Now that the United States (with the cooperation of its NATO partners) has turned the former Soviet Union’s states other than Russia into NATO allies, and has likewise turned the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact allies into America’s own military allies in NATO, the United States is finally turning the screws directly against Russia itself, by, in effect, challenging Russia to defend its ally Syria. The U.S. is warning Syria’s Government that Syrian land, which is occupied by the U.S. and by the anti-Government forces that the U.S. protects in Syria, is no longer really Syria’s land. The U.S. is saying that there will be direct war between Syria’s armed forces and America’s armed forces if Syria tries to restore its control over that land. Tacitly, America’s message in this to Moscow is: now is the time for you to quit defending Syria’s Government, because, if you don’t — if you come to Syria’s defense as Syria tries to kill those occupying forces (including the U.S. troops and advisors who are occupying Syria) — then you (Russia) will be at war against the United States, even though the U.S. is clearly the invader, and Russia (as Syria’s ally) is clearly the defender.
Peter Korzun, my colleague at the Strategic Culture Foundation, headlined on May 29th, “US State Department Tells Syria What It Can and Can’t Do on Its Own Soil” and he opened:
“The US State Department has warned Syria against launching an offensive against terrorist positions in southern Syria. The statement claims that the American military will respond if Syrian forces launch an operation aimed at restoring the legitimate government’s control over the rebel-held areas, including the territory in southwestern Syria between Daraa and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Washington is issuing orders to a nation whose leadership never invited America in in the first place! The very idea that another country would tell the internationally recognized Syrian government that it cannot take steps to establish control over parts of its own national territory is odd and preposterous by any measure.”
The pro-Government side calls those “terrorist positions,” but the U.S.-and-allied side, the invaders, call them “freedom fighters” (even though the U.S. side has long been led by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and has increasingly been relying upon anti-Arabic Kurds). But whatever they are, the United States has no legal authority to tell Syria’s Government what to do or not do on Syrian land.
Russia’s basic position, at least ever since Vladimir Putin came into power in 2000, is that every nation’s sovereignty over its own land is the essential foundation-stone upon which democracy has even a possibility to exist— without that, a land cannot even possibly be a democracy. The U.S. Government is now directly challenging that basic principle, and moreover is doing so over parts of the sovereign territory of Syria, an ally of Russia, which largely depends upon Russia to help it defeat the tens of thousands of invading and occupying forces.
If Russia allows the U.S. to take over — either directly or via the U.S. Government’s Al Qaeda-linked or its anti-Arab Kurdish proxy forces — portions of Syrian territory, then Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, will be seen as being today’s version of Britain’s leader Neville Chamberlain, famous, as Wikipedia puts it, for “his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the German-speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany.”
So: Putin will now be faced with either knuckling under now, or else standing on basic international democratic principles, especially the principle that each nation’s sovereignty is sacrosanct and is the sole foundation upon which democracy is even possible to exist or to evolve into being.
However, this matter is far from being the only way in which the U.S. Government now is challenging Russia to World War III. On May 30th, the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak bannered “US trains armed groups at Tanf base for new terror corridor” and reported that:
New terror organizations are being established by the U.S. at the Tanf military base in southern Syria that is run by Washington, where a number of armed groups are being trained in order to be used as a pretext to justify U.S. presence in the war-torn country. …
Military training is being conducted for “moderate” opposition groups in al-Tanf, where both the U.S. and UK have bases.
These groups are made up of structures that have been established through U.S. financing and have not been accepted under the umbrella of opposition groups approved by Turkey and the FSA.
From Deir Ezzor to Haifa
Claiming to be “training the opposition” in Tanf, the U.S. is training operation militants under perception of being “at an equal distance to all groups.”
Apart from the so-called opposition that is linked to al-Qaeda, Daesh [ISIS] terrorists brought from Raqqa, western Deir Ezzor and the Golan Heights are being trained in the Tanf camp. …
The plan is to transport Iraqi oil to the Haifa [Israel] Port on the Mediterranean through Deir Ezzor and Tanf.
Actually, Deir Ezzor is also the capital of Syria’s own oil-producing region, and so this action by the United States is more than about merely a transit-route for Iraq’s oil to reach Israel; it is also (and very much) about America attempting theft of oil from Syrian land.
Furthermore, on May 23rd, Joe Gould at Defense News headlined “House rejects limit on new nuclear warhead” and he reported that the U.S. House, in fulfillment of the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which seeks to lower the threshold for nuclear war so as to expand the types of circumstances in which the U.S. will “go nuclear,” rejected, by a vote of 226 to 188, a Democratic Party supported measure opposing lowering of the nuclear threshold. President Trump wants to be allowed to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons in a conflict. The new, smaller, nuclear warheads, a “W76-2 variant,” have 43% the yield of the bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, but it’s called a ‘tactical nuclear weapon’ meaning that it is supposedly intended for use in ‘conventional’ wars, so that it is actually designed to eliminate altogether the previous meta-strategic principle, of “Mutually Assured Destruction” pertaining to nuclear war (that nuclear weapons are justifiable only in order to prevent another World War, never in order to win such a war) that successfully prevented nuclear war till now — that once a side has introduced nuclear weapons into a military conflict, it has started a nuclear war and is challenging any opponent to either go nuclear itself or else surrender — America’s new meta-strategic doctrine (since 2006) is “Nuclear Primacy”: winning a nuclear war. (See this and this.)
U.S. President Trump is now pushing to the limit, presumably in the confident expectation that as the U.S. President, he can safely grab any territory he wishes, and steal any oil or other natural resource that he wishes, anywhere he wants — regardless of what the Russian Government, or anyone else, thinks or wants.
Though his words often contradict that, this is now clearly what he is, in fact, doing (or trying to do), and the current U.S. House of Representatives, at least, is saying yes to this, as constituting American values and policies, now.
Trump — not in words but in facts — is “betting the house” on this.
Moreover, as I headlined on May 26th at Strategic Culture, “Credible Report Alleges US Relocates ISIS from Syria and Iraq into Russia via Afghanistan.” Trump is apparently trying to use these terrorists as — again like the U.S. used them in Afghanistan in order to weaken the Soviet Union — so as to weaken Russia, but this time is even trying to infiltrate them into Russia itself.
Even Adolf Hitler, prior to WW II, didn’t lunge for Britain’s jugular. It’s difficult to think of a nation’s leader who has been this bold. I confess that I can’t.
first published at strategic-culture.org
Developments on Korean Peninsula risk accelerating regional arms race
A week full of missile tests; this is the current environment on the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea fired two rounds of ballistic missiles into the East Sea while South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) just a few hours later. Wednesday’s tests follow a week of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the consequences of which can be felt beyond the two Koreas.
North Korea ramps up tensions
According to North Korean state-run media reports, the reclusive state carried out a series of successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend while referring to the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance”. Calling the weapon ‘strategic’ may imply a nuclear-capable system. Although North Korea is banned from using ballistic technologies due to U.N. Security Council resolutions, these same rules do not apply to cruise missiles.
Despite the tests, Washington maintained its position to resume dialogue with the North and “to work cooperatively with the DPRK to address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearization,” US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim said on Tuesday. Still, the US Indo-Pacific Command did acknowledge the cruise missile launches and said the tests highlight the “DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”
China reacted to the test by calling for restraint by all relevant parties and for a ‘dual track’ approach to be followed involving “phased and synchronized actions to continuously advance the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”
North Korea then upped tensions further by conducting yet another missile launch on Wednesday. This test marked the first time the DPRK launched a missile off a train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which they referred to as the “Railway Mobile Missile Regiment”. According to Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the missiles were believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The location of the landings don’t seem to be a coincidence as earlier that day North Korean state media had criticized Japan’s newly unveiled defense budget, referring to the country as a “war criminal state”.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly condemned the latest tests, calling North Korea’s behavior “outrageous” and a “threat” to “the peace and security of our country and the region”. The US State Department also called the tests “a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” while emphasizing the Biden administration’s commitment to trilateral diplomacy and cooperation with Japan and South Korea.
What’s more, North Korea appears to have resumed activities at its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, according to a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month. The report stated that “The DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern” while adding that “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”
In July, North Korea warned of a “major security crisis” in protest against the combined summertime military exercise between South Korea and the United States. This increase in rapid missile testing seems to be the result of North Korea’s dissatisfaction with both Seoul and Washington’s actions over the last few months.
South Korea joins in on the missile testing
Although the international community is used to hearing about North Korean missile tests over the years, what is much less common is to hear about a missile test conducted by the South. Hours after the North fired its missiles, South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong—the sister of leader Kim Jong Un— was quick to respond to the tests the same day, warning of the “complete destruction of inter-Korean ties” and criticized Seoul’s “illogical, antiquated and foolish attitude”, according to North Korean state media.
Through the test, South Korea became the first country without nuclear weapons to launch an SLBM. Besides the SLBM, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that the ROK military had also developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile to be deployed in the near future, and a new ballistic missile that has “overwhelming counterattack capability” by firing a larger warhead. Indeed, South Korea’s arms industry has grown exponentially over the last two deacades and continuous to expand rapidly. According to he SIPRI arms transfer database, South Korea rose from the 31st ranked arms exporting country in 2000 to number six in 2020.
Besides South Korea, Japan is also beefing up its military capabilities. Last month, Japan’s Defense Ministry sought a record $50 billion annual budget that would entail the largest percentage jump in spending in eight years. China was quick to criticize the move, accusing Japan of “trying to find excuses to justify their decision to increase military spending,” On the other hand, Japan blames China for “unilaterally changing the regional status quo,” affecting “the security of the Taiwan Straits, but also Japan’s security.”
The missile tests conducted by both Koreas this week further exacerbates the security situation in the region, negatively impacting far beyond the peninsula alone. The recent developments also don’t bode well for improving inter-Korean relations or US-DPRK ties. Diplomatic negotiations between the US and North Korea have been stalemated ever since the 2019 Hanoi Summit fell apart. So far, Biden has only verbally expressed interest in resuming talks, but is unlikely to do so unless North Korea makes concrete commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Inter-Korean relations are also unlikely to improve in the near future, given the time constraints. South Korea’s President Moon has roughly six months left in office, and it is unlikely significant diplomatic progress can be made in this timeframe.
HTS enters Turkey’s plot against the Kurds
Ever since Turkey entered the 2017 Astana agreement with Russia and Iran Ankara has been relentless in its efforts to sell the international community the idea of absolute necessity of Turkish military presence in North-East Syria to support the moderate opposition and deter the Assad government.
The Astana meetings that followed the initial agreement indeed resulted in making Turkey responsible for the state of the Syrian opposition in Idlib and Aleppo provinces but – and there is always a but when it comes to the decade-long Syrian conflict – Ankara’s mission was never defined as ‘support’ of the opposition. Instead, Turkey volunteered to perform an arduous task of separating moderate Syrian armed groups from those who were considered radical and posed a potential security threat on both regional and global levels. This process, dubbed ‘delimitation of the Syrian opposition,’ is hardly any closer to completion now than before raising the question of the extent of Ankara’s ability – and intention – to fulfill its pledge.
Turkey’s insistence on supporting the moderate opposition conveniently combines with the recent attempts of Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which is de-facto dominant power in the Idlib de-escalation zone, to recast the image of the group. Although HTS is considered a terrorist organization by the UN and a number of global powers al-Joulani made a number of high-profile media appearances to promote the group’s vision of the future of Syria and confirm that its ambitions are confined to national scale only.
Talking to the Turkish version of The Independent al-Joulani spoke against any foreign military presence in Syria, making no special mention of the Turkish army. Meanwhile in Idlib, a position of the Turkish military located next to those of HTS is a common, even natural occurrence. This co-existence of regular armed forces and radical terrorists is not affected neither by hard evidence of HTS involvement in committing war crimes, nor even by the fact that HTS is listed as a terror group by Turkey’s authorities.
In his interview to The Independent al-Joulani has also touched upon the position of the Syrian Kurds, another key axis of Turkey’s policy in Syria. Commenting on the current developments in Afghanistan the HTS leader suggested that the aftermath of the US surprise withdrawal from Kabul will also have an impact on the Kurds or, as he put it ‘the US-backed enemies of the Syrian revolution.’ He also accused the Kurds of conducting attacks in living quarters in the areas of the “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” operations carried out by the Turkish military in Northern Syria.
HTS has never been in direct confrontation with the Kurds. However, al-Joulani’s words highlighted his open hostility towards the Kurdish administration, that, as the HTS leader purports, is only able to control a huge swath of Syria and maintain relative stability thanks to the US support. This Kurdish dream will crumble as soon as the last US plane takes off from the Syrian soil, according to al-Joulani.
Does this opinion reflects Turkey’s intention to put an end to the ‘Kurdish threat’ should the US withdraw from Syria? The events in the Afghanistan provide enough evidence to conclude that it’s entirely possible. Indeed, such concerns have been expressed in a number of articles authored by both local and international analysts.
The bottom line
Turkey’s regional policies and HTS leader’s statements confirm that Ankara seeks to transform HTS into a bully of sorts. The group’s primary task would be to exercise pressure on other armed units to facilitate the delimitation process orchestrated by the Turkish authorities. As the US grip over the region gradually loosens and HTS control over Syria’s north-west tightens thanks to its efforts to achieve international recognition with the tacit support of Turkey, the Kurds are facing an uncertain future. Moreover, close coordination between Turkey and HTS harbors negative consequences not only for the Kurds but rather for all of Syria.
To prevent this, the international community must intervene and deny HTS the opportunity to position itself as a part of the moderate opposition and gain the right to establish legitimate administrative bodies. Otherwise Syria will face law-twisting terrorists running their own statelet with all the support that Turkey is able to provide as a prominent regional power.
To include or not include? China-led SCO weighs Iranian membership
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan may help Iran reduce its international isolation. At least, that’s what the Islamic Republic hopes when leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gather in Tajikistan next weekend.
Members are admitted to the eight-member China-led SCO that also groups Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, by unanimous consensus. Iran, unlike its rivals in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has long had observer status with the SCO.
The Gulf states have so far kept their distance to the China-dominated regional alliance created to counter the ‘evils’ of ‘terrorism, separatism, and extremism” so as not to irritate their main security ally, the United States.
Acceptance of the Iranian application would constitute a diplomatic coup for Tehran and Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi. Mr. Raisi, a proponent of closer relations with China and Russia, is expected to make his first appearance on the international stage at the SCO summit in Dushanbe since having assumed office last month.
Iranian officials hope, perhaps over-optimistically, that SCO membership would help them counter the impact of harsh US sanctions. Ali Akbar Velayati, an international affairs advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has advised the Raisi government to look East towards China, Russia and India asserting that they could “help our economy to make progress.”
Similarly, it is not clear that membership would substantially reduce Iran’s international isolation or significantly improve its existing relations with other SCO members. What membership would do is effectively give Iran a veto should Saudi Arabia and the UAE choose to seek more formal relations with the SCO in response to a reduced US commitment to their security. The SCO is expected to grant Saudi Arabia and Egypt the status of dialogue partner at its Dushanbe summit.
Gulf confidence in the reliability of the United States as a security guarantor has been rattled by the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan as well as the recent removal of the most advanced US missile defence weapon, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia as Yemeni Houthi rebels were successfully hitting targets in the kingdom.
China and Russia have in the past been reluctant to entertain full Iranian membership because they did not want to upset their delicately balanced relations with both Iran and its detractors. Policymakers, in the wake of Afghanistan, may figure that the two-year application process will give them time to prevent upsetting the apple cart.
To be sure, Tajikistan, in anticipation of a Taliban victory, first publicly promoted Iranian SCO membership in late May.
Zohidi Nizomiddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Iran, told a news conference in Tehran “that Iran to become a major member is among plans of the Shanghai Organization and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, Tajikistan will also be ready.” Tajikistan opposed Iranian membership in the past, accusing Iran of supporting Islamist rebels in the country.
Mr. Nizomiddin’s comments have since been supported by reports in Russian media. “There is a general disposition for this, there is no doubt about it,” said Bakhtiyor Khakimov, Russia’s ambassador at large for SCO affairs.
Russian analyst Adlan Margoev noted that “the SCO is a platform for discussing regional problems. Iran is also a state in the region, for which it is important to discuss these problems and seek solutions together.”
The Tajik and Russian backing of Iranian membership raises tantalizing questions about potential differences within the SCO towards dealing with the Taliban. Iran and Tajikistan, in contrast to Russia and China that have praised the Taliban’s conduct since the fall of Kabul, have adopted a harder, more critical attitude.
Nonetheless, Russia has in recent weeks held joint military drills with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan near the Tajik-Afghan border. Russia further promised to bolster Tajikistan by supplying weapons and providing training.
Tajikistan is believed to support Tajik rebels in the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan that last week lost a potentially initial first round of fighting against the Taliban. It remains unclear whether the rebels will be able to regroup. Tajiks account for approximately one-quarter of the Afghan population. As the
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon recently awarded posthumously Tajikistan’s third-highest award to two ethnic Afghan Tajiks, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary father of current Tajik rebel leader Ahmad Massoud, and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, for their contribution to ending a devastating civil war in the 1990s in the Central Asian country.
Tajikistan and Iran agreed in April to create a joint military defence committee that would enhance security cooperation and counter-terrorism collaboration.
Iran recently changed its tone regarding Afghanistan after the Taliban failed to include a Hazara Shiite in their newly appointed caretaker government. Hazaras, who account for 20 per cent of the Afghan population, have reason to fear Taliban repression despite the group’s protection last month of Shiite celebrations of Ashura, the commemoration of the Prophet Moses’ parting of the sea.
Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, took the Taliban to task for “ignoring the need for inclusive government, foreign intervention and the use of military means instead of dialogue to meet the demands of ethnic groups and social groups that are the main concerns of the friends of the Afghan people.” Mr. Shamkhani was referring to alleged Pakistani support for the Taliban in the battle for Panjshir.
Supporters of Iranian membership may figure that affairs in Afghanistan will have been sorted out by the time the application procedure has run its course with Afghanistan well on its way towards reconstruction. That may prove to be correct. By the same token, however, so could the opposite with an Afghanistan that is wracked by internal conflict and incapable of controlling militants operating from its soil.
The SCO may in either case want Iran to be in its tent to ensure that all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, as well as regional powers Russia and India, are seated at one table. Mr Margoev, the analyst, argued that “just like other countries in the region – (we should) sit at the same table with Iran and not call it a guest from outside.”
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