World War 5
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled (PDF) in favor of the Philippines on July 12 in its dispute with China over most of the South China Sea. Manila brought the case in 2013 disputing Beijing's territorial claims, a move China decried as "unilateral." The PCA concluded that China does not have the right to resources within its "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer Sea—believed to be rich in oil and minerals. The tribunal found that none of the disputed Spratly Islands are "capable of generating extended maritime zones." Therefore, the tribunal wrote that it could "declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China." China entirely denies the PCA's jurisdiction in the matter, and rejected the ruling.
The Obama administration has reportedly proposed a new agreement to Russia's government for military cooperation in Syria, sharing target information and coordinating air-strikes. In exchange, Moscow would agree to pressure the Assad regime to stop bombing certain Syrian rebel groups. The US would not give Russia the exact locations of these groups, but specify geographic zones that would be safe from aerial assaults. (WP, June 30)
ISIS is reported to have claimed responsibility for today's triple bomb and shooting attack at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport that left at least 36 dead and some 150 wounded. (BiaNet) The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) explicitly disavowed the attack, and stated their belief that it was carried out by "Daesh terrorists," using the popular pejorative for ISIS in the Middle East. (Sputnik) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was constrained by these twin statements from explicitly blaming the Kurds in the attack, but still said: "I hope that the Ataturk Airport attack, especially in Western countries...will be a milestone for the joint fight against terrorist organizations, a turning point." (RT) This was a barely veiled criticism of US support for the PKK's sibling organization, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its military arm the People's Protection Units (YPG), in the fight against ISIS in northern Syria.
Russian and US warplanes are each backing rival sides as the Assad regime and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) race to take the ISIS de facto capital of Raqqa. The Kurdish-led forces are in the lead. SDF fighters this week entered the ISIS-held city of Manbij, a key step toward Raqqa. (Al Jazeera, June 23) ISIS is meanwhile reported to have taken back large areas of territory in Raqqa governorate that had recently been taken by regime forces. (Al Jazeera, June 21) The Russian air-strikes in support of the regime forces, as ever, are more indiscriminate. Local monitoring group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (which operates "underground" in ISIS-controlled territory) reports that 32 civilians were killed and 150 injured in Russian strikes on Raqqa city. (Al Jazeera, June 22)
The US Aegis anti-missile station at Deveselu, Romania, was officially activated this week—to harsh protests from Moscow, despite Washington's claim that the system is intended to intercept missiles fired from the Middle East. Together with an installation in Poland, the Deveselu facility forms the long-delayed "missile shield" first conceived under the George Bush administration. (BBC News, AFP, RT, May 12) Moscow's claim that the "missile shield" is actually aimed at encircling Russia is mirrored by Washington's charge that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, having deployed cruise missiles in contravention of the 1987 pact. (Arms Control Association, May 2016)
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)
On Feb. 12, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG)—made up of the US, Russia, EU, Arab League, Iran and other powers—reached an agreement in (oh, the irony!) Munich for a "cessation of hostilities," to take effect in one week. You can bet that this signals a major escalation in the war. Already diplomats are saying "It's not worth the paper it's printed on." The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov made clear the loophole big enough for a fleet of MIGs to pass through. "The truce does not go for terrorists… The military operation against them will be continued." Given the Russian propaganda trick of calling whoever they want to bomb "terrorists," this makes the whole deal utterly meaningless. Specifically, air-strikes on ISIS and the Nusra Front are excluded from the deal, but we shall see if there is any let-up at all in the horrific aerial bombardment of FSA-held territory. Russian and regime air-strikes have already cut off water supplies to the remaining inhabitants in besieged Aleppo. Bashar Assad has wasted no time in announcing that he intends to retake "the whole country" from rebel forces. We hate to agree with John McCain, but he called it when he said the Munich agreement is "diplomacy in the service of military aggression." The deal was arrived at without the participation of the Free Syrian Army, much less any voices of Syria's civil resistance. This "ceasefire" will not result in the ceasing of a single shot from being fired. As with previous bogus "peace" breakthroughts, the result will be much to the contrary. You read it here first. (Daily Sabah, Feb. 14; The Telegraph, EA WorldView, BBC News, BBC News, Feb. 12; Daily Sabah, Feb. 10)
Some 70,000 civilians from Aleppo are fleeing to the Turkish border, as Syrian regime troops backed by Russian warplanes advance on the city. They will join some 30,000 already amassed at the border and hoping Turkish authorities will allow them to cross. (Al Jazeera) Independent journalists have posted grim video footage and photos of the exodus to Facebook. French journalist Natalie Nougayrède writes in a commentary for The Guardian that "What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe's future."