PM praises Russia-Israel dialogue on Middle East

TASS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel and Russia maintain an active dialogue on the Middle Eastern problems
“We are colleagues with Russia that respect each other and conduct a sincere dialogue,” Lithuanian National Radio and Television quoted Netanyahu as saying on Monday. The interview with the Israeli prime minister to Lithuania’s national broadcasting company will be aired this evening.

According to the prime minister, business contacts with Russia are primarily carried out “on problems which are important to us.” “We are discussing with Russia issues of our inner circle which are important to Israel.”

Turkey warms to Russia as US ties slip

The Daily Star

Relations between Turkey and Russia are cozy, prompting worries in the West of a potentially critical rift in the NATO alliance. But Turkey’s president may be engaged in a balancing act, tactically turning to Russia as ties with the U.S. further deteriorate over the detention of an American pastor. President Donald Trump tweeted this month that U.S.-Turkey relations “are not good at this time!” and announced tariff hikes on the NATO ally, precipitating a nosedive in the Turkish currency. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on the phone with Russia’s Vladimir Putin that same afternoon, when they promised more cooperation in the areas of defense, energy and trade.

Despite his country’s economic vulnerability, Erdogan seemed to be signaling that it had alternatives to the traditional alliances that date from its Cold War role as a regional bulwark against Soviet power.

In Turkey’s view, “the U.S. has become even more threatening than Russia” due to strains over critical issues, Sener Akturk, an associate professor of international relations at Koc University in Istanbul, said. The perceived threat makes the U.S. “an ally that has to be paradoxically kept at arm’s length and even balanced against with Russian cooperation.”

A lever in Turkey’s diplomatic maneuvering is its pledge to buy a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, with deliveries starting next year. U.S. and NATO officials say the Russian system conflicts with NATO equipment and would lead to security breaches.

Trump signed a defense bill this month that would delay delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Separately, the U.S. president has criticized NATO allies, saying they should pay more for their defense and rely less on American support.

Koc University’s Akturk said the missile deal with Russia makes sense since Western allies have sometimes suspended military deals with Turkey because of political disputes and concerns about the country’s human rights record.

The rapprochement “demonstrates a striking level of pragmatism in this relationship,” Anna Arutunyan, a Moscow-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, said.

Russia Deploys Fleet Off Syria While Claiming US Preparing for Possible Strike

Haaretz

The Russian Ministry of Defence said on Monday it had noticed Washington was building up its military forces in the Middle East in preparation for what Moscow feared was a possible strike on Syrian government forces, Russian news agencies reported.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov was quoted by agencies as saying that the USS Ross, a guided-missile destroyer, had entered the Mediterranean on Aug. 25 armed with 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of hitting any target in Syria.

Up to 13 Russian warships have crossed the Bosphorus toward Syria so far this week as tensions between the U.S. and Syria continue to rise, according to ship spotters based in the Bosphorus Strait.

The deployment of the Russian fleet comes as the U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to strike the Syrian Army ahead of the long-awaited battle of Idlib.

US could be planning Syria strike: Russia

The Straits Times

The Russian Ministry of Defence said yesterday it had noticed that Washington was building up its military forces in the Middle East in preparation for what Moscow feared was a possible strike on Syrian government forces, Russian news agencies reported.

Is U.S. Going to Attack Syria Again? Russia Thinks So and It’s Getting Ready for Action

https://www.newsweek.com

Russia has warned that the U.S. and may gearing up for a new round of military action against Syria, where Washington-led strikes against the Moscow-backed government have traditionally followed reports of the use of chemical weapons.

The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a new warning Monday suggesting that the Pentagon was building up its naval capabilities in the Middle East in anticipation of a chemical weapons attacks that would be followed by U.S.-led missile strikes on pro-Syrian government forces preparing to storm the final rebel-held bastion of Idlib in northwestern Syria. The U.S. has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using internationally-restricted toxic gas assaults and committing other war crimes against opposition fighters and civilians, but his Russian and Iranian allies have backed the Syrian leader in dismissing the claims and at times blaming his local and international detractors for staging such events.

“The United States keeps building up the cruise missile carriers group in the Middle East as part of preparations for another provocation in Idlib Province to be presented as an alleged use of chemical weapons,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson General Igor Konashenkov told media outlets, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

Pointing a finger toward alleged Western backing for the jihadi coalition that dominates Idlib, Konashenkov said “these preparations are fresh confirmation of U.S. intentions to use as a pretext a likely simulation of the government forces’ chemical attack, which Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants are plotting with active support from British secret services.

US, Russia trade warnings over Syrian chemical weapons

The Sydney Morning Herald

The US and Russia exchanged warnings about a possible chemical attack in Syria and a Western military intervention in response, on the eve of what may be one of the decisive campaigns in the Middle Eastern country’s civil war.

Russia’s Defence Ministry hit back on Saturday, accusing the US of collaborating with al-Qaeda-linked rebels who are preparing to stage an incident that would serve as a pretext for another round of Western attacks on Assad.

Donald Trump is reshaping the Middle East — in Russia’s favor

Washington Post

In its zeal to undermine the Iranian regime, the Trump administration is unwittingly helping to forge an Iranian-Russian-Turkish axis, to the detriment of U.S. power in the Middle East.

This alliance isn’t natural: Russia has had a conflicted relationship with both Iran and Turkey dating from the days when Czarist Russia squared off against the Persian and Ottoman empires. But it has the potential to shape a new regional order — and cost the United States its long-standing predominance in the Middle East.

The historical conflict between Russia and its two new allies began during relentless struggles over the Caucasus region, the site of countless border conflicts. The victory of Czarist Russia over the Ottomans in the Crimean War in 1774 allowed Moscow to extend control over the North Caucasus region, including Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. Similarly, by defeating the Persian Empire in wars between the 17th and 19th centuries, Czarist Russia made substantial territorial gains, including the current states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The downfall of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union ushered in a new era in Russian relations with both Iran and Turkey. The Caucasus reemerged as a focal point of concern for the then-weak Russian Federation. But unlike in the past, Russia reached an agreement with both Iran and Turkey, whereupon both states promised not to meddle in the affairs of the restive Caucasus, especially the North Caucasus.

The litmus test of this budding relationship for Russia was Iran’s noninvolvement in the Chechen wars of the 1990s. Rather than backing fellow Muslims, Iran supported the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Russia and Iran also cooperated in bringing an end to the five-year Tajik civil war in the 1990s, and both supported anti-Taliban Afghan forces.

Meanwhile, NATO expansion toward Russia’s borders continued unabated. This only incentivized Moscow to better its relationship with Tehran because Russia feared then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” approach to foreign policy could lead to an Iranian-Western rapprochement further encircling Russia.

This resulted in a warm, if ambivalent, relationship between the two nations. Vladimir Putin wanted to arm Iran and supported its expanded nuclear program, but he drew the line at Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Nor did he want to sever Russia’s relationship with United States and Israel. In fact, in June 2010, Russia supported the U.N. Security Council’s increased sanctions on Iran for its lack of cooperation over its nuclear program. Three months later, Moscow reneged on an agreement to deliver the S-300 missile system to Iran.

All of this has coincided with the Trump administration unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, snapping back sanctions on Iran, imposing more sanctions on Russia and leading an international effort to compel states, including allies, to abide by the American sanction regime against Iran. It’s no secret that the U.S. goal is regime change in Iran.

This policy, however, is doomed to fail. Not only has it driven Iran, Russia and Turkey together, forming a potentially potent anti-American alliance in a crucial region of the world, but it fundamentally fails to understand what is driving these countries. All three are worried about long-standing vulnerabilities to secessionist and radical movements. This gives them a commonality of interests that the United States is unlikely to match — especially given its current posture — and a unity of purpose to dictate regional policies that are anathema to the United States and its allies.

Russia indefinitely postpones meeting on Afghan peace talks

Stars and Stripes

Russia postponed indefinitely a meeting on the Afghan peace process planned for next week, Afghan officials said.

A statement released Monday by the office of the Afghan presidency said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have decided to postpone the meeting and hold it at a later date.

President Ghani insists the peace talks should be “Afghan owned and led,” according to the statement.

Lavrov said Russia agrees the peace process should be under the auspices of the Afghans and it is “ready to cooperate,” the statement added.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also confirmed in a statement Monday that the talks have been postponed after Lavrov’s conversation with Ghani who “supported the idea of a Moscow meeting in principle and suggested postponing it in order to come up with a consolidated position.”

Russia exerts growing clout in Middle East as it begins patrols in Golan Heights

Telegraph.co.uk

Russian military police have begun patrolling the demilitarised zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights, highlighting Moscow’s increasing clout as a Middle Eastern power broker following its intervention in the civil war there.

“The Russian military police are pioneers in renewing patrols of the Golan Heights,” Lt Gen Sergei Kuralenko told journalists at a damaged United Nations observer post.

“There is almost no danger besides from mines. The whole demilitarised zone is under control now.”

Following the start of the Syrian conflict, militants drove out the UN peacekeepers that had served in the area since 1974.

The pockmarked guardhouses and discarded ammo and rocket-propelled grenade launcher boxes testified to the fierce fighting between Bashar Assad’s regime and the Nusra Front before government forces pushed the al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group from the post and the wider area last month.

The militants turned many of the UN posts into suicide bomber schools, Mr Kuralenko said during a tour organised by the Russian defence ministry.

The mission of Moscow’s forces is to help the UN disengagement observer force restart its monitoring of the zone, he said. They have mapped safe routes and accompanied UN observers down the MCM road through the DMZ this month, he added.

Russian military police have four bases in the area and will establish more on Bravo Line, the side of the zone held by Syria.

Mr Kuralenko said Russia had held negotiations with Israel, and Jerusalem was aware of Russia’s newly established presence in the zone. The two sides are in regular communication.

“Russian military activities support the security of Israel and they know this,” he said.

Muhamed Ahmad, a brigadier general in the Syrian military police, said Russia had played a lead role in driving out the militants, who he claimed had been backed by Western governments.

Human Debeyat, governor of the surrounding Quneitra region, said Russian negotiators had played a key role in convincing more moderate rebel factions in the area to give up their weapons.

He claimed that 70,000 residents had returned to the region thanks to Russian safety guarantees.

Russia to help restore UN patrols near Syria-Israel frontier
Stars and Stripe

The Russian military said Tuesday that its forces in Syria will help U.N. peacekeepers fully restore patrols along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, reflecting Moscow’s deepening role in mediating between the decades-old foes.

The Russian deployment in the area has also highlighted Moscow’s growing clout in the region, where it seeks to balance the sharply conflicting interests of Israel and Iran.

“The Russian flag is the guarantor of peace and security on that land,” said Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko, speaking to international reporters on a trip to the area organized by the Russian Defense Ministry. He noted that Russian and Israeli officials have maintained regular communications, adding that “operations by Russian military police help ensure the security of Israel.”

In the Middle East the Russians Aren’t Coming: They Are Back

The National Interest Online

Four decades after the United States largely succeeded in sidelining the Soviet Union in the Middle East and becoming the leading regional, Russia is resurrecting its long-lost standing. The process of partial American disengagement from the region that began under President Barack Obama has further increased under President Donald Trump. Indeed, if things continue as is, Russia may soon supplant the United States.

Russia’s growing influence is manifest across the region, from Morocco to Iran. This remarkable turnabout, part of Vladimir Putin’s overarching strategy of restoring Russia’s standing as a great power, has been the result of deft diplomacy combined with a willingness to sell arms and nuclear power reactors to all askers.

Egypt has been the linchpin of American policy in the region ever since it evicted the Soviets in the early 1970s. In so doing, it created the basis for the three mutually reinforcing pillars of U.S. Middle East policy to this day: the establishment of a moderate, pro-American Arab camp with Egypt and Saudi Arabia at its center; countering regional rogues such as Iraq, Iran and Libya with the moderates’ support; and the promotion of Arab-Israeli peace—again, with moderate support. An Egyptian-Russian rapprochement constitutes a severe blow to American standing.

For decades, an unwritten deal has governed U.S.-Saudi relations; security for an assured supply of oil. In 1991, the United States even went to war in defense of Saudi Arabia. Today, however, the Saudis are skittish. In 2017, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud conducted the first ever visit of a Saudi monarch to Russia. A deal was signed for highly advanced S-400 and anti-tank missiles. A nuclear cooperation agreement was also signed, and Russia hopes to provide at least two of the planned sixteen Saudi reactors. Russia and Saudi Arabia—who together make up approximately 20 percent of international oil production—have also coordinated policy to raise the global price.

The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has driven Tehran even closer to Russia, its longtime ally. Iran is counting on Russia to help defeat the American sanctions regime and prevent any possibility of military action against it. Russia has already supplied Iran with S-300 missiles, and sales of fighter aircraft, tanks and artillery once Security Council mandated limitations expire have been mooted. Russia provided Iran with its sole nuclear reactor, and may sell a few more.

Turkey, for decades a virulently anti-Russian NATO ally, has been cozying up to Moscow and appears to be going ahead with the purchase of S-400 missiles over the vehement protests of its NATO allies. Morocco, Bahrain and Qatar are also interested in the S-400. Russia signed a large arms deal with the UAE and is exploring the possibility of gaining access to naval bases in Libya. A nuclear cooperation agreement was signed with Tunisia.

The diplomatic world, much like nature, abhors a vacuum, and Russia has rushed to fill the void left by the United States.

Concomitantly, Russia has also succeeded in developing an increasingly close relationship with Israel. U.S. disengagement from Syria and its withdrawal from the nuclear deal have had the practical effect of making Russia a critical player for Israel. The prospects of an Israeli conflict with Iran/Hezbollah in Syria, or with Iran over its nuclear program, hinge significantly on the role played by Russia. Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has now visited Putin in Moscow ten times in the last two years alone.

Toward A Smaller, Smarter Force Posture in the Middle East

Defense One

In addition, the United States has yet to appoint as many as half of its Ambassadors to the region. While career foreign, civil, and military service officers can carry forward initiatives quite capably, the absence of the President’s representatives in key partner countries limits the political effectiveness of the United States at a time when geopolitical competitors such as Russia and China are deepening their relationships in the region – and ability to broker the posture adjustments we recommend in this article. To this point, the administration must look beyond one commonly used tool — U.S.arms sales — to compete with growing Russian influence in the Middle East

63000 Russia troops fought in Syria since 2015

Middle East Monitor

The Russian military has revealed that over 63,000 troops from its armed forces have fought in Syria since Moscow entered the conflict in 2015, involvement that has turned the tide of the war in the regime’s favour.

The deployment has included some 434 generals over the past three years, and about 90 percent of Russian combat pilots have flown in Syria. The Russian military has also used the conflict to test some of its most advanced weapons, including its latest jets and cruise missiles.

Russian firm may sell a drone resembling the US Predator to a Mideast customer

DefenseNews.com

Officials from the Russian defense firm Kronshtadt Group announced the possible sale of the company’s Orion UAV to a country in the Middle East. But which Middle Eastern country is purchasing the platform, and what capabilities does the system bring to bear?

The Orion-E (export version) is Russia’s medium-altitude, long-endurance drone with a reported range of 250 kilometers, a total flight duration of about 24 hours and a maximum altitude of 8,000 meters. While originally designed for only intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, Russia has announced a combat version that can carry up to 200 kilograms of cargo, which will also be available for export.

The Orion “most closely resembles America’s Predator/Gray Eagle UAV in its technical characteristics,” according to Samuel Bendett, an expert on Russian military robotics.

The Chinese model that most resembles the Orion’s capabilities is the Wing Loong.

According to Russian sources, Bendett said, “the two countries most likely to acquire [the Orion] are Syria and Egypt. Syria and Russia already enjoy a very close mil-to-mil relationship, while Egypt is diversifying its military imports from reliance on U.S. and occasional Chinese technologies.”

But there are other potential buyers, Bendett notes. “[The United Arab Emirates] has imported Russian military technology before, and Russia recently announced closer cooperation with Lebanon. Iraq, which has imported Chinese UAVs, has also started to import more Russian military equipment,” he said.

“Russia is keen to win new UAV markets but realizes it has an uphill climb against American, Israeli and Chinese UAVs in the short- to mid-range sector,” Bendett added.

Rogers Waters talks up decision to play in Russia

The Jerusalem Post

In the end of August, former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters will play in Moscow and St. Petersburg as part of his “Us+Them” 2018 tour. In a interview for the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia, Waters discussed the preparations for the upcoming concerts.

“For every country we try to do something special. For example, a flying pig appears in a concert and made circles over the Battersea powerhouse [in London]. On the pig it was written ‘Stay human or die.’ We want to translate this inscription into Russian.”

Waters raised concerns about power and economical struggles among leaders of the world’s leading nations, especially concerning the nuclear deal. “We have stood on the threshold of the apocalypse so many times since 1945. It’s just crazy that ordinary people from all over the world cannot come together and demand the destruction of all nuclear weapons, including in Israel. Israel does not admit, but it is understandable that they have it. This is all–a very strange and dangerous game played by the leaders of superpowers.”

In April of this year, Waters was once again in the spotlight for launching into a tirade against the Syrian volunteer rescuing group, White Helmets, whom he called a “fake organization” that created propaganda for “jihadists and terrorists.” According to Waters, the organization published a fake video of a chemical attack that led the US, Britain and France to launch an air strike against Syria.

In the interview with the Russian newspaper, Waters added that “This is just a chapter of a propaganda war that is trying to demonize Putin, Assad, Iran and so on.”

When asked if the decision to perform in Russia was a difficult one given his constant efforts to dissuade artists from performing in Israel and Russian’s similar situation concerning Crimea, Waters replied, “of course not.” As usual, Waters dodged from questions that could show his double-standards towards geopolitical conflicts, answering simply that he “knows that Sevastopol [Crimea’s capital] is very important to Russia and many newspapers shows that Russia has all the rights to the city.”

A test of US-Europe ties: Russia, Iran and Turkey

Hurriyet Daily News

It is the U.S. administration, who alienates itself both from Europe and Russia by declaring political and economic sanctions without acknowledging that the disintegration of the Soviet Union has not ended up with a unipolar world instead of a bipolar one, but a multi-polar one with the rise of the EU and China as global powers in addition to Russia.

In a deep (and mutual) confidence crisis, Turkey is cooperating more and more with Russia and Iran over its security concerns, which means taking risks as a NATO country. This causes security concerns in Europe, since Turkey holds a crucial geographical position between Europe, the Black Sea, the Middle East, the eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus.

Russia ‘willing’ to lift visa for Turkish citizens

Middle East Monitor

Moscow is willing to lift visa regime in some categories for Turkish citizens, Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

Anadolu reports that, following Turkey’s shooting down of an intruding Russian military jet over the Turkey-Syria border in November 2015, Russia imposed a range of unilateral sanctions on Turkey, including a ban on food imports and an end to visa-free travel.

In a statement, the Russian ministry said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would visit Turkey on August 13 and 14 to attend the 10th Ambassadors Conference, which will be held on August 12-17 in both the capital Ankara and in the central Konya province.

“It is planned to discuss the prospects of easing travel regime for the citizens of the two countries. We confirm willingness to lift the visa regime in certain categories for Turkish citizens,” it said.

Turkey to continue diversifying partnerships with Europe, China, Middle East and Russia

Daily Sabah

The Turkey-U.S. crisis has highlighted the cracks in the existing global system and pointed to the need to transition to a more fluid multipolar order; Turkey is already capitalizing on this by diversifying its partners and looking toward Europe, Russia, China and the Middle East

The recent rift in the economic and political ties between Turkey and the U.S. have unraveled the congestion in the existing world order and foregrounded the necessity of a modified and multipolar order with more economic and political alliances.

Highlighting the disruptions in the decades-long global system, Turkey is now working on a policy to design a broader framework for the world order, in which multiple partners have room to act and shape the economic and political affairs of the world. In addition to diversification of partners, Turkey is also making efforts to promote alternative mediums of exchange in trade via use of local currencies, particularly with China, Russia and Iran, in order to destabilize the financial domination of the U.S. dollar.

The crisis in Turkish-American ties recently escalated when U.S. President Donald Trump ordered sanctions on two Turkish ministers, Süleyman Soylu and Abdülhamit Gül, over the case of pastor Andrew Brunson, who is currently under house arrest on charges of links with the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the PKK, a U.S.-designated armed terrorist organization. But this was not enough for Trump, who increased tariffs on imported steel from Turkey by 50 percent and aluminum by 20 percent on Aug. 10, leading to the continuous slide of the Turkish lira that saw the lira trading at 7.30 to $1 in Asian trading sessions early Monday.

The Turkish lira has lost nearly 45 percent of its value since the beginning of this year, with more than half of this loss occurring in the past two weeks when the crisis with the U.S. heightened.

As the row with the U.S. continues on economic and political grounds, Turkey has received supportive messages from its European partners, Russia, China, and Qatar.

At a time when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was discussing common currency in trade, President Erdoğan also reiterated his call for trade in local currencies with major trade partners like Russia, China and Iran. His call was immediately welcomed by Russia and Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov who said Moscow is aiming toward using national currencies in trade with Turkey, instead of dollars or euros.

The question of using national currencies in bilateral trade has been discussed many times in talks between Russia and Turkey, Peskov told journalists during a conference call in Moscow.

Credit: kremlin.ru