Australia suspende ataques aéreos en Siria por conflicto con Rusia

Australia decidió suspender hoy sus bombardeos aéreos en Siria después de que Rusia amenazara con considerar un posible objetivo a los aviones de la coalición liderada por Estados Unidos.

La advertencia de Moscú se produjo después de que la aviación estadounidense derribara un jet de combate sirio.

El Ministerio de Defensa australiano informó este martes (20.06.2017) que se trata de una medida temporal por precaución. En el vecino Irak se seguirán llevando a cabo las misiones.

Australia es uno de los socios más importantes de Estados Unidos en la lucha contra la milicia terrorista Estado Islámico (EI) en Siria e Irak y ha llevado a cabo numerosos bombardeos.

La coalición militar derribó el domingo un caza sirio del tipo Sukhoi Su-22 en combates en torno a Al Raqqa, el bastión del EI en el norte de Siria. El Pentágono aseguró que el bombardero había atacado previamente posiciones cerca de un grupo de combatientes kurdos de las Fuerzas Democráticas Sirias (SDF).

Tras el incidente Rusia endureció el tono frente a Estados Unidos y no descartó que fuese a atacar aviones y drones de la coalición. Moscú es el principal aliado del presidente sirio Bashar al Assad.

CP (dpa, efe)

En: DW 

Russia seeks to declare Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist group

https://youtu.be/YbAZ8owvD2Y

Russia’s justice ministry has filed a lawsuit with its supreme court to declare the national headquarters of the country’s Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization.

The legal filing is noted on the court’s website with no date given for legal action. The group’s administrative center in Russia is located about 25 miles northwest of St. Petersburg.

The press office for the Russian branch of the religion says on its website that such a declaration, if successful, would “entail disastrous consequences for freedom of religion in Russia” and directly affect about 175,000 followers at more than 2,000 congregations in the country.

“Extremism is deeply alien to the Bible-based beliefs and morality of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the statement said. “Persecution of the faithful for peaceful anti-extremism legislation is built on frank fraud, incompetent individual ‘experts’ and, as a result, a miscarriage of justice.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses first legally registered as a religious group in Russia in 1991 and re-registered in 1999, according to the organization’s international website.

For almost two decades, however, Russian prosecutors in various localities have periodically sought to outlaw or curb the group, charging it is a cult that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives.

In response to the latest pressure, Vasily Kalin, chairman of the religious group’s steering committee, said members simply want to “peacefully worship their God,” according to the press office.

“Unfortunately, after more than 100 years in power, Russia violates its own legislation that guarantees us that right,” he said. “In Stalin’s time, when I was a child, the whole family was deported to Siberia only because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a shame and sad that my children and grandchildren will be faced with something like that. ”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have come under growing pressure from Russian authorities in recent years, including a ban on distribution of church literature that authorities say violates anti-extremism laws.

In February, investigators inspected the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported. More than 70,000 pages of documents were confiscated for the General Prosecutor’s Office, according to Russia’s Sova Center of Information and Analysis, which monitors hate crimes and the enforcement of anti-extremist laws.

The religious group’s press service said its religious programs do not include banned materials and that officials have notified authorities whenever anyone brings such literature into their building.

In 2009, the Supreme Court of Russia upheld a lower court ruling that declared 34 pieces of Jehovah’s Witness literature as “extremist,” including their magazine The Watchtower in Russian.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been officially banned from the port city of Taganrog since 2009, after a local court ruled the organization guilty of inciting religious hatred by “propagating the exclusivity and supremacy” of their religion, according to the British newspaper The Independent.

In 2015, a court in Rostov convicted 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses of practicing extremism in Taganrog, handing out jail sentences — later suspended — of more than 5 years for five of the defendants and stiff fines for the others.

That same year, the supreme court of Russia banned the religion’s international website as “extremist.”

In: usatoday 

When Reagan met Putin in Red Square?

Image in: https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/files/2014/03/Reagan.jpg&w=1484
Image in: https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/files/2014/03/Reagan.jpg&w=1484

President Obama has been taking heat from Republicans for not being more confrontational with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Crimea. (Like we were in the previous decades when the commies invaded Hungary during Eisenhower and Czechoslovakia during Johnson and Georgia during Bush 2?)

Inevitably, a photo of President Ronald Reagan touring  Red Square with former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988  has resurfaced, showing Reagan greeting a Russian kid and with someone looking a lot like Vlad himself standing nearby.

Reagan (and now Obama) White House photographer Pete Souza, who took the photo, recalled in a  2012 interview on NPR  that “there were these differrent groups of quote- unquote tourists”  in Red Square who kept asking Reagan about “human rights in the United States.”

Souza said he asked a Secret Service agent how “how these tourists in the Soviet Union are asking these pointed questions.” The agent answered: ” Oh, these are all KGB families.”

Souza said he was told the “tourist”  with the camera was Putin, ” and it certainly does look like him.”

What do you think?

In: washingtonpost

Islamic State Declares Holy War Against Russia

The Islamic State (ISIL) has called on Muslims worldwide to launch jihad against Russian and US citizens.

Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani called on the Muslim youth worldwide to start a holy war against Russians and Americans, who, according to ISIL, are waging a “crusaders’ war” against Muslims, as cited by Reuters.

Russia and the United States are carrying out separate campaigns against the Islamic State. Moscow launched airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria on September 30, following a request from Syria’s President Bashar Assad. Since September 2014, a US-led coalition has been bombing ISIL positions in Syria without the approval of the UN Security Council or Syrian authorities.

Earlier, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told reporters that Islamic State fighters have lost a large part of their weapons and equipment since Russia has stepped up its airstrikes in Syria. This has forced the group to “set in motion the entire logistics network available to the terrorists in order to transport ammunition and fuel from the Raqqa province.”

In the past 24 hours, Russian aircraft carried out 88 sorties on 86 terrorist infrastructure positions in the Raqqa, Hama, Idlib, Latakia, and Aleppo regions in Syria.

Click in the image:

Islamic State in Details. In: sputniknews
Islamic State in Details. In: sputniknews

See: islamic state in details

In: sputniknews

Top China paper says U.S., Russia playing Cold War game in Syria

China’s top newspaper on Tuesday accused both the United States and Russia of replaying their Cold War rivalry by engaging in military action in Syria, saying they needed to realize that era is over and should instead push for peace talks.

Rebel fighters carry their weapons as they head toward their positions in the town of Kafr Nabudah, in Hama province, Syria, on which forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are carrying out offensives to take control of the town, October 11, 2015. REUTERS/AMMAR ABDULLAH
Rebel fighters carry their weapons as they head toward their positions in the town of Kafr Nabudah, in Hama province, Syria, on which forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are carrying out offensives to take control of the town, October 11, 2015. REUTERS/AMMAR ABDULLAH
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia's Defence Ministry October 9, 2015, shows a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber dropping a bomb in the air over Syria. REUTERS/MINISTRY OF DEFENCE OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia’s Defence Ministry October 9, 2015, shows a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber dropping a bomb in the air over Syria. REUTERS/MINISTRY OF DEFENCE OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

The People’s Daily, the official paper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary that the United States and Russia seemed to be using Syria as a proxy for diplomatic and military competition, as during the Cold War.

“The United States and the Soviet Union used all sorts of diplomatic, economic and military actions on the soil of third countries, playing tit-for-tat games to increase their influence – it’s an old scene from the Cold War,” the newspaper wrote in a commentary.

“But we’re in the 21st century now, and people need to get their heads around this!,” it added.

While China generally votes with fellow permanent United Nations Security Council member Russia on the Syria issue, it has expressed concern about interference in Syria’s internal affairs and repeatedly called for a political solution.

Russia last month began striking targets in Syria in a dramatic escalation of foreign involvement in the civil war. This has been criticized by the West as an attempt to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rather than its purported aim of attacking Islamic State.

The United States and its allies have also been carrying out air strikes in Syria against Islamic State, and have supported opposition groups fighting Assad.

The People’s Daily said nobody should stand by while Syria becomes a proxy war, and efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to the crisis should not slacken.

“The international community, especially large countries with much influence, must fully recognize the critical, urgent necessity to reach a political solution to the Syria issue,” it said.

The commentary was published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng”, meaning “Voice of China”, often used to give views on foreign policy.

China, a low-key diplomatic player in the Middle East despite its dependence on the region for its oil, has repeatedly warned that military action cannot end the crisis.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

In: reuters

Iran troops to join Syria war, Russia bombs group trained by CIA

https://youtu.be/9JOvD8yW1bQ

https://youtu.be/5RhyJ0cn1Os

BEIRUT/MOSCOW | BY LAILA BASSAM AND ANDREW OSBORN

Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a sign the civil war is turning still more regional and global in scope.

Russian warplanes, in a second day of strikes, bombed a camp run by rebels trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the group’s commander said, putting Moscow and Washington on opposing sides in a Middle East conflict for the first time since the Cold War.

Senior U.S. and Russian officials spoke for just over an hour by secure video conference on Thursday, focusing on ways to keep air crews safe, the Pentagon said, as the two militaries carry out parallel campaigns with competing objectives.

“We made crystal clear that, at a minimum, the priority here should be the safe operation of the air crews over Syria,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

Two Lebanese sources told Reuters hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria in the past 10 days with weapons to mount a major ground offensive. They would also be backed by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah allies and by Shi’ite militia fighters from Iraq, while Russia would provide air support.

“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria -soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” one of the sources said.

So far, direct Iranian military support for Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisers. Iran has also mobilized Shi’ite militia fighters, including Iraqis and some Afghans, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.

Moscow said it had hit Islamic State positions, but the areas it struck near the cities of Hama and Homs are mostly held by a rival insurgent alliance, which unlike Islamic State is supported by U.S. allies including Arab states and Turkey.

Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group that is part of the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters one of the targets was his group’s base in Idlib province, struck by about 20 missiles in two separate raids. His fighters had been trained by the CIA in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, part of a program Washington says is aimed at supporting groups that oppose both Islamic State and Assad.

“Russia is challenging everyone and saying there is no alternative to Bashar,” Haj Ali said. He said the Russian jets had been identified by members of his group who once served as Syrian air force pilots.

The group is one of at least three foreign-backed FSA rebel factions to say they had been hit by the Russians in the last two days.

At the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference Moscow was targeting Islamic State. He did not specifically deny that Russian planes had attacked Free Syrian Army facilities but said Russia did not view it as a terrorist group and viewed it as part of a political solution in Syria.

The aim is to help the Syrian armed forces “in their weak spots”, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook described Thursday’s military talks as “cordial and professional.” During the talks, Elissa Slotkin, an acting assistant U.S. secretary of defense, “noted U.S. concern that areas targeted by Russia so far were not ISIL strongholds.” Cook said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

The Pentagon said it would not share U.S. intelligence with Russia and suggested the talks included ideas to increase safety, such as agreeing on radio frequencies for distress calls and a common language for communications.

U.S. Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a frequent Obama critic, questioned the logic of talks on how to keep U.S. and Russian militaries apart, known in military parlance as “deconfliction.”

“Unfortunately, it appears ‘deconfliction’ is merely an Orwellian euphemism for this administration’s acceptance of Russia’s expanded role in Syria, and as a consequence, for Assad’s continued brutalization of the Syrian people,” McCain said.

SAME ENEMIES, DIFFERENT FRIENDS

Russia’s decision to join the war with air strikes on behalf of Assad, as well as the increased military involvement of Iran, could mark a turning point in a conflict that has drawn in most of the world’s military powers.

With the United States leading an alliance waging its own air war against Islamic State, the Cold War superpower foes, Washington and Moscow, are now engaged in combat over the same country for the first time since World War Two.

They say they have the same enemies – the Islamic State group of Sunni Muslim militants who have proclaimed a caliphate across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

But they also have different friends, and sharply opposing views of how to resolve the 4-year-old Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.

Washington and its allies oppose both Islamic State and Assad, believing he must leave power in any peace settlement.

Washington says a central part of its strategy is building “moderate” insurgents to fight Islamic State, although so far it has struggled to find many fighters to accept its training.

Moscow supports the Syrian president and believes his government should be the centerpiece of international efforts to fight the extremist groups.

It appears to be using the common campaign against Islamic State as a pretext to strike against groups supported by Washington and its allies, as a way of defending a Damascus government with which Moscow has been allied since the Cold War.

The Russian strikes represent a bold move by President Vladimir Putin to assert influence beyond his own neighborhood. It is the first time Moscow has ordered its forces into combat outside the frontiers of the former Soviet Union since its disastrous Afghanistan campaign in the 1980s.

The Russian and Iranian interventions in support of Assad come at a time when momentum in the conflict had swung against his government and seem aimed at reversing insurgent gains.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi of neighboring Iraq, where Washington is also leading an air war against Islamic State while Iran aids government forces on the ground, said he would be open to Russian strikes as well.

A Syrian military source said on Thursday that Russian military support would bring a “big change” in the course of the conflict, particularly through advanced surveillance capabilities that could pinpoint insurgent targets.

Putin’s gamble of going to war in Syria comes a year after he defied the West to annex Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, drawing U.S. and EU economic sanctions while igniting a wave of popular nationalist support at home.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Sylvia Westall and Tom Perry in Beirut, Andrew Osborn and Lidia Kelly in Moscow, and Yeganeh Torbati, Warren Strobel and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Giles Elgood, Howard Goller and Ken Wills)

In: reuters

What has Russia got invested in Syria?

Holly Ellyatt | @HollyEllyatt

Military aid, diplomatic support and an ever-increasing presence in Syria by Russia has made politicians around the world suspicious of what the Kremlin in Moscow has up its sleeve.

CNBC takes a look at the reasons why Russia is so keen to get involved in a conflict 2,000 kilometers away.

‘War on Islamic State’

Ostensibly, Russia has sent military equipment to Syria in a bid to help western forces and controversial Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defeat the terrorist group “Islamic State”, or ISIL.

The terrorist group has taken over swathes of Iraq and Syria in a bid to entrench its self-proclaimed caliphate. As a result, Syria has descended into a civil war with Assad’s troops and other rebel groups vying to regain, or just gain, territorial control from the group.

“We support the government of Syria in its effort to counter terrorist aggression,” Putin said Tuesday at a security summit in Tajikstan.

The Kremlin’s increasing presence in Syria is raising eyebrows in the U.S, however, which believes it to be part of a geo-political strategy to help Russia gain a lasting and convenient military presence in the Middle East.

Although U.S. officials are skeptical about Russia’s intervention in Syria, Islamic State does pose a threat to Russia, one analyst told CNBC, particularly in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, where Islam is a major religion and anti-Russian sentiment from pro- independence citizens is high.

“IS’ threat to Russia is not a speculation, it is a fact,” Lilit Gevorgyan, Russia & CIS Senior Economist at IHS, said Wednesday.

“IS has been using Russia’s troubled North Caucasus as fertile recruitment ground, and worse in June this year it even declared to have created a province in North Caucasus. This forms the basis of security reasons of Russia’s involvement in Syria.

But is it just to support Assad?

Putin has long been a staunch defender of Assad, despite continuing and credible claims that the Syrian president has used chemical weapons against his own people.

The west is no friend of Assad but, awkwardly, it is aligned with him in fighting Islamic State. But despite the common enemy, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this week warned his Russia counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that Moscow’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict,” a statement of the conversation said.

Assad “could never be a credible member (of a coalition fighting ISIL),”Kerry said, adding that “there is no military solution to the overall conflict in Syria, which can only be resolved by a political transition away from Assad.”

Some analysts believe Russia only wants to prop up the Assad regime, rather than help defeat IS.

Torbjorn Soltvedt, Principal Analyst, Middle East and North Africa at Verisk Maplecroft said in a note Tuesday that despite the rhetoric against Islamic State, “concrete measures taken by Russia have nonetheless focused on ensuring the survival of the Syrian regime.”

“So far there is little to suggest that Russia is playing an important role in anti-Islamic State operations. The imminent delivery of a Russian-operated SA-22 anti-aircraft missile system to bolster the country’s air defences, for instance, will be of no utility against the Islamic State,” Soltvedt added.

Military bases and investment

On Tuesday, Putin said his government would continue to send military assistance to Syria and its cosy relationship with the regime appears to be allowing it to establish a useful military base and presence in the Middle East. The country already has a naval base in the coastal city of Tartus, which gives it access to the Mediterranean sea.

At the start of the week, a Pentagon spokesman said that a steady flow of people and equipment near the north-western city of Latakia suggested Moscow was planning to establish a “forward air operating base” at an airport there.

On the investment side, Russia has some commercial exposure and has been exploring energy development projects in the country in the past “but Syria has never been a critical trading partner for Russia,” Gevorgyan told CNBC.

It has got stalled deals with Russia over gas and oil exploration, however. In July, Gissa Guchetl, the executive director of the Russian Union of Gas and Oil Industrialists, told state news agency RIA Novosti that Russian business would consider resuming energy contracts in Syria worth $1.6 billion if the country manages to stabilize from its civil war.

Ukraine distraction?

While Russia might appear (or want to appear) as a helping hand for the alliance against Islamic State, experts believe that the Syrian conflict is a useful diversion for Russia from a crisis closer to home with Ukraine.

One analyst said Putin’s “support” for Assad was purely strategic.

“Russia’s support for Assad is driven by considerations about global spheres of influence,” Liza Ermolenko, emerging markets economist at Capital Economics told CNBC Wednesday.

“It’s now becoming obvious that Russia has lost Ukraine, thus, the stakes are high to ensure that Assad restores full control of Syria preventing the country coming under the American influence.”

Since Russia’s perceived role in assisting a pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine in March 2014, it has been put under international sanctions. Wading into Syria then could help distract both the domestic population from biting sanctions and global attention from its behavior over Ukraine.

Appearing to help in Syria could also possibly thaw frosty relations with the rest of the world, IHS’ Gevorgyan said. “Ukraine is unlikely to go away as a battleground of West- Russia economic and strategic interests anytime soon. However, enter Syria and the Western attention is somewhat diverted from Ukraine.”

“In the best case scenario, Russia would like to see an anti-IS fight in Syria together with the West serving as a turning point for its exceptionally poor relations with Washington and Brussels now,” she added.

– By CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld

Holly Ellyatt
Assistant Producer, CNBC.com

In: cnbc