Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

China summons US ambassador over military sanctions

September 22, 2018


China summoned the US ambassador on Saturday to lodge an official protest over sanctions imposed by the United States against a Chinese military organisation for buying Russian fighter jets and missiles, state media said.

The announcement came a day after China called on the United States to withdraw the sanctions or “bear the consequences”.

The spat adds to tensions between the two global powers over trade, China’s treatment of religious groups and the Asian country’s claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Image result for Su-35, jets, photos

Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet

Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned Ambassador Terry Branstad and “lodged solemn representations over US sanctions against (the) Chinese military,” the People’s Daily said in a brief report online.

On Thursday, Washington placed financial sanctions on the Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Defence Ministry, and its top administrator, for its recent purchase of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.

Officials said it was the first time a third country has been punished under the CAATSA sanctions legislation for dealing with Russia, and signalled the Trump administration’s willingness to risk relations with other countries in its campaign against Moscow.

Russia also lashed out at the US sanctions, accusing Washington of playing unfairly and using new measures to squeeze Moscow out of the global arms market.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that “Washington’s continued sanctions hysterics” dealt a new blow to US-Russia ties but could not immediately say if Moscow would retaliate, or how.

The Chinese military expressed “strong indignation and resolute opposition” to the sanctions, the defence ministry said Saturday, echoing a foreign ministry statement the previous day.

Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the US move was a “a flagrant breach of basic rules of international relations” and “a stark show of hegemonism” that severely damages relations between the two countries and their militaries, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

United in their resentment of America’s global influence, China and Russia have sought in recent years to tighten up their ties and this month conducted week-long joint military drills in Moscow’s largest ever war games.

US officials said that the US could consider similar action against other countries taking delivery of Russian fighter jets and missiles.

The State Department also placed 33 Russian intelligence and military-linked actors on its sanctions blacklist.

All of them — defence related firms, officers of the GRU military intelligence agency, and people associated with the Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency disinformation group — have been on previous US sanctions lists.

A senior US administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted the ultimate target was Russia and not “the defence capabilities” of third countries.

CAATSA, or the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, was passed in 2017 as a tool that gives Washington more ways to target Russia, Iran and North Korea with economic and political sanctions.



US delays imposition of sanctions on Deripaska’s Rusal

September 22, 2018

Russian oligarch has a further three weeks to negotiate a reprieve from Treasury
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Temporary reprieve: Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska © Bloomberg

Henry Foy in Moscow
The US Treasury has extended a deadline for the full imposition of crippling sanctions against the aluminium empire of Oleg Deripaska, giving the Russian oligarch another three weeks to find a way to win a full reprieve.

Washington in April announced it would impose sanctions on Mr Deripaska and his business empire, to prevent him and his companies from using the dollar and doing business with US citizens.

Those measures threatened the future of Rusal, the world’s second largest aluminium producer. Late on Friday, the Treasury said it would delay to November 12 a deadline forcing investors to sell holdings of debt and equity in Rusal and its parent company EN+, from the previous date of October 23.

“EN+ and Rusal have approached the US government about substantial corporate governance changes that could potentially result in significant changes in control,” a Treasury spokesperson said. “To allow sufficient time for review, we are extending these licenses until November 12.”

The US sanctions, which targeted 24 Russian oligarchs and politicians, were designed to punish Moscow for alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Rusal found itself cut off from global commodity markets and the western banking system, creating chaos in international manufacturing supply chains.

Earlier this month the Treasury said that it would permit long-term customers of Rusal to sign new contracts with the company as long as they were consistent with past actions.

A plan being devised by Greg Barker, a member of the UK’s upper house of parliament and a former energy minister, seeks to have the sanctions lifted by transferring a significant stake in EN+ to a Russian bank that would later sell the unsanctioned shares to the market.



Is a new US military base in Poland a realistic option?

September 20, 2018

US President Donald Trump has said he is “seriously considering” a Polish request that Washington build a new military base in the country. DW spoke with two security experts to determine the viability of such a plan.

US soldiers take part in the opening ceremony of the Rapid Trident-2017 international military exercises

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, raised the prospect of building a new US military base in Poland. Duda even suggested it might be named Fort Trump at the joint press conference in Washington, stressing Poland’s “very strategic location” and pointing to the need for an expanded US presence to counter Russia’s aggressive behavior. Trump voiced openness to the proposal.

Although the name got the attention of the US president and the rest of the world, the idea came as no surprise to security experts. The Polish government has spent months actively lobbying for the project in Washington.

Read more: US-Poland base plans must include NATO, says ex-Pentagon official

Poland’s former foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, for instance, told DW’s Zhanna Nemtsova: “I worked very hard to bring it about. We want in Poland the kind of allied forces that would deter Russia but not threaten Russia.”

DW News


“We want in Poland the kind of allied forces that would deter Russia, but not threaten Russia,” former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsko told DW as his country pushes for a permanent US military base: 

At Tuesday’s press conference, Trump said the US would “seriously consider” the proposal. But how realistic is the idea and what would be the implications? DW spoke with Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Jorge Benitez from the Atlantic Council to get their assessments of the situation.

Lengthy process

Conley stressed the lengthiness of the US decision-making process. “When President Trump says ‘we are seriously considering it,’ it means that Congress has asked the Defense Department to study this proposal. The Defense Department, I think, has some very important questions,” she said. “I don’t believe US defense officials are that enthusiastic about this. I don’t think there is great speed or enthusiasm for this.”

Both Conley and Benitez picked up on the bilateral nature of the proposal. “Whatever decisions are reached bilaterally would have to be in close consultation with NATO, and of course the NATO-Russia Founding Act [of 1997] would have to be part of that conversation,” said Conley. “But again this is to ensure that there is a greater deterrence and readiness capability on NATO’s eastern flank. The US bilateral arrangement with Poland, should it happen, would have to be inside that context.”

Read moreNATO views Vostok with both a shrug and a show of force

“The Polish offer would make sense as part of a multinational investment of NATO forces in Central Europe, such as the Alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,” said Benitez. “Accepting the Polish offer without doing it through NATO would mean more direct US resources for European defense without any matching investment by other NATO allies. This is counter to Trump’s priority to make NATO allies less dependent on US military assistance. Building a US base in Poland would be a step in the opposite direction. It would make the US unilaterally more responsible for security near NATO’s borders with Russia.”

Undermining European security? 

Benitez said the stationing of US troops in Poland would not, as Moscow warned in May, undermine European security. “Quite the opposite, more US troops in Central Europe will strengthen deterrence and thereby increase stability in the region,” he pointed out.

Speaking on Russian objections to the move, Benitez was quite blunt. “The Russians will respond with wild allegations and negative propaganda. But the truth is that the Russians will complain if a group of Girl Scouts visit Poland,” he said. “Moscow tries to portray everything as a threat, even though the small number of US troops likely to be moved to Poland will be no threat to the quarter of a million troops Russia has stationed near its border with NATO.”

Pulling troops out of Germany?

Asked about the threat that the US might shift troops from Germany amid growing US-German tensions, Conley said the scenario was quite unlikely. “With the world-class and premiere facilities that the US has in Germany and Italy, both the cost and the movement to Poland would not make cost effective sense. I don’t think it has anything to do with current US force posture in Germany,” she said.

Conley, however, sees another issue as a potential impediment to realizing the proposal. “The other big question is: Where would those additional forces come from? What would the global footprint be if the US would decide to move additional capabilities farther to NATO’s eastern flank? The global picture will be a very big constraint on any further US decision,” she said.

Turkey cuts investment criteria for foreigners seeking citizenship (Needs the money)

September 19, 2018

Turkey on Wednesday made it easier for foreigners to become Turkish citizens by cutting the financial and investment criteria required for citizenship, according to a decree from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Foreigners now need only to have $500,000 deposits in Turkish banks, down from $3 million before while fixed capital investment was reduced from $2 million to $500,000 dollars, the decree published in the Official Gazette said.

Foreigners now need only to have $500,000 deposits in Turkish banks. (File/AFP)

Meanwhile individuals can obtain citizenship if they employ 50 people, down from the previous 100, while those who own property worth $250,000 can become Turkish citizens, compared to the previous value necessary of $1 million.

The decree is the latest in a series by Erdogan in what appears to be a bid to prop up the embattled Turkish lira and the economy which slowed down in the second quarter.

Last week, the president ordered that contracts for the sale, rent and leasing of property in or indexed to foreign currencies would not be allowed.

The Turkish currency fell against the US dollar drastically in August after one of the most bitter spats between Ankara and Washington over the detention of an American pastor.

The lira lost nearly a quarter in value against the greenback in August.

But there had been investor concerns over domestic economic policy and Erdogan’s continued opposition to high interest rates, although the central bank aggressively hiked its main policy rate 6.25 percent to 24 percent last week.

Erdogan will later meet with representatives of American companies working in Turkey at 1500 GMT at his presidential palace in Ankara, according to the presidential website.

He will meet with 30 senior executives, according to HaberTurk daily, including representatives from Microsoft and Google.


Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s financial and strategic dilemmas

September 19, 2018

Only the IMF can come up with the sorts of sums Turkey desperately needs

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s construction-and-consumption economic model relied on cheap foreign credit that has kept the economy overheated, but is now drying up © AFP
By David Gardner

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deal with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, which will at least postpone a Moscow-backed offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian rebel enclave, looks superficially like an answer to one of the many colliding questions confronting the Turkish leader. All of them spell crisis.

To start with the most obvious: Turkey is facing a financial emergency.

The essentials of the currency crisis that has sunk the lira were already in place before Mr Erdogan fell out spectacularly last month with US president Donald Trump, hitherto such an admirer of the Turkish strongman that he fist-bumped him at July’s Nato summit. Mr Erdogan’s construction-and-consumption economic model relied for far too long on cheap foreign credit that has kept the economy vulnerably overheated but is now drying up.

Turkey suffers from high inflation (running at 18 per cent); a plummeting currency (which lost a quarter of its value last month but is about 40 per cent down against the dollar this year); and a gaping current account deficit, running at an annualised 7 per cent of gross domestic product, which raises the spectre of a balance of payments crisis.

The lira’s collapse means leading businesses and banks that owe $295bn in foreign loans, half of which mature in the 12 months to next July, risk default. Turkey needs money urgently.

That urgency was made more acute by Mr Trump, who accelerated the freefall of the lira by targeting Turkish ministers with sanctions and doubling tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium. A cauldron of mutual grievances between Ankara and Washington had started overflowing even before Mr Trump’s election. What tipped it over was the continuing detention of Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical Protestant pastor Turkey is holding on allegations of collusion with the plotters of the abortive July 2016 coup, which Mr Erdogan blames on a shadowy network of Islamist cadres led by Fethullah Gulen, a former ally resident in Pennsylvania.

The possibility of another Erdogan-Trump fist-bump is probably part of the reason for Putin’s pause on Idlib.

By last month it became clear what Mr Erdogan needed to do to prevent the currency crisis turning into a financial disaster. He needed to raise interest rates, mend fences with the US, and solicit a bailout — all very tricky moves, risking loss of face for a leader claiming the crisis is a western plot aimed at bringing down Turkey and the embodiment of its vaulting ambition: himself.

Interest rates — which Mr Erdogan says are the “mother and father of all evils” — were raised sharply last week. This sparked an epic presidential tirade , unstartling to viewers of TV channels that hang on his every outburst. This was decoy spin.

Making up with Mr Trump is the next step. That now requires the release of Mr Brunson. This is tricky given that Mr Erdogan last year suggested he was a hostage against the US extraditing Mr Gulen. But it may be on the cards (the prosecutor in the Brunson case has been transferred).

The possibility of another Erdogan-Trump fist-bump is probably part of the reason for Mr Putin’s pause on Idlib. The Turkish president sought to put the Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian regime offensive on hold at a summit in Tehran this month. Mr Erdogan fears a new refugee crisis, a jihadi backlash against Turkey, and the threat to two Turkish strongholds in north-west Syria he has established in the past two years. His Russian friend rebuffed him, but seems to have reconsidered in light of the promising rift in Turkish-American relations.

After all, Turkey, although a Nato ally and a candidate for membership of the EU, is the wobbly leg of a new power tripod in the Levant that Moscow has built with Iran. It would be geopolitically wasteful for Russia to spurn it in its hour of need.

That leaves the big debt refinancing Turkish borrowers will need — arguably Mr Erdogan’s biggest challenge. He has boasted of “new friends and allies” who will help Turkey as part of a global anti-Trump alliance, including Russia, China and even the EU. Qatar, Turkey’s last Arab ally, has pledged investment of $15bn. China is promising project finance worth $3.6bn. The EU, reliant on Turkey to curb Syrian refugee flows into Europe, will doubtless increase aid. But only the IMF can come up with the sort of sums Turkey will require — though that would entail conditions that would end the Erdogan government’s credit-fuelled growth-at-any-cost strategy.

“We think there is a hidden or secret organisation that is trying to force us into a deal with the IMF,” says Mustafa Sentop, a parliamentary leader of the ruling Justice and Development party, or AKP. He forecasts that “this will not happen”.

“Going to the IMF would be a big challenge,” says an AKP campaign strategist who underlines the party’s politically successful history of denouncing the tutelage of the fund. But, he adds, tacitly acknowledging it is an option: “Erdogan is good at explaining things to the nation.” And, he adds, “we need the money now”.

Rigged Election makes news in Russia (For Once): Russia election chief recommends invalidating ‘rigged’ vote

September 19, 2018


Russia’s election commission on Wednesday recommended invalidating the results of a key regional poll, a highly unusual move triggered by claims of blatant vote-rigging in favour of a Kremlin-backed candidate.

The crisis erupted in Russia’s Far East where an opposition candidate accused a ruling party representative — endorsed by President Vladimir Putin — of “stealing” his victory in a gubernatorial vote last Sunday.

Communist Party candidate Andrei Ishchenko, 37, seemed poised to become the next governor of the far eastern region of Primorsky Krai until the results suddenly changed overnight allowing his Kremlin-backed rival to claim victory.

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Sunday’s vote was a second-round runoff after the Moscow-backed candidate, Andrei Tarasenko, failed to win at least 50 percent of the vote this month amid anger over rising poverty under Western sanctions.

While nearly every election in Russia is marred by claims of vote-rigging, the opposition and ordinary Russians said ballot stuffing and other irregularities during the far eastern vote were especially brazen.

In a rare move, the head of the Central Election Commission admitted Wednesday the Primorsky Krai vote was marred by irregularities and recommended that regional officials invalidate it.

– ‘Serious violations’ –

“In a number of cases, mostly at the final stage, there were serious violations of the legislation,” Ella Pamfilova said, referring to instances of ballot stuffing, voter pressure and bribery.

She however denied that the vote was rigged in favour of the Kremlin-backed candidate, saying both candidates complained of irregularities.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin supported the election commission’s stance but added that acting governor Tarasenko would for now remain at his post.

If regional election officials declare the results invalid, new gubernatorial polls should take place in three months.

Earlier this month Putin appeared to throw his support behind Tarasenko.

“I know you face a second-round runoff,” Putin told him during a meeting. “I think everything will be alright.”

Stanislav Andreichuk, a member of Golos movement, an independent election observer, said that if the far eastern vote were to be declared invalid, it would be the first such case since at least 2005, when the Kremlin scrapped gubernatorial elections before reinstating them in 2012.

“It is a pretty rare thing,” he told AFP.

Earlier this month, the Kremlin suffered several other blows in the regions of Khabarovsk, Khakasia and Vladimir where ruling party candidates failed to win gubernatorial elections in the first round.

Second-round runoffs are scheduled in those regions on Sunday.


Israel Expresses Regret For Downed Russia Aircraft, Says Syria is Responsible

September 18, 2018

Expressing regret, Israel says responsibility of incident falls squarely with Syria as well as Iran and Hezbollah.

 SEPTEMBER 18, 2018 14:48

Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20M

Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20M . (photo credit: KIRILL NAUMENKO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis addressed the downing of the Russian plane in Syria on Tuesday after Moscow accused Israel of a hostile provocation and threatened to respond.

“Israel expresses its regret over the death of the crew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” read the statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

“Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident.”

Manelis confirmed that the IDF had struck a Syrian military facility from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“These weapons were meant to attack Israel and posed an intolerable threat against it,” he said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.

According to the preliminary investigation launched by the Israeli Air Force, the Russian Ilyushin military plane was not within the area of operation of Israeli jets, and when it was struck all Israeli jets which took part in the operation had already returned to Israeli territory.

“The Syrian anti-aircraft batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” Manelis said, adding that “the extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft missile fire cause the Russian plane to be hit.”


An official from Russia’s Defense Ministry was quoted by TASS News that the plane went off the radar while four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in the Syrian province of Latakia.

Moscow accused Israel Tuesday morning of using the IL-20 as cover to carry out the strikes and said Israel warned them of the operation only one minute before.

“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished,” TASS news agency quoted Russian defense ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov as saying. “This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response.”

Earlier on Tuesday the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on social media that the Israeli ambassador had been called into her ministry in connection with what had happened near Syria.

Manelis denied the reports, saying that the de-conflication mechanism implemented with Russia over Syria to coordinate their actions in order avoid accidental clashes in Syrian airspace “was in use tonight like it has been in use in the past.”

Israel said that it will share all relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts of the inquiry.

Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of military activity in Syria but has publicly admitted to having struck over 200 targets in Syria over the past year and a half.

Syria mistakenly shoots down Russian plane while repelling Israeli strike

September 18, 2018

Russia implies France or Israel responsible for missing aircraft; Syria claims 2 killed after Israel fires missiles from Lebanese airspace toward chemical weapons-linked facility

A Russian military Ilyushin IL-20 landing at Kubinka air base on June 3, 2011. (Artyom Anikeev/iStock/Getty Images)

A Russian military Ilyushin IL-20 landing at Kubinka air base on June 3, 2011. (Artyom Anikeev/iStock/Getty Images)

A Russian military plane with 14 servicemen aboard was accidentally shot down by Syrian air defenses as they tried to repel an alleged Israeli strike on Monday, a US official told CNN.

The official added that the plane was downed by a Russian-made missile system which was sold to its Syrian ally.

Russian state news TASS said the IL-20 disappeared over the Mediterranean on Monday evening was as it returning to Latakia province at the same time as the suspected strike by Israel, and that concurrently France was also firing rockets nearby.

“Connection has been lost with the crew of a Russian Il-20 plane over the Mediterranean Sea 35 kilometers from the Syrian coast as it was returning to the Hmeimim airbase,” the Russian defense ministry said, adding that communications were lost at the time of the suspected Israeli attack.

“At the same time Russian air control radar systems detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne which was located in that region,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the defense ministry as saying, according to Reuters.

A rescue operation has been launched.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspect a military parade during their visit to the Russian air base in Hmeimim in the northwestern Syrian province of Latakia, December 11, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP)

Israel does not regularly comment on alleged strikes in Syria.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, when asked about both the reported Israeli strike and the Russian plane, said: “We don’t comment on foreign reports.”

Syrian state media earlier reported that a Syrian facility linked to the country’s chemical weapons program was bombed on Monday night, triggering Syrian air defenses.

The state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV reported loud explosions in the coastal Latakia province, saying they were likely from Israeli strikes targeting a state company for technical industries.

Explosions continued for nearly a half hour, said state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV, which aired footage showing streaks of white light flashing across the sky. An unidentified military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles heading for the provincial capital of Latakia from the sea.

Al-Ikhbariya said 10 people were injured and two required hospitalization.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: SAA source claims it was a coordinated attack between |i Air Force & UK/US ships & 28 cruise missiles fired in total. 10 casualties reported in so far. Video shows multiple strikes SE. of .

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: powerful blast in province & jet is clearly heard before.

A Pentagon spokesman said the United States was not involved and declined to provide further details.

“The missiles were not fired by the US military and we have nothing further at this time,” he said.

A French army spokesman also denied any involvement.

Syrian military sources told SANA that the attack came from the direction of the sea and targeted an Organization for Technological Industries center in Latakia.

The sources also claimed the country’s air defenses shot down a number of incoming missiles. The Syrian army has regularly been accused of exaggerating its interception capabilities.

The attack caused a large explosion and knocked out power to the surrounding area, according to local media.

The Organization for Technological Industries is a subsidiary of the Syrian Ministry of Defense and has been tied to the developments of both missiles and chemical weapons.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the explosions, saying the target appeared to be an ammunition depot, part of the compound of the organization. The war monitoring group said it was not clear if the depot was for Iranian or Syrian forces.

The strikes followed a similar attack on Damascus International Airport late Saturday, which Syrian state media also blamed on Israel. A military official quoted then on state media said Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles coming from the sea.

Other attacks were reported on September 4 that targeted sites in the coastal Tartus area and in Hama province. The Observatory said at the time that the attacks were believed aimed at Iranian military posts.

Israel is alleged to have been behind a series of airstrikes mainly targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria that have joined the country’s war fighting alongside the government. Israel rarely acknowledges attacks inside Syria, but has said it will use military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies.

Earlier this month, an Israeli military official said the Jewish state has struck over 200 Iranian targets in Syria over the past 18 months.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.


Russia, Turkey agree to create demilitarized zone around Syria’s Idlib

September 18, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to forge a demilitarized zone between rebels and Syrian government forces in Syria’s Idlib region.

Members of the Syrian pro-regime forces prepare ammunition during the advance towards rebel-held positions west of Aleppo

The presidents of Turkey and Russia agreed on Monday to declare Syria’s Idlib province as a “demilitarized zone,” with the aim of halting the Syrian government’s assault on the rebel-held region.

The agreement marks a major diplomatic victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was eager to prevent a major Syrian government assault, backed by Russian air power, on the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria.

What’s in the Idlib deal?

As part of the Russia-Turkey agreement:

  • Both forces will establish a 15 to 20 kilometer (9 to 12.5 mile) wide demilitarized zone around Idlib province by October 15
  • Radical rebel groups, such as al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) will be ordered to leave the zone
  • The Syrian government will gain access to a key highway passing through Idlib that connects the north of the country with other major cities
  • Both Turkish and Russian troops will patrol the demilitarized zone

‘A serious result’

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Monday’s deal as a “serious result,” adding that “Russia and Turkey have confirmed their determination to counter terrorism in Syria in all its forms.”

Putin also said he believed the agreement would also go some way in ending Syria’s bloody seven-year civil war. “It is our common belief that the practical realization of the planned steps will provide an additional impulse for the process of a political settlement of the Syrian conflict,” he said.

Erdogan said the Idlib buffer zone was crucial to preventing a “big humanitarian crisis.”

The Turkish president added that the “the opposition will continue to stay in the areas they are in.”

“In return we will ensure that radical groups, which we will designate together with Russia, won’t be active in the relevant
area,” he said, referring to jihadi groups.
Read more: What is Iran’s role in Syria if Assad wins the war?

Infografik Karte Streitkräfte im Idlib-Region Syrien EN

Turkey’s diplomatic win: The creation of a demilitarized zone around Idlib marked a significant U-turn by Putin, who just last week during talks in Iran dismissed Erdogan’s calls for a ceasefire. According to the exiled Syrian opposition, Russia’s decision to abstain from the offensive represented a diplomatic success for Turkey and the United States, who had also warned against further strikes on Idlib.

Bloodbath averted: The threat of a Syrian onslaught on Idlib had prompted several countries, including Germany, to warn of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the region. Despite coming under almost non-stop bombardment for several years, the area is still home to some 3 million Syrians, around 60,000 of whom are believed to be rebel fighters. Turkey also said it feared that an attack on the rebel bastion would trigger a mass exodus across it borders.

Idlib: A ‘hotbed’ for terrorism? The Russian government has repeatedly described Idlib as a “hotbed” for terrorism, even claiming that rebel forces were preparing a chemical attack that would ultimately be blamed on the Syrian regime. Turkey, however, has criticized the Assad government for using the presence of jihadists as pretext for a potential onslaught.

Syria still determined to wipe out Al-Nusra Front: A key part of Monday’s deal appeared to be Turkey agreeing to order the evacuation of HTS forces from Idlib. Earlier on Monday, the Damascus’ ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva indicated that the government would continue its onslaught against the group, which it views as a terrorist organization.

dm/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)

U.S. Says Russia Is Hiding North Korea Sanctions Violations

September 18, 2018

Moscow is undermining Security Council by blocking report, Ambassador Nikki Haley tells U.N. group

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called for the release of a U.N. report on violations of sanctions against North Korea at meeting of the Security Council in New York on Monday.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called for the release of a U.N. report on violations of sanctions against North Korea at meeting of the Security Council in New York on Monday. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

UNITED NATIONS—The U.S. and Russia reached an impasse during a United Nations Security Council debate Monday on North Korea, threatening to upset a tenuous consensus on international efforts to pressure Pyongyang with economic sanctions days before world leaders gather for an annual meeting in New York.

The impasse also comes as U.S.-North Korean talks have stalled, increasing pressure on the Trump administration to redouble international sanctions efforts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons, in keeping with a June summit statement in Singapore.

The U.S. and Russia at the Security Council exchanged accusations that the other was to blame for impeding the goal of convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Russia had “cheated” and “lied” to help North Korea evade international economic sanctions and had pressured the U.N. to cover Moscow’s tracks by blocking the release of a U.N. investigative report detailing Russia’s actions.

Russia said the U.S. had worked to influence and politicize the report’s findings to blame Russia, and wasn’t offering Pyongyang enough sanctions relief as an incentive for disarmament.

North Korea will be one of the main topics before world leaders during the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering next week. President Trump is scheduled to chair a Security Council meeting on Sept. 26 on the topic of nonproliferation, and U.S. officials said he is expected to address a range of topics including the state of talks with North Korea and Washington’s standoff with Iran.

At Monday’s Security Council meeting, Ms. Haley focused her comments on Russia. The still-confidential U.N. report also cites China for helping North Korea circumvent sanctions, according to a copy of the document reviewed over the weekend by The Wall Street Journal, but Ms. Haley didn’t mention China.

A Council diplomat said that China hadn’t tried to block the release of the report or to seek changes, as Russia had sought to do. Some diplomats said by omitting China from her comments, Ms. Haley attempted to portray a united Council against Russia’s actions.

“Russia is actively working to undermine the enforcement of Security Council sanctions,” she said at Monday’s session, an emergency meeting called by the U.S. She added that Russia was “impeding our ability to achieve denuclearization in North Korea.”

Ms. Haley called on Council members to stand with the U.S. in demanding that the U.N. Panel of Experts submit their report in its original format, without modifications sought by Russia.

While U.S. allies in their comments Monday called for the report to be released in its original format, none specifically mentioned Russia or openly condemned Moscow in their remarks.

The Trump administration is calling out Russia and China for easing economic sanctions on North Korea. The WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains how that action and others could impact nuclear negotiations. Photo: Getty

Russia said it had followed protocol by informing the Panel of Experts of its concerns and asking that its position be reflected in the report. The panel is a group authorized by the Security Council to research and report on the status and effectiveness of its North Korea sanctions.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the U.S. was using the forum to target Russia instead of North Korea.

“The work of Panel of Experts became increasingly politicized and they became hostages to Washington’s objectives,” he said.

Russia made a similar complaint when U.N. investigators accused Syria’s regime of deploying chemical weapons against civilians.

Ms. Haley responded at the meeting: “Deny, distract and lie.” She said that North Korea had imported four times its permitted annual quota of crude oil just in the first half of this year because of Russia’s help.

U.N. investigators, citing U.S. intelligence, found a “massive increase” in fuel shipments to North Korea involving Russian and Chinese ships, as well as numerous examples of coal shipments to China from North Korea, The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the original report, said this weekend.

The U.N. report also called out Chinese companies for buying tens of millions of dollars of North Korean iron, steel, textile and other products.

Some Chinese firms have maintained joint ventures with North Korean partners, despite a U.N. ban last year, the report says. Chinese tourism to North Korea is rebounding.

China’s ambassador, Ma Zhaoxu, didn’t engage in the U.S.-Russia spat. Instead, he talked about the importance of dialogue and diplomacy over conflict and confrontation with North Korea, which he said would be a “dead end” and bring “nothing but disastrous consequences.”

U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo said that despite the positive developments in talks, “there continue to be signs the DPRK (North Korea) is maintaining and developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.”

The Security Council meeting adjourned without a conclusion regarding the fate of the report. The majority of Council members said they had hoped the report would be released to all U.N. member states ahead of the General Assembly gathering next week.

The question of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons also looms large over the meeting, diplomats said.

“People will be looking at the Council even more than usual to see our leaders take their responsibilities and deliver unity and progress so this critical issue of WMD and nuclear proliferation can be properly addressed,” said U.K. Ambassador Karen Pierce.

Write to Farnaz Fassihi at

Appeared in the September 18, 2018, print edition as ‘U.S. Envoy Assails Moscow on North Korea Sanctions.’