Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 02/10/15

Massenbach-Letter. News – Will US, Russia find common ground in Syria?* Ischinger: "Gemeinsame, internationale Syrien-Politik möglich“.

· Donald Trump: Let the Russians deal with ISIS * CSIS – Rethinking the Wars Against ISIS and the U.S. Strategy for Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency

· Putin supports Erdogan in Turkey, but not in Syria

· CSIS – “Brzezinski On the World” * Saudi Arabia will help Egypt to purchase the Mistral-class ships, newspaper Express reported quoting a source in the French government.

· There is a special request: I mentioned the new President of the German Arab Society, Dr. Michael Lueders, in my last letter and described him in a prosaic English. So again in German:

· Mr Lueders in a best German prose: Experte – Eloquent – Erfolgreich . And the best is given by a political friend, Henryk M. Broder (if you understand what I mean):

· Japan Times: G-4 chiefs push tangible reform in U.N. Security Council

Massenbach* It’s Time to Rethink Syria

For years, I helped advise President Obama on Syria. It’s now clearer than ever that a new strategy is needed.

By Philip Gordon * September 25, 2015

If somehow the tragic trajectory of the conflict in Syria were not apparent enough, several dramatic developments in recent weeks have come together to make it impossible to ignore. The most obvious is the influx into Europe of tens of thousands of desperate, hungry refugees—so devoid of hope in their homeland or neighboring refugee camps they are willing to risk drowning and starvation in the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their children.

The second is the growing evidence of the failure of efforts to train and equip a moderate, unified opposition capable of pressuring the Assad regime to change. Despite extensive efforts by the U.S. government and its partners to build such a force, the opposition remains deeply fragmented, dominated by extremists and incapable of threatening Assad’s rule or of stabilizing Syria even if the regime did somehow fall. Even the lesser objective of equipping and training a vetted force able to degrade and destroy the “Islamic State” (ISIL) has proven unachievable, as became clear with the recent U.S. announcements that the small initial group of fighters deployed were immediately killed or captured, and that fewer than ten U.S.-trained fighters are fighting ISIL. It should now be clear that while arming and training some opposition forces might be part of a long-term solution in Syria, they will never be a decisive factor in resolving the conflict.

The third sign was the news that Russia has decided to deploy its own forces in Syria—allegedly to fight ISIL but clearly also to bolster the Assad regime. Russia’s move should not have come as a surprise. President Vladimir Putin has for years been deeply hostile to the concept of regime change anywhere in the region, which he believes threatens not only Russia’s vital interests and allies but potentially his own hold on power. Moreover, Russia has long expressed real concern, not unfounded, that Assad’s fall under the wrong circumstances would not bring stability but even more chaos, displacement and extremism, as ISIL or other Islamist terrorists took over Damascus. Russia’s deployment in Syria underscores the reality that the periodic, hopeful reports that Assad regime may finally be crumbling are likely to be mistaken again. Russia, let alone Iran, is not going to allow the regime to fall unless and until they believe that whatever replaces it will not threaten their core interests.

These developments make it increasingly difficult to deny what has should have been apparent for some time—the current policy of the United States and its partners, to increase pressure on Assad so that he “comes to the table” and negotiates his own departure—must be rethought. As the Coordinator for Middle East policy in the White House from 2013 until April of this year, I watched and participated as the administration grappled with what one top official called “the hardest problem we’ve faced—ever,” and I know just how bad all of the options are. But the urgency of the humanitarian crisis, now with the potential to destabilize Europe as well—along with Russia’s dangerous new escalation—means we must revisit some fundamental questions about a conflict that is tearing the region apart. What’s needed is a new diplomatic process that brings all the key external actors to the table and agrees on a messy compromise to deescalate the conflict—even if that means putting off agreement on the question of Assad.

Matching Ends and Means

The essential problem with U.S. Syria policy since the start of the crisis has been the mismatch between objectives and means—the objective of displacing the Assad regime has proven unachievable with the means we have been willing or able to deploy to achieve it. To correct this mismatch, we have two options: increase the means, with whatever costs and consequences might accompany doing so, or modify the objectives.

Critics of the Obama administration, supported by some of America’s closest partners in the region, appear to favor the former approach. Republican candidates for President routinely castigate President Obama for not taking more decisive action to get rid of the Assad regime and almost unanimously call for more arming and training of the Syrian opposition, no-fly-zones, U.S. air strikes or even “boots on the ground.” Editorials in the Washington Post and elsewhere blame U.S. “inaction” for the tragedy in Syria while calling for “robust intervention” and “more aggressive U.S. effort to bring down” the Assad regime. Former U.S. officials like Robert Ford and Fred Hof denounce “piecemeal” U.S. efforts to support the opposition and call on the United States to sharply ramp up those efforts to help bring down Assad. Many pundits and columnists seem to share essayist Leon Wieseltier’s conclusion that Washington’s unwillingness to act “decisively” is proof that “the United States has abandoned its faith in its power and its duty to do good.”

Such calls for decisive action are understandable. But they vastly overstate the prospects for success of greater military intervention and understate the costs and risks it would entail. It is important to remember that for Assad and those who support him, the “political transition” we seek is a euphemism for removing him and all those around him from power, leaving them and the Christians, Alawites and other minorities who support them at the mercy of vengeful Sunni extremists. With Russia and Iran also willing to bear significant costs to protect what they consider to be their strategic interests, no one should underestimate the effort that would be necessary to actually topple the regime. Simply talking tough, or even a limited use of force, is unlikely to get Assad, Iran and Russia to back down. Those who threaten escalation need to be prepared to follow up and consider the consequences, both likely and unintended, of doing so.

Some previous applications of military force—with goals more limited and against dictatorships more isolated than Assad—are relevant in this regard. In Operation Desert Fox in 1998, the United States hit Iraq with hundreds of airstrikes and air- and sea-launched cruise missiles with the objective of degrading Iraq’s weapons capabilities and “sending a message” to Saddam Hussein. The operation had little impact on the overall conflict or Saddam’s hold on power, which only ended when the United States invaded with over 150,000 ground troops five years later. In Kosovo the following year, the United States and its NATO allies flew 38,000 sorties and launched thousands of airstrikes with the objective of driving Serbian security forces out of the breakaway province. Serbia resisted even this limited goal for 78 days, and only then gave way in Kosovo once a credible threat of a ground invasion became clear—regime change in Belgrade would have presumably taken an effort of much greater intensity and duration. Then there is the more recent case of Libya, which started with a humanitarian operation to protect civilians but only ended with ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s violent overthrow after seven months of sustained NATO bombing and arming of rebels and was followed by the country’s descent into civil war and terrorism. None of this means the United States and its allies could not get rid of Assad with military power. These cases do suggest, however, that it is fanciful to imagine limited airstrikes, arms to the opposition, or the establishment of a no-fly-zone would lead Assad to behave differently from Saddam, Milosevic or Gaddafi. And that if and when Assad were violently overthrown, the prospects for stability in his wake would be poor, even if the United States were willing to deploy troops.

Many of those who accept that direct U.S. use of force may not be the way forward still look to increased arming and training of opposition fighters as the best way to increase pressure on the regime. But it should by now be clear how difficult it was always going to be for the United States and its partners to identify, arm and train a “moderate” opposition that would violently wrest power from a standing army backed by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. And how unlikely it was that if such an opposition did take power it would manage to govern decently and impose stability on an ethnically and religiously divided country after a savage civil war. We will never know if earlier support to the armed opposition would have led to a rapid regime-change and spared Syria from civil war; but it is logically difficult to understand why efforts to overthrow the regime then would not have led to the same degree of relentless counter-escalation we saw later, or why it would have been more successful when the regime forces were fresh and the opposition was in its infancy than they have been since.

When I started at the White House in March 2013, I was among those who advocated increased assistance, including military assistance, to the Syrian opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry led the diplomatic effort to rally and unify our key partners, who all pledged to support the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) as the legitimate representatives of Syrian people and to channel military support to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), then led by General Salim Idriss. It was not long, however, before it was apparent—at least to me—that this approach would not work. The SOC was weak and out of touch and the SMC unable to control extremists or bring disparate factions into line. The pledges of our partners to help only moderate opposition forces were never upheld, notwithstanding extensive efforts to get them to do so.

The lack of success of these efforts led President Obama in May 2014 to step up our efforts by proposing a new program that would include a $5 billion Counter Terrorism Partnership Fund to strengthen Syria’s neighbors and $500 million for a train and equip program under the Department of Defense. Under the direction of experienced and capable military leaders such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, Central Command head General Lloyd Austin and Special Operations Commander General Michael Nagata, that program has had little impact—not due to the lack of resources, poor execution or will, but because of the enormity of the task and an absence of acceptable and capable recruits.

Fixing this problem by lowering the vetting standards for arming and training the opposition is not an attractive remedy. Assad is a cruel dictator whose brutal crackdown on his own people has fueled extremism throughout the region and beyond; but many of the groups fighting him are at least as bad or worse. The barbarity of ISIL has been apparent for all to see in use of slavery, rape, beheadings and terrorist attacks throughout the world. The al-Nusra Front is an al-Qaeda affiliate whose objectives include attacking the United States, imposing Sharia law on Syria and fighting a sectarian war throughout the region. Joining forces with these groups to defeat Assad at all costs would be to truly lose sight of our actual interests and objectives. In the best case, it would replicate the only place where one could argue such a program has “worked” in the past—in Afghanistan, where an armed Islamist opposition succeeding in toppling a regime, but also gave us the Taliban, al Qaeda and eventually 9/11.

Some would say the discussion of direct U.S. military action or major war is a straw man and instead we should focus on more limited goals like the establishment of “safe areas” or “no fly zones.” Given the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe, such measures should absolutely be considered. We did so regularly and seriously while I was at the White House and we should renew efforts to find an option that could save lives. But these proposals also raise serious questions that cannot be overlooked. Who would police the zones, and how would they prevent clashes among the hundreds of different armed groups currently fighting in Syria? When our partners within the zones committed human rights abuses, partnered with extremist forces or went on offensives we did not approve, would we cut them off or get drawn into their escalation? If Assad attacked the zone, rightly seeing it as a place where an armed opposition could regroup, what would be our response? If striking Assad in response led to ISIL or the al-Nusra Front advancing on Damascus, would we strike our own proxies? If action against the Assad regime led Iran-backed Shia militias to start attacking U.S. troops in Iraq as they did during the Iraq war, would we escalate against them as well, alongside their ISIL enemies? Could we agree with the Turks on how to manage a zone along their border, given their hostility to the Kurdish fighters in that zone, who would likely be among America’s strongest partners? And of course even if we managed to set up and successfully police such zones, doing so would not resolve the fundamental source of the conflict in Syria—Assad’s determination to remain in power and large numbers of Syrians determined to violently remove him.

A Different Approach—Diplomacy and De-escalation

If enhancing our means to achieve our objectives is not a viable option, the alternative is to alter our objectives, based on an understanding that at this point simply stopping the conflict is a far greater U.S. and global interest than anything else. It is the conflict that is killing and displacing millions, destabilizing Syria’s neighbors, fueling extremism, exacerbating sectarianism and inspiring terrorists around the world. There may have been a time when it seemed that violence—an insurgency to overthrow the Assad dictatorship—was worth the lives it would cost in an attempt to produce better and more humane governance in Syria. That time has long past. There is now virtually no chance that an opposition military “victory” will lead to stable or peaceful governance in Syria in the foreseeable future and near certainty that pursuing one will only lead to many more years of vicious civil war. Stopping the conflict will require all the regional powers that are currently fueling it—including Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States—to come to terms with the reality that their maximalist objectives cannot be achieved, and that the result of trying to achieve them will mean only more misery and conflict throughout the region—at high cost to them all.

Bringing together countries with such diametrically opposed views on the conflict will obviously require a Herculean diplomatic effort—beyond even what the United States did in Bosnia in the mid-1990s—and may not succeed. But the Bosnia precedent, for all its differences with Syria—is instructive. There, after four years of ethnic cleansing, displacement and genocide, the United States formed a “contact group,” including all the most powerful outside actors, and engineered a messy diplomatic agreement that required painful compromise on all sides. It coordinated with Russia, compromised with unsavory nationalistic leaders like Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman who were responsible for much of the killing, and—having sworn never to ratify the results of ethnic cleansing—agreed to the creation of a “Republika Srpska” (RS) in Bosnia, which was founded on the expulsion and death of Muslims and Croats. Twenty years later, Bosnia is still dysfunctional, RS leaders are corrupt and nationalistic, and the original objective of a united Bosnian democracy is still far from achieved. But the killing and displacements have stopped, and Bosnian children are able to grow up in relative peace.

The hardest issue in any attempt to bring regional powers together on Syria would be the question of the fate of Assad. For Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the other Sunni states supporting the Syrian opposition, his immediate departure has been a sine qua non for even talking about ending the conflict, whereas Iran and Russia refuse to accept his ouster, let alone to promote it. To get around this so far insurmountable obstacle, it might be necessary to put off agreement on Assad’s fate until the end of the process, rather than insisting on it being resolved at the beginning. The United States and others will not and should not drop their position that there will never be a stable Syria under Assad and that ultimately he must go. But they should aggressively explore steps that could be taken in the meantime to reduce the fighting.

Instead of insisting on Assad’s immediate departure as a prerequisite to any agreement, a U.S.-led contact group could explore measures including the establishment of local and regional ceasefires; radical decentralization that would empower local authorities and get the regime out of agreed parts of the country; the cessation of regime air attacks in exchange for an end to opposition offensives; constitutional reform; the establishment of entities that would include representatives from the government and opposition and provide a basis for initial dialogue; eventual elections in which Assad might or might not be allowed to run; and potentially even safe areas that would negotiated between the regime and the opposition. A transitional agreement backed by the outside powers that included some of these steps would fall short of the “transitional governing body with full executive authority” called for in the June 2012 Geneva communiqué. But it could start a process and would be far preferable than the elusive pursuit of that unattainable goal. An accord reached among the outside powers could also be more credibly backed by the threat of force than a plan that some key actors vehemently oppose.

Some would ask why Iran and Russia would ever agree to such a compromise, without the “enhanced pressure” or more direct military intervention. The answer is that we would no longer be asking for their immediate acceptance of an outright victory for their enemies but for steps that would help achieve our core interest—ending the war—while preserving theirs—avoiding an extremist takeover and maintaining some influence in the country. And no one should think Iran and Russia are not under significant pressure already, even without direct U.S. intervention. They have no particular attachment to Assad personally, and maintaining the Syria regime is a costly burden to both countries. Its perpetuation only fuels the regional Islamist extremism that threatens their long-term interests. In that sense, the United States, Iran, Russia and the Gulf states that support the anti-extremist opposition all share at least that core interest, which is what might be the basis for an interim solution along these lines. Feeling such pressure in 2014, Iran put forward a Syria plan that would involve a ceasefire, constitutional reform and eventual elections—why not explore such a package as a starting point and press the Iranians to define those elements in a way that can offer Syrians a better future? And make clear to Iran and Russia that their failure to do so will only perpetuate their costly quagmire and lead to the growing extremism that threatens us all?

A negotiated interim solution in Syria—if it could be achieved—would obviously require painful compromise and entail lowering the bar from what has been our political objective so far. But the current realistic choice is not between “deferring the question of Assad” and “getting rid of Assad.” It is between “deferring the question of Assad” and “not getting rid of Assad” while Syria burns and the conflict spreads. In the longer run deferring that question may well be more likely to lead to his departure than insisting on regime change up front. With the enemy at the gate, Assad’s supporters cannot afford the risk that his demise would also be theirs. In the context of a negotiated settlement backed by outside powers, however, Syrians and the regime’s sponsors might well come to realize they are better off without a leader they rightly despise—and that their institutions could survive his ouster.

Changing our political objective, deferring the question of Assad’s fate, and getting all of Syria’s neighbors on the same page is an enormous task, unlikely to result in agreement anytime soon. Even if an agreement along these lines could eventually be achieved, it would be far less satisfying than Assad’s immediate ouster and replacement with a decent, moderate opposition that can keep the country stable and intact. But the prospects for the latter disappeared a long time ago, if they ever existed. And not even “decisive action,” however much we might wish it to be otherwise, can change that fact.

Philip Gordon is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2013-15 he was White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region

Syria: The Assad Conundrum

By Frederic C. Hof

Distinguished intellectual and former Obama administration official Philip Gordon has called for a fundamental Syria policy recalculation centering on the status of Bashar al-Assad. Gordon’s basic thesis is that if Washington and its partners drop their demand for preemptive victory—Bashar’s immediate departure—Iran and Russia may see their way clear to shuffling their noisome client off stage within a period of time broadly acceptable to all concerned. In truth, this approach has always been on the table. It is fully operative now. Neither the regime, nor Tehran, nor Moscow have demonstrated any interest in it.

Gordon was present at Geneva on June 30, 2012 when the Final Communique of the Action Group on Syria, convened by United Nations Special Envoy Kofi Annan, was signed. The permanent five (P5) members of the UN Security Council agreed on a strikingly direct approach to Syrian political transition from kleptocratic, violent despotism to the pluralistic, democratic system called for by two UN Security Council resolutions. Syrians representing the regime and the opposition would negotiate, based on mutual consent, a transitional governing body that would exercise full executive power. The name "Assad" was not mentioned in the document. This was no accident.

During the talks leading to the communique, representatives of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States argued that Assad—recognized even then as the author of serial war crimes and crimes against humanity—should be explicitly barred from partaking in Syria’s political transition. Russia objected. It did so as a matter of principle: Syrians should decide. The three allies offered a counter-proposal: anyone with blood on his or her hands should be excluded. The Russian objection was straightforward: "blood on his hands" would be seen as a synonym for Bashar al-Assad. No one at the table could disagree. In the end, it was agreed that the composition of the transitional governing body would be a Syrian decision, arrived at based on mutual consent.

According to the Geneva guidelines therefore—agreed to unanimously by the P5—it would be permissible for Assad to serve on the transitional governing body. Indeed, he could preside over it. All that was required was the consent of the opposition delegation. Similarly, delegates representing the Syrian Arab Republic—the regime and the government—could withhold consent to persons nominated by the opposition.

Is this, therefore, a wheel that requires reinvention? Gordon suggests that for "Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the other Sunni states supporting the Syrian opposition, his [Assad’s] immediate departure has been a sine qua non for even talking about ending the conflict . . ." This is actually not so. Whatever skepticism they have expressed about the readiness of the Assad regime to negotiate in good faith, they did not block the participation of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in the Lausanne and Geneva conferences of late 2013 and early 2014. The SNC arrived at those talks fully prepared to proceed based on the 2012 Geneva Final Communique. It behaved professionally and creatively. The regime delegation make a mockery of the proceedings. Were the regime to show up now at Geneva prepared to do business in accordance with the P5 formula it would find the opposition—with the full endorsement and support of the London 11—prepared to negotiate the creation of a transitional governing body.

Gordon posits, "It might be necessary to put off agreement on Assad’s fate until the end of the process, rather than insisting on it being resolved at the beginning." He is quite right, and this is exactly what the Geneva process envisions. Once all-Syrian negotiations create a transitional governing body, Assad will be either in or out. During the course of those talks, he would most likely retain the title and powers of President of the Syrian Arab Republic. Nothing in the Geneva formula requires him to step down in advance of the talks or before their conclusion. Indeed, nothing requires him to step down at any point provided the opposition consents to an ongoing role in the transitional governing body.

Still, Gordon wishes to drop the Geneva formula in favor of a "US-led contact group" that could "explore measures" such as local ceasefires, getting the regime out of "agreed parts of the country," an end to regime air attacks "in exchange for an end to opposition offensives," constitutional reforms, regime-opposition "entities" that could initiate dialogue, eventual elections "in which Assad might or might not be allowed to run," and perhaps safe areas negotiated by the regime and the opposition. Yet what would prevent any of these things being pursued with the Geneva formula still fully in place and intact?

All of these "measures" go to the very heart of the Assad regime’s existence and its strategy for staying in power, at least in a part of Syria. It does not barrel bomb to blunt opposition "offensives." It is not interested in handing over agreed parts of Syria. Its attitude toward "constitutional reform" has been well established for decades. It jails people seeking "dialogue." Yet Mr. Gordon counsels trading-in Geneva for a "process" in which he thinks Iran and Russia might join the United States and others in forcing a "compromise" on the Assad regime. Geneva, per se, stands in the way of nothing Mr. Gordon would like to explore.

With Geneva defunct, why would Tehran and Moscow facilitate such a process? According to Gordon, because we would no longer be asking for the immediate departure of Assad. Yet immediate departure is not now and never has been a precondition for political transition negotiations. Gordon also asserts that Iran and Russia have no particular attachment to Assad personally, and that maintaining him in power "is a costly burden to both countries." Yet Iran sees Assad as essential to maintaining its Syria-based link to its Lebanese militia, Hezbollah. Shall we work with Tehran to produce a substitute willing and able to help Hezbollah imprison Lebanon and keep its rockets and missiles trained on Israel? Russia’s Vladimir Putin sees Assad as a neon-lighted rebuke to Washington and is now investing heavily in trying to rehabilitate his client—the man who has made Syria safe for the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL)—as an anti-terror bulwark. Should we persist in counting on Putin to be agent for political transition in Syria?

No doubt, President Barack Obama will tell his Russian counterpart—just as Secretary of State John Kerry will tell his Iranian counterpart—that Assad is an asset of incalculable value for ISIL: the gift that keeps on giving. Russia and Iran already know this. They are fine with this. They have been fully witting and supportive of Assad’s survival strategy from the beginning: the mass releases of Islamist radicals from prison; the vacuum-creating collective punishment and mass homicide campaigns; the web of economic interactions between the regime and ISIL; the respective military focus of ISIL and Assad on common enemies rather than one another. The President and the Secretary will likely double down on Gordon’s point that continued Russian and Iranian backing of Assad "will only perpetuate their costly quagmire and lead to the growing extremism that threatens us all." A similar talking point about making a big mistake was applied to Russia’s rape of Ukraine.

There is nothing in the Geneva Final Communique that forbids the external supporters of the various parties to the conflict from pressuring their clients to cease and desist in war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is nothing in that document that prevents external parties from working together to apply pressures on all aimed at general deescalation. There is nothing the P5 agreed to in June 2012 that blocks them from discussing among themselves various creative formulas they might press upon their clients to facilitate the rapid, mutually agreed creation of a transitional governing body. Doing so would unite Syrians under one flag to fight ISIL and other violent extremists while beginning the long march to reform, reconstruction, and reconciliation.

The danger in Philip Gordon’s approach is that Iran, Russia, and Assad may see it as an administration trial balloon, one signaling that instead of action soon forthcoming to protect defenseless Syrian civilians from barrel bombs, there is anxious readiness on the part of Washington to ditch the Geneva framework in the hope of currying Russian and Iranian goodwill.

The Geneva framework need not be dropped for Moscow and Tehran to block the ongoing mass murder of Syrian civilians: relentless and remorseless slaughter that voids any prospect of political progress while boosting the prospects of ISIL. On the contrary: US officials should be telling their Russian and Iranian counterparts that if they do not take steps to get Assad out of this ISIL-facilitating mass murder business, the United States will. Doing something beyond talking is essential for any of Philip Gordon’s laudable objectives to be achieved.

Frederic C. Hof is a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

*Donald Trump: Let the Russians deal with ISIS*

DEBKAfile September 26, 2015, 10:51 AM (IDT)

In his first specific foreign policy comment, Donald Trump accused his Republican presidential revivals of wanting to start World III over Syria. At a campaign speech in Oklahoma, he said: “You know, Russia wants to get ISIS, right? We want to get ISIS. Russia is in Syria – maybe we should let them do it? Let them do it,” he said objecting to United States intervention.


Al Ahram: Russia announces naval drills in ‚east Mediterranean‘

Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday said it would hold naval drills in the "east Mediterranean" region in September and October, as the West frets over a military buildup by Moscow in Syria.

The exercises include three warships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, including the Saratov landing ship, the Moskva guided missile cruiser and the Smetlivy destroyer, the ministry said in a statement.

The drills will involve "40 combat exercises, including rocket and artillery fire at sea and airborne targets," the statement said.

The ministry said that the Mediterranean drills — which were restarted in early 2013 — had been planned since the end of last year and did not link them to the conflict in Syria.

Russia officially alerted the airport in Cyprus earlier this month through the international aviation authorities to divert aircraft from the area between Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia has a naval facility, and Cyprus.


Putin supports Erdogan in Turkey, but not in Syria

MOSCOW — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke Sept. 22 during a joint live broadcast by two pro-government news channels, Kanal 7 and Ulke TV. After lambasting the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party and certain Kurdish politicians, he said of his then-upcoming trip to Moscow, “The Syria question will be at the heart of our talks."

He added, “The first topic of my visit that will take place tomorrow is about the inauguration of a magnificent mosque built in Moscow. It is a gigantic mosque that can accommodate around 10,000 people. After that, we will have talks with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Naturally, the Syria question will be at the heart of our talks. … The news we receive [from Moscow] is not pleasant. We do have a special relationship with Russia and having such a relationship and then hearing the unpleasant news naturally made us unhappy. I hope to leave Moscow after reaching an agreement with Putin.”

Whenever Erdogan speaks without a written text, it is particularly difficult to interpret his words accurately, yet their meaning is easily understood. His visit to Moscow came on the heels of Russia’s latest military buildup in Syria. To have Putin boosting the chances of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s survival would further complicate Turkey’s quest to create a safe zone within Syrian territory. The strong Russian military commitment to redress the military balance on the ground would jeopardize Erdogan’s calculations concerning Syria.

It is Erdogan’s paradox that Putin — the person he feels closest to because of their similarities — is putting the most insurmountable obstacles on Erdogan’s foreign policy track.

The common characteristics between the two cannot escape any careful observation. Only a few days ago, a Foreign Policy article on Erdogan contained the following lines:

“Erdogan’s ambition is nothing less than to be a modern-day Sultan, a near-absolute executive whose power and authority cannot be challenged or checked. Think an Anatolian version of Russian President Vladimir Putin and you’ll begin to get the idea.”

Such intimacy may explain why Erdogan sounded hurt when he mentioned the “unpleasant news" from Russia, but also why he remained optimistic that he could come to terms with Putin on the Syria issue.

I happened to be attending a meeting in Moscow during Erdogan’s visit. On my arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, I met a diplomat, an old friend in Erdogan’s delegation. My hotel was a stone’s throw from the mosque Erdogan was to help inaugurate.

The lobby was full of Muslim delegations who came to the capital from every corner of the Russian Federation. A huge English-language sign in the hotel lobby, also in Russian and Arabic, read, “The Moscow Cathedral Mosque.” The structure is Moscow’s biggest mosque and one of the three largest in the entire Russian Federation.

After the dedication, the late-afternoon traffic in Moscow was even worse than in Istanbul, with roads blocked off so Erdogan and Putin could make their way to the Kremlin.

It is an interesting feeling to write about Erdogan’s one day in Moscow in my hotel room overlooking the Olympic Stadium and the Moscow Cathedral Mosque. Some snapshots: The Erdogan-Putin face-to-face talk lasted about an hour. Turkey’s president was accompanied by interim Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu, the former undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry. A one-hour meeting probably comes out to about half an hour of serious talk.

The two leaders, accompanied by their delegations, dined together for about 90 minutes. So, that was about 2½ hours spent on business between Turkey and Russia before darkness fell over Moscow and the Turkish president left Russia’s capital.

Did he get the agreement on Syria that he seemed cautiously optimistic about in Istanbul the day before? He did get Putin’s personal political support in terms of Turkey’s domestic politics, but nothing tangible in terms of Turkey’s foreign policy objectives in Syria. In front of the cameras, Putin told Erdogan he is aware that Erdogan is facing parliamentary elections soon and wished him “success for his party.”

Such a statement could well be interpreted as a blunder in Turkey. Constitutionally, Erdogan cannot get involved in the elections. After the president is elected, any formal ties with a political party end. Therefore, in the legal sense, Erdogan is in no position to be wished success for “his party.”

However, in reality he could not care less about such constitutional constraints in Turkey. Putin, knowing this, probably does not care, either.

An important detail concerning the Erdogan-Putin talks at the Kremlin is that no joint statement was issued. In the tradition of Turkish-Russian relations — including during the Soviet period — there have always been joint statements or communiques following top-level meetings. In very rare cases when they were not issued, it signified that the parties respectfully disagreed on the issue at hand.

No one assessing the situation realistically expected an accord on the thorny Syria question. Russia just recently sharply increased the number of combat aircraft delivered to Syria. It deployed a dozen Su-24 Fencer and a dozen Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack planes; previously, the number parked at Latakia air base in Syria was four.

The deployment of Russia’s most advanced attack planes and multiple defense systems is considered a game-changer in Syria in terms of striking a new military balance to force a new political process. The planes deployed are protected, according to some reports, by possibly three SA-22 surface-to-air anti-aircraft systems and also drones being used to fly reconnaissance missions.

Add to those figures 15 transport and attack helicopters and nine T-90 tanks. Also, Russia has doubled its number of soldiers there, from 200 to over 500.

Putin defined Russia’s increased military presence in Syria as necessary for fighting the Islamic State. The United States perceives IS as a top priority; Turkey does not. Therefore, the dramatic Russian military buildup would unquestionably hamper Turkey’s plans to create a “safe zone” (rather than a buffer zone) inside Syria, possibly to be supported and defended by a no-fly zone.

The United States was not won over by Turkish arguments and after the Russian buildup, it would be unthinkable that it could. After all, Washington, while expressing concern over Putin’s moves, adopted a conciliatory approach. Washington’s priority in Syria is not the removal of the Assad regime, but “degrading and ultimately destroying” IS.

For Turkey, the priority is Assad’s overthrow.

Despite deep differences in style, methodology and endgame in Syria, Moscow and Washington do have very similar tactical priorities. But Ankara and Washington do not, and neither do Ankara and Moscow.

It should not be surprising that Putin could be supportive of Erdogan in Turkey’s domestic political scene. Both have identical views on how to run a country. When it comes to Syria, the two have divergent interests. Given the situations, it would have been surprising for Erdogan to leave Moscow with an agreement on Syria.


An Israeli-Russian team will coordinate aerial and sea operations

DEBKAfile September 24, 2015, 12:52 PM (IDT)

An Israeli military officer reported Thursday that an Israeli-Russian coordination team set up to prevent the countries accidentally trading fire in Syria will be headed by their deputy armed forces chiefs and hold its first meeting by Oct. 5. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officer said the talks would focus on aerial operations in Syria and "electromagnetic coordination” – referring to agreement not to scramble each other’s radio or radar-tracking systems and identifying each other’s forces in the heat of battle.

Israel and Russia will also coordinate sea operations off Syria’s Mediterranean coast, where Moscow has a major naval base. DEBKAfile reported earlier that the two deputy chiefs would operate a hot line between them and meet in person to maintain contact.

Saudi Arabia will help Egypt to purchase the Mistral-class ships, newspaper Express reported quoting a source in the French government.

“The help will be significant,” the statement in the newspaper read.

Earlier, the Express reported that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have helped Egypt before in the acquisition of French military equipment, in particular the fighter jet Rafale, a contract which was signed in February 2015.

On Wednesday, France’s President Francois Hollande and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah Sisi agreed on Egypt’s acquisition of two Mistral-class ships.

“The President of the Republic spoke with President Sisi. They agreed on the principle and terms of the purchase of two Mistral-class projection and command ships by Egypt,” the statement read.

Earlier it was also reported that a delegation of high-ranking Egyptian officials is currently in Paris to negotiate the price of the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers originally built for Russia.

It is assumed that one of the Mistrals will serve in the Red Sea, and the other will be positioned in the Mediterranean. According to a source in France’s Ministry of

Defense, the ships could be delivered to Egypt in March 2016, after the Egyptian navy crews go through training.

In the period since 2014, Egypt has bought from France four ‘Gowind’ corvettes, which cost 1 billion euros, a FREMM frigate for 900 million euros and 24 ‘Rafale’ fighter jets which cost about 3 billion euros.

The volume of other French arms purchased by Egypt amounted to 1.1 billion euros.

A Chinese aircraft carrier docks at Tartus to support Russian-Iranian military buildup

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 26, 2015, 1:17 PM (IDT)

As US President Barack Obama welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to the White House on Friday, Sept. 25, and spoke of the friendship between the two countries, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning-CV-16 docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, accompanied by a guided missile cruiser. This is revealed exclusively by debkafile.

Beijing is not finding it hard to dance at two weddings, wooing the US for better relations, while at the same time backing Russia in its military intervention in Syria. Coupled with the warm smiles and handshakes exchanged at the lavish reception on the White House lawn, Beijing was clearly bent on showing muscle – not just in the South China Sea, but by allying itself with the Russian-Iranian political and military buildup in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime.

debkafile’s military sources report that the Chinese aircraft carrier passed through the Suez Canal on Sept. 22, one day after the summit in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

When they talked, Putin made no mention of the Chinese warship entering the eastern Mediterranean or its destination. Its arrival has upended the entire strategic situation surrounding the Syrian conflict, adding a new global dimension to Moscow and Tehran’s military support for Assad.

This was grasped at length by US Secretary of State John Kerry. On Sept. 25, he sent Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who also led the US negotiating team for the nuclear talks with Iran, to announce that the Obama administration is ready for dialogue with Iran about the situation in Syria, and this topic would be raised when Kerry’s met Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Jawad Zarif in New York on Sept. 26.

But if the top US diplomat hoped to bypass the Russian initiative in Syria by going straight to Tehran, he was too late. Iran is already moving forward fast to augment its military presence in the war-torn country, buttressed by the ground, air and sea support of two world powers, Russia and China.

This turn of evens has a highly detrimental effect on Israel’s strategic and military position. It also strengthens Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his determination to turn the nuclear deal concluded in July into a tool for isolating the US politically, militarily and economically in the Middle East, rather than a milestone on the road to a breakthrough in ties with Iran, as the Obama administration had hoped.

Our military sources find evidence that the Chinese forces are digging in for a prolonged stay in Syria. The carrier put into Tartus minus its aircraft contingent. The warplanes and helicopters should be in place on its decks by mid-November – flying in directly from China via Iran or transported by giant Russian transports from China through Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

This explains the urgency of establishing a Russian-Syria-Iranian “military coordination cell” in Baghdad in the last couple of days. This mechanism, plus the Russian officers sighted in Baghdad, indicates that the Russian military presence is not limited to Syria but is beginning to spill over into Iraq as well.

The coordination cell – or war room – was presented as necessary to begin working with Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting the Islamic State in both places. But more immediately, it is urgently needed to control the heavy traffic of Russian, Iranian and Chinese military flights transiting Iraqi air space.

Our sources report that the Chinese will be sending out to Syria a squadron of J-15 Flying Shark fighters, some for takeoff positions on the carrier’s decks, the rest to be stationed at the Russian airbase near Latakia. The Chinese will also deploy Z-18F anti-submarine helicopters and Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters. In addition, Beijing will consign at least 1,000 marines to fight alongside their counterparts from Russia and Iran against terrorist groups, including ISIS.

debkafile’s counterterrorism sources point out that just as Russian marines will be instructed to single out rebel militias with recruits from Chechnya and the Caucasus, the Chinese marines will seek out and destroy Uighur fighters from the northern predominantly Muslim Chinese province of Xinjiang.

In the same way that Putin has no wish to see the Chechen fighters back in Russia, so too Chinese President Xi wants to prevent the Uighurs from returning home from the Syrian battlefields.

Hizballah acquires its first heavy tanks from Iran, not Syria

DEBKAfile September 26, 2015, 1:05 PM (IDT)

Iran has provided Hizballah with 75 Russian T-55 and T-72 tanks so that the terrorist organization can set up an armored division, marking the first time that Hizballah has acquired tanks, a report said on Saturday.

At his summit with President Vladimir Putin this week, Prime Minister Beiyamin Netanyahu presented intelligence information showing that Iran was the source of the tanks, and that a report claiming that they were supplied by Syria was disinformation. DEBKAfile’s military sources report exclusively that Iran has supplied Hizballah in Lebanon with Raad-1 and Raad-2 self-propelled howitzers and has started sending it Iranian T-72S tanks.

All of these armored weapons are produced by the Hadid facility of the Iranian Defense Industries Organization. DEBKAfile’s sources also said that Tehran decided to release this information to the media in the Persian Gulf after being informed by Moscow that Netanyahu had revealed it at their summit on September 21.


Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Ischinger: "Gemeinsame, internationale Syrien-Politik möglich“.

Der Leiter der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz, Wolfgang Ischinger, hält eine Verständigung auf eine gemeinsame, internationale Syrien-Politik für möglich. Nötig sei eine große Konferenz mit allen Beteiligten, darunter auch Russland und Iran, sagte er im DLF. Auch zum Umgang mit Syriens Machthaber Assad macht Ischinger einen Vorschlag.

Wolfgang Ischinger im Gespräch mit Bettina Klein – Deutschlandfunk 29.09.2015


Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* Are You a ‚How‘ or a ‚Why‘ Person? *The Differences Between Strategic and Tactical Analysis*

Understanding Strategic and Tactical AnalysisWhen analyzing a new situation or development, do you:

A) Zero in on small, discrete details involving who, what, where and how?
B) Step back from the situation, unfocus your eyes and look for larger patterns the might explain the “why” of the new event?

Both approaches are valuable, but few of us have the capacity to do both at once. For that, you need a team.

How do these skill sets contrast and compliment each other? Watch as these two best-selling authors – geopolitical analyst Dr. George Friedman and security expert Fred Burton – discuss the focus and values ofstrategic versus tactical approaches, and what it can mean when they are combined.

Today CSIS releases the first episode of an extraordinary 3-part series of video interviews called “Brzezinski On the World” featuring CSIS Counselor and Trustee Zbigniew Brzezinski himself!

Former national security advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski recently sat down with Dr. Jon Alterman, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and research assistant Ben Daus-Haberle for a conversation on the state of the world in the era of global politics and global risks. Drawing on a storied career in public service, Dr. Brzezinski combines his unique historical perspective with fresh insights into the challenges and opportunities facing policymakers in 2015.

Brzezinski On The World” will be released in three episodes over the next three weeks.

In this first five-minute episode, Dr. Brzezinski analyzes how the United States should think about its relations with Russia and China.


Rethinking the Wars Against ISIS and the U.S. Strategy for Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency

by Anthony H. Cordesman

By the time a new President takes office, the United States will have been at war for roughly a decade and a half. What began as a limited war against terrorism has become a major counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. military involvement in Syria and Yemen, while the U.S. largely stands by after having played a major role in the defeat of Gaddafi in Libya.

Violent Islamic extremism is a serious threat in all five cases, as it is more broadly throughout much of the Islamic world. At the same time, in every case, the nation involved has been the equivalent of a failed state. The insurgency did not come from some foreign source and the country had a long history of violent politics, failed governance, and failed economic development.

The rise of extremism came after the failure of secularism, and because of deep religious, ethnic, regional, and other internal tensions and violence. The result was not simply insurgency, but civil war. These conflicts were sometimes triggered and fed by the actions of outside states, including the U.S. and former Soviet Union, but they escalated because of massive civil failures as well as growing violent incidents and military clashes.

The Burke Chair in Strategy has recently updated a series of reports that show the linkages between the escalation of violence and the level of failed politics, governance, and economic development in Iraq and Syria. These reports show that the civil causes of violence are so deep that no defeat of extremist movements alone can hope to bring any lasting form of security and stability.

They also raise fundamental questions about the way in which the U.S. has approached the struggle against major terrorist movements and fought counterinsurgency campaigns. They suggest that the fundamental threat in each case where the U.S. has found itself involved in long conflicts has not been the terrorist or extremist movement, but the failure of the host country government to create a political structure, level of governance, and progress toward economic stability that could win and sustain popular support, and develop effective host country security forces.

In practice, the four threats that allow extremism to create serious insurgencies, and lead to what are really lasting civil wars, have the following priority:

Host Country Government and Security Forces: Authoritarianism, failure to cope with internal divisions, poor governance and corruption, failed economy development and equity, population pressure and youth bulge, repression and violence by internal security forces, traditional and corrupt military.

The Overt “Threat”: Moderate and peaceful beginnings shift to extreme and violent movements that feed on the civil-military divisions and failures of the host country governments.

The U.S. Threat to the U.S.: Relearn counterinsurgency yet again. Separate military (tactical) and civil (project-oriented development) efforts. Threat oriented and downplay Host Country problems. No meaningful overall civil-military plan or net assessment. Rapid rotations with limited expertise. Cycle of denial, flood resources, rush to generate Host country forces, then leave too soon. “Take note” of lessons, then ignore.

Other Nations: Allied, Neutral, Hostile: Allied limits to engagement, national caveats, demands; neutral interference for competing national interests, hostile action because anti-U.S., support overt threat, opposing national interests.

They also suggest that no amount of tactical success can end civil conflict, and bring lasting stability and security. “Nation building” may have become an unpopular term, and it may well be impossible to accomplish unless the host country develops a level of improvement in its politics and governance that allows outside aid to be effective. It is probably a grim reality that no nation that is torn by massive civil violence today can end that violence unless its own leaders and people take responsibility for massive reform and change.

At the same time, the U.S. must take a far more realistic look at what is really happening in its present wars, and in how it deals with the broad patterns of unrest and conflict emerging in the Islamic and developing worlds. Other studies by the Burke Chair suggest that the “revolution in military affairs” that focuses on the changes that technology and new tactics and strategy could bring to conventional conflicts have been matched – if not superseded by a “revolution in civil-military affairs”

It also seems all too clear if one looks at the patterns in the various metrics on Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan – as well as the overviews of the same patterns in Libya and Yemen – that all of these countries will face years of continued civil fighting and tension – or revert to authoritarian control – even if today’s Islamist extremists are defeated. It also seems likely that the U.S. will not succeed even in creating effective host country forces, and the basis for a meaningful rule of law and civil security, unless it creates a far more effective civil-military strategy for helping each host country.

The analyses, metrics, maps, and trend analyses that support these conclusions can be found in the following reports:

o 21st Century Conflict: From “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) to “Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs” (RCMA):… [2]

o Beyond Partisan Bickering: Key Questions About U.S. Strategy in Syria, [3]

o War and the Iraqi Economy: A Case Study, [4]

o Trends in Iraqi Violence, Casualties and Impact of War: 2003-2015:… [5]

o Constructing a New Syria: Dealing with the Real Outcome of the “ISIS War”:… [6]

o Losing the “Forgotten War”: The Need to Reshape US Strategy in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia:…. [7]

o Iraqi Stability and the “ISIS War”: [8]

o The Revolution in Civil Military Affairs: Case Studies in “Failed State Wars” in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan:… [9]

o The Civil Transition: in Afghanistan: The Metrics of Crisis?: [10]

o Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition – Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence :… [11]

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.


Middle East

*Will US, Russia find common ground in Syria?*

Author: Week in Review – Posted September 27, 2015 –

US can defer on Assad until IS is defeated

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s expanded military assistance to the government of Syria could provide an opening to expand the US-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State (IS).

Vitaly Naumkin writes that Putin’s bid can be understood in the context of Russia’s consistent support for the government of Syria, and of a piece with a new multilateral effort to combat terrorism that has been endorsed by Iran, and could at some point include China.

Putin’s moves have put the United States on defense over its Syria policy. On Sept. 16, Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of US Central Command, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that only “four or five” US-trained Syrians were in the fight against IS, far short of the projected 5,400 fighters, as part of program costing $500 million. On Sept. 25, a CENTCOM spokesman said that US-trained “New Syrian Forces” provided trucks and ammunition to al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra in return for safe passage.

As the US-backed train-and-equip program has proven to be both failure and fiasco, and the US reports of the actions of coalition bombings remind some of the “body counts” during the Vietnam War, Washington has also been stymied until now by its insistence, since August 2011, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should “step aside.”

While Assad may have lost ground, he is not on the way out, backed to the teeth by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The Obama administration’s aspirational Assad strategy began in the heady days of what was once called the Arab Spring and has probably complicated US diplomacy to negotiate and lead a political transition in Syria, opening up the space for Russia and Iran to seize the initiative, which they have done. As Julian Pecquet reported last week, members of both US political parties are starting to question US policy toward Assad.

Russia’s power play this month forced US Secretary of State John Kerry to seemingly backtrack when he said on Sept. 20 that the Syrian president’s role in a political transition would be “defined through negotiation. Nobody knows what the answer to that is. I can’t tell you standing here today. But most people have accepted that to get somewhere it’s not going to happen on day one or week one; there’s got to be some period of time. I don’t know what it is, but it has to be negotiated.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to follow suit Sept. 24, a day after meeting with Putin in Moscow, when he said, “We can have a process without Assad, or something like going with Assad during a transition period,” as Semih Idiz reports this week. Erdogan also referred to a “triple initiative” among the United States, Turkey and Russia and Syria, which could also include Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Iran’s role in Syria is just as vital to negotiating a political transition to end the war. Both Ali Hashem and Hassan Ahmadian write that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to between world powers and Iran has its critics in Tehran, and that cooperation on regional issues will likely depend on its implementation. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on CBS‘ 60 Minutes on Sept. 20 that with regard to the United States and Iran, “common goals, or common interests may exist. But what is important is that in the nuclear agreement we see how the two sides behave in action. Enacting this deal in a good way will create a new environment.”

On Syria, Rouhani said, “How can we fight the terrorists without the government staying? Of course, after we have fought terrorism and a secure environment is created, then it is time to talk about the constitution, or the future regime to talk and discuss opposition groups and supporters sit at the table, but during a situation of bloodshed and during an occupation of the country, what options exist?”

Barbara Slavin reports that Rouhani told journalists in New York on Sept. 25 that Iran has “’common objectives’ with Russia in Syria in fighting terrorist groups. However, he denied that Iran and Russia have anything ‘resembling a military coalition’ despite a recent buildup of Russian military personnel and weapons in Syria.”

Kerry raised Syria in his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sept. 26 in New York. UN and Iranian mediation have been instrumental in finally reaching a solution to the Syrian government’s siege of rebel-held Zabadani, which has been covered by Al-Monitor’s Syria Pulse.

So when US President Barack Obama meets Putin this week on the sides of the UN General Assembly meetings in New York, he should focus on the common ground in the US and Russian positions, not the differences. It was Obama who was way out front in May 2014 on the need for a new global counterterrorism strategy, which this column endorsed as a means to test Iran’s intentions in Syria.

The same could be said for Russian intentions. The United States has the lead against IS, and should welcome Russian help to end the so-called caliphate’s reign of terror in Syria and Iraq. Kerry explained the shared interests of the United States and Russia in Syria on Sept. 22: “We agree that we both want a Syria that is whole and peaceful and stable and secular and where its sovereignty is respected. We both want to see [IS] destroyed and defeated and gone, as well as any other violent extremist entity. We both have concerns about the need to end the flow of foreign fighters and the attraction of those foreign fighters, which draws people to this battle which is dangerous for everybody.”

Kerry’s statement is a good start for Obama’s talking points with Putin. The United States has done an admirable job assembling an international coalition against IS, but there is no sign of imminent victory. The United States should welcome and coordinate Russia’s efforts against the common enemy. This is overdue. And it does not mean “giving in” on Assad, but rather playing it smart, getting Russian and Iranian support for a negotiated political transition on the front end, and dealing with the Syrian president on the back end. The United States can’t hide its weak hand in trying to negotiate around Assad, and should enlist Russia, as well as Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to help bring this terrible and tragic war to an end, as soon as possible.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s "silent resistance"

Denise Natali writes this week that “political divisions are being encouraged in the hyper-fragmented Iraqi state and fight against IS as local groups seek to gain power, resources and recognition.”

“The result,” Natali adds, “has been an inadvertent enhancing of Barzani’s power through coalition military support, stronger reactions by those seeking political reform and deepening distrust between groups. … These trends have strengthened the role of political hard-liners who are unwilling to compromise.”

Natali concludes, “At the moment, a formal split between regions or a mass mobilization is unlikely, given the war against IS, deep party patronage networks and no clear alternative offered by opposition groups. Yet as the financial crisis deepens, corruption continues, political legitimacy is ignored and calls for decentralization go unheeded, the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] may have an administrative breakup, even in de facto form. At worst, these issues will continue to fester through open and silent resistance that may further stifle the stability and economic development of the Kurdistan Region.”




*Japan Times: G-4 chiefs push tangible reform in U.N. Security Council*

NEW YORK – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with the leaders of Brazil, Germany and India on Saturday to jointly seek tangible results from their effort to reform the U.N. Security Council by the next U.N. General Assembly session.

Emphasizing that the so-called group of four nations are “legitimate candidates for permanent membership” in an expanded and reformed Security Council, the leaders “expressed determination to redouble their efforts toward securing concrete outcomes in the 70th session of the General Assembly,” they said in a joint statement to wrap up the first G-4 summit in 11 years, held in New York the same day. The 70th session runs through next September.

“A more representative, legitimate and effective Security Council is needed more than ever to address the global conflicts and crises, which had spiraled in recent years,” they said, stressing that the ongoing reform process “should be conducted, given its urgency, in a fixed time frame.”

Abe told his G-4 counterparts — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — that an overwhelming majority of U.N. member states, including developing countries such as those in Africa and the (14-member) Caribbean Community, should unite to promote Security Council reform in the year that marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations.

Abe said the world is now seeing a “historic opportunity” for reforming the Security Council, and that it “should be reformed to match the realities of the 21st century,” according to a senior Japanese official. The prime minister said moreover that the G-4 should increase calls on other countries to start full-fledged intergovernmental negotiations on the matter based on a text adopted recently by the General Assembly, according to the official.

According to the joint statement, the four leaders expressed concern that “no substantial progress had been made” since the 2005 world summit, where all participants supported “early reform” of the council.

The leaders also supported Africa’s representation in both the permanent and nonpermanent membership, and noted the importance of adequate and continuing representation of small and midsize members, including small, developing island states in an expanded and reformed council. The four countries have been calling for expanding the number of both permanent and nonpermanent members of the 15-member council so it can better represent the realities and needs of the international community of the 21st century.

The Security Council, the most powerful U.N. body, has 15 members, five of them permanent. It has the ability to issue legally binding resolutions imposing sanctions or authorizing military action to enforce its decisions. The 10 temporary members are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly. Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, key allies from World War II, are permanent veto-wielding council members. Germany, Japan, India and Brazil say the world is very different from what it was in 1945 and the Security Council should reflect that. Germany and Japan, which are global financial powers and top contributors to the United Nations, argue that they deserve permanent council seats.

The G-4 countries want to increase the number of permanent members of the council from 5 to 11 and that of nonpermanent members from 10 to 14 or 15.

Merkel said Saturday it is high time the United Nations Security Council is reformed to reflect the real distribution of power across the world in the 21st century.

“We need a new method of work to solve problems,” she said. “That makes reform of the Security Council necessary, reform which reflects the real power in the world better than the situation today.”

The appeal was in a summary of Merkel’s opening remarks at the G-4 meeting.“ We have to proceed very wisely,” she added, according to the summary. “We have to find allies to reach our goal of reform.” Merkel is in New York for a summit meeting of world leaders on global development at the U.N. General Assembly.

“The current atmosphere is that not only we four but many others don’t agree with the structure and the working method of the Security Council,” Merkel told the other leaders. “We want to take others with us to reach a modern working structure of the Security Council which suits the 21st century.”

The goal of expanding the council has long been an elusive one. Many U.N. member states routinely call for Security Council reform and have been working for decades, so far unsuccessfully, to find an acceptable formula for expanding the council. The five permanent members can block any such moves. Britain and France say they support reform. The United States has also cautiously backed it. U.N. diplomats say China, and to a lesser extent Russia, are the principal opponents.


… Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning-CV-16, has been spotted at the Syrian port of Tartus …

TV-Novosti: China’s military advisers ‘heading to Syria to help fight ISIS’

28 Sep, 2015 China will be helping out the Syrian government in the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS) by sending “military advisers” … “The Chinese will be arriving in the coming weeks,” a Syrian army official told … report claims that a Chinese naval vessel is on its way to Syria with dozens of “military advisers” on board. They will reportedly be followed by troops. The ship is said to have passed the Suez Canal in Egypt and be making its way through the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the website, the advisers will be joining Russian personnel in the Latakia region. Meanwhile, an Israeli military news website, DEBKAfile,

… has cited military sources as saying that a Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaoning-CV-16, has already been spotted at the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean coast. It was said to be accompanied by a guided missile cruiser. The news comes after Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria agreed to establish a joint information center in Baghdad to coordinate their operations against Islamic State militants … Russian President Vladimir Putin was recently asked about Russia’s presence in Syria, to which he replied that Russia’s activities are limited to supplying weapons to the Syrian government, training personnel and providing humanitarian aid for the Syrian people … Putin reiterated his support for Syria’s regular army – the army of President Bashar Assad. “He [Assad] is confronted with what some of our international partners interpret as an opposition. In reality, Assad’s army is fighting against terrorist organizations” … Russia’s president added that US attempts to train a Syrian opposition to take on Islamic State have failed … “In my opinion, provision of military support to illegal structures runs counter to the principles of modern international law and the United Nations Charter,” he said. Back in December, 2014, China offered to help Iraq in fighting Islamic State militants, volunteering to assist with airstrikes, but said it would not join the US-led coalition against ISIS …

PLA Daily of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Russia’s military build-up in Syria reinvigorates political solution 2015-09-26 — The upped Russian military support and presence in Syria will likely increase chances of the political solution for the country’s long-running conflict, analysts said. The Russian leadership has recently amplified its military aid to the Syrian military forces. Russian officials have recently stressed that Moscow will continue providing military aid, including specialists, to Damascus. Russian officials said the increasing military supplies aim at combating terrorism in accordance with international law. Military experts say the Russian supplies will for sure have a notable effect on the battles in Syria amid activists‘ reports that the Syrian air force have already started using newly-received Russian war jets … Analysts say the presence of the Russian war jets and radars will hinder any Turkish plan to impose a buffer zone in northern Syria. It will also make Israel think twice before sending its war jets to strikes Syrian targets as it had repeatedly done in recent months. Politically, analysts say the Russian build-up will also increase chances of a political solution and will end the U.S. unilateral way in the region … Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently said that "the reality is President Assad is still in Syria, the reality is Russia is backing President Assad. Russia’s involvement (in negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program) has been said to be very positive by all of those negotiating that agreement. If we use that as an example of Russia’s preparedness to be part of a solution rather than part of the problem, then we can have some optimism that Russia’s involvement is positive," … In another statement that was considered "groundbreaking," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said al-Assad should be part of negotiations with the West. We have to speak with many actors, this includes Assad, but others as well," she said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has probably been more critic of Assad than Syrian oppositions, said recently that "a transition process" in Syria involving al-Assad "is possible. The process could possibly be without Assad, or the transitional process could be with him." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also indicated that while "Assad has to go," the "modality" and "timing" of his departure were a matter for discussion.

We’re prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table?" … The Lebanese Assafir newspaper said the increased Russian presence in Syria provides the suitable ground for Moscow to negotiate the Syrian crisis with Washington and enables Russia to preserve a long-lasting foothold on the Mediterranean, where it already has a naval base in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus. It added that the Syrian regime will be more comfortable when entering the political negotiations after the Russian involvement, because that will grant the Syrian regime firm control over its favorite areas.

These areas constitutes of areas that are still under the firm control of the government, stretching from the coast to Damascus through Homs and Hama …

When China Rules the Sea

September 23, 2015 The United States is no longer the world’s only global naval power. A flotilla from China’s navy appeared in American waters in early September, a few weeks before President Xi Jinping’s Sept. 24 visit to Washington … Five vessels cruised the Bering Sea in early September — and elicited a fittingly low-key response from Washington: “China is a global navy,” declared one U.S. Navy spokesman, “and we encourage them and other international navies to operate in international waters as long as they adhere to safe and professional standards and maritime laws of the sea” … China … sees value in staging a presence in distant waters. And because it can: Beijing no longer depends completely on its oceangoing battle fleet to ward off threats in China’s seas. It can now rain long-range precision firepower on enemy fleets from land. Ergo, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleet can cruise the far reaches of the Pacific and Indian oceans or even beyond, without forfeiting China’s interests in waters close to home … For China, the upsides of far-ranging maritime strategy are many and compelling, the downsides fewer and fewer … A new age of Chinese bluewater assertiveness is upon us … Assuming the ice recedes as climate change advances, polar shipping routes will prove shorter and less convoluted — and thus less expensive and troublesome — than current alternatives. Consequently, it makes perfect sense for the PLAN to establish a presence along prospective sea lanes to Eurasia’s north … not just the recent trip to the Aleutians, but also a September 2015 port call in Egypt, a May visit to the Black Sea, and assorted other naval diplomatic endeavors … China has yet to acclimate to the rules of the nautical game. Why? Because continental powers like China tend to think about the sea differently than natural seafaring states like the United States or Great Britain. Where nautical peoples see a commons — an ungoverned space, open for the free use of all — terrestrial peoples see national territory, to be governed as though it were dry land. A chasm separates Chinese from Western worldviews … China kept its focus largely on land. Beijing never acculturated to high-seas strategic competition the way the United States and Soviet Union did … But Beijing now seems set on a different course … No longer is the relationship between China and the United States the relationship between a land and a sea power: It’s now a relationship between two sea powers.

25.09.2015 VIDEO: Russian Military Forum: Russia in the Middle East



moderated by Srecko Velimirovic

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said in his speech on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the UN headquarters that development is not possible without peace and stability, adding that the world community has a difficult task of eradicating poverty by 2030 and laying the foundations for the preservation of sustainable development of the planet for the benefit of future generations….Within this framework, Serbia has made continued efforts to develop good neighborly relations in its region, he said.

We understand very well that success in providing sustainable development is not possible without comprehensive regional cooperation. In that respect, we are planning to organize regional consultations in Belgrade at the end of this year, in order to see how to work together on the realization of the Agenda for Sustainable Development, Nikolic announced.



Iraqi Kurdistan’s "silent resistance"

Denise Natali writes this week that “political divisions are being encouraged in the hyper-fragmented Iraqi state and fight against IS as local groups seek to gain power, resources and recognition.”

“The result,” Natali adds, “has been an inadvertent enhancing of Barzani’s power through coalition military support, stronger reactions by those seeking political reform and deepening distrust between groups. … These trends have strengthened the role of political hard-liners who are unwilling to compromise.”

Natali concludes, “At the moment, a formal split between regions or a mass mobilization is unlikely, given the war against IS, deep party patronage networks and no clear alternative offered by opposition groups. Yet as the financial crisis deepens, corruption continues, political legitimacy is ignored and calls for decentralization go unheeded, the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] may have an administrative breakup, even in de facto form. At worst, these issues will continue to fester through open and silent resistance that may further stifle the stability and economic development of the Kurdistan Region.”



see our letter on:

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*



09-29-15 Ischinger-Deutschlandfunk- Gemeinsame internationale Syrienpolitik mglich.pdf