Russia

Syria slides closer to Arab-Kurdish ethnic war

Fierce clashes broke out between Syrian rebel factions and Kurdish fighters in Aleppo province this week, as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to battle ISIS in Raqqa. Fighting erupted in Derat Ezza in the western Aleppo countryside on June 13, after Kurdish fighters attempted to take a rebel base in the area, opposition media reported. The assault was thwarted after the rebels regained the positions with support from Turkish artillery. At least 32 fighters from Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups were reported killed in the clashes, as well as dozens of Kurdish militants. (The New Arab, June 14)

'Soviet-style' trial of Crimean Tatar leader

The first hearing in the case against Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov opened in Simferopol June 7. Russian authorities who control Crimea have charged Umerov—deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Majlis, now banned by Moscow—with separatism. His supporters say he is being persecuted for speaking out against the growing persecution of the Tatars since Russia's annexation of Crimea. Umerov suffers from serious medical conditions that have prevented authorities from remanding him in custody, as they have fellow Majlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz. However Umerov has been subject to "punitive psychiatry," according to Ukraine's Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. The independent rights monitor calls the case against Umerov a "Soviet-style" show trial.

US using white phosphorus in Raqqa: reports

Several civilians were killed June 8 when US-led air-strikes reportedly targeted Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital in northern Syria, with white phosphorus—banned by the Geneva Convention as a weapon of war. The reports came both from Syrian state media and local activists on the ground in Raqqa, who posted footage online, showing the skies of above the city lit by a rainfall of glowing ordnance. The report comes as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are preparing a final offensive to take Raqqa. (Xinhua

Conspiranoids betray Reality Winner ...of course

The Intercept no doubt pissed off a fair share of its own cultivated readership when it released a top-secret National Security Agency document revealing that Russian military intelligence indeed attempted to meddle in last November's US presidential election. Specifically, the Kremlin's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) "executed a cyberattack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials" just days before the vote. It is to The Intercept's everlasting credit that they've released this But it is notable that their leading light Glenn Greenwald was not among the journalists involved. So far, his only response to the revelations is to tweet: "Journalism requires that document be published and reported. Rationality requires it be read skeptically." Funny, we don't recall any such skepticism from Greenwald about all the WikiLeaks claims he aggressively hyped—some of which seemed a little dubious.

Syria: mounting civilian toll of US air-strikes

Over the past month, air-strikes carried out by the US and its coalition partners in Syria have killed the highest number of civilians on record since the bombing campaign began in September 2014, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A total of 225 civilians, including 36 women and 44 children, were killed in the period between April 23 to May 23 by the Observatory's count. At least 122 ISIS fighters and eight members of militias loyal to the Syrian regime were also killed in US-led strikes over the same period.

Ukrainian general calls for 'destruction' of Jews

A retired Ukrainian general still closely linked with the intelligence services this week openly called for the "destruction" of his country's Jewish community. The outrageous comments, which alarmingly seem to have won no other English-language coverage, are brought to light by a May 11 report in the UK's Jewish Chronicle—which makes clear that this was not an isolated incident, but part of a deepening and deeply disturbing trend in Ukraine...

US signs Arctic climate declaration —with caveats

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.

Syria: Trump approves plan to arm Rojava Kurds

President Donald Trump on May 9 announced approval of a plan to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-ISIS coalition led by the Rojava Kurds. The aid—including heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, armored cars and engineering equipment—will boost the prowess of the People's Protection Units (YPG), territorial defense militia of the Rojava autonomous zone and the central pillar of the SDF. "The Syrian Democratic Forces, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future," said a Pentagon statement. The move is being taken over strenuous Turkish objections to arming the Syrian Kurds, and will certainly be a contentious point when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Trump in Washington next week. (ANF, NYT, May 9) 

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