Trump-Putin phone call

Question from Sputnik asking for thoughts on the phone call and what the two can do in Syria.

The White House “readout” of the call says it was a “significant start to improving the relationship” and both are hopeful that “the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.” The Kremlin account is more detailed and speaks of hopes to improve “cooperation on a constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis”. The discussion touched on the Middle East, strategic stability, Iran, Korean Peninsula and Ukraine. But the big topic was “joining efforts in fighting the main threat” of “international terrorism”.

The call – one of several Trump made that day – took about an hour; therefore, allowing for interpreters, each president had about 15 minutes. Thus there was only enough time to communicate intentions and list problems. Therefore, only a beginning.

As to cooperation in Syria we have two stories going the rounds. One, from the Russian Armed Forces, that the US forces passed target data to them and – after checking: there’s still a distance to go before trust is assumed – Russian aircraft struck the targets. I would expect that the US military will be pleased enough to cooperate – there are already reports that US trainers know perfectly well that they are just training “the next generation of jihadis“. The other story, at the level of plausible rumour, is that Representative Gabbard took a message from Trump to Assad that US policy had changed and that “Assad must go!” was no more. Certainly Trump has in the past shown that he knows what’s really going on in Syria. And one should not forget what Flynn would have told him about the origins of ISIS/Daesh. So there is real hope that the US will stop arming and assisting ISIS/DAESH: a necessary step indeed.

Thus, there is much possibility for US-Russia cooperation in Syria.

But it’s only a start and there more to be done. But it is a good start.

Who’s in Charge in Washington?

(Question from Sputnik. Something or other is happening somewhere or other in the interstices of the American political machine regarding Syria. But something else is happening somewhere else. What do I think?)

The problem with the question as posed is that it assumes that there is somewhere one can find, if only one can dig deep enough, can detect the last vital piece of information, can parse a Delphic utterance, A Plan in Washington about Syria.

Well, I no longer believe it: I don’t believe that anyone is in charge in Washington. The Saker introduced me to a new Russian word the other day: недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements. He suggest that the US Administration is paralysed by the election and the possibility of a President Trump. Perhaps he’s right as to the reason, I don’t know, but I agree with the diagnosis: I can’t see any sign that anyone is in charge in the “exceptional nation”.

Consider that US Secretary of State John Kerry, after lengthy and tedious negotiations, signed on to a cessation of fire agreement in Syria. In a properly-run country that would be a done deal. A week later, a Syrian Army position is attacked by the US military (with a highly improbable involvement of allies. Several of whom do not even operate the A-10s and F-16s used). By accident of course: another “regretful” error from “the greatest military in the history of the world“. These “errors” all go the same way, don’t they? real errors, one would think, would be more evenly distributed, wouldn’t they? Just before that news had stopped reverberating, an aid convoy was attacked. On cue, NATO’s go-to “independent” fact checker produces a photo that, he says, proves Russia did it. In fact, to anyone who can think for a moment, the photo is obviously faked and actually proves that neither Russia (nor Syria) attacked the convoy. The carelessness of the faked-up accusation is another indication of the incapacity to either make or deliver on an agreement by Washington.

The US foreign minister signs an agreement that the US military blows up and a (clumsy) fake atrocity is produced to divert attention from that. Then US Secretary of State John Kerry says he’ll never speak to the Russians again, but soon does so.

So what are we to conclude?

This does not sound like a country with an orderly and effective chain of command.

Недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements.


Russia in Syria – Anniversary

(Questions from Sputnik in italics)

With the upcoming anniversary, how should we assess the effectiveness of Russian military operations in Syria? What has been effective? And what has not?

The Russian operation in Syria, like all intelligent uses of violence, has been a military-diplomatic operation. The military/violence part has been generally successful – Palmyra and soon-to-be-Aleppo liberations sum up the difference on the ground – but the diplomatic part has been much less so. The Saker says that Moscow now regards Washington as недоговороспособны or not capable of making an agreement. This appears to be the case: immediately after the US Secretary of State negotiated a cessation of hostilities, the US military attacked the Syrian Army. (Another “regretful” error from “the greatest military in the history of the world“.) Really? Who is in charge in Washington? Who can deliver? Clearly, at the moment, no one. I think Moscow has given up negotiating with a “partner” that cannot (or will not) deliver and decided for a military solution. Then, when the “facts on the ground” have been changed, diplomacy can resume. If possible.

Why US military command started saying that Russia became a serious military threat? What changes in Russian military caused this? What types of weapons became a matter of US concern?

With my military and Cold War experience, I would note these things in my list of things-not-expected.

  1. The very thought that relatively insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea could affect events a thousand kilometres or more away was a complete stunner.
  2. I don’t think anyone in the Pentagon thought the Russian Aerospace Forces could maintain the sortie rate that they have.
  3. The transformation of “dumb bombs” into “smart bombs” clearly surprised the Americans as shown by the fact that they accused the Russians of indiscriminately bombing (although a thoughtful person would have understood that you don’t “indiscriminately bomb” with three bombs.)
  4. The Americans seem to be stunned with Russian jamming and EW capabilities – we’ve had whines about “A2/AD bubbles” from some of the (formerly) aggressive NATO generals.
  5. We haven’t seen it in action yet, but the S-300/400/500 series seems to be a major off-stage frightener.
  6. Then there were the impressive stunts like the “White Swan” strike from the Kola Peninsula, or the Kalibr cruise missile strikes from the super-silent Varshavyanka submarines in the Med. Obviously intended to keep NATO jumpy: we can hit you anywhere, any time.
  7. And, of course, the speed and decisiveness with which the Russians moved.

So, altogether, it’s not surprising that even former NATO commander Breedlove thinks the Russian Armed Forces are pretty formidable.

How have the Russian operations compared with US anti-IS operations? Both in tactics and weapons?

As to how Russian operation compare with US operations, who better to answer than “a commander of the al-Qaida branch ‘Jabhat al-Nusra‘” who tells us “Yes, the U.S. support the opposition, but not directly.” For years now, Washington has thought it could turn jihadists on and off as it willed. Even one of the creators of the policy, Graham Fuller, doubts the wisdom of this today. Russia is consistent.

How US and Russia could cooperate militarily if politicians reach an agreement?

If. If. If they could agree on who the enemy was.

But is the USA недоговороспособны or договороспособны?

Bellingcat proves the Russians didn’t do it.

The Bellingcat site has a piece entitled “Confirmed : Russian Bomb Remains Recovered from Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Attack” which includes this picture as well as several others. You may look at the others, but this one picture is apodictic proof 1) that the Russians (or Syrians) didn’t do it and 2) that Bellingcat is a loyal servant of the Borg.


He spends a lot of efforts to establish that the metal piece is the tail piece of a Russian-made OFAB 250-270 Fragmentation High Explosive Bomb. No argument there, I’m sure it is. Said bomb has 92kg of explosive. Which is quite a lot.

  • If said bomb had exploded in this not very large room, all those cardboard boxes would be torn to pieces and burned. To say nothing of a lot more damage to the room itself. Therefore it did not explode in that room.
  • If said bomb was a dud and did not explode, where is the rest of it? Therefore the bomb was not a dud.
  • Therefore the bomb piece was put there to make it look as if the Russians had done it. (And not very competently either: note that it is supposed to have come through the ceiling and neatly placed itself underneath some undamaged cardboard boxes.)
  • If it is necessary to produce a fake picture, then the Russians didn’t do it.
  • QED

And, as a bonus, by perpetrating this fraud, Bellingcat has also proved that he is a stooge of the war party.

A lot to deduce from one photo, isn’t it? It used to be that it took more effort to disprove Bellingcat’s fakes. He’s losing his touch.

Another Lesson from Moscow Washington Won’t Learn

When the announcement of a partial withdrawal was made I was as surprised as anyone. I thought: Daesh is not been defeated, the threat of Ankara doing something extraordinary has not disappeared, the Syrian Army still needs air support to liberate other parts of the country, I can’t believe that Putin trusts either Washington’s promises or its ability to fulfil them. I then went on the Presidential website and found this: “In this context, Mr Putin said that Russia’s Armed Forces have fulfilled their main mission in Syria and a timetable for the withdrawal of the Aerospace Forces’ main air grouping has been agreed.” A timetable is not the same as withdrawal, I thought. But then it transpired that aircraft were in fact leaving and the formal meeting of Putin, Shoygu and Lavrov was published. So, think again: the schedule was for the present and not the future.

I think we now know three things. 1) Not all the Russian aircraft are leaving, in fact large-scale strikes against Daesh positions near Palmyra occurred yesterday. 2) Strikes are possible from outside Syria. We have seen the use of long-range aviation from Russia and cruise missiles from the Caspian and Mediterranean. 3) Russian aircraft can be moved back in under 24 hours if needed.

At the beginning of the operation, the strategic purposes were laid out. 1) To shore up government power lest a vacuum be formed that Daesh would occupy (vide the US-NATO disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya). 2) To create the possibility for meaningful negotiations on Syria’s future. 3) To reverse Daesh’s record of constant expansion and victory. 4) To kill as many jihadists originating from Russia and the FUSSR as possible so they don’t come home. Other benefits, like exposing the hollowness of the “isolated” and “powerless” Russia memes, showing off and testing weapons systems were present; they were not, however, as important as Western commentators thought they were.

From an operational perspective, there were four tasks. 1) To secure the airbase and freedom of operation (an issue complicated but not derailed when Turkey ambushed a Russian aircraft). 2) To degrade Daesh’s infrastructure by destroying troop concentrations, headquarters, arms dumps and, especially, crippling its cash cow, the oil trade. 3) To provide close air support to Syrian and allied forces. 4) To re-equip and train Syrian forces.

It is quite true that “The objective set before the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces is generally fulfilled” . Задача, поставленная перед Министерством обороны и Вооружёнными Силами, в целом выполнена. Not all of it, but most of it. Strategically: the Syrian government is much more secure; negotiations are underway together with a ceasefire; Daesh is in reverse; many jihadists will not be coming home. Operationally: the bases are secure; Daesh’s infrastructure and oil business have been severely degraded; close air support continues and will for some time. “Generally fulfilled” indeed. Or, as NATO says, in private, “efficient and accurate”.

And, should the situation on the ground be reversed, Russian airpower can return in hours.

This is the third time Moscow has shown Washington how to use armed force. It is never something to be used alone, it must always be part of a complete package. We saw this in the second Chechen war, in the Ossetian war and now in Syria. Bayonets are useful for many things, but not for sleeping on. However, it is unlikely that Washington will learn anything: the alcoholic binge of more violence to solve the problems the violence created is too well entrenched. In fact, they can’t understand, as Fort Rus points out, that to more thoughtful planners “withdrawal” is not a candy-coating of “defeat”.

It’s because a funny thing happened along the way in the development of US foreign policy lingo. The term ‘defeat’ was replaced with the term ‘withdrawal’. This happened as a result of needing to soft-sell major defeats like Vietnam or Iraq. Defeats were re-branded as ‘withdrawals’, even though in doing so, the term withdrawal was forever changed into a synonym for defeat, and a lack of resolve.

Many Western responses are amusing. Here Chatham House fearlessly demolishes a straw horse: 3. ‘Mission accomplished’ is a bit of a stretch… 4. Nonetheless, the intervention has achieved several key Russian objectives. Of course Putin didn’t say “mission accomplished”; this contortionist invents it so he can pretend that he failed.

Some are just incoherent: “Moscow is thus is committed to ‘monitoring’ the very agreement that it’s been opportunistically breaching…“.

But so far I find this the most amusing example of someone not getting it. “A Well-Timed Retreat: Russia Pulls Back From Syria” by Alexander Baunov. Two samples will show how absurd his thoughts are:

President Putin’s announcement that he is pulling back from Syria should not have come as a big surprise. He believes he has met most of his goals there—many of which have nothing to do with Syria itself. Russia has found a way back to the table where the world’s board of directors sits and resolves regional conflicts together.

This time, Vladimir Putin did not need to pretend too hard when he announced that a mission was accomplished.


On the Russian domestic scene, which some experts had considered the main reason for Russia to get involved, interest in Syria had begun to wane among the home television audience. The pictures of silver rockets in a blue sky had been shown so often that there was no mood for a second season of them. The public would rather see successes on the home front.

Too many Americans (“some experts”) comment from Gulliver’s Island of Laputa and tie their imaginations into contortions. Read what Putin says, watch what he does and think about it. Don’t assume.

Or you can join Samantha Power in Laputa: she “doesn’t make it a point of listening to President Putin’s claims” (Here at 2:39) but is always ready to tell us what’s really going on: “Russia’s military deployment in Syria to back Bashar al-Assad ‘is not a winning strategy,’ America’s ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Russia Answers Turkey

Today, unannounced combat readiness inspection started in troops and forces of the Southwestern strategic direction under the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces. This was stated by the Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu during the session.

General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stated that in accordance to the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, forces of the Southern military district, separate formations of Airborne troops and military transport aviation have been put on “Full” combat alert since 5 a.m. The inspection is held at the Southwestern strategic direction.

The Defence Minister noted that it was necessary to assess combat readiness condition of the Southern MD for responding different crisis situations…

The Head of the military department ordered the Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces Colonel General Viktor Bondarev to organize the inspection of the 4th Air Force and Air Defence Army including redeployment of aviation, repelling and making of massive air strikes…

The Head of the military department ordered that particular attention should be paid to the troops’ control system with deployment of mobile field control centres at full scale. Those tasks are to be carried out jointly with the Central MD…

Looking through the site shows there are a lot of other activities in the Southern Military District since this order was given on Monday. This is clearly a warning to Turkey and a preparation for acting if Turkey doesn’t take the hint.


Telling the Truth© By Lying

First the US “private, nonprofit” channel PBS (or, as they would say, were it Russian: mostly state-funded broadcaster) passed off Russian footage of strikes on Daesh oil facilities as US coalition strikes. This was easily caught because they left the Cyrillic letters on the footage.

Now their French allies have followed through. On a France 2 broadcast (or as they would say if this were something out of Russia – the fully state-owned France 2 TV station broadcast) while castigating the Russians for indiscriminate bombing, moaning about the very difficult choices that the US coalition have to make to seek out the targets, swaggering that every effort is made to avoid civilian casualties, illustrates the castigation, moaning and swaggering with….

….Russian videos.

This time they had the wit to crop the Cyrillic lettering out.

Watch the video for yourself.

The Moment When It Became Impossible to Say Anything Good About Assad

Her first article, published as Syria’s government started to attack citizens, was met with a wave of criticism. Both Buck and Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, were accused of taking part in a public relations campaign on behalf of the Syrian regime.

Within a month or so, the article was removed from the magazine’s website. Almost a year later Wintour broke her silence on the matter to explain that “we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society” but “as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.”

Buck’s contract with Vogue was not renewed and that’s when she decided to offer an a 5,000-word explanation for her original sin.

It suggests that she was the victim of of manipulation from beginning to end…


I don’t know when it became impossible to say anything good about Putin, but, as I’m trying to show by my quotations about Putin series, it was pretty early in the game.

But the Assad thing is interesting, isn’t it? The moment when the Word comes down from on high and otherwise trendy and with-it people are instructed that they must eat crow. We don’t often see it in action do we?

The author fired, the article withdrawn and a Big Wheel forced to apologise.






The World According to Putin

Note 2016. And now it transpires that Obama knew all along that the evidence that Assad was responsible for the Ghouta attack was weak.


The dénouement of the Syria crisis provides a learning opportunity for two inimical groups of Americans. For Obama’s admirers there is the uncomfortable revelation of his and his team’s unimpressive behaviour. They will have to process this revelation.

A more conflicted group, however, are the anti-Obamites. They are to a degree delighted to have Obama shown up; they gloat that Putin “schooled him”, made a fool of him and so forth. On the other hand some are starting to complain that the agreement legitimates Assad to a degree and, in the end, may not destroy any weapons. Some, convinced, as these people are, that Putin is not only the sworn enemy of the USA but also devilishly cunning (a favourite gibe is that while he plays chess, Obama plays tick-tack-toe or some other childish game), have decided that the agreement is a huge victory for Russia. Of course this gives them another opportunity to bash Obama’s leadership which is 90% of the point of these pieces, actually.

But none of these people notice the big news. Or, rather, the big non news. And that is that we are not today hearing and seeing attacks – attacks that while “unbelievably small” are not “pinpricks” – commanded by the uncertain; attacks that are unsupported by Congress, the American population or by allies. We do not see an intervention in a savage civil war that will benefit only the jihadist enemies the US is fighting elsewhere. We do not see the light-hearted beginning of another “short sharp” intervention that will drag on and on like the eight month Libyan intervention or the three month Kosovo intervention followed by 12 years of military occupation. That is the big news: the US is not getting stuck into another mess. Were Putin the cunning enemy so many think he is, he would have encouraged Washington: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Instead, he extracted it.

That is what was so unforgiveable about what he did: Putin the Evil saved America the Great from the folly of its leaders.

Russia and the G8: Is Russia isolated or does it represent the global majority?

JRL/2013/ 117/42

Is Putin really as isolated on Syria as we are told? There is plenty of evidence that he is in general agreement with world opinion. He is in better agreement with Americans about intervention than Obama is: a number of polls show opposition to US involvement in the 60s. Better with the British than Cameron is: similar results in the UK. As to the rest of the world, a recent Pew survey shows there is little support for intervention anywhere else either. Putin’s opposition to outside interference much better reflects world opinion than the interveners do. Which may be why there is such an intense campaign against Russia and Putin: he must be discredited.

He does not “support Assad” – that is an accusation to drown out what he is really saying. Putin opposes intervention in Syria (and Iraq… and Kosovo… and Libya…) for three reasons: principled, practical and personal. Intervention violates a key international principle because, like it or not, Assad’s regime is the recognised government of the country. By what right does a fraction of NATO, unsupported by its population, decide to pick a side in a vicious civil war? Once upon a time, interventions were legitimised by the UN (1st Gulf War); then by NATO (Kosovo); now by only some of NATO (Libya). Secondly, there is nothing to suggest that the end result will benefit anyone. Russia is a cautious country that plays by primum non nocere – first, do no harm. Previous Western/NATO interventions have done little for stability and have often resulted in aiding and comforting their enemies (a definition of treason in most countries). Finally, he fears that Russia might be on the list of undesirable governments to be overthrown. He has seen the appetite for intervention grow with the feeding.

Therefore, Putin opposes intervention in Syria because it is questionably legal, sets (another) dangerous precedent, will almost certainly leave behind it a more chaotic, miserable and dangerous situation (vide Kosovo or Libya) and because he fears the extension to Russia. It has nothing to do with any “alliance”, “support” for Assad, the so-called naval base or arms sales. There is no alliance, he does not “support” Assad, the naval base is a corner of a small port with few facilities and most of the arms sales contracts have been placed on hold. But it is necessary to demonise Putin to drown this out. The fuss about the Russian air defence missiles which never appeared was a useful distraction from the (US-crewed) air defence missiles which did appear. The fuss about the so-called naval base distracts attention from new US bases. The ritual reiteration of Putin’s support for Assad smokescreens the surreptitious support for his enemies.

So: not only will Putin be proven correct in that some-of-NATO’s interference will not have a happy ending, not only is his condemnation of intervention in accord with majority world opinion so far as can be determined but it is even in accord with opinion in the countries whose leaders are cheering on NATO’s next adventure in “humanitarian interventions”.

While Putin may be out of step with the G8 majority (somewhat smaller than it pretends to be – does anyone seriously think Tokyo has signed on? Berlin kept out of the last adventure, who expects it to participate in this one? Is Rome on board?), that pseudo-majority is itself out of step with public opinion in its own countries and, so far as can be determined, out of step with world opinion.

Calling him isolated is an attempt to shout down the reality that the interveners’ own electorates do not support intervention.