Russia: Complete Iranian withdrawal from Syria is ‘absolutely unrealistic’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia: Complete Iranian withdrawal from Syria is ‘absolutely unrealistic’

Sergey Lavrov says Putin and Trump will discuss situation in southern Syria on July 16; US said seeking full Iranian pullout

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi during a meeting in Moscow on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shows the way to his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi during a meeting in Moscow on July 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that it would be “absolutely unrealistic” to expect Iran to completely withdraw from Syria.

Speaking after a meeting with his Jordanian counterpart in Moscow, Lavrov said a proposed ceasefire deal in the southern region brokered by Russia, Jordan and the US envisioned the withdrawal of non-Syrian forces and the deployment of Syrian troops along the border with Israel.

But Lavrov said Iran is one of the key powers in the region, and that it would be “absolutely unrealistic” to expect it to abandon its interests in the country. He said regional powers should discuss mutual complaints and negotiate a compromise.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria, and has recently acknowledged carrying out airstrikes on Iranian targets in the country. Israel has also struck Syrian air defense systems that fired at Israeli fighter jets during the raids.

Jerusalem has accused Tehran of seeking to gain a foothold in the border area as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have made gains in clearing out rebel groups there. The US and Israel view Iran’s extensive military presence in Syria as a threat to Israel and have threatened action.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

Russia and Iran have provided crucial military support to Assad’s forces, helping them turn the tide in the civil war, but Israel has also coordinated its military strikes in the territory with Iran-allied Moscow.

Lavrov on Wednesday said Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump would discuss the situation in southern Syria at their upcoming summit on July 16.

Last week the Arabic-language Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Trump would make a full Iranian pullout from Syria territory a priority at that meeting.

US officials, the diplomat was quoted as saying, are convinced that Russia would be unwilling to “pay a heavy price” for Iran’s continued presence in Syria.

The diplomat, who was not identified in the report, also said Washington had given Israel a “green light” to strike Iranian military assets in Syria.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi arrived in Moscow Wednesday for talks as the Russian-backed regime offensive in the south of Syria was pushing tens of thousands of refugees toward the borders with Jordan and Israel.

Jordanian residents of Jabir village watch aid deliveries to Syrians fleeing government offensive in the south as smoke from unknown fire rises, July 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Ahead of the trip, Safadi said he hoped there would be “more steps forward to contain this crisis and prevent more destruction.”

He added that Amman has open channels with Damascus and Moscow and the talks will focus on reaching a ceasefire and halting the displacement.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels were facing a deadline Wednesday in negotiations with regime ally Russia to either agree to tough surrender terms in the south or come under a renewed military onslaught.

Moscow has been backing a two-week offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces against rebels in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

But it is simultaneously brokering talks with rebel towns for negotiated surrenders in a carrot-and-stick strategy that Russia and the regime have successfully used in the past.

More than 30 towns have already agreed to return to regime control and talks were focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the city.

Rebels were set to meet with a Russian delegation on Wednesday afternoon to deliver their decision on Moscow’s proposal for a regime takeover of the rest of the south, a spokesman for the opposition’s southern operations said.

READ MORE:

Russia: A Great Country With Great People Usually Ruled By Incompetent Murderers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Russia

Introduction Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy, was able to emerge from over 200 years of Mongol domination (13th-15th centuries) and to gradually conquer and absorb surrounding principalities. In the early 17th century, a new Romanov Dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific. Under PETER I (ruled 1682-1725), hegemony was extended to the Baltic Sea and the country was renamed the Russian Empire. During the 19th century, more territorial acquisitions were made in Europe and Asia. Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 contributed to the Revolution of 1905, which resulted in the formation of a parliament and other reforms. Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the imperial household. The Communists under Vladimir LENIN seized power soon after and formed the USSR. The brutal rule of Iosif STALIN (1928-53) strengthened Communist rule and Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize Communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into Russia and 14 other independent republics. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period. In tandem with its prudent management of Russia’s windfall energy wealth, which has helped the country rebound from the economic collapse of the 1990s, the Kremlin in recent years has overseen a recentralization of power that has undermined democratic institutions. Russia has severely disabled the Chechen rebel movement, although violence still occurs throughout the North Caucasus.
History Early periods

In prehistoric times, the vast steppes of Southern Russia were home to disunited tribes of nomadic pastoralists. In classical antiquity, the Pontic Steppe was known as Scythia. Remnants of these steppe civilizations were discovered in the course of the 20th century in such places as Ipatovo, Sintashta, Arkaim, and Pazyryk. In the latter part of the eighth century BC, Greek traders brought classical civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria. Between the third and sixth centuries BC, the Bosporan Kingdom, a Hellenistic polity which succeeded the Greek colonies, was overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions, led by warlike tribes, such as the Huns and Turkic Avars. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the lower Volga basin steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas until the 8th century.

The ancestors of modern Russians are the Slavic tribes, whose original home is thought by some scholars to have been the wooded areas of the Pinsk Marshes. Moving into the lands vacated by the migrating Germanic tribes, the Early East Slavs gradually settled Western Russia in two waves: one moving from Kiev toward present-day Suzdal and Murom and another from Polotsk toward Novgorod and Rostov. From the 7th century onwards, the East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia and slowly but peacefully assimilated the native Finno-Ugric tribes, including the Merya, the Muromians, and the Meshchera.

Kievan Rus

Scandinavian Norsemen, called “Vikings” in Western Europe and “Varangians” in the East, combined piracy and trade in their roamings over much of Northern Europe. In the mid-9th century, they ventured along the waterways extending from the eastern Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. According to the earliest Russian chronicle, a Varangian named Rurik was elected ruler (konung or knyaz) of Novgorod around the year 860; his successors moved south and extended their authority to Kiev, which had been previously dominated by the Khazars.

In the 10th to 11th centuries this state of Kievan Rus’ became the largest and most prosperous in Europe.[45] The reigns of Vladimir the Great (980-1015) and his son Yaroslav I the Wise (1019-1054) constitute the Golden Age of Kiev, which saw the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity and the creation of the first East Slavic written legal code, the Russkaya Pravda.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Kipchaks and the Pechenegs, caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north, particularly to the area known as Zalesye.[46] Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongols. The invaders, later known as Tatars, formed the state of the Golden Horde, which pillaged the Russian principalities and ruled the southern and central expanses of Russia for over three centuries. Mongol rule retarded the country’s economic and social development. However, the Novgorod Republic together with Pskov retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol yoke and was largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Led by Alexander Nevsky, Novgorodians repelled the Germanic crusaders who attempted to colonize the region. Kievan Rus’ ultimately disintegrated as a state because of in-fighting between members of the princely family that ruled it collectively. Kiev’s dominance waned, to the benefit of Vladimir-Suzdal in the north-east, Novgorod in the north-west, and Galicia-Volhynia in the south-west. Conquest by the Golden Horde in the 13th century was the final blow and resulted in the destruction of Kiev in 1240. Galicia-Volhynia was eventually absorbed into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, while the Mongol-dominated Vladimir-Suzdal and the independent Novgorod Republic, two regions on the periphery of Kiev, established the basis for the modern Russian nation.

Grand Duchy of Moscow and Tsardom of Russia

The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus’ was Grand Duchy of Moscow. It would annex rivals such as Tver and Novgorod, and eventually become the basis of the modern Russian state. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow claimed succession to the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire. While still under the domain of the Mongol-Tatars and with their connivance, the Duchy of Moscow (or “Muscovy”) began to assert its influence in Western Russia in the early 14th century. Assisted by the Russian Orthodox Church and Saint Sergius of Radonezh’s spiritual revival, Russia inflicted a defeat on the Mongol-Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380). Ivan III (Ivan the Great) eventually threw off the control of the invaders, consolidated surrounding areas under Moscow’s dominion and was the first to take the title “grand duke of all the Russias”.

In 1547, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) was officially crowned the first Tsar of Russia. During his long reign, Ivan IV annexed the Tatar khanates (Kazan, Astrakhan) along the Volga River and transformed Russia into a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. Ivan IV promulgated a new code of laws (Sudebnik of 1550), established the first Russian feudal representative body (Zemsky Sobor) and introduced local self-management into the rural regions.[50][51] But Ivan IV’s rule was also marked by the long and unsuccessful Livonian War against the coalition of Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden for access to the Baltic coast and sea trade.[52] The military losses, epidemics and poor harvests[53] weakened the state, and the Crimean Tatars were able to burn down Moscow.[54] The death of Ivan’s sons, combined with the famine of 1601-1603, led to the civil war and foreign intervention of the Time of Troubles in the early 1600s.[56] By the mid-17th century there were Russian settlements in Eastern Siberia, on the Chukchi Peninsula, along the Amur River, and on the Pacific coast. The Bering Strait between North America and Asia was first sighted by a Russian explorer in 1648.

Imperial Russia

Under the Romanov dynasty and Peter I (Peter the Great), the Russian Empire became a world power. Ruling from 1682 to 1725, Peter defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, forcing it to cede West Karelia and Ingria (two regions lost by Russia in the Time of Troubles),[57] Estland, and Livland, securing Russia’s access to the sea and sea trade.[58] It was in Ingria that Peter founded a new capital, Saint Petersburg. Peter’s reforms brought considerable Western European cultural influences to Russia. Catherine II (Catherine the Great), who ruled from 1762 to 1796, continued the efforts to establish Russia as one of the Great Powers of Europe. In alliance with Prussia and Austria, Russia stood against Napoleon’s France and eliminated its rival Poland-Lithuania in a series of partitions, gaining large areas of territory in the west. As a result of its victories in the Russo-Turkish War, by the early 19th century Russia had made significant territorial gains in Transcaucasia. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia at the height of his power failed miserably as obstinate Russian resistance combined with the bitterly cold Russian winter dealt him a disastrous defeat, in which more than 95% of his invading force perished.The officers in the Napoleonic Wars brought ideas of liberalism back to Russia with them and even attempted to curtail the tsar’s powers during the abortive Decembrist revolt of 1825, which was followed by several decades of political repression.

The prevalence of serfdom and the conservative policies of Nicolas I impeded the development of Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Nicholas’s successor Alexander II (1855–1881) enacted significant reforms, including the abolition of serfdom in 1861; these “Great Reforms” spurred industrialization. However, many socio-economic conflicts were aggravated during Alexander III’s reign and under his son, Nicholas II. Harsh conditions in factories created mass support for the revolutionary socialist movement. In January 1905, striking workers peaceably demonstrated for reforms in Saint Petersburg but were fired upon by troops, killing and wounding hundreds. The abject failure of the Tsar’s military forces in the initially-popular Russo-Japanese War, and the event known as “Bloody Sunday”, ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905. Although the uprising was swiftly put down by the army and although Nicholas II retained much of his power, he was forced to concede major reforms, including granting the freedoms of speech and assembly, the legalization of political parties and the creation of an elected legislative assembly, the Duma; however, the hopes for basic improvements in the lives of industrial workers were unfulfilled.

Russia entered World War I in aid of its ally Serbia and fought a war across three fronts while isolated from its allies. Russia did not want war but felt that the only alternative was German domination of Europe. Although the army was far from defeated in 1916, the already-existing public distrust of the regime was deepened by the rising costs of war, casualties (Russia suffered the highest number of both military and civilian deaths of the Entente Powers), and tales of corruption and even treason in high places, leading to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917. A series of uprisings were organized by workers and peasants throughout the country, as well as by soldiers in the Russian army, who were mainly of peasant origin. Many of the uprisings were organized and led by democratically-elected councils called Soviets. The February Revolution overthrew the Russian monarchy, which was replaced by a shaky coalition of political parties that declared itself the Provisional Government. The abdication marked the end of imperial rule in Russia, and Nicholas and his family were imprisoned and later executed during the Civil War. While initially receiving the support of the Soviets, the Provisional Government proved unable to resolve many problems which had led to the February Revolution. The second revolution, the October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and created the world’s first Communist state.

Soviet Russia

Following the October Revolution, a civil war broke out between the new regime and the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and the White movement. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk concluded hostilities with the Central Powers in World War I. Russia lost its Ukrainian, Polish and Baltic territories, and Finland by signing the treaty. The Allied powers launched a military intervention in support of anti-Communist forces and both the Bolsheviks and White movement carried out campaigns of deportations and executions against each other, known respectively as the Red Terror and White Terror. By the end of the Civil War, some 20 million had died and the Russian economy and infrastructure were completely devastated. Following victory in the Civil War, the Russian SFSR together with three other Soviet republics formed the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic dominated the Soviet Union for its entire 69-year history; the USSR was often referred to as “Russia” and its people as “Russians.” The largest of the republics, Russia contributed over half the population of the Soviet Union. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin consolidated power and became dictator. Stalin launched a command economy, rapid industrialization of the largely rural country and collectivization of its agriculture and the Soviet Union was transformed from an agrarian economy to a major industrial powerhouse in a short span of time. This transformation came with a heavy price, however; millions of citizens died as a consequence of his harsh policies.

Stalingrad, 1942. The vast majority of the fighting in World War II took place on the Eastern Front.Nazi Germany suffered 80% to 93% of all casualties there

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history, opening the largest theater of the Second World War. Although the German army had considerable success early on, they suffered defeats after reaching the outskirts of Moscow and were dealt their first major defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943. Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe in 1944–45 and captured Berlin in May, 1945. In the conflict, Soviet military and civilian death toll were 10.6 million and 15.9 million respectively, accounting for half of all World War II casualties. The Soviet economy and infrastructure suffered massive devastation but the Soviet Union emerged as an acknowledged superpower. The Red Army occupied Eastern Europe after the war, including the eastern half of Germany; Stalin installed communist governments in these satellite states. Becoming the world’s second nuclear weapons power, the USSR established the Warsaw Pact alliance and entered into a struggle for global dominance with the United States, which became known as the Cold War.

After Stalin’s death, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and eased his repressive policies. He began the process of eliminating the Stalinist political system known as de-Stalinization and abolished the Gulag labor camps, releasing millions of prisoners.[67] The Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 and the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth aboard the first manned spacecraft, Vostok 1. Tensions with the United States heightened when the two rivals clashed over the deployment of the U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Soviet missiles in Cuba. Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of rule by collective leadership ensued until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the pre-eminent figure in Soviet politics. Brezhnev’s rule oversaw economic stagnation and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which dragged on without success and with continuing casualties inflicted by insurgents. Soviet citizens became increasingly discontented with the war, ultimately leading to the withdrawal of Soviet forces by 1989. From 1985 onwards, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize the country. The USSR economy was the second largest in the world prior to the Soviet collapse.[68] During its last years, the economy was afflicted by shortages of goods in grocery stores, huge budget deficits and explosive growth in money supply leading to inflation.[69] In August 1991, an unsuccessful military coup against Gorbachev aimed at preserving the Soviet Union instead led to its collapse. In Russia, Boris Yeltsin came to power and declared the end of Communist rule. The USSR splintered into fifteen independent republics and was officially dissolved in December 1991. Boris Yeltsin was elected the President of Russia in June 1991, in the first direct presidential election in Russian history.

Russian Federation

During and after the disintegration of the USSR when-wide ranging reforms including privatisation and market and trade liberalization were being undertaken, the Russian economy went through a major crisis. This period was characterized by deep contraction of output, with GDP declining by roughly 50 percent between 1990 and the end of 1995 and industrial output declining by over 50 percent. In October 1991, Yeltsin announced that Russia would proceed with radical, market-oriented reform along the lines of “shock therapy”, as recommended by the United States and International Monetary Fund. Price controls were abolished, privatization was started. Millions were plunged into poverty. According to the World Bank, whereas 1.5% of the population was living in poverty in the late Soviet era, by mid-1993 between 39% and 49% of the population was living in poverty. Delays in wage payment became a chronic problem with millions being paid months, even years late. Russia took up the responsibility for settling the USSR’s external debts, even though its population made up just half of the population of the USSR at the time of its dissolution. The privatization process largely shifted control of enterprises from state agencies to groups of individuals with inside connections in the Government and the mafia. Violent criminal groups often took over state enterprises, clearing the way through assassinations or extortion. Corruption of government officials became an everyday rule of life. Many of the newly rich mobsters and businesspeople took billions in cash and assets outside of the country in an enormous capital flight. The long and wrenching depression was coupled with social decay. Social services collapsed and the birth rate plummeted while the death rate skyrocketed. The early and mid-1990s was marked by extreme lawlessness. Criminal gangs and organized crime flourished and murders and other violent crime spiraled out of control.

In 1993 a constitutional crisis resulted in the worst civil strife in Moscow since the October Revolution. President Boris Yeltsin illegally dissolved the country’s legislature which opposed his moves to consolidate power and push forward with unpopular neo-liberal reforms; in response, legislators barricaded themselves inside the White House, impeached Yeltsin and elected a new President and major protests against Yeltsin’s government resulted in hundreds killed. With military support, Yeltsin sent the army to besiege the parliament building and disperse its defenders and used tanks and artillery to eject the legislators.

The 1990s were plagued by armed ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus. Such conflicts took a form of separatist Islamist insurrections against federal power, or of ethnic/clan conflicts between local groups. Since the Chechen separatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war (First Chechen War, Second Chechen War) has been fought between disparate Chechen rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by Chechen separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention. High budget deficits and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused the financial crisis of 1998 and resulted in further GDP decline. On 31 December 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned from the presidency, handing the post to the recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 election. Putin won popularity for suppressing the Chechen insurgency, although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the North Caucasus. High oil prices and initially weak currency followed by increasing domestic demand, consumption and investments has helped the economy grow for nine straight years, alleviating the standard of living and increasing Russia’s clout on the world stage. While many reforms made during the Putin administration have been generally criticized by Western nations as un-democratic, Putin’s leadership over the return of order, stability and progress has won him widespread popularity in Russia, as well as recognition abroad.

Geography Location: Northern Asia (the area west of the Urals is considered part of Europe), bordering the Arctic Ocean, between Europe and the North Pacific Ocean
Geographic coordinates: 60 00 N, 100 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 17,075,200 sq km
land: 16,995,800 sq km
water: 79,400 sq km
Area – comparative: approximately 1.8 times the size of the US
Land boundaries: total: 20,241.5 km
border countries: Azerbaijan 284 km, Belarus 959 km, China (southeast) 3,605 km, China (south) 40 km, Estonia 290 km, Finland 1,313 km, Georgia 723 km, Kazakhstan 6,846 km, North Korea 17.5 km, Latvia 292 km, Lithuania (Kaliningrad Oblast) 227 km, Mongolia 3,441 km, Norway 196 km, Poland (Kaliningrad Oblast) 432 km, Ukraine 1,576 km
Coastline: 37,653 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate: ranges from steppes in the south through humid continental in much of European Russia; subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north; winters vary from cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along Arctic coast
Terrain: broad plain with low hills west of Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; uplands and mountains along southern border regions
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Caspian Sea -28 m
highest point: Gora El’brus 5,633 m
Natural resources: wide natural resource base including major deposits of oil, natural gas, coal, and many strategic minerals, timber
note: formidable obstacles of climate, terrain, and distance hinder exploitation of natural resources
Land use: arable land: 7.17%
permanent crops: 0.11%
other: 92.72% (2005)
Irrigated land: 46,000 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 4,498 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 76.68 cu km/yr (19%/63%/18%)
per capita: 535 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: permafrost over much of Siberia is a major impediment to development; volcanic activity in the Kuril Islands; volcanoes and earthquakes on the Kamchatka Peninsula; spring floods and summer/autumn forest fires throughout Siberia and parts of European Russia
Environment – current issues: air pollution from heavy industry, emissions of coal-fired electric plants, and transportation in major cities; industrial, municipal, and agricultural pollution of inland waterways and seacoasts; deforestation; soil erosion; soil contamination from improper application of agricultural chemicals; scattered areas of sometimes intense radioactive contamination; groundwater contamination from toxic waste; urban solid waste management; abandoned stocks of obsolete pesticides
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Sulfur 94
Geography – note: largest country in the world in terms of area but unfavorably located in relation to major sea lanes of the world; despite its size, much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture; Mount El’brus is Europe’s tallest peak
Politics According to the Constitution, which was adopted by national referendum on 12 December 1993 following the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, Russia is a federation and formally a semi-presidential republic, wherein the President is the head of state[85] and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The Russian Federation is fundamentally structured as a representative democracy. Executive power is exercised by the government.[86] Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the Federal Assembly.[87] The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which serves as the country’s supreme legal document and as a social contract for the people of the Russian Federation.

The White House, the seat of the Russian Government

The federal government is composed of three branches:
Legislative: The bicameral Federal Assembly, made up of the State Duma and the Federation Council adopts federal law, declares war, approves treaties, has the power of the purse, and has power of impeachment, by which it can remove the President.
Executive: The president is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto legislative bills before they become law, and appoints the Cabinet and other officers, who administer and enforce federal laws and policies.
Judiciary: The Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Court of Arbitration and lower federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the Federation Council on the recommendation of the president, interpret laws and can overturn laws they deem unconstitutional.

According to the Constitution, constitutional justice in the court is based on the equality of all citizens, judges are independent and subject only to the law, trials are to be open and the accused is guaranteed a defense. Since 1996, Russia has instituted a moratorium on the death penalty in Russia, although capital punishment has not been abolished by law.

The president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (eligible for a second term but constitutionally barred for a third consecutive term); election last held 2 March 2008. Ministries of the government are composed of the premier and his deputies, ministers, and selected other individuals; all are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (whereas the appointment of the latter requires the consent of the State Duma). The national legislature is the Federal Assembly, which consists of two chambers; the 450-member State Duma and the 176-member Federation Council. Leading political parties in Russia include United Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Fair Russia.

People Population: 140,702,096 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 14.6% (male 10,577,858/female 10,033,254)
15-64 years: 71.2% (male 48,187,807/female 52,045,102)
65 years and over: 14.1% (male 6,162,400/female 13,695,673) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 38.3 years
male: 35.1 years
female: 41.4 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.474% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 11.03 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 16.06 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 0.28 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.93 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.45 male(s)/female
total population: 0.86 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 10.81 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 12.34 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 9.18 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 65.94 years
male: 59.19 years
female: 73.1 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.4 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 1.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 860,000 (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: 9,000 (2001 est.)
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: intermediate
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea and hepatitis A
vectorborne disease: Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever and tickborne encephalitis
note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in this country; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2008)
Nationality: noun: Russian(s)
adjective: Russian
Ethnic groups: Russian 79.8%, Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 2%, Bashkir 1.2%, Chuvash 1.1%, other or unspecified 12.1% (2002 census)
Religions: Russian Orthodox 15-20%, Muslim 10-15%, other Christian 2% (2006 est.)
note: estimates are of practicing worshipers; Russia has large populations of non-practicing believers and non-believers, a legacy of over seven decades of Soviet rule
Languages: Russian, many minority languages
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99.4%
male: 99.7%
female: 99.2% (2002 census)
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 14 years
male: 13 years
female: 14 years (2006)
Education expenditures: 3.8% of GDP (2005)

Russia OKs Israeli strikes on Iranian targets deep inside Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia OKs Israeli strikes on Iranian targets deep inside Syria — report

Arabic daily says deal between Moscow and Jerusalem includes removal of Tehran-backed forces from border area, protection for Syrian army

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu, in Moscow, Russia on May 31, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu, in Moscow, Russia on May 31, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Israel and Russia have reached an agreement green-lighting Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, as well as the withdrawal of Tehran-backed troops from Syria’s border with Israel, according to an Arabic media report Friday.

According to the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat, the agreement will see Iranian forces leave southwestern Syria, while allowing Israel to strike Iranian assets deep in the country. Israel agreed not to attack Syrian regime targets, the report said.

A Russian source told Asharq al-Awsat that Russia was tight-lipped about the agreement to maintain “balance” in its diplomatic ties with Israel and Iran.

Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran establishing a permanent presence in Syria and Lebanon and has carried out dozens of air strikes against Iran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

“Russia is somehow embarrassed because the talks with the Israelis mainly focused on a plan to remove Iran and its forces from southern Syria,” the source told the paper. Russia is a main ally of Iran.

The reported agreement comes after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Thursday for talks focused on Syria.

Liberman thanked Russia for “understanding” Israel’s security concerns. However, neither Jerusalem, nor Moscow, publicly acknowledged any agreement between the sides regarding Iran’s military presence in Syria.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

“It is important to continue the dialogue between us and to keep an open line between the IDF and Russian army,” Liberman told Shoigu.

Before leaving Israel for Russia, Liberman said Israel was committed to “preventing Iran and its offshoots from establishing themselves in Syria.”

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday evening to discuss the situation in Syria. Moscow said the conversation focused on “some aspects of the Syrian settlement,” which it didn’t specify, following up on the two leaders’ talks in Moscow earlier this month.

The Liberman-Shoigu meeting came on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov‘s demand Wednesday that all foreign forces — including those from Iran, Turkey and the US — leave southwestern Syria as soon as possible, as well as his remarks Monday at a press conference in Moscow that only the Syrian regime should field military forces in the country’s southern border areas.

“As regards the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria, we have agreements on the southwestern de-escalation zone. These agreements have been reached between Russia, the United States and Jordan. Israel was informed about them as we were working on them. They [the agreements] stipulate that this de-escalation zone should consolidate stability, while all non-Syrian forces must be withdrawn from this area,” Lavrov said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a joint press conference with his German counterpart following their talks in Moscow on May 10, 2018. (AFP/Yuri Kadobnov)

Lavrov’s comment apparently referred to areas including the Syrian Golan Heights region abutting the Israeli Golan Heights and the border with Jordan, and indicated that Russia was open to Israeli demands that Iranian forces be kept far from Israel’s borders.

The return of the Syrian army to Israel’s northern border in return for the distancing of Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah from the area has been the subject of back channel discussions between Israel and Russia over recent weeks.

Liberman visited Russia with a defense establishment delegation, hoping to flesh out the understandings to give Syrian President Bashar Assad control over the Syria-Israel border region.

Netanyahu’s office continues to insist publicly that Israel demands the complete ouster of Iran and Hezbollah from the whole of Syria.

A source told the Ynet news site on Thursday that “Israel is uninterested in partial agreements, but rather in an exit of all Iranian forces from Syria.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu told ministers that he had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo primarily to urge the US government to demand that an evolving agreement on troop deployment in Syria between the US, Russia and Jordan make clear that Iranian forces must leave the whole of the country.

Israeli soldiers seen beside tanks near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The agreement appears to be slated to demand that Iranian and Iran-backed forces stay 20 kilometers from the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

Amidst a flurry of activity relating to Iran, Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Adviser, flew to Washington on Wednesday to coordinate positions with the Trump administration.

Next week, Netanyahu will leave for France and Germany to discuss Iran’s role in Syria and the nuclear deal which the Europeans are trying to salvage after the US withdrawal earlier this month. He is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. He may also call on Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

Records Show Trump Lied To FBI About Spending Nights In Moscow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Flight Records Disprove Trump’s Claim About ‘Pee Tape’ Weekend Whereabouts

The president insisted he didn’t spend a night in Moscow. Records show he did.

President Donald Trump reportedly told former FBI Director James Comey — twice — that he didn’t spend a single night in Moscow when the infamous “pee tape” was allegedly made.

But Bloomberg and Politico have obtained flight records for Trump’s jet that indicate he actually spent two nights in the Russian capital when he traveled there for the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013.

A dossier of information about Trump collected by former British agent Christopher Steele claims that Russian agents secretly filmed Trump at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton that weekend as he instructed prostitutes to urinate on a bed that then-President Barack Obama had slept in.

The New York Times reported last year that Trump traveled to Moscow on a plane owned by casino mogul Phil Ruffin. Bloomberg and Politico obtained flight records for a Bombardier Global Express jet owned by Ruffin Development Expositions that left the U.S. on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 and landed at Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport the following day. The jet left the city early Sunday at 3:58 a.m. after Trump attended the pageant.

Ruffin’s spokeswoman Michelle Knoll confirmed to Politico that Trump used the aircraft for his trip.

It’s not known which night the tape was allegedly recorded, but Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller testified last year that he turned down an offer from an unknown Russian to send five sex workers to Trump’s Moscow hotel room at some point that weekend, sources told NBC. Schiller said he kept an eye on Trump’s hotel room for a while, then went to bed himself.

Trump’s own social media accounts seem to support the argument that he was in Russia at least overnight. In one Facebook post, Trump poses in a photo outside Nobu Moscow on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. The pageant was held on Saturday. On Sunday evening, Trump tweeted that he’d “just got back from Russia.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

I just got back from Russia-learned lots & lots. Moscow is a very interesting and amazing place! U.S. MUST BE VERY SMART AND VERY STRATEGIC.

 

After Trump became president, Comey said he warned him about Steele’s dossier, which had been turned over to the FBI. Trump denied spending a single night in Moscow. Comey told ABC this month that Trump responded by asking, “Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?” (Comey added: “I assumed he was asking that rhetorically.”)

Trump also said he’d “spoken to people who had been on … the trip … and they had reminded him that he didn’t stay over night in Russia,” Comey recalled in a memo. Trump insisted again later in the Oval Office that he “hadn’t stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip,” Comey wrote.

In addition, Trump told his FBI director that he could never go for the “golden showers thing” because “I’m … a germaphobe,” Comey wrote in his memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.

If Trump deliberately lied to Comey, it could indicate “consciousness of guilt” and could bolster a case against him by special counsel Robert Mueller, former federal prosecutor Pete Zeidenberg told Politico.

Trump’s Miss Universe pageant has posed multiple problems for the president. The New Yorker reported earlier this year that Trump has used the pageant to cultivate potential business partners, including in Russia, where he hoped to build a Trump tower. In 2013, he cemented an alliance with father and singer son Aras and Emin Agalarov, who hosted the pageant in Moscow.

In the summer of 2016, a publicist for Emin Agalarov emailed Donald Trump Jr. offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald Jr. replied: “I love it” — and later attended a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, among others.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

Armenia Thrown into More Turmoil as Soldiers Join Protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Armenia Thrown into More Turmoil as Soldiers Join Protests

Monday, 23 April, 2018 – 09:00
Law enforcement officers disperse protesters at a rally against the appointment of ex-president Serzh Sarkisian as the new premier in Yerevan, Armenia. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
A group of Armenian soldiers joined on Monday anti-government protests that have swept the capital Yerevan and other cities for almost two weeks.

Images of hundreds of men wearing military uniforms marching with protesters had earlier appeared on a live stream of the demonstrations being broadcast on the Internet.

The Defense Ministry condemned the soldiers who took part in the illegal protests, vowing that “harsh legal measures” will be taken against them.

Earlier opposition supporters staged more protests in the capital, a day after protest leader and lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan was detained by authorities.

On the eleventh day of the protests, hundreds of students, some medical students in white coats, marched arm-in-arm through the streets, holding Armenian flags.

Young men in small groups briefly blocked roads and shouted slogans such as “Join us!” and “Victory” and Pashinyan’s name as drivers beeped their horns in support.

The demonstrations, which drew tens of thousands in Yerevan over the weekend, are protesting the rule of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the country’s former president.

The whereabouts of Pashinyan, the leader of the Civil Contract Party, were unclear after he was detained. As a lawmaker, Pashinyan is protected by parliamentary immunity and cannot be arrested without the approval of fellow MPs.

His lawyer Rustam Badasyan wrote on Facebook: “There is no answer to the question where he is.”

The speaker of the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, met Pashinyan and the other detained politicians overnight, however, the parliament’s spokesman told AFP, without giving details.

The speaker Ara Babloyan was quoted as saying that he urged Pashinyan and the others “to take part in real talks.”

Pashinyan and two other opposition politicians “were detained as they were committing socially dangerous acts”, the prosecutor general’s office said in a statement on Sunday.

Sarkisian earlier on Sunday stormed out of tense televised talks with Pashinyan, accusing him of “blackmail.”

“I am telling you: you have no understanding of the situation in the country. The situation is different to the one you knew 15-20 days ago,” he told Sarkisian.

“The situation in Armenia has changed, you don’t have the power of which you are told. In Armenia, the power has passed to the people,” he said.

Pashinyan last week announced the “start of a peaceful velvet revolution” in the landlocked country of 2.9 million people.

Nearly 200 people were detained at protest rallies held across Yerevan on Sunday, while on Monday the Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said that 26 had been detained on suspicion of “hooliganism” and use of violence against police.

In a statement, the European Union’s foreign policy arm called for more dialogue and a peaceful resolution.

“All those who have been detained while exercising their fundamental right of assembly in accordance with the law must be released immediately,” it said.

“It is of utmost importance that all parties involved show restraint and act responsibly.”

Sarkisian was elected prime minister by lawmakers last week under a new parliamentary system of government that transfers power from the presidency to the premier, while the president becomes largely a ceremonial role.

Sarkisian, a shrewd former military officer, was first elected as president of the impoverished Moscow-allied country in 2008.

After that poll, 10 people died in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.

He was reelected in 2013, with his second and final term ending April 9.

The protests, though peaceful so far, threaten to destabilize a key Russian ally in a volatile region riven by a long low level conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and would, if successful, be a rare example of people power delivering reform in the former Soviet Union.

Critics accuse Sarkisian of ruling the South Caucasus nation for too long, of being too close to Russia which has military bases inside Armenia, and of doing too little to root out corruption.

Sarkisian says his country needs him and that his party enjoys large-scale popular support.

Russia Against The U.S. Or The U.S. Against Russia Type Policies Show Ignorance; Not Strength

Russia Against The U.S. Or The U.S. Against Russia Type Policies Show Ignorance; Not Strength

It does seem to me that during the 14 years that President Putin has been in power that the nation of Russia has constantly grown further away from having good ties with the United States. I do put a lot of blame on America/Americans for Mr. Putin ever coming to power in Russia in the first place though. We here in American movies, media outlets as well as the talking heads in D.C. were always slamming Russia for being backwards and incompetent. How could the American idiots not have known that they were not just slamming a picture on a map, they were constantly slapping the people of Russia in the face for the actions of their pathetic Communist government. The people were constantly having their national and personal pride stomped on by a bunch of ego maniacs who were too uncaring or too ignorant to care. This is not how you build friendships with a people/Nation, it is how you destroy relationships. When the Soviet Union crashed in the fall of 1989 large Capitalist Corporations simply saw red meat concerning the people and resources they could get control of. About a 150 years ago after the American Civil War ended there ware folks that were labeled as Carpet-bagger’s for their actions like what the wealthiest of the West has done to the poorest of the Russian population.

 

I am a person that believes that Russia, China, America and the E.U. need to work together as friends, bringing in the smaller nations that surround us in a real barricade against the spread of Islamic extremest within our borders. The people of Russia that I have met in my life as well as the folks from that region of the world are just like everyone else. They want personal security for themselves their families and their businesses. They want a roof over their heads, food to eat and regular trash pick-up and to be left alone by the government. There are a lot of people in the governments of countries like China and Russia who do not believe in their being any God (I’m sure there are some of those in the U.S. government also). Folks that mindset is much easier to work with, to live with, than a religion that’s stated goal is to kill everyone on Earth who doesn’t follow 100% their beliefs. Of course there is always the issue of whom is the Judge at any particular moment as to whom gets their head lifted.

 

I personally don’t know just how we the non-Islamic world will be able to come together with all the divides we keep throwing at each other from D.C., Moscow and Beijing but our government and military officials on all sides of the Big Ponds need to get their heads out of their behinds before they get them cut off with them permanently stuck there. Our so-called leaders need to start focusing on the avenues of good that can be followed and nurtured between our Nations and our cultures before we have no Nation, Culture, or Head!

 

 

Russian plane crashes in Syria, killing all 39 passengers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Russian plane crashes in Syria, killing all 39 passengers

The Russian transport plane, an Antonov An-26 (file photo), was carrying 39 people on board.

(CNN)Thirty-nine people were killed when a Russian transport plane crashed while trying to land at Hmeimin air base in northwest Syria, Russian state media reported Tuesday.

Citing the Russian Defense Ministry, state-run outlet RIA-Novosti reported that all 33 passengers and six crew members were killed in the crash. Earlier it had been reported that 32 people had died.
Russian military personnel were on the aircraft, according to RIA-Novosti.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the accident occurred when the Antonov-26 transport plane came down 500 meters short of the runway, in a statement quoted by the state run news agency Tass.
The ministry said it was investigating the crash and that “preliminary data suggests it could be a technical malfunction.” It also ruled out the possibility that the plane had been fired upon.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case over the crash, the committee’s spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko told Tass.
Last month, a Russian Su-25 warplane was downed in Idlib province in northwest Syria.
Hmeimin, which is near Latakia, about 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of Damascus, is Russia’s largest air base in Syria.
A February 3 picture shows smoke billowing from the site of a downed Russian jet in Idlib.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Hmeimin in December last year, using the opportunity to meet with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.
Russia is a key ally of Assad, and its intervention during the long civil war — with troops and weaponry — has helped tilt the balance in the Syrian regime’s favor.

Russia deploys advanced stealth jets in Syria with warning aimed at Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia deploys advanced stealth jets in Syria with warning aimed at Israel

Satellite images show two Su-57 at airbase in Latakia; Russian official says presence of planes a ‘message’ to neighboring states who fly aircraft into Syria ‘uninvited’

The Su-57. (Photo by Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

The Su-57. (Photo by Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

Russia has deployed two of its most advanced and sophisticated stealth jets in Syria, in a power move likely to draw US criticism, as the Pentagon expressed its alarm earlier this month over recent close calls with Russian planes in the war-torn country.

Satellite images published by Israeli company ImageSat International on Friday showed the fifth-generation jets — two Su-57 fighter aircraft — at Russia’s airbase in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia. A source in the defense ministry confirmed to RBK news agency this week that the two planes were sent to the Hmeimim base “for a test in real conditions.” The jets are said to be a potential rival to the US’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which American forces use in patrols over Syria.

The deployment came with a covert warning to Israel by a Russian official, who said that the presence of the Su-57s will doubtlessly send a political message, serving as a deterrent “for aircraft from neighboring states, which periodically fly into Syrian airspace uninvited.”

Speaking to the Russian news network Sputnik, Vladimir Gutenov, chairman of the Military Industry Committee in the Russian parliament, said on Friday that the jets “need to be tested in combat conditions, in conditions of [enemy] resistance.”

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

New photos showing the additional 2 Russian Su-57 escorted by Su-30SM
landing today in the Russian Air Force base in

And a photo for the RuAF A-50U #41 Red landing at the AB after a combat mission.

 

Since 2015, when Moscow began lending air support to the regime of President Bashar Assad and carrying out airstrikes across the country, Russia and Israel have maintained an understanding aimed at avoiding accidental confrontations between the two countries in Syrian airspace. The countries use a “hotline” to communicate on security coordination.

Earlier this month, that mechanism was tested when Israel shot down an Iranian drone that has entered Israeli airspace, leading to large-scale Israeli strikes in Syria and heavy Syrian counter-fire. An Israeli F-16 fighter jet subsequently crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses in a severe increase in tensions.

In the wake of the attacks, Israel had appealed to Russia to intervene and prevent further escalation, and conveyed to Moscow that the events were proof that its warnings of Iranian entrenchment and growing boldness in Syria were merited. Russia has subsequently called on Israel and Iran to “show restraint.”

Israel has, over the years, carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria, reportedly targeting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah cells and weapons shipments.

Satellite images by Israel’s ImageSat International show Russian Su-57s in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has routinely used Syria as a testing ground for weapons and latest military technology. A Russian official said earlier this week that Moscow has tested over 200 weapons during the conflict, now in its eighth year.

“As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons,” said Vladimir Shamanov on Thursday. Shamanov is a former commander of Russia’s airborne troops, who now serves as head of the Russian Duma’s defense committee.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon voiced growing concern that the risky flying of Russian pilots in Syria could lead to a mishap — or even the nightmare scenario of a US jet shooting down a Russian warplane.

Defense officials highlighted several recent close calls with Russian planes, including one on February 14, when a pair of US F-22s intercepted two Russian jets over a part of Syria in which the Pentagon says they are not meant to be operating.

READ MORE:

Dozens of Russians Are Believed Killed in U.S.-Backed Syria Attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

American special forces in Manbij, Syria, near the border with Turkey, this month. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

MOSCOW — Four Russian nationals, and perhaps dozens more, were killed in fighting between pro-government forces in eastern Syria and members of the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, according to Russian and Syrian officials.

A Syrian military officer said that about 100 Syrian soldiers had been killed in the fighting on Feb. 7 and 8, but news about Russian casualties has dribbled out only slowly, through Russian news organizations and social media.

Much about the attack and the associated casualties has been obscured in the fog of war. For reasons that remain unclear, Syrian government troops and some Russian nationals appear to have attacked a coalition position, near Al Tabiyeh, Syria.

The attack occurred in the vicinity of Deir al-Zour, a strategic, oil-rich territory that is coveted by the Syrians. Most of the fatalities were attributed to an American airstrike on enemy columns that was called in by American-backed Kurdish soldiers who believed they were under attack.

At no point, an American military spokesman said, was there any chance of direct conflict between United States and Russian forces.

Continue reading the main story

“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” according to Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the American military. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”

The Kremlin — seeking to play down its involvement in the fighting in Syria and seemingly hoping to avoid escalating tensions with the United States — has sidestepped questions about the episode, even as it faces rare criticism at home over its failure to acknowledge the deaths of Russians in Syria.

It has stressed repeatedly since last Wednesday that no members of the Russian armed forces were killed, and that any Russians fighting alongside the Syrians were mercenaries.

“We only handle the data that concerns Russian forces servicemen,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said at a news briefing on Tuesday. “We don’t have data about other Russians who could be in Syria.”

The Kremlin said much the same about the nature of the forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, however, claiming they were volunteers and men on vacation, only to admit later that they were regular soldiers.

100 km

President Vladimir V. Putin has said at least three times since 2016 that combat operations in Syria were winding down, including once during a surprise visit to a Russian air base in Syria last December. Yet there are hundreds if not thousands of contract soldiers in Syria whom the Russian government has never acknowledged.

They were deployed both to help keep the official cost down and to avoid reports of casualties, especially with a March presidential election in Russia fast approaching. Even though the Kremlin enacted a law during the Ukraine crisis in 2015 to make battlefield casualties a secret, the funerals for regular soldiers killed in combat need to be more official than those for mercenaries, and are thus difficult to hide.

And some individual Russians have begun speaking out. Aleksandr Ionov, a Russian businessman working in Syria offering security and other services, said he estimated after conversations with associates in several private military organizations that more than 200 Russians might have been killed.

Mr. Ionov said not all those killed were Russian: Some of the paid fighters came from other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. “More than 200 is the current estimate, we cannot know the exact number yet, but most of them were Russian,” he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Ionov said he was speaking out because he wanted any Russians who were killed to be officially recognized for their sacrifice.

“The truth has to be told,” he said. “If people died, then this should be recognized and respects should be paid to people who fought against terrorists.”

He called on the government to give a fuller version of events, adding, “People are outraged because they want to know the truth.”

Mr. Ionov was not the only one speaking out about Russian fatalities. Aleksandr Averin, a member of the Other Russia nationalist party, confirmed that Kirill Ananiev, a party member who left for Syria about a year ago, had been killed in the airstrike, noting that there were other “substantial losses.”

“I can confirm that Kirill died on Feb. 7 in Syria, near the Euphrates River, as a result of a strike by the American coalition,” Mr. Averin said in an interview, adding that he was aware of “substantial losses” suffered by “paramilitary structures with ties to Russia.” He refused to elaborate.

Another victim, Vladimir N. Loginov, 51, died “in an unequal fight on Feb. 7 in the area of Syria’s Deir al-Zour,” according to a statement published online by his paramilitary organization.

“He died, heroically defending our motherland in the far reaches against the invasion of maddened barbarians,” the group, the Baltic Cossack Union in Kaliningrad, said in the statement.

Photo

Syrian pro-government fighters, who were reportedly wounded in a United States airstrike near Deir al-Zour, at a hospital in the town. CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

In another case, Lubava Kocheva, a woman from central Russia, said in a brief online chat that two of her male friends in Syria, Igor Kosoturov and Stanislav Matveev, also died on Feb. 7.

“We don’t know anything, whether they will bring them or not,” said Mrs. Kocheva, 41, referring to the men’s corpses. “This is very difficult and frightening.”

The names of most of the victims identified so far were first reported by the Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of Russian investigative bloggers. The exact circumstances of their deaths could not be established by The New York Times.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which supports the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in the continuing civil war, said none of its servicemen had been involved in the clash and that only 25 pro-government Syrian insurgents were wounded. It took pains to distance itself from the battle.

“The reason for the incident was lack of coordination between the reconnaissance movements of the Syrian insurgents and the Russian operative command,” the ministry said in its statement on Thursday.

The number and exact nature of private Russian security firms operating in Syria is unclear, although there have been persistent reports in the Russian news media that some militiamen who fought on the side of the Russian-backed separatists in the war in eastern Ukraine later deployed to Syria.

The main Russian paramilitary contracting organization is the Wagner Group, known by the nickname of the retired Russian officer who leads it. The group has been operating in Syria in various capacities, including protecting some oil fields, according to multiple reports in the Russian news media. Its relationship with the Kremlin is murky and unconfirmed, but its leaders have reportedly received awards in the Kremlin and its mercenaries are trained at the Russian Defense Ministry’s facilities.

Grigory A. Yavlinsky, a veteran Russian opposition politician who is a candidate in next month’s presidential election, called on Tuesday for Mr. Putin to disclose the number of Russians who had died in Syria.

“I demand an explanation as to why Russian nationals take part in ground military operations in Syria, despite the statements by the president and defense minister that Russian military formations will be withdrawn from this country,” Mr. Yavlinsky said in a statement. “I also think there needs to be a public report about relations with the U.S., as there is a growing threat of an accidental or deliberate direct military clash between Russia and America.”

The official Kremlin stance is that its military deployment in Syria is now centered on two permanent bases, one for Russia’s air force and one for its navy, there by invitation from the Syrian government.

342COMMENTS

Russian political analysts said that the country’s reluctance to confirm that its citizens had died as a result of a United States-led airstrike was actually a sign that Moscow did not want to further worsen the already fractured bilateral relations with Washington.

“This is a very rare case, where the positions of Russia and the U.S. got closer,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, a think tank in Moscow. “No one wants to take steps that will do irreparable damage to the already broken Russia-U.S. relations.”

Correction: February 13, 2018 
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly described an account by a Syrian military officer. He said that about 100 Syrian — not Russian — soldiers died in fighting on Feb. 7 and 8.

71 feared dead as Russian plane crashes near Moscow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

71 feared dead as Russian plane crashes near Moscow

Rescue workers struggle to reach wreckage of Antonov An-148 jetliner; ministry says several causes possible, including bad weather, human error

Illustrative photo an Antonov AN-148 passenger jet taxing after landing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, December 24, 2009. (Mitya Aleshkovsky/AP)

Illustrative photo an Antonov AN-148 passenger jet taxing after landing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, December 24, 2009. (Mitya Aleshkovsky/AP)

MOSCOW, Russia — A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed outside Moscow on Sunday after taking off from the capital’s Domodedovo airport, Russian media reported.

The Antonov An-148 plane operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines was flying to Orsk, a city in the Urals, and crashed in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow. Russian news agencies reported 65 passengers and 6 crew were on board.

News agencies said witnesses in the village of Argunovo saw a burning plane falling from the sky.

A source from Russia’s emergency services told Interfax that the 71 people on board “had no chance” of survival.

Plane crashed in Moscow, 60+ people on board, rescue can’t get to it as its in the middle of the forest. Its debris already being covered by snowfall. Will update more

 

The same news agency reported that the wreckage of the plane was spread over a wide area around the crash site.

Russian state television aired a video of the crash site, showing parts of the wreckage in the snow. Russia has seen record high snowfalls in recent days and visibility was reportedly poor.

The Russian-made plane was 7 years-old and bought by Saratov Airlines from another Russian airline a year ago.

Russian media reported that the emergency services were unable to reach the crash site by road and that rescue workers walked to the scene on foot.

A source at Domodedovo, Moscow’s second largest airport, told agencies that the plane disappeared from radars within two minutes of takeoff.

The Russian transport minister was on his way to the crash site, agencies reported. The transport ministry said several causes for the crash are being considered, including weather conditions and human error.

The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was flying to, told Russian media that “more than 60 people” on board the plane were from the region.

Prosecutors opened an investigation into Saratov Airlines following the crash.

Plane crashes are common in Russia, where airlines often operate ageing aircraft in testing flying conditions.

A light aircraft crashed in November in Russia’s far east, killing six people on board.

In December 2016 a military plane carrying Russia’s famed Red Army Choir crashed after taking off from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, killing all 92 people on board.

The choir had been due to give a concert to Russian troops operating in Syria.

Pilot error was blamed for that crash.

In March 2016, all 62 passengers died when a FlyDubia jet crashed in bad weather during an aborted landing at Rostov-on-Don airport.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS