UPDATE: Previous diary – NATO Is Ready for Russia In Baltic States, Not In Syria.

UPDATE2 – BREAKING NEWS ǁ Syria crisis plan: Cessation of hostilities, humanitarian airdrops, peace talks laid out in Munich

As NATO held war talks today in Brussels, US Secretary Kerry met his Russian counterpart Lavrov in Munich to seek a diplomatic solurion to war in Syria. Mars and Venus on planet Earth … speaking of gravitational waves and time warp according to Einstein, diplomacy is sometimes just as incomprehensible.

Syria crisis plan: Cessation of hostilities, humanitarian airdrops, peace talks laid out in Munich

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura are holding a news conference in Munich. The officials are taking part in the meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) ahead of the Munich Security Conference.

UPDATE3 – BREAKING NEWS ǁ Statement of the International Syria Support Group

Meeting in Munich on February 11 & 12, 2016, as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States decided that humanitarian access will commence this week to besieged areas, and an ISSG task force will within one week elaborate modalities for a nationwide cessation of hostilities.

The ISSG members unanimously committed to immediately facilitate the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously December 18, 2015. The ISSG reaffirmed their readiness to carry out all commitments set forth in the resolution, including to: ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué in its entirety; press for the end of any indiscriminate use of weapons; support and accelerate the agreement and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire; facilitate immediate humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas and the release of any arbitrarily detained persons; and fight terrorism.

Ensuring Humanitarian Access

In order to accelerate the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid, sustained delivery of assistance shall begin this week by air to Deir Ez Zour and simultaneously to Fouah, Kafrayah, the besieged areas of Rural Damascus, Madaya, Mouadhimiyeh, and Kafr Batna by land, and continue as long as humanitarian needs persist. Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country.

[Read on …]

Twitter @JohnKerry

Exclusive: Russia’s Medvedev Warns of New World War | German Handelsblatt |

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned that the demands of some Arab countries to send ground forces into Syria risks starting a new world war.

In a wide-ranging exclusive Handelsblatt interview, Mr. Medvedev said sending troops to Syria risks drawing “everyone taking part in it into a war” and drastically escalating the conflict.

“All ground operations, as a rule, lead to permanent wars,” he said. “The Americans must consider – both the U.S. president and our Arab partners – whether or not they want a permanent war.”

“We must make everyone sit down at the negotiating table…rather than start yet another world war,” the Russian prime minister added.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have called for sending ground troops into the region and have asked the United States to take the lead in such an offensive. Instead, Mr. Medvedev said Russians and Americans in particular should exert pressure on the war-faring parties in Syria to reach a settlement for a truce.

Mr. Medvedev justified Russia’s own military campaign in Syria as designed to prevent terrorists from attacking other European cities. The air strikes were necessary to avoid “brainwashed murderers” returning to Europe and doing “the same as what they did in the past in the North Caucasus, in Moscow and other Russian cities, what they did in Paris and all over the world, including the United States.”

Mr. Medvedev also sharply critized Europe’s policy on dealing with the stream of refugees that have come from Syria, calling “all-out and total failure, an all-round fiasco” that risked causing another terrorist attack in Europe. It was “silly” for Europe to simply open its borders to all asylum seekers, he said.

“Some of these people – and it’s not just a few strange individuals or utter scoundrels, but hundreds and possibly thousands – are entering Europe as potential time bombs, and they will fulfill their missions as robots when they are told to,” he warned, adding that it was “almost impossible” to identify such terrorist cells among the waves of refugees.

The prime minister also blamed western nations for breaking off dialogue with Russia following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and said the end of talks risked a return to the days of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.

“They shouldn’t have done this as this hasn’t benefited anyone….There’s nothing left of this trust now,” he said, adding: “We can close the curtain and refuse to talk with one another. I believe that this would be a huge political mistake.”

In the run-up to the Munich Security Conference, Mr. Medvedev called for closer cooperation between Russia and western nations to combat the challenges of security and terrorism.

Read the full interview in Friday’s Handelsblatt Global Edition at 12:00 CET.  

US will not be coordinating with Russia the defeat of ISIL by ground forces in the race to Raqqa.

Media Availability with Secretary Ashton Carter at NATO HQ, Brussels, Belgium | DOD – Feb. 11, 2016 |

Q: And — and linked to this, if I may –the NATO secretary-general described the Russian significant build-up in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean as a factor changing the strategical balance. So is it a strategic build-up and not a tactical build-up? So what is your strategic response?

SEC. CARTER: Okay. With respect to — we have a channel to the Russian military in which we guarantee that our military activities are not in conflict with one another, and that our forces don’t come into contact with one another.

That’s a channel that is working. It’s — one of the people in this room is the U.S. side of that channel. Now, in — the United States and partners on the ground, in coordination with other countries in the region, are working with forces that are fighting ISIL.

Sadly, and in answer to the second part of your question, that’s what the Russians said they were going to do, and it’s not what they’re doing. The Russians have overwhelmingly, in their — particularly their airstrikes — struck targets that are not ISIL targets.

Instead, they have become a participant in the civil war in Syria, which needs to end, by backing the regime and fueling the civil war.

To get your point about what’s going on in recent days, I mean, I think the most tragic thing — consequence of Russian actions at the moment is the movement of a large number of people — very cruel movement of a large number of people in Syria.

I have said before, and this hasn’t changed at all — this is a strategic mistake by the Russians that we don’t intend to coordinate with or take any part in, and we are determined, in our campaign to defeat ISIL militarily — and we’ll do that. I’m confident we’ll do that. The Russians are not helping in that regard, but we’ll do it anyway.

And as far as the Syrian Civil War is concerned, they’re taking it in the wrong direction. We continue to want to take it in the right direction: namely, one in which there is a political transition that provides a government for the Syrian people in the future that does not have Bashar Assad as part of it, does sustain the structures of the Syrian government, and therefore order and structure, but include moderate opposition of, by the way, the very kind that Russian activity either directly attacks or undermines by fueling extremism. That’s the effect of their actions.

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Gen. MacFarland via Teleconference in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room

The Race To Raqqa Is On – To Keep Its Unity Syria Must Win | MoA |

The race to Raqqa is on. Syria and its allies are competing with the U.S. and its allies to snatch east Syria from the Islamic State.

Raqqa in eastern Syria is held by the Islamic State as are the other cities along the Euphrates towards Iraq. To defeat the Islamic State in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and other eastern Syrian towns and to liberate them is the aim of all purported enemies of the Islamic State. But this question has to be seen in a larger context.

Could the U.S. and its allies capture Raqqa or Deir Ezzor and with it parts of eastern Syria it could use them as a bargaining chip to gain some negotiation power with Syria and its allies over the future of Syria. Alternatively it create a Sunni state in east-Syria and west-Iraq. Mosul would be part of such a Sunni state and it would probably be put under the tutelage of Turkey. There have been U.S. plans for such a “Sunnistan” and a revision of the Sykes-Picot borders for some time.

The U.S. is coming up with a new plan. There are only sketches visible so far and the following is just somewhat informed speculation.

The U.S. has extended the runway of the agricultural Rumeilan/Abu Hajar airfield (map) in the Kurdish held area in north east Syria to be able to supply larger operations in the wider area:

    This location has been chosen because it’s just 100 miles (160 kilometers) from ISIS frontline positions and some of its lucrative oil fields, but well within territory held by Kurdish fighters known as the YPG. The runway is being nearly doubled in length from about 2,300 feet to 4,330 feet (700 to 1,320 meters) — long enough, say, to receive C130 transport planes. A small apron is also being paved.

Some U.S. special operation forces are said to already operate from there. This is the vanguard on a reconnaissance mission.

The Saudis would be willing to send troops to Syria. Nobody was, at first, taking that serious but it now starts to make some sense. The Saudis today confirmed their intent:

    Saudi’s decision to send troops to Syria in an attempt to bolster and toughen efforts against militants is “final” and “irreversible,” the Saudi military spokesman announced on Thursday.

    Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, said that Riyadh is “ready” and will fight with its U.S.-led coalition allies to defeat ISIS militants in Syria, however, he said Washington is more suitable to answer questions on further details about any future ground operations.

    The statement comes as Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman visited NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the Syrian civil war.

The defense ministers lauded the leading step taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regarding formation of the Islamic Military Alliance for Combating Terrorism which will support the international efforts for combating terrorist groups, including ISIS group .

The Saudis would fight under the control of the one brigade of the 101st airborne that was not announced to go for Mosul. The Saudis would deploy from Saudi Arabia likely via a U.S. controlled airstrip in west Iraq towards Syria while the brigade from the 101st would probably deploy from the Kurdish area in north Iraq through the Kurdish areas in north-east Syria towards Raqqa. Raqqa would thereby be attacked from a north-eastern and a south-eastern.

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