In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
Representatives of the US-backed Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces are holding talks in Damascus with the Assad regime, apparently with an eye toward regime recognition of the Kurdish autonomous zone in exchange for unity against further Turkish expansion in northern Syria. "A delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council is paying a first official visit to Damascus at the invitation of the government," the council's Arab co-chair Riad Darar said. "We are working towards a settlement for northern Syria. We hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive." The SDF controls more than 27% of Syrian territory. (France24) In effect, that means this region is under the Rojava autonomous administration, which is the real political force behind the SDF. The Rojava leadership's cooperation in a Syrian carve-up deal may be the price of survival for their autonomous zone. But it would certainly vindicate the long-standing accusations of Kurdish collaboration with Assad—despite Assad's previous refusal to recognize the autonomous zone. It would also yet further heighten the risk of Kurdish-Arab ethnic war in northern Syria.
With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa to Assad regime forces earlier this month, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. The pro-Moscow Al Masdar News headlines that Damascus is preparing for the "mother of all battles in Idlib," with the Syrian Arab Army's elite Tiger Forces to lead the offensive. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters in Ankara before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." (YNet)
As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the Trump White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, "[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us." This despite Washington's earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called "de-escalation zones" would have "serious repercussions," including "firm and appropriate measures." (Reuters, Reuters, DW) Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. Reports indicate the deal will be on the agenda when Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki next month. (CNN)
In Episode 11 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg compares the legacies of revolutionary struggle in Nicaragua and Syria. The Somoza and Assad regimes were both hereditary family dictatorships. The Sandinistas and Syrian revolutionaries alike have roots in anarchism. Yet Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, again Nicaragua's president, is today himself facing a militant opposition movement, and has betrayed the Syrian revolutionaries in the interests of playing for Russian support in the Great Power game. His regime has employed state terror against peasant communities and campesino opponents of his inter-oceanic canal mega-scheme. In Syria, meanwhile, the secular, pro-democratic civil resistance continues to exist in spite of everything, and still governs areas of the country under a model of council-based popular democracy. This civil resistance has even liberated territory from jihadist factions through nonviolent mass uprisings, just as they had previously liberated their towns from the Assad dictatorship. The Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria is also informed by an anarchist ethic of direct democracy. Yet the Kurds and Arab-led civil resistance have been pitted against each other by Great Power intrigues. How can activists in New York and the United States move past global divide-and-rule stratagems and build solidarity with Syria's Arab and Kurdish opposition alike, as well as the campesinos and grassroots-democratic forces in Nicaragua? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
A new Amnesty International report accuses the US of "war crimes" in the bombardment of Raqqa, and the virtual "annihilation" of the city. The fact that the US-led bombardment was in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their campaign to take the city from ISIS has contributed to pitting Kurd against Arab and brought northern Syria closer to ethnic war. Ironically (if predictably), now that the Syrian Kurds have served their purpose in defeating ISIS, Washington is about to kick them overboard—just as Assad and Erdogan alike are preparing offensives against them.
In Episode 10 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the re-emergence in the news of three figures associated with the drama that played out over revolutionary Nicaragua in the 1980s. Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua then, is again today, and just faced massive protests calling for his ouster. Oliver North, who headed the Reagan White House covert operation to destabilize Nicaragua's Sandinista regime back then, was just named as head of the National Rifle Association. And Luis Posada Carriles, the right-wing Cuban terrorist who was part of North's private spy network back then, just died. Historical ironies abound. North, who supported a counter-revolutionary terrorist network in Nicaragua (the "contras"), now baits nonviolent gun-control activists as "terrorists." Ortega, whose government distributed land to the campesinos in the '80s, is now seizing land from campesinos for his monstrous inter-oceanic canal plan. And the conspiracy theory popular among the NRA's white heartland base about the government preparing to disarm the populace and detain resisters in military camps has its roots in the actual FEMA martial law plan drawn up by Oliver North, to be implemented in the event of a US invasion of Nicaragua—with Central American refugees to be detained in military camps. A final irony is the NRA-Russia connection, which comes as Nicaragua is cooperating with a resurgent Russian military presence in the Caribbean. Vladimir Putin recently became the first Russian (or Soviet) leader to visit Nicaragua. So is it possible that we are today so far through the proverbial looking glass that Oliver North and Daniel Ortega are now on the same side? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Dictator Bashar al-Assad flew to Vladimir Putin's summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on the prosecution of the Syrian war and their future plans for the country. Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, following his March re-election (amid waves of protest), and (of course) thanked the Russian military for its support in re-conquering Syria. "Stability is improving," Assad told Putin at he opening press conference. Invoking the intermittent Russia-brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan (now largely irrelevant, that most of the country has been re-conquered), Assad added that "we have always wholeheartedly supported the political process, which should proceed in parallel with the war on terrorism." (Reuters) As Assad arrived in Sochi, Putin announced that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent stand-by in the Mediterranean to counter what he called the "terrorist threat" in Syria. (Moscow Times)