PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE: Since 1997 © Copyright (PHNO) http://newsflash.org



PHNO SCIENCE & INFOTECH NEWS
(Mini Reads followed by Full Reports)

THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR: HOW IT HAS CHANGED THE WORLD
[It destroyed heritage sites, such as temples in the ancient city of Palmyra, and fueled the global antiquities trade. The group has waged terror attacks from France to Yemen and has established a beachhead in northern Libya that could outlast its so-called "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq.]


MARCH 15-16, 2016 -The Syria conflict has rebalanced regional axes of power in the Middle East Getty Images The rise of Isis - The war has had outsized influence on global politics – here are the most significant ways it has made an impact. It was in the vacuum of the deteriorating Syria conflict that a little-known and terrifically violent branch of al-Qaeda grew into the foremost terror group on the planet. In 2014, the Islamic State group completed its takeover of the eastern Syria city of Raqqa and went on to conquer Iraq's Mosul. It eventually took over an area straddling the countries' border the size of Britain - absorbing weapons, wealth, and personnel along the way. The expansion went largely unchecked by the Syrian government, busy fighting opponents in its more populated regions closer to the Mediterranean coast. The rise of Isis has sparked deep anxieties in the region and around the world by slaughtering minorities, institutionalizing sex slavery, vanquishing state armies, and executing opponents in gruesome spectacles of violence. It destroyed heritage sites, such as temples in the ancient city of Palmyra, and fueled the global antiquities trade. The group has waged terror attacks from France to Yemen and has established a beachhead in northern Libya that could outlast its so-called "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq. Perhaps most confounding, thousands of young men and women from Europe - not all of Muslim origin - have flocked to join it.
Resurgent Russia Vladimir Putin has established a renewed Middle East foothold "There is one man on this planet who can end the civil war in Syria by making a phone call, and that's Mr. Putin," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said recently. READ MORE...

ALSO: Syria crisis - Vladimir Putin 'willing to ditch President Bashar al‑Assad to end five-year conflict'
[Western diplomats believe Putin is now willing to force the Syrian dictator out of office]


5 HOURS AGO -Russia President Vladimir Putin delivers an address in Moscow on Tuesday AP
Western diplomats believe Putin is now willing to force the Syrian dictator out of office.  Vladimir Putin is willing to jettison President Bashar al‑Assad as part of a deal to end the five-year conflict in Syria, Western powers believe. Following the surprise declaration by the Russian President that his five-month military mission in the country had fulfilled its objective, diplomats are convinced that Moscow could be ready to force the Syrian leader to allow a political transition. Russian warplanes and troops began leaving bases in Syria on 15 March, just hours after Mr Putin’s shock announcement that he would begin a partial draw-down, timed for maximum impact to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Syrian uprising and the resumption of peace talks in Geneva. While they remain cautious about the extent of the military reduction, Western diplomats predict that Mr Putin is now prepared to sacrifice the Syrian President. After a military campaign that was officially launched to tackle terrorist groups but has largely focused on bolstering the ailing Syrian army, the diplomats say that the Russian president has achieved his aims of protecting Russia’s interests in Syria and re-establishing Moscow as a major player in the Middle East. They believe that Mr Putin has no qualms about jettisoning Mr Assad as long as there is continuity with the old Baathist regime that allows them to remain a key player in the country’s future – and retain its two military bases in the country. “We understand that Putin is not tied inextricably to Assad,” one diplomat told The Independent. READ MORE...

ALSO: Russian air strikes on Syria drove out terrorists and helped start talks
[With Russian air force support, Syrian troops have liberated 400 towns and more than 10,000 sq km of territory]


6 HOURS AGO -Russian troops at Hemeimeem air base in Syria on Tuesday EPA
Since the beginning of the military operation in Syria, Russia has carried out more than 9,000 flights, and for the first time, massive strikes with both air and sea-based cruise missiles. As a result, Russia has managed to significantly hinder and, in some places, completely stop support for terrorists by intercepting oil trade, and blocking the main routes of weapons and ammunition deliveries from Turkey. Terrorists have been driven out of Latakia, land routes have been restored with Aleppo, Palmyra is under siege and combat actions are being continued to liberate it from terrorists. Russia has helped to clear most of the provinces of Hama and Homs, unblock the Kweires air base, and establish control over oil and gas fields near Palmyra: as of now, three large fields have begun to operate steadily. More than 2,000 criminals who came from Russia have been eliminated, including 17 field commanders. Our air force destroyed 209 facilities for producing, processing and transferring fuel, as well as 2,912 sources of petroleum product delivery. With support from the Russian air force, Syrian troops have liberated 400 towns and more than 10,000 sq km of territory, to achieve a significant turning point in the fight against terrorism. READ MORE...

ALSO: Middle East, Syria war 5 years on - Bringing conflict to international level is helping to hold the ceasefire
[However messy, Russian and US dominance – and Russia’s swift withdrawal – helped quell violence in Syria, but ending war altogether is a different matter. The Russian withdrawal and the ceasefire may both be messy, but these are serious and effective steps towards reducing the killing. But with the armed opposition dominated by Nusra and Isis, neither of which are in the business of compromising with anybody, it will be far more difficult to end the war.]


6 HOURS AGO -Young supporters of the Free Syria Army wave flags in the town of Marat Numan, Idlib province Reuters
However messy, Russian and US dominance – and Russia’s swift withdrawal – helped quell violence in Syria, but ending war altogether is a different matter The withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria strengthens the current ceasefire, de-escalates the violence and brings in view the distant prospect of an end to five years of war. The extent of the Russian pull-out remains uncertain as some of its bombers flew home on 15 March, while others attacked Isis fighters holding the ancient city of Palmyra. Russia has succeeded in achieving most of its war aims since it started air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad and against his opponents on 30 September last year. At that time the Syrian army was retreating after a series of defeats, while today it is advancing on all fronts, though it is unlikely to win a total victory. Russian military success means that it has re-established itself as a great power in the core region of the Middle East for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. By pulling out most of Russia’s forces at this stage, President Vladimir Putin avoids overplaying his hand and being sucked into the Syrian quagmire as his critics had predicted. Russian fighter jets prepare for withdrawal from Syria Russia never sent great forces to Syria and its intervention primarily involved launching air strikes in support of the Syrian army, which were carried out by 35 fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and long-distance missiles. But this was enough to multiply vastly the firepower of the Syrian army and change the balance of power on the ground. At the same time, it has become clear over the past month that Russia does not want to give Mr Assad a blank cheque enabling him to fight on until final victory. This was the mistake made by the US and its allies, including Britain, in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 and again in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. READ MORE...

ALSO: WebLog- "Watching the pot come to a boil"
[Analysts wonder why Russia announced a partial withdrawal from Syria now; Vladimir Putin may be sick of Syria and sick of Bashar al-Assad]


MARCH 16 -Analysts wonder why Russia announced a partial withdrawal from Syria now; Vladimir Putin may be sick of Syria and sick of Bashar al-Assad
Russia announces a surprise partial military withdrawal from Syria Opinions vary on why Russia pulled back from Syria now Russia announces a surprise partial military withdrawal from Syria Russian fighter jets in Syria (dpa) Russian fighter jets in Syria (dpa) Catching almost everyone by surprise, Russia's president Vladimir Putin issued the following statement on Monday: "I believe that the objectives set before the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces have on the whole been achieved. I therefore order the Defense Minister to begin the withdrawal of the main part of our task force from the Syrian Arab Republic starting from tomorrow. ... Meanwhile our bases, the naval one in Tartus and the air one at the Humaymim aerodrome, will operate as before. They should be reliably protected from the ground, from the sea and from the air. This part of our military task force was traditionally stationed in Syria, for many years before, and these days it will have to perform the very important function of monitoring the ceasefire and creating conditions for the peace process." Russia will keep its two military bases, and will continue to launch air strikes as before. Other reports indicate that Russia will leave its advanced S-400 air missiles would stay in Syria.These missiles have a range of 400 km, which covers a great deal of Turkey, Iraq and Israel. In addition, Russia's warships in the Caspian and Mediterranean seas are expected to remain and be prepared to launch cruise missiles. This means that Russia can re-deploy at any time, if desired. Opinions vary on why Russia pulled back from Syria now Reports from Reuters and Eurasia Review READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

Syrian civil war: Five ways the conflict has changed the world


The Syria conflict has rebalanced regional axes of power in the Middle East Getty Images

MANILA, MARCH 21, 2016 (THE INDEPENDENT) The rise of Isis - The war has had outsized influence on global politics – here are the most significant ways it has made an impact.

It was in the vacuum of the deteriorating Syria conflict that a little-known and terrifically violent branch of al-Qaeda grew into the foremost terror group on the planet.

In 2014, the Islamic State group completed its takeover of the eastern Syria city of Raqqa and went on to conquer Iraq's Mosul. It eventually took over an area straddling the countries' border the size of Britain - absorbing weapons, wealth, and personnel along the way.

The expansion went largely unchecked by the Syrian government, busy fighting opponents in its more populated regions closer to the Mediterranean coast.


Isis fighters -Fighters of the Islamic State wave the group's flag from a damaged display of a government fighter jet following the battle for the Tabqa air base, in Raqqa, Syria AP


Isis fighters -Isis Jihadists burn their passports  AP

The rise of Isis has sparked deep anxieties in the region and around the world by slaughtering minorities, institutionalizing sex slavery, vanquishing state armies, and executing opponents in gruesome spectacles of violence.

It destroyed heritage sites, such as temples in the ancient city of Palmyra, and fueled the global antiquities trade.

The group has waged terror attacks from France to Yemen and has established a beachhead in northern Libya that could outlast its so-called "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq. Perhaps most confounding, thousands of young men and women from Europe - not all of Muslim origin - have flocked to join it.

Resurgent Russia


Vladimir Putin has established a renewed Middle East foothold

"There is one man on this planet who can end the civil war in Syria by making a phone call, and that's Mr. Putin," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said recently.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has established a renewed Middle East foothold after watching for years as the United States called shots in the region.

Last September, after showering arms, advisers, and economic assistance on President Bashar Assad to insufficient effect, Putin sent his air force to pound the Syrian government's opponents.

The recent ebb in violence is largely because Russia dictated it. Russia's designs for Syria are still veiled, but whoever leads Syria next will largely owe their chair to Putin.

Before Syria, there was Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, precursors to the current intervention, where Putin was unafraid to show the lengths he would go to protect perceived Russian interests.

Now, Russia is positioned as a major broker in the region with significant oil and gas wealth. Expect political movements of all stripes to ask how Russia can serve their interests.

Europe destablised


Europeans are now erecting barriers along the migrants' Balkan route

When Europe fashioned its open border agreements late last century, it did not anticipate over a million migrants - mostly refugees from Syria - in one year alone, as happened in 2015.

Thousands have died trying to cross by sea, posing a moral challenge for the continent. The stream, which continues unabated, has brought on both generosity and xenophobia, ultimately shaking the open-border arrangement to the core.

Europeans are now erecting barriers along the migrants' Balkan route from Greece to Germany, after initially allowing entry to hundreds of thousands. Multitudes fester in squalid conditions in southeastern Europe.

Many face legal limbo around the continent, waiting for asylum applications to be processed or residing without permits.


Despite ceasefire, fighting continues in Syria

The Islamic State attack on Paris in November, though largely perpetrated by French and Belgian nationals, sparked security recriminations across Europe and boosted nationalist politicians.

Echoes could be heard as far away as the United States, where Republican front-runner Donald Trump shocked many by proposing a ban on Muslims entering the country.

Europe is now exploring a deal to send all migrants arriving in Greece back to Turkey, in exchange for admitting pre-selected refugees from Syria. On top of its currency crisis, the mass migration has strained Europe's unity to the limit.

Neighbours subverted


Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan alone host around 4.4 million refugees from Syria

Europe's migrant crisis is dwarfed by the wave of displacement that has washed into Syria's neighbors.

Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan alone host around 4.4 million refugees from Syria; in Lebanon, they make up more than one-fifth of the population.

Syrian refugees have brought capital and labor and produced mixed economic outcomes in their host societies, depending on what figures are consulted.

The Syria conflict has also ensnared militias and state actors across the region, destabilizing fragile neighbors like Lebanon and reawakening ethnic tensions in Turkey, where the Syria conflict has provoked concerns of a civil war with the Kurds.

Iran ascendant

Predominantly Shiite

Iran's sphere of influence has been extended The Syria conflict has rebalanced regional axes of power. Predominantly Shiite Iran's sphere of influence now extends from Beirut to Tehran, with dependent governments in Baghdad and Damascus.

The commander of the elite Quds Force of the vaunted Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has visited Russia and is often seen directing deployments in Syria and Iraq. Iran has militias in both countries said to operate outside sovereign command structures.

In Lebanon, Iran is powerfully represented by Hezbollah, the party-militia hybrid that expelled Israel from the south of the country in 2000. It has sent thousands of fighters to prop up Assad in Syria. Israel glumly watches its nemesis training with modern artillery alongside Russian and Iranian contingents, and fortifying its position along the Jewish state's northern border.

Hezbollah steadily marginalizes Saudi-backed opponents in Lebanon's government.

Saudi Arabia, the regional Sunni powerhouse, is struggling to maintain support for the mainly Sunni rebels it backs in Syria while also fighting Iran-supported Shiite rebels in Yemen.


THE INDEPENDENT, UK

Syria crisis: Vladimir Putin 'willing to ditch President Bashar al‑Assad to end five-year conflict' Laura Pitel Geneva 5 hours ago29 comments


Russia President Vladimir Putin delivers an address in Moscow on Tuesday AP

Western diplomats believe Putin is now willing to force the Syrian dictator out of office

Vladimir Putin is willing to jettison President Bashar al‑Assad as part of a deal to end the five-year conflict in Syria, Western powers believe.

Following the surprise declaration by the Russian President that his five-month military mission in the country had fulfilled its objective, diplomats are convinced that Moscow could be ready to force the Syrian leader to allow a political transition.

Russian warplanes and troops began leaving bases in Syria on 15 March, just hours after Mr Putin’s shock announcement that he would begin a partial draw-down, timed for maximum impact to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Syrian uprising and the resumption of peace talks in Geneva.


Russian pilots arrive back home from Syria to a hero's welcome

While they remain cautious about the extent of the military reduction, Western diplomats predict that Mr Putin is now prepared to sacrifice the Syrian President.

After a military campaign that was officially launched to tackle terrorist groups but has largely focused on bolstering the ailing Syrian army, the diplomats say that the Russian president has achieved his aims of protecting Russia’s interests in Syria and re-establishing Moscow as a major player in the Middle East.

They believe that Mr Putin has no qualms about jettisoning Mr Assad as long as there is continuity with the old Baathist regime that allows them to remain a key player in the country’s future – and retain its two military bases in the country.

“We understand that Putin is not tied inextricably to Assad,” one diplomat told The Independent.

READ MORE...

Another argued: “The Russians know that he’s a destabilising force. If there’s going to be a peaceful transition, he ain’t staying.”

Russian fighter jets return


SCREENGRAB

On 15 March, Syrians marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the uprising in their country.

Having begun in 2011 with peaceful protests against President Assad, it descended into a deadly armed conflict that has claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people, spawned a series of terrorist groups and increasingly dragged in neighbouring countries and global powers.

Many remain skeptical of the true motives behind Mr Putin’s announcement, and analysts pointed out that he would retain plenty of room for manoeuvre.

Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister, Nikolai Pankov, said that Russian warplanes would still attack “terrorist targets” – a term that Russia has used to justify attacks on more moderate opposition forces as well as civilian targets such as schools and hospitals.

Even if Mr Putin fulfils his promise to reduce troops, Western officials expect that he will still have a bigger military presence in Syria than he did before the start of his military campaign at the end of September.

An airbase at Hmeymim and a naval facility at Tartus, both on the Syrian coast, mean that Russia will retain the ability to rapidly scale its presence in the country back up. By leaving in place a powerful S-400 air defence system, it will retain control of the airspace.

Optimists suggested, however, that Mr Putin could be serious about trying to put an end to the fighting. They point to the fragile ceasefire forged between Washington and Moscow that has exceeded all expectations by lasting more than two weeks thanks to heavy pressure from international powers on their clients in Syria.

They also highlight increasing signs of gaps between Moscow and Damascus which have seen Russian officials publicly warn Mr Assad against spoiling peace efforts.

U.N., Syrian opposition welcome Russian withdrawal

Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, told the House of Commons that Russia had made past pledges to pull its troops out of Ukraine that “later turned out to be merely routine rotation of forces”.

The official Syrian opposition delegation said that it would need to “wait and see” before judging whether to take the announcement seriously.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, announced that he would visit Moscow next week, adding that the world had reached “a very important phase” in the peace efforts.

Hammond's Putin put-down

Staffan de Mistura, the UN diplomat charged with leading peace talks, said that Mr Putin’s announcement was a “major development”. He said that the refugee crisis, the Russian intervention and the threat of Isis had given negotiations a “new momentum”.

Huge questions remain about the steps that would be required to put an end to President Assad’s 16-year rule. While Mr de Mistura has said that he aims to create a transitional governing body and hold elections within 18 months, it remains unclear who would be a member of that body and what role Mr Assad would play.

Western diplomats said that Mr Assad could play a role in the process before eventually departing under pressure from Moscow – an arrangement that would be tolerated by the opposition if it had a firm guarantee that the President would depart.

There were signs in Geneva that officials and participants had been made giddy by the surprise Russian announcement. At the Hotel Royal, the four-star hotel where the opposition is staying for the talks, several members of the delegation shed tears of joy when they learnt of Mr Putin’s announcement late on 14 March.

One official raised the prospect that international peacekeepers could be on the ground in Syria in as little as six months.


THE INDEPENDENT, UK

Russian air strikes on Syria have driven out terrorists and helped start talks Alexander Yakovenko 6 hours ago5 comments

With Russian air force support, Syrian troops have liberated 400 towns and more than 10,000 sq km of territory


Russian troops at Hemeimeem air base in Syria on Tuesday EPA

Since the beginning of the military operation in Syria, Russia has carried out more than 9,000 flights, and for the first time, massive strikes with both air and sea-based cruise missiles.

As a result, Russia has managed to significantly hinder and, in some places, completely stop support for terrorists by intercepting oil trade, and blocking the main routes of weapons and ammunition deliveries from Turkey. Terrorists have been driven out of Latakia, land routes have been restored with Aleppo, Palmyra is under siege and combat actions are being continued to liberate it from terrorists.

Russia has helped to clear most of the provinces of Hama and Homs, unblock the Kweires air base, and establish control over oil and gas fields near Palmyra: as of now, three large fields have begun to operate steadily.

More than 2,000 criminals who came from Russia have been eliminated, including 17 field commanders. Our air force destroyed 209 facilities for producing, processing and transferring fuel, as well as 2,912 sources of petroleum product delivery.

With support from the Russian air force, Syrian troops have liberated 400 towns and more than 10,000 sq km of territory, to achieve a significant turning point in the fight against terrorism.

READ MORE...

Russia’s naval base in Tartus and its air base at Hmeymim will function as before. This part of the Russian military group was located in Syria over the course of many years, and must continue to fulfil the vital function of monitoring the ceasefire and creating conditions for the peace process.

There is monitoring of observance of the ceasefire; a fairly large number of drones – more than 70 – are being used for this purpose, as are all means of intelligence gathering, including electronic intelligence and our satellite group in space.

Russia Air Strike Isis

Russia has consistently advocated establishing an intra-Syrian dialogue. Our suggestions were met with a lack of will on the part of all our partners working on this process. But since the start of our military operation the situation began to change.

The initial steps were gradually taken, first based on President Vladimir Putin’s talks with Barack Obama: the Russian-American group began to prepare a broader process for external support for intra-Syrian talks.

An international group of support for Syria has been created, which included all the key players, including regional powers.

Intra-Syrian talks between the government and delegations of multiple opposition groups have finally been launched in Geneva.

The work is difficult and we have yet to see how all these groups can gather at one table. For now, UN representatives are working separately with each of them, but the process has begun, and it is in our common interest to make it sustainable and irreversible.

Now that Russia withdraws the main part of its military in Syria, the burden of proof and responsibility to deliver is on all the participants of the Syrian peace process and all the outside players.

Alexander Yakovenko is Russia’s ambassador to Britain


Middle East Syria war five years on: Bringing conflict to an international level is helping to hold the ceasefire Patrick Cockburn @indyworld 6 hours ago6 comments


Young supporters of the Free Syria Army wave flags in the town of Marat Numan, Idlib province Reuters

However messy, Russian and US dominance – and Russia’s swift withdrawal – helped quell violence in Syria, but ending war altogether is a different matter

The withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria strengthens the current ceasefire, de-escalates the violence and brings in view the distant prospect of an end to five years of war.

The extent of the Russian pull-out remains uncertain as some of its bombers flew home on 15 March, while others attacked Isis fighters holding the ancient city of Palmyra.

Russia has succeeded in achieving most of its war aims since it started air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad and against his opponents on 30 September last year.

At that time the Syrian army was retreating after a series of defeats, while today it is advancing on all fronts, though it is unlikely to win a total victory.

Russian military success means that it has re-established itself as a great power in the core region of the Middle East for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

By pulling out most of Russia’s forces at this stage, President Vladimir Putin avoids overplaying his hand and being sucked into the Syrian quagmire as his critics had predicted.

Russian fighter jets prepare for withdrawal from Syria Russia never sent great forces to Syria and its intervention primarily involved launching air strikes in support of the Syrian army, which were carried out by 35 fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and long-distance missiles.

But this was enough to multiply vastly the firepower of the Syrian army and change the balance of power on the ground. At the same time, it has become clear over the past month that Russia does not want to give Mr Assad a blank cheque enabling him to fight on until final victory.

This was the mistake made by the US and its allies, including Britain, in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 and again in Iraq after the invasion in 2003.

READ MORE...

In both cases, a US-led coalition failed to turn military victory into political success because it was propping up a weak local partner seeking to use foreign backing to monopolise power locally.

Mr Putin is evidently trying to avoid this trap and maximise political gains without being dragged into a long conflict. He pursued a similar strategy in the 2008 war in Georgia when Russia won a quick victory and brought the conflict to a close.


Russian troops at Hemeimeem air base in Syria on Tuesday (EPA)

Russian intervention five months ago undoubtedly changed the military balance of power in favour of Mr Assad, so withdrawal could help the armed opposition. But the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu clearly believes that the tide has turned permanently, telling Mr Putin that “the terrorists have been cleared out of Latakia, communications have been restored with Aleppo …and we have cleared most of the provinces of Hama and Homs.”

Supported by 9,000 Russian air missions, the Syrian army has ended Isis’s long siege of Kweires air base east of Aleppo and retaken three large oil and gas fields near Palmyra.

Important though these gains are, they do not entirely reverse the opposition successes last May when fighters captured Idlib City and Palmyra. Overall, Russia has enabled the Syrian government to expand its heartlands in Latakia province, move to try to seal off the Turkish border and defend the main north-south route linking Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo.

The Syrian opposition is weaker than it was and Isis suffered heavy casualties because it has been squeezed between the Syrian army and the Syrian Kurds backed by US air power.


Russian fighter jets return

Maps showing control by one side or the other in Syria are misleading because half the country is desert or semi-desert. A more meaningful comparison is the size of the populations controlled by different parties in the conflict.

Around five million Syrians are refugees, mostly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, leaving about 16 million Syrians inside the country, of whom about 10 million are in government-held areas and two million each in the Kurdish-held, Isis and non-Isis opposition zones. In other words, Mr Assad is in a strong but not overwhelmingly powerful position.

But it is a long time since the balance of power within Syria was determined by local players. This was briefly true in 2011 at the start of the uprising against Mr Assad and his Baathist government, but these purely Syrian forces were soon outweighed by regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran.

From 2012 to the capture of Mosul by Isis in June 2014, these countries fought an inconclusive proxy war in Syria. But with the rise of Isis, Syria entered a third or international phase in the war in which the US and Russia became the real political and military decision-makers. Even so, it will not be easy for Syria to escape being the chosen battleground for confrontations being fought out between Shia and Sunni, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Arab and Kurd.


Russia's Sergei Lavrov and America's John Kerry in Munich (AFP)

A fruit of US and Russian dominance is the unexpected success of the “cessation of hostilities”, declared on 27 February after negotiations between Moscow and Washington, and the delivery of supplies to besieged communities.

The secret of the surprise success of the ceasefire so far is the degree to which the fighters on the ground in Syria are the proxies of outside powers and cannot really act without their support. The US and Russia may not be able to give direct instructions to these regional sponsors, but it is difficult for states such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia to oppose US and Russian policy directly when these two powers act together.

U.N., Syrian opposition welcome Russian withdrawal Thanks to the “internationalisation” of the Syrian crisis, the ceasefire is holding for the first time since the war began. Relations between Russia and the US involve rivalry as well as co-operation and it is never certain which relationship will determine policy.

Moreover, the ceasefire does not apply to all the combatants, above all it does not cover Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the two movements that dominate the Syrian armed opposition. Isis may be battered and unable to hold fixed positions in the face of concentrated air strikes, but its blend of guerrilla tactics and terrorism directed against civilian targets is still murderously effective.

t’s not just Russia: UK must stop fuelling fire of Syria - charity Russia to continue air strikes against Isis and other rebels in Syria A weakness of Western policy is to pretend that there is a “moderate” armed opposition holding territory, though sponsors of this belief can never explain where this territory is to be found or make any attempt to go there.

David Cameron famously claimed that there are 70,000 armed moderates, but they appear to be disparate groups of gunmen fighting for a tribe, clan, a village or for whoever will pay them.

They are not capable of fighting a well-organised fanatical movement such as Nusra, shown on 13 March when Nusra overran bases of the largest “moderate” force known as Division 13.

The Russian withdrawal and the ceasefire may both be messy, but these are serious and effective steps towards reducing the killing. But with the armed opposition dominated by Nusra and Isis, neither of which are in the business of compromising with anybody, it will be far more difficult to end the war.

Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East, by Patrick Cockburn, will be published in April by OR Books


GENERAL ANALYSIS

Web Log - "Watching the pot come to a boil" 16-Mar-16 World View -- This morning's key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

Analysts wonder why Russia announced a partial withdrawal from Syria now; Vladimir Putin may be sick of Syria and sick of Bashar al-Assad

Russia announces a surprise partial military withdrawal from Syria Opinions vary on why Russia pulled back from Syria now

Russia announces a surprise partial military withdrawal from Syria

Russian fighter jets in Syria (dpa) Russian fighter jets in Syria (dpa) Catching almost everyone by surprise, Russia's president Vladimir Putin issued the following statement on Monday:

"I believe that the objectives set before the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces have on the whole been achieved. I therefore order the Defense Minister to begin the withdrawal of the main part of our task force from the Syrian Arab Republic starting from tomorrow. ... Meanwhile our bases, the naval one in Tartus and the air one at the Humaymim aerodrome, will operate as before. They should be reliably protected from the ground, from the sea and from the air. This part of our military task force was traditionally stationed in Syria, for many years before, and these days it will have to perform the very important function of monitoring the ceasefire and creating conditions for the peace process."

Russia will keep its two military bases, and will continue to launch air strikes as before. Other reports indicate that Russia will leave its advanced S-400 air missiles would stay in Syria.

These missiles have a range of 400 km, which covers a great deal of Turkey, Iraq and Israel. In addition, Russia's warships in the Caspian and Mediterranean seas are expected to remain and be prepared to launch cruise missiles. This means that Russia can re-deploy at any time, if desired. Reuters and Eurasia Review

Opinions vary on why Russia pulled back from Syria now

READ MORE...

Putin says "that the objectives set before the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces have on the whole been achieved," but nobody I heard seriously believes that. The major stated objective was to "end terrorism" in Syria, but al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front) and the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) are both still active in Syria.

In fact, Russia never really targeted either al-Nusra or ISIS. Since 2011, when Syria's Shia/Alawite president Bashar al-Assad began massacring innocent Sunni women and children as if they were cockroaches to be exterminated, Russia has simply joined in the slaughter, flattening entire Sunni villages with missiles and chlorine-laden barrel bombs, leaving the al-Nusra and ISIS free to continue.

There's no question that one of Putin's objectives was a larger influence and military presence in the Mideast, and with two military bases in Syria protected by advanced S-400 missiles, he's certainly met that objective. Another objective was to save Bashar al-Assad's army from defeat, as the army was near collapse before the Russians intervened.

But there were huge downsides for Russia as well, as I described last year in "13-Sep-15 World View -- Russia opens a dangerous new chapter in Syria and the Mideast".


Russia opens a dangerous new chapter in Syria and the Mideast Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin, probably planning their next massacre (Reuters) by JOHN J. XENAKIS13 Sep 2015

The Russians have no desired to be involved in another quagmire like the one they were in during the 1980s in Afghanistan. The 1980s war was portrayed by Salafists as a Christian country invading a Muslim country.

Many Salafists in Saudi Arabia went to fight Russia in Afghanistan, and that led to the rise of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Today, Saudi Salafists portray Russia's intervention into Syria as, once again, a Christian invasion of a Muslim country. This time, many jihadists from Chechnya are receiving training in Syria, and are prepared to use those skills back in Russia, and Putin may believe that a partial withdrawal will slow that trend down.

Another issue is how long the fighting is going to go on. Russia's economy is under severe pressure, and the government is rapidly depleting its foreign reserves because of the collapse in the price of oil. Russia simply cannot afford another military quagmire, even if Putin wanted one.

Furthermore, now that Russia has its bases and missiles in place, Putin may feel that there's no further need to continue fighting. There have been many, many stories in the past few weeks that Putin and the Obama administration are united in pushing the current Geneva peace talks to bring the fighting to an end.

As a byproduct, it's hoped that this would bring an end to the tsunami of Syrian refugees flooding into Turkey and the European Union.

This development has has implications with the regimes in both Syria and Iran. According to some reports, neither al-Assad nor the Iranians want to end fighting. Recall that al-Assad started massacring peacefully protesting Sunni civilians in 2011 for reasons that are hard to discern. If al-Assad wanted to massacred Sunni civilians in 2011, then he would want to massacre Sunni civilians today, for the same reason.

Iran is no different.

Iranians have not forgotten the brutal treatment they received from Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis in Iraq during the 1980s Iran/Iraq war, and Iran's Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khamenei may well have the same motivations as al-Assad.

Finally, it may be that even Vladimir Putin is sickened and disgusted with supporting the greatest sociopath of the modern era.

 As I've written many times, Bashar al-Assad is the greatest genocidal monster in today's world, comparable to Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong and Stalin from the last century. For years, he's been killing thousands of Syrian civilians every week with complete impunity, using Russian-supplied barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods.

And he's used sarin chemical weapons on civilians. He uses the most gruesome forms of torture on a personal, individual scale, as well as on a mass scale. There is no mass weapon of destruction, nor any gruesome form of torture, that he won't use to satisfy his psychopathy.

Putin and Khamenei have enthusiastically aided and supported these horrendous crimes against humanity, but once possibility that we have to consider that Putin, at least, can take only so much of al-Assad's sickening sociopathy. So that's a possible personal motive of Putin in announcing the partial withdrawal.

However, Syria's army was losing ground before Russia's intervention, and Syria's army may start losing ground again.

This is going to make al-Assad and Khamenei very unhappy, and so it's possible that this Russian withdrawal is not only partial but also temporary. Guardian (London) and Deutsche Welle (Berlin) and Debka and American Enterprise Institute


By John J. Xenakis


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
© Copyright, 2015 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved

Best viewed on IE (On Chrome & Firefox some images may be awry)


PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE [PHNO] WEBSITE