Uninvited Saudis, Qatar Behind Syrian Rebel Groups Boycotting Peace Talks

 

 A rebel fighter carries his weapon inside a damaged building on the forth day of the truce, on al-Rayhan village front near the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 2, 2017

    Commenting on reports that several Syrian opposition groups have threatened to boycott the upcoming political settlement talks in Kazakhstan due to claimed ceasefire violations, Middle East expert Danny Makki explained to Sputnik that those rebels are backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have been sidelined from the Turkish-Russian agreement.

   Several Syrian opposition groups have signed a statement declaring boycott of the upcoming political settlement talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, citing alleged ceasefire violations.

    Their statement was widely reported by the western mainstream media on Tuesday, elaborating that 10 rebel factions said they were suspending discussions regarding the Astana conference or the cease-fire “until it is fully implemented.”

   The groups cited alleged “major and frequent violations” in the rebel-held areas of Wadi Barada and Eastern Ghouta outside the Syrian capital Damascus.

    Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with London-based media analyst and researcher, specializing in the Middle East security, Danny Makki.

   First of all, he said, it goes against the UN resolution which was unanimously voted on by all of the countries just on Saturday.

   On December 31, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a Russian-Turkish resolution on a ceasefire regime in Syria, as well as on holding political talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Astana, Kazakhstan in January 2017.

   A day earlier, on Friday, a nationwide ceasefire between Syrian government troops and several opposition factions came into force. Russia and Turkey serve as guarantors of the deal which paves the way for negotiations between the warring parties.

   Danny Makki also noted that initially, Wadi Barada was not part to the ceasefire agreement, it was not considered as an area to the ceasefire. Hence for those rebel groups to say that it was a violation of a ceasefire by the government is incorrect.

    Most of the rebel groups who have issued the statement are on the side of jihadists, he added.

   “Conspicuously, there are some problems from backers such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia who have been sidelined from the Turkish-Russian agreement and perhaps are seeking some sort of revenge by pressuring these groups to pull out of this agreement,” he explained.

    In addition to this, he said, the statement is aimed to derail the process which was started by one of the opposition significant backers, Turkey.

   “It remains to be seen what Turkey makes out of all of this because this have been seen as a diplomatic victory for the Turks in some sense,” he told Sputnik.

   The initial agreement was signed by about 8 major groups and these major groups represent around over 20 or 30 different small groups, the expert said. All in all, there are hundreds of different rebel groups in Syria, at least two thirds of them were signed up to this agreement, totaling to 60,000 fighters.

   The groups which have recently stated that they would not continue the process constitute around 20 or 30,000 soldiers on the ground, he explained. Most of these groups are funded either by Saudi Arabia or have Gulf sponsorship in terms of finance and support. The Turkish-backed groups have not pulled out of the agreement, all of the Turkish groups stayed in.

   “You have so many warring groups and so many different backers that it is almost impossible to get all of them to agree on one thing at one particular moment of time,” Danny Makki noted.

   Most of the groups around Damascus, who have rejected the ceasefire, are the groups which consider themselves on the threat by recent Syrian army offensive around Wadi Barada. But Wadi Barada was never part of the ceasefire plan, he reiterated. It is Gulf States’ attempt to undermine Russian and Turkish agreement, he noted.

    He further elaborated that these groups are relatively influential. They are mainly located in Damascus and around however they already have a huge presence in the north.

    Even though, they haven’t posed a very significant threat to the overall ceasefire plan because the plan has been supported by Turkey’s reputation.

   “You’ve got to remember that many of the groups and movements who have signed up to this agreement are currently fighting with the Turks around the city of Al-Bab against ISIS (Daesh),” he said.

    “Turks have essentially put their necks out on the line and attempted to say to the Gulf countries: you’ve been supporting the opposition for huge amount of time but because we have a border with Syria, because we have better and closer credibility among the Syrian rebels, we can force them into a ceasefire,” he suggested.

   “You can clearly see a fact that Saudi Arabia is not even involved in this peace agreement which would create a problem to most of the jihadist groups being funded by Saudi Arabia,” he said.

    ‘It just shows how significantly Russia has changed the dynamics of the Syrian crisis’

   The expert also noted that the current developments in Syria only prove how significant Russian presence in the region has been and how significantly it has changed the internal dynamics of the Syrian crisis.

    “Who would have thought in 2015 when the government was facing almost breaking point that the Russians would be celebrating at least a moral victory in an international struggle against the US in Aleppo after signing a peace agreement for the rebels with Turkey, one of the main countries and backers of the opposition,” he finally stated.

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US, Saudi Arabia Annoyed by Iran Strengthening Its Borders

 

 

S-300 anti-aircraft missile system

     Despite the fact that supplying Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran does not violate any UN Security Council resolution, the US government expressed concern over the increase of Tehran’s military potential caused by this development.

   Meanwhile, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently declared that air defense systems are extremely important and “must be on the frontline, ready to repulse any aggression launched by an enemy that seeks to undermine the country’s defense potential.”

   Ahmad Vakhshiteh, chief editor of Iranian analytical web portal RussiaViewer, told Sputnik that the sale of S-300 by Russia to Iran is a perfectly legal deal, and that the US has no right to interfere. He pointed out that while several years ago the shipment of these weapons was put on hold due to sanctions enforced via a UN resolution, the Iranian nuclear deal effectively helped resolve that issue.

     “The US interference in this issue is illegal. But why does the US protest so vehemently against these shipments? One should pay attention to the growing Saudi influence. Ever since Iran started purchasing these systems, the country’s aerial borders became better defended. So if some countries conflict with Iran – ideologically or geopolitically – or if they seek to destabilize the region to ensure their dominance, they don’t want such an influential state as Iran to improve its military might and increase its defense capabilities,” Vakhshiteh explained.

   He also pointed out that the S-300 surface-to-air missile system is a strictly defensive weapon, and that Iran has never acted aggressively or sought to destabilize the region. Therefore, Vakhshiteh argued, it’s small wonder that when asked why the US protests against the shipment of these weapons, Khamenei replied that “the opposing side, the US, is deceitful and opposes the independence of our nation.”

     “During the nuclear negotiations Iran performed commendably: it accepted all conditions, making notable concessions. The sanctions previously imposed against Iran were annulled. And as Iran honors its commitments, the West – namely, the United States – should also honor the commitments it made. But instead we see the exact opposite. Recently there was even talk of imposing sanctions against Russia for supplying S-300 to Iran,” he said.

Saudis Revealed as Possible Secret Buyer of Ukraine’s ‘Grom’ Missile System

 

Grom-2 concept art

   Earlier this month, Ukrainian media reported that significant progress had been made on the development of a Grom-2, a new tactical ballistic missile system meant to compete with Russia’s Iskander SRBM. Now, new information has become available regarding the weapons system, including its secretive financier.

At the beginning of the month, speaking to local media, Pavlograd Chemical Plant director Leonid Schiemann revealed that after receiving financing of about one billion hryvnia ($40 million) from an unnamed investor, engineers at enterprises under the umbrella of the Ukrainian State Space Agency had made significant progress in the development of the Grom-2, an analogue to the Russian Iskander tactical ballistic and cruise missile complex.

Recently, BMPD, a military blog unofficially affiliated with the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a respected Moscow-based think tank, revealed that the Grom-2 project was commissioned by the Saudis, who provided the Pavlograd Chemical Plant with about $40 million in financing to develop the missile complex for Riyadh. According to BMPD, the Saudis are looking for a system capable of firing both ballistic and cruise missiles interchangeably.

Information regarding Grom-2’s ongoing development was first provided at the Arms and Security exhibition in Kiev last year, with the concept for the system dating back as far as 2003, at which time the country could not find the necessary development funding. The system is expected to feature two ground-to-ground missiles, and to have a range of 280 km (with possible upgrades increasing that to 500 km); Grom-2 is expected to use the prospective ‘Korshun’ (‘Kite’) cruise missile. The system’s designers have claimed that Grom-2’s unconventional flight trajectory will enable it to defeat the most advanced missile defense systems, including Russia’s S-300 and S-400.

     Asked to comment on BMPD’s reporting on the Saudi trace, Andrei Frolov, an expert at CAST and chief editor of Arms Export magazine, suggested that the details behind the story remain very murky.

     Speaking to the independent online news and analysis resource Svobodnaya Pressa, Frolov commented on Riyadh’s possible motives, and why their investment in the Ukrainian defense sector doesn’t seem to make much sense. “On the one hand, ordering the Grom is an opportunity for Riyadh to get ahold of a modern tactical ballistic missile system, which the Americans do not seem to want to sell them. On the other hand, Riyadh could easily buy such weapons from Beijing.”

   “The Ukrainians may have promised the Saudis not only a prototype which, depending on the objective, could be equipped with different systems, but also production of the weapon. Kiev’s assurances that Grom-2 will be able to launch both ballistic and cruise missile is a clear allusion to the Iskander,” the Russian system which includes the Iskander-M and Iskander-K modification, the former equipped with ballistic missiles, the latter with cruise.

   However, according to Frolov, the chances of Ukrainian engineers actually bringing such a system to life are “doubtful” at best.

As for the Korshun cruise missile, which analysts have previously said “outwardly looks very similar to the long-range Soviet-era air-based Kh-55,” Frolov noted that while Ukraine technically has the capability to produce elements of cruise missiles using manufacturing and design capacities left over from the Soviet period, it’s unlikely that Kiev’s benefactors in Washington will allow the country to build modern cruise missiles.

   “The US will do everything possible to prevent Ukraine from producing cruise missiles, as they know that such systems –specifically those with a range of 280 km or more, will be produced exclusively for export, ending up, for example, in Iran, which would be very interested in cruise systems at knockdown prices. Even under the previous Ukrainian government, when the country was not facing such a tense situation domestically, Washington attempted to block Ukrainian moves, sometimes unsuccessfully, as in the case [in the mid-2000s] when Kiev supplied China and Iran with Kh-55s using forged documents that named Russia as the missiles’ destination.”

As far as the vehicle chassis carrying the missile system is concerned, Frolov suggested that judging by reports, Ukrainian engineers may use MAN trucks purchased through Belarus, a Belarusian option (such as MAZ), or even Chinese and Korean trucks.

“But all of this is theoretical; it’s very difficult to imagine that the Ukrainian defense ministry is in a position to create a rocket for a tactical ballistic missile system, since it barely managed creating a guided missile for the Smerch multiple launch rocket system, and even here it’s not clear whether this is a new system or a Soviet-era one.”

Furthermore, the analyst emphasized that building a production line for the system would cost enormous amounts of money, far more than investors have laid out so far. In fact, he suggested, “it’s entirely possible that the contract for a Ukrainian short-range ballistic missile system was a really a measure aimed at retroactively legalizing the transfer of other technology and individual components to Saudi Arabia, accounting for Riyadh’s traditional interest in ballistic missiles of all kinds.”

   For his part, colonel-general Viktor Yesin, former chief of Russia’s Strategic Missile Troops, suggested that it’s possible for Riyadh to show interest in missile systems from the former Soviet space, including Ukraine, given the interest they have previously shown in similar Russian systems, which were eventually simply banned for export. At the same time however, he too indicated that he doesn’t quite understand the logic behind Riyadh’s moves.

“…It can be assumed that they have invested money into the Ukrainian defense industry to get at least some analog to Russian systems. But in general this seems like a very convoluted path to achieving this, given that Saudi ally Pakistan has a whole line of tactical missile systems it is willing to sell to Riyadh.”

   Meanwhile, retired colonel Mikhail Khodarenok, a former staffer at the Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate, told Svobodnaya Pressa that contemporary Ukraine’s defense industry has yet to produce a successful missile system of any kind. In this light, he noted, “the Saudi position is surprising. First of all, the Saudis are generally pretty pragmatic, and very picky in terms of their procurement of military equipment. Meanwhile, no one has actually seen the Grom-2 in the flesh – only poor quality images. Secondly, Riyadh has the opportunity and the money to purchase tactical missile systems from China or Pakistan.”

   “In my opinion, the only plausible explanation for this is that the Saudis were given the recommendation to support the Ukrainian defense industry,” Khodarenok suggested. The expert did not elaborate on who may have offered such a recommendation.

Finally, for his part, Alexei Leonkov, defense analyst and former expert at the 30th Central Scientific Research Institute outside Moscow, suggested that the chances of Riyadh’s investment actually paying off range from slim to none.

   “When it comes to developing tactical missile systems, the Ukrainians do not go beyond advertising campaigns and booths at military shows. Aside from the fact that such work requires organizing the design and production process, the rockets also have to be tested somewhere. [Ukrainian engineers] recently demonstrated a multiple rocket launcher system firing guided munitions at one of their testing grounds, but trials and testing of correctable ballistic or cruise missile projectiles is something else completely. Ultimately, I don’t think this Grom will be going anywhere, or be shooting anything.”

Saudi-Led Coalition Airstrike on Yemeni Hospital Amounts to War Crime

A picture taken on April 7, 2016, shows heavily damaged buildings on a street in Yemen's third city Taez as a result of clashes between Shiite Huthi rebels and fighters from the Popular Resistance Committees, loyal to Yemen's fugitive President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

 

The airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition that hit a hospital in Yemen on Monday can be considered a war crime, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Program Deputy Director said in a statement.

 Amnesty International called for a thorough and independent probe into the attack.

“The bombardment of this hospital is a deplorable act that has cost civilian lives, including medical staff, who are dedicated to helping sick and injured people under some of the most challenging conditions,” Magdalena Mughrabi stated. “Deliberately targeting medical facilities is a serious violation of international humanitarian law which would amount to a war crime.”

The attack on the medical facility, run by the aid group Doctors Without Borders has reportedly left at least seven civilians dead and dozens injured.

“Today’s air strike appears to be the latest in a string of unlawful attacks targeting hospitals, highlighting an alarming pattern of disregard for civilian life,” Mughrabi noted.

Since 2014, Yemen has been gripped by the conflict between the Sunni government and the Shia Houthi rebel movement backed by some factions within the Yemeni army.

A Saudi-led coalition of mostly Persian Gulf countries has been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthis at the Yemeni government’s request.

Riyadh, Qatar and Turkey ‘Responsible for Downing Russian Helicopter in Syria’

Mi-8/17

 

A Russian Mi-8 helicopter was shot down in northwestern Syria on Monday killing all five Russian servicemen on board. In an interview with Sputnik, Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos, Editor of Politics First Magazine, put the blame on an alliance of terrorist groups called the Army of Conquest and its suppliers.

“I have no doubt about that. They have in their possession advanced weapons. We are talking about tanks, other armored vehicles, antitank weapons and antiaircraft missiles. The question is who has supplied them with these antiaircraft missiles?” he continued, adding that they could have apparently been supplied by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.”

“Therefore, they are responsible for the downing of Russia’s Mi-8 helicopter, which was on a humanitarian mission in Syria, and for the death of all five Russian servicemen on board,” Marcus Papadopoulos continued.

Dr. Papadopoulos said that the Army of Conquest formed at the beginning of 2015 and after its formation it scored a major  battlefield victory when it captured Idlib city in the north of Syria and the rest of the province.

“Its political and financial backers are Saudi Arabia and Turkey and even though Ankara may now be reconsidering its policy of supporting Islamist terrorist groups, Turkey is the major supporter of the Army of Conquest responsible for numerous atrocities in Aleppo with their artillery bombardment of civilians,” he noted.

When asked that whether the downing of the Russian helicopter and the death of its crew will lead to the Army of Conquest losing its foreign sponsors or becoming officially recognized as a terrorist group, Dr. Papadopoulos said that “there is little chance of that happening because the Americans are supporting numerous other Islamist terrorist groups in Syria.”

He said that when in 2013 Daesh started to make its move in Syria there was no condemnation from the American government. It was only toward the end of that year when Daesh reemerged in Iraq and started posing a direct threat to the Western-backed Iraqi government that the Americans finally acted. Prior to that, they were only too happy to see Daesh advancing in Syria, capturing Syrian territories and committing atrocities.

“So there is no chance of the US listing the Army of Contest as a terrorist group,” Dr. Papadopoulos noted.

The downing of the Russian helicopter came shortly after Daesh posted a video where it called for waging a jihad against Russia.

When asked whether these two things could be connected somehow, Dr. Papadopoulos said that after Russia launched its antiterrorist campaign in Syria that actually turned the table in that conflict, it is now seen by Daesh, al-Nusra Front, the Army of  Conquest and others as one of their main enemies.Answering a question about the terrorists disseminating video accounts of their atrocities, Dr. Panadopoulos said that such photos and videos must be banned and that there should be censorship.

“I don’t really care what people in the West say about censorship being not in line with Western values of democracy and freedom of expression. There has to be a line drawn somewhere, that pictures of atrocities, beheadings, of bodies being dragged behind trucks should be prohibited on social media.”

“This would deprive the terrorists of a very important channel of recruitment. We have to fight them on the battlefield and we should also beat them on social media by banning their pages on Facebook and preventing them from uploading their appalling photos and videos,” Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos emphasized.

The downing of the Mi-8 has become the deadliest episode for the Russian military since it started bombing terrorist-held territories in Syria in September 2015.

Military delegation of Saudi Arabia visited Military Academy of Logistics

Today, military delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has paid a working visit to Military Academy of Logistics named after Andrei Khrulyov.

Distinguished guests had a look at training equipment of the educational establishment, and had a meeting with command staff of the Academy. Foreign military servicemen also get education in the Academy.

Chief of the Military Academy Lieutenant General Vladimir Ivanovsky told the foreign partners about educational programmes and specializations for training foreign military servicemen.

The delegation has also visited exposition complex of the Academy and the distinguished guests familiarized themselves with the history of the educational establishment, scientific developments, modern equipment and hardware samples.

Russian S-300 Supplies to Iran Prompt Turks, Saudis to Turn to Israel

S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems

Russia delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Iran dispels Israel’s threat to attack the Islamic Republic; at the same time, it may increase tensions between Tehran and the countries of the anti-Iranian bloc, according to Turkish political analyst Hakan Gunes.

In an interview with Sputnik, Turkish political analyst Hakan Gunes said that Israel’s threat to attack Iran becomes irrelevant in light of the delivery of Russia’s S-300 air defense systems to the Islamic Republic, which, however, may fuel further tensions between Tehran and the countries of the anti-Iranian bloc.Gunes specifically stressed that the S-300 deliveries added significantly to the strengthening of Iran’s defense capabilities.

“Aggravating the situation around Russia’s S-300 shipments to Iran was first of all provoked by Israel and Saudi Arabia. The S-300 systems are defensive rather than offensive weaponry. They do not pose a threat to any state, and are designed to ensure the safety of a country’s airspace from a possible missile attack,” he said.

According to him, the S-300 supplies to Iran alarmed Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have repeatedly threatened to launch a missile strike on the Islamic Republic.

“Israel and Saudi Arabia have more than once made statements about a medium-range missile strike on Iran’s infrastructure. These statements became irrelevant now that Iran has received the S-300 systems,” Gunes said.

He also pointed to contradictions in Washington’s relations with its allies in the region, including Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, something that have been in place in the past 18 months.Gunes suggested that these countries cannot wait to see US President Obama’s term end after the November elections in order to intensify their anti-Iranian activities. He predicted that the next few months may see further rapprochement between Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In case of a conflict with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are most likely to turn to the Israeli lobby in the US for support, according to him.

“With an ever-increasing activity of the countries of the anti-Iranian bloc, confrontation between them and Iran could escalate after the November elections in the US,” Gunes said.

The first batch of the S-300 surface-to-air missiles capable of downing jets was delivered to Iran on April 11, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

Russia and Iran signed a 900-million-dollar contract in 2007 amid opposition from Israel and the United States. The deal was suspended after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in mid-2010.In April 2015, Russia resumed talks on S-300 deliveries following a framework agreement on a landmark pact that aimed to ensure the peaceful nature of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Israel, in turn, criticized Russia’s decision to go ahead with arms deliveries to Iran, saying that it would allegedly further destabilize the region.