Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 22.12.17

Massenbach-Letter. News – Glaubenswechsel als „Nagelprobe der Religionsfreiheit“ (Deutsche Bischofskonferenz / Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland) –

  • GPF: The World in 2018. The dysfunction that will characterize the year has a decade’s worth of momentum behind it.
  • President Donald J. Trump Announces New National Security Strategy for a New Era
  • Putin’s Plan for Syria – How Russia Wants to End the War – byDmitri Trenin
  • RAND: U.S. Strategic Interests in the Middle East and Implications for the Army
  • Austrian National Defence Academy: Between Fact and Fakery­_ Information and Instability in the South Caucasus and Beyond”

From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • Will Donbass Live to See the UN Peacekeepers?- Where is a Compromise to be Found?
  • Yemen after Saleh’s Death: Moscow on Standby
  • War of Interests for Peace in Syria – Iran’s Expectations of Syria’s Future
  • Caucasian News

Massenbach* Foreign Affairs Carnegie Mscow: Putin’s Plan for Syria – How Russia Wants to End the War

byDmitri Trenin

After nearly seven years, the Syrian civil war is finally winding down, and the Middle East’s various powers are looking ahead to what comes next. On November 22, the leaders of Iran, Russia, and Turkey met in the Russian resort town of Sochi to discuss Syria’s future, and on November 28, the latest round of UN-sponsored talks between representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition began in Geneva. Another round of talks in Sochi is planned for early next year.

Through military intervention and diplomatic maneuvering, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made his country into one of the major players in the Syrian conflict. Russia went into Syria in September 2015 to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) and to block an attempt at regime change by outside powers such as the United States and Saudi Arabia. More than two years later, Moscow’s military engagement has paid off. Assad’s regime has survived and ISIS has been defeated. The war is still not over, but the focus is increasingly on a future political settlement. Russia will not be able to impose this settlement alone, or even together with its allies, Iran and Turkey. But it will be as involved in the Syrian peace as it was involved in the Syrian war.


Among the issues now at play in Syria, the fate of Assad stands out. During the war, Moscow saw him as someone to be bailed out for the sake of preventing chaos. Now he looks and behaves like a victor, and may be thinking that he does not need the Russians as much as he used to.

Assad looks down on the opposition and wants his Baath Party to become dominant again. The Kremlin, however, understands that restoring his control over all of Syria is impossible and even undesirable, since other groups, from the Sunni opposition to the Kurds, adamantly reject this outcome. Assad may stay in power in Damascus, but the country’s political landscape has changed irreversibly. Still, Moscow has to deal with a recalcitrant Assad while taking account of the influence exerted by its other ally, Tehran.

Even without formal federalization, Syria is de facto divided into several enclaves controlled by different forces: the Assad government; anti-Assad opposition groups; pro-Turkish and pro-Iranian militias; and the Kurds. Russia has worked with many players, both on the ground in Syria and across the region, to create several de-escalation zones, where fighting has stopped and the opposition has been allowed to remain in control. Through its efforts in Astana, Geneva, and Sochi, Moscow has sought to build common ground between all of the country’s contending factions, paving the way for some form of a coalition government. Assad is reluctant to agree to genuine power sharing, and Iran has its own reservations. Thus Moscow will have to do a lot of persuading and occasionally pressuring to achieve its preferred outcome. The Russians believe, however, that a communal power-sharing arrangement akin to Lebanon’s could be a recipe for stability. 2017.

Russia insists on the territorial unity of Syria. Moscow takes a similar attitude toward Iraq, where it recently refused to support independence for Iraqi Kurdistan. In Syria as in Iraq, however, Russia favors real autonomy for the Kurds. Over many decades, Moscow has had a long-standing relationship with the Kurdish groups in the Middle East, sometimes assisting them politically and militarily. Russia is used to balancing its relations with the Kurds and with their Arab, Turkish, and Iranian neighbors, and is itself home to a small Kurdish diaspora that facilitates Russian-Kurdish contacts and lobbies for Kurdish interests. In the end, however, it is Russia’s national interest in maintaining contacts with all the relevant players that will win out.

Russia, of course, is not the only outside power in Syria. Even as Moscow supported the Assad regime with its air power, Iran and its allied militias were fighting on the ground. After the war, Tehran wants to institutionalize its presence on the ground in Syria, both to influence the future of that country and to maintain a physical link to its main regional ally, Hezbollah.

Russia understands Iran’s interests without sharing them, but it also understands Israel’s, and it seeks to strike a balance between the two. Moscow empathizes with Israel’s security concerns about the presence of armed Shiite groups too close to its border, and hopes to use the Russian diaspora in Israel for economic, financial, and technological benefit. But it cannot ignore Iran, a regional power and a neighbor that also offers opportunities in a number of areas, from arms sales to nuclear energy. Thus in Syria Russia will seek to broker a compromise between Iran and Israel based on the legitimate interests of each. Iranian Shiite allies might stay in Syria, but they will have to keep their distance from Israel.

Russia’s interaction with the United States in Syria is largely focused on military deconfliction, which is aimed at preventing incidents between the two countries’ armed forces. Moscow and Washington have also cooperated on the establishment of de-escalation zones, but the Kremlin’s diplomatic coordination with the United States is much less intense under the administration of President Donald Trump than under his predecessor, Barack Obama. In 2015 and 2016, the Russians still entertained the thought of jointly developing and implementing a diplomatic solution with the Americans. But today, thanks to waning interest in and a lack of engagement from Washington, Moscow has teamed up with the Turks and the Iranians instead.


Russia realizes that with the war waning and reconstruction looming, others will begin to step forward in Syria, including China, Europe, and Japan. Moscow will seek to partner with them to secure a piece of the lucrative reconstruction effort, which will be financed by international donors. Russia’s main asset is its influence in Damascus, where it remains the prime guarantor of the Assad regime’s security. This influence may wane over time as direct threats to Assad become less relevant. But for now, with the situation in Syria likely to remain precarious for years, Russia is set to be a major player in the country for the foreseeable future.

Moscow, moreover, means to secure its own core interests in Syria, whatever the balance of political power in the country. Among these is a permanent air and naval presence in the country. Under the lease agreements signed in 2015 and 2016 with Damascus, both the Khmeimim air force base and the Tartus naval facility, which is being upgraded to a regular naval base, will stay in place for decades after the end of the war. The Syrian armed forces will continue to rely on Russian weapons and equipment, and Russian military specialists will continue to advise and train their Syrian colleagues. This will seal Syria’s role as Russia’s main geopolitical and military foothold in the Middle East.

Bringing peace to Syria will be no less difficult than winning a war there. Russia faces another uphill task, one where its assets are less compelling, and where its competitors have more resources, and its situational allies—in Damascus, Tehran, and Ankara—will seek to promote their own agendas, which are sometimes at odds with Moscow’s. Succeeding on the diplomatic front will be even harder than winning on the battlefield.


From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • Will Donbass Live to See the UN Peacekeepers?- Where is a Compromise to be Found?
  • Yemen after Saleh’s Death: Moscow on Standby
  • War of Interests for Peace in Syria – Iran’s Expectations of Syria’s Future
  • Caucasian News


Research Management and Cooperation

Austrian National Defence Academy

Policy Recommendations to the 16th workshop of the PfP Consortium Study Group "Regional Stability in the South Caucasus" (RSSC) which was convened in Reichenau/Rax, Austria from 9 to 12 November 2017 under the title

”Between Fact and Fakery: Information and Instability in the South Caucasus and Beyond”. (attached)

The recommendations were prepared by Frederic Labarre and George Niculescu, RSSC co-chairs, with input from the Study Group members.

For your convenience, please find the main results and recommendations in the Executive Summary on the first page.

Kindly feel free to forward these Policy Recommendations to all interested parties.

In addition to the policy recommendations, we will prepare a comprehensive edition of the individual contributions to the workshop in the Study Group Information series published by the Austrian National Defence Academy. You can find all RSSC publications under

Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Glaubenswechsel als „Nagelprobe der Religionsfreiheit“

Deutsche Bischofskonferenz und Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland veröffentlichen „Ökumenischen Bericht zur Religionsfreiheit von Christen weltweit“

Das Menschenrecht auf Religionsfreiheit steht nach wie vor weltweit unter Druck. Christen sind davon besonders betroffen. Darauf haben heute (15. Dezember 2017) in Berlin die Auslandsbischöfin der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland (EKD), Petra Bosse-Huber, und der Vorsitzende der Kommission Weltkirche der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz, Erzbischof Dr. Ludwig Schick (Bamberg), aufmerksam gemacht. Beide Kirchen haben zum zweiten Mal gemeinsam einen „Ökumenischen Bericht zur Religionsfreiheit von Christen weltweit“ veröffentlicht.

Der Bericht gibt einen Überblick zur globalen Lage des Menschenrechts auf Religionsfreiheit und zeigt, in welchem Maße und auf welche Weise die religiöse Freiheit von Christen in vielen Ländern und Regionen missachtet oder eingeschränkt wird. „Viele leben in Bedrängung und müssen Diskriminierung erfahren. Ihnen, unseren Schwestern und Brüdern im Glauben, gilt die besondere Solidarität der Kirchen in Deutschland. Und ich möchte gleich hinzufügen: Dieses Engagement schließt immer den Einsatz für alle Menschen ein, die um ihres Glaubens willen verfolgt werden. Unser Einsatz für die Christen ist exemplarisch, aber nicht exklusiv“, erklärte Erzbischof Schick. „Menschen müssen praktizieren können und öffentlich zeigen und bekennen dürfen, woran sie glauben und was ihnen heilig ist“, so Bischöfin Petra Bosse-Huber. „In unseren säkularisierten westlichen Gesellschaften können wir uns oft kaum vorstellen, was es bedeutet, wenn Menschen daran gehindert werden, einen Gottesdienst zu besuchen oder mit anderen die Bibel lesen und verstehen zu wollen. Aber genau das ist in anderen Teilen der Welt oft bitterer Alltag von Christen.”

Dem Ökumenischen Bericht zufolge ist die Situation von Christen im Nahen Osten nach wie vor besonders bedrängend. Aufgrund langfristiger Trends und der Auswirkungen der Terrorherrschaft des sogenannten Islamischen Staates droht in einigen Ländern ein Ende der christlichen Präsenz. Auch in Teilen Subsahara-Afrikas, etwa im Norden Nigerias, werden Christen Opfer islamistischer Gewalttäter. Daneben stehen autoritär regierte Länder (z. B. China, Vietnam und Nachfolgestaaten der Sowjetunion), die religiöse Aktivitäten der staatlichen Herrschaft unterstellen wollen und sie deshalb engmaschig überwachen und einschränken. In den zurückliegenden Jahren hat darüber hinaus Repression gegen bestimmte Religionen zur Förderung eines traditionellen religiös-kulturellen Erbes an Bedeutung gewonnen; Myanmar und Indien werden in dem Bericht als Beispiele für diesen „kulturalistischen“ Trend angeführt. Der Ökumenische Bericht richtet die Aufmerksamkeit aber auch auf Europa, wo religiöse Zeichen und Bekenntnisse zunehmend aus dem öffentlichen Bereich (z. B. aus Schulen) verbannt werden.

Schwerpunktthema des von den Kirchen vorgelegten Berichts ist das Recht, den Glauben zu wechseln und einen neuen Glauben anzunehmen. Nach den internationalen Menschenrechtskonventionen handelt es sich dabei um einen integralen Bestandteil der Religionsfreiheit. Der Ökumenische Bericht spricht von einer „Nagelprobe der Religionsfreiheit“. Bischöfin Bosse-Huber betonte die Bedeutung, die diesem Thema beizumessen ist: „In manchen islamisch/islamistisch geprägten Ländern ist jeglicher Glaubenswechsel verboten. Wenn also jemand vom Muslim zum Christ wird, dann kann dies lebensgefährlich werden.“ So könnten sich etwa im Iran Menschen dann nur im Verborgenen zur Kirche bekennen und seien dennoch in höchstem Maße gefährdet. Autor des inhaltlichen Schwerpunkts im Bericht ist Prof. Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Professor für Menschenrechte und Menschenrechtspolitik an der Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg und ehemaliger UN-Sonderberichterstatter für Religions- und Glaubensfreiheit.

Dem Ökumenischen Bericht liegt die Auswertung einer Vielzahl wissenschaftlicher Veröffentlichungen zugrunde. Auf quantitative Einordnungen wird aus methodischen Gründen weitgehend verzichtet. „Für genaue Angaben über die Zahl der weltweit verfolgten Christen ist ein weitaus komplexeres wissenschaftliches Instrumentarium notwendig, als es bislang vorgelegt wurde. Unser ‚Ökumenischer Bericht zur Religionsfreiheit von Christen weltweit‘ legt den Schwerpunkt auf die Erforschung der Ursachen von Bedrängnis und Verfolgung von Christen“, so Erzbischof Schick. Es werden „Strukturen und Kontexte der Verletzung des Menschenrechts auf Religionsfreiheit aufgezeigt, damit kirchliches und politisches Handeln die Lage der Betroffenen verbessern kann“, ergänzte Bischöfin Bosse-Huber.

Die Veröffentlichung des Ökumenischen Berichts ist Teil der breit angelegten Bemühungen beiden großen Kirchen in Deutschland, auf die Situation bedrängter Christen aufmerksam zu machen und die Betroffenen zu unterstützen. Die jährlichen Fürbitten der evangelischen Kirche am zweiten Sonntag der Passionszeit (Reminiszere) sowie der katholische Gebetstag für verfolgte und bedrängte Christen am 26. Dezember (Stephanustag) stellen wichtige Aktivitäten in den Ortsgemeinden dar. Daneben halten die Kirchen regelmäßig die Öffentlichkeit informiert, setzen sich durch direkte Interventionen bei Botschaftern und Regierungen für die notleidenden Glaubensgeschwister ein, unterstützen die unter Druck stehenden Kirchen materiell und suchen das Gespräch mit politisch Verantwortlichen in Deutschland und Europa.


Die Statements von Bischöfin Bosse-Huber und Erzbischof Schick sind als pdf-Dateien im Anhang sowie unter verfügbar.

Der „Ökumenische Bericht zur Religionsfreiheit von Christen weltweit“ kann unter in der Rubrik „Veröffentlichungen“ bestellt oder als pdf-Datei heruntergeladen werden.


Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* RAND: U.S. Strategic Interests in the Middle East and Implications for the Army

Regional instability and conflict have often frustrated U.S. leaders‘ aspirations to pivot away from the burdens of military operations in the Middle East in order to shift resources to other parts of the world. As the U.S. Army looks across the Middle East and North Africa in 2018, it can anticipate and should be prepared for its current involvement there to extend into the future.

There is little prospect that American military actions can resolve fundamental problems in the Middle East beyond the destruction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL’s) would-be caliphate. However, regional conflicts, plotting by ISIL and al-Qa’ida from safe havens, or U.S. partners embroiling themselves in military operations that turn out to imperil their own security could cause the U.S. president to consider options for intervention. Therefore, it will be crucial for Army leaders to be able to play a leadership role in future deliberations about the role of U.S. military power in the region, and the Army will need to prepare and posture its forces so as to be able to deal with such contingencies when necessary.

This perspective examines threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East and factors associated with success and failure in U.S. military interventions, and offers recommendations for the Army as it prepares for future involvement in the region.


*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

– The World in 2018 –

  • The dysfunction that will characterize the year has a decade’s worth of momentum behind it. –

It’s difficult to ignore how dramatically the world has changed since 2008, when the global financial crisis shook the foundations on which the international order was built. The systems that had been in place for a generation have since begun to slowly fall apart. And though they have not yet crumbled entirely, the possibility that they will has forced many countries to imagine a world without them. Some have done so more eagerly than others.

It is little surprise, then, that the past 10 years have been marked by systemic dysfunction, massive shifts in trade processes and radical internal political changes. Change, it seems, has been the one constant. This is the context in which we enter 2018. The dysfunction that will characterize the year has a decade’s worth of momentum behind it. But only in some areas will dysfunction lead to disruption.

One such area is the Middle East. For more than 15 years, Sunni insurgents have been fighting U.S. forces there, and the wars they’ve waged have been the defining trait of the region. That is no longer the case. Now that the Islamic State has been defeated in Iraq and Syria, at least as a “caliphate” with territorial integrity, traditional powers have begun to compete for the space the jihadists have since vacated. Best positioned to win this competition is Iran, which has already begun to change the balance of power in the region.

Europe, meanwhile, is still a mess, struggling as it is with meager economic growth and social unrest. Anti-European Union and anti-immigration parties continue to gain traction in spite of some significant defeats, most notably in France. As these political battles rage on, more important cultural differences will continue to pry nations away from the EU. Poland, in particular, will force policymakers in Brussels to decide what to do with an elected government that chooses not to adhere to EU ideology. Poland and others like it will resist whatever the EU tries to do to bring them to heel.

In China, the appointment of a de facto dictator does not so much solve the country’s problems as it does confirm the threat of their existence. Beijing knows that it needs to fix its financial system, but doing so requires structural reform that will inevitably hurt the economy. Whatever the government does will test the perceived infallibility of President Xi Jinping. Central to its efforts in 2018 will be the One Belt, One Road initiative, which is meant to spur growth, create jobs and bring a semblance of prosperity to the interior as Beijing expands its influence all the way to Europe. (We doubt it will succeed in this regard.) China will continue to creep into the waters to the east, even as it figures out just what to do about North Korea.

In 2017, Russia managed to stave off domestic unrest, thanks in part to some creative fundraising to offset the losses incurred due to low energy prices. In 2018, it will use its strategic reserves to buy even more time – time it desperately needs to try to diversify its economy. It won’t be enough, though, since these kinds of changes take a generation. That won’t stop Russia from acting tough abroad, engaging in activities that are ultimately peripheral to its interests, to inflate its power in the eyes of its people. And it won’t be enough to solve Russia’s economic problems.

These and other trends are detailed in our 2018 annual forecast. Thorough as it is, the document itself might be too large for many of our subscribers’ inboxes. We have attached a PDF of the forecast for your convenience. If you would prefer to read it on our site, you can do so here. ( or attachment)


President Donald J. Trump Announces New National Security Strategy for a New Era

Less than a year after taking office, President Donald J. Trump has unveiled a new National Security Strategy that sets a positive strategic direction for the United States that will restore America’s advantages in the world and build upon our country’s great strengths.

First and foremost, the National Security Strategy is a reflection of the President’s belief that putting America first is the duty of our government and the foundation for effective U.S. leadership in the world. It builds on the eleven months of Presidential action thus far to renew confidence in America both at home and abroad. The National Security Strategy identifies how the United States will protect its four vital national interests – the “four pillars” of the strategy: Protect the Homeland; Promote American Prosperity; Preserve Peace Through Strength; Advance American Influence. Summary and full text.

Remarksby President Trump on the Administration’s National Security Strategy
December 18, 2017

President Trump’s National Security Strategy
Press Statementby Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State
December 18, 2017



see our letter on:

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



12-15-17 Geopolitical Futures (GPF)_Forecast_The World in 2018.pdf

12-13-17 Dmitri_Trenin_Putin’s Plan for Syria _ Foreign Affairs.pdf

12-2017 U.S. Strategic Interests in the Middle East and Implications for the Army_RAND_PE265.pdf

12-2017 Between Fact and Fakery_ Information and Instability in the South Caucasus and Beyond_PfP_Policy_Paper_16RSSC_2017 Reichenau_Web.pdf

12-19-17 Ukraine_Donbass-Yemen-Syria-Caucasian News.pdf

12-18-2017 US_National_Security-Strategy-NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905-2.pdf