“… Accused by a number of Western nations and their Middle Eastern allies of war crimes, Assad has managed to largely overcome a 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising with the support of Russia and Iran. * * * The United States, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were among the countries to fund efforts to overthrow the Syrian leader. The rise of ultraconservative Sunni Muslim organizations such as the Islamic State … and a sweeping Syrian military comeback … have changed the dynamics ….Defense Secretary James Mattis [said] in August that the U.S. goal was to ‘move the Syria civil war into the Geneva process so the Syrian people can establish a new government … not led by Assad and give them a chance for a future that Assad has denied them, with overt Russian and Iranian support.’ A document submitted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top diplomats … stressed that their countries would not support Syrian reconstruction efforts ‘before the beginning of political process led by the United Nations to achieve a comprehensive, honest and true political transition that cannot be reversed,’ according to Saudi Arabia’s Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. …”
“India and Russia … signed a pact to build six more nuclear reactors at a new site in India following summit talks …. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also agreed to cooperate on India’s plan for a manned space mission. Russian state-owned reactor manufacturer Rosatom said … the two countries want to build six Russian-design nuclear reactors on a new site in India, boost nuclear cooperation in third countries and new nuclear technologies and are considering building nuclear plants together. The firm said Russia would offer to build its third-generation VVER reactor on the new site and would increase the level of participation of Indian companies ….[T]he pact is not a firm contract … but an agreement to work toward a contract. … India has not chosen the new site yet, which could be controversial …. Last year, the Russian and Indian governments signed an agreement to build reactors 5 and 6 on the site and Putin said at the time that Russia is ready to build a dozen reactors in India over … 20 years. …”
“Syrian Turkey-backed rebel groups began to withdraw heavy weaponry from a demilitarized zone agreed [upon] by Turkey and Russia in northwest Syria on Saturday, rebels said. The Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) rebel alliance said in a statement the process of withdrawing heavy weapons had begun, but the fighters would remain in their positions …. Under the deal … rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of this month … and heavy weaponry must be withdrawn by Oct. 10. The NFL … said … rebels would remain … to assist Turkish troops monitoring and patrolling …. The main jihadist group in the Idlib area, Tahrir al-Sham, has yet to say whether it will comply with the agreement.”
SCW NEWSWATCH: “Exit Strategy: Rule of Law and the U.S. Army [Excerpt and Link]” – U.S. Army War College/ Shima D. Keene/ September 2018
[text provided for informational purposes or to spur reflection and debate; inclusion does not imply specific or particular endorsement]
[Click here for: “[PDF] Exit Strategy: Rule of Law and the U.S. Army [Excerpt and Link]” – U.S. Army War College/ Shima D. Keene/ September 2018]
The importance of establishing rule of law in post-conflict states has been recognized as key in delivering stability in fragile states in the short, medium, and long term. This is in the interest of the U.S. Army and its partners not only from a [counterinsurgency] COIN perspective, but also to protect U.S. security interests both at home and abroad. To that aim, assistance is required to ensure that in post-conflict environments, the management and maintenance of security is successfully transferred to civilian organizations such as the police and the justice system more generally. It is only when this successful transition occurs and sustainable rule of law has been established that military commitments can cease. As such, it is essential that the end state to a successful civilian handover form part of a plan for disengagement after an intervention.
However, one key challenge for organizations (such as the police) emerging from conflict is the requisite to transition from a combat function to a more traditional policing function. This is difficult due not only to a lack of the necessary skill sets, but also because of the need for a fundamental change in mindset about the purpose of policing. The U.S. Army can play an important role in facilitating the establishment of effective rule of law institutions and practices in post-conflict states in many ways. Additionally, a lack of appreciation of the importance of civilian institutions and their role in establishing rule of law will lead to an exacerbation of the problem.
Delivering rule of law interventions is a complex task involving multiple stakeholders. Numerous challenges exist, each of which can prevent the establishment of effective and sustainable rule of law institutions. This in turn is likely to lead to a requirement for further military support from the U.S. Army resulting in even longer term deployments in what can become an unending conflict. In order to avoid unintended consequences which will have the impact of undermining rule of law interventions carried out by the U.S. Army and its partners more broadly, the following recommendations should be considered in shaping future U.S. Army interventions relating to establishing rule of law as part of its future COIN and state building missions.
RECOMMENDATIONSRecommendation 1: Contextual Understanding Develop a broad understanding of the rule of law landscape in the post-conflict state in question, and identify key challenges which may deter the establishment of effective and sustainable rule of law institutions.
Recommendation 2: Unintended Consequences Consider the potential unintended consequences of U.S. Army interventions in training local police forces and other rule of law interventions, and determine how can these be mitigated or avoided.
Recommendation 3: Strategic Objectives Reevaluate objectives to ensure that expectations are realistic in terms of what is to be achieved and the timescale in which to achieve them. Consider the impact of short-term mission objectives in attempting to achieve medium to long-term objectives. Recommendation 4: Sustainability Ensure that rule of law interventions are sustainable after withdrawal of troops and form part of U.S. Army exit strategies. Ensure that these are integrated into post-conflict planning before intervention is considered.
Recommendation 5: COIN versus State Building Address the existing confusion between the combat element of COIN operations and state building missions, and understand how this conflict can undermine both operations.
Recommendation 6: Police Training Determine the role that the U.S. Army should play in facilitating a transition from military to civilian rule of law, and exercise particular attention to challenges relating to corporate culture.
Recommendation 7: Skills Shortages Determine when and how rule of law mechanisms and advisors should be integrated into stability operations and consider how the U.S. Army could better utilize its Reserve Forces to provide capacity and specialist skills to facilitate civilian transition.
Recommendation 8: Corruption and Human Rights Abuses[:] Adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward corruption and human rights abuses and provide remedial education where such practices may have become institutionalized.
Recommendation 9: Management and Oversight: Provide management and oversight of third party contractors through deployment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engi neers to ensure that construction projects relating to rule of law interventions are completed to the required specifications.
Recommendation 10: International Liaison Highlight other partner institutions the U.S. Army could or should be engaging with to ensure a coordinated approach to the establishment of effective rule of law institutions and practices in the host country.”
[Click here for: “[PDF] Exit Strategy: Rule of Law and the U.S. Army [Excerpt and Link]” – U.S. Army War College/ Shima D. Keene/ September 2018]
[more publication information set out further below on this webpage]
[original publication, at https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/download.cfm?q=1387 contains the following notice:
“Shima D. Keene
The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Authors of Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) and U.S. Army War College (USAWC) Press publications enjoy full academic freedom, provided they do not disclose classified information, jeopardize operations security, or misrepresent official U.S. policy. Such academic freedom empowers them to offer new and sometimes controversial perspectives in the interest of furthering debate on key issues. This report is cleared for public release; distribution is unlimited.
This publication is subject to Title 17, United States Code, Sections 101 and 105. It is in the public domain and may not be copyrighted.”]
SCW NEWSWATCH & VIDEO: “Saudis and Russia Open the Oil Taps While the Market Shrugs” – Bloomberg/ Elena Mazneva/ Annmarie Hordern/ Dina Khrennikova/ Grant Smith/ Jack Farchy
“Russia and Saudi Arabia are pumping an extra 1 million barrels a day of oil and could do even more. Yet the market [has had only a muted price reaction]. After their September meeting … spurred prices to a four-year high, the world’s two largest oil exporters sought … to ease … price worries of consumers, and the U.S. president. Russia is pumping record volumes of crude … Saudi Arabia is almost there ….… Trump has been blaming [OPEC] for rising crude prices ever since he [ended] the [Iran] nuclear agreement … and reimpose[d] sanctions. Last month, the group appeared to rebuff his calls for a rapid production increase to offset the drop in Iranian shipments, prompting a surge in prices and even harsher rhetoric. … Russia … already broke its post-Soviet production record last month [and] could add another 200,000 to 300,000 barrels a day of supply within a ‘few months,’ according to Energy Minister Alexander Novak. The oil price is … probably ‘a bit too high,’ he said ….”
Click here for: “Saudis and Russia Open the Oil Taps While the Market Shrugs” – Bloomberg/ Elena Mazneva/ Annmarie Hordern/ Dina Khrennikova/ Grant Smith/ Jack Farchy
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Ukraine needs Azov Sea base to counter new Russian threat: military chief” – Reuters
“Ukraine will build a military base on the Azov Sea and has sent more forces to the area to counter a worsening Russian threat, Ukraine’s armed forces head [said] … referring to an arm of the Black Sea [where Ukraine and Russia both have coastlines]. Ukraine has been at loggerheads with Russia since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and more than 10,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatists. Ukraine and NATO countries accuse Russia of supplying troops and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine, which Moscow denies. Viktor Muzhenko, Chief of the General Staff, said Russia had moved beyond covert fighting in the Donbass region, home of a Kremlin-backed separatist insurgency, to building up its military presence on Ukraine’s borders and nakedly aggressive actions against ships sailing to Ukrainian ports. * * *… Muzhenko said [U.S.-supplied] Javelin [anti-tank missiles] ha[ve] been tested … but … not … deployed in battle …. Asked whether Ukraine wanted to buy the U.S. Patriot air defense system, he said various options were being considered.”
Click here for: “Ukraine needs Azov Sea base to counter new Russian threat: military chief” – Reuters
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Russia begins missile system delivery to Syria, warns West on peace talks” – Reuters
“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday Moscow had started delivering the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria … Russia, along with Iran, has helped Assad recover huge amounts of lost territory in Syria without persuading him to agree to any political reforms. It has also pushed its own talks with Iran and Turkey, known as the Astana process.… Some diplomats have said [an] Israeli incident [involving Syria shooting down a Russian plane during an incursion by Israeli jets] and a Turkish-Russian deal to suspend an offensive on the last rebel-held stronghold of Idlib could provide a window to push for … U.N. Security Council [UNSC] resolution 2254 [aiming to end the] conflict in Syria. The [UNSC] … has mandated [that] U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura … get a deal on a new constitution, new elections and a reform of Syria’s governance. …”
Click here for: “Russia begins missile system delivery to Syria, warns West on peace talks” – Reuters
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Huge Military Drills Show Both the Limits and the Durability of China-Russia Ties” – RAND/World Politics Review
“In the largest Russian military exercise since the height of the Cold War, Moscow … [in September] deploy[ed] 300,000 troops, 900 tanks and 1,000 aircraft in central and eastern Russia. … [for] ‘Vostok 2018,’ or East Exercise 2018 …. for the first time ever, Chinese military forces … participate[d], with plans to send 3,200 troops and 30 aircraft over the border into eastern Russia. … highlight[ing] two important, seemingly contradictory [aspects of] the relationship between China and Russia. First, the appearance of military cooperation masks deep strategic distrust and suspicion below the surface. … [Yet] strong incentives and a lack of alternatives provide a sturdy foundation for a continued strategic partnership going forward. Vostok 2018 represents the latest in a series of combined Chinese-Russian military exercises stretching back more than a decade. Their militaries have been training together since 2005, and China and Russia have been holding joint naval exercises every year since 2012, including near each other’s respective hotspots. Last year, China sent three naval ships to its first jointly held exercise with Russian forces in the Baltic Sea. In 2016, the two navies carried out a joint exercise in the South China Sea … [after] a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejecting China’s territorial claims in the contested waterway. Warm political statements by top Chinese and Russian leaders have complemented these military actions. …”
Click here for: “Huge Military Drills Show Both the Limits and the Durability of China-Russia Ties” – RAND/World Politics Review/Timothy R. Heath … or click here for longer version
SCW NEWSWATCH: “Russia Offers 62-mile Buffer Between Iranian Forces and Israel-Syria Border, Senior Official Says; Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn” – Haaretz
“Russia is working to ensure the removal of Iranian forces to 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from the Golan Heights, but Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn, a senior Israeli official said … after a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Russian officials. The official said that Israel prefers to act now rather than wait until Iran has ‘hundreds and thousands of missiles’ in Syria, and that the government will not allow Iran ‘to turn Syria into another Lebanon.’
* * *
[Separately,] Mike Pompeo denounced Iran’s leaders as a ‘mafia’ and promised unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government. …”
Click here for: “Russia Offers 62-mile Buffer Between Iranian Forces and Israel-Syria Border, Senior Official Says; Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn” – Haaretz
“The Trump administration’s war of words against Iran reflects a widening diplomatic chasm, and comments from four leaders over the past two days make it clear that tensions are rising dramatically. … [Iranian] President Hassan Rouhani …. Ayatollah Khamenei …. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo …. “
* * *
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
* * *
NEWSWATCH: “Putin’s Success Masks Russian Weakness; Things are breaking his way. But if China is a tiger, Russia is a pussycat on stilts” – Wall Street Journal/Walter Russell Mead
“Despite … Putin’s successes, Russia remains weak, and its leverage over other nations is limited. China can woo its neighbors with multibillion-dollar projects like its ‘One Belt, One Road’ trade initiative. Russia has much less to offer: If China is a tiger, Russia is a pussycat on stilts. … Putin can obstruct Germany’s faltering European project, but he lacks the resources to offer an alternative. In the Middle East, the Kremlin’s position depends on American forbearance. If … Trump decides to make opposing the Assad regime a crucial part of his anti-Iran strategy, … Putin may have to stand by and watch his client fall. … developments at home counsel restraint as well. … Putin’s string of dramatic foreign-policy successes has shored up his domestic popularity, [but] Russia’s sclerotic economy and corrupt social order ensure that the foundations of his power remain weak. … Putin has made Russia great again on the international stage, but the Russian people would rather see him use that daring and finesse to improve the situation at home.”
Click here for: “Putin’s Success Masks Russian Weakness; Things are breaking his way. But if China is a tiger, Russia is a pussycat on stilts” – Wall Street Journal/Walter Russell Mead
House Permanent Select Committee on #Intelligence
Following a more than yearlong, bipartisan investigation into Russia active measures targeting the 2016 U.S. #election, the House Intelligence Committee has completed a draft report of 150+ pages, with 600+ citations. The draft report addresses, in detail, each of the questions within the agreed parameters of the investigation, as announced in March 2017. It analyzes:
- Russian active measures directed against the 2016 U.S. election and against our European allies;
- The U.S. government response to that attack;
- Links between Russians and the Trump and Clinton campaigns; and
- Purported leaks of classified information. Initial Findings
The draft report contains 40+ initial findings that describe:
- A pattern of Russian attacks on America’s European allies;
- Russian cyberattacks on U.S. political institutions in 2015-2016 and their use of social media to sow discord;
- A lackluster pre-election response to Russian active measures;
- Concurrence with the Intelligence Community Assessment’s judgments, except with respect to Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump;
- We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians;
- How anti-Trump research made its way from Russian sources to the Clinton campaign; and
- Problematic contacts between senior Intelligence Community officials and the media.
The draft report includes 25+ proposed recommendations for Congress and the executive branch to improve:
- Election security, including protecting vote tallies;
- Support to European allies;
- The U.S. government response to cyber-attacks;
- Campaign finance transparency; and
- Counterintelligence practices related to political campaigns and unauthorized disclosures.
The draft report will be provided to the Committee minority on March 13 for review and comment. After adoption it will be submitted for a declassification review, and a declassified version will be made public. The report’s completion will signify the closure of one chapter in the Committee’s robust oversight of the threat posed by Moscow—which began well before the investigation and will continue thereafter.
Additional follow-on efforts arising from the investigation include oversight of the unmasking of Americans’ names in intelligence reports, FISA abuse, and other matters.
SCW RUSSIA WIRE NEWSWATCH: “Sudan/Russian Nuclear Power Cooperation Poses Proliferation Risks”- Institute for Science and International Security/David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Allison Lach, Bridget Leahy, Andrea Stricker
“Reuters reported on March 13, 2018 that Russia has agreed to sign a ‘roadmap’ with Sudan on building nuclear power stations. However, Sudan has poor export controls, no adherence to nuclear power safety or nuclear terrorism conventions, and weak safeguards standards. Its neighbors also maintain poor implementation of these preventions against nuclear material and commodity theft or diversion. Russia should not build nuclear reactors in Sudan. Sudan should instead bolster its infrastructure so that it can at some point in the future underpin a well safeguarded nuclear power program backed by robust, internationally-acceptable strategic export controls.”
Click here for: “Sudan/Russian Nuclear Power Cooperation Poses Proliferation Risks”- Institute for Science and International Security/David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Allison Lach, Bridget Leahy, Andrea Stricker
SCW RUSSIA WIRE NEWSWATCH: “Britain says former Russian spy poisoned with nerve agent” – Reuters/Toby Melville, Estelle Shirbon, Kate Kelland, Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden, Gareth Jones
“A nerve agent was used to deliberately poison a former Russian double agent and his daughter, Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer said …. Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench … in the southern English city of Salisbury … Both remain critically ill and a police officer who attended the scene is also in a serious condition in hospital. * * * … a U.S. security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the main line of police inquiry was that Russians may have used the substance against Skripal in revenge …. Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest by Russian authorities in 2004. … given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies caught in the West as part of a Cold War-style spy swap ….”
Click here for: “Britain says former Russian spy poisoned with nerve agent” – Reuters/Toby Melville, Estelle Shirbon, Kate Kelland, Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden, Gareth Jones
NEWSLINK VIDEO: “U.S. Iran Policy: What Next?” – Heritage Foundation, David Albright, Nile Gardiner, Michael Doran, James Phillips
“The Trump Administration must decide by October 15 whether to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement and whether the billions of dollars of sanctions relief granted under that deal advances the vital national interests of the United States. The Administration also will soon unveil the conclusions reached in its Iran policy review. What should the Administration do about the flawed nuclear agreement? More broadly, how should the United States respond to Iran’s hostile and aggressive foreign policy?”
NEWSWATCH: “Number of Irish Americans seven times larger than entire population of Ireland” – IrishCentral
“According to Census data, there are 39.6 million American who claim Irish heritage including five million who say they are of Scots-Irish heritage. That number is almost seven times larger than the entire population of Ireland (6.3 million). After German, Irish is the most common ancestry of Americans. … ‘Irish Americans are at least 5 percent of the population in most counties across the U.S., and 10 percent or more in most of New England, New York state, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and other smaller counties across the country’ … With 12.9 percent of its residents claiming Irish ancestry, New York has the most concentrated Irish American population. At 20.4 percent, Boston has the most concentrated Irish population for a city, while Miami, at 1 percent, has the least. …”
Click here for: “Number of Irish Americans seven times larger than entire population of Ireland” – IrishCentral
Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades.
The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, …. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey. * * * Disagreements between Turkey, which has the second-largest army by personnel numbers in NATO, and the U.S., the bloc’s biggest military, have also impacted business. …
“The administration’s much touted $110 billion arms proposal to #SaudiArabia, previously slim on specifics, includes seven #THAAD #MissileDefense batteries, over 100,000 air-to-ground munitions and billions of dollars’ worth of new aircraft …. #Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia on May 20 drew headlines for what was billed as a $110 billion arms agreement. However, experts quickly pointed out that much of the deal was speculative, as any arms sale has to go through the process of being cleared by the State Department, then Congress, before going through an often lengthy negotiating period with industry. …”
NEWSLINK: “ISIL: Target Russia; Thousands of ISIL fighters are training in the mountains of Afghanistan, plotting an attack on the Kremlin” – Al Jazeera
“Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) have always considered ‘the West’ – and the United States in particular – the ultimate enemy. But following President Vladimir Putin’s policy of military involvement in Syria, Russiamay have taken its place as ISIL’s main target. Thousands of ISIL fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are regrouping in the virtually impregnable mountains of Afghanistan, plotting revenge against the Kremlin. …”
Click here for “ISIL: Target Russia; Thousands of ISIL fighters are training in the mountains of Afghanistan, plotting an attack on the Kremlin” – Al Jazeera
“President Vladimir #Putin is pushing a plan with U.S. President Donald #Trump to create security zones and deploy peacekeepers in #Syria — possibly including #Russian forces — to enforce a faltering cease-fire as he tries to find a resolution to the more than six-year conflict. …”
“German Chancellor Angela #Merkel told President Vladimir #Putin that #EU #sanctions will have to remain on #Russia as the two leaders clashed over #Ukraine, human rights and election meddling at a chilly encounter in the Black Sea city of Sochi.”
NEWSLINK: “Russian Prosecutor Labels Khodorkovsky NGO ‘Undesirable’ Ahead Of Protest” – RFE/RL / Mike Eckel 4.26.17
“Russia’s top prosecutor has blacklisted a nongovernmental organization set up by former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky — a move that puts the group in legal jeopardy just days before a street protest it has been planning. …”
“… The #EuropeanUnion’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told a news conference in the #Russian capital on Monday that the #EU could not pretend that #Moscow had not annexed #Ukraine’s #Crimea in 2014, and that the bloc’s sanctions over the issue would not be lifted. She insisted, however, that cooperation between the two sides was not “frozen,” but rather hampered by differences over issues such as #Ukraine and #Syria. Mogherini was speaking alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey #Lavrov on her first official visit to Moscow in her current role as the EU’s top diplomat. …”
NEWSLINK: “U.S. general in #Afghanistan says there is no doubt #Russia is providing weapons to #Taliban” – Telegraph
“America’s top general in #Afghanistan has said there was no doubt that #Russia was providing weapons to the #Taliban. In the strongest statement yet over Russia’s apparent re-engagement in the Afghanistan war, Gen. John #Nicholson said he would “not refute” that #Moscow’s involvement included giving weapons to the Taliban.
He was speaking in Kabul alongside James #Mattis, the US defence secretary, who said that America needed to confront Russia over its actions in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union fought and lost a bloody war in the 1980s.
“Emmanuel #Macron’s campaign said its staff received phishing emails meant to steal their passwords. …”
“The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that #Russia failed to protect the hostages of the #Beslan school siege in which about 330 people died in 2004. … Chechen rebels took more than 1,000 hostages, mostly children. The operation by Russian forces to end it used disproportionate force, the court added. It also said that officials knew an attack was imminent but did not act. … Witnesses described the operation by Russian security forces as chaotic, saying that the troops used excessive force and heavy weapons. … the court said Russia had sufficient specific information that an attack was being planned in that area, but did not act. It criticised the authorities for being unable to prevent the militants from meeting and travelling on the day of the attack, and failing to increase security at the school or warn the public of the threat. …”
“… The Arctic Trefoil permanent base is in Franz Josef Land, a huge ice-covered, desolate archipelago. The Russian military sees the resource-rich Arctic as a key strategic region. President Vladimir Putin visited the new base, on Alexandra Land, last month. It is built on stilts – to help withstand the extreme cold – and will house 150 personnel on 18-month tours of duty. Winter temperatures typically plunge to minus 40C. …”
“#Russia has protested the U.S.’ refusal to allow its inspectors to participate in a formal investigation into a chemical weapons attack that struck the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhan in northern Idlib, #Syria, earlier this month.”
VIDEO NEWSWATCH: “Syria, Russia Would Be ‘Insane’ to Retaliate Over U.S. Airstrikes, Former U.S. Ambassador Says” – Fox News
“… In the wake of the airstrikes on a military base in Syria after a deadly chemical attack on civilians, Russia announced it was suspending cooperation of its communication link with the U.S. that protects pilots flying missions over the war-torn country. ‘I think that is a major mistake on the part of Moscow… they’re actually putting their own forces in greater jeopardy,’ Crocker said. ‘It would be to Moscow’s benefit to have these basic lines of communication. So they will lose more than we will.’ …”
Click here for: “Syria, Russia Would Be ‘Insane’ to Retaliate Over US Airstrikes, Former US Ambassador Says” – Fox News
NEWSLINK: “Palm Sunday attacks: 44 dead, more than 100 injured in church bombings carried out by ISIL in Egypt” – Fox News
“… at least 44 people were killed and more than 100 more were injured in two Palm Sunday suicide attacks at Coptic Christian churches, each carried out by the ISIS terror group. Sunday’s first blast happened at St. George Church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, where at least 27 people were killed and 78 others wounded, officials said.
Television footage showed the inside of the church, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. A second explosion – which Egypt’s Interior Ministry says was caused by a suicide bomber who tried to storm St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria — left at least 17 dead, and 48 injured. The attack came just after Pope Tawadros II — leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria — finished services, but aides told local media that he was unharmed. …”
NEWSLINK: “U.S. airstrikes on Syria followed international condemnation of chemical attack” – Fox News
“President #Trump’s decision to rain Tomahawk missiles on #Syrian airfields in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack being pinned on Damascus followed near-unanimous international condemnation of the Syrian government. Just hours before the move, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Turkey and even China, whose president, Xi Jinping, was at Trump’s estate in Florida, all blasted the Syrian government over its suspected use of chemical weapons this week. …”
“The United States launched nearly five dozen cruise missiles at a #Syrian airfield early Friday in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, the first direct assault on the Damascus government since the beginning of that country’s bloody civil war in 2011. ‘It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,’ President Donald #Trump said in a statement. ‘Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.’
Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles targeted an airbase at Shayrat, located outside Homs. The missiles targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said. …”
VIDEO: U.S. strikes in #Syria launched from USS Porter – The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the #Mediterranean Sea. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. Navy video by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ford Williams
(Department of Defense – Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity – WASHINGTON, April 6, 2017 – article also appeared at defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1144601/trump-orders-missile-attack-in-retaliation-for-syrian-chemical-strikes)
The United States fired Tomahawk missiles into Syria today in retaliation for the regime of Bashar Assad using nerve agents to attack his own people.
President Donald J. Trump ordered the attack on Al-Shayrat Air Base, the base from which the chemical attack on Syria’s Idlib province was launched. The missiles were launched from U.S. Navy ships in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert S. Price
The attack is in retaliation for the Syrian dictator for using banned chemical agents in the April 4 attack.
“Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians,” Trump said in a statement to the nation. “Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
Vital National Security Interest
Trump ordered the targeted military strike on the airfield that launched the attack. “It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” the president said.
No one disputes that Syria used banned chemical weapons of the people of Idlib, he said, adding that this is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria also ignored United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
Trump called on all civilized nations to join the United States in seeking an end to the slaughter in Syria, and to end the threat terrorism poses in the blighted nation.
Details of Strike
Shortly after the president’s address, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis issued a statement providing details of the strike. It took place at about 8:40 p.m. EDT — 4:40 a.m. April 7 in Syria, he said.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert S. Price
The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, or TLAMs, launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Davis said in his statement. A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.
“As always,” Davis said, “the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.”
The strike was “a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act,” the Pentagon spokesman said, noting that Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the April 4 chemical weapons attack, he added, and the strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.
Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line, Davis said, and U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel at the airfield.
“We are assessing the results of the strike,” Davis said. “Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.”
(Startfor.com – March 28, 2017)
In January, conflict almost erupted in the Balkans after the Kosovar government dispatched special police forces to stop a Serbian train headed into Kosovo’s majority-Serb northern territory, emblazoned with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 languages.
Russia will keep trying to exploit divisions in the western Balkans, traditionally a theater of competition for many world powers.
Russian influence will continue to spread in some of the Balkans’ most turbulent areas, including Serbia, northern Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia.
By stoking tensions in the region, Moscow could engineer a series of crises too challenging for the West to contain.
The Balkan Peninsula has long stood at the edge of empires. The region, with its jumble of ethnicities, religions and political movements, has been a playing field for competing world powers throughout its history. Russia began to vie with the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires for influence over the area in the 19th century. During the Cold War, Yugoslavia became a battleground between the Soviet Union and the West, despite its officially nonaligned status following World War II. While the West tried to woo the country with economic aid, the Soviets played to its ruling Communist Party, and the two sides continued in deadlock through the 1980s. Once the country dissolved in 1991, however, the tides turned. The collapse of the Soviet Union left Moscow in no position to see Yugoslavia’s constituent states through their transition to sovereignty, leaving that task to the European Union. The West has dominated the Balkan states’ economic and security relationships ever since.
Russia still maintained its footholds in the Balkans, though. And today, as the European Union’s divisions deepen and uncertainty prevails within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Moscow has turned its focus to the region once more. The Balkans’ stability has been such a hot topic in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meetings with the Kremlin Security Council this year that the council’s chief even said it was a top priority for Moscow. Incidents of Russia’s meddling in the Balkans have been on the rise, meanwhile, raising questions about whether it will be the next theater in Moscow’s ongoing struggle against Western power and unity. After all, stoking tensions in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia offers the Russian government a convenient means to increase its influence and further distract the West.
Rattling Sabers in Serbia
Since the end of the Cold War, Serbia, unlike many of its Western-leaning neighbors, has stayed in the middle of the Russia-West dynamic. The country has drawn on its cultural and religious bonds to Russia to keep a strong relationship with Moscow while also pursuing membership in the European Union. Over the past two years, however, Russia’s influence in Serbia has grown noticeably. The number of Russian media outlets and nongovernmental organizations in the country has jumped from fewer than a dozen to more than 100 since 2015, according to the Belgrade-based Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies. The Kremlin’s two main news networks, Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today), have both begun offering television programming, online news and radio broadcasts in Serbian. In addition, Russian state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta prints Nedeljnik, a widely read weekly, in Moscow before delivering it to Serbia. The publications make frequent use of anti-Western rhetoric, for instance through references to NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serbia and Moscow’s support for Belgrade during that conflict. And the strategy seems to be working: A poll conducted in February by Serbian weekly Vreme indicated that some 68 percent of Serbs prefer relations with Russia to ties with the European Union.
At the same time, Russia and Serbia have flaunted their military connections in recent months. A Russian plane carrying 40 metric tons of food, clothing and medical supplies from Serbia set off for Syria in October 2016. The following month, the Russian and Belarusian militaries held drills in Serbia to coincide with NATO exercises just across the border in Montenegro. The government in Belgrade, moreover, will receive six Mikoyan Mig-29 fighter jets and dozens of tanks and combat vehicles in the next few weeks as a gift from Moscow, which has also offered to sell it the Buk anti-aircraft missile systems. (The equipment will be a welcome update to the Soviet technology that the Serbian military still relies on.)
Much of this saber rattling is political theater meant to appeal to Serbia’s nationalist voters ahead of the April 2 presidential election. But beneath Belgrade’s politicking runs an undercurrent of tension between the country and its neighboring states — particularly Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not acknowledge. The two almost fell into conflict in January when Kosovo’s government deployed special police forces to stop a train headed from Belgrade to the state’s northern territory, home to mostly Kosovar Serbs, and emblazoned with the phrase “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 languages. Responding to the incident, Kosovar President Hashim Thaci accused Serbia of attempting to use the “Crimean model” to take over the northern part of his country. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, meanwhile, telephoned his Russian counterpart to ask for support, sparking fears that a new war was nigh.
How to Create a Crisis
Now that Kosovo is once again flirting with the idea of transforming its lightly armed security force into a bona fide army, relations between the two states are coming under further strain. The United States and its fellow NATO members have threatened to rescind their support and protection for Kosovo if it follows through with the plan. Even so, Thaci sent a draft law approving a regular army to the legislature during the week of March 20, citing Serbia’s recent military deals with Russia and Belgrade’s influence in northern Kosovo as grounds for the measure. The Kosovar government in Pristina is concerned that between the European Union’s internal divisions and the new administration in Washington, the West won’t have the time or attention to devote to keeping the nine-year-old sovereign state safe. And if tensions continue to mount between Kosovo and Serbia, Russia could use them to engineer a full-blown crisis down the line.
In fact, Moscow is currently facing allegations that it tried to do just that in Montenegro. The country’s government has accused Russian security forces of plotting to assassinate Milo Djukanovic, then the prime minister, just before parliamentary elections in October in an effort to thwart its bid for NATO membership. Russia’s former deputy military attache to Poland, who was ejected from Warsaw in 2014 for espionage, organized the plan, according to Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor. Adding to the intrigue, Djukanovic said Moscow poured money into the country’s parliamentary campaigns in the runup to the elections. Serbia detained and deported a group of Russians accused of planning the coup in the weeks after the vote, and another 21 suspects were arrested in Montenegro. Moscow, for its part, has denied involvement in the plot and accused the country’s government of falsifying events to cast it in a negative light. Regardless, a prospective new election in 2018 could give Russia another opportunity to sow seeds of discord in Montenegro’s fragile government.
A Referendum on Russia’s Influence?
A vote in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska, likewise, could give Moscow a chance to increase its sway there. The republic’s president, Milorad Dodik, has called for a referendum next year on the independence of Republika Srpska, which is home primarily to Orthodox Serbs. (The proposal recalls the independence vote that Crimea held just before Russia annexed it.) Dodik, who first suggested the referendum during his campaign for the presidency in 2014, has made no secret of his ties to the Kremlin. Two weeks before the presidential vote, he traveled to Moscow to meet with Putin, and on election day itself, he liaised with Russian ultranationalist and propagandist Konstantin Malofeev at a posh hotel after casting his ballot. Malofeev is an agent of Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov; together, the two have reportedly organized and funded referendums in Ukraine’s restive Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. What’s more, he arrived at the election day meeting with a group of Russian Cossacks later seen walking the streets near polling sites.
Dodik managed only a slim victory in the vote, limiting the amount of clout Russia has in Bosnia-Herzegovina through him. Nevertheless, more and more Russian media has been creeping into the country over the Serbian border for the past two years to spread Moscow’s word. Though voters in Republika Srpska are divided over the issue of secession, the Kremlin’s media campaigns will likely ramp up as the possible referendum approaches, perhaps igniting one of the largest political powder kegs in the Balkans today.
The mostly Slavic state of Macedonia is already in the thick of a Russian disinformation campaign. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has accused the European Union and United States of supporting separatist movements among the inherently fragile country’s Albanian minority, which makes up 25 percent of the population. Over the past few weeks, Macedonians have taken to the streets to protest Macedonian Albanians’ demands for their own government. Moscow is stoking the unrest, claiming that the West is supporting calls for the creation of a so-called Greater Albania. According to a Stratfor source, the German and Austrian embassies in the country are trying to counter Russia’s propaganda, as is the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Even so, recent polls show that most Macedonians would sooner turn to Russia for help in the future than to the West because they doubt Western governments’ commitment. (Indeed, Washington is reportedly planning to cut funding for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, creating a vacuum in the Macedonian media for Russia to fill.)
Although the instability in Macedonia pales in comparison with that in Kosovo or Republika Srpska, the situation there offers yet another example of Russia’s activities in the Balkans. Of course, not all states in the region have accepted Moscow’s advances: Croatia, a member of the European Union as well as NATO, has actively worked to keep Russian or pro-Russian media from spreading inside its borders, according to a Stratfor source. A fellow NATO member, Albania, has also attempted to resist Russia’s influence as the Kremlin’s media outlets have expanded their coverage to include Albanian-language services. Still, the campaigns are sure to continue. For Moscow, meddling in the Balkans is a low-cost and high-yield endeavor. The Russian government has no illusions that it will be able to win the Balkan countries over to its side. Instead, it views the region as a hornet’s nest. By stirring it up, Moscow could create a series of crises too deep for the European Union or NATO to contain, thereby giving it another card to play in its negotiations with the West.
Article also appeared at stratfor.com/analysis/russia-stirs-hornets-nest bearing the following notice:
Reprinting or republication of this report on websites is authorized by prominently displaying the following sentence, including the hyperlink to Stratfor, at the beginning or end of the report.
“#Iranian President Hassan #Rouhani and #Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip #Erdogan agreed Wednesday to improve ties, including in the fight against terrorism, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said, following some angry exchanges between the regional rivals. Tehran and Ankara support opposite sides in the conflict in #Syria. Largely #Shiite Iran backs the government of President Bashar #Assad, while Turkey, which is majority #Sunni, has backed elements of the Syrian opposition. Last month Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu both accused Iran of trying to destabilize Syria and Iraq and of sectarianism, prompting Tehran to summon Ankara’s ambassador. …”
“#UN #humanrights investigators say #Syrian civilians fell victim to #war crimes committed by all parties during the battle for #Aleppo last year. Daily air strikes by #Syria’s government and its ally #Russia claimed hundreds of lives, according to a new report. Government forces also dropped chlorine bombs, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties, it alleges. Rebels are meanwhile accused of firing shells indiscriminately at government-held areas and of using human shields. The evacuation of the rebel enclave in eastern Aleppo in December, which brought the battle to an end, also amounted to forced displacement, the investigators say. …”
“Both #Syrian rebels and their enemies, the #Assad regime along with its #Russian allies, are guilty of committing #warcrimes in #Aleppo, #Syria, the #UN said Wednesday.
The U.N. Commission of Inquiry (UNCI) released an assessment of developments in the five-year war that occured between July and December of last year. …”
NEWSWATCH: “Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States; What it Takes to Win” – RAND/David A. Shlapak/Congressional Testimony
Testimony presented before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces on March 1, 2017.
“… the United States and … NATO confront three related challenges in deterring Russian aggression in the Baltics (and, more generally, wherever NATO territory may be threatened). Solving all three of these is vital to achieving core American objectives in Europe … since 1945: ensure peace and stability, support democratic and market forces, and prevent the use of armed force to coerce the free people of Europe or to alter established borders. … ‘winning’ means putting in place the wherewithal to effectively deter any Russian adventurism aimed at NATO member states by being prepared to deny Moscow its objectives without escalating to the first use of nuclear weapons. …”
“#Montenegro is reportedly preparing to indict the #Russian #intelligence officer it accuses of masterminding a bloody coup plot to stop the Balkan nation joining #Nato. …”
NEWSLINK: “Canadian troops to find permanent home in Latvia to deter Russian aggression” – Edmonton Journal
#Canadian troops will be permanently stationed in #Europe starting this June — for the first time since the end of the Cold War — as a deterrent against #Russian agitations in the region. …
“Vladimir Putin’s posturing towards Afghanistan has opened a new chapter in the great game in the heart of Asia.”
“… An order that directs federal agencies to ease the ‘regulatory burdens’ of ObamaCare. … ‘… on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.’ * * * An order imposing a hiring freeze for some federal government workers …. This excludes the military, as Trump noted at the signing. * * * a notice that the U.S. will begin withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. * * * … the … ‘Mexico City Policy’ … ban on federal funds to international groups that perform abortions or lobby to legalize or promote abortion. …”
WHITE HOUSE TEXT: Presidential Memorandum Regarding Withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Agreement
MEMORANDUM FOR THE UNITED STATES TRADE REPRESENTATIVE
SUBJECT: Withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Agreement
It is the policy of my Administration to represent the American people and their financial well-being in all negotations, particularly the American worker, and to create fair and economically beneficial trade deals that serve their interests. Additionally, in order to ensure these outcomes, it is the intention of my Administration to deal directly with individual countries on a one-on-one (or bilateral) basis in negotiating future trade deals. Trade with other nations is, and always will be, of paramount importance to my Administration and to me, as President of the United States.
Based on these principles, and by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct you to withdraw the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to permanently withdraw the United States from TPP negotiations, and to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages.
You are directed to provide written notification to the Parties and to the Depository of the TPP, as appropriate, that the United States withdraws as a signatory of the TPP and withdraws from the TPP negotiating process.
You are authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
DONALD J. TRUMP
NEWSLINK: “#IslamicState increases #oil and #gas sales to #Assad, officials say” – Wall Street Journal/Fox News
“#IslamicState has ramped up sales of #oil and #gas to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-#Assad, U.S. and European officials said, providing vital fuel to the government in return for desperately needed cash. … helping sustain Islamic State amid unprecedented military pressure on the militant group in both #Syria and# Iraq. It is also helping the group despite the regime’s insistence that it is dedicated to eradicating the militant group with the help of its top allies Russia and Iran. … Oil and gas sales to Mr. Assad’s regime are now Islamic State’s largest source of funds, replacing revenue the group once collected from tolls on the transit of goods and taxes on wages ….”
If carried out, #Tillerson’s proposal to bar Beijing from some South #China Sea islands would likely trigger #military battle, experts say
Russia is preparing to carry out a new round of strikes targeting Syria from a group of warships … in the eastern Mediterranean … two U.S. defense officials [said] …. The Russian armada is centered around a Soviet-era aircraft carrier and includes three destroyers capable of launching cruise [missiles] …. Russian jets were seen taking off with weapons visible under their wings from Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, part of the flotilla located near Syria …. It marked the first time Russia had conducted armed flight operations from the aircraft carrier since leaving port ….
Click here for Fox News: “Russia poised to unleash new Syria strikes from the sea, US officials say”
“From Russia to North Korea to the slaughter in Syria, the next president will face foreign-policy challenges that test the very fundamentals of world order.”
… Unlike US carriers, the Kuznetsov was never designed to project force against land targets—it was built during the Cold War as a floating jet fighter base to defend deployed nuclear strategic submarines against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) anti-submarine attack aircraft in the Barents Sea. The Kuznetsov’s staple Su-33 jets are not designed for attack missions; the new MiG-29KRs are, but the Kuznetsov has no jet catapult, so any jets taking off must carry a limited payload or relatively little fuel. Ka-52K attack helicopters could use the Kuznetsov to launch conventional land attacks, but they are only being introduced (as are the MiG-29Ks) and are not yet fully operational. Of course, some of the Kuznetsov air wing could land at the Russian air base near Latakia and go into action from there with full a payload, but this would hardly add much to the Russian bombing campaign. It is possible the Kuznetsov’s prime objective is, as Shoigu said, to reinforce the Russian naval squadron to deter US carriers from possibly intervening in Syria as the bloody battle of Aleppo unravels this fall.
Click here for Eurasia Defense Monitor: “Russian Military Presence in Syria Increasing With Carrier Deploying to Eastern Mediterranean”
NEWSWATCH: “Iran Gives Green Light to Direct $1.7 Billion from U.S. to Military” – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
In a Sept. 1, 2016, article, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies addresses the flow of funds from the United States to Iran in connection with the Iranian nuclear deal, and how those funds end up financing Iranian military activities.
… There is no longer any doubt that the money the United States has paid to Iran will go to the Islamic Republic’s armed forces. It remains unclear how the military will spend it – potentially to prop up the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, Shiite militias in Iraq, or Houthi rebels in Yemen, or to buy heavy weaponry from Russia in contravention of the UN arms embargo.
What is clear are the benefits the regime draws from receiving these funds in cash. It would be far easier for Tehran to procure advanced weaponry from Russia and China, for example, if it can pay for it with hard currency rather than through the formal financial system, having to circumvent the UN arms embargo and U.S. financial sanctions. With bags of untraceable hard currency, Iran can more easily support its allies or illicitly procure missile and nuclear parts. Ultimately, the $400 million in cash that the U.S. has delivered to Iran – and the wider $1.7-billion settlement – will help finance Tehran’s overriding objectives: spreading its revolution and further destabilizing the Middle East.
Click here for Foundation for Defense of Democracy: “Iran Gives Green Light to Direct $1.7 Billion from U.S. to Military”
AP, on Sept. 21, reports on #Russia’s plans to send their only aircraft carrier to the eastern #Mediterranean, where the #Syrian port of #Tartus serves as the site of the only Russian naval facility outside the former Soviet Union.
The Russian navy will send its sole aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean …. the Admiral Kuznetsov will … join other Russian ships …. Russian media have earlier reported that the mission was planned for the fall.
The Admiral Kuznetsov dates to Soviet days and has been reequipped with new Su-33 and MiG-29K fighters. Smaller than U.S. carriers, it carries about 40 aircraft.
For about a year, Russia has become an active belligerent in the Syrian conflict, bolstering its ally, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
Russia reportedly is using its Syrian campaign to test some of its military capabilities. The presence of the aircraft carrier will provide the opportunity for Russia to use carrier-born aircraft in combat for the first time ever.
Since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, 2015, the military has used it to test its latest jets and missiles. In a demonstration of its new precision strike capability, Russian strategic bombers, surface ships and a submarine have repeatedly launched cruise missiles at targets in Syria. … sending the Admiral Kuznetsov to Syria’s shores, Russia would significantly beef up its forces there [and offer] a chance to test its carrier-born aircraft in combat for the first time.
Russia has maintained an ongoing presence in the eastern Mediterranean since 2013, the first time since the early 1990’s when the Soviet Union fell. AP seems to be reporting that the Syrian port of Tartus is the only Russian military facility outside of the former Soviet Union.
In 2013, the Russian navy restored a constant presence in the eastern Mediterranean for the first time since the Soviet collapse, using the Soviet-era facility in the Syrian port of Tartus to replenish supplies. … the only such facility the Russian military now has outside the former Soviet Union.
(The article does not specify whether AP is claiming that Tartus is the only Russian military facility outside of the former Soviet Union, or simply the only facility of a particular type. Additionally, considering the significance of Tartus as a port, the article does not address whether the entire port is essentially run as a Russian military base, or whether Russia simply has ongoing rights to access it and berth there, perhaps with some on-shore buildings, perhaps as a sub-part of a larger port area used by other entities for other purposes, such as any commercial activity.
Additionally, when article references Tartus as the only such Russian military facility outside the former Soviet Union, as opposed to simply being outside Russia, it does not address the existence of Russian facilities outside Russia but within the sprawl of other former Soviet states. Most notably, of course, Russia has military facilities in occupied Crimea, on territory that legally belongs to Ukraine.)
The AP article also served as a conduit for Russian propaganda, quoting a Russian official as making the head-scratching claim that a Soviet military presence in the Mediterranean in the late 1960’s helped to prevent the escalation of Arab-Israeli tensions. Soviet military forces, of course, would never have been anything other than a source of instability, and AP failed to provide a source countering the Russian propaganda.
[featured images are file photos]
(VOA – Sept. 24, 2016) The size of the bomb craters is becoming larger and the destructive power is growing of the missiles that Russian and Syrian government warplanes are launching at civilians and rebels in Aleppo.
Since the breakdown last week of a U.S.-Russia negotiated cease-fire in Syria, the ferocity of the onslaught on rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo suggests Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his overseas backers, Russia and Iran, are determined to overrun the insurgents in Aleppo, delivering a devastating blow to the five-year campaign to oust the Syrian strongman.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power accused the Assad regime on Sunday of mounting an “all-out offensive” to retake Aleppo.
Analysts and Western diplomats say in the past few weeks, Russian and Syrian warplanes have been pounding Aleppo with munitions designed to penetrate hardened military bunkers, not shallow cellars shielding civilians from round-the-clock airstrikes. They say the weapon of choice to subdue the eastern half of Syria’s once prosperous commercial capital is the bunker-busting BETAB-500 air bomb.
A year ago, when Russia started its military intervention to prop up Assad’s then-floundering forces, Kremlin-controlled websites like Sputnik News boasted how the BETAB-500 air bombs were being “used in Syria to eliminate Islamic State command centers, which are multi-level underground bunkers made of reinforced concrete.”
On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the use of advanced weaponry and bunker-busters against civilians could amount to war crimes. He didn’t spell out the exact nature of the high-tech munitions that are inflicting a new hell on the war-exhausted civilians and rebels in Aleppo. Nor did he detail what precision air bombs like the BETAB-500 can do.
According to Robin Yassin-Kassab, Syrian activist and co-author of the book Burning Country, “Bunker busters dig five meters into the ground and can cause the collapse of three apartment buildings. They’re designed to destroy military bunkers. The Syrian regime and Russia are dropping these bunker busters on neighborhoods in Aleppo, killing entire families.”
Video footage posted online of craters in Aleppo are consistent with what would be expected to be seen from BETAB-500’s, say military analysts. Their explosions send out powerful shockwaves, collapsing nearby buildings.
The 500-kilogram BETAB-500’s have been used regularly by the Russians against the Islamic State terror group, as noted frequently by Russian military spokesmen.
On November 3, 2015, Colonel Igor Klimov, a Russian air force spokesman, told journalists in Syria, “Today, Russian strike aircraft used two BETAB-500 bunker buster bombs against ISIS targets.”
A few days later, Klimov assured Sputnik News, ”BETAB-500 bombs are used to destroy extremely protected and fortified underground bunkers; they are not dropped on cities.”
As the Russian news-site noted, “The concrete-piercing BETAB-500 bombs are equipped with a jet booster, which allows the bombs to completely destroy any underground installation.”
Families, clinics being shelled
The underground installations that have been hit in the past three days in an estimated 200 airstrikes are destroying basements where families are trying to shelter from the relentless air-raids, say local residents and aid workers. They are also striking makeshift clinics that have been set up in cellars.
On Friday, Russian and Syrian warplanes struck three of the four bases in eastern Aleppo of the White Helmets, the Syrian volunteer rescue group whose workers have been fearless in their efforts to tend to the injured. The group has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. A rescue center was destroyed that was featured in a Netflix documentary about the organization and released earlier this month.
“You can see or hear groups of warplanes overhead the whole time,” Zakaria Malahefji, an official with an Aleppo-based FSA [Free Syrian Army] militia, told VOA. “The earth shakes under the bombing.”
A resident contacted by mobile phone described apocalyptic scenes: warplanes dropping an array of weaponry, from incendiary munitions and cheaply made barrel bombs — to smart, bunker-buster bombs — all crumpling and razing eastern Aleppo.
“There is not much you can do when you hear the jets; there’s nowhere that’s safe,” said Mohammed Ghassan, a father of two.
At the beginning of Russia’s intervention, military analysts noted its warplanes were dropping more so-called “dumb” or gravity-dropping munitions without any guidance systems, like the high explosive FAB-500 bombs. As the intervention has progressed, laser and satellite-guided munitions have been launched in greater numbers, including KAB-500’s.
Their effect on eastern Aleppo is clear to see; the weapons wiping out whole blocks are targeting key civilian and rebel infrastructure, from clinics and a water-pumping station to roads and local council buildings.
Since Friday, at least 200 civilians have died in the airstrikes, according to estimates from Syrian opposition and aid workers.
“The death toll is expected to rise because there are some people in critical situations, and due to missing people under the rubble,” reported the pro-opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
[Article also appeared at voanews.com/a/russia-assad-iran-using-more-destructive-weaponry-in-bid-to-subdue-aleppo-syria/3525344.html]
The United States believes two Russian aircraft attacked an aid convoy near Aleppo in a strike that shattered a one-week truce …. Despite the military blame game over Monday’s deadly attack, diplomats struggled to save the U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement …. The incident, in which 18 trucks from a 31-vehicle convoy were destroyed, looked likely to deal a death blow to diplomatic efforts to halt [the] civil war …. Two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes were in the skies above the aid convoy at the exact time it was struck …. The Syrian Red Crescent said the head of one of its local offices and ‘around 20 civilians’ had been killed … other death tolls differed. The attack prompted the United Nations to suspend all aid shipments into Syria. …
The Australian, in an editorial, addresses Russia’s reaction to a U.S.-led airstrike that apparently hit some Syrian forces, including accusations that the United States is in league with the so-called Islamic State. Doubts are raised about the sincerity of Russia’s involvement with a would-be ceasefire.
… precise circumstances surrounding the botched U.S.-led coalition airstrike that killed and wounded Syrian soldiers in the mistaken belief they were Islamic State fighters have yet to be established. … we must not lose sight of the gross hypocrisy being exhibited by … Putin’s Russia as it seeks to exploit the tragedy …. posturing and finger-pointing … that contrasts with its callous belligerence and indolence after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine two years ago with the loss of 298 lives. … the Kremlin is all action on behalf of its surrogate, the murderous Assad regime. Preposterously, Moscow claims the misdirected airstrike shows ‘direct connivance’ by the coalition with Islamic State. ‘We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world … that the White House (and, presumably, its allies) is defending Islamic State … there can be no doubt about that,’ Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement that beggars belief given Moscow last week signed a ceasefire agreement, along with the US. … Moscow has vetoed or undermined every proposed UN Security Council resolution that might have helped end the horrifying civil war and … appalling atrocities ….
Three times in the last two months, the United States has flown B-1 bombers, equipped with the latest non-nuclear cruise missiles, on missions in Europe and Asia meant to show adversaries as well as allies what one U.S. commander called ‘an unshakable commitment.’ … part of strategic missions aimed at sending explicit messages to Russia, China and North Korea. Each of the B-1s is equipped with two dozen non-nuclear cruise missiles with highly accurate, bunker-busting warheads, a new capability. … The latest … took place … over the Korean peninsula, when two B-1 bombers flew within a few miles of the DMZ between North and South Korea, accompanied by U.S. F-16s and South Korean F-15s. … related to North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test …
… administration officials reportedly are at odds over a newly announced agreement with Russia to curb the violence in Syria … Confusion remains over the terms and aims of the deal. …. [there are] new questions about what level of violence will be accepted by the Obama administration in determining whether to go ahead with the proposed joint venture with Russia after a week-long ceasefire, which includes the sharing of intelligence at a joint intelligence center. … [After seven days of calm] the U.S. and Russia would then cooperate on how to jointly combat the Al Qaeda-linked group … Nusra Front … now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. … militants backed by the U.S. and its Arab allies coordinate and even sometimes fight alongside Al Qaeda-linked militants. … The new cease-fire is supposed to end such ambiguities, and Washington has been urging rebel groups to break ranks with extremists.
NEWSWATCH: “Russia’s Ambitions in the Atlantic; Patrolling the GIUK Gap” – Foreign Affiars/Robbie Gramer
A new arena of competition is opening between Russia and NATO in the North Atlantic. … a newly vulnerable Cold War chokepoint known as the GIUK gap. … the maritime line between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom that served as a defensive perimeter for NATO during the Cold War. … still the only point through which Russia can project power into the Atlantic Ocean and Europe’s littoral beyond the bottlenecked Baltic and Black Seas. It remains the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean for Russia’s largest and most strategically important fleet, the Northern Fleet. … Vital global undersea communications cables also run along the ocean floor in the North Atlantic near the GIUK gap, carrying nearly all global internet traffic. Russian submarines have skirted uncomfortably close to the cables … prompting concerns that the cables would be cut if tensions between Russia and the West worsened over Ukraine, the Baltic States, Syria, or somewhere else. …
Click here for Foreign Affiars/Robbie Gramer: “Russia’s Ambitions in the Atlantic; Patrolling the GIUK Gap”
Russian support enabled the regime to regain momentum against the rebels, who are supported by the U.S. and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. Backed by Russian airstrikes, government troops fought to retake rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital. Their campaign got an unexpected boost when Turkey’s government, suspicious of U.S. involvement in a failed coup in Istanbul in July, began to slow weapons shipments to Syria’s rebels while forging closer ties with Russia. In March, Russia announced that it would largely withdraw its forces from Syria. But it said it would still target terrorists. ….
The U.S. and Russia hit a renewed deadlock over efforts to strike a #Syrian cease-fire deal … Kerry snubbed … Lavrov, who was left cooling his heels in Geneva …. The U.S. has been locked in tough negotiations with Russia, whose military intervention in Syria last year reversed the course of the war in favor of its ally … al-Assad. … The civil war … has killed more than 280,000 people and sent millions fleeing …. It has … let Islamic State seize territory that it’s used as a base to direct and inspire terror attacks worldwide. … The U.S. has proposed sharing intelligence with Russia to carry out strikes against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, now known as Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham. … Assad continues to make gains with each passing day, particularly in … Aleppo, so Russia has little incentive to come up with a deal …. Assad’s forces, backed by pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia and Russian air power, this week cut off the last rebel supply line to the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo, restoring a siege that was broken last month …
NEWSWATCH VIDEO: House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: “Reforming the National Security Council: Efficiency and Accountability”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: “Reforming the National Security Council: Efficiency and Accountability” [scroll down for video, which has a delayed start at about the 9:00 mark]
In recent years, there has been increasing bipartisan concern over the size and role of the President’s National Security Council. In too many cases, its traditional role of ‘honest broker’ has evolved to a policy-making role – it has even undertaken secret diplomatic negotiations – all done out of Congress’ view. … While concerns about the NSC aren’t new, they’ve reached new heights …. This is a staff that has increased from 100 persons at the start of President George W. Bush’s presidency to reportedly over 400 today. Such a large staff sends the message that the President intends to run foreign policy and military operations out of the White House to the exclusion of the Cabinet. … More staff means more meetings and often paralysis. … How many hearings has the Committee held on Ukraine at which State Department officials have told us that the White House is still debating Kiev’s request for heavy defensive weapons? Also of concern, the profile of an NSC staffer has changed from a seasoned professional doing a stint at the White House as the capstone of their career, to that of junior professionals just off the campaign trail. [from opening statement of Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA)]
(VOA – voanews.com – article also appeared at voanews.com/a/us-russia-yet-to-reach-syria-cease-fire-deal/3494498.html – Sept. 5, 2016)
Secretary of State John Kerry has returned home empty handed, failing to have reached an accord with his Russian counterpart on a cease-fire in Syria after an intensive period of diplomacy.
The two countries still need to resolve what are described as “technical issues,” and discussions between American and Russian negotiators are set to continue this week, State Department officials said Monday.
Off to the side of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, the U.S. and Russian presidents held talks about Syria that Barack Obama described as “businesslike” and “constructive, but not conclusive.”
“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation and we haven’t yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work,” the U.S. president told reporters at the conclusion of the G-20 summit.
Obama added he had instructed Kerry, while Russian President Vladimir Putin had told his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, “to keep working at it over the next several days” in hopes an agreement could lead “to a serious conversation about a political solution to this problem” with all parties directly or indirectly involved in the Syrian conflict.
Putin told reporters at a separate news conference that talks with the United States and Turkey were continuing concerning Syria and negotiators had made a step forward.
During the past 10 days, a peripatetic secretary of state kept in touch with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov through face-to-face meetings in Geneva and Hangzhou and telephone conversations in between, while the American senior envoy made stops in Bangladesh and India.
Kerry and senior aides have reiterated they do not want to make a tenuous deal for the sake of an announcement, but rather want Washington and Moscow to agree upon something realistic to achieve a sustainable nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria.
There is a growing perception among some senior U.S. officials, however, that the Russians are gaming the Americans in the talks.
In private, U.S. diplomats have characterized the negotiations with their Russian counterparts as a litmus test on whether there is a seriousness by Moscow to reach an accord, or if the Russians are buying time that results in Obama and Kerry being portrayed as hapless negotiators.
“The Russians walked back on some of the areas we thought we were agreed on,” a senior State Department official said Saturday, revealing the level of frustration.
Russia is a long-time backer of Syria, and is seen as desiring President Bashar al-Assad remain in power in Damascus to maintain Moscow’s influence in the region.
Diplomats have no illusion that bringing an end to five years of intense misery for the Syrian people will be easy. They describe the battlefield as complex, with shifting alliances among the many militias involved.
“There are five different wars being waged” in Syria is a characterization expressed by more than one person involved in the cease-fire talks.
President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which hosts 3 million Syrian refugees, said he had reiterated to Obama and Putin at the G-20 talks in China the need for a “no-fly zone” over Syria and a “safe zone” where there would be no fighting, in hopes of stemming the human migration.
A half decade of war has fractured Syria. More than 250,000 people are believed to have died from shootings, mortar fire and air strikes. Millions have fled the country. And 18 million more people remain to face an uncertain fate, most of them in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN relief agencies.
NEWSWATCH: “Can Oil Rally After Russia-Saudi Pact? Cooperation reflects the squeeze on revenues and suggests that the demise of OPEC is exaggerated.” – Barron’s
Monday’s announcement of a joint Russia-Saudi Arabian working group to explore avenues for stabilizing the oil market—while short on details and immaterial for actual supply and demand balances—is another indicator of the extreme economic duress that producers are enduring, and in our view, increases the likelihood of some type of collective action if prices remain under significant pressure. We believe that the sovereign producers may eventually come to conclude that they have little to lose by agreeing to cap output when they are close to maxing out on production in the near term. Moreover, while geopolitical tensions between key producers continue to run high because of ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, their leaders may yet opt for pragmatism and seek some financial relief that will allow them to keep their increasingly restive citizens content and off the streets. * * * Frankly put, OPEC producers simply do not want oil prices to fall further. Although cooperative action taken by the cartel and other key producers may prove to be more of a play on optics rather than physically actionable, at a minimum, it alters sentiment, puts a floor into the market, and reminds the market of OPEC’s capacity to co-operate. It would also prove that the prolific pronouncements of the cartel’s demise are premature.
Click here for Barron’s: “Can Oil Rally After Russia-Saudi Pact? Cooperation reflects the squeeze on revenues and suggests that the demise of OPEC is exaggerated.”
TREASURY DEPARTMENT NEWS RELEASE: “Treasury Sanctions Individuals and Entities for Sanctions Evasion and Activities Related to the Conflict in Ukraine”
U.S. Treasury Department Press Release – 9/1/2016
U.S. Will Maintain Sanctions Pressure Until Russia Has Fulfilled All of Its Commitments under the Minsk Agreements
WASHINGTON – To maintain the effectiveness of existing sanctions, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated 37 individuals and entities under three Executive Orders (E.O.s) related to Russia and Ukraine. Today’s action is part of OFAC’s ongoing efforts to counter attempts to circumvent sanctions on Russia, to assist the private sector with sanctions compliance, and to foster a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. The action demonstrates Treasury’s steadfast commitment to maintain sanctions until Russia fully implements its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including a comprehensive cease fire, the withdrawal of all weapons and military personnel, and the restoration of Ukraine’s control over its side of the internationally recognized border. It also underscores the U.S. government’s opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and our firm refusal to recognize its attempted annexation of the peninsula. These sanctions follow the recent extension of European Union sectoral sanctions, and together these steps demonstrate continued international unity in opposing Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“Russia continues to provoke instability in eastern Ukraine despite its Minsk commitments,” said Acting OFAC Director John E. Smith. “Treasury stands with our partners in condemning Russia’s violation of international law, and we will continue to sanction those who threaten Ukraine’s peace, security, and sovereignty.”
Today OFAC also identified a number of subsidiaries that are owned 50 percent or more by previously sanctioned Russian companies to provide additional information to assist the private sector with sanctions compliance.
Designation Regarding Sanctions Evasion (E.O. 13661)
Today’s action targets one entity pursuant to E.O. 13661, which authorizes sanctions on, among others, any individual or entity that has acted for or on behalf of, or supported, an individual or entity previously designated under this E.O.
CJSC ABR Management (“ABR Management”) is designated for acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, and materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing, financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Bank Rossiya. Bank Rossiya managers founded ABR Management to strategically manage the banking group’s assets. As the trustee under a trust agreement with certain Bank Rossiya shareholders, ABR Management has the power to exercise voting rights for a majority of Bank Rossiya shares, including rights to propose candidates for Bank Rossiya management positions.
Designations Regarding Separatists (E.O. 13660)
Today’s action also targets 17 Ukrainian separatists pursuant to E.O. 13660 for being responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; asserting governmental authority over a part or region of Ukraine without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine; or for acting for or on behalf of previously designated groups as leaders of such entities.
The following six individuals are designated for being responsible for or complicit in, or having engaged in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; asserting governmental authority over a part or region of Ukraine without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine; and acting for or on behalf of the previously designated, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) or the previously designated, self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR): Eduard Basurin, so-called Deputy Commander of the Ministry of Defense, DPR; Viktor Yatsenko, so-called Minister of Communications, DPR; Vladimir Kononov, so-called Minister of Defense, DPR; Zaur Ismailov, so-called Prosecutor General, LPR; Evgeny Manuilov, so-called Minister of Finance, LPR; and Alexandr Shubin, so-called Minister of Justice, LPR.
The following 11 individuals, officials of the so-called Republic of Crimea, are designated for asserting governmental authority over a part or region of Ukraine without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine: Dmitry Polonsky, so-called Minister of Information and Mass Communications; Anna Anyukhina, so-called Minister for Property and Land Relations; Mikhail Sheremet, so-called First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers; Svetlana Alekseevna Borodulina, so-called Minister of Fuel and Energy; Irina Kiviko, so-called Minister of Finance; Valentin Demidov, so-called Minister of Economic Development; Oleg Shapovalov, so-called Minister of Justice; Andrey Gennadievich Vasyuta, so-called Minister of Industrial Policy; Viktor Palagin, so-called Head of the Federal Security Service Directorate; Mikhail Nazarov, so-called Director of the Investigative Committee Chief Investigations Division; and Georgiy Muradov, so-called Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Permanent Representative to the President of the Russian Federation. Two of these individuals, Dmitry Polonsky and Georgiy Muradov, are additionally designated for being responsible for or complicit in, or having engaged in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Additional E.O. 13660 Designation
The Salvation Committee of Ukraine also is designated pursuant to E.O. 13660 for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, whom OFAC previously designated under the same E.O. for the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine.
Designations Regarding Crimean Entities (E.O. 13685)
Today’s action also targets the following 18 construction, transportation, and defense entities pursuant to E.O. 13685, which authorizes sanctions on, among others, any person determined to operate in the Crimea region of Ukraine. Except as otherwise noted, the persons listed below are designated for operating in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
Entities Involved in the Construction of the Kerch Bridge
Russia’s SGM-Most OOO, which is owned by previously designated gas pipeline construction company Stroygazmontazh, is the chief contractor for the construction of the Kerch Bridge, which would span the Kerch Strait to connect the Crimean peninsula with Russia.
PJSC Mostotrest is a major Russian construction company engaged in the construction of bridges, roads, and other transport infrastructure facilities. In March 2016, SGM-Most OOO awarded a multi-billion ruble construction contract to Mostotrest for the development of the Kerch Bridge.
AO ‘Institute Giprostroymost—Saint-Petersburg’ designed the Kerch Bridge.
OOO ‘STG-Eko’ conducted engineering and ecological studies for an Environmental Impact Assessment of the Kerch Bridge for AO ‘Institute Giprostroymost—Saint-Petersburg.’
OOO ‘DSK’ is a Russian construction company whose work includes building access roads to bridges and overpasses. OOO ‘DSK’ won an auction in September 2015 for construction work on access roads to the Kerch Bridge on both sides of the Kerch Strait.
FKU Uprdor ‘Taman’ is a Russian federal institution under the Federal Road Agency (Rosavtodor) authorized to help manage federal highways and related structures in Crimea and in Russian Federation territory. FKU Uprdor ‘Taman’ operationally manages the construction of the Kerch Bridge.
FAU ‘Glavgosekspertiza Rossii’ is a Russian federal institution authorized to conduct official examinations of project documentation for significant construction works in Russian Federation territory. In 2015, after Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of the Crimean peninsula, FAU ‘Glavgosekspertiza Rossii’ opened a branch in the city of Sevastopol and reviewed project documentation for the Kerch Bridge.
Defense Firms Operating in Crimea
OOO Shipyard ‘Zaliv’ is a shipbuilding company in Kerch, Crimea formed after militants forcibly seized the shipyard from its previous owners in August 2014. It holds resident status in the so-called Republic of Crimea’s free economic zone and a license from the Russian government to develop military equipment.
Federal SUE Shipyard ‘Morye’ is a shipbuilding company located in Feodosia, Crimea. It has increased its capacity to construct military vessels and began constructing a guided missile ship for the Russian Navy in May 2016.
OAO Ship Repair Center ‘Zvezdochka’ performs maintenance work on ships and submarines and is located in Severodvinsk, Russia. It has a branch in Sevastopol, Crimea that performs repairs and maintenance work on Russian naval vessels.
SUE RC ‘Feodosia Optical Plant’ produces military optical products and is located in Feodosia, Crimea. It holds a license from the Russian government to develop military equipment and produces optical sights for tanks and heavy weapons.
OAO ‘Uranis-Radiosistemy’ produces radio equipment and is located in Sevastopol, Crimea. It holds resident status in the so-called Republic of Crimea’s free economic zone and a license from the Russian government to develop military equipment.
Entities Operating in Crimean Maritime Sector
Finally, the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group is designated pursuant to E.O. 13685 because it operates in the Crimea region of Ukraine. Affiliated companies SMT-K and LLC Koksokhimtrans are being designated for operating in the Crimea region of Ukraine and being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group. Sovfracht Managing Company LLC is being designated for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group. Finally, OJSC Sovfracht and CJSC Sovmortrans are designated for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group and Sovfracht Managing Company LLC.
The Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group is a Russian shipping and logistics company comprised of several companies, including Sovfracht Managing Company LLC, OJSC Sovfracht, CJSC Sovmortrans, LLC Koksokhimtrans, and SMT-K, a unit of the group registered in Crimea. SMT-K, an abbreviation for Sovmortrans-Crimea, has offices in Simferopol and Kerch, Crimea, and is the operator for a ferry line between the previously designated Port of Kerch in Crimea and Kavkaz in Russia. LLC Koksokhimtrans is the registered operator and manager of two vessels that have served as ferries between Crimea and Russia. Sovfracht Managing Company LLC has oversight over OJSC Sovfracht and CJSC Sovmortrans. OJSC Sovfracht is the flagship company of the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group and specializes in transporting of general cargo, while CJSC Sovmortrans specializes in container shipping.
Identifications Under the Sectoral Sanctions Identification List (E.O. 13662)
Today, OFAC also identified a number of subsidiaries of Bank of Moscow and Gazprombank as being 50 percent or more owned by their respective parent entities, all of which were previously sanctioned pursuant to directives issued under E.O. 13662. Bank of Moscow and Gazprombank were previously sanctioned in July 2014; both are subject to Directive 1, which prohibits certain transactions or dealing in debt and equity of the sanctioned entities. OFAC has also identified subsidiaries of Gazprom, which is subject to Directive 4, which prohibits the exportation of goods, services, or technology in support of exploration or production for Russian deepwater, arctic offshore, or shale oil projects. The subsidiaries identified today were already subject to the same restrictions as their respective parent entities per OFAC’s Revised Guidance on Entities Owned by Persons Whose Property and Interests in Property Are Blocked (“50 percent rule guidance”), which can be found here. These identifications will help the public more effectively comply with the sanctions on these companies.
Concurrent with today’s action, OFAC is also issuing a general license to authorize certain transactions for a limited period of time necessary to divest holdings in Mostotrest. To see the general license, click here.
For the identifying information related to today’s action, click here.
A fire swept through a Moscow printing plant warehouse on Saturday, killing 17 migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan … young women trapped in a dressing room … changing into their work clothes.
The fire was caused by a faulty lamp on the first floor of the warehouse, where many flammable liquids and paper products were stored, and it spread quickly through an elevator shaft to the room …
Colombia’s [FARC rebels] said … they will hold their final conference on Sept. 13-19 to ratify a peace accord with the government.
The deal between the leaders of the leftist guerilla group … and the government was announced Wednesday … after almost four years of talks. The rebels have agreed to lay down arms after half a century of war. …
Click here for Reuters: “Colombia’s FARC rebels to hold final conference, peace vote September 13-19”
Chinese planes and ships held war games in the Sea of Japan last week, the military said, during which Beijing displayed its latest-generation frigate at a time of bitter territorial disputes with Asian neighbors. … The statement made no mention of what sort of conflict the exercise was intended as a response to, prospective foes or why the Sea of Japan was chosen as the location of the drills. However, China has grown increasingly assertive over its claim to a chain of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan …. * * * China [also] is involved in an intense rivalry with the U.S. over military dominance in the region. Tensions in the South China Sea have also risen after China refused to accept an international arbitration panel’s ruling invalidating its claim [there] …. China plans joint naval exercises with Russia in the South China Sea next month ….
Russian warplanes are now taking off from an Iranian air base to target … Syria. … the Russian Defense Ministry said … Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 fighter bombers had taken off from Khamandan air base in Iran to target ISIS and the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir-ez Zor and Idlib. … the first time the Russians have launched … warplanes from inside Iran since Moscow began striking targets in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last September. … Army Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve … would not confirm if ISIS targets were in Aleppo or Idlib, two of the locations the Russians identified striking from the Iranian base. He only said that the U.S.-led coalition had not struck targets in those areas in a ‘very long time.’ [He added:] ‘We don’t see concentrations of ISIS in those areas.’ … On Monday, Interfax news service reported that Russia asked Iran and Iraq last week if Russian cruise missiles could pass through their airspace.
U.S. Transfers 15 Guantanamo Bay Detainees; The United Arab Emirates accepts 15 prisoners under President Obama’s push to nearly empty Gitmo by January
The Wall Street Journal reports on the United States transferring 15 Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) detainees, 12 Yemenis and three Afghans, to the United Arab Emirates on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Sixty-one detainees are left at GTMO, down from 242 in 2009. However, far more detainees were transferred during the George W. Bush administration, a total of 532. Nearly 800 individuals have been detained at GTMO since it was opened after the 9/11 attacks.
Under Obama, the United States often pays up to $100,000 per detainee transferred, and attempts to continue electronic surveillance of transferred detainees.
The U.S. usually pays foreign governments to monitor transferred detainees, and underwrites resettlement costs—for language instruction, vocational courses and the like—up to $100,000 each …. people familiar with the matter said the U.S. typically conducts electronic surveillance of former detainees, while local authorities keep physical tabs on them. … the administration leverag[es] rivalries to get countries to compete over resettling the men. … Foreign governments are realizing that ‘if you want to get attention in the Obama administration, one way to do it is to take Guantanamo detainees,’ [an] official said. * * * In the U.A.E., the 15 newly transferred men will enter a rehabilitation facility modeled after a Saudi program that seeks to ‘de-radicalize’ former detainees, a senior administration official said. ‘There is an ideological component. They bring in the moderate [religious leaders]. They provide literature. They work on life skills’ ….
Concern continues about whether transferred or released detainees could rejoin terrorist activity, and opposition continues to Congressional action to authorize a complete closure of GTMO detention.
At least 30 to 40 detainees are set for prosecution by military commissions or are otherwise deemed to dangerous to release.
Administration negotiating teams continue to push to facilitate the transfer process, raising questions about whether poorer countries are being paid to induce them to take detainees that they might not otherwise take.
Click here for Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Transfers 15 Guantanamo Bay Detainees;
The United Arab Emirates accepts 15 prisoners under President Obama’s push to nearly empty Gitmo by January”
… French President Francois Hollande linked the deadly ‘terrorist attack’ in Nice to the conflict in Iraq and Syria — and said France will intensify its military operations there in the aftermath of today’s tragedy. * * * Prior to tonight’s tragedy, France had been targeted in two major terrorist attacks within the last year and a half. In January 2015 extremists linked to both al Qaeda and ISIS killed 12 people in an assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. In November the same year, an ISIS cell killed 130 people in coordinated attacks also in Paris. … In the past, both ISIS and al Qaeda have encouraged their followers to kill Westerners by using vehicles as weapons. After the Nice attack, online ISIS supporters expressed jubilation at the carnage ….
A ‘terrorist’ gunman killed 80 people and wounded scores when he drove a heavy truck at high speed into a crowd that had watched Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice late on Thursday …. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 80 people died and 18 were in a critical condition. Many more were also wounded …. The driver also opened fire before police shot him dead. … President Francois Hollande said he was calling up military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by an eight-month state of emergency begun after … Islamic State … killed 130 … in Paris. The state of emergency was extended by three months.
NEWSWATCH: “Caught between a reef and a hard place, Manila’s South China Sea victory runs aground” – Reuters
The Philippines may have won an emphatic legal victory over China in the South China Sea, but the aptly named Mischief Reef shows just how hard it will be for Manila to make its triumph count …. Chinese construction on the reef … includes a … 9,800 feet … runway, extensive housing, parade grounds and radar nests, satellite images show. … the reef and everything on it legally belongs to the Philippines and no amount of time or building will change that. … In private, officials acknowledge they have little hope of recovering Mischief Reef any time soon despite the unequivocal ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
NEWSWATCH: “At least 80 dead, 18 seriously injured in Bastille Day terror attack in France” – Fox News
At least 80 people were killed … 18 others … seriously injured Thursday when a terrorist drove a large truck loaded with guns and hand grenades into a crowd … gathered for a Bastille Day fireworks display in the southern French city of Nice.
… no immediate claim of responsibility, but two sources, including a U.S. counterterrorism source who collects and monitors jihadist social media, told Fox News that accounts linked to ISIS were ‘celebratory’ and their followers were told to use the hashtag ‘Nice’.