Posts Tagged ‘Russian military’

Jeish Al-Islam Militants Forced to Endorse Agreement with Syrian Army over Eastern Ghouta

March 17, 2018

Fars News (Iran)

Image may contain: 1 person, beard, hat and outdoor

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Jeish al-Islam militant group has been forced to come into terms with the Syrian army over Eastern Ghouta, Arab media reports said on Friday.

The reports claim that the Syrian Army and Jeish al-Islam agreed to the terms of an agreement that would have the latter turn their heavy weapons into the government and Russian military, the AMN reported.

The report further said according to the agreement, Jeish al-Islam will release prisoners in Douma, including those from the Syrian Army, hand over all their heavy weapons to the government, and give the government and army full access roads to Douma to take the wounded to local hospitals.

Also according to the agreement, the militants in Douma will decide whether they will go to Idlib, Dara’a, or stay in Eastern Ghouta to settle their cases with the state and receive amnesty.

Food staples and aid will enter Douma and a local police unit will be formed by civil leaders in the district, according to the agreement.

State Institutions will also start to work inside Douma after a “short period”. The basic services of water, electricity and sewage system will take priority.

Individual arms ownership will be organized within the existing laws administered by the State.

The report added that the Russians have mediated the terms between the two parties.


Germany urges Russia, Iran to end regime strikes on Damascus suburb — indiscriminate shelling and bombardment continues

February 21, 2018

ARAB NEWS | Published — Wednesday 21 February 2018

A man carries an injured boy as he walks on rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged town of Hamouriyeh.(AP)

BEIRUT: New airstrikes and shelling of the besieged, rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital killed at least 60 people and wounded dozens more on Wednesday, a rescue organization and a monitoring group said, adding to a staggering casualty toll that has overwhelmed paramedics and doctors in the past few days.

Syrian government forces and Russian aircraft have shown no signs of letting up their indiscriminate aerial and artillery assault on eastern Ghouta since they stepped up strikes late Sunday.

The situation in Eastern Ghouta is “very sadning” the UN Secretary General Antonio Guteres said while opening a Security Council session to discuss UN Charter and maintenance of international peace & security.

.The UN chief urged all parties for an immediate halt to fighting in what he described ‘hell on Earth’ Syria enclave.

The International Committee of the Red Cross asked Wednesday for access to Eastern Ghouta near Syria’s capital where a regime aerial campaign has killed over 300 civilians and wounded 1,400 others this week.


“The fighting appears likely to cause much more suffering in the days and weeks ahead, and our teams need to be allowed to enter Eastern Ghouta to aid the wounded,” said Marianne Gasser, ICRC’s head of delegation in Syria. The worsening situation for the Syrians besieged in Damascus suburb led Germany to urge Russia and Iran to push the Syrian regime to end the deadly airstrikes on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, noting that the two had pledged to be guarantors of peace in Syria.

“One has to ask where is Russia, where is Iran, which had pledged in Astana to guarantee a ceasefire also in Eastern Ghouta,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, referring to peace talks in the Kazakh capital.

At least 260 people have been killed since Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, including 10 in a wave of strikes on the town of Kafr Batna on Wednesday.

The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said government forces targeted the town with airstrikes, artillery fire, and barrel bombs — crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes. It reported that several other people were wounded.

The locally-run Ghouta Media Center reported strikes on Kafr Batna and other towns in the region outside Damascus.

“We are really alarmed by the information we’re receiving from civilian areas and the very high number of casualties. You cannot continue business as usual,” said Panos Moumtzis, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria.

“Ghouta is a 10-mile drive from the hospitals in Damascus and its heartbreaking to think of children, women, and elderly who are in need, unable to be evacuated, and in a situation of fear, hiding in basements and not being able to go out,” he told The Associated Press by phone from Amman, Jordan.

The Russian military is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and was instrumental to the all-out assault on the eastern half of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, in late 2016 to eject rebels from their enclave there.

Tens of thousands of civilians ended up fleeing their homes. Many have been unable to return. Hundreds more were killed in indiscriminate shelling and bombardment. A subsequent UN investigation charged that the campaign amounted to forced displacement of a population and rose to the level of a war crime.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week eastern Aleppo could serve as a model for eastern Ghouta.

Pro-government forces have been amassing since the weekend on the perimeter of the rebel-held region, a collection of towns and farmland that once provided grain and fruit to Damascus, before nearly seven years of warfare turned it into a landscape of havoc and despair.

At least 400,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, sparked by a violent crackdown on popular demonstrations against Assad in 2011.


For Europe, Trump Is a Blessing in Disguise

February 20, 2018

His policies promote energy independence and balance between France and Germany.

French president Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Jan. 19.
French president Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Jan. 19. PHOTO: LUDOVIC MARIN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Trump administration is turning out to be a blessing in disguise for the European Union. While many of the president’s rhetorical statements offend European sensibilities, and while dramatic acts like the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord prompt talk of a “crisis” in trans-Atlantic relations, the actual consequences of the administration’s policies are shoring up Europe’s foundations in surprising ways.

A year ago, fears that an allegedly pro-Russia Trump administration would ditch the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and throw Europe to the wolves had delicate Europeans trembling. These days those fears seem quaint. But few in Europe have yet grasped how anti-Russian and pro-European the Trump foreign policy is at its core.

This is partly because European reflexes, especially German ones, are so often nonstrategic. Fine words and noble resolutions are mistaken for hard facts, and the wrapping paper matters more than the gift.

When many Europeans—and more than a few Americans—hear the word “fracking,” for example, they don’t think of the spear tip of an American energy offensive that limits Russia’s geopolitical ambitions while creating the conditions for renewed European prosperity. And when they hear about American plans to rearm and modernize its nuclear arsenal, they instinctively think about the dangers of American militarism—overlooking Moscow’s hostile military buildup that endangers the European countries closest to Russia.

Energy is the place to begin. The vast American oil and gas resources being unlocked by unconventional (and rapidly improving) techniques like fracking are more than a domestic economic bonanza. They are a key instrument of American foreign policy. These resources will not only deprive Middle Eastern countries of the financial capacity too many have used to underwrite radicalism and terrorism; they force Russia, whose economy is greatly dependent on oil exports, to count the cost of every bullet fired in Ukraine and every mercenary deployed to Syria.

Fracking frustrates Vladimir Putin more than sanctions, and much more than harsh rhetoric at the United Nations. When the price of oil is $150 a barrel and every country in Europe is desperate for energy, Russia casts a long shadow over the EU. When oil is at $60 a barrel and supplies are plentiful, Russian leverage is dramatically diminished.

But there is another way in which fracking helps the EU. The EU is a net importer and consumer of energy; high oil and gas prices dampen European growth. The high monopoly prices that characterized the age of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries acted as a deadening tax on European economic activity. The lower prices delivered in part by fracking amount to a giant tax cut for the European economy, one that is especially welcome in southern European countries like Greece and Italy that are still struggling with the aftermath of the euro crisis.

Environmentalists wince, but Mr. Trump’s pedal-to-the-metal approach to energy production is better calculated to promote growth and cohesion in the eurozone than anything else the U.S. could do, because faster economic growth will reduce the political strains that corrode the legitimacy of EU institutions. If next month’s Italian election results in a pro-Europe government, Brussels should send champagne to the White House.

There’s more. Over time, the Trump administration’s proposed military buildup and nuclear modernization will deter Russian aggression and reduce Moscow’s ability to intimidate its neighbors. A stronger America means a stronger NATO and a more stable eastern Europe. If the U.S. were, as some wish, to reduce military spending while focusing more on Asia, European security would suffer regardless of the number of supportive speeches delivered by American diplomats.

Not everyone in Europe hates the administration. Paris, which traditionally has a less sentimental view of geopolitics than Berlin, sees a historic opportunity. Key Trump policies like promoting European self-reliance in defense, a tougher anti-Iran approach to the Middle East, and an emphasis on military power and security mesh better with French priorities than with German ones. While Berlin wrings its hands over the administration’s evident skepticism about Germany’s values agenda, President Emmanuel Macron hopes to replace a weakened Chancellor Angela Merkel as America’s key European partner.

For the French, even Mr. Trump’s vices have their uses; his unpopularity in Europe and apparent retreat from world leadership create vacuums France can help fill. Here again, the Trump administration may be solving an important European problem. Germany’s growing power and France’s weakness threatened the Franco-German balance to which the EU owes much of its strength.

Mr. Trump is not about to become a European hero, but he offers Europe a historic opportunity.

Global powers must address ‘episodes of cyberwar’: UN chief — “An existential threat for humankind.”

February 16, 2018


© AFP | UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned the Munich Security Conference of the dangers of cyberwar

MUNICH (GERMANY) (AFP) – World leaders must lay the groundwork on how countries respond to cyberattacks that have proven to be a daunting threat, whether by state actors or criminal enterprises, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said Friday.”It is clear we are witnessing in a more or less disguised way cyberwars between states, episodes of cyberwar between states,” Guterres said during one of the opening speeches at the Munich Security Conference.

“It’s high time to have a serious discussion about the international legal framework in which cyberwars take place,” he said.

“The fact is we haven’t been able to discuss whether or not the Geneva convention applies to cyberwar and whether international humanitarian law applies to cyberwar.”

The United States and Britain on Thursday blamed the Russian military for last year’s devastating “NotPetya” ransomware attack, calling it a Kremlin effort to destabilise Ukraine, which spun out of control.

The attacks ended up crippling computer networks in the United States and Europe, including those of some big companies.

Washington has also blamed North Korea for the huge “WannaCry” ransomware attack last May in which more than 300,000 computers were struck in some 150 nations.

“How to respond in cases of permanent violations of cybersecurity? What are the different uses that criminal, terror organisations are making of the web?” Guterres said.

Finding a consensus on how to respond to such attacks is urgent, he said, “especially now that artificial intelligence, that is providing enormous potential for economic development, social development, for the well-being of all, is also in the opinion of many an existential threat for humankind.”

“It is necessary to bring together governments, the private sector, those involved in civil society, academics, research centres, in order to be able to establish at least some basic protocols to allow the web to be an effective instrument for the good,” he said.

Russian toll in Syria battle was 300 killed and wounded — “Russia will pretend nothing happened.”

February 16, 2018


MOSCOW (Reuters) – About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last week, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

A Russian military doctor said around 100 had been killed, and a source who knows several of the fighters said the death toll was in excess of 80 men.

The timing of the casualties coincided with a battle on Feb. 7 near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor where, according to U.S. officials and associates of the fighters involved, U.S.-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian officials said five citizens may have been killed but they had no relation to Russia’s armed forces.

The clashes show Moscow is more deeply involved in Syria militarily than it has said, and risks being drawn into direct confrontation with the United States in Syria.

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

The casualties are the highest that Russia has suffered in a single battle since fierce clashes in Ukraine in 2014 claimed more than 100 fighters’ lives. Moscow denies sending soldiers and volunteers to Ukraine and has never confirmed that figure.

The wounded, who have been medically evacuated from Syria in the past few days, have been sent to four Russian military hospitals, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

The military doctor, who works in a Moscow military hospital and was directly involved in the treatment of wounded men evacuated from Syria, said that as of Saturday evening there were more than 50 such patients in his hospital, of which around 30 percent were seriously wounded.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to disclose information about casualties, said at least three planeloads of injured fighters were flown to Moscow between last Friday and Monday morning.

He said they were flown back on specially equipped military cargo planes which can each accommodate two or three intensive care cases and several dozen less severely wounded patients.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said initial information was that five Russian citizens in the area of the battle may have been killed, but they were not Russian troops. She said reports of tens or hundreds of Russian casualties were disinformation inspired by Russia’s opponents.

The Russian defense ministry did not respond to Reuters questions about casualties in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman, asked about Russian casualties on Thursday, said he had nothing to add to previous statements. The Kremlin said earlier this week it had no information on any casualties.

Reuters was unable to make direct contact with the contractors’ employers, the Wagner group, whose fallen fighters have in the past received medals from the Kremlin.

The military doctor said that a fellow doctor who flew to Syria on one of the recent medevac flights told him that around 100 people in the Russian force had been killed as of the end of last week, and 200 injured.

The doctor who spoke to Reuters said most of the casualties were Russian private military contractors.

Yevgeny Shabayev, leader of a local chapter of a paramilitary Cossack organization who has ties to Russian military contractors, said he had visited acquaintances injured in Syria at the defense ministry’s Central Hospital in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on Wednesday.

He said the wounded men had told him that the two units of Russian contractors involved in the battle near Deir al-Zor numbered 550 men. Of those, there are now about 200 who are not either dead or wounded, the wounded men had told him.

Shabayev said the ward he visited contained eight patients, all evacuated from Syria in the past few days, and there were more in other wards in the hospital.

“If you understand anything about military action and combat injuries then you can imagine what’s going on there. That’s to say, constant screams, shouts,” Shabayev told Reuters. “It’s a tough scene.”

A source with ties to the Wagner organization, and who has spoken to people who took part in the Feb. 7 clashes, told Reuters his contacts told him more than 80 Russian contractors were killed.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the total of about 300 killed or injured was broadly correct.

He said many of the injured had shrapnel in their bodies that was not showing up on X-rays, making treatment difficult. “The prognosis for most of the wounded is dismal,” he said.


Other military hospitals treating the contractors are the Third Vishnevskiy hospital in Krasnogorsk, near Moscow, the Burdenko hospital near Moscow city center, and the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, according to the doctor, Shabayev, and three other people who know dead or wounded fighters.

When Reuters contacted those hospitals by phone on Thursday, staff either declined to comment or denied having any patients evacuated from Syria.

A Reuters reporter visited the Burdenko hospital on Wednesday and spoke briefly to patients who said they knew nothing about anyone evacuated from Syria. Reporters also visited the hospital in Krasnogorsk, and a fifth military hospital, at Balashikha near Moscow, but were denied entry.

Russia launched a military operation in Syria in September 2015 which has turned the tide of the conflict in favor of Assad.

Russian officials deny they deploy private military contractors in Syria, saying Moscow’s only military presence is a campaign of air strikes, a naval base, military instructors training Syrian forces, and limited numbers of special forces troops.

But according to people familiar with the deployment, Russia is using large numbers of the contractors in Syria because that allows Moscow to put more boots on the ground without risking regular soldiers whose deaths have to be accounted for.

The contractors, mostly ex-military, carry out missions assigned to them by the Russian military, the people familiar with the deployment said. Most are Russian citizens, though some have Ukrainian and Serbian passports.

The United States and Russia, while backing opposite sides in the Syria conflict, have taken pains to make sure that their forces do not accidentally collide. But the presence of the Russian contractors adds an element of unpredictability.


A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last week that a force aligned with Assad, backed with artillery, tanks, rockets and mortars, had on Feb. 7 attacked fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces near Deir al-Zor.

U.S. special forces were accompanying the SDF forces that came under attack, officials in Washington said.

The U.S.-led coalition in Syria retaliated, killing about 100 of the pro-Assad forces, according to the official.

Since the battle, associates of Russian military contractors have said Russians were part of the pro-Assad force involved in the battle, and among the casualties.

Shabayev, the Cossack leader, said casualties were so high because the force had no air cover, and because they were attacked not by poorly equipped rebels, their usual adversaries, but by a well-armed force that could launch air strikes.

“First of all the bombers attacked, and then they cleaned up using Apaches (U.S.-made attack helicopters),” Shabayev said, citing the wounded men he visited in hospital.

The source with ties to Wagner said they told him the force struck by the U.S.-led coalition was made up mainly of Russian contractors, with a few Syrians and Iranians in support roles.

He said that on Feb. 7 the force had advanced toward the settlement of Khusham, in Deir al-Zor province, into a zone designated as neutral under a deal between the Russian military and the U.S.-led coalition.

The aim was to test if the U.S.-led coalition would react. The force advanced to within less than 5 km (3 miles) of the SDF and American positions, he said.

He said that the U.S.-led forces, in line with procedure agreed with the Russians, warned Russian regular forces that they were preparing to strike. He does not know if the warning was passed on to the contractors.

“The warning was 20 minutes beforehand, in that time it was not feasible to turn the column around,” said the source.

He said once the strikes began, the contractors did not return fire because they believed that would provoke even more strikes from the U.S.-led coalition.

Additional reporting by Anton Zverev in MOSCOW; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood



Russian Mercenaries in Syria

U.S. forces killed scores of Russian mercenaries in Syria last week in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War, according to one U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter.

More than 200 contract soldiers, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base held by U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, two of the Russians said. The U.S. official put the death toll in the fighting at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured, but was unable to say how many were Russians.

The Russian assault may have been a rogue operation, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that started as a domestic crackdown only to morph into a proxy war involving Islamic extremists, stateless Kurds and regional powers Iran, Turkey and now Israel. Russia’s military said it had nothing to do with the attack and the U.S. accepted the claim. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the whole thing “perplexing,” but provided no further details.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment on reports of Russian casualties, saying the Kremlin only tracks data on the country’s armed forces. Putin talked with U.S. President Donald Trump by phone Monday, but the military action in Syria wasn’t discussed, he said.

“This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and lawmaker who’s now an independent political analyst. “But

UK blames Russia for cyber attack, says won’t tolerate disruption

February 15, 2018

No automatic alt text available.

FILE PHOTO: A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files Reuters


LONDON (Reuters) – Britain blamed Russia on Thursday for a cyber-attack last year, publicly pointing the finger at Moscow for spreading a virus which disrupted companies across Europe including UK-based Reckitt Benckiser.

The so-called NotPetya attack in June started in Ukraine where it crippled government and business computers before spreading around the world, halting operations at ports, factories and offices.

Britain’s foreign ministry said the attack originated from the Russian military.

“The decision to publicly attribute this incident underlines the fact that the UK and its allies will not tolerate malicious cyber activity,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The attack masqueraded as a criminal enterprise but its purpose was principally to disrupt,” it said.

“Primary targets were Ukrainian financial, energy and government sectors. Its indiscriminate design caused it to spread further, affecting other European and Russian business.”

Moscow has previously denied being behind the NotPetya attack.

Reckitt, a consumer goods maker, as well as Danish shipping company AP Moller-Maersk S/A, were amongst those affected with the total cost of the attack running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

British defense minister Gavin Williamson said the attack was part of a new era of warfare and Britain had to be ready to respond. “We must be primed and ready to tackle these stark and intensifying threats,” he said in a statement.

Britain has recently become more vocal about the threat posed by Russia at a time when some members of the ruling Conservative Party have expressed concern about the impact of cuts to defense spending.

Last November, Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media.

(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by William Schomberg)


UK Formally Accuses Russian Military of NotPetya Ransomware Outbreak

  • February 14, 2018
  • 07:55 PM
  • 3

NotPetya pre-boot ransom note

BREAKING— The UK has become the first major Western country to formally accuse the Russian military of orchestrating and launching the NotPetya ransomware outbreak.

“The UK Government judges that the Russian Government, specifically the Russian military, was responsible for the destructive NotPetya cyber-attack of June 2017,” said Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad in a statement published online a few minutes ago.

“The attack showed a continued disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty. Its reckless release disrupted organisations across Europe costing hundreds of millions of pounds,” Lord Ahmad added.

“The Kremlin has positioned Russia in direct opposition to the West yet it doesn’t have to be that way,” Lord Ahmad also said. “We call upon Russia to be the responsible member of the international community it claims to be rather then secretly trying to undermine it.”

GRU operatives most likely behind the attack

The UK Foreign Office Minister did not specifically point the finger at any specific entity of the Russian military, but a Washington Post article citing CIA sources published in mid-January pegged the Russian Military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (abbreviated GRU) as the one department that created NotPetya.

A report authored by the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service claims that the GRU military spy agency is also behind APT28, a cyber-espionage unit also known as Fancy Bear, responsible for hacks all over the world, including the infamous DNC hack.

Ukraine’s Secret Service (SBY) has not been shy about blaming Russia for the NotPetya ransomware incident, going public with their accusations just days after the incident.

On the other hand, US officials did not make any official comments in regards to NotPetya attribution.

UK: Russian military was “almost certainly” behind NotPetya

Lord Ahmad’s statement was also accompanied by a note from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre which said it “assesses that the Russian military was almost certainly responsible for the destructive NotPetya cyber-attack.”

The NotPetya ransomware outbreak took place on June 27, 2017, and targeted mainly Ukrainian companies through a tainted update of a local accounting software. Unfortunately, NotPetya infections spread to other businesses across the world due to shared and interconnected networks.

NotPetya was followed by the Bad Rabbit ransomware outbreak on October 24, though less damaging, believed to be a modified version of NotPetya, and which many also suspect Russia may have had a hand in.


Syria rebels hit by suspected chlorine gas attack

February 5, 2018
Rescue workers said 9 people affected by suffocation and choking but no deaths reported

Image may contain: fire and outdoor
Al-Qaeda backed rebels claimed they shot down a Russian Sukhoi SU-25 fighter jet in the Syrian province of Idlib © AFP

Erika Solomon in Beirut and Kathrin Hille in Moscow

Financial Times (FT)
A suspected chlorine gas attack hit Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib a day after an al-Qaeda offshoot claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian fighter jet.

Rescue workers known as the White Helmets said six civilians and three of their volunteers had been wounded, suffering suffocation and choking, but there were no reported deaths. The gas attack comes amid an increasingly vocal campaign against Syria’s use of chemical weapons by the US and other western powers.

The suspected chlorine strike hit the town of Saraqeb in northwestern Idlib, near the area where a Sukhoi SU 25 jet crash landed on Saturday evening in what may have been the first shooting down of a Russian warplane since Moscow intervened on President Bashar al-Assad’s behalf in 2015 — a move that turned the war, now in its seventh year, in Mr Assad’s favour.

Russia’s defence ministry said the warplane was shot down by a portable surface-to-air missile. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a former al-Qaeda affiliate, said it had shot down the jet with a shoulder-fired missile.

After helping Mr Assad gain the advantage in Syria, Moscow has been pushing for a diplomatic solution in the hope of disentangling itself before it becomes more deeply mired in the protracted, multi-sided civil war. The downing of the Russian jet underlines how difficult a challenge that may be.

“This is the least we can give to avenge our people, and for the criminal invaders to know that our skies are not a picnic where they can pass through without paying a price,” said Mahmoud Turkmani, an HTS leader, in a statement to the Ebaa news agency, seen as close to the group.

Earlier on Sunday there was an uneasy calm in Idlib hours after the Russian strike, and activists said in general the number of attacks had seemed to drop, in contrast to weeks of heavy bombardment.

The suspected gas attack, which took place late in the day, comes as use of chlorine in the fighting increases. Chlorine is not banned internationally because of its legal uses. But Washington said last week it believed Mr Assad’s forces were developing “new kinds of weapons” to deliver toxins.

Idlib was meant to be one of the four “de-escalation zones” brokered by Russia to try and draw down the war in Syria. Moscow has been struggling to make headway with diplomatic measures — or to curb its own ally, Mr Assad.

In recent weeks, and with eventual Russian backing, Idlib has been pummelled by air and artillery strikes as the regime seeks to advance in north-western Syria.

Moscow searches for political path out of Syrian morass
US raises heat on Syria over alleged use of chemical weapons
Erdogan vows to expand Syria offensive despite US warnings

One of the last rebel enclaves in the country, Idlib has been flooded with refugees fleeing the remaining pockets of fighting, its population swelling to about 3m people who are now trapped just south of the Turkish border and desperate to escape the violence. According to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, more than 270,000 people have fled towards Idlib in the past month.

The Russian Sukhoi pilot ejected from the aircraft but was later killed, activists from the area said. Videos from the area showed the charred wreckage of the plane and what appeared to be the bloodied body of the pilot.

Russia’s defence ministry said the pilot died “in a fight with terrorists” and Moscow would be taking all measures necessary to return the body.

Some Russian politicians accused the US of enabling fighters in Syria to attack the Russian military. “Just like this, without serious support and escort from outside the conflict area, [the missile] cannot get there,” said Franz Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament. “The Americans did that . . . and it will cost them dearly.”

The US was “trying to demonstrate that the war is not over, the Russians did not win”, he said. “The Russians did win. I think this is an American shot in Russia’s back.”


Moscow says UK defence minister worthy ‘of Monty Python’

January 26, 2018


© AFP/File | Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in an interview that Russia was spying on the UK’s critical infrastructure

MOSCOW (AFP) – Moscow on Friday said the British defence secretary had stepped beyond “the boundaries of reason” after he accused Russia of planning to create chaos in the UK that could “cause thousands and thousands of deaths”.Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson made the unusually alarmist comments in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, in which he also said Russia was spying on the UK’s critical infrastructure.

“The minister’s fear of Russia photographing electric power plants or studying the routes of British gas pipelines is like something out of a children’s comic or the show ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’,” said Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

The location of electric power plants and pipelines were as secret as “Westminster Abbey or Big Ben,” the spokesman said.

“If these statements are an attempt by Wilson to attract attention to himself, he will be far from the first defence minister to try to score political points by playing up the Russian threat to the British,” Konashenkov added in a written response which misnamed Williamson variously and throughout.

The strongly worded statement suggested Britain’s military staff be “recertified” by the medical board if they were giving Williamson such information.

The interview was more likely an attempt to boost the defence ministry’s budget, Konashenkov added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov had earlier declined to comment.

Williamson, who only became defence chief in November after his predecessor Michael Fallon resigned over allegations of misconduct, gave the interview at the outset of a new five-month defence review.

According to British reports, he is pressuring finance minister Philip Hammond to allocate more money to defence and scrap further cuts to Britain’s strained armed forces.


Russia ready to ‘kill thousands and thousands’ of Britons with crippling attack, Defence Secretary warns — Russia has been researching the UK’s critical national infrastructure

January 26, 2018

By Ben Farmer
The Telegraph
Defence correspondent

Russia could cause “thousands and thousands and thousands” of deaths in Britain with an attack which would cripple the UK’s infrastructure and energy supply, the Defence Secretary has warned.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Gavin Williamson says Moscow has been researching the UK’s critical national infrastructure and how it connects to continental power supplies with a view to creating “panic” and “chaos”.

Delivering his assessment of the threat from what he calls an increasingly assertive Kremlin, he said it was willing to take action “that any other nation would see as completely unacceptable”.

Mr Williamson, who is tipped as a possible future Tory leadership contender, gave his warning at the start of a new five-month-long defence review in which the Ministry of Defence is attempting to secure more money to stave off cuts to the Armed Forces.

The Chief of the General Staff this week…

Read the rest (Paywall):


Russia is ready to ‘kill thousands and thousands’ of British people

By Adam Payne

.Theresa May and PutinRussian President Vladimir Putin meets British PM Theresa May at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, in 2016.Reuters / Sputnik Photo Agency

  • Russia is spying on British infrastructure with an eye for “chaos,” “panic” and “killing thousands and thousands” of Brits, according to the UK defence secretary.
  • Gavin Williamson said Putin’s Russia is thinking “How can we hurt Britain?”
  • The Kremlin is actively looking at Britain’s key gas and electricity supplies, Williamson added.
  • The head of the army has warned Theresa May that the military does not have enough money to compete with Russia.


LONDON — Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has warned that Russia is prepared to “kill thousands and thousands” of Brits through devastating attacks on UK infrastructure.

In an interview with The Telegraph, the MP for South Staffordshire accused Moscow of researching the UK’s critical infrastructure, including gas and electric supplies, with an eye for creating “panic” and “chaos” for millions of Brits.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is willing to take action against other nations that “any other nation would see as completely unacceptable,” Williamson claimed.

“The plan for the Russians won’t be for landing craft to appear in the South Bay in Scarborough, and off Brighton Beach,” said Williamson, who Theresa May appointed defence secretary in November.

“What they are looking at doing is they are going to be thinking ‘How can we just cause so much pain to Britain?” “Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country.”

The Kremlin is spying on Britain’s key infrastructure and thinking “How can we hurt Britain?” he added.

Williamson referred to undersea interconnectors — one for electricity and three for gas — provide for around three million British homes. This number is set to rise to eight million in the near future, The Telegraph adds.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing

Britain’s defence secretary Gavin Williamson (R) arrives at the Ministry of Defence. Darren Staples/Reuters

“Why would they keep photographing and looking at power stations, why are they looking at the interconnectors that bring so much electricity and so much energy into our country,” Williamson added.

“They are looking at these things because they are saying these are the ways that we can hurt Britain.

“If we lost our interconnectors, which would be something that we know that they are looking at, there would be three million homes without electricity. In a few years time there will be eight million homes that would be dependent.

“If you could imagine the domestic and industrial chaos that this would actually cause. What they would do is cause the chaos and then step back.

“This is the real threat that I believe the country is facing at the moment.”

May told to give British military more money

Williamson’s warning comes in the same week that army head, General Nick Carter, warned Prime Minister May that the British military needed more funding to compete with Russia in all forms of warfare.

Image result for General Nick Carter,, Photos

General Nick Carter

“Our ability to pre-empt or respond to threats will be eroded if we don’t keep up with our adversaries,” Carter said in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) think-tank in London.

“We must take notice of what is going on around us or our ability to take action will be massively constrained. Speed of decision-making, speed of deployment and modern capability are essential if we wish to provide realistic deterrence.”

He’ll add: “The time to address these threats is now — we cannot afford to sit back.”

Seeking New Strategic Weapon, Hamas Is Turning Gaza Into a Laboratory for Future Drone Warfare

January 24, 2018

It was a matter of time before these cheap unmanned aircraft would be utilized by armed groups that don’t have the financial resources of a state

.A view of a drone allegedly used during recent attack on Russia's bases in Syria, at a briefing in the Russian Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow on January 11, 2018.
A view of a drone allegedly used during recent attack on Russia’s bases in Syria, at a briefing in the Russian Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow on January 11, 2018.KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP

Israeli intelligence believes that Hamas is focusing on greatly improving its drone capabilities in the Gaza Strip, in light of Israel’s success in intercepting rockets and destroying, cross-border tunnels. Rebels and terror organizations in the region are increasingly using attack drones, as was apparently the case earlier this month in an assault on Russia’s airbase in Syria.

The use of drones by such Middle Eastern organizations is not new, of course. Hezbollah launched three Iranian-made Ababil reconnaissance drones into Israeli territory in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, all of which were shot down by Israel Air Force fighter jets. Hamas has also a number of Ababils, which have been spotted over Gaza, but these drones are mainly used for surveillance and have been easily located, tracked and intercepted. In the decade since the Ababil reached Hezbollah and Hamas, the entire drone industry has changed, opening up new possibilities for changing the battlefield.

.A frame grab from a video released on July 14, 2014, by Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, allegedly shows the "Ababil" drone.

A frame grab from a video released on July 14, 2014, by Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, allegedly shows the “Ababil” drone. AFP PHOTO/HO/EZZEDINE AL-QASSAM BRIGADES

Driven by commercial demand, the mass production of small and increasingly capable drones and quadcopters has made these unmanned aircraft cheap and accessible. It was a matter of time before they would be utilized by resourceful armed organizations that don’t have the financial resources of a state.

A number of the groups fighting in the Syrian civil war have produced footage shot by cameras on drones. Hezbollah even disseminated a video claiming to show a bomb being dropped by one of its drones on rebel positions, although the image may have been photoshopped.

The attack that took place three weeks ago on Russia’s Khmeimim airbase on Syria’s Mediterranean coast seems to have been much more ambitious.

skip – Hezbollah using combat drones against ISIL in Syria

Hezbollah using combat drones against ISIL in Syria – דלג

Hezbollah using combat drones against ISIL in Syria

There are different versions of what happened there. The Russian military originally denied there had been an attack, but then acknowledged it had taken place. There may have been more than one attack and according to some reports, soldiers were killed and aircraft damaged. What does seem to have happened was that a “swarm” of drones – between 10 and 12 – were launched on a “suicide” mission from a point that was over 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) east of the base. The drones, which were filled with explosives and guided by GPS, were either programmed, or controlled from afar, to impact on the base’s runway.

Palestinian Hamas masked gunmen shows what they claim a locally-made drone during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Hamas militant group, in Gaza City, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinian Hamas masked gunmen shows what they claim a locally-made drone during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Hamas militant group, in Gaza City, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014.AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

Russia claims to have intercepted and shot down seven of them with anti-aircraft missiles; other reports say the drones got through and caused extensive damage. Either way, this seems to have been the most complex drone strike ever undertaken by a non-state actor. It was likely carried out by Harakat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS – an Islamist rebel group aligned with Al-Qaida.

The drones themselves, at least those presented by the Russian military to the media, are not particularly sophisticated, and wouldn’t have cost more than a few thousand dollars, probably less. However, the way they have been upgraded and used in this operation is unprecedented.

“Hamas are working on similar things now in Gaza,” said a senior Israeli officer last week. Development of its drone wing makes sense for Hamas, as its previous investments in building a large rocket arsenal in the Strip and in creating a network of cross-border tunnels to attack Israeli targets have been rendered near-obsolete.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has achieved an interception rate of over 90 percent, and newly installed underground sensors have detected tunnels, which have been promptly destroyed. Hamas is now investing in new attack options, acquiring and upgrading drones and training frogmen.

In recent years, during military parades in Gaza, Hamas has showcased some of its drones, but following the assassination in Tunisia in December 2016 of Mohammed Zawahri, an engineer believed to have been developing drones for the Islamist organization, it has lowered the profile on its drone project.

Hamas has accused Israel of being responsible for Zawahri’s death. Six months ago, Al Jazeera claimed that Hamas had received 30 drones that were manufactured by Zawahri’s team, with Iranian guidance. But the most recent reports from Syria demonstrate that an organization like Hamas doesn’t necessarily need a state to supply it with ready-made drones or knowhow.

The drone threat on the Gaza border is not new. For a couple of years now, Israel Defense Forces officers stationed there have reported a major increase of small quadcopters hovering over them. Meanwhile, a number of armies and defense industries around the world are developing anti-drone systems, utilizing everything from shotguns, nets, sniper-rifles, radio signal jammers and electronic warfare systems to commandeer the drones and land them safely. Senior defense sources have said that Israel is working on a variety of countermeasures, but no details have been disclosed.