Posts Tagged ‘Russian Troops’

Russian-Tajik military drills target militant infiltrators

July 21, 2018

The Afghan government on Friday welcomed the launch of a joint military exercise by Russia and Tajikistan near Afghanistan’s mountainous border region as part of a move to combat militant infiltration into central Asia.

The drills come amid a worsening security in northern Afghan provinces following attacks by extremists, including Daesh.


The Russian-Tajikistan drills involve about 700 Tajik reservists and 400 Russian troops. (AFP)

Meanwhile, protests against the administration of President Ashraf Ghani have intensified in the region with demonstrators closing down three border crossings, election offices and several government institutions.

According to media reports, the Russian-Tajikistan drills involve about 700 Tajik reservists and 400 Russian troops, and are centered on Afghanistan’s rugged Badakhshan province, a strategic region which lies near Tajikistan, China and Pakistan.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said the Afghan government was notified before the launch of the drills, the first major military activity since the drastic reduction of US-led foreign troop numbers in Afghanistan in late 2014.


Image result for Russian military base in Tajikistan, map

“We see this as a good omen,” said Radmanesh. “We hope other countries in the region will do the same. It will be good for peace in the region and help regional stakeholders as well as Afghanistan, which lies on the front line in the war against terrorism,” he told Arab News.

Ahmad Faisal Begzad, governor of Badakhshan, denied the security situation in the province was bad enough for Taliban and Daesh militants to pose a threat to neighboring countries.

“There are problems — two districts are with the enemy (militants), while the situation in the two other districts is also not good. But, in general, the militants cannot pose any threat to countries in the region,” he told Arab News.

Badakhshan and other northern provinces are also key corridors for drug smuggling to central Asia, as well as Russia and Europe.

Attacks by militants and drug dealers have claimed the lives of a number of Afghan troops stationed along the border with central Asia in recent years. The resurgent Taliban have said they have no interest in threatening any country in the region.

Russia has kept bases and troops in the central Asian region for decades.

Najib Mahmoud, a political science professor, said central Asia and Moscow are worried by the rise in militant attacks and deepening political problems in northern Afghanistan.

“Military maneuvers is a common issue. Russian troops along the borders are worried about the political fragility in Afghanistan and military developments,” Mahmoud told Arab News.

“A potential spillover (of terror) may encourage a sense of nationalism and militancy in central Asia, which will affect Russia’s security in the long run,” he said.

Tajikistan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance established in 1992. Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan is its largest military facility abroad, which Moscow intends keeping until 2042, through a bilateral agreement.

The joint military exercise kicked off in the Pamir Mountains, near the Tajik-Afghanistan border, on Tuesday and will end on Saturday.

Arab News


Russia is thinking about taking over Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan


Russian military base in Tajikistan an important element of stability in the Central Asian region

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Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s son ‘killed in Syria’

July 4, 2018

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s young son reportedly killed while fighting Syrian and Russian troops in central Homs province.

Baghdadi (pictured) rose to prominence when he declared Iraqi territories occupied by ISIL in 2014 [AP]
Baghdadi (pictured) rose to prominence when he declared Iraqi territories occupied by ISIL in 2014 [AP]

ISIL media outlets are reporting that the son of the group’s leader has been killed in Syria while fighting against government forces.

The announcement of the death of the young son of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared on the group’s social media accounts late on Tuesday.

It included a picture of a young boy carrying a rifle, identifying him as Huthaifa al-Badri.

The statement did not specify when he was killed. It said he was an elite fighter who was killed while fighting Syrian and Russia troops at a power station in central Homs province.

Al-Baghdadi has been reported killed or wounded on a number of occasions but is widely believed to still be alive.

Little is known about his family, but a woman and a child who were said to be his wife and daughter were detained in Lebanon in 2014.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group has been driven from nearly all the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, though it still maintains a presence in the Syrian desert and remote areas along the border.


Nato chief: world is at its most dangerous point in a generation

September 9, 2017

Jens Stoltenberg warns of converging threats as Russia mobilises estimated 100,000 troops on EU’s borders

By  in Tapa
The Guardian

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Secretary general Jens Stoltenberg visits Nato battle group soldiers at Tapa military base in Estonia. Photograph: Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images

The world is more dangerous today than it has been in a generation, the head of Nato has said, days before the mobilisation of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops on the EU’s eastern borders, and as a nuclear crisis grows on the Korean peninsula.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the military alliance, said the sheer number of converging threats was making the world increasingly perilous.

Asked in a Guardian interview whether he had known a more dangerous time in his 30-year career, Stoltenberg said: “It is more unpredictable, and it’s more difficult because we have so many challenges at the same time.

“We have proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, we have terrorists, instability, and we have a more assertive Russia,” Stoltenberg said during a break from visiting British troops stationed in Estonia. “It is a more dangerous world.”

From next Thursday, over six days, Russian and Belarusian troops will take part in what is likely to be Moscow’s largest military exercise since the cold war. An estimated 100,000 soldiers, security personnel and civilian officials, will be active around the Baltic Sea, western Russia, Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, without the supervision required under international agreement.

On the other side of the world, in the face of local protests, the South Korean government has deployed the controversial US Thaad missile defence system as it looked to counter potential future attacks from North Korea, which recently launched a ballistic missile over Japan, threatened the US Pacific territory of Guam and tested a possible thermonuclear device.

Donald Trump has threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on the North Koreans should further threats be made against the US, and kept up the threat on Thursday, saying he is building up US military power.

“It’s been tens of billions of dollars more in investment. And each day new equipment is delivered – new and beautiful equipment, the best in the world, the best anywhere in the world, by far,” Trump said. “Hopefully we’re not going to have to use it on North Korea. If we do use it on North Korea, it will be a very sad day for North Korea.”

Trump has ruled out talks with Pyongyang for the time being and Washington’s diplomatic focus is now on efforts to secure agreement at the United Nations for much tighter economic measures, including an oil embargo and possibly a naval blockade.

A South Korean marine participating in an exercise this week.
 A South Korean marine participating in an exercise this week. Photograph: Handout/South Korean Defense Ministry vi

Speaking during his visit to the Estonian military base in Tapa, a former Soviet Union airstrip about 75 miles (120km) from the border with Russia, Stoltenberg was coy when asked if he backed the US president’s bellicose threats to Pyongyang, blamed by some for exacerbating the current situation in south-east Asia.

“If I started to speculate about potential military options I would only add to the uncertainty and difficulty of the situation so I think my task is not to be contribute to that. I will support efforts to find a political, negotiated solution,” he said.

Pushed on whether he could even envision a military solution to the crisis in Korea, Stoltenberg said: “I think the important thing now is to look into how we can create a situation where we can find a political solution to the crisis.

“At the same time I fully understand and support the military message that has been implemented in the region by South Korea and to some extent Japan, as they have the right to defend themselves. They have a right to respond when they see these very aggressive actions. I also support the presence of US troops and capabilities in Korea.”

Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister whose 10 years in power were marked for his success in improving Norway’s environmental footprint, took over the role of Nato secretary general in 2014, forming a close working relationship with Barack Obama.

Soon after Trump’s election last year, however, in response to suggestions that the White House might back away from Nato, Stoltenberg made a pointed intervention highlighting the lives lost by the alliance’s members coming to the aid of the US after the 9/11 attacks. Trump had described Nato as obsolete during his election campaign.

In May, Stoltenberg took on the role of placater-in-chief after the US president used the occasion of the opening of Nato’s new building in Brussels, and the unveiling of a memorial to 9/11, to castigate 23 of the 29 Nato members for not spending enough on defence. A number of leaders were visibly startled by the nature and timing of the speech.

Asked this week whether Trump was the ideal person to unpick the current fraught security situation, Stoltenberg insisted the 29 Nato members were united within the alliance. “Donald Trump is the elected president of the United States,” he said. “And Nato is a collective alliance of 29 democracies. And that’s part of democracy, that different political leaders are elected.”

Donald Trump after pushing the Montenegrin prime minister, Dusko Markovic, aside as they walked through the Nato headquarters in Brussels in May.
 Donald Trump at the Nato headquarters in Brussels in May. He had just shoved the Montenegrin prime minister aside. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

He said he did not believe there was an imminent threat to Nato members, and that an increase in defence spending had strengthened the alliance in recent years.

Stoltenberg has completed a tour of the four battle groups stationed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, forming the Nato advanced forces defending the eastern borders.

Stoltenberg said the troops’ “defensive” mobilisation was a message to Russia that an attack on one Nato ally was an attack on all, and that he remained confident of the security of eastern Europe. But he expressed concern at Moscow’s imminent failure to live up to its international obligations for exercises involving more than 13,000 troops to be open to observers, including overflights. Some Baltic states estimate that about 100,000 Russian troops will be involved in this year’s exercise and Poland claims the Kremlin has requisitioned more than 4,000 train carriages to move military personnel west.

“Russia has said it is below 13,000. They briefed that on the Nato-Russia council a few weeks ago,” Stoltenberg said. “That was useful but at the same time we have seen when Russia says that an exercise has less than 13,000 troops that’s not always the case. We have seen that in Zapad 2009 and 2013 – the two previous Zapad exercises. There were many more troops participating.”

Stoltenberg said Nato had always offered up its exercises to scrutiny, “while Russia has not opened any exercise to open observation since the end of the cold war”.


Germany disputes size of Russian wargames, predicts 100,000 troops

September 8, 2017

TALLINN (Reuters) – Germany said on Thursday that Russia was planning to send more than 100,000 troops to war games on NATO’s eastern flank this month, disputing Moscow’s version that only 13,000 Russian and Belarussian servicemen would participate.

The Sept. 14-20 exercises known as Zapad, or “West” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are stirring unease in NATO despite Moscow’s assurances troops would rehearse a purely defensive scenario.

“It is undisputed that we are seeing a demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians,” German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters at an EU defense ministers’ meeting in Tallinn.

“Anyone who doubts that only has to look at the high numbers of participating forces in the Zapad exercise: more than one hundred thousand,” she said in a joint news conference with her French counterpart Florence Parly.

(For a graphic on Russia’s Zapad war games click

 Image result for Russian tanks
Russian tanks — FILE photo

While Baltic nations have voiced concerns about a bigger-than-reported exercise and while NATO’s secretary-general expects more than 13,000 troops, Von der Leyen’s remarks are the first time a top Western politician has called out Russia publicly on what NATO sees as the true size of the war games.

Such numbers would be legal under international treaties on war games, but would require inviting international observers.

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With less than 13,000 troops, international observation of the drills is not mandatory, Russia says.

In a sign of efforts to contain tensions, NATO general Petr Pavel held his first face-to face meeting in more than two years with Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, in Azerbaijan on Thursday, the alliance said.

NATO said in a statement the meeting showed “a clear mutual interest to maintain the military lines of communication.”


An exercise on that scale is one of NATO’s most pressing concerns. France, for one, believes the war games are no simple military drill, even though Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told Western military attaches in Moscow in August the West had nothing to fear.

Russia accuses NATO of building up forces on its frontiers in a manner reminiscent of the Cold War. But NATO says it is protecting the interests of member states bordering Russia who are troubled by Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and links to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Previous large-scale exercises in 2013 employed special forces training, longer-range missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that were later used in the Crimea annexation and in actions in eastern Ukraine and Syria, NATO diplomats said.

“Russia has a global strategy of a visible, deliberate demonstration of force,” Parly said before heading to meet French troops in Estonia as part of NATO’s deployment of deterrent forces in the Baltics and Poland.

“They have a strategy of intimidation,” Parly said, warning that any attack on a Baltic country or Poland by Russia would be considered an attack on all of the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Andrew Heavens

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Russian Minister Criticizes Moldova’s Call for Russian Troops To Go Back To Russia

September 2, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania — Russia’s foreign minister has criticized a move by Moldova to call for the removal of Russian troops from a pro-Russia separatist region at an upcoming U.N. meeting.

Moldova’s Radio Chisinau on Saturday cited Sergey Lavrov as saying the move was “inspired from abroad,” an apparent reference to the U.S. and the European Union. Lavrov said it could destabilize the region.

Russia has 1,000 troops and 500 peacekeepers stationed in Trans-Dniester, which broke away from Moldova in 1990, fearing reunification with neighboring Romania. About 1,500 people died in a 1992 civil war there.

Moldova’s ambassador to the U.N., Victor Moraru, recently asked the U.N. to discuss Russian troop withdrawal from Trans-Dniester on the sidelines of the Sept. 12 General Assembly in New York, something Russia opposes.

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Moldova’s Ambassador to the U.N. Victor Moraru presents his credentials to the Secretary General

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Moldova is snuggled between Ukraine and Romania — and Russia looks on….

NATO chief to visit Poland as Russian war games loom

August 22, 2017


© AFP / by Mary SIBIERSKI | Up to 100,000 Russian troops ware expected to be involved in the military exercises in Belarus
WARSAW (AFP) – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will visit a US-led NATO battalion in Poland on Friday amid concern on the alliance’s eastern flank over a huge Russian military exercise in neighbouring Belarus next month.Stoltenberg will hold talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on Thursday before travelling to the NATO base in the northern village of Orzysz, Tomasz Szatkowski, Poland’s deputy defence minister, told local media on Tuesday.

The multinational battalion in Orzysz is one of four deployed by NATO this spring to Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, aimed at reassuring its easternmost allies unsettled by Russia’s frequent military exercises near the region in the wake of its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Speaking in Washington this month, Stoltenberg said it was “correct to say that NATO’s relationship with Russia is more difficult than it has been any time since the end of the Cold War.”

General Ben Hodges, commander of US ground forces in Europe, said last week that “Poland has become for the United States Army the centre of gravity for everything that we’re doing in terms of deterrence” regarding Russia.

The Orzysz base lies about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave and a stone’s throw from the Suwalki Gap, a strategically important land corridor critical to the security of the Baltic states.

The gap, a 65-kilometre stretch of border with Lithuania, is sandwiched between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus.

Military strategists say it is the Achilles’ heel of NATO’s eastern flank since its capture would amputate the alliance’s three Baltic members and so shatter its credibility.

– ‘Serious doubts’ –

Formerly Soviet-ruled Baltic states worry that after Ukraine, they may be next to face pressure from the Kremlin, which is why they are casting a wary eye on September’s “Zapad 2017” (West 2017) Russian military drills in Belarus, which borders Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis warned in June that Moscow might use the manoeuvres as cover for an aggressive troop buildup on NATO’s eastern flank.

“Putin would like to test NATO… and probably the best area for him to test is the Baltics,” Karoblis told AFP.

He said his government estimated that 100,000 Russian troops would be involved in the exercises, while official Russian figures quoted in Polish media reports peg the number of troops at 12,700.

Moscow has invited representatives of all three Baltic states to observe the drills.

Michal Dworczyk, a senior Polish defence ministry official, said this week that Poles could feel “absolutely safe” despite “serious doubts” about whether Russia would withdraw all its forces from Belarus after the drills are over.

Stoltenberg said in July that Russian officials had given the alliance troop figures for the Zapad war games but he declined to make them public, saying it was up to Moscow to do so.

He added that the alliance had held “frank” talks with Moscow on how to avoid dangerous misunderstandings over issues such as exercises.

Aside from leading the NATO force in Orzysz, the US Army set up a new European headquarters in Poland in May to command some 6,000 of its troops deployed in NATO and Pentagon operations across the alliance’s eastern flank since the beginning of the year.


Putin sends troops to Russia’s border with North Korea

April 20, 2017
Chilling: An enormous missile drives past troops during the Day of the Sun military parade on Saturday

Chilling: An enormous missile drives past troops during the Day of the Sun military parade on Saturday

  • The Russian President has sent troops and equipment to his North Korea border
  • Footage shows trains carrying tanks to 11-mile frontier in Russia’s south east
  • Comes after China sent 150,000 troops to its own frontier with North Korea
  • There are fears of a mass exodus of North Korean refugees if war breaks out

Vladimir Putin is sending troops and equipment to Russia‘s border with North Korea over fears the US is preparing to attack Kim Jong-un.

The Russian President fears there will be a huge exodus of North Korean refugees if his American counterpart, Donald Trump, launches military action against Pyongyang.

It comes days after it emerged that China is also sending 150,000 soldiers to its southern frontier to cope with the tidal wave of North Koreans Beijing fears would flee across the border if war breaks out.

This morning, footage emerged appearing to show how Putin is reinforcing his 11-mile border with North Korea by relocating troops and equipment.  

Reinforcements: Vladimir Putin is sending troops and equipment to Russia's border with North Korea over fears the US is preparing to attack Kim Jong-un. Footage shows a train carrying Russian tanks to the border in the country's far south east

Reinforcements: Vladimir Putin is sending troops and equipment to Russia’s border with North Korea over fears the US is preparing to attack Kim Jong-un. Footage shows a train carrying Russian tanks to the border in the country’s far south east

Vladimir Putin is reinforcing his border with North Korea by relocating troops and equipment
Vladimir Putin is reinforcing his border with North Korea by relocating troops and equipment

Vladimir Putin is reinforcing his border with North Korea by relocating troops and equipment, including helicopters (left) and tanks (right)

Russia is sending troops to its tiny border with North Korea while China is also understood to have sent 150,000 soldiers to its southern frontier amid fears of a refugee crisis in the event of war

Russia is sending troops to its tiny border with North Korea while China is also understood to have sent 150,000 soldiers to its southern frontier amid fears of a refugee crisis in the event of war

A video purports to show one of three trains loaded with military equipment moving towards the 11 mile-long land frontier between Russia and the repressive state.

Another evidently highlights military helicopter movements towards the North Korean border and manoeuvres across rough terrain by army combat vehicles.

Other reports suggest there have been military moves by road as well.

There have been concerns that if a conflict breaks out Russia could face a humanitarian exodus from North Korea.

But Putin has been warned, too, that in the event of a US strike on Kim Jong-un’s nuclear facilities, contamination could swiftly reach Russia.

‘Railway trains loaded with military equipment moving towards Primorsky region via Khabarovsk have been noticed by locals,’ reported in the Russian far East – linking the development to the North Korean crisis.

‘The movement of military equipment by different means of transport to southern areas is being observed across Primorsky region over the past week,’ said military veteran Stanislva Sinitsyn.

Putin (pictured) has reportedly been warned that in the event of a US strike on Kim Jong-un's nuclear facilities, contamination could swiftly reach Russia

Putin (pictured) has reportedly been warned that in the event of a US strike on Kim Jong-un’s nuclear facilities, contamination could swiftly reach Russia

Another clip highlights military helicopter movements towards the North Korean border and manoeuvres across rough terrain by army combat vehicles

Another clip highlights military helicopter movements towards the North Korean border and manoeuvres across rough terrain by army combat vehicles

The movements of troops and equipment have been described as 'a preventive but necessary' measure.

The movements of troops and equipment have been described as ‘a preventive but necessary’ measure.

‘Many relate this to the situation in the Korean peninsula.

‘The video shows artillery systems that either support troops in assault or meet the aggressor.’

He said: ‘The movement of military equipment means that authorities of our country are keeping up with the situation – and take appropriate measures.’

The movements were ‘a preventive but necessary’ measure.

‘If the situation worsens, especially related to military events, the armed forces of all the neighbouring countries obviously monitor it more closely, and we are no exception.

‘It is not the first time that North Korea has broken the peace in the region, that’s why this situation deserves attention.’

Russian military spokesman Alexander Gordeyev declined to give the exact reasons for the troop and equipment movements but said exercises had recently ended in the TransBaikal region of Siberia.

Kim Jong-un has threatened the US with a 'super-mighty preemptive strike' and warned America: 'Don't mess with us'

Kim Jong-un has threatened the US with a ‘super-mighty preemptive strike’ and warned America: ‘Don’t mess with us’

Thousands of goose-stepping troops paraded through Pyongyang in a show of strength on Saturday

Thousands of goose-stepping troops paraded through Pyongyang in a show of strength on Saturday

However, a number of local sources appear to believe the movements are linked to the Korean crisis.

The naval port of Vladivostok – where Russia has huge military forces – is less than 100 miles from North Korea.

Expert on the repressive state, Konstantin Asmolov, said: ‘Should the US strike with missiles at North Korea’s nuclear facilities, a radioactive cloud will reach Vladivostok within two hours.’

Asmolov, from the Russian Far Eastern Institute, warned that in the event of full-scale war ‘hungry asylum seekers will flood into Russia.’

Russia on Wednesday blocked UN Security Council condemnation of Pyongyang’s latest missile test – even though China, which has a major frontier with North Korea had backed the strongly-worded statement put forward by the United States.

The proposed statement would have demanded that North Korea ‘conduct no further nuclear tests’ and halt missile launches .

Pyongyang carried out a failed test on Sunday.

Russia wanted to include language contained in a previous statement stressing the need to achieve a solution through dialogue, according to council diplomats.

Moscow’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said: ‘Unfortunately, we have to admit that the risk of a serious conflict in this region has substantially increased.’

He called for a ‘demonstration of responsibility’ from all sides to avoid escalation.

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Syria: U.S.-Russia Cease-Fire Holding Since Monday But No Humanitarian Aid Delivered Amid Finger Pointing, Bickering, Hiccups

September 16, 2016

Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia this month in Geneva. Credit Kevin Lamarque for Reuters

The Associated Press
Friday, September 16, 2016
7:03 A.M. E.D.T.

BEIRUT — The Latest on developments in Syria, where a cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia has been holding since coming into effect earlier this week (all times local):

2:10 p.m.

One of the most powerful opposition groups in the northern province of Aleppo has denied that government forces withdrew from a main road leading into rebel-held parts of Syria’s largest city.

Nour el-Din el-Zinki group says in statement Friday that their observation posts in the area are confirming that government forces are still on the Castello road.

It accuses the government of not giving permission for the U.N. to deliver trucks of aid to besieged eastern neighborhoods in Aleppo


2:05 p.m.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia is using its influence on the Syrian government to make sure the ongoing cease-fire holds and wants the United States to do the same with regards to opposition groups.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that Russia “is still using its influence” to make sure the agreement, hammered out between Russia and the U.S., stands. He says that Moscow hopes that “our American counterparts will do the same.”

Russia is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Peskov says Russia believes that “progress is happening although with certain hiccups.”


2:00 p.m.

United Nations officials say they are awaiting word from Russia and Syrian combatants on both sides that security and monitoring are in place to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid into rebel-held parts of the city of Aleppo.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says “it is my understanding” that U.N. officials are waiting for assurances that conditions are safe enough for two convoys of 20 trucks each to proceed from Turkey to eastern Aleppo.

Speaking to reporters Friday in Geneva, Laerke said the trucks are in a “special customs zone” on the Turkish border.

He clarifies that the U.N. does not require authorization from Syria’s government for cross-border aid deliveries.

Jan Egeland, a top U.N. coordinator of aid for Syria, says in a text message that the U.N. is waiting for assurances on “monitoring arrangements.”


12:15 p.m.

Opposition activists and state media are reporting clashes between troops and insurgents as well as shelling in two neighborhoods of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Syrian state news agency SANA says insurgents shelled government-held areas in the eastern neighborhood of Qaboun, wounding three people.

SANA says the shelling violates the cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia that went into effect Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Friday’s fighting is concentrated in the neighborhood of Jobar, next to Qaboun.

Mazen al-Shami, an opposition activist near Damascus, says government forces tried to storm Jobar but were repelled by opposition fighters.

He says al-Qaida and Islamic State group fighters, who are excluded from the cease-fire, are not present in the area.


11:30 a.m.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister says the future of President Bashar Assad is an internal Syrian issue and the U.S.-Russia Syria agreement does not deal with it.

Assad has been accused of war crimes in the Syrian civil war and his opponents inside and outside the country have insisted that his departure is a prerequisite for a peace settlement.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in an interview with the RIA Novosti news agency on Friday that Assad’s future is “purely Syrian business” and that the cease-fire deal that the United States and Russia signed last week did not discuss Assad’s future in any way


11:00 a.m.

A Syrian activist says Russian troops have deployed along a main road leading into besieged rebel-held neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo ahead of the possible arrival of aid convoys.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Syrian government forces that were stationed there have been replaced by Russian troops. He says aid is expected to enter rebel-held Aleppo later Friday.

Aleppo-based activist Bahaa al-Halaby denies that government troops withdrew from Castello road.

Aid deliveries are part of a U.S.-Russia deal that imposed a cease-fire, which started Monday.

Russia’s military announced Thursday evening that Syrian government forces had begun withdrawing from Castello road but did not confirm if Russian troops would be stationed there. The Pentagon said it had no indication of a withdrawal.



Syria Is Delaying Aid Deliveries in Violation of Cease-Fire, U.N. Says

GENEVA — The government of President Bashar al-Assad is holding up deliveries of aid in violation of the deal struck last week by Russia and the United States, the United Nations mediator for Syria said on Thursday.

The mediator, Staffan de Mistura, told journalists in Geneva that the cessation of hostilities agreement that took effect on Monday after several weeks of negotiations was largely holding.

He said, however, that the delivery of humanitarian aid that was part of the agreement reached by Russia and the United States had not taken place because Mr. Assad’s government had not issued the authorization letters that aid convoys needed to pass through checkpoints.


Syria: “Uneasy Truce” Holding But Humanitarian Aid Not Headed Into Aleppo Due to Syrian Government, Rebel Delays

September 16, 2016



Civil defense members rest amid rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
By Tom Perry and Tom Miles | BEIRUT/GENEVA

Russia said the Syrian army had begun to withdraw from a road into Aleppo on Thursday, a prerequisite for pressing ahead with international peacemaking efforts as the government and rebels accused each other of violating a truce.

An organization that monitors the war also said the Syrian army had begun moving away, but insurgent groups in Aleppo said they had not seen the army withdrawing from the Castello Road, needed to allow aid deliveries into the city, and would not pull back from their own positions near the road until they did.

The Pentagon said it could not confirm reports of a withdrawal but U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the ceasefire was holding “by and large”, adding both Washington and Moscow believed it was worth continuing.

But there were growing accusations of violations by each side, with a Syrian military source saying the rebels were responsible for dozens of breaches including gun, rocket and mortar fire in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Latakia. The rebels said Syrian army jets had struck in Hama and Idlib, and used artillery near Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said it had documented attacks by both sides, and that despite widespread calm between rebels and the army, the first civilians had been killed since the truce began on Monday.

Two civilians killed on Thursday were children in government-held areas, one in Aleppo and the other in Syria’s southwest, it said. In addition, air strikes against Islamic State militants in the town of al-Mayadin near Deir al-Zor had killed at least 23 civilians, it said.

Control of the Castello Road is divided between the government and rebels who have been battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad for more than five years. It has been a major frontline in the war.

“The Syrian army … began the staged withdrawal of vehicles and personnel from the Castello Road to ensure the unimpeded delivery of aid to eastern Aleppo,” said Lieutenant-General Vladimir Savchenko, head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre in Syria in remarks broadcast on state television.

The Observatory said the army had started to withdraw from positions on the road, but that Russian troops, whose air force has helped Damascus blockade rebel-held Aleppo, had replaced it.

An official in an Aleppo-based Syrian rebel group said late on Thursday the army had not pulled back. “There is no withdrawal by the regime from the Castello Road,” Zakaria Malahifji, of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim, told Reuters.


The U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said the United States and Russia were expected to manage the disengagement of forces from the road, but criticized Damascus for failing to provide permits needed to make aid deliveries to other areas.

A civil defence member carries a dead child in a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

The U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said both the rebels and the government were responsible for delaying aid deliveries into Aleppo.

“The reason we’re not in eastern Aleppo has again been a combination of very difficult and detailed discussions around security monitoring and passage of roadblocks, which is both opposition and government,” he said.

In other areas, de Mistura was categorical about blaming the Syrian government, saying it had not yet provided the proper permits. The Syrian government has said all aid deliveries must be conducted in coordination with it.

France, which backs the opposition, became the first U.S. ally to publicly question the deal with Moscow, urging Washington to share details of the agreement and saying without aid for Aleppo, it was not credible.

About 300,000 people are thought to be living in eastern Aleppo, while more than one million live in the government-controlled western half of the city.

Two convoys of aid for Aleppo have been waiting in no-man’s land to proceed to Aleppo after crossing the Turkish border.

If a green light was given, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the first 20 trucks would move to Aleppo and if they reached the city safely, the second convoy would then leave. The two convoys were carrying enough food for 80,000 people for a month, he said.

The United States and Russia have backed opposing sides in the Syrian war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, forced 11 million from their homes, and created the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War 2.

Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the war, has been a focal point of the conflict this year. Government forces backed by militias from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon have recently achieved their long-held objective of encircling the rebel-held east.


Russia’s intervention a year ago in support of Assad has given it critical leverage over the diplomatic process.

Its ally, Assad, appears as uncompromising as ever. He vowed again on Monday to win back the entire country, which has been splintered into areas controlled by the state, an array of rebel factions, the Islamic State group, and the Kurdish YPG militia.

Washington hopes the pact will pave the way to a resumption of political talks. But a similar agreement unraveled earlier this year, and this one also faces enormous challenges.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Gannady Gatilov said talks could resume at the end of September, but this was rejected by George Sabra, an opposition negotiator, who said conditions on the ground were not yet good enough.

The United States and Russia are due to start coordinating military strikes against Islamic State and a group formerly known as the Nusra Front if all goes to plan under the deal.

But Russia said on Thursday the United States was using “a verbal smokescreen” to hide its reluctance to fulfill its part of the agreement, including separating what it called moderate opposition units from terrorist groups.

The defense ministry said only government forces were observing the truce and opposition units “controlled by the U.S.” had stepped up shelling of civilian residential areas.

Rebels say Damascus has carried out numerous violations.

While the general lines of the agreement have been made public, other parts have yet to be revealed, raising concerns among U.S. allies such as France, which is part of the coalition attacking Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The State Department said it was not ready to publish the pact but would discuss it in detail with partners on the sidelines of next week’s U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.

Separately, a U.S. official said its detailed provisions include establishing two checkpoints on the Castello Road to be operated by the Syrian Red Crescent and allowing all Syrians to leave Aleppo on the road, including opposition forces with weapons.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was confirming details first reported by the Associated Press.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Angus McDowall, Lisa Barrington and Ellen Francis in Beirut, Maria Kiselyova and Jack Stubbs in Moscow and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence and James Dalgleish)

Moldovan separatists and Russian troops in joint military exercises in the breakaway republic of Trans-Dniester

August 16, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova — Moldovan separatists say Russian troops have joined their troops in the breakaway republic of Trans-Dniester for joint military exercises for the second time this month.

The official news agency said Tuesday that special units took part in anti-terror exercises south of the separatist capital, Tiraspol.


The agency said local residents were warned about the simulations of real-life situations. It did not provide further details.

Moldova criticized the first exercise this month, but had no immediate reaction to the second.

Pro-Russian Trans-Dniester broke away from Moldova in 1990 fearing it would reunite with neighboring Romania. Separatists fought Moldovans in a war in 1992 leaving 1,500 dead.

There are some 1,000 Russian peacekeepers stationed in Trans-Dniester.