Russia

Syria: reprieve for Idlib; flashpoint at al-Tanf?

The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a "buffer zone" in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in the south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a "demilitarized" zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. There are numerous unanswered questions. Reports indicated the deal stipulates that "all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone"—but does that apply to the Russian and Turkish patrols? It is also mandated that what Putin called "radically-minded" rebel fighters would have to pull out of the zone entirely, which is presumably a reference to the Nusra-affiliated jihadist factions. These factions control parts of Idlib city, and it is not clear if the provincial capital will be included in the zone. (BBC News, Haaretz)

Podcast: Legacy of Kazakh-Shoshone solidarity

In Episode 18 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks back at the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement of the closing years of the Cold War, when the Western Shoshone people, whose traditional lands were being contaminated by the nuclear blasts at the US government's Nevada Test Site, made common cause with the Kazakh people of Central Asia who opposed Soviet nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site. Kazakh activists travelled to Nevada to join protests at the Test Site, while Western Shoshone leaders travelled to Kazakhstan to join protests at Semipalatinsk. This initiative eventually evolved into the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which as recently as 2016 held an International Conference on Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, again attended by Western Shoshone leaders. The story of indigenous peoples impacted by nuclear testing on their usurped lands has come to us from several places around the world, including the French test site at Gerboise Bleue in Algeria—known to the local Tuareg nomads as Tanezrouft. Other examples are the Chinese test site at Lop Nur, on lands of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and British testing on Aboriginal lands at Maralinga, in the Australian outback. The Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement provides an inspiring example of indigenous peoples and their supporters building solidarity across hostile international borders and superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

Thousands rally in Idlib as Assad offensive looms

In the latest of ongoing weekly demonstrations in Syria's besieged Idlib province, thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers Sept. 14, calling on the world to act to prevent the impending massacre there. One of the biggest demonstrations was held in the city of Maarat al-Nouman in central Idlib, where some 25,000 people, including residents from outlying villages and towns, gathered for the march called by the civil resistance. "There will be no solution in Syria without Assad's fall," read one prominent banner. Russian-led air-strikes have already opened on Idlib ahead of the anticipated offensive by the Assad regime and its allied forces to take the province, now the last significant area of Syria still controlled by the opposition. Air-strikes last week reportedly destroyed a hospital run by the White Helmets in the town of Hass. The UN has provided Russia with the GPS coordinates of 235 schools, hospitals and other civilian sites in Idlib, in the hope that the move will help protect them from being attacked. But Russia and Assad have been repeatedly accused of intentionally bombing hospitals over the course of the Syrian war.

Amnesty calls on UN to ban 'killer robots'

Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on Aug. 27, the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting in Geneva. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons.

Syria: Kurds to join regime offensive on Idlib?

As the Assad regime and its Russian backers prepare an offensive to take Idlib, the last area of opposition control in Syria, the people of the northern province have been holding demonstrations, organized by the civil resistance, waving the Free Syria flag and calling on the world to act to prevent the impending massacre there. Hundreds of civilians have fled the front-line area in the south of the province, as the first Russian-led air-strikes opened this week. A summit between the leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran is underway in Tehran to try to arrive at consensus over Idlib's fate, but Moscow and the Islamic Republic refuse to abandon their commitment to an invasion of the province of 3 million, which already faces grave humanitarian conditions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Syrian army is "getting ready" to clear the "cradle of terrorism" in Idlib  (EA Worldview, AFP, Al Jazeera, BBC News) Reuters ran gut-wrenching photos of Idlib residents fitting their children with improvised gas-masks—fashioned from plastic sheeting and plastic cups filled with cotton and charcoal—in anticipation of a chemical attack.

Libya: 'official' regime to lose control of Tripoli?

Armed street clashes have rocked Tripoli over the past week, as militias linked to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) have vied for control of the Libyan capital with rival militias that have launched an offensive on the city from the southeast. The most significant of these is the 7th Brigade from the town of Tarhuna—also known as as the Kaniat Brigade, led by the Kani brothers. The 7th Brigade has rejected the truce, vowing to continue fighting until it "cleanses Tripoli of militias." The 7th Brigade has reportedly assumed control of the airport. There have been reports that that GNA has launched air-strikes on Tarhuna, but these were denied by the Presidential Council, which said that the strikes targeted only "aggressor" postitions inside Tripoli. The city's electricity has intermittently gone out amid the fighting, and access to Facebook—the only news source for most Libyans—has been blocked, although it is unclear by whom. The GNA has declared a state of emergency in the city, and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has formed a "crisis committee" to try to broker peace. But warlord Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, who is loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government, anticipated the fall of Tripoli, saying that "liberating the Libyan capital is inevitable." (Middle East Eye, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya ObserverAl Jazeera, Libya Herald, Reuters )

Podcast: Toward Lakota-Tatar solidarity

In Episode 17 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses growing repression against the Tatar people of the Crimea, and the abrogation of their autonomous government by the Russian authorities since Moscow's illegal annexation of the peninsula. This is a clear parallel to violation of the territorial rights of the Lakota people in the United States through construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the legal persecution of indigenous leaders who stood against it. The parallel is even clearer in the cases of the Evenks and Telengit, indigenous peoples of Siberia, resisting Russian construction of pipelines through their traditional lands. Yet the US State Department's Radio Free Europe aggressively covers the Tatar struggle, while Kremlin propaganda organ Russia Today (RT) aggressively covered the Dakota Access protests. Indigenous struggles are exploited in the propaganda game played by the rival superpowers. With the struggles of the Tsleil-Waututh people of British Columbia against the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota against the Line 3 Pipeline now heating up, it is imperative that indigenous peoples and their allies overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity across borders and influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

Russian naval build-up ahead of Idlib offensive

The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement Aug. 30 explaining its unprecedented build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean as part of a week-long exercise. It said the maneuvers would involve 26 warships and naval vessels, including two submarines, with 34 aircraft, including missile-armed long-range bombers. (Jane's 360)  But it is obvious that this build-up is timed to coincide (at least) with the planned Assad regime offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains under opposition control. Russia will certainly be massively backing the regime offensive, which the UN warns could spark a humanitarian catastrophe. With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear that civilians have any place left to flee. Many are already living in camps in Idlib under desperate conditions, with two million in need of humanitarian aid. (AP, SBS)

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