Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

For Khashoggi, a Tangled Mix of Royal Service and Islamist Sympathies

October 15, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi landed in Washington last fall, leaving behind a long list of bad news back home.

After a successful career as an adviser to and unofficial spokesman for the royal family of Saudi Arabia, he had been barred from writing in the kingdom, even on Twitter, by the new crown prince. His column in a Saudi-owned Arab newspaper was canceled. His marriage was collapsing. His relatives had been forbidden to travel to pressure him to stop criticizing the kingdom’s rulers.

Image result for Jamal Khashoggi, photos

Then, after he arrived in the United States, a wave of arrests put a number of his Saudi friends behind bars, and he made his difficult decision: It was too dangerous to return home anytime soon — and maybe forever.

So in the United States, he reinvented himself as a critic, contributing columns to The Washington Post and believing he had found safety in the West.

By Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick
The New York Times

Members of the Turkish Human Rights Association demonstrating in front of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week.CreditErdem Sahin/EPA, via Shutterstock

But as turned out, the West’s protection extended only so far.

Mr. Khashoggi was last seen on Oct. 2 entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where he needed to pick up a document for his wedding. There, Turkish officials say, a team of Saudi agents killed and dismembered him.

Saudi officials have denied harming Mr. Khashoggi, but nearly two weeks after his disappearance, they have failed to provide evidence that he left the consulate and have offered no credible account of what happened to him.

His disappearance has opened a rift between Washington and Saudi Arabia, the chief Arab ally of the Trump administration. And it has badly damaged the reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 33-year-old power behind the Saudi throne, who this time may have gone too far for even for his staunchest supporters in the West.

The possibility that the young prince ordered a hit on a dissident poses challenges for President Trump and may turn once warm relationships toxic. It could convince those governments and corporations that had overlooked the prince’s destructive military campaign in Yemen, his kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister and his waves of arrests of clerics, businessmen and fellow princes that he is a ruthless autocrat who will stop at nothing to get his enemies.

While the disappearance has cast a harsh new light on the crown prince, it has also brought attention to the tangled sympathies throughout Mr. Khashoggi’s career, where he balanced what appears to have been a private affinity for democracy and political Islam with his long service to the royal family.

His attraction to political Islam helped him forge a personal bond with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who is now demanding that Saudi Arabia explain his friend’s fate.

The idea of self-exile in the West was a blow for Mr. Khashoggi, 60, who had worked as a reporter, commentator and editor to become one of the kingdom’s best known personalities. He first drew international attention for interviewing a young Osama bin Laden and later became well-known as a confidant of kings and princes.

His career left him extraordinarily well-connected, and the tall, gregarious, easygoing man seemed to know everyone who had anything to do with Saudi Arabia over the last three decades.

But settling in Washington had advantages. A friend invited him for Thanksgiving last year and he shared a photo of himself at dinner with his 1.7 million Twitter followers, tucking into turkey and yams.

When his turn came to share what he was thankful for, he said: “Because I have become free, and I can write freely.”

According to interviews with dozens of people who knew Mr. Khashoggi and his relationship with the Saudi leadership, it was his penchant for writing freely, and his organizing to push for political reform from abroad, that put him on a collision course with the crown prince.

While Saudi Arabia has long been ruled according to the consensus of senior princes, Crown Prince Mohammed has dismantled that system, leaving his own power largely unchecked. If a decision was taken to silence a perceived traitor, it likely would have been his.

In Afghanistan in the 1980s, Mr. Khashoggi had his photo taken holding an assault rifle, much to his editors’ chagrin. But it does not appear that he fought there.

Mr. Khashoggi’s first claim to fame was his acquaintance with Osama bin Laden. Mr. Khashoggi had spent time in Jidda, Bin Laden’s hometown, and, like Bin Laden, he came from a prominent nonroyal family. Mr. Khashoggi’s grandfather was a doctor who had treated Saudi Arabia’s first king. His uncle was Adnan Khashoggi, a famous arms dealer, although Jamal Khashoggi did not benefit from his uncle’s wealth.

Mr. Khashoggi studied at Indiana State University and returned to Saudi Arabia to report for an English-language newspaper. Several of his friends say that early on Mr. Khashoggi also joined the Muslim Brotherhood.

Although he later stopped attending meetings of the Brotherhood, he remained conversant in its conservative, Islamist and often anti-Western rhetoric, which he could deploy or hide depending on whom he was seeking to befriend.

His newspaper colleagues recalled him as friendly, thoughtful and devout. He often led communal prayers in the newsroom, recalled Shahid Raza Burney, an Indian editor who worked with him.

Read the rest:



Trump Threatens Another Round of China Tariffs

October 15, 2018
  • President calls China bigger meddler than Russia in U.S.
  • Trump says his speech mocking Ford got Kavanaugh confirmed
U.S. President Donald Trump.  Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press

President Donald Trump threatened to impose another round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics is a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

Asked in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” whether he wants to push China’s economy into a depression, Trump said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday, while adding that more tariffs “might” be in the mix. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Questioned about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia. He didn’t provide evidence in the interview of China’s involvement in the last election or its involvement in the current election cycle.

Kavanaugh Claim

Trump made similar accusations last month during a speech at the United Nations, which his aides rushed to substantiate by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Stahl tried to get Trump to commit to not firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump refused to do so, telling her: “I don’t pledge anything. But I will tell you, I have no intention of doing that. I think it’s a very unfair investigation because there was no collusion of any kind.”

Discussing Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, Trump took credit for getting his nomination through the Senate around Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that the judge tried to sexually assault her when they were in high school.

At a campaign rally in Mississippi late last month, Trump mocked Ford for what he cast as her incoherent story about what happened with Kavanaugh, a move that even drew some criticism from Republican senators.

Trump didn’t express regret. “Had I not made that speech, we would not have won. I was just saying she didn’t seem to know anything,” he told Stahl. Ford was “treated with great respect” including by him, Trump said.

Border Separations

The president left the door open to reviving a much-criticized practice of separating migrant parents and their children at the Mexican border, something the Washington Post reported last week was under consideration within the administration.

“There have to be consequences … for coming into our country illegally,” he said, arguing that “part of the reason, I have to blame myself, the economy is so strong that everybody wants to come into the United States.”

Pressed again, he added: “You can’t say yes or no. What I can say is this: There are consequences from coming into a country, namely our country, illegally.”

 Updated on 
(Updates with comment about Mueller in seventh paragraph.)

Why Kill Jamal Khashoggi?

October 15, 2018

The most charitable interpretation is that this was an abduction that went horribly wrong.


Image result for jamil Khashoggi, photos



The case of the vanished and apparently murdered Saudi activist and writer Jamal Khashoggi is a tale with a victim and villains, but no heroes.

Mr. Khashoggi, a longtime retainer of the Saudi royal family and more recently a critic of the regime, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 2, seeking documents relevant to a divorce. The Turkish government claims to have proof that a Saudi hit squad murdered him inside the consulate, chopped his body to bits, and dispatched the remains in a black van to a private plane headed for Saudi Arabia. Portions of this plot remain unverified but there seems little doubt Mr. Khashoggi is dead.

The primary villain apparently is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs every aspect of Saudi Arabia and without whose authorization nothing of consequence takes place. But this sordid episode isn’t best thought of as the clash between an autocratic ruler and a democratic hero. It is more of an internecine conflict.

Mr. Khashoggi, notwithstanding his credentials as a columnist for the Washington Post, spent most of his adult life working with and for the Al Saud family and its media properties. He also did stints for Saudi intelligence, headed for part of the time by Prince Turki al-Faisal, who later served as ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Khashoggi’s early claim to fame was interviewing Osama bin Laden in 1980s Afghanistan, where both were allied with the anti-Soviet mujahedeen. Mr. Khashoggi broke with bin Laden in the 1990s and after 9/11 became Riyadh’s favorite example of a reformed Islamic fundamentalist, often produced for visiting Westerners to outline his conversion. But under King Salman and the crown prince, Mr. Khashoggi became an outcast, accused of supporting the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. He moved to the U.S. in July 2017.

While Crown Prince Mohammed has made significant social and economic reforms, he has never claimed to be a democrat. Recently he acknowledged jailing 1,500 people, famously including the 300 relatives, ministers and business barons who were confined inside the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton. None of that, however, prepared those of us who knew him for the murder of a citizen in what is supposed to be the security of his nation’s consulate.

Kidnapping critics and returning them to Saudi Arabia isn’t new for this regime, though previously such incidents got little publicity because no one died. Perhaps the crown prince thought he could again escape any consequences. After all, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has poisoned dissidents in London; China’s Xi Jinping runs an archipelago of re-education camps; and Turkey’s increasingly despotic Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who is leveling the charges at the Saudis—has jailed thousands with little or no international consequence. Perhaps the world will soon forget a political murder.

But there surely will be a lasting reputational price for the crown prince. With so much power over a largely pacific populace, why would he order or sanction what amounts to a mafia murder? Mr. Khashoggi wasn’t leading a civil rebellion against the regime. Nor was he a widely popular focus of dissent in the kingdom. He seemed to pose no serious threat to Crown Prince Mohammad’s rule.

That Mohammed bin Salman believes Mr. Khashoggi was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist organization, and on the payroll of Qatar, a Saudi nemesis, seems more an excuse than a reason. Those who watch the crown prince closely say he is determined to pre-empt any hint of possible disruption before it can materialize. So Mr. Khashoggi’s decision to register in the U.S. a new political organization, Democracy for the Arab World Now, perhaps funded by Saudi regional rivals, might have triggered this action.

It seems clear that Mohammed bin Salman, accustomed to issuing orders on every aspect of Saudi life without question or contradiction, wanted to silence Mr. Khashoggi. When efforts to woo him back as an adviser failed, he was captured in Istanbul, where he hoped to marry his Turkish fiancée. The most charitable interpretation is that this was an abduction that went horribly wrong.

Now what? While the crown prince can ignore Saudi domestic opinion, he must care about his international image, especially among foreign investors, whose money he needs to realize his Vision 2030 economic reforms. Businessmen who had embraced him—such as Richard Branson, Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi and Viacom ’s Bob Bakish—are stepping back. Many others won’t dare show up at this month’s investor conference the crown prince is hosting in Riyadh. The mass incarcerations at the Ritz-Carlton a year ago had dimmed the crown prince’s image. This blackens it.

While the crown prince doesn’t care about media or even congressional criticism, he must care about any U.S. action that significantly alters the fundamental U.S.-Saudi relationship—which has never been based on shared moral values but rather on mutual security. In a dangerous neighborhood, Saudi Arabia depends on American security guarantees; likewise, any radical evolution in Saudi Arabia would threaten all U.S. interests in the region. Most important, President Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed share a deep distrust of Iran, so that the U.S.-Saudi security relationship seems likely to hold for now.

But Congress may block weapons sales in support of the crown prince’s still-unsuccessful war in Yemen, where more than 6,000 civilians have died. Sen. Lindsey Graham has warned of a “bipartisan tsunami” in Congress if the Saudis are proved guilty of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. Congress might even go beyond Yemen and block all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, despite Mr. Trump’s opposition.

The more lasting effect likely will be a diminution of trust, leaving the U.S.-Saudi relationship resembling a loveless marriage in which neither side can afford to file for divorce.

Ms. House, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is author of “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future” (Knopf, 2012).

Appeared in the October 15, 2018, print edition.

Putin foe Navalny freed from jail after back-to-back sentences

October 14, 2018

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was released from jail Sunday after three weeks behind bars for organizing anti-Kremlin protests, his second spell in detention in as many months.

The 42-year-old activist left a detention center in the south of Moscow in the early hours of the morning and went to a waiting car, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

Authorities have turned up the heat on Vladimir Putin’s top foe since the Russian president’s approval ratings took a beating over deeply unpopular pension reforms.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends an appeal hearing against his jail for organizing an anti-Kremlin protest at the city court in Moscow on October 3, 2018. (AFP)

The Kremlin critic finished a 30-day sentence in September for organizing a rally at the start of the year, but was arrested as soon as he was released to face further charges over another protest.

The latter demonstration, against the raising of the retirement age, was time to coincide with regional elections last month.

The Kremlin suffered rare defeats in those polls, with voters rejecting candidates from the ruling United Russia party in at least two regions.

A run-off in the far eastern Primorsky Krai will be held again in two months after accusations of vote-rigging in favor of the Moscow-backed candidate led to protests.

Navalny ally Leonid Volkov said at the time of the latest arrest that the Kremlin had “to take it out on someone because of all their defeats and failures of the last weeks.”

Supporters fear that the two consecutive administrative cases mean the authorities may be getting ready to open a criminal probe against Navalny.

In that case he could face a lengthy prison term.

Amnesty International described Navalny as a prisoner of conscience and said he had committed no crime.

Navalny came to prominence as an organizer of huge anti-Putin rallies that shook Russia in 2011 and 2012 following accusations of vote-rigging in parliamentary polls.

His anti-corruption rhetoric is especially popular with younger people who follow his online channels and blogs.

Since his most recent jail term his 17-year-old daughter, Daria, has launched her own Youtube show called “Voice of My Generation.”

Navalny was barred from running against Putin in a presidential election in March.

He served a month in prison in the summer after organizing demonstrations ahead of Putin’s swearing-in ceremony for a fourth Kremlin term.

The Yale-educated lawyer has faced a string of charges and attacks since he became the leading opposition figure in Russia.


China and the Case of the Interpol Chief

October 11, 2018
China emphasizes the need for “absolute loyalty” and for “resolute support” for Xi Jinping.

Image result for xi jinping, photos

Beijing apparently has detained Meng Hongwei, the president of Interpol and a former top Chinese security official. What are the charges?

By The Editorial Board

The New York Times

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

Credit Rose Wong

China has yet to give any details of the corruption charges against Meng Hongwei, the president of Interpol, who disappeared on a visit home and was later said to have been arrested. Whatever the charges are, they are almost certainly not the real reason for his fate. In China, the law is what the Communist Party says it is — more precisely, what President Xi Jinping says it is. And when an official of Mr. Meng’s global stature is nabbed, it’s a political decision — even if, coincidentally, he was corrupt, as is often the case in China.

Mr. Meng understood the rules of that game. He had been a vice minister of public security in a police state and had played a role in many operations, including Operation Fox Hunt, which tried to bring Chinese officials and businesspeople suspected of corruption back from abroad. His former boss, Zhou Yongkang, was imprisoned for life on corruption charges in 2015. Mr. Meng’s last WhatsApp message to his wife was an emoji of a knife, which she understood to mean he was in danger.

Interpol has asked Beijing for an explanation for Mr. Meng’s detention but has taken no further action. The agency issued a statement on Sunday that it had accepted his resignation as president “with immediate effect” and named a replacement.

Whatever else he was, Mr. Meng was the president of Interpol, a venerable international organization based in France that facilitates cooperation among police forces from its 192 member countries. The position of president is largely ceremonial — a secretary general, currently Jürgen Stock of Germany, runs day-to-day operations. But the selection of a Chinese official for the post was a major feather in China’s cap, proudly hailed by Mr. Xi a year ago as evidence that China “abided by international rules.

The crude arrest of Mr. Meng proclaims the opposite. China’s behavior puts it more closely in a league with Russia, another nation whose authoritarian leader is convinced that his country is due global respect and deference by virtue of its wealth and might, and not its actions. It’s a perception seemingly shared by President Trump in his fondness for strong, unaccountable leaders and his America First approach to foreign policy.

Image result for Dolkun Isa, Photos

Dolkun Isa

Tellingly, both China and Russia have brazenly tried to use Interpol to pursue political foes. China put out a “red notice,” in effect a wanted alert, for Dolkun Isa, a self-exiled activist for the rights of China’s beleaguered Uighur minority. Russia tried to use Interpol to catch Bill Browder, a hedge-fund manager turned anti-Vladimir Putin campaigner, among other political gadflies. In these cases, Interpol has properly refused to cooperate.

Uighur looks at military police in Xinjiang

It is possible that Mr. Meng’s failure to pursue the Isa warrant fed Mr. Xi’s anger. According to The Economist, a Ministry of Public Security statement condemning Mr. Meng’s alleged wrongdoings also stressed the need for “absolute loyalty” and for “resolute support” for the country’s leader.

What Mr. Meng did to join the lengthening list of officials purged by Mr. Xi may never be fully known outside the Communist hierarchy. What is known, and deeply troubling, is how brazenly China is prepared to wage its internal power struggles without any regard for procedures, appearances or international norms.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTOpinion).

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: China And the Case Of the Interpol Chief.

Netanyahu, Putin to meet after Syria friendly fire incident — Bibi Restates Israel’s Strong Stand Against Iran

October 7, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss coordination in Syria after the accidental downing of a Russian plane led to tensions.

Netanyahu said he had spoken with Putin and the two agreed “to meet soon in order to continue the important inter-military security coordination”.

Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu again pledged to stop “Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria and to thwart the transfer of lethal weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon”.

The meeting would be the first since the Russian plane was downed by Syrian air defences, which fired in response to an Israeli raid in the country.

© POOL/AFP | Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018

Putin and Netanyahu have spoken at least three times by phone since the September 17 incident.

Fifteen Russians were killed in the incident that Moscow blamed on Israel, accusing its pilots of using the larger Russian plane as cover.

Israel disputes the Russian findings and says its jets were back in Israeli airspace when the plane was downed.

Russia announced new security measures to protect its military in Syria, including supplying the Syrian army with S-300 air defence systems and jamming radars of nearby warplanes.

Those measures have led to concern in Israel that it will be forced to limit its strikes against what it calls Iranian and Hezbollah targets in the neighbouring country.

It has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

Russia and Israel set up a hotline in 2015 to avoid accidental clashes in Syria.

Both Iran and Hezbollah — enemies of Israel — are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in his country’s civil war alongside Russia.


India, Russia sign $5 billion deal for S-400 air defense systems

October 5, 2018

India agreed a deal with Russia to buy S-400 surface to air missile systems on Friday, the Kremlin said, as New Delhi disregarded US warnings that such a purchase could trigger sanctions under US law.

Although there was no public signing, the deal was sealed during President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing visit to New Delhi for an annual summit.

“The deal was signed on the fringes of the summit,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. The contract is estimated to be worth more than $5 billion and gives the Indian military the ability to shoot down aircraft and missiles at unprecedented ranges.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, hugs Russian President Vladimir Putin before their meeting in New Delhi on Friday, October 5. (AP)

But the United States has said countries trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors would face automatic sanctions under a sweeping legislation called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

A State Department spokesperson said this week that the implementation of the sanctions act would be focused at countries acquiring weapons such as the S-400 missile batteries.

Last month, the United States imposed sanctions on China’s military for its purchase of combat fighters as well as the S-400 missile system it bought from Russia this year.

India is hoping that President Donald Trump’s administration will give it a waiver on the weapons systems which New Delhi sees as a deterrent against China’s bigger and superior military.

After summit talks between Putin and Modi, the two countries signed eight agreements covering space, nuclear energy and railways at a televised news conference.


As clock ticks, little progress visible on Idlib deal

October 4, 2018

The clock is ticking to implement a Russian-Turkish deal for the Syrian rebel region of Idlib, but its terms remain hazy and little has changed on the ground.

The accord, reached on September 17, aims to stave off a massive regime assault on the last major rebel bastion by creating a 15 to 20 kilometre buffer zone ringing the area.

All rebels in the demilitarised zone must withdraw heavy arms by October 10, and radical groups must leave by October 15.

But as the deadline draws closer, there has been no indication either condition is being implemented.

© AFP/File | A Russian soldier stands guard at the Abu Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Idlib province on September 25, 2018

The main Ankara-backed rebel alliance, the National Liberation Front, cautiously welcomed the agreement but has denied beginning to pull out any of its heavy weapons.

And the region’s most powerful force, the jihadist-led Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, has yet to announce its stance.

“On the ground, essentially, there’s no movement. There’s no handover of weapons or territory,” said Haid Haid, a research fellow at the London-based Chatham House.

What is happening, however, is a flurry of negotiations among Russia, Turkey, rebel groups and hardliners to hash out the accord’s finer details and bring Idlib’s jihadists on board.

The thorny questions being discussed include precisely where the buffer would be established, who would patrol it, and whether weapons systems would be simply re-stationed in other rebel zones or handed over to Ankara.

Once those stumbling blocks are sorted out, Haid told AFP, implementation can be quick.

“In my view, the deal will be implemented on time, but with some amendments,” he said.

– Devil in the details –

The deal was announced in the Russian resort of Sochi after a tete-a-tete between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It was welcomed by world powers, relief agencies and the United Nations, which all hoped it would avert a feared humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.

But apart from deadlines, very few details were made public.

“One possibility is that Turkey and Russia already agreed on all the details but did not announce them,” said Haid.

“The second possibility is they agreed on the broad outlines without details,” allowing Ankara to untangle the knots with Idlib’s factions, he said.

On Wednesday, Putin said Moscow was still “working in solidarity with Turkey” on Idlib.

“We see that they, too, have the most serious attitude towards the deal and are fulfilling their obligations,” he said.

He spoke hours after Ankara dispatched a new military convoy of vehicles and troops into northern Syria to be stationed at the monitoring posts it already operates in the area.

The burden of implementing the agreement has fallen on Turkey, which shares a border with Idlib province and has long backed rebel forces there.

The toughest task would be bringing jihadists including HTS, led by former Al-Qaeda members, on board.

HTS, jihadists from the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and current Al-Qaeda outfit Hurras al-Deen control more than two-thirds of the planned buffer zone.

While Hurras al-Deen has rejected the deal, HTS and TIP have yet to take a position — which Haid sees as a sign that they could be negotiating with Turkey for better terms.

“No news could be more positive than negative,” he said.

“This area is very important for HTS. It has economic benefits and guarantees the group’s sustainability. If it hands over this area, what does it still have?”

– ‘No progress’ –

Moscow has accused HTS and other “radical fighters” of trying to torpedo the accord.

Foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said Thursday they “fear finding themselves isolated by the Russian-Turkey deal, and are committing all sorts of provocations and aggravating the situation”.

Even as it works to persuade heavyweight HTS, Ankara is in talks with other rebel groups on their objections to the deal.

After initially welcoming the accord, the NLF refused any Russian presence in the buffer zone, which Putin said would be monitored by Russian military police and Turkish troops.

“There’s no progress on the deal, except the issue of the patrols. They will only be Turkish,” NLF spokesman Naji Mustafa told AFP.

“For the demilitarised zone, our heavy weapons aren’t in this area anyway,” he said.

Other rebels fear that the accord could cost them their last major stronghold.

Jaish al-Izza, a formerly US-backed faction, rejected the accord on the grounds that it ate away at rebel but not regime territory to create the buffer zone.

Damascus, for its part, still hopes to recapture every inch of Syrian territory.

In an interview aired Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said he hoped the deal would prove to be a “step towards the liberation of Idlib.”


Russia Missile Deal Puts India in U.S. Sanctions Crosshairs

October 3, 2018

Penalizing New Delhi over arms purchase risks antagonizing a key security partner, but granting a waiver undermines curbs on Russian military industry


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, will host Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, will host Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. PHOTO: METZEL MIKHAIL/ZUMA PRESS

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, one item on their agenda will be closely tracked in Washington: India’s planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defense missile systems.

Washington is targeting Russia’s defense industry and those who do business with the country using a sanctions power mandated by Congress last year. Sanctioning New Delhi for its deal with Moscow, though, would disrupt U.S. efforts to cultivate India as a security partner—a key prong in its Indo-Pacific strategy to counterbalance China’s rise.

At the same time, granting India a sanctions waiver for a more-than $5 billion deal involving one of Russia’s most advanced weapons systems risks undermining Washington’s escalating campaign against Moscow. The Treasury and State Departments last month sanctioned China’s Equipment Development Department for its recent purchases of Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters and S-400 missiles from Russia. Officials said the move was intended to send a message to other countries considering similar Russian arms deals.

India has declined to back out of the deal with the Kremlin, with a signing ceremony expected during Mr. Putin’s trip. Russia has long been the biggest source of New Delhi’s military equipment, and its supply of spare parts and maintenance services remains crucial to India’s defense needs. Indian military planners see the S-400 surface-to-air missile system—capable of tracking and taking down aircraft hundreds of miles away—as an important asset against neighbors Pakistan and China.

The deal also reflects India’s effort to repair relations with Russia. Those ties have frayed in recent years as India diversified its arms purchases, turning to the U.S. for equipment, including maritime patrol aircraft and attack helicopters. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 62% of India’s arms imports from 2013 to 2017 came from Russia, down from 79% in the five preceding years.

The Indian market remains crucial to Russia’s arms industry, which was the world’s second-largest exporter last year. Russia exported $2 billion worth of arms to India last year, some 13% of its total deliveries world-wide, according to Russian defense think tank CAST.

Officials in New Delhi expect the U.S. will understand that India can’t cut Russia out or allow ties to drift, said Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, adding that imposing sanctions would be “highly disruptive.”

“It would revive old debates and suspicions in India about the U.S.’s agenda,” Mr. Pant said. “Few governments in India would be able to do anything substantial with the U.S. for some time.”

Washington is pushing for new security arrangements in Asia that hinge on bringing India, Japan and Australia together in response to China’s increasingly assertive stance in the region. India and the U.S. have signed two defense pacts in as many years that allow the use of each other’s military bases for repairs and replenishment of supplies and give India access to cutting-edge American military communications technology.

India’s purchases of U.S. military equipment during the 2013-17 period rose by more than 500% from the previous five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Richard M. Rossow, an expert in U.S.-India policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the U.S. would likely give India a waiver because of longer-term security objectives.

“It’s too important not to, though it would be painful,” he said.

The deal would complicate some possible future U.S. military sales to India over concerns that U.S. technology could be used in close coordination with the Russian systems, Mr. Rossow said. The U.S. has tried, so far without success, to persuade NATO ally Turkey to abandon a deal to procure the S-400 system.

In a recent analysis on the planned Russia-India deal, Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Trump administration sees purchases of the S-400 by either rivals and allies as “a conspicuous danger to U.S. military operations,” largely because the systems help to constrain the deployment of forces and their freedom to maneuver.

So far, U.S. officials have given mixed signals on New Delhi’s planned acquisition. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in April cited the U.S.’s relations with India and Vietnam when he asked Congress to give the U.S. government the power to waive Russia-related sanctions, which Congress granted.

In August, Assistant Defense Secretary for Asia Randall Schriver, said the impression that “we are going to completely protect the India relationship, insulate India from any fallout from this legislation no matter what they do” was “a bit misleading.” A few days later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. effort was “not to penalize great strategic partners like India.”

The deal, Mr. Tellis wrote, “may be thorniest problem currently bedeviling the U.S.-India strategic partnership.”

Write to Niharika Mandhana at

Psychologist Obama: Republicans are going along with ‘crazy’

September 14, 2018

Former President Barack Obama argued that Republican lawmakers were going along with “crazy” in order to advance their political priorities, comments that came as he has recently hit the campaign trail prior to the 2018 midterm elections.

“What you’re seeing is Republicans in Congress who are bending over backwards to try to shield and deflect oversight of this behavior and accountability and consequences,” Obama said Thursday at a rally for Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray. “This is serious. You know it is. And frankly even some of the Republicans know it is. They will say it, they just don’t do anything about it.”

In Cleveland Thursday night, Obama showed why he might be Democrats’ biggest asset this fall, drumming up enthusiasm by condemning fearmongering from Republicans, chastising apathetic voters and lauding praise on Ohio gubernatorial candidate Rich Cordray, an early Obama supporter locked in a tight race with Republican Mike DeWine.

Breaking with years of political precedent, Obama is openly criticizing his successor, President Donald Trump, while campaigning for Democrats such as Ohio gubernatorial hopeful Rich Cordray. Democrats hope to harness that anti-Trump sentiment to help win races nationwide.

“They appeal to our tribal instincts. They appeal to fear,” Obama said of Republicans. “They try to pit one against another. They try and say border security, we’ll keep out those folks who don’t look like us or sound like us. That’s a playbook as old as time.”

“In a healthy democracy, that playbook doesn’t work.”

Obama warned against indifference, saying it was the biggest threat to democracy. If you don’t like the direction of the country, “You can’t just get angry. You can’t just mutter to yourself while you’re watching TV. You can’t just move. You’ve got to vote,” he said.

Obama described Cordray, whom the former president appointed to lead the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as the man working quietly behind the scenes of politics. Obama contrasted that with Trump’s approach: “He didn’t tweet about it. He just did it.”

Obama then said that Republicans had agreed to “put up with crazy” to accomplish priorities like tax reform and deregulation, and said the midterm races were an opportunity to “restore some sanity” to the political arena.

“This is not normal what we’re seeing. It is radical,” Obama said. “It is a vision that says that it’s more important for those who are in power to protect that power even when it hurts the country.”

Obama expressed similar sentiments last week where he attacked Trump by name — marking a first for the former president — and claimed that Trump was a “symptom, not the cause” of division being sown in American politics.

“What has happened to the Republican Party? Its central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against communism, and now they’re cozying up to the former head of the KGB,” Obama said last week, referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Obama also encouraged voters last week — even Republicans and evangelicals — to contemplate backing Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections and that they should be concerned with the current trajectory of the Trump administration.

See also:

Barack Obama in Cleveland: Republicans ‘Try to pit one against another.’