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Turkey: Common interest to end conflict in Syria and cooperate on the refugee crisis

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High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič concluded their two-day visit to Ankara on Wednesday, where they discussed with Turkish partners the situation in North-West Syria and refugee flows to and from Turkey.

They held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vice-President Fuat Oktay. High Represenstative/Vice-President Borrell also met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar and Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu. Commissioner Lenarčič met with Minister of Labour Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, with President of the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) Mehmet Güllüoğlu, and with President of Turkish Red Crescent and Vice President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Kerem Kinik.

In their meetings, the High Representative/Vice-President and the Commissioner exchanged views with their Turkish counterparts on the humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib. They stressed that the situation in and around Idlib was critical and there was an urgent need to act to stop the military confrontations which are causing extensive humanitarian suffering. Almost one million people have fled their homes due to heavy fighting in north-west Syria. They are facing freezing temperatures with insufficient or no shelter. Civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools, and hospitals are directly targeted by armed forces. Humanitarian access is urgently needed.

The High Representative declared readiness of the EU to consider working with Turkey on an approach that would offer a joint political way forward: “We have a common interest and that is to end the conflict in Syria. Only in this way will we be able to bring to an end the suffering of the civilian population and contribute to address the most significant challenges Turkey is currently facing. Increased pressure at EU-Turkey border and unilateral actions will not provide answers.” Josep Borrell said.

During their meetings, they further discussed EU-Turkey cooperation, including EU assistance to Turkey for addressing the challenges stemming from the situation in Syria.

HR/VP Borrell stressed the need to work together and expressed understanding for the difficult situation Turkey is currently facing. However, current developments are not leading to any solution and can only exacerbate problems.

He reminded his Turkish interlocutors of the EU’s expectation from Turkey to deliver on its obligations under the EU-Turkey Statement and called on them not to encourage further movement of refugees and migrants towards the EU borders.

Commissioner Janez Lenarčič reiterated the EU’s position as the biggest donor in the context of the Syrian refugees crisis and recalled the EU’s solidarity with Syrians affected by the 9-year war as well as with the countries hosting the Syrian refugees. The EU therefore announced today €170 million in humanitarian aid to continue assisting the most vulnerable people in Syria, including €60 million to address the humanitarian crisis in north-west Syria.

Janez Lenarčič said: “Blatant international humanitarian law violations have become common in north-west Syria for way too long. This must stop. The attacks on civilians, children and aid workers must end. Civilians in Idlib lack essential services, such as shelter and heating, food and health care. The EU continues to support the most vulnerable Syrians. However, the conflicting parties must ensure unhindered and safe access for humanitarian assistance. The cross border humanitarian operations are crucial for thousands of people who rely on daily lifesaving support.

The EU funding announced today will help Syrian population across the country with critical lifesaving assistance. The European Union urges all parties to the conflict to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to people most in need of assistance and to respect the rules and obligations of international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.

Commissioner Lenarčič will continue his visit to Turkey by going to Gaziantep in the southeast of the country where he will visit facilities for Syrian refugees and meet with key humanitarian partners providing cross-border assistance in Idlib. High Representative Borrell will on his side travel to Zagreb, where the Foreign Ministers of the European Union will convene for an informal meeting (Gymnich) to discuss Turkey and Russia, followed by an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council, which will discuss Syria/Turkey. 

Background

As the Syria crisis is entering its tenth year since the start of the conflict, the scale, severity and complexity of humanitarian needs remain extensive. More than 11 million people are still in need of humanitarian assistance. The situation in Idlib has dramatically deteriorated, creating large-scale internal displacement, while more than 3 million civilians, among them 1 million children, are in life-threatening danger due to the escalating hostilities.

Through its humanitarian aid partners on the ground, the European Union has been providing emergency assistance to millions of people in need in Syria since the start of the conflict. More than €17 billion have been mobilised by the European Union and its Member States to support the most vulnerable people inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

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Is America in decline?

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“America is battling political polarisation and social division at home as well as facing an unfolding national climate crisis. With China growing in strength, many have begun to ask: is America in decline?” – British ‘The Economist’ has put the question sometimes ago. The war in Ukraine and the struggle for national liberation in Africa are signs of American economic decline and cracks in the global capitalist system, answers the Spanish ‘Rebelion’.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has been an economic and military superpower, but in recent decades it has experienced economic decline and a decline in its global influence. Part of the weakening of the United States is due to growing competition from other powers such as China and Russia, as well as the formation of powerful alternative power blocs such as BRICS.

It is also driven by internal problems such as inequality, economic crises and political polarization. The US economy is affected by rising inflation, which is a consequence of economic sanctions against Russia imposed by the Biden administration.

The conflict in Ukraine began as a struggle for control of the country between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces, but behind this struggle we can detect deeper economic and political interests. Donbass is the epicenter of the conflict, it has valuable natural resources and is an important industrial center.

The war hit the Ukrainian economy hard and further weakened the US position in the region. This situation is an example of America’s economic decline and its inability to maintain its influence on the world stage. India and China will become new competitors on the international stage, and economic power and wealth will gradually shift towards Asia.

One must keep in mind the fact that global power is always relative, and that countries with economic, political and military power require voting rights and decision-making powers. Power is determined by the relationships between the parties involved. That is, power is not something that an actor has in isolation, but is constructed in relation to other actors. For example, a country may have economic power, but this power is only significant in comparison to other countries that have less economic power.

Moreover, power is not something fixed, it can change over time and depending on the relationships between actors. In this sense, the center of economic and political power is shifting towards Asia, where great powers are consolidating, which will definitely have to be taken into account in the future. Another important point is the strengthening of BRICS as a group of great continental powers that argue and compete for new spaces.

The past few decades have geopolitically represented the rise of China as a great power. This implies the distribution of power at the international level. China is emerging as a great power to be reckoned with in the future. Its ability to build consensus and propose solutions to old conflicts is especially important. China has also grown its economy to the same size as that of the United States.

China promotes the project of multipolarity, which is perceived as necessary for the balance of the world. In short, the rise of China is changing the distribution of power at the international level.

Despite everything, the military-political force continues to remain a real force in the international arena. At the same time, the United States each time approves a record amount of military budget, which demonstrates the importance of its foreign policy. The United States has more than 730 military bases deployed around the world and 200,000 soldiers at these bases.

An important issue is tensions over Taiwan, which is the benchmark for North American military policy to reduce China’s influence. In addition, the AUKUS (Australia-UK-United States) countries are helping to rearm Taiwan, train its armed forces, and build relationships with other militaries such as the Japanese and the Philippine.

Under current conditions, the United States is carrying out powerful militarization in the Asia-Pacific region, promoting large-scale rearmament and increasing the nuclear threat in this region. That is why total and global war does not seem to be a distant prospect. Tensions over Taiwan are a prime example of how rivalry between superpowers can spark conflicts on an unimaginable scale that threaten to destroy all of humanity.

The struggle for national liberation in Africa reflects the growing desire of African peoples to control their natural resources and build their own economies. For decades, colonial and neo-colonial powers have exploited African resources for their own purposes, pushing local populations into poverty. These conflicts represent a movement of resistance to exploitation, a call for self-determination and economic and social justice.

The struggle for African liberation is a reminder that the global capitalist system is not invulnerable and that marginalized peoples must come together to build a more socially just world.

The war in Ukraine and the liberation struggle in Africa are symptoms of US economic decline and tensions in the global capitalist system. These conflicts are a call to action and a reminder that we can shape a more just and humane future, ‘Rebelion’ stresses.

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Shoigu: Moscow and Tehran are reaching a new level of interaction

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Image source: Russian Ministry of Defense

Russian delegation headed by Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu arrived in Tehran for talks with the military leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran (photo).

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran held a formal greeting ceremony for the Russian delegation outside its main building, which was attended by a guard of honour and a military band.

Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, greeted the Russian Minister of Defence.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has discussed topical issues of Russian–Iranian military cooperation during talks with Chief of General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri on Tuesday.

‘I consider our meeting as another step towards strengthening the strategic partnership between Russia and Iran. Today we have an opportunity to discuss thoroughly topical issues of bilateral military cooperation,’ Sergei Shoigu said.

The head of the Russian defence ministry stressed that ‘Iran is Russia’s strategic partner in the Middle East’.

According to the Russian Defence Minister, Russian-Iranian relations in the military sphere tends to develop actively and positively.

‘Recently, the intensity of meetings has increased significantly, both at the highest level and at the level of the leadership of military departments. We see in this a common view of building a world order based on equality of rights for all participants in international relations,’ the Russian Defence Minister said.

Sergei Shoigu suggested discussing topical issues of bilateral military cooperation mentioning that ‘this is, of course, both Syria and Afghanistan, and current situation in Karabakh’.

In addition, continued the Russian Defence Minister, ‘there are a lot of other issues to be discussed today and tomorrow. These include educational issues, exchange of experience, exchange of delegations, joint naval exercises,’ the Russian Defence Minister said.

‘We are aimed at implementing the entire range of planned activities, despite opposition from the United States and its Western allies. Sanctions pressure on Russia and Iran are demonstrating their futility, while Russian-Iranian interaction is reaching a new level,’ Sergei Shoigu said during discussions with Iranian Minister of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics Mohammad-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani on Wednesday.

At the same time, he expressed readiness ‘for further joint action in the field of strengthening stability and security in the Middle East’.

‘We note with delight,’ the head of the Russian Defence Ministry stated, ‘that the Iranian-Russian communication is progressing particularly intensely today’. According to him, this is largely due to the trusting relations that have developed between the leaders of Russia and Iran.

The Russian Defense Minister stressed that ‘the high dynamics of the meetings confirms the general mood for further strengthening of strategic partnership in the defence sphere and military cooperation’.

He invited his counterpart to discuss a number of issues of mutual interest during the talks.

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Sharp deterioration of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh

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Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced the beginning of a limited anti-terrorist operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The ministry said the operation aims to ensure the implementation of the trilateral agreement between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of 2020 and the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian troops from the territory.

Yerevan said that Baku seeks to “complete the policy of ethnic cleansing” and that Armenia doesn’t have any troops stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia called on the sides to stop the bloodshed and try to work things out diplomatically.

Azerbaijani anti-terrorist measures

On September 19, Azerbaijan announced it was starting to carry out limited anti-terrorist measures in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The country’s Defense Ministry said it plans to ensure the implementation of the trilateral statement of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia of November 9, 2020, as well as suppress “large-scale acts of provocation in the Karabakh economic region.” The goal of the measures, according to the Azerbaijani ministry, is also the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian troops from the area and the neutralization of their military infrastructure.

Baku intends to ensure the “restoration of constitutional order in the Republic of Azerbaijan” and the security of civilians, civil servants and Azerbaijani military personnel.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said civilian facilities wouldn’t be targeted, but the positions held by the formations of the Armenian Armed Forces, their long-term firing points, as well as military equipment and structures will be liquidated.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry also said that it had informed the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent and the leadership of the Turkish-Russian Monitoring Center about its plans. Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov also notified his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler about the situation. Guler said Turkey is standing by Azerbaijan.

Situation on the ground

Baku stated that Armenian forces are firing their artillery guns at the positions of the Azerbaijani army located in the area of the Agdam District. Azerbaijani forces are retaliating.

To evacuate people from the dangerous areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan has set up humanitarian corridors and pick-up points on Lachin road and in some other places. The civilian population was urged to stay away from military installations.

Azerbaijan also denied reports circulating in the Armenian segment of global social networks about the shelling of civilian facilities in Karabakh by Azerbaijani units. Baku added that “only legitimate military targets are being put out of commission.”

Armenia’s reaction

Yerevan stated that Armenia doesn’t have any troops stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, while “Azerbaijani official reports and news media continue to make false claims” to the contrary. According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, as of 2:00 p.m., the situation on the country’s borders was relatively stable.

Armenia said it believes that “Azerbaijan has unleashed another large-scale act of aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, seeking to complete the policy of ethnic cleansing.”

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan convened a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the situation. He said the situation on Armenia’s borders is stable and Yerevan does not plan to take rash steps. Also, according to Pashinyan, Russian peacekeepers should respond to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A protest is taking place outside the Armenian government building in downtown Yerevan. About 500 protesters are blaming the country’s leadership including Pashinyan for policies that have led to the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Statements from Russia

Russia is deeply alarmed by the sharp escalation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. Moscow calls on the conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed and return to a political and diplomatic settlement.

Despite the escalating situation, Russian peacekeepers continue to carry out their mission. Russia assumes that the security of the peacekeeping contingent “will be unconditionally ensured by all sides.” Zakharova denied allegations that Azerbaijan had warned Russian peacekeepers ahead of today’s “anti-terrorist operation.”

“This has no basis in reality. The information was communicated to the Russian contingent a few minutes before the start of hostilities,” the spokeswoman said.

According to Zakharova, Russia also is currently in talks on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, including with Azerbaijan. The ministry will make a statement on the results of these talks, she said.

Zakharova also noted that all steps for the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh problem are laid out in the trilateral statements of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, which were adopted in the period from 2020 to 2022. According to the spokeswoman, Russia and other international mediators have recently begun to establish serious conditions for progress in the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, including humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In response to calls by Armenia for Russian peacekeepers and the UN Security Council to take measures to stop hostilities, Zakharova reminded Yerevan in a statement on Telegram that Armenia had officially recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan.

Baku will end its anti-terrorist activities in Nagorno-Karabakh if Armenian fighters lay down their weapons, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to the presidential press service.

“The head of state said that anti-terrorist activities would end if weapons were laid down,” the press service said in a statement.

Aliyev also stated that Armenian units had to disarm. He stressed that civilians and infrastructure facilities weren’t the target of the anti-terrorist activities and the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were only destroying legitimate military targets.

The Azerbaijani president pointed out that his administration had repeatedly invited representatives of Karabakh’s Armenian population to engage in dialogue to discuss reintegration but they had refused. Still, in Aliyev’s words, they were once again invited to dialogue after the local anti-terrorist activities had been launched.

Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan was forced to start the local anti-terrorist activities in the region “to put an end to the provocative and inflammatory actions of the Armenian side.” In this regard, he mentioned that an Armenian sabotage and reconnaissance group had laid mines in Karabakh, which resulted in the death of civilians and law enforcement officers, while Azerbaijani army units had come under mortar and small-arms fire.

“President Ilham Aliyev emphasized that these activities, as well as the move to hold the so-called presidential election in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on September 9, were the continuation of deliberate provocative steps by Armenia and the so-called separatist entity that it created and supports, aimed against Azerbaijan’s sovereignty,” the statement said.

According to the Azerbaijani presidential press service, Blinken expressed concern about the situation, called for a ceasefire and said that the US supported direct dialogue between Baku and the Armenian population of Karabakh.

At least seven Nagorno-Karabakh civilians died and 35 were injured as a result of military hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenpress news agency reported, citing data of Nagorno-Karabakh human rights commissioner Gegham Stepanyan.

“Thirty-five civilians were injured: 13 children, 15 women and seven men. Seven civilians died,” the news agency said. It was earlier reported that the mayor of Martuni, Aznavur Saghyan, was among the dead.

On September 19, tensions flared up again in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku announced it was launching what it described as “local anti-terrorist measures” and demanded the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the region. Yerevan, in turn, said there were no Armenian forces in Karabakh, calling what was happening “an act of large-scale aggression.” Residents of the Armenian capital took to the streets to protest outside the Armenian government building, blaming the country’s leadership and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for the situation.

The command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh reported the evacuation of civilians and called on the parties to the conflict for an immediate ceasefire. The Russian Foreign Ministry called on the conflicting sides to prevent civilian casualties and stop the bloodshed, as well as to return to the implementation of the trilateral agreements between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Moscow is calling on the sides to return to compliance with the trilateral agreements of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The most important thing now is to immediately return to compliance with the trilateral agreements signed at the top level in 2020-2022, which lay out all measures for a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” the ministry said in a statement, also urging the sides “to stop armed hostilities and to do everything possible in order to protect the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and defend its interests.”

“Due to a rapid escalation of armed hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, we strongly call upon the conflicting sides to immediately stop bloodshed, cease hostilities and prevent casualties among the civilian population,” the ministry said.

“Currently, the Russian peacekeeping force is assisting the civilian population [of Nagorno-Karabakh], including providing medical aid to them, and is dealing with matters of evacuation,” the ministry said.

A full ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh has been reached through the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“A ceasefire agreement between the Azerbaijani side and representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh has been reached through the mediation of the command for Russia’s peacekeeping mission,” the statement reads.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, “the agreement will be implemented in coordination with the command for the Russian peacekeeping contingent.”

The ministry said earlier that Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh continued to perform their mission amid rising tensions, providing all possible assistance to civilians. According to the ministry, a total of 2,261 civilians, including 1,049 children, are currently staying at the peacekeepers’ base camp.

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