The Unsolved Mystery Behind the Act of Terror That Brought Putin to Power

vladimir-putin-1999-moscow-apartment-bombing-gennNational Review, by David Satter,  August 17, 2016:

I believe that Vladimir Putin came to power as the result of an act of terror committed against his own people. The evidence is overwhelming that the apartment-house bombings in 1999 in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk, which provided a pretext for the second Chechen war and catapulted Putin into the presidency, were carried out by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Yet, to this day, an indifferent world has made little attempt to grasp the significance of what was the greatest political provocation since the burning of the Reichstag.

I have been trying to call attention to the facts behind the bombings since 1999. I consider this a moral obligation, because ignoring the fact that a man in charge of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal came to power through an act of terror is highly dangerous in itself.

Russian human-rights defenders Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko also worked to shed light on the apartment bombings. But all of them were murdered between 2003 and 2006. By 2007, when I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the bombings, I was the only person publicly accusing the regime of responsibility who had not been killed.

The bombings terrorized Russia. The Russian authorities blamed Chechen rebels and thereby galvanized popular support for a new war in Chechnya. President Boris Yeltsin and his entourage were thoroughly hated for their role in the pillaging of the country. Putin, the head of the FSB, had just been named Yeltsin’s prime minister and achieved overnight popularity by vowing revenge against those who had murdered innocent civilians. He assumed direction of the war and, on the strength of initial successes, was elected president easily.

Almost from the start, however, there were doubts about the provenance of the bombings, which could not have been better calculated to rescue the fortunes of Yeltsin and his entourage. Suspicions deepened when a fifth bomb was discovered in the basement of a building in Ryazan, a city southeast of Moscow, and those who had placed it turned out to be not Chechen terrorists but agents of the FSB. After these agents were arrested by local police, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the FSB, said that the bomb had been a fake and that it had been planted in Ryazan as part of a training exercise. The bomb, however, tested positive for hexogen, the explosive used in the four successful apartment bombings. An investigation of the Ryazan incident was published in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and the public’s misgivings grew so widespread that the FSB agreed to a televised meeting between its top officials and residents of the affected building. The FSB in this way tried to demonstrate its openness, but the meeting was a disaster: It left the overwhelming impression that the incident in Ryazan was a failed political provocation.

Three days after the broadcast, Putin was elected. Attention to the Ryazan incident faded, and it began to appear that the bombings would become just the latest in the long list of Russia’s unsolved crimes.

In April 2000, a week after Putin’s election, I decided to go to Ryazan. The residents of 14–16 Novoselov Street, where the bomb had been planted, were suffering from heart problems and depression, and their children were afraid to go to sleep at night. Those I met were completely convinced that the incident had not been a training exercise. “Who can imagine such a thing?” asked Vladimir Vasiliev, whose initial reports of suspicious activity had led to the arrest of the FSB agents. “But the claim that it was a test makes no sense. Does it make sense to test people for vigilance at a time when the whole country is in a state of panic?”

Read more

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Secure Freedom Radio with Frank Gaffney, Aug. 18, 2016:

DAVID SATTER, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, author of “The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin”:

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

  • Mystery surrounding the apartment bombings Putin blamed on Chechen militants
  • Claim that Ukrainian forces attacked across the Crimean border
  • Advice for the next Commander in Chief on US/Russia policy
  • Putin’s actions in the Middle East designed to promote Russian nationalism

Also see:

WikiLeaks Game Can Turn Kremlin Fortress Into Glass House

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with permanent members of the Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow on August 11, 2016. (ALEXEI DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with permanent members of the Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow on August 11, 2016. (ALEXEI DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images)

Forbes, by J. Michael Waller, Aug. 16, 2016: (h/t Kyle Shideler)

For the first time since the 1950s, Russian subversion of the American political process has become a presidential campaign issue.

The Kremlin’s latest act of espionage-driven propaganda–document dump of Democratic National Committee emails via WikiLeaks–achieved its desired effect of immediate politicization. We should step back to learn two lessons, and creatively fight back.

The first lesson

Lesson one: Moscow’s subversion of American democracy is nothing new. The Soviet KGB and its successor entities have picked favorites in the past, and at crucial points in history, some American politicians and officials wittingly or unwittingly collaborated. One need only look at the Soviet penetration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration through controlled agents of influence. FBI reports and congressional hearings at the time, Communist defectors and turncoat Soviet intelligence officers, and more recent revelations from Soviet archives and the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ decrypted Venona transcripts prove this beyond any doubt.

Present-day political figures also colluded with the Soviets against their own country. A shining example is Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In the 1980s, after honeymooning in the USSR, Sanders collaborated with the U.S. section of the World Peace Council, a major Soviet front organization that was working to push America to disarm unilaterally and surrender allies to Soviet aggression.

In ways far more damaging than Sanders’ fringe activism, distinguished members of the Clinton political clan benefited from relations with the KGB. The two primary Russia hands for Bill Clinton’s administration owed their political or professional fortunes to Soviet agents. The first was vice president Al Gore, whose father, also a senator, benefited greatly from his special relationship with Soviet agent Armand Hammer in a way that arguably groomed the younger Gore to lead Clinton’s Russia team. The second was Bill Clinton’s roommate at Oxford, Strobe Talbott, who as a cub reporter for Time magazine in Moscow, received the break of his life from Victor Louis, a KGB agent whose job was to recruit rising star journalists. We don’t know whether Talbott allowed the KGB to compromise him, but when asked about it during his Senate confirmation hearing to become deputy secretary of state in 1994, Talbott declined to answer.

Lesson two

The second lesson from the DNC WikiLeaks affair is that history shows that when American leaders resist and make Moscow pay a price, the Kremlin backs off. Strategic-minded leaders, as President Ronald Reagan proved, can even turn tables on the perpetrators and defeat them.

Which is why we should be focusing, not on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but on the current commander-in-chief. Barack Obama has done nothing to discourage Russian misbehavior that led to the WikiLeaks dump. His passivity arguably encouraged it. He now has the pretext to do something.

Obama is the only person on earth who can respond in-kind to the Putin regime’s egregious intervention in the American democratic process. Putin and his inner circle are vulnerable to exposure of their own shameful actions, habits, actions and fetishes. In the electronic age, the Kremlin fortress has become a glass house.

Next steps

For starters, Obama should order the intelligence community to compile properly-sanitized dumps of emails and social media among select targets in Putin’s inner circle. The personal electronic communications should expose the widely-suspected but seldom proven details of the staggering corruption at the top of the Russian gangster state, including Putin’s family members and loyalists. Judiciously selected, the exposures will show Putin and others that we, too, can play hardball.

If disciplined enough, the U.S. can outplay the Putin-WikiLeaks team. Russia’s political system is far less resilient than ours. The increasingly-centralized yet divided Russian Federation is potentially much more fragile and vulnerable to public exposure of the colossal scale of greed and organized criminal behavior of its national leadership.

And then there are national cultural norms that no present Russian leader could politically survive once the glass of invincibility is electronically shattered. Above almost all else, Putin nurses a deep-seated hostility to male homosexuality. Putin-centric political elites could never endure the humiliation and ridicule following a skillful intelligence dump of their private emails, text messages, social media posts, photos and Web browser histories.

No doubt Putin and his inner circle anticipated a cost-free scheme to embarrass Hillary Clinton and, by extension, Obama. If that is the case, all Americans who strive for political authority are wearing an electronic “kick me” sign on their backs. They should expect Russia and other powers like China to be scooping up and storing their electronic communication for future use. We can’t allow that to continue.

For the sake of America’s democratic society, Obama must strike back hard at Putin and his inner circle. Now.

Mr. Waller is a founding editorial board member of NATO’s Defence Strategic Communications journal. His books include “Secret Empire: The KGB In Russia Today.”

Hillary’s secret ties to Putin will undermine American interests

usa russian flags

Just how far back does the Clinton-Kremlin connection go? It’s worth investigating. 

Conservative Review, by Benjamin Weingarten, Aug. 14, 2016:

Russia’s malignant influence on American foreign policy is finally becoming a relevant issue in the 2016 presidential election, and that is definitely a positive development. Based upon their actions and associations, neither candidate has shown a sufficient understanding of — or worse, they have ignored — the nature of the Russian regime and its threat to America’s national interest. These deficiencies ought to be of grave concern to the American people.

As the Government Accountability Institute lays out in a recent report, Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia while serving as secretary of State appear to represent the worst kind of cronyism: sacrificing America’s national interest for her own and Russia’s benefit. As the Executive Summary of the report explains:

  • A major technology transfer component of the Russian reset overseen by Hillary Clinton substantially enhanced the Russian military’s technological capabilities, according to both the FBI and the U.S. Army.
  • Russian government officials and American corporations participated in the technology transfer project overseen by Hillary Clinton’s State Department that funnelled (sic) tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

The report also notes that Hillary’s presidential campaign chairman, Tony Podesta, had dubious ties with the Russian regime:

  • A Putin-connected Russian government fund transferred $35 million to a small company with Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta on its executive board, which included senior Russian officials.
  • John Podesta failed to reveal, as required by law on his federal financial disclosures, his membership on the board of this offshore company.
  • Podesta also headed up a think tank which wrote favorably about the Russian reset while apparently receiving millions from Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs via an offshore LLC.

Building upon Peter Schweizer’s work in his book, “Clinton Cash,” The New York Times revealed another alleged quid pro quo detrimental to America’s national interest — but again, benefitting Hillary and Russia — with the infamous Uranium One deal.

Recall that the Russians took control of Uranium One and thus one-fifth of all U.S. uranium production capacity through three separate transactions between 2009 and 2013. Given the strategic importance of uranium, authorizing Russian control required the approval of various government agencies, including Hillary’s State Department.

Meanwhile, the Clinton Foundation received contributions totaling more than $100 million from Uranium One’s chairman and several of its shareholders in addition to those with ties to Uranium One or UrAsia, which had originally acquired Uranium One’s valuable Kazakh mine assets. Secretary Clinton also received $500,000 for a speech she gave at Renaissance Capital — a Kremlin-linked investment bank, which had recommended purchasing Uranium One stock soon after the Russians announced their intent to acquire a majority stake in the company.

Just how far back does the Clinton-Kremlin connection go? It’s worth investigating.

Concerning Donald Trump, even if we were gracious and excused his praise of Vladimir Putin as mere rhetoric (intended as a dig at Barack Obama and by extension Hillary), or just “Trump being Trump,” his substantive actions and associations are more troubling.

Even though the Trump campaign contributed little to the 2016 Republican Party platform changes, despite protestations to the contrary it did intervene regarding language about American support for Ukraine against Russian aggression. Trump officials reportedly watered down a portion of the platform calling for GOP support of “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainians in the face of Russian intervention, replacing the phrase with the softer provision, “appropriate assistance.”

Previously, Trump wavered on whether the U.S. would fulfill its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) obligations to defend Baltic nations against Russian aggression, giving a standoffish response to The New York Times that amounted to the following: I would not tell Vladimir Putin what we would do in the event of Russian intervention in the Baltics, but we cannot ignore the fact that irrespective of our own treaty obligations, NATO members must fulfill their obligations in terms of funding NATO.

Again, we could charitably chalk this up to mere rhetoric, consistent with Trump’s narrative on globalism and deal-making. By Trump’s logic, NATO is just another international deal in which America has gotten ripped off by freeloader nations, and Trump will be the only negotiator that drives a hard enough bargain to fix the deal — including threats to not fulfill its terms.

Leaving aside the not-so-small issue of honoring treaties, the central problem here is that NATO’s purpose is, in large part, to counter Russia. And Trump’s advisors have significant ties to that nation, casting a pall over everything Trump says and does relating to it.

Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has done substantial work for Viktor Yanukovych — former president of Ukraine and backed by Putin. That Yanukovych pulled Ukraine closer into Putin’s orbit is well-documented. Manafort has also partaken in business dealings with oligarchs loyal to Putin.

Trump’s advisor on Russia, Carter Page, is a big investor in Gazprom, an energy company and one of the crown jewels of Putin’s kleptocracy. Page has railed against U.S. foreign policy towards Russia with all manner of calumnies — notably at times while in Russia — and called for the easing of sanctions against Russia that affected Gazprom and other companies.

Trump’s personal and professional ties to Russia, though worthy of scrutiny, raise fewer red flags than those of Hillary.

What does Russia itself actually want out of the 2016 presidential election?

Read more

Ben Weingarten is Founder & CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and publication services firm. A graduate of Columbia University, he regularly contributes to publications such as City Journal, The Federalist, Newsmax and PJ Media on national security/defense, economics and politics. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

About Obama’s Receding Tide of War…

obama-work-here-is-done-610x400PJ MEDIA, BY CLAUDIA ROSETT,  APRIL 19, 2016:

Years ago, looking out at the Pacific surf from a beach in Chile, a friend — alert to the ways of tsunamis — gave me some advice about what to do if suddenly the water all went away. “Run. Run for your life. Because it’s all coming back.”

That advice has come to mind all too often since President Obama made his 2012 reelection campaign proclamations about the receding tide of war. Not that the tide of war has receded anywhere except perhaps in the fantasies of Obama and his followers. But after more than seven years of U.S. policy predicated on such propaganda, it’s getting ever harder to read the daily headlines without the sense that there’s a deluge coming our way.

Just a modest sampling of some of the latest warning signs:

— Russian warplanes have been demonstrating that they can with impunity buzz our military aircraft and ships. Which is by now no surprise, because Russian President Vladimir Putin has already learned — in the flexible era of the Obama “reset” — that the U.S. is no serious obstacle to such stunts as Russia swiping the entire territory of Crimea from Ukraine, moving back into the Middle East, propping up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and offering fugitive Edward Snowden a home after the grand hack of the National Security Agency.

— China, while brushing off U.S. protests, keeps pushing its power plays and territorial grabs in East Asia — and has just landed a military jet on an island it has built, complete with runway, in the South China Sea.

— Iran, having pocketed the Obama-legacy rotten nuclear deal, has continued testing ballistic missiles, with Iran’s Fars News Agency advertising that two of the missiles launched just last month were emblazoned in Hebrew with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out.” Presumably these missiles are being developed just in case Iran feels a need to propel toward a target some highly unpeaceful products of its “exclusively peaceful” nuclear program? Meantime, Iran is wielding the nuclear agreement itself as a threat. Just this past week, we had the head of Iran’s Central Bank in Washington threatening that Iran will walk away from Obama’s cherished nuclear deal unless the Obama administration provides yet more concessions — in this instance, a U.S. welcome mat for Iran’s banking transactions, so Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, can avail itself of easy access to dollars.

— Saudi authorities have been threatening that if Congress passes a bill allowing the Saudi government to be held responsible for any part in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, they will dump hundreds of billions worth of U.S. assets. (What’s most arresting here is less the prospect of a self-defeating Saudi fire sale on U.S. assets than the reality that the Saudis — beset by everything from relatively low oil prices to regional tumult, including an aggressively expansionist Iran — feel free to try to bully the U.S.).

— And oh, by the way, North Korea, has been visibly preparing for a fifth nuclear test. If they carry it out during the grand window of opportunity provided by Obama’s final nine months in office, this would be the fourth North Korean nuclear test on Obama’s watch. That’s not a good trend, especially given North Korea’s history of marketing its weapons and nuclear know-how to places such as the Middle East.

That’s before we even get to the carnage and refugee flows spilling out of such places as Syria and Libya; such terrorist outfits and networks as ISIS, the Taliban, Hezbollah, al Qaeda…and the mix-and-match extent to which various states not entirely friendly to the U.S. tend to officially deplore terrorism while also sponsoring or abetting it, as convenient.

Obama likes to lecture us that all these things are transient problems, speed bumps on the road to wherever that utopian arc of history finally bends toward some great big pot of justice at the end of the rainbow. In his view, as he told NBC’s Matt Lauer this past January, “there are no existential threats” confronting the U.S. today. Thus, as Fox News reported earlier this month in a superb documentary on “Rising Threats, Shrinking Military,” Obama is both gutting the U.S. military and reshaping it, the priorities here being not to win wars, but to be, above all, eco-aware and gender malleable.

In a televised inteview April 10, with Fox News host Chris Wallace, Obama opinedthat if you just step back and look at the big picture, there’s not much to worry about: “America’s got the best cards. We are the envy of the world. We have the most powerful military on earth, by a mile.”

That’s true, but it’s not a product of Obama’s brand of leadership, and it’s not enough to have the best cards if your leaders are busy throwing them away. America’s greatness is the incredible legacy of many generations of work and sacrifice under a system of capitalism and freedom, and of leaders willing at crucial moments to stand up for this country. It takes a lot of effort to run that down, but this is what Obama has been doing, with the apology tours, the terrible deals, the fading red lines, the hollow speeches, the inert declarations about standing “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the “international community,” the insults to America’s allies and the come-hither courting of America’s enemies.

None of the nations now defying, threatening or bullying America is likely, individually, to win a war with the United States. But collectively, they keep pushing the envelope, and finding no serious resistance. There is every sign that they are learning from each other, emboldening each other, and in some disturbing matters willing to work together. This is how wars start.

On April 17, novelist and political writer Mark Helprin published an important op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, under the headline “The Candidates Ignore Rising Military Dangers,” with the subhed: “Obama is weakening U.S. defenses and credibility, but there’s little debate about the growing risk of war.” The entire article is worth reading. But if you want a quick summary of what’s out there, it’s in the caption to a photo than ran with the piece: “War games last year in southern Russia involved troops from countries including Russia, China, Pakistan and Venezuela.” You can bet, whatever they are preparing for, it is not a receding tide of war.

Putin: Russia Will Withdraw Most Of Its Military From Syria – But Russian Activity At Tartus Naval Base And Hmeymim Airbase Will Continue As Before

MEMRI, by Jenia Frumin and Elena Voinova, March 15, 2016:

Introduction

On March 14, 2016, Russia announced that the next day, March 15, it would begin its withdrawal from Syria. In a MEMRI report published yesterday, Russian political analyst Sergey Karaganov, who is close to the Kremlin, stated that Russia must be extremely careful not to get “bogged down” in the Syrian quagmire, stressing: “[Russia] should have the courage to withdraw quickly if such a danger appears and to prepare [our] society for such a possibility.”[1]Previously, on March 2, 2016, MEMRI published an interview with Karaganov in which he underlined that Russia must “be prepared to leave Syria at any moment.”[2]

Source: Lenta.ru, March 15, 2016

Source: Lenta.ru, March 15, 2016

Russian Media Reports And Analysis On The Withdrawal Decision

On March 14, the day of the announcement of its withdrawal, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu; during the meeting, he ordered the Defense Ministry to begin withdrawing the main part of Russia’s military group from Syria and asked the Foreign Ministry to step up Russia’s participation in organizing the peace process to resolve the Syria crisis. Putin then specified that Russia’s naval base at Tartus and its strategic Hmeymin airbase will continue operating as before, saying, “They must be protected securely from land, sea and air.” In a phone conversation the same day with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Putin said that Russia will maintain an aviation support center in Syria to monitor all parties’ compliance with the ceasefire.

Chairman Of Parliamentary Defense And Security Committee: Up To 1,000 Russian Troops Will Remain In Syria

In accordance with Putin’s orders, the technical staff of the airbase prepared aircraft for the departure to Russia; personnel loaded equipment, logistics gear, and inventory into transport aircraft.[3] The Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti[4] wrote that groups of fighter bombers and various types of combat aircraft had already flown back to Russia. The pro-Kremlin news agency Pravda stressed that the military bases would not be shut down, noting, “Russia’s military presence in Syria will be preserved.”

Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the international committee for defense and security in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said that he believes that up to 1,000 Russian troops will remain in Syria.[5] In another interview, Ozerov said that Russia will meet its obligations to the Syrian regime with regard to supplies of military hardware and equipment, commenting, “In any case, [Russia] will be able to quickly strengthen its group there, should the need arise.”[6]

Russian Daily: Anti-Aircraft Systems, Helicopters, APCs, Tanks, SU-35s Will Remain At Hmeymim

The Russian independent daily Vedemosti,[7] citing unnamed Defense Ministry sources, stated that the first stage of the withdrawal is the sending of 30 of Russia’s warplanes home, adding that a new airstrike on terrorist groups is still possible if necessary. However, in Ria Novosti, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov stated that airstrikes will continue.[8] Vedemosti also said that Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov doubted that the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system will be redeployed to Russia any time soon. This statement was confirmed by the Defense Ministry,[9] and by Kremlin Chief of Staff head Sergey Ivanov, who specified that the S-400 will remain in Syria because it is needed to defend the airbase.

The pro-Kremlin online newspaper Lenta[10] specified that anti-aircraft units will remain in Syria, along with ground protection forces, and that some artillery and helicopter units might also remain. The Russian daily Kommersant[11] said that half of the attack planes will return to Russia, and that anti-aircraft systems, 10 helicopters, BTR-82A APCs, T-90C tanks, four Su-35s (that arrived earlier this month) and perhaps a few more Su-30CM will remain at Hmeymim airbase. Kommersant[12] added that the decision to withdraw was not hasty but had been planned and discussed in the Russian security council.

The Kremlin-funded analytical media outlet Russia-direct commented that Russia had chosen the right moment to withdraw from Syria. It said that the Kremlin’s move would show the international community that Russia seeks to “maintain the peaceful process not only with words,” and that it is ready to take on a role of mediator in the Middle East. In this context, it said, Russia can now present itself as a “neutral force,” which “saved Syria from collapse” while at the same time “shied away” from fighting a war for the Assad regime. Russia-Direct also suggested that Russia’s move is designed to be a “wake-up call” to the “over-confident” Syrian regime, reminding it that “Russian air support is not limitless.”

Pro-Kremlin Newspaper: The Decision To Withdraw Comes Because Russia Doesn’t Want To Be “More Syrian than Syria”

In Vedemosti,[13] the director-general of the pro-Kremlin Russian International Affairs Council, Andrey Kortunov, stated that the main reason for the withdrawal is Assad’s “stubbornness”[14]that could undermine the continuation of the Geneva process and thus damage Russia’s interests in the region. However, Putin spokesman Peskov denied that the withdrawal is aimed at politically pressuring the Assad regime,[15] and that it should not be interpreted as a manifestation of Russian unhappiness with Assad.

Lenta stated that the decision to withdraw is due to the fact that Russia doesn’t want to win the war for Syria, since “Russia won’t be more Syrian than Syria”; furthermore, for Russia, Assad’s personal future is no longer a precondition. According to Lenta, even though the Islamic State (ISIS) has not been completely defeated, Russia has achieved its four goals: the stabilization of the Syrian regime, the strengthening of the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis, strikes by Russian fighters against ISIS in northwestern Syria, and proving that a Russian role in the region is indispensable. It added that Russia will, however, maintain a presence in Syria as a sign of its strategic interest in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Additionally, Ria Novosti,[16] cited unnamed diplomatic sources in Brussels as suggesting that the Russian withdrawal from Syria can be seen as a move that could lead to the gradual removal of sanctions on Russia.

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Also see:

US, Russia agree on plan for Syria cease-fire

File photo of the Syrian crisis (Reuters)

File photo of the Syrian crisis (Reuters)

Ahram Online, AP, Feb. 22, 2016:

US officials said Monday that the United States and Russia have agreed on a plan for a cease-fire in Syria starting Saturday that would exclude attacks on the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda’s local affiliate.

The officials said that the two sides have agreed on the terms and conditions for the “cessation of hostilities.” A formal announcement is expected after Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin speak on the matter by telephone. The officials weren’t authorized to speak about the matter publicly and demanded anonymity.

The announcement would cap weeks of diplomacy that intensified in the past few days, aimed at reaching a temporary truce that would allow the parties to return to the negotiating table in Geneva. A first round of indirect talks collapsed rapidly last month after the government launched a massive offensive backed by Russian airstrikes in the northern province of Aleppo, near the Turkish border.

The leader of a Saudi-backed Syrian opposition alliance said in a statement that rebel factions have agreed “in principle” to an internationally mediated temporary truce. Riad Hijab did not elaborate on the terms, but called on Russia, Iran and the Syrian government to stop their attacks, lift blockades and release prisoners held in Syria.

Residents of the Syrian capital earlier Monday expressed skepticism about talk of a “provisional agreement” for a truce, a day after a wave of Islamic State bombings killed about 130 people in government-held areas near Damascus and another city.

Details of the tentative cease-fire between the government and insurgents, announced in Jordan on Sunday by US Secretary of State John Kerry, have not been made public. Even if a truce were to take hold, IS would not be a party to it.

The Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement earlier Monday saying that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kerry spoke two more times by telephone on Sunday and agreed on the parameters for the cease-fire.

The statement said those parameters were then reported to Putin and Obama. No further details were immediately available.

The UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told The Associated Press on Monday that this week is shaping up as “crucial” for diplomatic efforts to help end the fighting, though he declined to provide details of the negotiations.

Sunday’s blasts that ripped through the Sayyida Zeinab suburb of Damascus and the central city of Homs were among the deadliest bombings in government-held areas in Syria’s devastating civil war.

The Islamic State group claimed both attacks. The extremists are dug in on the outskirts of the two cities and have repeatedly targeted pro-government strongholds.

De Mistura condemned the bombings and said it suggested the group is feeling “cornered” amid an intensified diplomatic push to end the five-year war. The US also condemned the “barbaric terrorist attacks.”

Inside the Hamidiyeh Souk, a popular Damascus bazaar which is typically crowded with shoppers, people said they were worried that a cease-fire would not be evenly observed and could leave the Syrian authorities vulnerable.

“I hope there will be no cease-fire, because if there is a cease-fire, Turks will increase their support for criminals and traitors,” said Ahmad al-Omar from the northern Aleppo province, adding that Turkey may seek to let opposition fighters in via its border with Syria.

Others at the bazaar echoed President Bashar Al-Assad’s statements that a cease-fire could give an advantage to rebel forces and the Islamic State group.

“I believe that those proposals now are … a pretext to stop the advance of the Syrian army, which is trying to liberate the homeland,” said Ahmad al-Issa.

The Associated Press reported from the bazaar on a government-approved visit.

On Monday, the Kremlin announced that Putin spoke with the emir of Qatar, a key supporter of the rebels fighting to topple Al-Assad. The two sides agreed “to intensify bilateral contacts at various levels to facilitate the settlement of the crisis,” the statement said. Putin also discussed Syria with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, another leading backer of the rebels, in a phone conversation on Friday.

Syrian officials said the government was ready to take part in a truce as long as it is not used by militants to reinforce their positions. Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes are waging a major offensive in the northern Aleppo province, trying to seal the border with Turkey, a key supporter of the rebels, before any truce is reached.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government’s supply route by land to the city of Aleppo was cut by heavy fighting Monday as the army, supported by allied militias and the Russian air force, fought to consolidate its recent gains in the northern province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of contacts to monitor the war, said Islamic militias assaulted government-held positions around Khanaser, a town southeast of Aleppo, setting off intense clashes that have lasted through the day. Khanaser lies along the government’s only access route to the city.

Fighting has been fierce in Aleppo province in recent weeks amid a government offensive to cut off the rebel stronghold.

Among the youth sitting around the Syrian capital’s landmark Omayyad mosque, at the entrance of the old souks, few wanted to talk politics.

Those who did expressed their wariness of a political solution after several rounds of unsuccessful peace talks. “It’s good for the Syrians to stop fighting but it will not happen, said Awuj Aqeel, a student.

“Every time they agree on a truce for a period of time and then they break it.”

***

Also see:

Why is the West So Obsessed with Protecting the Territorial Integrity of Syria and Iraq?

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

American Thinker, by Adam Turner, Feb. 20, 2016:

This week, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond asked, “Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini state in the north-west of Syria?”

sy-mapObviously, the Russians are not committed to the Syrian peace process and want an Alawite state. Their national interest is in keeping their client state, Syria, and the Russian bases within it, in existence. The Russians have little interest in a peace process to create a more democratic — and certainly Sunni Arab (74% of the population) dominated — Syria, where they would probably lose both their client and their bases. The easiest way for the Russians to do this now is to cut off the Alawite portions of the state and thereby create an Alawite majority/plurality state.

The U.S., and the rest of the West, needs to understand what these Russian interests are, and try to make the best of the situation. Thanks to the U.S.’s fecklessness in the region, we have already allowed Russia to take a dominant role in Syria, and there is probably little chance of us pressuring them to leave. Besides, the creation of a separate Alawite nation is not necessarily in opposition to Western interests. The West has long sought to promote peace; boost the number of democratic nations; and also protect minority rights (whether religious, gender, ethnic, or tribal) throughout the Middle East. Some revamped borderlines, including the creation of an Alawite state, may well maximize these Western interests.

Syria was one of the many Middle Eastern states that were created by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Unfortunately, the post-World War I Sykes-Picot lines were drawn solely for the benefit of the colonial powers, and not based on the idea of creating stable, united, and democratic nations. So, the end result of Sykes-Picot has been the creation a Middle East plagued by violence, genocide, and persecution. And with the Obama Administration’s decisions to: 1) pull the U.S. from the region; and 2) favor Islamist Iran, which has long sought to promote instability throughout the rest of the region and thereby boost Iranian power, things have gotten even worse.

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

Dividing Syria into different nations — whether officially or de facto — might help ameliorate the bloody civil war that has (so far) reportedly killed up to 470,000 Syrians and driven millions more into exile. An Alawite state in the west of Syria would satisfy the Russians, but also protect the Alawite and Shia population (13%) from slaughter at the hands of Sunni Islamist groups. (Perhaps an agreement could also be reached with Putin to remove Assad, and replace him with another, less bloodthirsty, Alawite.) An Alawite state could also include Syrian Christians (10%), who mostly live near the Alawites, and also are endangered by the Islamists. A Kurdish state in the north would be positive for the West, since the Syrian Kurds (10%): 1) have proven to be the most effective fighters against ISIS; 2) are largely secular; and 3) have had some success creating a region where other minorities are protected. A Druze state, in a portion of the south where they are a majority, might also be a good idea. The Druze (3%), as a minority, generally do not discriminate against other groups, have faced threats from the Syrian Sunni Islamists, and have long been known as fierce and competent fighters.

Syria’s division would also impact Iraq. The remainder of the Syrian state is Sunni dominated, and should probably be added to the Sunni portions of Iraq to create one state. “This ‘Sunni-stan’ has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiations with the Kurds, to be sure) and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad.” This would also allow the West to “empower viable Sunni leaders, including tribal authorities” to fight against ISIS, in a replay of what happened in Iraq in 2007. Currently the Sunni Arabs who dominate in those regions so fear being controlled by Shia Iraqis, Alawite Syrians or Shia Iranians that they will not oppose Sunni ISIS. Of course, by separating Sunnis and Shias in Iraq and Sunnis from non-Sunnis in Syria, this should also decrease the religious violence and discrimination currently occurring in Syria and Iraq.

If the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq are separated from the rest of Iraq, this will also result in the creation of a separate Kurdish state in the north, since Sunni Iraq is between Iraqi Kurdistan and Shia Iraq. (Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan could also unite as one state). Once again, the West would benefit from a Kurdish state; Iraqi Kurdistan “is a uniquely strong, stable, and democratic house” that generally has a good record of respecting minority rights.

25bolton-blog427Two nations will object to these map changes in Iraq and Syria. Iran wants to maximize its control over the Middle East. But contrary to the belief of President Obama, the U.S. does not have national interests in empowering the Shia Islamist Iran. Turkey would also object. But the concerns of that undemocratic, discriminatory Sunni Islamist regime should be immaterial to the West, especially since the Russians would be happy to stick it to the Turks by backing a Kurdish state.

It is time to redraw the lines in the Middle East to ameliorate violence and promote democracy and human rights. I hope the next U.S. president will have the courage and foresight to do so.

Adam Turner serves as general counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security.

World Powers Agree to ‘Cessation of Hostilities’ as Assad Vows to ‘Retake All of Syria’

Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Feb. 12, 2016:

The Washington Post’s report on the big announcement immediately cast doubt upon just how much “cessation” we can expect. Secretary of State John Kerry said the declaration was “unanimous,” but hedged by saying it was merely unanimous “words on paper,” and “What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.”

Those actions on the ground will apparently still involve Russian bombs detonating, just not quite as many of them:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the projected date for ending at least some of his country’s airstrikes in Syria is a week from Friday, but he emphasized that “terrorist” groups would continue to be targeted, including the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that is involved in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad. The group in some instances fights alongside rebel forces supported by the United States and its allies.

The determination of eligible targets and geographic areas is to be left up to a task force of nations, headed by Russia and the United States, that will adjudicate differences of opinion. It is expected but by no means guaranteed that signatories to the agreement will be able to persuade their proxies and allies on the ground, including Assad and the hundreds of opposition groups fighting against him, to honor the terms.

Kerry and Lavrov emphasized that the agreement is not perfect and will require the goodwill and determination of all involved.

Not much “goodwill” could be detected in the interview with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad posted by AFP shortly after Kerry’s announcement. He vowed that his armed forces would “retake all of Syria,” acting against “terrorist” forces “without any hesitation.”

Assad then complained that due to the involvement of outside parties – i.e. the diplomats currently bubbling about a cessation of hostilities – his “solution” to the Syrian civil war “will take a long time, and incur a heavy price.”

The Syrian dictator also rejected United Nations allegations of war crimes perpetrated by his military and allied forces, and gave Europe a veiled warning that more refugees, with more terrorist mixed in, would be coming their way, if Western nations did not withdraw their support from opposition groups and let Assad finish them off.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke of a “qualitative” change in U.S. policy, moving away from calls to ramp down Russian airstrikes to a process of active U.S.-Russian cooperation, which would mean the United States was helping Russia take out Assad’s opposition. Kerry, of course, acted like he had no idea what Lavrov was talking about.

The U.S. also seemed taken aback by Russian allegations that American planes were responsible for the recent bombing of two hospitals in Aleppo.

The best anyone seems to be realistically hoping for is reducing the bloodbath around the Syrian city of Aleppo, and making it safer for humanitarian aid to reach besieged civilians. The Washington Post speculates that if Assad’s patrons in Russia and Iran do consider a reduction of hostilities, or actual cease-fire, it will be because they have largely accomplished their objectives, making it possible for the Syrian military to recapture Aleppo.

With a little more bloodshed, Russia, Iran, and Syria can hope to break the back of Assad’s effective military opposition, bringing more amenable rebel factions to the table for a negotiated settlement that will fall well short of ejecting the Assad regime from power, and isolating the Islamic State as a final enemy, which the international coalition will destroy on Assad’s behalf.

While U.S. Secretary of State Kerry was talking about working toward a cease-fire and negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war, Russia left no doubts about what it expects the ultimate resolution to look like.

“Just look at what happened in Afghanistan and many other countries,” said Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev. “The Americans and our Arab partners must think well: do they want a permanent war? It would be impossible to win such a war quickly, especially in the Arab world, where everybody is fighting against everybody. All sides must be compelled to sit at the negotiating table, instead of unleashing a new world war.”

“You have no one power that can act alone,” Medvedev added. “You have Assad and his troops on one side and some grouping, which is fighting against the government on the other side. It is all very complicated. It could last years or even decades. What’s the point of this?”

On Thursday, one U.N. diplomatic source told Reuters the Russians were “stringing Kerry along” with talk about cease-fires and humanitarian issues, while they finished the business of arranging a battlefield victory for Assad: “It’s clear to everyone now that Russia really doesn’t want a negotiated solution but for Assad to win.”

Another diplomatic source summed up the Syrian endgame by saying, “It’ll be easy to get a ceasefire soon, because the opposition will all be dead. That’s a very effective ceasefire.”

 

No, the Islamic State Will Not Be Defeated — and if It Is, We Still Lose

GettyImages-497044984-640x480Breitbart, by Ben Shapiro, Nov. 24, 2015:

Barack Obama has now created an unwinnable war.

While all of the 2016 candidates declare their strategies for victory against ISIS, President Obama’s leading from behind has now entered the Middle East and the West into a free-for-all that cannot end any way but poorly.

The best way to understand the situation in Syria is to look at the situation and motivation of the various players. All of them have varying agendas; all of them have different preferred outcomes. Few of them are on anything approaching the same page. And Barack Obama’s failure of leadership means that there is no global power around which to center.

ISIS. ISIS has gained tremendous strength since Barack Obama’s entry to power and pullout from Iraq. They currently control northern Syria, bordering Turkey, as well as large portions of northern Iraq. Their goal: to consolidate their territorial stranglehold, and to demonstrate to their followers that they, and not other competing terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, represent the new Islamic wave. They have little interest in toppling Syrian dictator Bashar Assad for the moment. They do serve as a regional counterweight to the increasingly powerful Iranians – increasingly powerful because of President Obama’s big nuclear deal, as well as his complete abdication of responsibility in Iraq.

Iran. Iran wants to maximize its regional power. The rise of ISIS has allowed it to masquerade as a benevolent force in Iraq and Syria, even as it supports Assad’s now-routine use of chemical weapons against his adversaries, including the remnants of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Iran has already expanded its horizons beyond Iraq and Syria and Lebanon; now it wants to make moves into heretofore non-friendly regions like Afghanistan. Their goal in Syria: keep Bashar Assad in power. Their goal in Iraq: pushing ISIS out of any resource-rich territories, but not finishing ISIS off, because that would then get rid of the global villain against which they fight.

Assad. The growth of ISIS has allowed Assad to play the wronged victim. While the FSA could provide a possible replacement for him, ISIS can’t credibly do so on the international stage. Assad knows that, and thus has little interest in completely ousting them. His main interest is in continuing to devastate the remaining FSA while pretending to fight ISIS.

Egypt/Saudi Arabia/Jordan. As you can see, ISIS, Iran, and Assad all have one shared interest: the continued existence of ISIS. The same is not true with regard to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, all of whom fear the rise of radical Sunni terrorist groups in their home countries. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place, however, because openly destroying ISIS on behalf of Alaouite Assad, they embolden the Shia, their enemies. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan would all join an anti-ISIS coalition in the same way they did against Saddam Hussein in 1991, but just like Hussein in 1991, they won’t do it if there are no Sunni alternatives available. Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are the top three sources of foreign fighters for ISIS.

Turkey. The Turks have several goals: to stop the Syrian exodus across their borders, to prevent the rise of the Iranians, and to stop the rise of the Kurds. None of these goals involves the destruction of ISIS. Turkey is Sunni; so is ISIS. ISIS provides a regional counterweight against Iran, so long as it remains viable. It also keeps the Kurds occupied in northern Iraq, preventing any threat of Kurdish consolidation across the Iraq-Turkey border. They will accept Syrian refugees so long as those other two goals remain primary – and they’ll certainly do it if they can ship a hefty portion of those refugees into Europe and off their hands.

Russia. Russia wants to consolidate its power in the Middle East. It has done so by wooing all the players to fight against one another. Russia’s involvement in the Middle East now looks a good deal like American involvement circa the Iran-Iraq War: they’re playing both sides. Russia is building nuclear reactors in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Iran. They’re Bashar Assad’s air force against both the FSA and ISIS. Russia’s Vladimir Putin doesn’t have a problem with destroying ISIS so long as doing so achieves his other goal: putting everyone else in his debt. He has a secondary goal he thought he could chiefly pursue in Eastern Europe, and attempted with Ukraine: he wants to split apart the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which he rightly sees as a counterbalance to check Russian aggression. Thanks to today’s Turkish attack on a Russian plane, and thanks to the West’s hands-off policy with regard to the conflict, Putin could theoretically use his war against ISIS as cover to bombard Turkish military targets, daring the West to get involved against him. Were he to do so, he’d set the precedent that NATO is no longer functional. Two birds, one war.

Israel. Israel’s position is the same it has always been: Israel is surrounded by radical Islamic enemies on every side. Whether Iranian-backed Hezbollah or Sunni Hamas and ISIS, Israel is the focus of hate for all of these groups. Ironically, the rise of Iran has unified Israel with its neighbors in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. All three of those countries, however, can’t stand firmly against ISIS.

All of which means that the only country capable of filling the vacuum would be the United States. Just as in 1991, a major Sunni power is on the move against American interests – but unlike in 1991, no viable option existed for leaving the current regime in power. And the US’ insistence upon the help of ground allies is far too vague. Who should those allies be, occupying ISIS-free ISISland?

The Kurds have no interest in a Syrian incursion. Turkish troops movements into ISIS-land will prompt Iranian intervention. Iranian intervention into ISIS-land would prompt higher levels of support for Sunni resistance. ISIS-land without ISIS is like Iraq without Saddam Hussein: in the absence of solidifying force, chaos breaks out. From that chaos, the most organized force takes power. Russia hopes that should it destroy ISIS, Assad will simply retain power; that may be the simplest solution, although it certainly will not end the war within the country. There are no good answers.

Barack Obama’s dithering for years led to this. Had he lent his support in any strong way to one side, a solution might be possible. Now, it’s not.

Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.

‘ISIS Delenda Est’—What the Romans Knew About Winning a War

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Breitbart, by James P. Pinkerton, Nov. 21, 2015:

I. The Roman Way

In writing about the Paris massacre in The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan was blunt:

These primitive, ferocious young men will not stop until we stop them.  The question is how.  That’s the only discussion.

Okay, let’s take up Noonan’s challenge: How do we stop ISIS? Once and for all?

Let’s stipulate that President Obama, who has been waging a phony war against ISIS for over a year, is not the man for the job.  And let’s stipulate, also, that Islam is not “peace,” as George W. Bush so famously suggested back in 2001.

Islam is something different. Not all Muslims are terrorists, not by a long shot, but in its current form, Islam provides safe harbor for way-y-y too many Salafi jihadists, aka, terrorists.  Here at Breitbart, Pamela Geller provides a handy itemization; her list of Islamic terrorist groups runs a full 27 lines.

As the late Samuel Huntington wrote in his landmark 1998 book, The Clash of Civilizationsa work approvingly cited by Sen. Marco Rubio earlier this month—Islam has “bloody borders.”

History tells us that no attitude is permanent.  Yet for now, extremist elements within Muslim societies make it impossible for many Muslim states to get along with their neighbors, either near, in Eurasia, or far, in America.

So what should we do in the face of a relentless, and remorseless, enemy?  The Roman Empire had a good answer.  Yes, 2,000 years before Ronald Reagan summed up his Cold War strategy as, “We win, they lose,” the Romans had the same idea.

Rome’s dogged determination to prevail is perhaps best exemplified by its long struggle against the rival empire of Carthage, in what’s now Tunisia.

The Rome-Carthage conflict—the so-called Punic Wars, of which there were three—raged all over the Mediterranean littoral and lasted, on land and sea, for over a century, from 264 BC to 146 BC.  Interestingly, the single best general on either side was the Carthaginian, Hannibal.  His smashing pincer-movement victory over the Romans atCannae in 216 BC is still studied at West Point and other military academies.

And yet the Romans were more organized and resourceful, as well as determined, and, over time, those qualities gave them the edge. For literally decades, the Roman senator Cato the Elder closed every speech to his colleagues with the ringing words, Carthago delenda est—“Carthage must be destroyed.”  And yet Cato, who died in 149 BC, didn’t actually live to see the final victory, which came three years later, when the Roman legionnaires besieged and and conquered the city of Carthage itself.

Appian of Alexandria described the final victory in his Historia Romana, written in the second century AD.  Here’s Appian describing Rome’s final military operations against Carthage; as we can see, under the leadership of General Scipio Africanus, the Roman legionarii were not nice:

Now Scipio hastened to the attack [on] the strongest part of the city, where the greater part of the inhabitants had taken refuge… All places were filled with groans, shrieks, shouts, and every kind of agony. Some were stabbed, others were hurled alive from the roofs to the pavement, some of them alighting on the heads of spears or other pointed weapons, or swords. . . . Then came new scenes of horror.  As the fire spread and carried everything down, the soldiers did not wait to destroy the buildings little by little, but all in a heap. So the crashing grew louder, and many corpses fell with the stones into the midst.  Others were seen still living, especially old men, women, and young children who had hidden in the inmost nooks of the houses, some of them wounded, some more or less burned, and uttering piteous cries.  Still others, thrust out and falling from such a height with the stones, timbers, and fire, were torn asunder in all shapes of horror, crushed and mangled.

You get the idea. Tough stuff, to be sure, but after Scipio’s triumph, Carthage was never again a problem for Rome.  In fact, the Romans not only razed the city but, for good measure, plowed the ground with salt to make sure that nothing would ever grow there.

The Roman historian Tacitus quoted a barbarian enemy to make an approving point about the Roman strategic approach: “And where they make a desert, they call it peace.”  Yes, when the Romans wanted to make a point—they made a point.  We might note that the Roman Empire endured for another 622 years after the fall of Carthage, all the way to 476 AD.

Of course, Americans would never do anything like obliterating Carthage, even if the few German survivors of the 1945 firebombing of Dresden, or the even fewer Japanese survivors of Hiroshima, later that same year, might beg to differ.  Still, we might pause to note that both Germany and Japan—two countries once both full of fight—haven’t so much as raised their fist at us even once in the last 70 years.

II. The Challenge in Our Time

Today, there’s an echo of the old Roman resolve in the voice of many Republicans.  As Sen. Ted Cruz, who frequently quotes Reagan’s we-win-they-lose maxim, declared the other day, “In a Cruz administration, we will say to militants, if you wage war against America, you are signing your death warrant.”

Needless to say, Cruz doesn’t speak for the intellectually fashionable, who preach a kind of defeatist sophistry.  Among the smart set, it is often said that we shouldn’t attack ISIS because that’s just what they want.   CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, for example, writing of possible US retaliation in the wake of the Paris raid, assures us that ISIS “wants all of this.”  And Sally Kohn, also of CNN, adds her voice: “Bombing terrorists feeds their ideology.”

And we have this dire headline from the lefties at Salon:

We’re already caving to ISIS: Bloodthirsty jingoism is precisely what the terrorists want: The chief goal of these terrorists is to launch a “cosmic war.” Bigotry and calls for invasion provide exactly that.

Well, maybe the leftists are correct: Maybe it would be a mistake for us if we defeated ISIS—but maybe not.  Indeed, it sure seems that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is doing his best to survive.  To be sure, he says he’s ready for martyrdom, but he’s not seeking it out.  If he really wanted to be dead, he already would be.

Yes, there’s something to be said for winning, not losing—for living, not dying.  As Osama bin Laden himself observed, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” And of course, it’s no accident that Al Qaeda went into eclipse after bin Laden was killed by US forces in 2011, to be replaced, alas, by ISIS.

To put the matter starkly, being killed suggests that maybe God is not on your side.  It’s perhaps glorious to die for a winning cause, but not so glorious to die for a losing cause.

So let’s hereby resolve that we will be on the winning side.  And let’s get right down to it, and name—yes, name—the central challenge of our time: Defeating the Salafi terrorists once and for all.

Michael Vickers, a counter-terrorism subcabinet official in the Obama and Bush administrations—and an operative with a record going back to the CIA campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan—is flatly declarative about what must be done; we must defeat ISIS, or ISIL, by depriving it of its territory.  By any name, they—including the remnants of Al Qaeda—need to be defeated and their home-base destroyed:

ISIL, as its name implies, is a de facto state. It holds territory, controls population, and funds its operations from resources that it exploits on territory it controls. If there’s one thing the American military knows how to do it is defeating an opposing force trying to hold ground.

So yes, we must defeat ISIS.  ISIS delenda est.  But yet there are more variables to consider: Unless we plan to do to the Jihadi Zone exactly what the Romans did to the Carthaginians—that is, kill them all—we need a plan for not only pacifying the area, but also for keeping it pacified.

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Vladimir Putin’s massive, triple-decker war room revealed

war roomWashington Post, by Andrew Roth, Nov. 21, 2015:

MOSCOW — “Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the war room!”

It could have been a scene straight out of “Dr. Strangelove” when President Vladimir V. Putin stepped into the Russian Ministry of Defense’s brand new, three-tiered, multibillion-dollar control center this week, for a war briefing that had its fair share of movie-like pageantry.

The fortified National Control Defense Center was Putin’s first stop after officials confirmed that the Russian charter jet crash that claimed 224 lives last month was the result of an act of terror.

On movie-theater-size screens, live broadcasts showed long-range strategic bombers taking off from Russian air bases to fly sorties over Syria. Putin instructed commanders in Syria to “make contact with the French and work with them as allies” as Russia seeks a central role in a proposed anti-terrorist coalition.

But the real star of the show may have been the building itself, which is designed to be a new nerve center for the Russian military that will coordinate military action around the world, including ballistic missile launches and strategic nuclear deployments.

putin war rm

The building is roughly the equivalent of the U.S. National Military Command Center used by the Pentagon, but as one Russian state news agency noted in abreathless headline this week, “Russian Defense Data Center Outperforms US Facility Threefold: Official.”

The center, which is fortified and said to sit on top of a maze of underground tunnels, is on the Frunze Naberezhnaya on the left bank of the Moscow river, a little over two miles from Red Square.

moscowdefense_720

Russia’s army, which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, but has also produced noted improvements, from the expertise of Russian troops deployed during the Crimea operation to the recent cruise missile strikes launched from the Caspian Sea.

The new national defense center also includes a helicopter pad that was deployed on the Moscow River late last year and can accommodate Russia’s Mi-8 transport helicopter. In case of a war, it would be the country’s premier communications center, and one Russian commander compared it to the military headquarters of the Soviet Union during World War II.

Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu said that the center is a step toward “forming a single information space for solving tasks in the interests of the country’s defense.”
put

As Worldviews noted during Russia’s International Army Games in August, Russia’s military has sought to raise its public profile through savvy media branding.

At the briefing, army personnel sat in color-coded rows with matching headsets and water bottles bearing the Russian army brand (their flagship store recently opened on Tverskaya Street here, Moscow’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue). The briefing was covered on Russian national television from at least four distinct camera angles.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a reporter who has covered Putin for the past 15 years and is known for his lyrical, fawning reports of the Russian president, waxed introspective as he covered the briefing Tuesday.

“When this building and this room were opened a year ago, I was somewhat perplexed: Yes, it all looks very persuasive, and the Pentagon might even only dream of something like this, if only in a nightmare. But why? Who will need these screens the size of small soccer fields with grandstands for viewers?

pu

“And here was the answer. Every spot was filled. Russia’s entire high army command were the viewers. Or was it like the warming bench, and at any moment everyone was ready to go on the field …”

Later in the piece, he added: “My soul of course was not filled with delight and trembling at the hellish power of this armada. But I was perturbed, yes, I was.”

Andrew Roth is a reporter in The Post’s Moscow bureau.

Compare and contrast:

U.S. Pilots Confirm: Obama Admin Blocks 75 Percent of Islamic State Strikes (freebeacon.com)

Attkisson: Obama Is Selectively Reading Intel Reports [VIDEO] (dailycaller.com)

Famous Russian chess champion: ‘Bring down Putin’

President Putin and President Obama

President Putin and President Obama

WND, by Greg Corombos, Nov. 1, 2015:

Russian President Vladimir Putin will do anything to accumulate and preserve power, and the world will descend into greater and greater chaos unless the United States and other free nations stand up to him, according to legendary chess champion and Russian democracy advocate Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov has been fighting for greater freedoms in his native Russia for decades. After 20 years as the top-ranked chess player in the world, he retired in 2005 to devote his full energies to be a leading voice against Putin and his assault on liberty. Kasparov’s new book is “Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.”

In the book, Kasparov chronicles the stunning swiftness with which Russia embraced freedom, only to begin handing it back to Putin by the end of the 1990s. In the intervening 15 years, Kasparov said Putin has not revealed any grand goals or overarching principles.

In our subsequent interview, he said Putin’s modus operandi is actually quite simple.

“Putin’s strategy, if you may call it a strategy, in fact is the tactics of survival,” Kasparov said. “He must stay in power in Russia, and, to stay in the Kremlin, he must come up with a good rationale for the Russian public.”

He said that gets tougher for Putin given the current state of Russia.

“The economy is in terrible shape and nobody expects it to get better, especially with oil prices around 50 (dollars per barrel) and unlikely to rise dramatically in the near future. Of course, that’s one of Putin’s goals, to create mass chaos and wars in the Middle East in expectation that could effect oil prices the way he wants it,” Kasparov explained.

As Putin feels the heat economically, Kasparov believes the plan is to rally the Russian people around his response to manufactured threats.

“When you run out of enemies in Russia, as with every dictator, he has been looking for enemies elsewhere,” Kasparov said. “His image as a strong leader who could defy the United States, who could send Russian troops abroad, who can annex territories of the neighboring countries; this is what he sells the Russian public.”

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Also see:

The New Cold War: The Russia-Shia Alliance VS the Islamic State

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) meets with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (2nd L) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) meets with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (2nd L) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev.

By Brian Fairchild, October 31, 2015

The New Cold War:

In late-September 2015 Russia and Iran launched a clandestine strategic military campaign to support Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.  Russia’s bold move took the West by surprise and changed the balance of power in the Middle East in Russia’s favor.  It will go down in history as the milestone depicting Russia’s first aggressive military action outside of its own sphere of influence since the fall of the Soviet Union, and, when viewed from a global strategic perspective, will be remembered as the first clear sign that a New Cold War had erupted between the US and Russia.

Russia’s Middle Eastern campaign is formed around the new “quadrilateral alliance”, which has divided the region into two sectarian blocs:  the Russian-led Shia Muslim alliance, which forms a powerful “Shia Crescent” stretching from Iraq, through Iran and Syria, to Lebanon, and the Sunni Arab bloc led by Saudi Arabia with minimal backing by the United States.

Thus far, Russia’s campaign has been executed seamlessly. Upon entering Syria clandestinely, Russian forces immediately deployed sophisticated surface to air missile defense batteries as well as top-of the-line jet fighters to protect Russian and Syrian forces from the US coalition.  Once air defenses were in place, Moscow began a barrage of airstrikes targeting anti-Assad rebels in order to re-establish and consolidate Assad’s power.  The airstrikes were subsequently integrated with ground operations carried-out by Syrian military units, Iranian Quds forces, Shia militia from Syria and Iraq, and Hezbollah fighters.  There are also credible news reports that Cuban Special Forces have joined the fray for the first time since Cuba’s proxy wars in Angola and central Africa in the 1970’s on behalf of the Soviet Union.

The Russia-Shia Alliance and its Effect on Iraq, Jordan, and the Kurds:

Iraq:

In tandem with its military campaign, Russia launched a diplomatic campaign that has been just as effective.  Iraq is the geographical base for US coalition operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but American influence in Iraq has steadily diminished over the past year.

In early October 2015, Iraq secretly established a new Russia-Iran-Syria-Iraq intelligence center in the middle of Baghdad that surprised and angered American military commanders.  Worse, after Russia’s increasingly effective Syrian air campaign, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for Russia to begin unilateral airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq.  The Pentagon became so alarmed by the possibility that Russia might get a strategic foothold in Iraq that on October 21, 2015, it dispatched Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford to Baghdad to deliver an ultimatum to the Iraqi leadership.  Dunford told the Iraqi Prime Minister and Defense Minister that Iraq had to choose between cooperating with Russia or the US.  Upon his departure from Baghdad, General Dunford told the media that he received assurances that Iraq would not seek Russian assistance, but just three days later, Iraq officially authorized Russian airstrikes in-country.

Jordan:

On that same day, another of America’s most dependable allies, the Kingdom of Jordan, announced its agreement to create a new Russian-Jordanian military coordination center to target the Islamic State and that this center would go well beyond just a formal information exchange.  According to Jordan’s Ambassador to Russia:

  • “This time, we are talking about a specific form of cooperation — a center for military coordination between two countries. Now we will cooperate on a higher level. It will not be just in a format of information exchange: we see a necessity ‘to be on the ground’ as Jordan has a border with Syria”

The Kurds:

Moscow is attempting to undermine US relations with the Kurds.  Since the rise of the Islamic State, the US has sought to provide anti-Islamic State military support to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq via the Iraqi central government, but the Iraqi government has no desire to see the KRG gain additional power in the north so this mission has been largely ineffective.  The US has had a measure of success providing limited support to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), but has balked at providing full support because any support whatsoever angers Turkey due to contacts between the YPG and the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), a separatist organization, that seeks to overthrow the Turkish government.  On October 29, 2015, Turkish president Erdogan demonstrated this anger when he vehemently criticized US support for the YPG and stated that Turkey would attack the YPG on the Iraqi side of the border if it attempts to create a separatist Kurdish administrative zone.  Because Turkey is a NATO ally, Turkish threats cause the US significant political and diplomatic problems, but they will not deter Putin from moving to organize and utilize Kurdish forces in pursuit of his goals; in early October, he went out of his way to show disdain for Turkey and NATO by allowing his Syrian-based jets to illegally invade Turkish airspace.

No Kurdish group is happy with the current situation of getting limited support from the United States to fight the Islamic State, but all of them have expressed interest in cooperating with Russia.  Significantly, Sergey Ivanov, the head of the Kremlin administration, specifically urged cooperation between the Syrian Kurdish militia and the US-backed YPG.

The Russia-Shia Alliance and the Islamic State:

The Shia composition of the quadrilateral alliance is extremely significant because it plays directly into the Islamic State narrative.  The Islamic State and the majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunni, but in the heart of the Middle East, the Shia governments of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, with Russian support, dominate, and these countries surround the Islamic State’s new “caliphate” on three sides.  Understanding this strategic disadvantage, the Islamic State knows that it must muster as much international Sunni support as possible to survive, so it carries-out a relentless policy to polarize the international Sunni population against the Shia.

The chance to remove Bashar al-Assad, who represents the Shia Alawite sect, was the primary reason the Islamic State moved to Syria from Iraq, and removing al-Assad from power served as its initial rallying cry to the global Sunni community.  It was this rallying cry that created the dangerous “foreign fighter” phenomenon that subsequently brought more than 30,000 radical Sunni Muslims from around the world to the new caliphate.

The Islamic State repeatedly emphasizes in its official publications and statements its contention that Shia Muslims are not true Muslims and must be eradicated, and, in these communications, it refers to Shia Muslims as “Rafidah” (rejecters).  But of all the Shias in the world, the Islamic State has a particular hatred for the Shia Iranians, who are Persian rather than Arab, and who ruled Islam during the ancient Safavid (Persian) empire, which the Islamic State regards as religiously illegitimate.  It therefore refers to Iranians as the “Safavid Rafidah”.

Moreover, the Islamic State accuses the US and Russia of being modern day “crusaders” who have joined forces with the Iranians to destroy Sunni Islam, a contention made clear on March 12, 2015, when its spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani stated:

  • The Safavid Rāfidah (Shia Iranians) today have entered a new stage in their war against the Sunnis. They have begun to believe that it is within their power to take areas of the Sunnis and control them completely. They no longer want a single Muslim from the Sunnis living in the empire they desire…O Sunnis…if the Islamic State is broken…then there will be no Mecca for you thereafter nor Medina…Sunnis! The Crusader-Safavid (Christian-Iranian) alliance is clear today.  Here is Iran with its Great Satan America dividing the regions and roles amongst each other in the war against Islam and the Sunnis…We warned you before and continue to warn you that the war is a Crusader-Safavid was against Islam, and war against the Sunnis…”

The Shia Alliance and the Saudis:

Saudi Arabia considers itself to be the leader of the world’s Sunni population and the custodian of Islam’s two most holy places:  the mosques of Mecca and Medina where the prophet Muhammad received Allah’s revelations.  Because Iran is the Kingdom’s religious and regional nemesis the Islamic State’s anti-Shia narrative resonates greatly among many Saudis who are increasingly alarmed at Iran’s growing military influence and power.  In a letter signed by 53 Saudi Islamic scholars in early October 2015, the clerics lashed out at Iran, Syria and Russia and echoed the main points made by the Islamic State:

  • “The holy warriors of Syria are defending the whole Islamic nation. Trust them and support them … because if they are defeated, God forbid, it will be the turn of one Sunni country after another”

Saudi King Salman was willing to allow this unofficial letter to be published because it permitted the Saudi government an indirect manner to issue a warning to Iran, but as the Russian-Iran alliance continued to make military gains throughout October, the Kingdom’s anxiety was such that it decided to allow its Foreign Minister to issue the following direct warning to Iran:

  • “We wish that Iran would change its policies and stop meddling in the affairs of other countries in the region, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen…We will make sure that we confront Iran’s actions and shall use all our political, economic and military powers to defend our territory and people…”

Conclusion:

The New Cold War:

Just one month ago, the US was the only major military player in the Middle East, but that has all changed.  Russia’s aggressive and well-planned military campaign in Syria has tilted the balance of power in the region away from the US and toward Russia and its new Shia-dominated quadrilateral alliance.  As a result, the US plan to effect regime change in Syria is now impossible, but more importantly, US influence in Iraq is steadily diminishing, and thus, the number of options available to American military commanders to degrade the Islamic State are also diminishing.

Five days after Iraq rejected General Dunford’s ultimatum and authorized Russian airstrikes in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ignored this fact in his testimony before the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee when he stated that the United States plans to increase the number of airstrikes in Iraq as well as direct action raids by US special operations forces in Iraq.

Unfortunately, such an increase in US military actions require Iraqi permission, and for the second time in a week, Iraq rejected the United States.  On October 28, 2015, Prime Minister al-Abadi’s spokesman told the media that Iraq has no intention of allowing increased American participation because:

  • “This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the U.S. Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations…”

If Iraq enforces this restriction, and limits the US to only training and arming Iraqi forces while allowing Russia to conduct aggressive operations in-country, the situation could become untenable for the United States, further reducing America’s ability to degrade the Islamic State.

The Islamic State:

Once Russia consolidates Assad rule in Syria, Putin will undoubtedly use the new Russia-Shia alliance to move against the Islamic State.  Because the alliance dominates the geographical terrain on three sides of the “caliphate” and has demonstrated a willingness to engage in unified military air and ground operations, it is likely that Russian airpower and Shia ground forces will succeed in dismantling many Islamic State elements in Syria and Iraq.

Such success by the Russia-Shia alliance, especially if it forces the evacuation of the capital of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Raqqa, Syria, will further polarize and enrage radical Sunnis and likely increase the number of foreign fighters from Europe and the Middle East.  It will also likely result in more domestic lone jihad attacks in the US and Russia, a call the Islamic State has already made in its October 13, 2015 statement:

  • “…the Islamic State is stronger today than yesterday, while at the same time America is getting weaker and weaker…America today is not just weakened, it has become powerless, forced to ally with Russia and Iran…Islamic youth everywhere, ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims.”

If the Islamic State experiences set-backs and defeats in Syria and Iraq such defeats would likely motivate it to launch mass casualty attacks in the United States and Europe in order to prove to its followers that it remains relevant. Mass casualty attacks in tandem with increased lone jihad attacks would make an already bad domestic security situation, grave.

On October 23, 2015, FBI Director Comey revealed that the FBI is pursuing approximately 900 active cases against Islamic State extremists in the United States and that this number continues to expand.  Comey added that should the number of cases continue to increase, it won’t be long before the FBI lacks the adequate resources to “keep up”.   Europe, too, faces grave security challenges.  A few days after Comey’s revelations, the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, stated that the terror threat in the United Kingdom from the Islamic State and al Qaeda is the highest he has “ever seen”.

Brian Fairchild was a career officer in CIA’s Clandestine Service.  He has served in Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, and Afghanistan.  Mr. Fairchild writes periodic intelligence analyses on topics of strategic importance.

Vladimir Putin’s real target: The world’s oil supply

The Washington Times – October 14, 2015:

It’s the oil, stupid.

That’s what Russian President Vladimir Putin is really up to in Syria.

In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon succeeded in pushing the Russians out of the Middle East. Today they’re back with a vengeance, thanks to President Obama’s policy of precipitous withdrawal from the region and overall neutering of American power.

Since Mr. Putin began his significant military deployment to Syria, observers have tried to get a handle on his motives — from propping up his ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, to using the intervention as a distraction from his Ukrainian intervention, to weakening NATO to satisfying the goals of the Russian Orthodox Church, to re-establishing a long-term strategic foothold in the Middle East.

All of these motives may be true. But they miss his far bigger gambit: seizing control of the majority of the world’s oil.

Some, including Mr. Obama, have dismissed Mr. Putin’s moves as ill-conceived and a sign of weakness. But Mr. Putin has never been naive or aimless. He coldly pursues Russia’s national interests, and right now, its overriding interest is in reviving the Russian economy, which has been gutted by economic sanctions and cheap oil, and positioning Russia to be the globe’s oil overlord.

Cheap oil has most irritated Mr. Putin, which is why his Syrian adventure is really about directly threatening the nation doing Moscow the most harm — Saudi Arabia — by encircling it with the new Russian-led alliance of Iran, Iraq and Syria, and gaining control over the natural gas pipeline that originates in Iran and runs through all three countries.

This explains Mr. Putin’s new “intelligence-sharing” alliance with Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, ostensibly to track the Islamic State, or ISIS, but really directed against Riyadh and the competing Saudi-Qatar-Turkey pipeline. Mr. Putin has long held the European gas market hostage to Russia’s reserves. Rather than permit the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline to threaten that control, he intends to grab effective control over it, thereby suffocating Saudi oil interests and seizing an even fiercer stranglehold over the European energy market.

He is going to decimate the Mother of all Oil Producers.

In the face of a glut a year ago, the Saudis raised output by 1 million barrels a day, well above their quota, to create an even bigger surfeit — partly to undermine U.S. shale producers.

The subsequent low oil prices have sent the Russian economy into a death spiral. The oil and gas sector accounts for 70 percent of total Russian exports, 52 percent of federal budget revenues and 16 percent of its gross national product. The Russian economy contracted by 2.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015, and by a devastating 4.6 percent in the second quarter. The value of the ruble has dropped by a staggering 50 percent.

As energy investor Gary Siegler puts it, “The Russians experience this as an economic war” — which to Mr. Putin is indistinct from a military one, so he has now joined both battles.

Under the pretext of defeating ISIS, Mr. Putin has sent Russian special forces into Syria and Iraq and is preparing to introduce up to 150,000 ground troops. The elite troops are not there to simply provide security but to call in airstrikes and carry out covert missions against the western-backed, anti-Assad rebels, so that eventually Mr. Putin can argue accurately that the choice in Syria is between Mr. Assad and ISIS. Pick one.

The Russian campaign against ISIS also puts the lie to Mr. Obama’s fairytale claim that he’s fighting the terrorists aggressively; Moscow is accomplishing in a few weeks what Mr. Obama hasn’t been willing to accomplish in over a year.

Further, Russia’s air defense missiles are in Syria for a purpose other than the mere protection of the Assad regime. When Washington was given less than an hour’s warning that the Kremlin was imposing, in effect, a no-fly zone in Syriaand Mr. Obama had no response, Mr. Putin pressed on, ordering Russian warships in the Caspian Sea to fire long-range cruise missiles. These are warning shots to his deeper target, Riyadh.

Russia is surrounding Saudi Arabia with weapons, combat troops and alliances, including with Egypt and Israel, designed to make Riyadh an offer it can’t refuse: cut production so prices rise or else.

After all, once those 150,000 Russian combat troops are on the ground inSyria and northern Iraq, they’ll be there to stay. They’ll secure the Iraqi oil fields — which produce 4 million barrels a day — and the pipeline territory for Russia, thereby gaining even greater leverage over oil production and prices.

(Incidentally: Donald Trump was derided for arguing that the United States should have seized Iraq’s oil as repayment for its liberation. How ironic if Russia ends up controlling that oil.)

The Saudis know they can’t count on Mr. Obama. They watched as he betrayed America’s longstanding ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and believes Mr. Obama has already betrayed them by legitimizing Iran as a threshold nuclear power.

The Saudis now see Russia on their doorstep, perhaps preparing to carve up Iraq with Iran, destabilize them and the oil supply, or even to join Tehran in prosecuting a hot war against Riyadh in order to allow the vast eastern Saudi oil fields to come under Iranian and Russian control.

Russia’s power play is working, as oil prices have ticked up recently. But Mr. Putin will not be satisfied with small victories. He’s in this for all the marbles.

Control the oil, control the global economy. And right now, Russia is poised to do both.

Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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Putin’s Challenge – Russia’s not on defense

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