M.N. This observation, once again, is consistent with the previous ones, made by many observers: excessive, demonstrative “loudness” (in Comey’s words: “They were unusually loud in their intervention. It is as almost they didn’t care that we knew, or they wanted us to see what they do. They were very noisy in their interventions…” – 2:48:55 on C-SPAN tape), almost the theatrical, entertainment quality and aspect of this affair, which might be the cognitive, diagnostic, investigative clue, in and by itself. It probably points to the “made”, pre-arranged, pre-designed, and the pre-engineered, “for the show”, quality and aspect of it. The hypothetical culprits or “playwrights” in this situation include the familiar actors mentioned in the previous posts: Germany, China, Russia. Israel would not have any direct interest in this “show” (the belittling of Trump, and by the associational extension, America, in the eyes of the world, because it does not coincide with her interest in strong America, and her interest in the demonstrating the strong America, her defender, to the world), beyond the direct and open anti-Clinton and anti-Obama sentiments. The “Israeli connection” might be less “formal” one, through the Russian-Jewish, “Red” Mafia.
The U.S. needs to come to terms with substantial evidence that the president is in thrall to a foreign power, Michelle Goldberg writes at the New York Times, pointing to the cast of shady characters surrounding the president and the evidence of cooperation with the Kremlin documented in Luke Hardings new book Collusion.
|Odds Are, Russia Owns Trump – New York Times|
|russian organized crime in us – Google News: Odds Are, Russia Owns Trump – New York Times|
russian organized crime in us – Google News
|Trump’s and Putin’s connections with organized crime – Google News: Odds Are, Russia Owns Trump – New York Times|
Trump’s and Putin’s connections with organized crime – Google News
The Trump administration is preparing to stop supplying weapons to ethnic Kurdish fighters in Syria, the White House acknowledged Friday, a move reflecting renewed focus on furthering a political settlement to the civil war there and countering Iranian influence now that the Islamic State caliphate is largely vanquished.
Word of the policy change long sought by neighboring Turkey came Friday, not from Washington but from Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at a news conference that President Trump had pledged to stop arming the fighters, known as the YPG, during a phone call between Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Mr. Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions, and that the YPG won’t be given arms and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,” the Associated Press quoted Cavusoglu as saying to reporters following the call.
Initially, the administration’s national security team appeared surprised by the Turks’ announcement and uncertain what to say about it. The State Department referred questions to the White House, and hours passed with no confirmation from the National Security Council.
In late afternoon, the White House confirmed the weapons cutoff would happen, though it provided no details on timing.
“Consistent with our previous policy, President Trump also informed President Erdogan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqa is complete and we are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return,” the White House statement said, referring to the recent liberation of the Syrian city that had served as the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
The decision to stop arming the Kurds will remove a major source of tension between the United States and Turkey, a NATO ally. But it is likely to further anger the Kurds, who already feel betrayed since the United States told them to hand over hard-won territory to the Syrian government.
Turkey has pointed to the YPG’s affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — a Kurdish rebel group that has fought the Turkish state for decades — as evidence of its terrorist ties. The YPG, which formed amid the chaos of the Syrian civil war, has worked with U.S. forces to oust the Islamic State from key areas there.
The Obama administration began arming the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, because they were considered the most effective fighters against Islamic State militants.
The phone call between Trump and Erdogan followed a summit on Syria held this week in Sochi, Russia. It was attended by Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Both Russia and Iran backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and helped Syrian forces to rout the Islamic State.
The two powers, along with Turkey, have forged an alliance that is advancing its own peace plan, in which the United States would play little role beyond being an observer. They have said U.S. troops should leave Syria now that the Islamic State’s defeat appears imminent.
But a U.S. withdrawal without a peace plan well on its way would be victory for Assad, and by extension, Iran and Russia.
So U.S. officials have said they plan to keep American troops in northern Syria — and continue working with Kurdish fighters — to pressure Assad to make concessions during peace talks brokered by the United Nations in Geneva, stalemated for three years now. “We’re not going to just walk away right now,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week.
James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2008 to 2010, said the decision to cease supplying weapons to the Kurds appears to reflect an evolving strategy to keep playing a productive role in Syria and weaken Iranian-backed militias and Hezbollah, both of which fought alongside Syrian forces to regain territory from the militants.
“Fighting ISIS was such a priority, we had to focus on that before other things,” he said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “Now as the conventional fight is over, we’re trying to come up with a bigger policy. We can’t do it without Turkey. It’s pure geography. We have to mend fences with the Turks if we want to remain in Syria.”
Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
A new round of U.N.-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva are scheduled to start today, ahead of the talks the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called for “real” diplomacy and for Syrians to “begin to find some common ground.” The UN News Centre reports.
The talks are expected to focus primarily on a new constitution and elections, however there is little optimism that the talks would lead to a political solution to the Syrian conflict and there are questions over the ability of the groups opposed to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to put on a united front. Barbara Bibbo reports at Al Jazeera.
“Our goal in the negotiation will be the departure of Bashar al-Assad from the beginning of the transition, Nasr Hariri, the head of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee (H.N.C.), which constitutes the opposition delegation, said yesterday. Stephanie Nebehay reporting at Reuters.
The Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned that Turkey could renege on its agreement with the E.U. on refugees if the U.S. and E.U. grant the Y.P.G. a role in the Geneva talks, saying after a meeting with the British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday that Turkey sees the Y.P.G. “as a terrorist organization and [it] has no place in the peace process.” Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.
The Pentagon stopped short of saying that it would halt the supply of weapons to Syrian Kurdish (Y.P.G.) militia after Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Trump had pledged to stop providing weapons to the group which heads the Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.), with Pentagon spokesperson Col. Robert Manning saying yesterday that the Defense Department would be “reviewing pending adjustments to the military support provided to our Kurdish partners.” Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
Russia proposed a two-day ceasefire yesterday in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near the capital of Damascus following reports of civilian deaths, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that 18 were killed by bombing over the past two days. Reuters reports.
The shelling of the Eastern Ghouta area has been less intense following the Russian ceasefire proposal, according to witnesses and a war monitor, however there have been no indications that a ceasefire has been agreed. Reuters reports.
Russia’s defense ministry yesterday denied reports that it carried out airstrikes on the Islamic State-held village of Al Shafah in the Deir al-Zour province after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 53 civilians were killed by Russian strikes, the ministry saying in a statement that Russian forces target “areas outside population centers, and only facilities of the international terrorist groups.” The BBC reports.
The Syrian opposition’s stance is seen by Assad and his allies as being unrealistic as pro-Syrian government forces have achieved a series of military victories and the rebels have almost been defeated, while the opposition have accused the Syrian government of refusing to seriously engage. Angus McDowall explains at Reuters why there is little prospect of success at the Geneva talks.
The image of Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin hugging in the Russian city of Sochi last week symbolizes the power dynamics in the Syrian conflict and Russia’s success in supporting the Assad regime, with Putin having been able to marginalize the U.S. and enlist the support of Turkey and Iran in his plan for Syria – Russia’s achievements signaling an “acceleration of the collapse of U.S. global leadership.” The Washington Post editorial board writes.
“[We] cannot rule out the possibility Pyongyang may declare the completion of their nuclear program in a year,” South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said today, Reuters reporting.
Japan has detected radio signals that signal the preparations for a possible North Korean ballistic missile launch, a Japanese government source said today, however noting that the signals are not unusual and are not enough to determine if there would be a launch soon. Reuters reports.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister welcomed the fact that North Korea has not tested any weapons for more than two months during a visit to South Korea yesterday, however the pause in testing may be “seasonal, rather than strategic” and a full resumption may come in February. Adam Taylor observes at the Washington Post.
The U.S. and China must bridge gaps on key questions regarding North Korea before any lasting resolution the crisis becomes likely, including their approach to the Pyongyang regime and how they intend to bring North Korea to the negotiation table. Krishnadev Calamur writes at the Atlantic.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
Trump’s foreign policy reflects current realities because it acknowledges what many experts have not yet grasped: “that America’s post-Cold War national strategy has run out of gas.” Walter Russell Mead writes at the Wall Street Journal, arguing that Trump’s approach understands the limitations of U.S.’s role, however the president must do more than “demolish the old.”
The Foreign Service “is facing perhaps its greatest crisis,” as the U.S. juggles with a plethora of national security challenges and complicated dynamics in conflicts in the Middle East, the Trump administration has weakened the Foreign Service “by a series of misguided decisions since taking office.” Former ambassadors Nicholas Burns and Ryan C. Crocker write at the New York Times, warning about the impact of deep cuts at the State Department.
The dynamics of power in the Middle East may provide Trump with the “zero-sum game” that he has wanted, however nuance regarding Saudi Arabia and Iran’s respective influence in the region is needed to try and defuse tensions. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.
The possibility of the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump becoming the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is not as preposterous as it would initially seem, the current ambassador Nikki Haley did not have expertise on the U.N. but has proven to be capable, Ivanka Trump could prove similarly capable and has some of the qualities to make a good ambassador. Richard Gowan writes at POLITICO Magazine.
Lawyers for Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn met with members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team yesterday, raising the possibility that Flynn is preparing to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors, however a member of Trump’s legal team said that no one “should draw the conclusion that this means anything about Gen. Flynn cooperating against the president.” Matthew Mosk, Mike Levine and Brian Ross report at ABC News.
Flynn was involved in a project to build nuclear power plants in Egypt and Israel in partnership with Russia interests in June 2015, revealing another instance where Flynn may have had a personal interest in a project while he was advising Trump during the campaign for the presidency, and creating further potential legal questions in the wide-ranging investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Michael Kranish, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig report at the Washington Post.
The U.S. “needs to come to terms with substantial evidence that the president is in thrall to a foreign power,” Michelle Goldberg writes at the New York Times, pointing to the cast of shady characters surrounding the president and the evidence of cooperation with the Kremlin documented in Luke Harding’s new book “Collusion.”
A Russian interception of a U.S. aircraft at the weekend was “unsafe,” a spokesperson for the Pentagon said yesterday, adding that the “U.S. aircraft was operating in international airspace and did nothing to provoke this Russian behavior.” Ryan Browne reports at CNN.
Trump’s tweets at the weekend attacking C.N.N. came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law requiring certain U.S. media outlets working in Russia to register as foreign agents, there are concerns about the implications of the requirement to register. Michael M. Grynbaum observes at the New York Times.
The Trump administration has two differing approaches to Russia, and is incoherent on Russia’s role in Ukraine, U.S.-Russia relations, Russia’s strategy in Syria and on a host of other issues. Susan B. Glasser writes at POLITICO Magazine referring to her interview of the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Kurt Volker.
The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said yesterday that he does not wish to discuss the details of the events following his resignation announcement on Nov. 4 from the Saudi capital of Riyadh, having now deferred his decision to resign. There has been intense speculation surrounding the situation and Hariri cited the destructive role of Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah ally as the reason for his resignation. Al Jazeera reports.
“Lebanon cannot resolve a question like Hezbollah which is in Syria, Iraq, everywhere because of Iran,” Hariri also said yesterday, adding that he would stay on as Prime Minister if Hezbollah accepted to stick by Lebanon’s policy of staying out of regional conflicts. Reuters reporting.
The residents of the village of Rawda in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula had been expecting an attack after months of increased threats, however they did not expect an attack as savage as the massacre on the mosque on Friday which killed at least 305 people. Sudarsan Raghavan and Heba Farouk Mahfouz explain at the Washington Post.
The mosque that was attacked had a Sufi character, many of the media reports have misrepresented Sufism’s qualities and its role within mainstream Islamic thought. H.A. Hellyer writes at the Guardian, saying that the rhetoric deployed by many purist Salafis that push narratives about Sufism should be addressed if there is to be a “counter-extremism” approach.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack southeast of Baghdad yesterday, killing 35 members of the Shi’ite paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces, Reuters reports.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between November 24 and November 26. [Central Command]
The Pentagon was unable to explain inconsistencies regarding the number of U.S. troops in conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere yesterday, the spokesperson Col. Robert Manning attempted to set out why there are discrepancies between official statements and statistics available on government-operated websites. Alex Horton reports at the Washington Post.
U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State group in northeast Somalia killed one militant, the U.S. military said yesterday, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Broadcasts on Iranian state T.V. of a U.S. citizen and a British-Iranian citizen at the weekend suggest that Tehran has been trying to pressure the U.S. and U.K., the two detainees have been sentenced on espionage charges. Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.
“Today we are discovering a ‘fifth estate’ that makes claims but up until now does not want to take any social responsibility,” the head of Germany’s domestic agency said yesterday, criticizing tech giants like Facebook for hiding behind legal privileges to avoid taking over “editorial verification of their content.” Reuters reporting.
The Islamic State may regroup in the Philippines since it has suffered territorial losses in Syria and Iraq, Patrick B. Johnston and Colin P. Clarke write at Foreign Policy, saying that the siege of the Philippine city of Marawi by militants supportive of the terrorist group may be a taste of things to come.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday his talks with US President Donald Trump last week were the first occasion in a long time the two Nato allies were “on the same wavelength” and they would speak against this week.
Diplomatic ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained by several disagreements, particularly over the United States’ support for the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group.
“The telephone call which we had with Trump on Friday was the first in a long time in which we got on the same wavelength,” Erdogan said in a speech to deputies from his ruling AK Party in parliament.
He said discussions would continue in the coming days on the issues of the YPG, defence industry cooperation and the fight against the network of a US-based cleric whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating last year’s failed coup in Turkey.
According to Turkey‘s foreign minister, Trump on Friday told Erdogan he had issued instructions that weapons should not be provided to the Syrian Kurdish YPG.
However, the Pentagon said on Monday it was reviewing “adjustments” in arms for Syrian Kurdish forces, but it stopped short of halting weapons transfers, suggesting such decisions would be based on battlefield requirements.
Speaking to reporters in parliament after his speech, Erdogan said the Pentagon statement would be discussed at Turkey‘s National Security Council (MGK) meeting later on Tuesday.
He also said that Trump indicated that another call may happen this week.
“If he doesn’t call, I’ll call,” Erdogan said.
The YPG spearheads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting Islamic State with the help of a US-led coalition.
Turkey regards the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and European Union.
Anadolu Agency–43 minutes ago
TASS–1 hour ago
Newsweek–2 hours ago
Stars and Stripes–2 hours ago
Highly Cited–CNN–14 hours ago
Despite a pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump to his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a phone call on Friday to stop providing weapons to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning told reporters on Monday that Washington would continue to support and arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The YPG is the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD), and dominates the SDF.
Col. Manning said that the U.S. Defense Department was “reviewing pending adjustments to the military support provided” to the PKK/YPG.
The pentagon spokesman stated that the measure of halting military support to the group was not implemented.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on Monday said that weapons provided by the U.S. to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) must be collected.Following a telephone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Friday, Trump said that Washington would not give weapons to the PKK/PYD terror group anymore.“The call marked a turning point in strained relations between the two countries, but Washington must honor a pledge to end weapons provisions to the terrorists,” Bozdağ said.US pledges to end arming PKK/PYD terroristsThe YPG is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. Since the PKK launched its terror campaign in Turkey in 1984, tens of thousands of people have been killed.Bozdağ said the United States would be deceiving the world if it did not halt the weapons supplies to the PKK/YPG.Over 4,000 trucks of ammunition, hundreds of armored vehicles and weapons were sent to the PKK/PYD by the U.S.Erdoğan-Trump discussionThe White House said on Friday that Trump said that he had informed Erdoğan that Washington was “adjusting” military support to partners on the ground in Syria.Before his call with Erdoğan, Trump tweeted about the U.S. presence in the Middle East saying: “What a mistake, in lives and dollars (6 trillion), to be there in the first place!”President Erdoğan shared a photograph taken during the call his on Twitter account. It was seen that the call was conducted in his study of the Presidential Palace complex. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, National Intelligence Organization Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın, Chief of Cabinet Hasan Doğan and Senior Advisor Hamdi Kılıç were photographed.PM Yıldırım: US must end partnership with PKK/PYDUS wants to use Zarrab case to impose sanctions on AnkaraBozdağ said that the U.S. wanted to use the trial in New York of a Turkish gold trader to impose sanctions on Ankara. Bozdağ stated that the U.S. had pressured the trader, Reza Zarrab, to sign off on accusations against Turkey.”They may have told Zarrab, ‘Either you will remain in prison until you die, or you will sign under what we tell you,’ and they threatened him with retributions to sign off on accusations,” Bozdağ said.’The US interfered with Turkish trade relations’
“Weapons provided to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include Kurdish elements of the SDF, would be limited, mission specific, and provided incrementally to achieve our objectives,” Col. Manning said.
In a Friday phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump “clearly stated that weapons will not be given to the YPG anymore and said that essentially this nonsense should have been ended before,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday.
While recognizing the PKK as a terrorist group, the U.S. has treated the PKK/PYD/YPG as an ally using Daesh as a pretext, despite its PKK ties as documented by Turkey.
Since the PKK launched its terror campaign in Turkey in 1984, tens of thousands of people have been killed.
U.S. President Donald Trump recently told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in clear terms that it was “wrong” to supply weapons to the PKK/YPG, the Turkish prime minister has confirmed.Binali Yıldırım’s comments came during an interview with BBC World.”Mr. Trump understood what is important for Turkey,” Yıldırım said, in reference to Trump’s pledge to Erdoğan in a Friday phone call on ending the supply of arms to the terrorist PKK/PYD and PKK/YPG in Syria.”They [the U.S.] said this [cooperation with YPG or PYD] is not a choice. This is a necessity… Ok. We understand, although we do not accept. It is a temporary relation. Now, it is time to finish because Daesh is already defeated,” the premier said.”So, President Trump said it is wrong to provide weapons. This is clearly mentioned.”Stating that Turkish policy on fighting against Daesh had been quite “clear” since the beginning, Yıldırım said it was important to “choose the right partner” to fight Daesh.”You are not able to fight a terror organization using another terror organization,” he added.The U.S. later said it is “reviewing pending adjustments to the military support provided to our Kurdish partners in as much as the military requirements of our defeat-ISIS and stabilization efforts will allow to prevent ISIS from returning,” referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for Daesh.”We have always been clear with Turkey that the weapons provided to the SDF, to include its Kurdish elements, would be limited, mission-specific and provided incrementally to achieve military objectives,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Anadolu Agency. He said the U.S. would “continue our partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces to complete the military defeat of ISIS”.Pentagon says will continue arming PKK/YPGAt the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said even though a complete defeat of Daesh is in sight, “that doesn’t mean stopping all support of those individual groups”.”Once we started winning the campaign against ISIS, the plan and part of the process is to always wind down support for certain groups,” she said. “Now that we’re continuing to crush the physical caliphate, we’re in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups.”No doubt about Gulen’s links to coup bidIn response to a question whether Turkey had submitted evidence to Washington showing Fetullah Gülen, the U.S-based leader of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), had links to last year’s defeated coup attempt, Yıldırım said the necessary documents had been submitted.”For us, it is obvious. We have no hesitation. We have no doubt about it,” he said, referring to Gulen’s role in the defeated coup bid.FETÖ and Gülen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which martyred 250 people and injured nearly 2,200 others.FETÖ is also behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.Yıldırım also answered a question on accusations about the detentions since the defeated coup attempt.”This kind of accusation is there. I accept. But those who are accusing us should think about what happened on July 15,” he said.”Our parliament building [was] bombed. And their bombs killed 250 innocent people and [left] 2,194 heavily injured. What can we do then? We have to find [those] who committed crime. This is the situation in Turkey,” Yıldırım said.”We don’t detain people without evidence. This is for sure,” he said, adding the rule of law prevailed in Turkey.The Turkish premier called on Turkey’s critics to show “empathy” instead.”Did you face this kind of thing? If you face this kind of thing, then we will see what you are going to do,” he said.Yıldırım also dismissed accusations that Erdoğan had been becoming an “authoritarian” leader.”Erdoğan is not deciding who is going to jail or who is going to [be] freed. The court is deciding,” he said, adding there was freedom of the press in Turkey.”We have a free press,” he said. “Even the pro-PKK paper is published.”Video: Turkish PM meets with British foreign secretary
The deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said on Monday that the U.S. will need Turkey’s backing for staying in Syria after Daesh is defeated in the region.Speaking to journalists in the parliament, Ozturk Yilmaz called on the U.S. to cooperate with Turkey ahead of the Syrian peace talks in Geneva.“The U.S. will need Turkey and Turkey’s backing for staying in Syria after Daesh,” said Yilmaz.He added that this could lead to diffusing of tensions between the two countries.US must collect weapons distributed to PKK/YPG: Deputy PMThirty-six members of Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee will attend the peace talks in Geneva this week.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi to discuss Syria, last week.During the meeting, the three leaders agreed to gather a congress of Syrian groups to advance a political solution for the war-torn nation.Ozturk Yilmaz recalled that Iran, the Bashar al-Assad regime and Hezbollah did not want the presence of the U.S. in Syria’s future.Russian air strikes kill over 50 civilians in eastern SyriaHe added that only PKK/PYD/YPG terrorist group wants U.S. presence in Syria “which will not be at the solution table” in Geneva.”For this reason, the U.S. needs a powerful regional partner, which is Turkey,” said Yilmaz.Yilmaz also urged Turkey and the U.S. to take a joint step for the territorial integrity of Syria.The PYD and its military wing YPG are Syrian branches of the PKK terrorist network, which has waged war against Turkey for more than 30 years.While recognizing the PKK as a terrorist group, the U.S. has treated the PKK/PYD as an ally in its anti-Daesh efforts.Syrian child escapes death after playing with bombSyria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating civil war that began in early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting and more than 10 million displaced, according to claims by the UN.
WASHINGTON — The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, The Associated Press has found.
Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting.
“It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.”
FBI policy calls for notifying victims, whether individuals or groups, to help thwart both ongoing and future hacking attempts. The policy, which was disclosed in a lawsuit filed earlier this year against the FBI by the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, says that notification should be considered “even when it may interfere with another investigation or (intelligence) operation.”
Last week, the FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but did provide a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”
Three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known for more than a year the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts to break into Gmail inboxes. A senior FBI official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the hacking operation because of its sensitivity, declined to comment on when it received the target list, but said that the bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer number of attempted hacks.
“It’s a matter of triaging to the best of our ability the volume of the targets who are out there,” he said.
In the face of a tidal wave of malicious phishing attempts, the FBI sometimes passes on information about the attacks to service providers and companies, who can then relay information to clients or employees, he added.
The AP, which acquired a list of about 4,700 targeted email accounts, has reported in recent weeks on the global reach of the hacking operation and strategy used to break into emails of the Democratic Party and presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Tens of thousands of those emails were leaked online in advance of the November election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Fancy Bear works for the Russian government and meant to push the election in favor of Donald Trump. The Russian government has denied interfering.
The AP did its own triage, dedicating two months and a small team of reporters to go through a hit list of Fancy Bear targets provided by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks.
Previous AP investigations based on the list have shown how Fancy Bear worked in close alignment with the Kremlin’s interests to steal tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party . The hacking campaign disrupted the 2016 U.S. election and cast a shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump, whom U.S. intelligence agencies say the hackers were trying to help . The Russian government has denied interfering in the American election.
The Secureworks list comprises 19,000 lines of targeting data . Going through it, the AP identified more than 500 U.S.-based people or groups and reached out to more than 190 of them, interviewing nearly 80 about their experiences.
Many were long-retired, but about one-quarter were still in government or held security clearances at the time they were targeted. Only two told the AP they learned of the hacking attempts on their personal Gmail accounts from the FBI. A few more were contacted by the FBI after their emails were published in the torrent of leaks that coursed through last year’s electoral contest. But to this day, some leak victims have not heard from the bureau at all.
Charles Sowell, who previously worked as a senior administrator in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and was targeted by Fancy Bear two years ago, said there was no reason the FBI couldn’t do the same work the AP did.
“It’s absolutely not OK for them to use an excuse that there’s too much data,” Sowell said. “Would that hold water if there were a serial killer investigation, and people were calling in tips left and right, and they were holding up their hands and saying, ‘It’s too much’? That’s ridiculous.”
The AP found few traces of the bureau’s inquiry as it launched its own investigation two months ago.
In October, two AP journalists visited <a href=”http://THCServers.com” rel=”nofollow”>THCServers.com</a> , a brightly lit, family-run internet company on the former grounds of a communist-era chicken farm outside the Romanian city of Craiova. That’s where someone registered <a href=”http://DCLeaks.com” rel=”nofollow”>DCLeaks.com</a>, the first of three websites to publish caches of emails belonging to Democrats and other U.S. officials in mid-2016.
DCLeaks was clearly linked to Fancy Bear. Previous AP reporting found that all but one of the site’s victims had been targeted by the hacking group before their emails were dumped online.
Yet THC founder Catalin Florica said he was never approached by law enforcement.
“It’s curious,” Florica said. “You are the first ones that contact us.”
THC merely registered the site, a simple process that typically takes only a few minutes. But the reaction was similar at the Kuala Lumpur offices of the Malaysian web company Shinjiru Technology , which hosted DCLeaks’ stolen files for the duration of the electoral campaign.
The company’s chief executive, Terence Choong, said he had never heard of DCLeaks until the AP contacted him.
“What is the issue with it?” he asked.
Questions over the FBI’s handling of Fancy Bear’s broad hacking sweep date to March 2016, when agents arrived unannounced at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn to warn her campaign about a surge of rogue, password-stealing emails.
The agents offered little more than generic security tips the campaign had already put into practice and refused to say who they thought was behind the attempted intrusions, according to a person who was there and spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was meant to be confidential.
Questions emerged again after it was revealed that the FBI never took custody of the Democratic National Committee’s computer server after it was penetrated by Fancy Bear in April 2016. Former FBI Director James Comey testified this year that the FBI worked off a copy of the server, which he described as an “appropriate substitute.”
“MAKES ME SAD”
Retired Maj. James Phillips was one of the first people to have the contents of his inbox published by DCLeaks when the website made its June 2016 debut.
But the Army veteran said he didn’t realize his personal emails were “flapping in the breeze” until a journalist phoned him two months later.
“The fact that a reporter told me about DCLeaks kind of makes me sad,” he said. “I wish it had been a government source.”
Phillips’ story would be repeated again and again as the AP spoke to officials from the National Defense University in Washington to the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado.
Among them: a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes; a former head of Air Force Intelligence, retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula; a former defense undersecretary, Eric Edelman; and a former director of cybersecurity for the Air Force, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Schissler.
Retired Maj. Gen. Brian Keller, a former director of military support at the Geospatial Intelligence Agency, was not informed, even after DCLeaks posted his emails to the internet. In a telephone call with AP, Keller said he still wasn’t clear on what had happened, who had hacked him or whether his data was still at risk.
“Should I be worried or alarmed or anything?” asked Keller, who left the spy satellite agency in 2010 and now works in private industry.
Not all the interviewees felt the FBI had a responsibility to alert them.
“Perhaps optimistically, I have to conclude that a risk analysis was done and I was not considered a high enough risk to justify making contact,” said a former Air Force chief of staff, retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, who was targeted by Fancy Bear in 2015.
Others argued that the FBI may have wanted to avoid tipping the hackers off or that there were too many people to notify.
“The expectation that the government is going to protect everyone and go back to everyone is false,” said Nicholas Eftimiades, a retired senior technical officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who teaches homeland security at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg and was himself among the targets.
But the government is supposed to try, said Michael Daniel, who served as President Barack Obama’s White House cybersecurity coordinator.
Daniel wouldn’t comment directly on why so many Fancy Bear targets weren’t warned in this case, but he said the issue of how and when to notify people “frankly still needs more work.”
In the absence of any official warning, some of those contacted by AP brushed off the idea that they were taken in by a foreign power’s intelligence service.
“I don’t open anything I don’t recognize,” said Joseph Barnard, who headed the personnel recovery branch of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.
That may well be true of Barnard; Secureworks’ data suggests he never clicked the malicious link sent to him in June 2015. But it isn’t true of everyone.
An AP analysis of the data suggests that out of 312 U.S. military and government figures targeted by Fancy Bear, 131 clicked the links sent to them. That could mean that as many as 2 in 5 came perilously close to handing over their passwords.
It’s not clear how many gave up their credentials in the end or what the hackers may have acquired.
Some of those accounts hold emails that go back years, when even many of the retired officials still occupied sensitive posts.
Overwhelmingly, interviewees told AP they kept classified material out of their Gmail inboxes, but intelligence experts said Russian spies could use personal correspondence as a springboard for further hacking, recruitment or even blackmail.
“You start to have information you might be able to leverage against that person,” said Sina Beaghley, a researcher at the RAND Corp. who served on the NSC until 2014.
In the few cases where the FBI did warn targets, they were sometimes left little wiser about what was going on or what to do.
Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a 20-year military veteran who now works in Norfolk, Virginia, said an FBI agent visited him about a year ago to examine his emails and warn him that a “foreign actor” was trying to break into his account.
“He was real cloak-and-dagger about it,” Bracknell said. “He came here to my work, wrote in his little notebook and away he went.”
Left to fend for themselves, some targets have been improvising their cybersecurity.
Retired Gen. Roger A. Brady, who was responsible for American nuclear weapons in Europe as part of his past role as commander of the U.S. Air Force there, turned to Apple support this year when he noticed something suspicious on his computer. Hughes, a former DIA head, said he had his hard drive replaced by the “Geek Squad” at a Best Buy in Florida after his machine began behaving strangely. Keller, the former senior spy satellite official, said it was his son who told him his emails had been posted to the web after getting a Google alert in June 2016.
A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who like many others was repeatedly targeted by Fancy Bear but has yet to receive any warning from the FBI, said the lackluster response risked something worse than last year’s parade of leaks.
“Our government needs to be taking greater responsibility to defend its citizens in both the physical and cyber worlds, now, before a cyberattack produces an even more catastrophic outcome than we have already experienced,” McFaul said.
Donn reported from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Associated Press writers Vadim Ghirda in Carcea, Romania, Chad Day in Washington, Frank Bajak in Houston, Justin Myers in Chicago and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.
Satter, Donn and Butler can be reached at:
<a href=”http://raphaelsatter.com” rel=”nofollow”>http://raphaelsatter.com</a> , <a href=”https://twitter.com/jadonn7″ rel=”nofollow”>https://twitter.com/jadonn7</a> and <a href=”https://twitter.com/desmondbutler” rel=”nofollow”>https://twitter.com/desmondbutler</a>
EDITOR’S NOTE — Raphael Satter’s father, David Satter, is an author and Russia specialist who has been critical of the Kremlin. His emails were published last year by hackers and his account is on Secureworks’ list of Fancy Bear targets. He was not notified by the FBI.
EDITOR’S NOTE _ One in a series of stories on the findings of an Associated Press investigation of the Russian hackers who disrupted the U.S. presidential election in 2016
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Egyptian security forces targeted militants in the Sinai peninsula after an attack on a mosque in a local village killed 305 people, the New York Times reported. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi pledged to get vengeance against a group of 25-30 armed men that Egyptian authorities said carried an Islamic State flag during their massacre at the mosque in Bir al-Abed. According to Egyptian security officials, warplanes struck vehicles associated with the fighters. The attack is the latest escalation in the long-brewing conflict in Sinai, where the Egyptian military has struggled to contain an insurgency that took hold after the 2013 coup in which President Sisi took power.
Pakistan’s justice minister will step down after accusations of blasphemy against him sparked protests and violence from Islamic fundamentalist groups, the Times reported. After Zahid Hamid, the law minister, attempted to change religious language in an oath that Pakistani lawmakers take upon entering parliament, protests erupted that have paralyzed Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, for weeks. Following military-led negotiations, Hamid agreed to step down, and a hard-line Islamic party promised not to issue an edict of blasphemy against him, an accusation that has led to killings in the past.
Pope Francis met the head of Myanmar’s military during an official visit, as the pontiff faces pressure to address the violence against the Rohingya Muslim population, Reuters reported. The pope discussed religious freedom and the country’s transition to democracy with General Min Aung Hlaing. Advisers have warned the pope against even using the word “Rohingya,” as Myanmar’s government says they are not a separate ethnic group. The pope will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, on Tuesday.
Michael Flynn’s lawyers told President Donald Trump’s legal team they were halting their correspondence about the special counsel’s investigation, according to the Times. Flynn’s lawyers cancelled an agreement concluded between Trump and Flynn’s legal teams to share information about the investigation and their responses. Trump’s lawyers said this development suggested Flynn was working on a deal with the special counsel. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is looking into Flynn’s work on a Turkish documentary film, the Wall Street Journal reported. Flynn paid consultants to create a currently unfinished film attacking exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The FBI is probing Flynn’s business connections to the Turkish government in connection with the film. Separately, Congressional officials referred allegations about Flynn’s role in a scheme to provide nuclear power to Middle East countries to the special counsel’s investigation, the Washington Post reported. Rep. Trey Gowdy sent a letter to Mueller referring congressional democrats’ concerns about Flynn’s sponsorship of a plan to build nuclear reactors across the Middle East while he was in office.
The U.S. will cease arming Kurdish fighters in Syria, CBS News reported. President Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the U.S. would stop its arms shipments to the YPG, a Kurdish group that forms an integral part of the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey has called the YPG a terrorist organization because of its connections to rebel groups in Turkey’s eastern mountains. The White House did not explicitly confirm the change in policy, but Turkish officials called on the U.S. to uphold its pledge, according to Reuters.
Aid shipments entered Yemen for the first time in the weeks since the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels blockaded major ports, the Times reported. A shipment of flour reached the seaport at Al Hudaydah and aid planes landed at Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. The U.N. said the Saudi coalition must continue to allow supplies to arrive as Yemen faces a devastating famine and health crisis. A cholera epidemic has threatened vulnerable members of Yemen’s population as over 17 million people lack reliable access to food.
The FBI failed to inform dozens of current and former U.S. officials that the Russian hacking operation Fancy Bear had targeted their email accounts, the AP reported. Of more than 80 officials whose emails the Russian group aimed to compromise, the FBI notified only two of the potential threat. Many former intelligence and military officials learned about the attempted hacking only when journalists contacted them about the matter.
The head of the European Parliament asked the Polish government to take steps to ensure the security of Polish parliamentarians after far-right groups staged mock hangings of the politicians, Reuters reported. Extremists hanged the portraits of Polish representatives to Brussels who backed a resolution condemning a Polish far-right march in early November as fascist. The head of the European Parliament asked the Polish government to condemn the attacks on the politicians.
The Pentagon is likely to admit that there are over 2,000 U.S. soldiers in Syria, revising upwards its previously estimate of 500 troops on the ground, according to Reuters. The Department of Defense is expected to announce the revised number to reflect a more accurate accounting of troops present in Syria and not to announce an increase in troop commitments.
ICYMI: This holiday weekend on Lawfare
Benjamin Wittes posted the “Mother May I Launch a Missile” edition of Rational Security.
Orin Kerr argued that the Fourth Amendment does not guarantee a general right to be secure against government surveillance.
Vanessa Sauter shared the Lawfare Podcast, featuring an interview between Alina Polyakova and Arkady Ostrovsky on Russia’s far east.
In the Foreign Policy Essay, Kim Cragin argued that foreign fighters who are transferred to third countries that are not their homes are a major security risk.
Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.
Lawfare – Hard National Security Choices
Figures discussed on Friday at Mr. Putin’s meeting with government and central bank officials showed strong consumer demand, a main driver of the growth. Retail sales for the month increased 3 percent compared with a year before, according to the state statistics service. The Finance Ministry projects the overall economy to grow 2.1 percent for the year. That would be Russia’s first full year of economic growth since a recession began in 2014.
Other economic indicators have been trending in the same direction. Inflation is expected to be about 4 percent for 2017, low by recent Russian standards. As recently as 2015, official figures showed consumer prices were rising more than 15 percent, and ordinary Russians were feeling the pinch. The cost of Russian staples was rising: The price of bread, an important product because of its mythologized status in the Soviet period as a symbol of well being, increased about 11 percent a year during the recession, according to the state statistics agency.
But as the price of oil, a major export commodity, has recovered from multiyear lows in 2014, Russia’s central bank has resumed purchases of hard currency. It has been replenishing the reserves its uses to maintain the long-term stability of the ruble.
“It’s a broad recovery, and it will continue,” said Vladimir Osakovsky, chief Russia economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “There is strong fundamental support.”
The country certainly faces challenges, Mr. Osakovsky and other analysts say. It remains vulnerable to swings in the price of oil and natural gas, for example. The two commodities account for about 60 percent of export revenue and 50 percent of the federal government’s tax base, and a sudden drop in prices could expose wider issues with the economy.
Experts also worry that Russia’s banking system is vulnerable. The central bank had to nationalize two midsize private lenders this year, and several banks lost money betting against the ruble in recent years, according to Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at BCS Global Markets, an investment bank.
“So far, the central bank has managed to keep the banking system working,” Mr. Tikhomirov said. But, he added, “the cost of saving these banks is growing.”
Still, positive news has been trickling in.
In September, Fitch, the credit rating agency, revised its outlook for Russian sovereign debt to positive from stable. Through the year, foreign investors have piled into Russian government bonds, raising the share of Russian debt held by foreigners to more than 30 percent, up from 5 percent.
Also helping the recovery was government spending on major infrastructure projects, including a bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea, a major gas pipeline to China called the Power of Siberia, and soccer stadiums for the World Cup, which Russia will host next year.
That has helped the country overcome Western sanctions imposed during the Ukraine crisis and over meddling by Moscow in the 2016 election in the United States. These “smart sanctions” were in any case narrowly targeting companies and businessmen aligned with Mr. Putin, meant to affect Kremlin insiders and not to slow the overall economy or hasten political change.
Mr. Putin now finds himself in a more favorable economic environment before next year’s election. And even though Russians have taken a considerable hit to their pocketbooks in recent years — real income, or wages adjusted for inflation, declined through the recession — he remains the overwhelming favorite. In an October survey conducted by the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, two-thirds of likely voters said they would cast their ballots for Mr. Putin.
Spurring growth beyond the 2 percent region forecast by the government will not be easy, though.
The country will very likely have to agree a series of major economic overhauls in order to bolster its long-term growth potential. The retirement age — currently 55 years for women and 60 years for men — will have to be raised, economists say. Without such changes, expansion will remain capped at its current levels, Russia’s central bank chairwoman, Elvira S. Nabiullina, warned this month.
“Without reform,” Mr. Tikhomirov said, “the future for Russia will be fairly bleak.”
Russia has emerged from the Syrian crisis with its military and diplomatic reputation significantly enhanced. But this has been achieved amid huge controversy over the means used and amid much international criticism.
It has ensured the survival of the Assad regime at the same time expanding its own small military footprint in the country. But the diplomatic ramifications too have been considerable.
It, not the United States, is the “go to” player. Russia is marshalling a loose alliance of Iran and Turkey to try to plot Syria’s future. Even the Saudis have had to beat a path to Moscow’s door.
Russia drew its own lessons from a series of Western military interventions over the past two decades. It watched with alarm as the US and its allies hailed the upheavals of the Arab Spring as the dawn of a new era of democracy in the Middle East.
Russia’s conclusions were more pragmatic and more pessimistic. And it subsequently applied those lessons in Syria.
Russia did not see the popular rebellion there as the positive harbinger of a new democratic order. Rather it was seen as part of a wider tide of instability rising across the region that threatened to lap over Russia’s own borders.
Crucially, it made a pragmatic assessment of the situation. It chose to stick with its long-time ally, Mr Assad. It defined its strategic goals quite narrowly and, crucially, it deployed sufficient military force to carry them out. In short, it saw an opportunity and acted.
Russian air power, special forces and equipment gave a military backbone to President Assad’s crumbling forces, with Iran’s allies like Hezbollah and various other Shia militias providing badly needed foot soldiers.
Together they allowed President Assad to defeat both rebel forces and so-called Islamic State across a significant part of the country. Syrian government forces and their allies have taken back all of Syria’s major population centres.
The opposition is not totally destroyed but it is largely demoralised.
As Prof Joshua Landis, a Syrian expert at the University of Oklahoma, told me: “There remain a number of militias that have not given up and continue to win foreign backing, but they are almost uniquely arranged along the border with Turkey.
“They will continue to give Assad a hard time, until he crushes them or comes to terms with Turkey about their disposition.
“Otherwise,” he argues, “the opposition has been largely dismantled. It is possible that secret cells will try to carry on with strikes on government buildings and explosions in crowded markets, but the Assad government demonstrated considerable skill and ruthlessness in rolling up such terror organisations before the uprising broke out.”
Russia has achieved this “victory” – if you want to call it that – by the simple exercise of realpolitik with little concern about what its many critics would call the morality of its actions.
Russia sided with a regime that many people believe was not just turning its guns on its own people but was carrying out war crimes. It has shielded the Syrian government from pressure over strongly based allegations that it has used banned sarin gas and other chemical weapons.
The Russian air campaign obeyed its own rules and typically used large numbers of “dumb” or unguided bombs and missiles.
The US and its allies have tended to use largely precision-guided weapons in their operations over Iraq and Syria. (These, of course, still kill innocent civilians, often far more than the military spokesmen are prepared to admit.)
But the fact remains that Western air power, mindful, not least, of public opinion at home, does go to great lengths to minimise civilian casualties as far as possible. Russia’s leaders have no such constraints.
And to the extent that Russian domestic opinion is a factor, Mr Putin has achieved success in Syria with relatively few Russian casualties and with a relatively limited military deployment.
So is it all over for the Syrian opposition? Prof Landis says that “it will be very hard for those that live in exile to maintain a serious military option in the future so long as Syria’s neighbours are unwilling to sponsor them and provide them safe havens as they were in the past.
“Of course,” he notes, “millions of Syrian opposition members now living as refugees or outside the country revile Putin and Russia and continue to look to Western governments to destroy the Syrian regime and return them to their country.
“Like the White Russians of 100 years ago, (the exiled conservative opponents of the Bolshevik Revolution) they are likely to be disappointed.”
Russia has secured a military victory but can it win the “peace”? Well it emerges from this crisis with its diplomatic hand strengthened. In many ways it outplayed the Obama administration – Washington’s efforts to build and arm a coherent Syrian opposition collapsed a number of times – and it has run rings round President Trump’s team.
Some of Washington’s allies like Turkey, who had long called for President Assad’s removal, ultimately decided that they needed to secure their own strategic interests. For Ankara this is the prevention of the emergence of any autonomous Kurdish entity and thus they have thrown in their lot with Moscow and Tehran.
The Trump administration is yet to elaborate a coherent policy towards Syria or indeed for its broader goal of containing Iran’s rising regional influence. It has few levers to pull. The only successful element of US strategy has been its support for and arming of Kurdish fighters.
If the US maintains its support for the Kurds then Joshua Landis says Washington “will be able to beggar the Syrian government and maintain leverage in the region. The US has helped the Kurds take control of most of Syria’s oil and gas fields. This means that Syria will have a much harder time rebuilding.
“The US effort to keep Damascus weak and poor”, he says, “will also limit the victory of both Russia and Iran in the region. But strategically, by choosing to side with the Kurds, Washington will continue to alienate Turkey, Syria and Iraq.”
But Mr Trump’s stance towards the Kurds seems clouded in uncertainty with reports emerging that he has assured the Turks that arms supplies to Kurdish fighters will now be halted in the wake of IS’s defeat. As so often with this presidency the news seems to have caught other members of the administration off balance. Such a stance may help to pacify Ankara but it will be seen as a betrayal by the Kurds and may weaken them if the Syrian government decides to go onto the offensive.
Russia too may face diplomatic problems ahead. Moscow, Damascus, Ankara and Tehran may be united for now, but their medium-term strategic goals may differ.
Russia is under pressure from the Israelis to curb Iran’s influence in Syria. Israel may not be able to bring much diplomatic pressure to bear on Moscow but it clearly has the military power to seek to influence developments in Syria if it feels threatened. And will Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to see eye-to-eye ?
Russia’s real plans for Syria’s future are unclear. It has assiduously worked with some opposition groups to bring them into local ceasefire arrangements. But this is essentially short-term. Will these hold?
Will the Syrian regime have the manpower to maintain its control over the areas it has recaptured? Will the Shia militias and Hezbollah remain in the country? And whose interests will they be serving, Syria’s or Iran’s?
Russia’s “victory” – if you want to call it that – is far from complete. If Moscow really has a plan for Syria, few details have been provided so far.
Russia certainly has a whip hand over the developing peace process, but its goals remain opaque. Will President Assad himself remain a fixture or merely the regime that he represents?
For now though, Mr Putin has many achievements that he can bank. Russia has been shown to be a reliable ally. Its military forces have shown their ability to mount a complex expeditionary operation. Syria has provided a “shop-window” for many of Russia’s most modern weapons systems.
Russia is again a significant diplomatic player in the Middle East in a way that it has not been since the early 1970s. Indeed then it was probably already a waning force. Today it is a rising one facing a US diplomatic effort that is largely incoherent.
Russia is back on the world stage. And if you set aside the misery and suffering in Syria to which all of the external actors have contributed, that ranks as an achievement in Mr Putin’s playbook.