Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

US asks Russia not to target Al-Qaeda branch in Syria – Russian FM Lavrov

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Washington has asked Moscow not to conduct airstrikes against al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, for fear that members of the “moderate opposition” could also be hit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reported.

“They [the US] are telling us not to hit it [al-Nusra Front], because there are also ‘normal’ opposition groups [on those territories],” Lavrov said in an interview with local Russian media that was published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website.

The minister also stressed that “such opposition groups should leave terrorist positions,” adding that “we have long agreed on that.” Russia first set a deadline for the “moderate” opposition to leave territories occupied by al-Nusra Front extremists, but then agreed to give them more time to withdraw.

In the interview, Lavrov said that Russia believes that taking specific and more effective measures to fight the Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) and al-Nusra Front terrorist groups should be the top priority for Russia and the US if the Syrian crisis is to be resolved.

“It is important to provide humanitarian access to the settlements blocked by one side or another, to secure the ceasefire and to prevent its violation, as well as to launch the political process… but, as important as these goals are, terrorism is our common threat, and there should be no doubt about that,” he said, adding that, in the meantime, al-Nusra Front has been attempting to merge with other armed opposition groups.

Lavrov also said that the political process in Syria is being held back by radical opposition groups that refuse to come to the negotiating table and set preconditions for peace talks. He added that it is important to set aside these demands and focus on the fight against terrorism.

The minister also emphasized that Russia and the US are involved in a close and intensive dialog on Syria that includes regular telephone calls between Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, and a video-conference channel set up between the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria located at the Khmeimim airbase in Latakia and the US base in the Jordanian capital of Amman, as well as a joint US-Russian center in Geneva.

Lavrov had held a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the initiative of the US side earlier the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement

The two ministers discussed “the fight against ISIS and the need to urgently distance the moderate opposition from the Jabhat al-Nusra group, as well as efforts to cut off the flow of weapons and militants coming from abroad to beef up terrorist organizations,” the statement said.

In the meantime, Kerry, who is in Paris, told journalists that he had discussed the upsurge in violence in Syria during the phone call with Lavrov, explaining that the two had worked specifically on “ways to try to strengthen the enforcement and accountability for this cessation,” AP reported.

In the meantime, the US State Department said that Washington has asked Russia to be “more careful” in targeting its airstrikes against al-Nusra Front, as hitting civilians or opposition groups while attacking the jihadists could eventually give more support to the terrorist groups.

“[The US State] Secretary conveyed to Russia and the Assad regime that they need to carefully distinguish between these terrorist groups operating on the ground and those parties to the cessation of hostilities,” US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said during a briefing on Friday, adding that the US agrees that IS and al-Nusra Front “pose a real threat to the security on the ground in Syria.”

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US launches airstrikes on ISIS from Mediterranean, for 1st time since Iraq War

The USS Harry Truman has begun hitting Islamic State’s targets from the Mediterranean Sea. It was the first time a carrier group has launched airstrikes from the area since the 2003 invasion in Iraq.

Fighter jets conducted combat sorties from the aircraft carrier in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on Friday after transiting the Suez Canal the day before, US Naval Forces Europe-Africa said in a statement.

“While the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is in the 6th Fleet area of operations, they continue to project power ashore against terrorists and violent extremists,” Vice Admiral James Foggo III, commander of US 6th Fleet, said in a statement.

This exemplifies our Navy’s mobility, flexibility and adaptability, as well as our commitment to execute a full range of military operations in concert with our indispensable European allies and partners.”

Friday’s airstrikes mark the first time an American carrier has hit targets on the ground from the Mediterranean since 2003, when the USS Truman was deployed in the region during the US invasion in Iraq.

The five-ship USS Truman strike group is returning from an eight-month deployment in the Persian Gulf. However, the Pentagon extended the deployment of Carrier Air Wing 7 for one more month to reduce a gap with its replacement, the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Earlier in the day, the USS Eisenhower headed to the region with around 7,000 service members on board.

“The Dwight David Eisenhower Strike Group deploys to relieve the Harry S. Truman Strike Group and will be supporting air strikes against ISIS, answering the nation’s call and stepping up the fight,” said Admiral Phil Davidson, head of Fleet Forces Command, according to Navy Times.

The aircraft carrier nicknamed “Ike” was supposed to have set sail back in November, but its departure was delayed, and the USS Truman headed out in its place. The “Ike” was undergoing repair work, which took almost two years to complete.

 

Chomsky: Obama ‘Dangerously Escalating Tensions Along the Russian Border’

In a new interview, linguist Noam Chomsky warns that US President Barack Obama’s military buildup in Eastern Europe is threatening to destabilize the region.

“He has been more reluctant to engage troops on the ground than some of his predecessors and advisers, and instead has rapidly escalated special operations and his global assassination (drone campaign), a moral disaster and arguably illegal as well,” Chomsky said during a recent interview with Truthout, referring to Obama’s foreign policy.

“On other fronts, it is a mixed story,” he adds. “Obama has continued to bar a nuclear weapons-free (technically, WMD-free) zone in the Middle East, evidently motivated by the need to protect Israeli nuclear weapons from scrutiny.”

“By so doing, he is endangering the Nonproliferation Treaty, the most important disarmament treaty, which is contingent on establishing such a zone.”

But the biggest problem may be Washington’s actions in Eastern Europe.

“He is dangerously escalating tensions along the Russian border, extending earlier policies,” Chomsky said.

The United States has spearheaded NATO’s gradual buildup in Poland and the Baltic states, citing “Russian aggression.” Upcoming military drills have been criticized by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov.

“We are convinced that these exercises carry a serious destabilizing component,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Their main goal is to continue the aggravation of tensions along the Russian borders.”

Obama’s policy on nuclear weapons is also worrying to Chomsky.

“His trillion-dollar program for modernizing the nuclear weapons system is the opposite of what should be done,” he said.

While treaties forbid the United States from expanding its nuclear arsenal, the upgrades include improved targeting systems, as well as adjustable yields, which could, in theory, make the weapons easier to use.

“These and other moves amount to a mixed story, ranging from criminal to moderate improvement,” Chomsky said.

While a new President will take office after the November elections, the philosopher doesn’t have much hope that things will change.

“Financialization has of course exploded during the neoliberal period, and the general policies, pretty much global in character, are designed to enhance private and corporate power,” he said. “That sets off a vicious cycle in which concentration of wealth leads to concentration of political power, which in turn yields legislation and administrative practices that carry the process forward.”

Putin orders surprise Syria withdrawal – Beginning Tuesday

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In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to start withdrawing the “main part” of its forces in Syria from Tuesday.

He said the Russian intervention had largely achieved its objectives.

The comments come amid fresh peace talks in Geneva aimed at resolving the five-year Syrian conflict.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose office said in a statement he had agreed to the move.

The pullout was “in accordance with the situation on the ground”, the statement said.

Russia began its campaign of air strikes in Syria last September, tipping the balance in favour of the Syrian government and allowing it to recapture territory from rebels.

Intra-Syrian Talks in Geneva Likely to Continue Until March 19 – Source

An informed source at the talks told Sputnik that the current round of Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva will most likely last until Friday.

The current round of Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva will most likely last until Friday, March 19, an informed source at the talks told Sputnik on Sunday.

“Most likely, this round of Intra-Syrian talks won’t go beyond Friday, March 19, ” the source said.

A new round of talks between the Syrian opposition and the country’s government is scheduled to start on Monday, and is expected to be over by March 24.

 

Al-Moallem: De Mistura Can’t Talk about Syria Presidential Elections

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid al-Moallem said Saturday UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has no right to talk about Syrian presidential elections, noting that the Syrian Arab Republic delegation will not wait in Geneva forever for other parties to decide to show up.

During a press conference, al-Moallem said the Syrian Arab Republic delegation received a letter from de Mistura  scheduling Monday as a date for meeting at the UN HQ in Geneva within the Syrian-Syrian dialogue.

“Meeting with our delegation at first is a good thing,” he said, adding however that the Republic’s delegation “will not repeat the same mistake that happened in the previous round. They are going to wait for 24 hours only.”

“We are looking forward to having dialogue with the broadest spectrum of opposition groups in implementation of de Mistura’s mandate by the UN Security Council and the Vienna and Munich communiqués, particularly the national opposition…that is not linked to any foreign agendas,” al-Moallem added.

He commented on the UN Envoy’s recent statements setting up a schedule for Geneva talks which he said will discuss the regime, the constitution and the parliamentary and presidential elections, saying de Mistura doesn’t have the right to set a schedule, which is something up to the dialogue parties.

He went on saying that de Mistura must be aware, when he talks about the constitution, that it is the national unity government, the subject of discussion in the future, that will appoint a committee to draft a new constitution or amend the standing one, stressing that any outcome will be subject to referendum for approval.

Regarding the presidential elections, al-Moallem stressed that neither de Mistura nor anyone else whomsoever can discuss this issue as it is “an exclusive right of the Syrian people,” dismissing what the envoy said as “a deviation from all the UN documents.”

“We will no longer accept that [de Mistura] gives up objectivity to please this or that party, and our delegation will reject any attempt to put this issue on the schedule,” he added.

As for the upcoming parliamentary elections, al-Moallem said fulfilling the elections is part of the constitution, stressing that this issue should be respected where no reservations can be accepted by anyone, calling for a high turnout of Syrian voters.

Al-Moallem stressed that Syria is committed to the cessation of hostilities agreement, noting that there have been breaches of the agreement by the armed groups that were responded to by the army sometimes and overlooked in other times.

“We affirm out armed forces’ right to respond to breaches,” he added.

He used this opportunity to urge those who have taken up weapons to utilize the agreement of the cessation of hostilities and engage in reconciliations.

The crisis, he affirmed, is coming to an end, and we hereby welcome all those who want to join our armed forces in the fight against ISIL, al-Nusra Front and the terrorist organizations linked to them,” added al-Moallem.

In his comments on the talk about foreign ground intervention in Syria that came up in the past period, al-Moallem reaffirmed that “No one dares to intervene in Syria in a ground war, and that this talk has receded, noting that US President Barack Obama’s recent speech proved that he is not going to such a war.

“I say with confidence that our people will reject any attempts at dividing [the country],” he said.

Al-Moallem referred to the recent statements about a federal model in Syria made by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as circulated by the media, clarifying that the statements were not quoted objectively because Ryabkov made it contingent on the Syrians’ approval.

“I say as a Syrian citizen, and I’m sure you are with me, that we reject the talk about federalism and we are with the unity of Syria,” he added.

The Foreign Minister reiterated in comments on statements by the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that the latter is always repeating his talk at all occasions and what he said “was worthless”. “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” al-Moallem said.

He asserted that the Syrian people are optimistic about the talks in Geneva, adding however that while the Syrian Arab Republic’s delegation is going to Geneva with the intention to made the dialogue a success, this issue depends also on the other parties as well.

“If those have illusions of taking over power through Geneva after they failed in the battlefield, they will fail once again,” he added.

He made it clear that nowhere in the UN documents there is something that talks about a transition period of presidency, “which is why there should be agreement on the definition of transition period.”

“As far as we understand it, transition is to move from a standing constitution to a new one and from a standing government to another that involves the other party,” he said.

Al-Moallem went on saying that the standing constitution will remain in place until holding a referendum by the Syrian people on a new or an amended one, reiterating again that there is no link between the legislative elections and what is going on in Geneva.

“We are going to Geneva and we do not know with whom we will have dialogue,” he said, reiterating that the Republic’s delegation will wait only 24 hours for the other parties to show up and if the other parties don’t show up by that time, the delegation will leave Geneva and the other party will be held responsible for the failure of the talks.

Al-Moallem affirmed that the Republic’s delegation does not put preconditions for the dialogue in Geneva, adding that those who know Syria and the Syrian leadership well realize that “we do not bow to anyone, whether states or groups.”

“We will not have dialogue with any side that discusses the position of the president. This is a red line and it is up to the Syrians alone,” he reiterated.

Asked about the Kurds in Syria, al-Moallem affirmed that “Our brothers, the Kurds, are Syrian citizens, and they are with us in the same trench against ISIL.”

Baghdad promises revenge after ‘600 wounded,’ 3yo girl killed in ISIS chemical attacks on Iraq

A three-year-old girl has been killed and 600 more people injured after Islamic State militants reportedly carried out two chemical attacks in northern Iraq, local authorities say. The Iraqi government vows that the attackers will pay for the atrocity.

The attacks, which forced hundreds to flee for safety, took place in the city of Kirkuk and the village Taza, according to an AP report citing Iraqi officials.

“What the Daesh [Arabic derogatory term for IS] terrorist gangs did in the city of Taza will not go unpunished. The perpetrators will pay dearly,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.

Hundreds of wounded are now suffering from chemical burns, suffocation, and dehydration, according to Helmi Hamdi, a Taza-based nurse, who added that eight people had even had to be sent to Baghdad for treatment.

“There is fear and panic among the women and children. They’re calling for the central government to save them,” Adel Hussein, a local official in Taza, said.

Hussein confirmed that German and US forensics teams had arrived in the area to test for the presence of chemical agents.

Sameer Wais, father of three-year-old Fatima Wais, who was killed in the attack, fights for the local Shiite forces. After learning of the tragedy, he ran home and took his daughter to a clinic and then a hospital in Kirkuk.

The girl seemed better the next day, and the family took her home. However, things took a terrible turn in the evening.

“By midnight she started to get worse. Her face puffed up and her eyes bulged. Then she turned black and pieces of her skin started to come off,” Sameer said, as cited by AP.

The girl died early in the morning. Hundreds of people reportedly attended Fatima’s funeral, some showing their discontent with the government and calling on authorities to protect the population from IS attacks.

Fatima’s father said that he was returning to the frontline as soon as possible.

“Now I will fight Daesh more than before, for Fatima.”

Last month, US special forces reportedly detained the head of an IS unit that attempted to develop chemical weapons. The US-led coalition also reportedly began conducting airstrikes and raids on chemical weapons infrastructure two months ago.

The chemicals used by IS so far include chlorine and a low-grade sulfur mustard.

On Friday, when asked how big of a hazard such substances present, US Army Colonel Steve Warren told journalists, “It’s a legitimate threat. It’s not a high threat. We’re not, frankly, losing too much sleep over it.”

The latest attacks come just a few days since Taza was shelled with “poisonous substances,” after which dozens suffered from choking and skin irritation.

Iraq isn’t the only country that Islamic State has attacked with chemical weapons recently. Syrian Kurdish fighters came under a chemical attack by jihadists on Tuesday.

Last month, some 30 Kurdish militia members were injured in a mortar attack that supposedly involved shells armed with chlorine.

‘Dirty Bargain’: Turkey, EU Forge Deal With Syrian Blood on Their Hands

As the Turkish government continues its crackdown on the free press, columnist Kemal Okuyan speaks to Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear to expose how this relates to Ankara’s deal with the European Union to stem the flow of refugees.

“I have to say that this is a real dirty bargain,” Okuyan, a leading columnist with Turkish newspaper SoL, tells Loud & Clear host Brian Becker. “The refugee crisis, I think, is an outcome of the terrorist acts of NATO, Turkey, and other reactionary forces in the region.”

 https://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=7958257

According to Okuyan, Ankara is manipulating the crisis in order to achieve its own ends with the European Union.”This was on purpose, by the Turkish government,” he says. “And we know that Turkey encouraged people to go by boat through the sea to the Greek islands.

“Now they are using this to blackmail the European Union.”

As part of negotiations with the EU, Ankara wants over 3 billion euros, visa exceptions, Western ground forces in Syria, as well as the enforcement of a terrorist-free zone in neighboring Syria.

While Turkey may be taking advantage of a humanitarian crisis for its own gains, the European Union isn’t entirely innocent, either.

“The European Union is also one of the actors in the Syrian [conflict],” Okuyan says. “Especially Germany, France, Britain. They have their hands in Syria, so they are also responsible for this big human tragedy.”

While the Erdogan government may have sights on joining the EU, it could face problems due to its harsh press laws.

“Nearly three-fourths of the daily newspapers printed in Turkey are in the hands of Erdogan,” Okuyan says.

“There are a lot of journalists in prison in Turkey,” he adds. “There is also blackmailing, [where] you are not arrested, directly, but they say if you have another problem, then you will be put into prison.”

Still, as all sides use the refugee crisis for their own political gain, millions of people are suffering.

“In Turkey, the refugees are in terrible conditions,” Okuyan says. “When you see photos of people [who have] died when crossing to the Greek islands, these are not only accidents, they are killed on purpose for their money.

“They sabotage the boats.”

North Korea’s Kim says country has miniaturized nuclear warhead

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country has miniaturized nuclear warheads to be mounted on ballistic missiles and ordered improvements in the power and precision of its arsenal, its state media reported on Wednesday.

Kim has called for his military to be prepared to mount pre-emptive attacks against the United States and South Korea and stand ready to use nuclear weapons, stepping up belligerent rhetoric after coming under new U.N. and bilateral sanctions.

U.S. and South Korean troops began large-scale military drills this week, which the North calls “nuclear war moves” and threatened to respond with an all-out offensive.

Kim’s comments released on Wednesday were his first direct mention of the claim, previously made repeatedly in state media, to have successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to be mounted on a ballistic missile, which is widely questioned.

“The nuclear warheads have been standardized to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturizing them,” KCNA quoted him as saying as he inspected the work of nuclear workers, adding “this can be called true nuclear deterrent.”

“He stressed the importance of building ever more powerful, precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and their delivery means,” KCNA said.

Kim also inspected the nuclear warheads designed for thermo-nuclear reaction, KCNA said, referring to a hydrogen bomb that the country claimed to have tested in January.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 claiming to have set off a miniaturized hydrogen bomb, which was disputed by many experts and the governments of South Korea and the United States. The blast detected from the test was simply too small to back up the claim, experts said at the time.

The U.N. Security Council imposed harsh new sanctions on the isolated state last week for the nuclear test. It launched a long-range rocket in February drawing international criticism and sanctions from its rival, South Korea.

On Tuesday South Korea announced further measures aimed at isolating the North by blacklisting individuals and entities that it said were linked to Pyongyang’s weapons program.

China also stepped up pressure on the North by barring one of the 31 ships on its transport ministry’s blacklist.

But a U.N. panel set up to monitor sanctions under an earlier Security Council resolution adopted in 2009 said in a report released on Tuesday that it had “serious questions about the efficacy of the current United Nations sanctions regime.”

North Korea has been “effective in evading sanctions” by continuing to engage in banned trade, “facilitated by the low level of implementation of Security Council resolutions by Member States,” the Panel of Experts said.

“The reasons are diverse, but include lack of political will, inadequate enabling legislation, lack of understanding of the resolutions and low prioritization,” it said, referring to the incomplete enforcement of sanctions.

 

 

Full Speed Ahead! Russian Warship Sets Sail for Mediterranean Mission

The Russian guided missile destroyer Smetlivy has left the country’s southwestern port of Sevastopol for the Mediterranean Sea, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Smetlivy destroyer of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet has departed from the country’s southwestern port city of Sevastopol and is headed for the Mediterranean, where the warship will be on a mission.

According to the statement, the Smetlivy is due to join Russia’s naval force in the region on March 7.

Currently, more than 15 Russian warships and other vessels are carrying out security-related missions in the Mediterranean, including those pertaining to providing logistical support to a Russian Aerospace Forces unit in Syria as well as to the Syrian Army.

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Russian Navy’s Mediterranean task force, which includes warships from the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Northern and the Pacific Fleets, may be joined by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the summer of 2016.