Russian values in the modern era have more in common with traditional American values than many Americans appreciate. Russian cultural contributions to the world have been profound, and it would be good to find rapprochement moving forward rather than conflict. I have been encouraged by President Trump’s stated intent to work with Russia rather than oppose her in many areas. We will not always degree on some things from a geopolitical point of view, but should remain civil with each other as nations, so that we can reason with each other and work together on those many areas of common interest and concern.
Russia in Syria
The Syrian government and its allied forces seized more neighborhoods yesterday, including al-Shaar, the command center for rebel forces and the civilian coordination center. Syrian Arab Army sources confirmed that the ‘Old Citadel’ is now fully liberated, “with remaining pockets to be cleansed tomorrow, 7 December.”
Two and a half weeks into the current offensive, government forces are reported to have controlled at least 75% of the rebel held area in eastern Aleppo. One news service said that groups of rebel fighters are fleeing to the east, presumably to Raqqa, rather than making a last stand in Aleppo.
Recovery of Aleppo will be the Asad government’s most significant victory of the civil war. It will not mean the end of the war, but it will mean improved security conditions for Latakia and the northwest. It also partially vindicates the Russian position that there is a military solution to civil war. “Military solution” to civil war often means that you simply use bombing and artillery to pound the rebels to dust.
In Chechnya, the Russians moved the Chechens out of their turf and replaced them with Great Russians – end of conflict there. Many were relocated to Islamic territories outside of Russia. Problem solved.
Rossiya 24 Television reported on 6 December that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the US of being an unreliable partner after a document on the situation in Aleppo proposed by US Secretary of State Kerry and supported by Russia was suddenly withdrawn.
Lavrov spoke at a joint news conference with Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland in Moscow. Lavrov was asked whether a date for Russian-US consultations on Syria in Geneva had been set and what these consultations can be about given that militants have refused to leave eastern Aleppo.
Lavrov replied, “To begin with, the fact that militants have refused does not yet mean anything because there is nothing to refuse yet. No Russian-US agreement that would have direct effect has yet been developed. In any event, if somebody refuses to leave of their own accord, they will be eliminated, as far as I understand. There is no other option there.’
“As regards the start of consultations on Aleppo, it is something of a detective story. On 2 December, in Rome, John Kerry asked me to support a specific document that the Americans had presented to us. We saw that the document was in line with our approaches.’ “On the following day, 3 December, we publicly declared it, inviting the Americans to meet any day. In the end, they agreed on the date 7 December, i.e. tomorrow. We again, more than once, confirmed that it was a very right idea that would make it possible to resolve the issue of Aleppo.”
“Then suddenly, last night we received a message from them that, unfortunately, they would not be able to meet tomorrow because they had changed their mind, were withdrawing their document and now had a new document, which – judging by our first impressions after reading it – returns everything back to square one and once again looks like an attempt to buy time in order to allow militants to catch their breath and replenish their supplies.”
“We shall try and find out what this is all about, all the more so since at the UN Security Council session yesterday, when Russia, China and Venezuela voted against the resolution aimed to give militants a respite, the US envoy took the floor and announced that she was not aware of the relevant agreements between Russia and the USA, that it was impossible to agree with Russia at all. That was before the Americans withdrew their document, which was advocated by John Kerry.”
“I get the feeling that US representatives at the UN have simply repudiated the US secretary of state. One would want to get to the bottom of it. On the other hand, we have a sort of an understanding that a serious discussion with our American partners is not working out. That was the case with our agreements with Kerry reached on 9 September, which had been reached, had come into effect and then the United States began to look for excuses to withdraw from them and in the end found one and announced that it was quitting that deal. Now the situation is very similar: what was proposed by the Americans on paper and what was publicly supported by us is now again turning out to be unsuitable.”
“The Syrian government describes all the rebel groups fighting to bring down President Bashar al-Assad as terrorists. The insurgents include groups backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, as well as jihadist militants.”
Lavrov’s comments are an accurate summary of frantic efforts by the US to save a deteriorating policy position in Syria and Obama’s legacy. The US UN delegation seemed to undermine the Secretary of State in public. Even the Chinese were annoyed.
US relations with Russia are in crisis because the US policy of supporting so-called moderate rebel groups in Aleppo has failed and collapsed. Every knowledgeable journalist has reported for months that the existence of so-called moderate rebel groups is a fiction. The idea that the Al Nusra Front would ally with the US to fight the Islamic State always has been an illusion. The al Nusra Front is al Qaida. The Islamic State is an extreme offshoot of al Qaida.
There are serious issues that the US and Russia need to discuss to which the outcome of the Aleppo fight is essentially a sideshow. It will be left to President Trump and his cabinet to work on this with the Russians after he takes office on January 20th.
On 5 December in a telephone conversation, Russian President Putin promised President Maduro to supply enough wheat for Venezuela to end the food war, according to Maduro. The food war is the confrontation between socialists who demand food at prices people can afford and the producers who want to make a profit. (not unlike war profiteers)
Putin promised to send top Russian food experts to Venezuela and to build agricultural factories next year in five Venezuelan states, He said the goal is to provide technology, equipment and capital to combat the economic sabotage being carried out by “right-wing forces.”
Putin also agreed to renew the military cooperation with Venezuela and to send modern military equipment by 2017. Venezuelan currency is essentially worthless with the black market value of the Bolivar pegged at somewhere around B4,000 to US$1. They could swap high sulphur oil to Russia for weapons, but in the present situation, Venezuela would be better off buying wheat.
Maduro is putting the best face on Venezuela’s “strategic” relationship with Russia. Thus, it is not clear just what will be the practical impact of Russian promises. On the other hand, Putin’s promises are consistent with his initiatives in other crises to gain a local advantage at the expense of the US. — I guess. There is a tit-for-tat between the Russians and the US. America builds a huge Air Force logistics center in Romania and the Russians build an intelligence training school in Nicaragua. That Russian school was never much of a secret. After a fashion, they have been trying to do what the Israelis did in Central America forty years ago, but don’t seem to have been as effective at reinventing the wheel as I thought that they might have been. The US pushes out NATO to the Baltic States (former Soviet Republics) and Russia props up Venezuela. It’s sort of a game that nations play.
There is no fixing Venezuela until you can remove the socialist state. Russia knows that. (see “the game”, paragraph above)