Category Archives: Russia

Russian PM Medvedev Warns of ‘New Cold War’ Amid Syria Accusations

Chris Johnston reports for The Guardian:

The Russian prime minister has said the world is slipping into a “new cold war” after European leaders condemned his country’s airstrikes on Syria and called on Vladimir Putin to end them as a precursor for peace negotiations.

Dmitry Medvedev told a security conference in Munich that a lack of cooperation threatened to return the continent to “40 years ago, when a wall was standing in Europe”. He rejected the widely held belief that Russian planes had hit civilian targets in Syria.

“There is no evidence of our bombing civilians, even though everyone is accusing us of this,” he said on Saturday. “Russia is not trying to achieve some secret goals in Syria. We are simply trying to protect our national interests …

“Creating trust is hard … but we have to start. Our positions differ, but they do not differ as much as 40 years ago when a wall was standing in Europe.

“You could say even more sharply: we have fallen into a new cold war,” he said.

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George Soros: Russian Regime Will Face Bankruptcy in 2017

The Moscow Times reports:

U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros has predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime will face bankruptcy in 2017, when the nation’s economic troubles erode its leader’s domestic approval ratings, according to a column Soros published this week.

“Putin’s popularity, which remains high, rests on a social compact requiring the government to deliver financial stability and a slowly but steadily rising standard of living,” Soros wrote in his column on the Project Syndicate website on Wednesday. “Western sanctions, coupled with the sharp decline in the price of oil, will force the regime to fail on both counts.”

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NATO Plans Biggest Build-Up Since Cold War

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In a move sparked by the latest Pentagon plans for a major increase in US military spending, NATO defense ministers are preparing to meet later this week to work out the details of a massive new deployment along the Russian border, with plans to up to 40,000 NATO personnel to head to the area

The Baltic states and some other NATO members have been playing up the idea of a Russian invasion of Europe for over a year now, and while nothing ever came of it, they keep adding troops to the area, with the latest deployment to be the largest NATO deployment since the Cold War.

The Pentagon’s spending hike itself came on the pretext of “Russian aggression,” though the US of course outspends Russia on its military by roughly a factor of 10. Several other NATO members have spending only a bit lower than Russia’s.

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Vladimir Putin meets ‘old friend’ Henry Kissinger for ‘friendly dialogue’

RT reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued his “long-standing, friendly relations” with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as the pair took the “opportunity to talk” at a meeting in his residence outside Moscow.
The meeting is a continuation of a “friendly dialogue between President Putin and Henry Kissinger, who are bound by a long-standing relationship,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“They communicate all the time, use the opportunity to talk,” he added. Putin “values” this opportunity to discuss pressing international issues as well as exchange opinions on global perspectives, Peskov said.

Putin and Kissenger have had over 10 tete-a-tete meetings so far, according to media reports. When Kissinger visited Russia in 2013 Putin said that Moscow always pays attention to his opinion and called the former secretary of state “a world class politician.”

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Pentagon Seeks Increased Budget, Citing Russia and China

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

While yesterday’s indications were that the new Pentagon budget request would center on the ever-escalating ISIS war, the new $582.7 billion budget request for 2017 also hits all the other key touchstones, talking up potential conflicts with Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter emphasized the possibility of wars in the “decades to come” against Russia and China in particular, terming them “stressing competitors” for the United States, and presenting the Cold War era as a “luxury” when the US could focus on just one potential war against one potential enemy.

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The U.S. Is Fortifying Europe’s East to Deter Putin

Mark Landler and Helene Cooper report for The New York Times:

President Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region.

The White House plans to pay for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, several officials said Monday, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by American and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

Though Russia’s military activity has quieted in eastern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow continues to maintain a presence there, working with pro-Russian local forces. Administration officials said the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir V. Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region.

“This is not a response to something that happened last Tuesday,” a senior administration official said. “This is a longer-term response to a changed security environment in Europe. This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.”

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Beware of Obama’s Nuclear Weapons Plan

Stephen Kinzer writes for the Boston Globe:

 Americans are in near-panic over the danger posed by Islamic terrorists. That danger, however, pales beside an emerging new one. President Obama has proposed a frighteningly wrongheaded plan to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal at the unfathomable cost of about $1 trillion over the next 30 years. Terror will never reach even 1 percent of our population. Nuclear “modernization” increases the prospect of true devastation.

The nuclear threat seems diffuse and faraway, while the prospect of a deranged fanatic shooting up a cinema is as vivid as today’s news. Perhaps we have been lulled into security by the fact that no nuclear weapon has been used since 1945. Voices trying to alert us to the true threat are drowned out in a frenzy of over-the-top campaign speeches and TV rants about crazed Muslims.

The most sobering of these voices belongs to William Perry, who during the 1970s and ’80s directed the development of air-launched nuclear cruise missiles and later became secretary of defense. Now Perry is campaigning against Obama’s plan to develop and buy 1,000 new missiles with adjustable nuclear capacity, 100 new long-range bombers, and a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines. He warns that if the plan becomes real, disputes among nations will be “more likely to erupt in nuclear conflict than during the Cold War.”

When Perry was directing America’s last nuclear buildup, he and others argued that it was necessary to compensate for NATO’s relatively weak conventional power in countries around the Soviet Union. That rationale evaporated when the Cold War ended, but it still shapes our defense policy.

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The New US-Russian Cold War Originated in the 1990s: Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new American-Russian Cold War. This installment begins with Cohen’s commentary on Russian President Putin’s remarkable statements, in a recent interview, that post-Soviet Russia was itself, not the West, responsible for the misery into which the country fell in the 1990s (a tacit but harsh criticism of his own patron, then President Boris Yeltsin). More importantly, Putin blames the Yeltsin government for not resisting the beginning of US encroachment on Russia’s security in the 1990s through the eastward expansion of NATO, resulting in today’s new Cold War. Cohen points out this is typical of Putin’s candor and wonders if Washington’s Russia “experts,” who are always being “surprised” by the Russian leader, actually read what he says and writes. The discussion turns then to the growing crisis of the European Union, including worsening conflicts among its member states—among them disputes over the flood of refugees, the new right-wing government in Poland, a forthcoming referendum in the Netherlands that could block Ukraine’s planned association with the EU, events in Ukraine itself, and relations with Russia. Cohen ends by pointing out America’s escalating opposition to Secretary of State John Kerry’s photo-détente with Putin, as evidenced by op-ed articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times, and by statements of top-rank generals that Russia is an ever growing military threat to the West, not a worthy partner in the Syrian war. Meanwhile, at the political epicenter of the new Cold War, Russia is suffering from Western sanctions and the collapse of world energy prices, but Ukraine is in ruins. (The Nation)

Nuclear weapons risk greater than in cold war, says ex-Pentagon chief

Julian Borger reports for The Guardian:

The risks of a nuclear catastrophe – in a regional war, terrorist attack, by accident or miscalculation – is greater than it was during the cold war and rising, a former US defence secretary has said.

William Perry, who served at the Pentagon from 1994 to 1997, made his comments a few hours before North Korea’s nuclear test on Wednesday, and listed Pyongyang’s aggressive atomic weapons programme as one of the global risk factors.

He also said progress made after the fall of the Soviet Union to reduce the chance of a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia was now unravelling.

“The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the cold war,” Perry said. “A new danger has been rising in the past three years and that is the possibility there might be a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia … brought about by a substantial miscalculation, a false alarm.”

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1956 U.S. Document Planned Mass Nuclear Strikes on Densely Populated Areas

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In a 1956 study for the Strategic Air Command (SAC), a newly declassified document reveals that the US intended to carry out nuclear strikes against the most densely populated parts of the Soviet bloc, singling out “population” centers in addition to military targets.

The 700-page document placed a priority on military installations, but also planned the “systematic destruction” of the Soviet bloc’s industrial capability by targeting “areas of human population,” including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, and Warsaw.

That may sound like a limited plan, but all-told there were some 1,200 cities to be targeted with nuclear strikes specifically to try to kill as many people as possible. Cities like Moscow and Leningrad, which also had military or government targets, were to be hit dozens of times.

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U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad: Interview with Seymour Hersh

Amy Goodman speaks to Pulitzer-winning veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh about his latest article in the London Review of Books in which he reports President Obama’s Joints Chiefs of Staff has indirectly supported Bashar al-Assad in an effort to help him defeat jihadist groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. Hersh also discusses his views of Hillary Clinton supports of ousting Assad. (Democracy Now!)

Military To Military: U.S. Intelligence Sharing In The Syrian War

Seymour Hersh writes for the London Review of Books:

Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefsof Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’

‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a zero chance of success’. So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.

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The Man Who Married Putin’s Daughter and Then Made a Fortune

Jack Stubbs, Andrey Kuzmin, Stephen Grey and Roman Anin write for Reuters:

[…] At the time of the wedding, Kirill – a tall, dark-haired man with rimless glasses – was a rising star of Russian business, but still only 31. His fortunes began to skyrocket soon after his wedding to the president’s daughter, a competitive acrobatic dancer who is now helping to oversee a $1.7 billion expansion of Moscow State University.

Within 18 months, Kirill acquired a large chunk of shares in a major Russian oil and petrochemical processor called Sibur – a stake now worth an estimated $2.85 billion, based on the value of recent share deals. He also quit his job as a business manager and set up a company to run his personal investments.

How did such a young businessman go so far, so fast? A Reuters examination of Shamalov’s career shows that in the summer of 2013, months after he married Putin’s daughter, Kirill opened discussions about buying shares in Sibur from one of the president’s wealthiest friends.

A year later, he was able to borrow more than $1 billion, judging by the published accounts of his investment company. The loan came from a bank headed by another longtime associate of Putin, and where Shamalov’s brother holds a senior position. The money was used to make an investment in Sibur that within months proved highly profitable for Kirill.

Asked about his business deals and the wedding, Kirill Shamalov and Sibur declined to comment.

The trajectory of Kirill’s fortunes sheds new light on how people close to Putin have taken commanding positions in key companies – and how such opportunities are now being extended to a new generation. Like the wedding, much of this transfer of riches has occurred away from public scrutiny.

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Russia says it has proof Turkey involved in Islamic State oil trade

Maria Tsvetkova and Lidia Kelly report for Reuters:

Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday it had proof that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq.

Moscow and Ankara have been locked in a war of words since last week when a Turkish air force jet shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border, the most serious incident between Russia and a NATO state in half a century.

Erdogan responded by saying no one had the right to “slander” Turkey by accusing it of buying oil from Islamic State, and that he would stand down if such allegations were proven to be true. But speaking during a visit to Qatar, he also said he did not want relations with Moscow to worsen further.

At a briefing in Moscow, defense ministry officials displayed satellite images which they said showed columns of tanker trucks loading with oil at installations controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and then crossing the border into neighboring Turkey.

The officials did not specify what direct evidence they had of the involvement of Erdogan and his family, an allegation that the Turkish president has vehemently denied.

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NATO Adds Air Defenses to Southern Turkey, Fueling Russia Rivalry

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

A week after Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian bomber over Syrian airspace, NATO has announced a plan to deploy yet more warplanes and anti-aircraft missiles in southern Turkey, adding to tensions with Russia along the Syria-Turkey border.

NATO officials suggested the move was designed to “reassure” Turkey, and to fill the gap after Germany and the US removed Patriot missile batteries from the area. Lithuanian FM Linas Likevicius said the deployment was vital to “counter threats” to Turkey.

Yet Turkey doesn’t appear to be at threat from any aircraft at this point, and the move seems designed purely to needle Russia, which has itself been adding to air defenses in northwestern Syria, and has announced its intention to escort bomber along the border to ensure Turkey doesn’t take any more shots at them.

German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier is calling for a special NATO meeting with Russia, though the Baltic nations seem eager to make the deployment more directly confrontational. Britain has pledged interceptor jets to the deployment, once plans are finalized.

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Chair of UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Bombing Syria: Interview with Crispin Blunt

Afshin Rattansi talks to Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee, in his Westminster office, about the military intervention in Syria. (Going Underground)

Coalition or Cold War with Russia? Interview with Stephen Cohen

John Batchelor talks to Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. Cohen suggests that powerful forces are working against a post-Paris coalition between Russia and European nations lead by France against the Islamic State. (John Batchelor Show)

Erdogan: Russian Plane Downed Defending ‘Our Brothers in Syria’

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Turkey and Russia continue to step up the rhetoric today after Turkish warplanes destroyed a Russian bomber over northern Syria yesterday morning, with Turkish officials continuing to insist they had every right to destroy the plane.

In comments today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the plane was destroyed defending “the rights of our brothers in Syria,” and insisted that Turkish policy toward planes along the Syria-Turkish border would not change, despite Russian anger.

Oddly, Erdogan conceded that a “short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack,” but followed this up by reiterating that they are going to view planes in northern Syria “as a military threat and treated as a military target.”

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Turkey shoots down Russian plane: NATO will be worried

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

[…] Nato countries will give some rhetorical support to Turkey as a Nato member, but many will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with Isis are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in a strong domestic position because of his sweeping parliamentary election victory on 1 November. But he has seen what appeared to be a strong Turkish position in the Middle East in 2011 deteriorate year by year as leaders and movements he supported, such as President Morsi in Egypt and the opposition in Syria, suffer defeats.

At the same time, it is damaging for Turkey to have bad relations with Russia and Iran, two powerful neighbours close to its borders. Leaders of Nato countries will want to prevent further Russian-Turkish hostilities, so they can look for Russian cooperation in attacking Isis and ending the Syrian conflict.

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Turkey’s Intentions Behind the Downing of a Russian Jet: Interview with Baris Karaagac

Jessica Devereux interviews Baris Karaagac, a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. (The Real News)

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Plane Over Syria, Inflaming Tensions

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Tensions are soaring in the Black Sea tonight after Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian Su-24 over neighboring Syria. Turkey claimed the plane was in Turkish airspace when it was attacked, though US officials have said they believe the plane was inside Syria when it was attacked. Pentagon officials also say they are unsure if the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace at all.

Turkey informed the UN Security Council that it shot the plane down today, saying it had every right to do so. They also urged “consultations” with NATO, though the alliance appears to be urging Turkey to calm down and show a little restraint.

This is the first NATO downing of a Russian military plane since the 1950s, and is fueling concern of eventual retaliation by Russia after the incident, particularly with Turkey so loudly trumpeting their attack.

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Obama to Hollande: Stay the course against Russia

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

obama_francois_hollande_AP.jpgWhen President Barack Obama hosts French President François Hollande on Tuesday, he’ll have more on his agenda than demonstrating solidarity against terrorism. He’ll also be working to make sure Hollande sticks with the international effort to punish and isolate Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine.

Privately, Obama officials say they are concerned about whether key European leaders are prepared to extend sanctions on Moscow, which expire in late January. And they are wary of any effort by Putin — who will host Hollande in Moscow later this week — to link events in Syria and Ukraine. The fear is that Putin might try to trade more aggressive Russian action against the Islamic State for France’s backing in reducing or ending the sanctions.

A premature end to sanctions in Europe “is always our worry,” said Evelyn Farkas, who served until last month as the Pentagon’s top official for Russia and Ukraine. “They can’t back away from sanctions. Ukraine is a separate situation” from Syria.

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No, Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane will not spark World War III

Max Fisher writes for Vox:

Only three short hours of Turkey announcing it had shot down a Russian warplane for violating its airspace, an unusual phrase appeared as a new trending topic on Twitter: “World War 3.” The conversation is both joking and not joking.

You can see why people might worry. Turkey is a NATO ally, meaning that at least in theory the other members of NATO — the United States and most of Europe — can be obliged to come to its defense against an external attack. A theoretical slide into conflict between Turkey and Russia could thus also become a conflict between Russia and NATO, dragging the world’s top four nuclear powers into war. Tensions between NATO and Russia have been rising for two years, and now both are bombing on opposite sides in Syria. With fears of some unintended escalation in Ukraine or now Syria sparking a larger conflagration, it sounded scarily possible.

But I am here to reassure you: This is not the start of World War III.

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 Will Paris Melt the New US-Russian Cold War? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new East-West Cold War. Accelerating a trend already evident as a result of the Syrian crisis, according to Cohen, the savage terrorist acts on Paris almost immediately resulted in a French-Russian military alliance against the Islamic State in Syria, with French President Hollande and most of Europe dramatically breaking with the Obama Administration’s nearly two-year-old policy of “isolating Putin’s Russia” over the Ukrainian crisis. (The Nation)

Coverage of Russian Plane Bombing Shows What a Difference an Enemy Makes

Jim Naureckas writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

Vladimir Putin (photo: Alexei Nikolsky via AP/US News)FAIR (11/13/15, 11/16/15,11/17/15) has noted the contrast between US media coverage of Paris and Beirut after the militant ISIS movement claimed responsibility for terror attacks in both cities. It may be even more illuminating to look at media reactions to another ISIS-claimed disaster, the bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian tourist plane that went down over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 217 people on board. When the victims of terror come from an official enemy state, it’s clear that different media rules apply.

Before it was determined that a bomb caused the crash, Associated Press‘s Jim Heintz (11/7/15) wrote a speculative piece that began, “No matter what caused the fatal crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt, the answer will almost certainly hit Russia hard—but not President Vladimir Putin.” Whether it was terrorism or mechanical failure, Heintz wrote, “Either answer could challenge Russia’s new self-confidence—but could also be used by Putin to advance his aims and reinforce his power.”

Needless to say, we’re not seeing a lot of coverage of how France’s François Hollande could use the Paris attacks “to advance his aims and reinforce his power.”

While US outlets were circumspect to the point of being unintelligible in drawing a connection between France’s war against ISIS in Syria/Iraq and the Paris attacks, AP had no trouble making it clear that Russia had been targeted not because of its values or symbols but because of its military attacks against a violent adversary: “A faction of the militant Islamic State group claimed it had downed the airliner in retaliation for Russia launching airstrikes on IS positions in Syria a month earlier.”

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ISIS says Russia targeted over Syria campaign, shows alleged Sinai jet ‘bomb’

RT reports:

Embedded image permalinkAn image of alleged parts of a “bomb” used to take down a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai, killing all 224 people onboard, was posted by Islamic State’s magazine.

A soft drink can and what appeared to be a detonator and switch allegedly made up the parts of an improvised homemade bomb, a photo published online on Wednesday by Dabiq magazine suggests.

Another photograph showed passports said to belong to Russian passengers killed in the bombing, with the documents allegedly obtained by Islamic fighters.

The authenticity of the images has not been verified.

On Tuesday, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that a terrorist attack caused the A321 plane en route to St. Petersburg to crash in Sinai. Traces of explosives have been found in the wreckage, which included passengers’ belongings and parts of the plane.

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Strikes on Raqqa in Syria Lead to More Questions Than Results

Anne Barnard reports for The New York Times:

First France and then Russia answered Islamic State attacks on their citizens with a strategy of direct reprisal: intensified airstrike campaigns on Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital within Syria, meant to eliminate the group’s leadership and resources.

But on Tuesday in the early hours of those new campaigns, there seemed to be more questions than decisive results. Chief among them: Why, if there were confirmed Islamic State targets that could be hit without killing civilians, were they not hit more heavily long ago? And what, in fact, was being hit?

More broadly, the Raqqa airstrikes are renewing a debate about how effective such attacks can be in defeating or containing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, without more commitment to measures like drying up its financial support, combating its ideology or — what outside forces on all sides so far appear to have ruled out — conducting a ground assault.

Several people in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey who have been able to make contact with relatives in Raqqa say the recent French airstrikes — a barrage of about 30 on Sunday night and seven more on Monday — did not kill any civilians. But neither did they inflict serious military damage, those people said, instead hitting empty areas or buildings, or parts of the territory of factory complexes or military bases used by the Islamic State.

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Paris attacks change focus of meeting in Vienna on Syria

Al Jazeera America reports:

High-level talks on the future of Syria have produced an agreement to seek meetings between the opposition and the government of President Bashar al-Assad by year’s end, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added that there will be efforts to create a new constitution for the war-torn country and attempts to create a transitional government within 18 months.

Kerry and Steinmeier spoke at the end of a daylong meeting in Vienna of nearly 20 countries represented by foreign ministers and their deputies seeking to end Syria’s war.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, talk of Syria as a breeding ground for violence moved to the foreground of the meeting on the war in that country, with participants linking the devastating shooting and bombing attacks to the Middle East turmoil and the opportunities it gives for attacks.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the attacks as they met with senior representatives from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries with strongly conflicting views on how to end the more than four-year war. Key differences include what role, if any, Assad should play in a transitional government.

Such differences appeared to be put aside at least temporarily at the meeting.

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U.S. Spies Root for an ISIS-Russia War

Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef report for Daily Beast:

In the days following the crash of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, which mounting evidence suggests was felled by an ISIS bomb, many U.S. intelligence and security officials weren’t panicking about the so-called Islamic State unleashing a new campaign of attacks on civilian airliners. Instead, they were wondering how the bombing might hurt Vladimir Putin, and potentially help the United States.

Ever since Putin started dropping bombs on militants in Syria, officials have privately been arguing that the Russian leader committed a major strategic blunder, and that his intervention in Syria would weaken both his military and his reputation and likely ignite a backlash from Islamist militants, who have attacked inside Russia in the past.

One U.S. intelligence official, speaking prior to the airliner crash, called the Russian campaign in Syria “Putin’s folly.”

Now, six U.S. intelligence and military officials told The Daily Beast that they hoped an ISIS attack on Russian civilians would force Putin to finally take the gloves off and attack the group, which the U.S. has been trying to dislodge from Iraq and Syria for more than a year, without success.

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The Sham Syrian Peace Conference

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

I have always been enthusiastic in my support for peace negotiations, which have been neglected all too often in internal and international conflicts. But it is clear that the international conference on Syria that held its first meeting in Vienna on October 30 is a sham conference that is not capable of delivering any peace negotiations, and that the Obama administration knew that perfectly well from the start.

The administration was touting the fact that Iran was invited to participate in the conference, unlike the previous United Nations-sponsored gathering on Syria in January and February 2014. That unfortunate conference had excluded Iran at the insistence of the United States and its Sunni allies, even though several states without the slightest capacity to contribute anything to a peace settlement – as well as the Vatican – were among the 40 non-Syrian invited participants.

Iran’s participation in the Vienna conference represents a positive step. Nevertheless, the conference was marked by an even more fundamental absurdity: none of the Syrian parties to the war were invited. The 2014 talks at least had representatives of the Assad regime and some of the armed opposition. The obvious implication of that decision is that the external patrons of the Syrian parties – especially Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – are expected to move toward the outline of a settlement and then use their clout with the clients to force the acceptance of the deal.

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