World leaders for Silk Road talks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

World leaders for Silk Road talks

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held from May 14 to 15 in Beijing and President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony and host the round table summit of the leaders, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday.

Xi has championed the “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark program to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects.

China has dedicated US$40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Among those attending will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo will also be attending the forum.

British finance minister Philip Hammond will come as Prime Minister Theresa May’s representative, while Germany and France will send high-level representatives.

Wang confirmed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as one of the leaders coming, along with the Spanish, Greek, Hungarian, Serb and Polish prime ministers and Swiss and Czech presidents.

“This is an economic cooperation forum, an international cooperation platform that everyone is paying attention to, supports and hopes to participate in,” Wang said.

“One Belt, One Road is to date the most important public good China has given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to enjoy,” said.

“The culture and historical genes of One Belt, One Road come from the old Silk Road, so it takes Eurasia as its main region,” he said, adding that representatives of 110 countries would attend the forum.

A section of the New Silk Road is in Pakistan, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.

Wang dismissed concerns, saying the Pakistan project had no direct connection to the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the New Silk Road.

“Indian friends have said to us that One Belt, One Road is a very good suggestion,” he said.

During the forum, China is expected to sign cooperative documents with nearly 20 countries and more than 20 international organizations, Wang told reporters.

China will work with countries along the route on action plans concerning infrastructure, energy and resources, production capacity, trade and investment, which will help to turn the grand blueprint into a clear roadmap, he said.

Another task of the forum will be to push forward delivery of cooperative projects, Wang said.

During the forum, parties will identify major cooperative projects, set up working groups and establish an investment cooperation center.

China will also work with all parties on a set of measures that will include improved financial cooperation, a cooperation platform for science, technology and environmental protection, and enhanced exchanges and training of talent.

Participants will sign financing agreements to support their cooperative projects, Wang said.

China will use the forum to build a more open and efficient international cooperation platform; a closer, stronger partnership network; and to push for a more just, reasonable and balanced international governance system, Wang said.

Russia (Putin) is Defending itself not Assad

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

Opinion

Russia is Defending itself not Assad

Yesterday, we discussed Bashar al-Assad’s trouble following the US strike and his denial of the town of Khan Shaykhoun chemical attack by saying it was 100% fabricated.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports indicating there is a chemical attack in the town are fake. Lavrov’s statements came during a press conference in Moscow on Friday held jointly with the Assad’ regime FM and the Iranian FM.

Are Lavrov and Assad on the same page? Is Lavrov defending Assad? They may share the same understanding but surely the motives are different. It seems that Lavrov is not defending Damascus’ criminal as much as he is protecting Russia which vowed in 2013 to remove Assad’s chemical arsenal after using it against Syrians.

Moscow took that pledge so that Assad can evade crossing the red lines set by former US President Barack Obama who was lenient towards Assad’s crime and cast a blind eye as part of a Russian debunked trick.

Things are different today, precisely after the US strike. Russia can no longer be the honest mediator after Assad used chemical weapons once again. One can’t rely on the credibility of Russia in Syria.

It is astounding that Russia, Iran and Assad’s regime, are demanding via Lavrov a thorough and honest investigation into the chemical attack in Idlib.

It is “astounding” because Russia itself had used the veto for the 8th time during the security council’s session on Wednesday to protect Assad from being condemned for using the toxic gas and thus pressuring Assad to cooperate with an international investigation into that incident!

It is also “astounding” since Assad himself had told AFP: “Syria would only allow an impartial investigation into the poison gas incident involving unbiased countries in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicized purposes.”

He added that during the days that followed the attack, they discussed with Russia the possibility of an international investigation.

So, who should do such an investigation? How can it be international without being under the umbrella of an international organization of the UN? Is it that they want Russia to do the investigation and thus repeat the charade of Arab observers in Syria?

This is quite strange and it gives away the fact that Russia is not defending Assad as much as it is trying to protect its credibility. That is why Moscow hindered the UN project and demanded a new definition of “impartial” investigation and outside the UN monitoring.

Russia is doing this to protect its credibility that was tampered by Assad, which is his game. By game here we mean lying. But who believes Moscow now?

Is using chemical weapons any different that explosive barrels? Or killing Syrians with Russian-Iranian weapons?

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin’s mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor’s degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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Russia’s President Putin Cautions Iran and Syria’s Assad

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

Putin Cautions Iran and Assad

When asked by a reporter if he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin replied: “We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared … in other parts of Syria, including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”

According to Reuters, Putin said Russia would be urgently asking the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global chemical weapons watchdog, to investigate the incident in Idlib.

Putin said that he realized that Russia will receive criticism for its role in Syria, but he hoped that eventually positions will be eased.

So, what do these statements mean with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson due to arrive at Moscow for direct talks?

Surely, no one in his right mind would believe that the US is “planning to plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”

As Putin said, if the US wanted to strike Damascus criminal Bashar al-Assad, there are simply several and logical justifications for it. This has been the case since the presidency of Obama and the US does not need to wait for Assad to use chemical weapons to launch strikes.

Therefore, the only reasonable analysis of Putin’s statement is that he is warning Assad and Iran against doing anything that could lead to more US strikes against the regime which would embarrass Russia, who will in turn not take any action that could lead to a military confrontation with the US.

No matter what Russia’s interest in Syria may be, Moscow will not go all the way to defend Assad because its real interests are in Europe. It has now become evident that President Trump is not the ally Russia was hoping for, but he is rather the president who launched a military strike against Assad.

The Russian president sought to assure the West that his country welcomes criticism of its role in Syria because he wants to convince the West that he is still in the political game. In addition, Russia’s position in Syria is not ideological or a matter of life and death, like it is with Iran and the terrorist “Hezbollah” organization, but it is negotiable.

As it stands, Putin will not allow any more embarrassments in Syria. We say “embarrassment” because Russia did not respond militarily to the Turkish downing of the Russian fighter jet, so how will it respond to US strikes against Assad after he used chemical weapons which Moscow pledged to remove in 2013?

Russia is in a tight spot and that is why Putin’s statement is more of a warning to Iran and Assad against doing anything reckless than being an accusation against the US. If Washington is colluding like that, it is better if Moscow halts the negotiations or not be so eager to welcome the Secretary of State.

It seems that Putin’s announcement is directed at Iran and Assad more than it is at the US.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin’s mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor’s degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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U.S. Missile Attack On Syrian Shayrat Airfield Was Significant But Insufficient

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

Opinion

Shayrat Attack… Significant but Insufficient

Last week’s morning was a turning point in the US dealing with the Syrian crisis. When 59 missiles Tomahawk were launched towards Shayrat airport, this was the first direct attack by the |United States on Bashar Al-Assad regime since the beginning of the revolution six years ago.

The attack has stopped a US clinical sleep towards complications of a war that has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history. Surely, speaking about whether the US has started practically correcting its stance is early. This might be a sole step and reaction for a massacre that was one among many committed by Assad’s regime – but it is at least a sign that the world is facing a new US administration that has done in less than four months what has not been done by the former administration in eight years.

The attack on Shayrat airbase, although it was surprising and important, is a small step in changing the field condition and ending the Syrian tragedy. Maybe, if the attack happened when Barack Obama threatened with the “red line” in 2013 and before the Russian military intervention then its influence might have been bigger – it might have contributed to supporting the opposition and putting huge pressure on Assad’s regime.

One strike will not change the horrible way Assad treats civilians and will not affect his power, even if it prevents him from using chemical weapons soon. Nonetheless, Washington believes that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapon in Khan Sheikhoun massacre and, thus, it should be punished.

During the Iranian-Iraqi war, the US supported Iraq against Iran, but soon after that it turned against Saddam Hussein regime after it used chemical weapons in Kurdistan. Also, Shayrat attack might be viewed as a warning to Moscow that their might be consequences for the acts of its ally, Assad.

Russians deceived the international community in 2013 agreement that admitted Assad has submitted his ammunition of chemical weapons, although Moscow knew that Assad kept some storage that was used later on without facing any real consequences by the international community.

Throughout the past years, the regime has carried out airstrikes that killed hundred thousands of innocent Syrians – it used the tactics of starving and bombing hospitals as well as chemical attacks. Despite that, Assad did not face any real consequences, not even once, for his barbarism. However, this time, the Trump administration saw that it has to destroy one of Assad’s airbases to prevent warplanes from striking innocent people and dropping Sarin gas on them.

It is true that the US attack is a huge symbolic step but it will be considered a limited tactic if compared to the facts on ground. If Trump’s slogan was “America first” then this does not necessarily mean acting indifferently towards the world matters but means that America stays strong and leads the world.

The US is not Switzerland to act impartially towards international conflicts and 50 Tomahawk missiles alone will not trigger a huge change. If the US chooses the relatively low-cost option represented in limited military response such as Cruise missiles, then it can also take an international efficient step against Assad’s regime through exerting pressure to implement the international resolutions – establishing safe zones.

As much as striking Shayrat airbase has achieved several goals, its influence will be limited with time if it remained a sole step and not a new strategy. Six years of war have proven that only Russia, Iran and “Hezbollah” are messing in the Syrian territories to support a practically collapsed regime.

The military strike at Assad’s regime might be a first step towards regaining respect to the international resolutions and pushing the international community, US in the lead, to play its role in putting an end to the Syrian tragedy.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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The Emerging Trump Doctrine: Don’t Follow Doctrine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

The damage on Friday after a reported airstrike by the Syrian government in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As he confronted a series of international challenges from the Middle East to Asia last week, President Trump made certain that nothing was certain about his foreign policy. To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging, it seems to be this: don’t get roped in by doctrine.

In a week in which he hosted foreign heads of state and launched a cruise missile strike against Syria’s government, Mr. Trump dispensed with his own dogma and forced other world leaders to re-examine their assumptions about how the United States will lead in this new era. He demonstrated a highly improvisational and situational approach that could inject a risky unpredictability into relations with potential antagonists, but also opened the door to a more traditional American engagement with the world that eases allies’ fears.

As a private citizen and candidate, Mr. Trump spent years arguing that Syria’s civil war was not America’s problem, that Russia should be a friend, and that China was an “enemy” whose leaders should not be invited to dinner. As president, Mr. Trump, in the space of just days, involved America more directly in the Syrian morass than ever before, opened a new acrimonious rift with Russia, and invited China’s leader for a largely convivial, let’s-get-along dinner at his Florida estate.

In the process, Mr. Trump upended domestic politics as well. He rejected the nationalist wing of his own White House, led by Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who opposes entanglement in Middle East conflicts beyond fighting terrorism and favors punitive trade measures against Beijing. And Mr. Trump, by launching the strike on Russia’s ally Syria, undercut critics who have portrayed him as a Manchurian candidate doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin after the Kremlin intervened in last year’s election on his behalf.

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Given his unpredictability, none of this means that Mr. Trump has pivoted permanently in any of these areas. The White House has prepared an executive order that the president may sign in coming days targeting countries like China that dump steel in the American market. And Mr. Trump is sending Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Tuesday to Moscow, where he will have the additional task of trying to smooth over the rancor of recent days, in addition to exploring whether Russia could be a real partner in battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Moreover, the missile strike, in response to a chemical weapons attack, was intended to be a limited, one-time operation, and the president seemed determined to quickly move on. After announcing the attack Thursday evening, he made no mention of it Friday during public appearances, nor on Saturday during his weekly address. As of Saturday morning, the Twitter-obssessed president had not even taunted President Bashar al-Assad of Syria online, although he did thank the American troops who carried out the missile strike.

“Our decisions,” Mr. Trump said in the Saturday address, “will be guided by our values and our goals — and we will reject the path of inflexible ideology that too often leads to unintended consequences.”

That concept, flexibility, seems key to understanding Mr. Trump. He hates to be boxed in, as he mused in the Rose Garden last week while contemplating the first new military operation of his presidency with geopolitical consequences.

“I like to think of myself as a very flexible person,” he told reporters. “I don’t have to have one specific way.” He made clear he cherished unpredictability. “I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” he said.

That flexibility was a hallmark of his rise in real estate, and if critics preferred the word erratic, it did not bother Mr. Trump — it has since worked well enough to vault him to the White House. But now that he is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nation, leaders around the world are trying to detect a method to the man.

“There is no emerging doctrine for Trump foreign policy in a classical sense,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are, however, clear emerging characteristics consistent with the attributes of the man himself: unpredictable, instinctual and undisciplined.”

On Syria, Mr. Trump had mocked President Barack Obama for setting a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and urged him not to launch a punitive strike against Syria after Mr. Assad crossed it in 2013. That attack, with a death toll of 1,400, dwarfed last week’s toll of 84. And just days before last week’s attack, Mr. Tillerson indicated that Washington would accept Mr. Assad’s remaining in power.

Photo

An injured child being treated after the strike. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Indeed, critics, including Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, argued that Mr. Assad felt free to launch a chemical attack precisely because Mr. Trump’s administration had given him a green light. Russia, critics added, did not constrain Mr. Assad because it has had a blank check from an overly friendly Trump administration. And Mr. Trump’s efforts to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, they said, sent a signal that he did not care about them.

“President Trump seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy, but rather to have launched a military strike based on a sudden, emotional decision,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote in an article for The Huffington Post on Saturday.

Mr. Assad is not the only leader testing Mr. Trump. North Korea has test-launched missile after missile in recent weeks, almost as if trying to get Mr. Trump’s attention. So far, he has been measured in his response, urging President Xi Jinping of China during his visit at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to do more to rein in North Korea. But national security aides have also prepared options for Mr. Trump if China does not take a more assertive stance, including reintroducing nuclear weapons in South Korea.

Mr. Trump’s action in Syria was welcomed by many traditional American allies who had fretted over Mr. Obama’s reluctance to take a greater leadership role in the Middle East, and feared that Mr. Trump would withdraw even more. After the missile strike, Israeli news outlets were filled with headlines like “The Americans Are Back,” and European leaders expressed relief both that he took action and that he did not go too far.

“We have learned that Trump is not so isolationist as many Europeans feared he would be — he appears to care about victims of a gas attack in Syria,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London. “We have learned that he understands that U.S. influence had suffered from the perception — which grew under Obama — that it was a power weakened by its reluctance to use force.”

That touches on another animating factor as Mr. Trump deals with foreign challenges — doing the opposite of whatever Mr. Obama did. Mr. Trump’s first instinct after the Syrian chemical attack was to blame Mr. Obama for not enforcing his red line, never mind that Mr. Trump had urged him not to at the time. Even as he announced the missile strike on Thursday night, Mr. Trump asserted that his predecessor’s handling of Syria had “failed very dramatically.”

Intentionally or not, though, Mr. Trump adopted language similar to that used by Mr. Obama and many other presidents in defining American priorities. While in the past Mr. Trump said the United States did not have a national interest in Syria, last week he said instability there was “threatening the United States and its allies.”

He also said that “America stands for justice,” effectively espousing a responsibility to act in cases of human rights abuses, as other presidents have at times.

Until now, Mr. Trump has largely eschewed such language. Just three days earlier, he had hosted Egypt’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and made no public mention of the thousands of people the Cairo government has imprisoned in a political crackdown.

“What is striking to me is a subtle yet clear shift away from the rhetoric of pure American self-interest narrowly defined, as espoused by candidate Donald Trump,” said Robert Danin, a former Middle East negotiator who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “What has emerged is a new language of American leadership in the world that we have not heard before from President Trump.”

Mr. Grant and others noted that the strike, coming as Mr. Trump shared a meal with Mr. Xi, could resonate in Asia as well, leaving North Korea to wonder whether the president might resort to force to stop its development of ballistic missiles.

But Ms. Hicks said Mr. Trump’s flexibility — or unpredictability — was itself “extremely risky.” If other countries cannot accurately predict what an American president will do, she said, they may act precipitously, citing the example of China’s extending its maritime claims in the South China Sea.

“Imagine if Donald Trump then took exception in ways they didn’t anticipate and major wars ensued,” she said. “Bright lines, derived from clear interests and enforced well, are generally best, and I don’t think Donald Trump likes to be constrained by bright lines.”

With Strike Aimed at Halting More Gas Attacks, U.S. Tries to Send Syrians Message

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

A satellite image of the damage assessment of Al Shayrat airfield in Syria after an American missile attack. Credit U.S. Department of Defense

WASHINGTON — The American cruise-missile strike that destroyed at least 20 warplanes in Syria on Friday was devised by American war planners as a one-time operation to deter President Bashar al-Assad from using his secret stockpile of chemicals ever again.

Military officials said it was never intended to be the leading edge of a broader campaign to dislodge Mr. Assad from power, or force a political settlement in a country that has been ripped apart by six years of a bloody civil war.

The question for the Pentagon, however, is whether this 21st-century equivalent of a shot across the bow will ensure that poisonous gas will no longer be among the many scourges that plague Syria, or whether it will gradually draw the United States in a multisided military tug of war over the future of the Syrian state.

If there is one description that summed up the plan, which was developed at the headquarters of the United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla., it is “proportional.” Details of the plan were described to reporters at a briefing on Friday by senior military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity in accordance with Pentagon protocol.

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The Americans wanted to send a specific signal by striking only the airfield that a Syrian Su-22 warplane had used for its mission on Tuesday to drop a chemical bomb in the middle of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in southern Idlib Province.

Before the American attack could go forward, however, American intelligence officials had to satisfy senior commanders — and, presumably, President Trump — that it had the culprit. The evidence was abundant, and American intelligence analysts concluded they had “high confidence” in their assessments.

The Americans had tracked the Syrian jet as it took off from the Al Shayrat airfield and dropped a bomb in the middle of a street. The time of the chemical attack, just before 7 a.m., correlated with reports that residents were exhibiting signs of having been subjected to nerve agent. The crater from the bomb showed staining that experts associated with a shell filled with chemical agents.

American intelligence officials also suspect that an attempt might have been made to frustrate efforts to gather evidence of a chemical assault. After victims were rushed to a hospital, a small drone appeared overhead before disappearing. About five hours later, the drone returned and another airstrike hit the medical center; American officials do not know if the drone or the second strike was launched by Syria or Russia.

The shifting fortunes on the battlefield may explain why the Assad government mounted its largest chemical weapons attack since August 2013. In recent weeks, rebel forces have pushed to connect the areas they controlled in Hama and Idlib Provinces. The Syrian government’s control of the Hama airfield was at risk; it was being used by the Assad government as a helicopter base and, it is suspected, as a factory for some of the barrel bombs Syria’s forces had used to deadly effect.

American military officials say they do not believe the strike on Tuesday, which they said was carried out with a nerve agent, was necessarily unique. On March 30, panicky Syrian forces may have used a similar nerve agent in Hama Province, though American officials said they lacked forensic evidence to prove it. On March 25, the Syrians also mounted an attack using chlorine; its use in war is illegal under an international convention banning chemical weapons.

Having concluded that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces, the next challenge for the Trump administration was to settle on a response. The military options were developed on Wednesday, and when they were narrowed down, the Al Shayrat airfield was in the cross hairs.

Equipped with bunkers for storing chemical munitions, the airfield had been built as a potential launching pad for attacks with chemical weapons — weapons that Mr. Assad was supposed to have given up as part of an agreement that was worked out by the United States and Russia.

Surveying the airfield, American war planners developed a list of 59 targets: aircraft, hardened plane shelters, radars, an air defense system, ammunition bunkers and petroleum storage sites. One Tomahawk cruise missile was fired at each of the 59 targets, and the Pentagon asserted that each hit its mark. An additional missile aborted after launch and fell into the Mediterranean.

One American official who spoke separately from the briefing estimated that 20 to 25 Syrian warplanes were destroyed in the attack, at 3:40 a.m. local time, four hours after President Trump’s order to go ahead was relayed to the Central Command. The runway was not a target.

The strike was aimed at avoiding the 12 to 100 Russian pilots, maintenance and other military personnel who manned a helicopter unit at different parts of the base, and to avoid striking Russian aircraft. American officials said they had no independent information on possible casualties but were confident that Russians were not among them.

The presence of the Russians is just one factor that is leading American intelligence officials to investigate if Moscow was complicit, disinterested or ignorant of the Syrian government’s use of a covert chemical arsenal.

As long as Syrian forces do not use chemical weapons again, American officials have signaled that Mr. Trump’s first use of force against Mr. Assad’s military is likely to have been a shot heard around the world — but also a riposte that will not be repeated.

Limiting the effect of even a narrow operation, however, may be difficult. One potential danger is that Shiite militias backed by Iran, including Shiite fighters in Iraq, might try to retaliate against American troops.

Another is that Russian and American relations may deteriorate to the point that the procedures the two nations use to notify each other about air operations in Syria will be suspended, raising the risk of an inadvertent confrontation.

A more fundamental question is whether the Trump administration will now pursue a diplomatic strategy to quell the fighting in Syria, which has attracted thousands of militants, including many of the volunteers who have joined the Islamic State.

Cliff Kupchan and Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, predicted that Mr. Assad would avoid a direct confrontation with the United States in the near term, calculating that he has enough aircraft, barrel bombs, missiles and troops to continue his fight against the rebels without resorting to poison gas.

Mr. Assad and his aides, they wrote in an assessment, “will probably steer away from any escalation that would lead the international community to recommit itself to a regime change policy.”

Mr. Trump’s intervention against the Assad government may be over for now, but the Syrian war appears certain to go on.

U.S. Navy Launches Apx 50 Cruise Missiles At Military Airfield In Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

April 6 at 9:38 PM
The U.S. military launched approximately 50 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield late on Thursday, in the first direct American assault on the government of President Bashar al-Assad since that country’s civil war began six years ago.The operation, which the Trump administration authorized in retaliation for a chemical attack killing scores of civilians this week, dramatically expands U.S. military involvement in Syria and exposes the United States to heightened risk of direct confrontation with Russia and Iran, both backing Assad in his attempt to crush his opposition.

The missiles were launched from two Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. They targeted an airbase called Shayrat in Homs province, which is the site from which the planes that conducted the chemical attack in Idlib are believed to have originated.

In comparison, the start of the Iraq war in 2003 saw the use of roughly 500 cruise missiles and 47 were fired at the opening of the anti-Islamic State campaign in Syria in 2014.

The attack may put hundreds of American troops now stationed in Syria in greater danger. They are advising local forces in advance of a major assault on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital.

Tillerson: ‘Assad’s role in the future is uncertain’

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Speaking from Palm Beach, Fla., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed the blame for a chemical attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians squarely on the regime of the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. (Reuters)

The decision to strike follows 48 hours of intense deliberations by U.S. officials, and represents a significant break with the previous administration’s reluctance to wade militarily into the Syrian civil war and shift any focus from the campaign against the Islamic State.

Senior White House officials met on the issue of Syria Wednesday evening in a session that lasted into early Thursday, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have communicated repeatedly since Tuesday’s chemical attack, the officials said.

The U.S. Central Command has had plans for striking the Syrian government for years and currently has significant assets in the region, enabling a quick response once a decision was made.

While the Obama White House began operations against the Islamic State in 2014, it backed away from a planned assault on Syrian government sites a year earlier after a similar chemical attack on Syrian civilians.

Tuesday’s apparent nerve gas attack in northern Idlib, with its widely circulated images of lifeless children, appears to have galvanized President Trump and some of his top advisers to harden their position against the Syrian leader.

The assault adds new complexity to Syria’s prolonged conflict, which includes fighters battling the Syrian government and others focused on combatting the Islamic State, which despite over two years of American and allied attacks remains a potent force.

Within the administration, some officials urged immediate action against Assad, warning against what one described as “paralysis through analysis.” But others were concerned about second- and third-order effects, including the response of Russia, which also has installed sophisticated air-defense systems in Syria, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The Trump administration’s position on the strongman appears to have quickly shifted in the wake of the chemical attack, as senior officials voiced new criticism of the Syrian leader.

Earlier Thursday, Tillerson suggested that the United States and other nations would consider somehow removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, but he did not say how. Just a few days ago, the White House had said that removing Assad was not realistic with press secretary Sean Spicer saying it was necessary to accept the “political reality” in Syria.

“We are considering an appropriate response for this chemical weapons attack,” Tillerson said in Palm Beach, Fla., where Trump was meeting Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “It is a serious matter. It requires a serious response,” he said.

The summit with the Chinese leader will continue Friday, and some U.S. officials believe the strike will also serve as a warning of U.S. willingness to strike North Korea, if China does not act to curtail the nuclear ambitions of the government there.

It was not immediately clear whether Thursday’s assault marked the beginning of a broader campaign against the Assad government. While Thursday’s operation was the first intentional attack on Syrian government targets, the United States accidentally struck a group of Syrian soldiers in eastern Syria last year in what officials concluded was the result of human error.

The Obama administration had insisted that Assad could never remain in any postwar Syria, and it supported rebel groups that have tried unsuccessfully to oust him.

A senior State Department official said Tillerson spoke on the phone Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the chemical attack.

“We sought the Russian analysis or readout of what they thought had happened,” the official said.

It is unclear if the U.S. provided any warning to Russia about the attack on Assad’s military facilities.

The United States has a broad arsenal already in the region, including dozens of strike aircraft on the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier that is deployed to the Middle East and accompanied by guided-missile destroyers and cruisers that can also launch Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Additionally, an amphibious naval force in the region includes the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit with Harrier jets and Cobra gunships. The Pentagon also has scores of aircraft in the region flying operations every day against the Islamic State group, including from Incirlik air base to the north in Turkey.

The attack appears to have involved only missiles. U.S. fighter planes, if used, would have had to contend with a modest web of Syrian air defenses and potentially more advanced types of surface-to-air missiles provided by Russia.

One of Assad’s more prevalent systems, the S-200, was used to target Israeli jets last month, but missiles were intercepted by Israeli defense systems. The S-200 has a range of roughly 186 miles, according to U.S. military documents, and can hit targets flying at altitudes of around 130,000 feet.

Russian S-300 and S-400 missiles, located primarily around Khmeimim air base in western Syria, have a shorter range than the S-200, but have more-advanced radar systems and fly considerably faster than their older counterparts used by Syrian forces. The S-300 has a range of roughly 90 miles and could also be used to target incoming U.S. cruise missiles.

In a joint statement, Sens. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the operation “sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs.”

They also called on the administration to take Assad’s air force out of the fight and follow “through with a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria.”

David Nakamura in Palm Beach, Fla., and Anne Gearan, Carol Morello and David Weigel in Washington contributed to this report.

Russia Tells President Trump To: Put Up Or To Shut Up Concerning Syria And Assad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

Russia to President Trump: Put Up or Shut Up on Syria and Bashar Assad

The Russian government has questioned United States stance on Syrian President Bashar Assad, after President Donald Trump criticized a reported chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib province by government forces.

The attack has killed at least 86 people, including 26 children, CNN reports. Countries including the U.S., the U.K. and Turkey have linked the attack to Assad’s forces. Russia has repeatedly supported the Assad regime, and did so again in the aftermath of the latest deaths, suggesting the deaths had been caused by a Syrian strike hitting a rebel stockpile of chemical weapons.

Trump, whose administration had previously signaled that removing Assad was not a priority, said Wednesday that the attack had caused him to change his mind about the Syrian President. He added that the use of chemical weapons was “heinous” and “crossed a lot of lines”.

But Assad had previously been suspected of using chemical weapons, and Trump did not offer any clarity on what a revised U.S. strategy in dealing with the Syria strongman would look like. So Russia posted the question on Thursday:

“Russia’s approach to Assad is clear,” Maria Zakharova, a Russian ministry spokeswoman, told CNN. “He is the legal president of an independent state. What is the U.S. approach?”

It’s now illegal in Russia to share an image of Putin as a gay clown

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

It’s now illegal in Russia to share an image of Putin as a gay clown

April 5 at 3:47 PM

Russia has banned a picture depicting President Vladimir Putin as a potentially gay clown.

Russian news outlets are having trouble reporting exactly which image of the Internet’s many Putin-gay-clown memes is now illegal to share. Because, you know, it’s been banned.

But the picture was described last week on the Russian government’s list of things that constitute “extremism.”

Item 4071: a picture of a Putin-like person “with eyes and lips made up,” captioned with an implicit anti-gay slur, implying “the supposed nonstandard sexual orientation of the president of the Russian Federation.”

The Moscow Times thinks it probably looks like this:

That poster became popular in 2013, after Russia passed a law banning propagandizing to children about “nontraditional sexual relations,” and gay rights protesters were beaten and arrested.

But gay Putin memes have proliferated as Russia has cracked down on both sexual liberties and online speech in recent years.

Thus, another news site thinks the banned image is this one:

В РФ признали экстремистским плакат с накрашенными Путиным и Медведевым http://gordonua.com/news/worldnews/v-rf-priznali-ekstremistskim-plakat-s-nakrashennymi-putinym-i-medvedevym-181824.html 

Photo published for В РФ признали экстремистским плакат с накрашенными Путиным и Медведевым

В РФ признали экстремистским плакат с накрашенными Путиным и Медведевым

Картинка, на которой были изображены люди, похожие на президента РФ Владимира Путина и премьер-министра Дмитрия…

gordonua.com

(The other man in that picture is Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, by the way. He’s more commonly associated with sleeping memes than sexuality issues, though in 2015, he signed an order banning transgender people from driving.)

A Kremlin spokesman told Russia’s state-run news service, Tass, that he hadn’t seen the Putin-clown picture, though he was sure it didn’t bother the president.

“Kremlin says Putin skilled at brushing off ‘vulgarities’ hurled against him,” reads the state-sanctioned headline on that interview.

The Kremlin has also become fairly adept at controlling what people say about each other on the Internet.

Russia passed its first “Internet extremism” laws in 2013, according to the Moscow Times — a year after Putin returned to the presidency and began restricting civil rights.

A year later, the paper reported, Putin signed a law imposing prison sentences for people who give so much as thumbs-up to a forbidden online post. Those include an article about a theoretical coup, which landed a philosophy professor in detention.

In 2015, Russian authorities began shutting down websites of Putin critics, and restricting nearly all anonymous blogs, The Washington Post reported. And Russia’s Internet censor has long allowed public figures to file court complaints if they run across a meme that misrepresents their “personality.” Like this one, maybe.

Sad I can’t wear my “Putin” bracelet to the airport tomorrow because of TSA…

Last year, United Press International and other outlets reported on a single mother sentenced to community service for reposting a cartoon of Putin looking at a map with a knife in his hand. And a former naval captain from Rostov who reposted an antiwar report about Ukraine got a two-year suspended sentence and one year of probation for inciting hatred and animosity.

The Post reported on evidence of a government plan to block online announcement of an antigovernment rally in Moscow last weekend, after arresting hundreds at the last protest.

Russian police in body armor and helmets respond to corruption protesters

Embed Share

Play Video0:46
The Post’s Moscow bureau chief, David Filipov, recorded cellphone videos of the atmosphere in Russia’s capital on March 26 as tens of thousands of protesters rally against corruption. (David Filipov, The Washington Post)

The saga of the banned Putin clown actually began years ago, when a man posted a slew of offensive images to a Russian Facebook clone.

They included openly racist and anti-immigrant posts, according to Radio Free Europe. The man was convicted last year, his social media account was shut down, and he was placed in psychiatric care.

A year later, many of the images he shared were added to the government’s thousands-strong blacklist of “extremist materials” — with the potentially gay clown listed right above a picture of Putin and Medvedev as Nazi soldiers.

More reading:

A man is on trial in Russia — for talking about yoga

Russian official wants to investigate whether U.S. moon landings actually happened

The book that will haunt Vladimir Putin as long as he’s in power

Mr. Putin Seeks a Meeting With Mr. Trump In Helsinki Finland In May

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

(Are the people of Russia and the people of the U.S. really enemies of each other, no I do not believe so personally. It is the ego’s and the distrust of Nation’s Leaders toward each other, both the Civilian and the Military/Intelligence Leaderships. This is something the Media doesn’t need to be trying to become the ‘news maker’. The world is better off if the U.S. along with all of Europe, Israel and Russia are honestly friendly with each other.)–this opinion by trs.

Putin seeks Trump meeting in Helsinki in May
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 'Arctic: Territory of Dialogue' International Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia, 30 March 2017Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Putin said he would be “glad” to meet Mr Trump at a summit of the Arctic Council in Helsinki

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would like to meet US President Donald Trump at an Arctic nations summit in Finland in May.

He again rejected allegations that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

And he said sanctions against Russia were also hurting the US and Europe.

Mr Trump had voiced hopes for improved relations with Moscow, but he has been dogged by claims of links between his election campaign and Russia.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and both houses of the US Congress are investigating alleged Russian interference in the election.

Russia ‘tried to hijack US election’, Senate hearing told

Mr Putin, speaking at an Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia, said he would be “glad” to meet Mr Trump at a summit of the Arctic Council in Helsinki in May.

“Both side should prepare such events,” he said. “If not, then such a meeting could take place within the framework of the usual meetings, at the G20.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, whose country is due to take the rotating leadership of the Arctic Council, said he would be honoured to host such a meeting.

The G20 summit of world powers is set to convene in the northern German city of Hamburg in early July.

Donald Trump (file pic)Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Mr Trump says claims of collusion between his campaign and Russia are “fake news”

Mr Putin criticised “endless and groundless” allegations that Russia interfered in the US election, and what he termed the use of the “Russian card” in US politics.

“Do we want to completely cut relations?” he asked. “Do we want to bring the situation to what it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s?

“I very much hope that sometime – the sooner the better – the situation will return to normal. I very much hope that we’ll… improve Russian-American relations, for the good of our people’s, and for the whole world.”

Mr Putin said he would support President Trump in fighting terrorism, and co-operate with the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency.

He added that he was ready to work with the new US presidential administration on fighting Islamic State in Syria.

Earlier this year, Slovenia offered to host a meeting between Mr Putin and Mr Trump. Mr Putin offered thanks, but said it would depend on Washington.

Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Crimea and its role in the Ukraine crisis.

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