Putin Accuses World Of “Using Terrorist Groups” To Destabilize Governments

Putin Accuses World Of “Using Terrorist Groups” To Destabilize Governments

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If you’ve followed the incessant back-and-forth between Washington and Moscow over the course of the proxy wars raging in Ukraine and Syria, you know that the Kremlin is without equal when it comes to describing US foreign policy in a way that is both succinct and accurate.

This was on full display earlier this year when Vladimir Putin’s Security Council released a document that carried the subtle title “About The US National Security Strategy.” We’ve also seen it on a number of occasions over the past several weeks in the wake of Russia’s stepped up military role in support of the Assad regime at Latakia. For instance, last week, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova delivered the following hilariously veracious assessment of how Washington has sought to characterize Moscow’s relationship with Damascus:

“First we were accused of providing arms to the so-called ‘bloody regime that was persecuting democratic activists, now it’s a new edition – we are supposedly harming the fight against terrorism. That is complete rubbish.” 

Yes, it probably is, but let’s not forget that Russia hasn’t exactly been forthcoming when it comes to acknowledging that, like Washington, Moscow’s interest in Syria is only related to terrorism to the extent that terrorism serves as a Western tool to destabilize the Assad regime which, you’re reminded, must remain in place if Putin intends to protect Gazprom’s iron grip over Europe’s supply of natural gas.

Of course what that suggests is that even as Russia uses ISIS as a smokescreen to justify sending troops to Syria, the Kremlin is by definition being more honest about its motives than The White House. That is, ISIS has destabilized Assad and because Russia has an interest in keeping the regime in power, Moscow actually does have a reason to eradicate Islamic State. The US, on the other hand, facilitated the destabilization of the country in the first place by playing a role in training and arming all manner of Syrian rebels, and to say that some of them might well have gone on to fight for ISIS would be a very generous assessment when it comes to describing the CIA’s involvement (a less generous assessment would be to call ISIS a “strategic CIA asset”). That means that the US will only really care about wiping out ISIS once Assad is gone and it’s time to install a puppet government that’s friendly to both Washington and Riyadh and at that point – assuming there are no other regimes in the area that the Pentagon feels like might need destabilizing – the US military will swiftly “liberate” Syria from the ISIS “scourge.”

To be sure, Russia is well aware of the game being played here and if there’s anything Vladimir Putin is not, it’s shy about calling the US out, which is precisely what he did on Tuesday at a security summit of ex-Soviet countries in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Bloomberg has more:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the fight against Islamic State should be the global community’s top priority in Syria, rather than changing the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

 

“It’s necessary to think about the political transition in that country” and Assad is willing to “involve healthy opposition forces in the administration of the state,” Putin said. “But the focus today is definitely on the need to combine forces in the fight against terrorism.”

 

Countries need to “put aside geopolitical ambitions” as well as “direct or indirect use of terrorist groups to achieve” goals that include regime change, in order to counter the threat of Islamic State, Putin said. “Elementary common sense responsibility for global and regional security demands the collective effort of the international community.”

The first thing to note there is that Putin has essentially called the US out for using terrorists to destabilize Assad. So for anyone just looking for the punchline, that was it. Everyone else, read on.

At this point what should be obvious is that Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Syria are anything but unclear. Russia is openly supplying the Assad regime with military aid in an effort to prevent terrorists and extremists (some of which were trained by the US and received aid from Qatar) from facilitating the strongman’s ouster. It’s that simple and frankly, the only two things Russia hasn’t made explicitly and publicly clear (because this is international diplomacy after all, which means everyone is always lying about something) are i) the role that natural gas plays in all of this, and ii) that the Kremlin will seek to prevent anyone from overthrowing Assad, so to the extent that there are any real, well-meaning “freedom fighters” in Syria, they’ll find themselves on the wrong end of Russian tank fire just the same as ISIS.

As clear as that is, the US must stick to the absurd notion that the Pentagon just can’t seem to get to the bottom of what Russia is doing and to the still more absurd idea that Russia – who seems to be the only outside party that’s actually interested in fighting ISIS as evidenced by the fact that there are Russian boots on the ground – is somehow hurting the very serious effort by the US and its allies to defeat Islamic radicals in Syria. Here’s Bloomberg again:

Russia’s intentions in Syria are unclear and it’s important for U.S. diplomats to understand them, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Tallinn, Estonia, on Tuesday. While Putin’s said it wants to prevent Islamic State’s expansion, “explaining the purpose and seeing how it actually evolves on the ground are two very different things and we will be working on that,” Dempsey said.

Right, “explaining” that your “purpose” is to take your very powerful military and defeat what amounts to a large militia that’s woefully under-armed and under-trained by comparison “and seeing how it actually evolves are two very different things.” If you buy that argument, then you are buying into the patently ridiculous idea that if the US and Russia were to bring their combined military might to bear on ISIS in Syria, that somehow the outcome of that battle would be in doubt.

The Pentagon knows that notion is silly, but what it also knows is that once American troops are on the ground, there’s no not routing the other militants while you’re there, so what would happen in relatively short order, is that the opposition would be all gone and then, well, what do you do with Assad?

The much more straightforward way to go about this (unless of course you have a 9/11 and a story about WMDs buried in the desert as a cover that makes an outright, unilateral invasion possible), is to allow for the entire country to descend into chaos until one or more rebel/extremist groups finally manages to take Damascus, at which point you simply walk in with the Marines and remove them, then install any government you see fit. In the meantime, you just fly over and bomb stuff (hopefully with a coalition that includes Europe) in order to ensure that the situation remains sufficiently unstable. But now this plan won’t work, because unless we see a replay of the Soviet-Afghan war, none of Syria’s rebel groups are going to be able to rout the Russian army which means the US is stuck doing exactly what it’s doing now: trying to explain why it won’t join Russia in a coalition to eradicate ISIS while working to figure out what’s next now that the Russians are officially on the ground.

We’ll close with the following from Alexander Golts, a military analyst and deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal who spoke to WSJ:

“The idea of this is…to show Russia as part of the alliance of civilized nations that are standing against barbarism. But that idea won’t have much of a chance, because the U.S. and the Saudis and others consider Assad the source of the problem.”

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INFLUENCING THE SARG IN THE END OF 2006—wiki

[The gist of the following cable (if real) is to use soft power to influence Syrian govt into doing the wrong thing, so as to increase national negative opinion.  Instead of humanitarian helping of Syrian govt to do the right thing for the Syrian people, this is US GOV instruction to find ways to abuse the Syrian people in ways which will be blamed on Assad.  It acknowledges and accepts the rise of the Islamist threat as part of the anti-Syrian package.]

INFLUENCING THE SARG IN THE END OF 2006

2006 December 13, 16:03 (Wednesday)
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1. (S) Summary. The SARG ends 2006 in a much stronger position domestically and internationally than it did 2005. While there may be additional bilateral or multilateral pressure that can impact Syria, the regime is based on a small clique that is largely immune to such pressure. However, Bashar Asad’s growing self-confidence )- and reliance on this small clique — could lead him to make mistakes and ill-judged policy decisions through trademark emotional reactions to challenges, providing us with new opportunities. For example, Bashar,s reaction to the prospect of Hariri tribunal and to publicity for Khaddam and the National Salvation Front borders on the irrational. Additionally, Bashar,s reported preoccupation with his image and how he is perceived internationally is a potential liability in his decision making process. We believe Bashar,s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as a the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising. These proposals will need to be fleshed out and converted into real actions and we need to be ready to move quickly to take advantage of such opportunities. Many of our suggestions underline using Public Diplomacy and more indirect means to send messages that influence the inner circle. End Summary. 2. (S) As the end of 2006 approaches, Bashar appears in some ways stronger than he has in two years. The country is economically stable (at least for the short term), internal opposition the regime faces is weak and intimidated, and regional issues seem to be going Syria,s way, from Damascus, perspective. Nonetheless, there are some long-standing vulnerabilities and looming issues that may provide opportunities to up the pressure on Bashar and his inner circle. Regime decision-making is limited to Bashar and an inner circle that often produces poorly thought-out tactical decisions and sometimes emotional approaches, such as Bashar,s universally derided August 15 speech. Some of these vulnerabilities, such as the regime,s near-irrational views on Lebanon, can be exploited to put pressure on the regime. Actions that cause Bashar to lose balance and increase his insecurity are in our interest because his inexperience and his regime,s extremely small decision-making circle make him prone to diplomatic stumbles that can weaken him domestically and regionally. While the consequences of his mistakes are hard to predict and the benefits may vary, if we are prepared to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities that may open up, we may directly impact regime behavior where it matters–Bashar and his inner circle. 3. (S) The following provides our summary of potential vulnerabilities and possible means to exploit them: — Vulnerability: — THE HARIRI INVESTIGATION AND THE TRIBUNAL: The Hariri investigation ) and the prospect of a Lebanon Tribunal — has provoked powerful SARG reactions, primarily because of the embarrassment the investigation causes. Rationally, the regime should calculate that it can deal with any summons of Syrian officials by refusing to turn any suspects over, or, in extreme cases by engineering “suicides.8 But it seems the real issue for Bashar is that Syria,s dignity and its international reputation are put in question. Fiercely-held sentiments that Syria should continue to exercise dominant control in Lebanon play into these sensitivities. We should seek to exploit this raw nerve, without waiting for formation of the tribunal. — Possible action: — PUBLICITY: Publicly highlighting the consequences of the ongoing investigation a la Mehlis causes Bashar personal DAMASCUS 00005399 002 OF 004 angst and may lead him to act irrationally. The regime has deep-seated fears about the international scrutiny that a tribunal — or Brammertz accusations even against lower-echelon figures — would prompt. The Mehlis accusations of October 2005 caused the most serious strains in Bashar’s inner circle. While the family got back together, these splits may lie just below the surface. — Vulnerability: — THE ALLIANCE WITH TEHRAN: Bashar is walking a fine line in his increasingly strong relations with Iran, seeking necessary support while not completely alienating Syria,s moderate Sunni Arab neighbors by being perceived as aiding Persian and fundamentalist Shia interests. Bashar’s decision to not attend the Talabani ) Ahmadinejad summit in Tehran following FM Moallem,s trip to Iraq can be seen as a manifestation of Bashar’s sensitivity to the Arab optic on his Iranian alliance. — Possible action: — PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue. — Vulnerability: — THE INNER CIRCLE: At the end of the day, the regime is dominated by the Asad family and to a lesser degree by Bashar Asad,s maternal family, the Makhlufs, with many family members believe to be increasingly corrupt. The family, and hangers on, as well as the larger Alawite sect, are not immune to feuds and anti-regime conspiracies, as was evident last year when intimates of various regime pillars (including the Makhloufs) approached us about post-Bashar possibilities. Corruption is a great divider and Bashar’s inner circle is subject to the usual feuds and squabbles related to graft and corruption. For example, it is generally known that Maher Asad is particularly corrupt and incorrigible. He has no scruples in his feuds with family members or others. There is also tremendous fear in the Alawite community about retribution if the Sunni majority ever regains power. — Possible Action: — ADDITIONAL DESIGNATIONS: Targeted sanctions against regime members and their intimates are generally welcomed by most elements of Syrian society. But the way designations are applied must exploit fissures and render the inner circle weaker rather than drive its members closer together. The designation of Shawkat caused him some personal irritation and was the subject of considerable discussion in the business community here. While the public reaction to corruption tends to be muted, continued reminders of corruption in the inner circle have resonance. We should look for ways to remind the public of our previous designations. — Vulnerability: — THE KHADDAM FACTOR: Khaddam knows where the regime skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has within Syria. Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with tremendous emotional interest. The regime reacts with self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any of its media outlets. — Possible Action: DAMASCUS 00005399 003 OF 004 — We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG,s dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors. Vulnerability: — DIVISIONS IN THE MILITARY-SECURITY SERVICES: Bashar constantly guards against challenges from those with ties inside the military and security services. He is also nervous about any loyalties senior officers (or former senior officers) feel toward disaffected former regime elements like Rif,at Asad and Khaddam. The inner circle focuses continuously on who gets what piece of the corruption action. Some moves by Bashar in narrowing the circle of those who benefit from high-level graft has increased those with ties to the security services who have axes to grind. — Possible Action: — ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING: The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rif,at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime,s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction. Vulnerability: — REFORM FORCES VERSUS BAATHISTS-OTHER CORRUPT ELITES: Bashar keeps unveiling a steady stream of initiatives on economic reform and it is certainly possible he believes this issue is his legacy to Syria. While limited and ineffectual, these steps have brought back Syrian expats to invest and have created at least the illusion of increasing openness. Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar,s reform efforts )- pointing, for example to the use of reform to disguise cronyism — would embarrass Bashar and undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy. Revealing Asad family/inner circle corruption would have a similar effect. — Possible Action: — HIGHLIGHTING FAILURES OF REFORM: Highlighting failures of reform, especially in the run-up to the 2007 Presidential elections, is a move that Bashar would find highly embarrassing and de-legitimizing. Comparing and contrasting puny Syrian reform efforts with the rest of the Middle East would also embarrass and irritate Bashar. — Vulnerability: — THE ECONOMY: Perpetually under-performing, the Syrian economy creates jobs for less than 50 percent of the country,s university graduates. Oil accounts for 70 percent of exports and 30 percent of government revenue, but production is in steady decline. By 2010 Syria is expected to become a net importer of oil. Few experts believe the SARG is capable of managing successfully the expected economic dislocations. — DISCOURAGE FDI, ESPECIALLY FROM THE GULF: Syria has enjoyed a considerable up-tick in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last two years that appears to be picking up steam. The most important new FDI is undoubtedly from the Gulf. — Vulnerability: — THE KURDS: The most organized and daring political opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria,s northeast, as well as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo. This group has been willing to protest violently in its home territory when others would dare not. There are few threats that loom larger in Bashar,s mind than unrest with the Kurds. In what DAMASCUS 00005399 004 OF 004 is a rare occurrence, our DATT was convoked by Syrian Military Intelligence in May of 2006 to protest what the Syrians believed were US efforts to provide military training and equipment to the Kurds in Syria. — Possible Action: — HIGHLIGHT KURDISH COMPLAINTS: Highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements, including publicizing human rights abuses will exacerbate regime,s concerns about the Kurdish population. Focus on economic hardship in Kurdish areas and the SARG,s long-standing refusal to offer citizenship to some 200,000 stateless Kurds. This issue would need to be handled carefully, since giving the wrong kind of prominence to Kurdish issues in Syria could be a liability for our efforts at uniting the opposition, given Syrian (mostly Arab) civil society,s skepticism of Kurdish objectives. — Vulnerability: — Extremist elements increasingly use Syria as a base, while the SARG has taken some actions against groups stating links to Al-Qaeda. With the killing of the al-Qaida leader on the border with Lebanon in early December and the increasing terrorist attacks inside Syria culminating in the September 12 attack against the US embassy, the SARG,s policies in Iraq and support for terrorists elsewhere as well can be seen to be coming home to roost. — Possible Actions: — Publicize presence of transiting (or externally focused) extremist groups in Syria, not limited to mention of Hamas and PIJ. Publicize Syrian efforts against extremist groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback. The SARG,s argument (usually used after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of terrorism should be used against it to give greater prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria. 4. (S) CONCLUSION: This analysis leaves out the anti-regime Syrian Islamists because it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the threat within Syria that such groups pose. They are certainly a long-term threat. While it alludes to the vulnerabilities that Syria faces because of its alliance with Iran, it does not elaborate fully on this topic. The bottom line is that Bashar is entering the new year in a stronger position than he has been in several years, but those strengths also carry with them — or sometimes mask ) vulnerabilities. If we are ready to capitalize, they will offer us opportunities to disrupt his decision-making, keep him off-balance, and make him pay a premium for his mistakes. ROEBUCK

CENTCOM General Spills the Beans On US Special Forces In Syria

Pentagon: No, We Don’t Actually Have U.S. Troops Fighting in Syria

ForeignPolicyLogo

Pentagon: No, We Don’t Actually Have U.S. Troops Fighting in Syria

It was a tough day on Capitol Hill for Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command. First, he was forced to admit that the $500 million Pentagon plan to train 5,400 Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State has lost all but five of its fighters over the last two months. Then his staff was compelled to issue a press release correcting comments that implied elite American troops were fighting in Syria.

During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin made it sound like Navy Seals and other American Special Operations forces were on the ground in northern Syria to fight the Islamic State alongside a Kurdish militia.

The comment came as Austin struggled to persuade skeptical lawmakers that the flailing effort to train the Syrians wasn’t the only game in town.

“What our special operations forces have done in northern Syria is they didn’t wait for the New Syrian Force program or train and equip program to fully develop,” Austin said, referring to the U.S.-trained Syrian rebels. “At the very onset, they began to engage elements like the [Kurdish] YPG and enable those elements, and they are making a difference on the battlefield.”

It was a dramatic moment in the hearing: the Obama administration has consistently said there would be no American boots on the ground in Syria, and now the top U.S. commander for the Mideast appeared to be saying that there were.

About three hours later, an email appeared in journalists’ inboxes, offering a “Clarification for the Record.”

Centcom said that Gen. Austin was actually referring to the “coordinating relationship” that U.S. Special Operators have with Syrian Kurdish forces. Translated from Pentagon-ese, that means there are some communications and planning links between the U.S. and the Kurds, but American forces aren’t on the ground planning missions or taking part in combat.

“Coordination and liaising by U.S. forces is conducted outside of Syria at the Coalition’s Joint Operation Center in northern Iraq,” the statement said. “There are no U.S. military forces on the ground in Syria, nor have we conducted any U.S. military training of indigenous Syrian forces in Syria.”

Earlier in the hearing, Austin listened as Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) ripped his assessment that the Islamic State’s “overall capability has been disrupted,” and the U.S. air campaign over the past 14 months has been “extraordinarily effective” against the jihadists. McCain also pounced on Austin’s comment that “there hadn’t been any dramatic gains on either side” in recent months, despite the cities of Ramadi and Palmyra falling to the Islamic State since the spring.

“I’ve never seen a hearing that is as divorced from the reality of every outside expert” studying the war, McCain said. In Austin’s defense, he was simply using the same language that his boss, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, used just last week, when he told reporters in Berlin that the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is “tactically stalemated,” with no “dramatic gains on either side.”

The Islamic State isn’t the only headache vexing Austin and his Centcom staff. A series of leaks from military intelligence analysts and those attached to Centcom from the Defense Intelligence Agency have charged that military leaders are distorting their work to make it look like the war is going better than it actually is. The Defense Department Inspector General has opened an investigation.

 

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

force West Asian nations to “stop deadly politics in the name of Islam”

rss_refugees

Refugee crisis: RSS hits out at ‘oil-rich’ Arab nations

siasat daily

New Delhi: Amid the ongoing refugee crisis, RSS mouthpiece ‘Organiser’ has called for building international opinion to force West Asian nations to “stop deadly politics in the name of Islam”.

It also hit out at Arab nations including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for refusing to help the refugees from strife-torn Syria despite having capacities and resources.

“…Not only Europe but even countries like Bharat (India) and China cannot afford to sit back and wait for the crisis to subside. The time is ripe to build international opinion and force West Asian countries to stop deadly politics in the name of Islam,” it said.

An editorial, “Refuge behind refugees”, in the RSS organ also said Indian “clerics issuing fatwa against the inhuman actions of IS is exemplary in this regard”.

Hitting out at the Arab countries, it said, “The worst culprits are the Arab countries. After financing terrorist groups in many countries, the oil rich West Asian countries have shamed the ‘Arab Conscience’ by refusing to take in any refugee.”

“…Why are some Muslim governments seemingly indifferent to the plight of refugees? They have all the capacities, resources and space but for them the cause espoused by IS is greater than the humanitarian concerns,” it said.

The organ said Saudi Arabia has openly declared that it will not allow any Syrian refugee into the kingdom, while Kuwaiti official argued that ‘they would not fit in’ with the Kuwaiti culture.

The ‘Organiser’ said European powers, who are planning refugee quotas and are now vouching for the humanitarian laws, cannot forget the fact that the situation in Syria or other West Asian countries is the outcome of their colonial legacy.

“They had redrawn the boundaries and created Assads and Saddams under the US leadership. Taliban and IS are their ‘liberal’ contributions to the world. Now when the humanitarian crisis is at the zenith, they cannot overlook the real menace that is barbarism of IS,” it said.

It said the Syrian conflict has created over four million refugees and two million more are expected to flee due to persecution in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

“There are reports that Islamic State (IS) militants are being smuggled in Europe in the guise of refugees. The IS operative claimed some 4,000 fighters were already waiting in Europe aiming to attack around the globe,” the RSS organ said.

Noting that more than 2,50,000 people have already died and many are being tortured, it said asylum to refugees can be a temporary solution but not a permanent one.

“Europe cannot hide behind the garb of refugees and neglect the real problem,” it said.