movement and U.S.-backed “Hazzm” movement.


Ahrar al-Sham to Sit out Astana Talks, 25 to Represent Syrian Opposition

Ahrar al-Sham to Sit out Astana Talks, 25 to Represent Syrian Opposition

Beirut- Syrian Opposition factions continue to express growing fears of what would become of the Kazakhstan-held Syria peace talks, scheduled for Jan 23. Ahrar al-Sham, an opposition group in Syria, officially announced that it would not be partaking in the negotiations at the Kazakh capital, Astana—yet reaffirmed its support to…
January 19, 2017
In "Middle East"
Syrian Rebels to Attend Astana Talks

Syrian Rebels to Attend Astana Talks

Syrian rebel groups said Monday they will attend peace talks next week, in a boost to efforts by rivals Turkey and Russia to put an end to the nearly six-year-old conflict as rebel negotiator Mohammed Alloush confirmed he would head the delegation to the meeting. The talks, beginning on January…
January 16, 2017
In "Middle East"
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Syrian US-backed forces out of Astana talks - YouTube

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Published on Jan 22, 2017
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Syria: Kurds protest their exclusion from Astana talks - YouTube

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Published on Jan 16, 2017
Hundreds of Syrian Kurds took to the streets of Al-Qamishli, Monday, prompted by their exclusion from the forthcoming Astana talks on the political future of Syria, as stated by Syrian Kurd representative in France Khaled Issa.

Syria rebels arrive in Astana for talks with government - YouTube

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Published on Jan 22, 2017
Syrian opposition delegates are in the Kazakh capital Astana for peace talks to resolve the country's ongoing conflict. The talks, between rebel groups and the Syrian government, are to begin on Monday.

Astana talks - Google Search

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Syria's war: Peace talks enter first day in Astana

<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>-16 minutes ago
The talks in Astana, which are organised by Russia, Turkey and Iran and are set to begin at 08:00 GMT on Monday, are aimed at strengthening ...
Astana Talks Participants Ready for Complicated Dialogue - Deputy ...
Local Source-Sputnik International-2 hours ago

Syria talks underway ahead of Astana meeting - YouTube

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Published on Dec 27, 2016
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not disclose the venue of the current talks. He also held phone talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Chavusoglu on the situation in Syria. The two top diplomats agreed to take the required measures for the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire in Syria. Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Syrian government agreed to attend a new round of Syria peace talks in the Kazakh capital in a bid to find a solution to the conflict in the Arab country. The initiative was proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Astana talks - YouTube

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  • Astana talks: Will change in Turkey-Russia ties bring end to Syria's war? - Duration: 2:38.

    • 3 hours ago
    A new set of talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict is set to kick off in Kazakhstan's capital on Monday. Diplomatic efforts to ...
    • New
  • Syria talks underway ahead of Astana meeting - Duration: 4:20.

    • 3 weeks ago
    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not disclose the venue of the current talks. He also held phone talks with his Turkish ...
  • Syrians divided over Astana peace talks - Duration: 2:16.

    • 49 minutes ago
    A new set of talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict is set to kick off in Kazakhstan on Monday. People in Syria have different ...
    • New
  • Live: Syria talks set to commence in Astana - Duration: 24:18.

    • Streamed 2 minutes ago
    Key players in the Syrian conflict, along with United Nations Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, are due to begin talks in Astana on ...
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    Astana talks: Will change in Turkey-Russia ties bring end to Syria's war? - YouTube

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    Published on Jan 22, 2017
    A new set of talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict is set to kick off in Kazakhstan’s capital on Monday.

    Diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis have repeatedly failed over the past six years.

    Turkey, which has restored relations with Russia and ensured the forced evacuation of opposition groups and residents from Aleppo, is seen as the biggest game changer.

    Al Jazeera's Jamal El Shayyal reports from Astana.

    “Death to Russia!” – crowd chants anti-Russian slogans in Iran during the funeral of president. - YouTube

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    Published on Jan 13, 2017
    The funeral of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, held on January 10th, 2017, in Tehran, was marred by anti-Russian slogans “Death to Russia!” (“Marg bar Russiye!”).

    Interestingly, the crowd was chanting “Death to Russia,” rather than the traditional “Death to America”. Iranian state TV was forced to play somber music during the live broadcast of the funeral, for fear of the sound of the protests coming through.

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    Will Iran's Alliance With Russia Last?

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    At Tuesday's funeral in Tehran of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a key figure in the 1979 Islamic Revolution who later pushed for reconciliation with the West, reformist mourners not only chanted for the release of hunger-striking rights activists held in Iranian jails but also called for an end to their country's burgeoning alliance with Moscow.
    Video clips posted on social media sites showed groups of mourners shouting "Death to Russia" and "The Russian Embassy is a nest of spies" as they passed Moscow's diplomatic mission in downtown Tehran. It was an indication of their fear that collaboration between Iran and Russia won't help advance reform.
    After the 1979 overthrow of the shah, "No East, No West" was a popular refrain in Iran, but in the past few years an alliance — at times shaky — between Moscow and Tehran has developed. Since 2014, Iranian-Russian ties have strengthened as the pair closely coordinated battlefield efforts to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a mutual ally.
    FILE -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan shake hands during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 16, 2016.
    FILE -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan shake hands during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 16, 2016.
    A durable alliance?
    For Iran, the cooperation has amounted to the most significant military engagement it has had with another country since the shah's ouster. Last August, Iran allowed Russia the use of one of its air bases for airstrikes inside Syria. The country's defense minister, Hossein Dehghan, has visited Moscow half a dozen times in the past three years.
    With the city of Aleppo back fully in Syrian government hands because of brute Russian air power and Iranian-organized ground forces, questions are left hanging over the Middle East. Is the alliance between Russia and Iran durable now that Assad's survival has largely been assured? Do the two countries have common interests beyond Syria?
    With the death of Rafsanjani, a backer of the Iranian nuclear deal and a proponent of more political openness, some reformers predict Moscow's and Tehran's hard-liners will reinforce each other in ideological hostility to the West. They see Iran embracing Russia as a counterforce to the United States, and Putin viewing Iran as a useful ally as he seeks to reassert his country on the world stage.
    "For the past 10 years, within the upper echelons of power, Rafsanjani was the main protective shield for Iranian reformists and other similar factions currently out of power," according to Reza Haghighat Nejad of IranWire, a group of exiled Iranian journalists. He argues it remains to be seen whether anyone will be able to replace Rafsanjani as a brake on prominent hard-liners, who back closer Russia ties.
    An early test of the durability of the alliance between Moscow and Tehran may come soon with a clash over the Iranian nuclear deal. Under that landmark accord reached between Iran and six major powers, the Islamic Republic agreed to curb its disputed nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
    FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally organized by Tea Party Patriots in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 9, 2015, to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement.
    FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally organized by Tea Party Patriots in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 9, 2015, to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement.
    Criticism from Trump
    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to "dismantle" the agreement, which was struck in July 2015. Critics have called it "the worst deal ever negotiated."
    And Trump's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, tweeted the day before his nomination: "I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism."
    Some Iranian hard-liners, who point to past Russian double-dealing, have publicly worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin could side with Trump in the event the incoming U.S. president decides to rip up the nuclear deal — especially if Washington offers, in exchange, recognition of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
    Those worries may be misplaced, say analysts. "Russia has more financially to gain with the deal being in place, or at the very least the arms embargo being lifted in a few short years," said Boris Zilberman, an analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "They are lining up billions in arms deals."
    Michael Rubin, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a research group, agreed. "Russia wants the Iran nuclear deal to persevere," he said. "The Kremlin recognizes the nuclear deal empowers Iran relative to the United States and its allies."
    Rubin, who served as Iran country director in the office of the U.S. secretary of defense during George W. Bush's first presidential term, predicted the Russia-Iran alliance would outlast the Syria conflict. "The warmth in ties between Russia and Iran has expanded beyond the short-term tactical," he said.
    FILE – Russian cadets pass an S-300 surface-to-air missile system during a military exhibition in St. Petersburg, Feb. 20, 2015. Russia announced later that year that it would deliver missile systems that Iran had contracted for in 2007.
    FILE – Russian cadets pass an S-300 surface-to-air missile system during a military exhibition in St. Petersburg, Feb. 20, 2015. Russia announced later that year that it would deliver missile systems that Iran had contracted for in 2007.
    Weapons deals
    "The Iranians hope to purchase Russian weaponry in a few years when the Iranian nuclear deal allows them to do so, and this will make more permanent the relationship as Iran becomes reliant on Russia for spare parts and training. We may very well be in a generational détente," he told VOA.
    Still, he added that "the confluence of interests between Moscow and Tehran may not be permanent and that Putin, when it is in his interests to do so, could throw Iran under the bus."
    Russia and Iran have not been natural allies. "Iranians hold a deeply rooted historical mistrust of Russia," argued Mohsen Milani, a professor at the University of South Florida, in an article recently for Foreign Affairs magazine. The mistrust dates to the period after World War II, when the Red Army refused to leave Iran, and has been reinforced by Russia's past use of Iran as a bargaining chip in its dealings with the United States.
    Zilberman said, "I don't think either of them trusts each other. It is a partnership of convenience and largely transactional. Many in Moscow view Iran as a partner but explicitly not an ally. They work together where their interests align."
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    · · · · · · ·

    News Reviews and Opinions: Mideast expects big changes under Trump | Trump, Netanyahu Discuss Iran and Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process | Amid Syrian chaos, Iran’s game plan emerges: a path to the Mediterranean | Iran Still Leading State Sponsor of Terrorism, U.S. State Department Reports | Iran Has Changed, But For The Worse | Iran's Position Complicating Astana Talks on Syria – Kremlin Spokesman

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    Image result for Tehran’s road to the sea
    Tehran’s road to the sea

    Martin Chulov

    Saturday 8 October 2016 15.30 EDT

    Amid Syrian chaos, Iran’s game plan emerges: a path to the Mediterranean - The Guardian 

    Militias controlled by Tehran are poised to complete a land corridor that would give Iran huge power in the region. 

    The strip of land to the west of Mosul in which the militias will operate is essential to that goal. After 12 years of conflict in Iraq and an even more savage conflict in Syria, Iran is now closer than ever to securing a land corridor that will anchor it in the region – and potentially transform the Islamic Republic’s presence on Arab lands. “They have been working extremely hard on this,” said a European official who has monitored Iran’s role in both wars for the past five years. “This is a matter of pride for them on one hand and pragmatism on the other. They will be able to move people and supplies between the Mediterranean and Tehran whenever they want, and they will do so along safe routes that are secured by their people, or their proxies.”
    Turkey has been especially opposed, fearful of what such a development means for Iran’s relationship with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ party), the restive Kurds in its midst, on whom much of the plan hinges.

    Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani

    The plan has been coordinated by senior government and security officials in Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, all of whom defer to the head of the spearhead of Iran’s foreign policy, the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards, headed by Major General Qassem Suleimani, who has run Iran’s wars in Syria and Iraq... 

    [See also: Hossein Dehghan]

    The groups, Asa’ib ahl al-Haq, Keta’ib Hezbollah and their offshoots, accounted for close to 25% of all US battlefield casualties, senior US officials have said. They have become even more influential since US forces left the country. And in one of modern warfare’s starkest ironies, in the two years since US troops have returned to Iraq to fight Isis they have at times fought under US air cover.

    Those who have observed Suleimani up close as he inspects the frontlines in Syria and Iraq, or in meetings in Damascus and Baghdad, where he projects his immense power through studied calm, say he has invested everything in Syria – and in ensuring that Iran emerges from a brutal, expensive war with its ambitions enhanced. “If we lose Syria, we lose Tehran,” Suleimani told the late Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi in 2014. Chalabi told the Observer at the time that Suleimani had added: “We will turn all this chaos into an opportunity.” 

    Securing Aleppo would be an important leg in the corridor, which would run past two villages to the north that have historically been in Shia hands. From there, a senior Syrian official, and Iraqi officials in Baghdad, said it would run towards the outskirts of Syria’s fourth city, Homs, then move north through the Alawite heartland of Syria, which a year of Russian airpower has again made safe for Assad. Iran’s hard-won road ends at the port of Latakia, which has remained firmly in regime hands throughout the war. 

    Ali Khedery, who advised all US ambassadors to Iraq and four commanders of Centcom in 2003-11 said securing a Mediterranean link would be seen as a strategic triumph in Iran. “It signifies the consolidation of Iran’s control over Iraq and the Levant, which in turn confirms their hegemonic regional ambitions,” he said. “That should trouble every western leader and our regional allies because this will further embolden Iran to continue expanding, likely into the Gulf countries next, a goal they have explicitly and repeatedly articulated. Why should we expect them to stop if they’ve been at the casino, doubling their money over and over again, for a decade?”


    Tehran high-rise collapses

    50 firefighters killed in Iran as burning high-rise collapses

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    A historic high-rise in the heart of Tehran caught fire and collapsed Thursday in a giant cloud of smoke, killing dozens of firefighters who were battling the blaze, Iranian news media reported.

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