The widely reported Kremlin plan to set up four safe or “de-escalation” zones, that were supposed to have gone into effect in Syria Friday night, May 5, turns out to be nothing but a propaganda ploy. The spin factor leaps to the eye from the small print of the plan that was released by Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of Russian General Staffs Operations Division, Friday night. He outlined four steps that may never take off:
1. Observation points will be set up to monitor the ceasefire (in the four designated de-escalation zones).
So when the putative safe zones were to have started operating Friday night, there were no observation points to monitor them.
2. The boundaries of the zones will be determined in accordance with the observation points.
This means that the zones don’t exist.
3. By June 4, a working team made up of officers of the three guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be created to administer the observation points.
Who can tell what will happen in Syrian in a month’s time.
4. Only after the observation groups of the three sponsor-nations’ armies finish mapping the ceasefire zones can it be determined whether the plan is doable or not.
Still no zones.
The Russian propaganda machine worked overtime this weekend to convince the Western media that the ceasefire zones plan had won the support of the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The truth is that US President Donald Trump did not commit himself one way or another when he talked on the phone with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, May 2, although most of their conversation was devoted to Syria, rather than the North Korean crisis. There was no agreement between them on any Syrian issue, except for a decision that American and Russian forces in the war-torn country would stay out of each other’s way.
In sum, Moscow’s ceasefire zones plan, though effectively propagandized, has changed nothing in Syria’s bloody predicament.
Turkey and Iran, the other two “sponsors” of the Astana framework, and putative “guarantors” of the safe zones, are strangely silent about the roles assigned them by the Kremlin. And no wonder. As rivals in the Syrian arena, their forces are ranged against each other in both Syria and Iraq. It is hard to see them working shoulder to shoulder alongside Russian officers to monitor safety zones which are still pie in the sky.
The situation at the moment is this: In Iraq, Turkish and Iranian troops – essentially pro-Iranian militias under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers - glare at each other across two warfronts, Tel Afar and Sinjar. In Syria, each of their armies is poised to grab Al-Bab in the Aleppo province.
The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command.
This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.
This fundamental shift in the military balance in Syria was initiated by Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Suleiman, commander of Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq.
He convinced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that there was no other way to safeguard Iran’s military supremacy in the Syrian war arena, guarantee a land bridge to Lebanon, or mobilize tactically for future confrontations with Israel.
The Syrian ruler also submitted to this step.
Therefore, Hizballah and the Shiite militias will henceforth operate under the orders of the Iranian military mission which has its seat at Syrian High Command Headquarters in Damascus.
This “reorganization” opens the door for Hizballah officers to assume Iranian army uniforms and act as “ceasefire monitors” if Russia’s fictitious safe zones ever get off the ground.
And another open door for Iran and its proxies to establish a belligerent presence. A map released by the Russian foreign ministry Saturday of the four “safe zones” in Syria covers not only southern Syria but Quneitra and the Israeli Golan. The ceasefire in those zones is to be monitored by Russian, Iranian and Turkish army officers. They will also be no-fly zones, meanng that the Israeli air force will be barred from flying over its Golan enclave, should the Russian plan ever take off.
13 people die and 10 million more are under flood warning as rising Mississippi River ravages parts of the Midwest
At least 13 people have died due to flooding in the Midwest, authorities said Saturday as up to 10 million people living across six states remain under flood warning.
Weather experts said over the weekend that several areas along the Mississippi River were likely to see near-record crests, according to CNN.
The river's rise was likely to affect towns in places like Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Residents of towns in southern Illinois and southeast Missouri girded for record high crests that surpassed 45 feet.
So far, six people in Missouri and seven people in Arkansas have died due to the flooding.
Heavy downpours that started last weekend have caused waterways to surge in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and other states.
Many rivers are subsiding and some evacuated residents are being allowed to return home, though the Mississippi River is still rising in some areas.
The surging waters prompted the US Coast Guard to close a 77-mile stretch of the river in southern Illinois from Chester to Cairo late Thursday.
A shallow magnitude 3.3 earthquake was reported Saturday morning 17 miles from Bridgeport, Calif., near the California-Nevada border, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The temblor occurred at 8:05 a.m. Pacific time at a depth of 18.6 miles.
According to the USGS, the epicenter was 19 miles from Wichman, Nev., 21 miles from Smith, Nev., and 38 miles from Hawthorne, Nev.
In the past 10 days, there have been two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.
This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.
One month ago, when discussing the latest "explosive" turn in Venezuela's political situation, we predicted that the worst case for president Nicolas Maduro who has so far managed to keep the army on his side even as Venezuela faces now daily violent and in some cases deadly protests, would be the start of the local army turning on the regime, and defecting to join the protesters.
Overnight, according to Thor Halvorsen of the Human Rights Foundation, this "inflection point" appears to have arrived when he observed in a Tweet that "the military in parts of Venezuela has begun to defect. They are now marching *with* the protesters. Dozens of soldiers are under arrest."
The military in parts of #Venezuela has begun to defect. They are now marching *with* the protesters. Dozens of soldiers are under arrest
Touching on this topic, overnight the NYT mused why have Venezuela's "powerful political and military elites stuck by President Nicolás Maduro", noting that "the country would seem to be a prime candidate for something scholars call an “elite fracture,” in which enough powerful officials break away to force a change in leadership."
All that may now be changing. In March, a video spread on social media showing three lieutenants who said they no longer recognized Mr. Maduro’s authority. The next month, they turned up in Colombia, where they requested asylum. The Venezuelan government has publicly demanded their return, which Mr. Levitsky called “pretty clear evidence that the government is worried about some sort of conspiracy” within the ranks.