‘Russia believes that its long-held vision of how to achieve peace in civil war-torn Syria has at last become possible due to a shifting balance of forces in the war and changing perceptions in the West, experts say.
In Russia’s view, peace would come through a negotiated settlement between the Bashar al-Assad regime and at least major elements of the anti-Assad rebels.
Newly assertive in advance of an upcoming peace conference to be jointly sponsored by the US and Russia, Moscow is insisting that rebel factions who come to the meeting must do so “without preconditions,” meaning no demands for Mr. Assad’s removal. It is also advocating that Syria’s main regional ally, Iran, should be included in the talks along with other players like Saudi Arabia.’
by Amie Ferris-Rotman
‘Russia, predicting instability once NATO-led troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, is considering deploying border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border, Moscow’s envoy to Kabul told Reuters in an interview.
Moscow, still sore from its disastrous, decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is increasingly concerned by what it describes as the combined threat of narcotics and terrorism reaching Russia through former Soviet Central Asian countries.’
According to the British newspaper, reconnaissance satellites have been monitoring preparations by the Syrian army to deploy surface-to-surface Tishreen missiles.
An Israeli official told The New York Times that Israel, which has launched three recent attacks on Syria, was considering further strikes and warned President Bashar Assad that his government would face “crippling consequences” if he hit back at Israel.
The Sunday Times said the deployment of the Syrian-made Tishreen missiles, each of which can carry a half-ton payload, marks a significant escalation of tension “in a region in which the United States and Russia appear to be preparing for a Cold War-style stand-off.”‘
‘A Russian shipment of anti-ship missiles to Syria could embolden President Bashar Assad’s forces and prolong the conflict, the top U.S. military officer said on Friday.
“It’s at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering, so it’s ill-timed and very unfortunate,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Dempsey said he was referring specifically to the anti-ship missiles sent by Russia. The missiles, called Yakhonts, are equipped with an advanced radar that renders them more effective, according to officials who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified intelligence information.’
Russian Pacific Fleet Warships Enter Mediterranean For First Time In Decades, To Park In Cyprus ~ Zero Hedge
by Tyler Durden
‘Earlier we reported that the US has now officially landed a Marine force in Israel as well as an assault ship, in a visit that the US Navy promptly assured “is not associated with, nor a reaction to, any world events.” It seems we were not the only ones who read this justification somewhat skeptically: so did Russia. And in a historic event, the Russian Pacific fleet, for the first time in decades, crossed the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean, direction Cyprus’ port of Limasol (hi Cyprus – Russia will be arriving shortly) in what is now the loudest implied warning to the US and Israel amassing military units across Syria’s border that Russia will not stand idly by as Syria is used by the Israeli “Defense” Forces for target practice. “The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Channel and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships enter this region,” Capt. First Rank Roman Martov said. This is what is also known as dropping hints, loud and clear.’
by Miriam Elder
The revelation, made by an FSB spokesman who accused the US agency of crossing a “red line” in its attempt to recruit turncoats among Russian spy agencies, will up the ante in the unfolding spy scandal that emerged earlier this week when Russia detained and expelled an alleged CIA agent working undercover as third secretary at the US embassy in Moscow.
Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin‘s foreign policy advisor, have taken pains to say they believe the scandal will blow over quickly.
Publicly revealing the CIA station chief proves that some inside the Russian government believe otherwise and is likely to prompt an angry response from Washington.’
by Luke Harding
The coroner, Sir Robert Owen, reluctantly agreed to exclude material from the inquest that suggested Russian state agencies were involved in Litvinenko’s death. He also agreed to keep secret evidence that considered whether or not the UK authorities could have prevented Litvinenko’s 2006 murder.
In a judgment published on Friday afternoon, Owen acknowledged that his ruling meant the inquest scheduled to begin on 2 October could end up being “incomplete, misleading and unfair”. He took the highly unusual step of inviting the government to hold a secret public inquiry into Litvinenko’s killing, which would involve the sensitive excluded evidence heard behind closed doors.
Other parties to the inquest including Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, as well as lawyers acting for the media, opposed Hague’s application. On Friday, they said they were deeply dismayed by the ruling, which follows several days of secret hearings from which they were excluded.’
by Mamta Badkar
‘[...] A new report from the World Gold Council shows that central banks bout 109 tonnes of gold in the first quarter.
This was the seventh straight quarter in which they purchased over 100 tonnes of gold.
Central banks held 31,735.4 tonnes of gold as of May 2013. This was up from 31,694.8 tonnes as of April 2013.
According to the WGC, Russia and South Korea were among the biggest buyers of gold.’
‘Senior Russian and American officials said on Wednesday that they were prepared to put a bizarre spy case behind them, even as the episode remained a matter of intense fascination to the Russian news media and the public.
In Moscow, the American ambassador, Michael A. McFaul, was summoned to a meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he was told once again about Russia’s outrage over what Russian officials depicted as a failed effort by a Central Intelligence Agency officer to recruit a Russian security official as a spy.’
by ANDREI SOLDATOV AND IRINA BOROGAN
‘We all know surveillance is big in Putin’s Russia. What you may not know is that Russia’s surveillance tech is being used all over — even here in the U.S.
The Kremlin is up to its domes in spy technology. One reason is fear, provoked by the Arab Spring, of a growing and diffuse protest movement that uses social media to organize. Notably, the authorities have taken an interest in DPI (or deep packet inspection) tools, which are essential to monitoring the internet Russia-wide. The largest voice-recognition company in Russia has likewise developed close ties with the authorities, while tracing its origin to the Gulag.
Nor is Russia exactly a newcomer. The Soviet Union worked heavily on a litany of tools to spy on its own citizens. But for years, internet monitoring in Russia was carried out on the regional level: a hodge-podge of systems that blocked banned websites, as ordered by regional courts. That changed in November, when the Kremlin moved to implement a nation-wide internet-filtering system to block websites deemed extremist and harmful to children — a label often painted with a broad brush to mean anyone who opposes the Putin regime.
It’s also not just Russia that’s buying Russian-made surveillance technologies, and the tech isn’t limited to inside Russia’s borders. They’ve been extended to former Soviet republics, and very far from Moscow: in Latin America, Canada and even the United States. Here are several.’
by LYNN BERRY
‘A U.S. diplomat disguised in a blond wig was caught red-handed as he tried to recruit a Russian agent in Moscow, Russia’s security services announced Tuesday, claiming the American was a CIA officer.
Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was carrying special technical equipment, disguises, written instructions and a large sum of money when he was detained late Monday, Russia’s Federal Security Service said.
The FSB, which is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said Fogle was trying to recruit a Russian counterterrorism officer who specializes in the Caucasus, a region in southern Russia that includes Chechnya and Dagestan.
[...] Fogle, who was handed back to U.S. Embassy officials, was declared persona non grata and ordered to leave Russia immediately, the Foreign Ministry said. He has diplomatic immunity, which protects him from arrest.’
NOTE: This is not the first time a CIA agent has been caught using diplomatic cover in order to facilitate overseas operations in a friendly country. In 2011, CIA agent Raymond Davis (an employee at the Lahore Consulate) was arrested for a double murder in Pakistan with the US insisting that despite him being a spy, he was entitled to immunity. Pakistan would later catch more embassy agents in possession of weapons.
‘Russia’s Mediterranean task force will comprise 5-6 warships and may be enlarged to include nuclear submarines, Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov said on Sunday.
“Overall, already from this year, we plan to have 5-6 warships and support vessels [in the Mediterranean Sea], which will be replaced on a rotating basis from each of the fleets – the Black Sea, Baltic, Northern and, in some cases, even the Pacific Fleet. Depending on the scope of assignments and their complexity, the number of warships in the task force may be increased,” Chirkov told RIA Novosti.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu earlier said a decision to deploy a permanent task force in the Mediterranean to defend Russia’s interests in the area had been made.
The Russian navy commander also said nuclear submarines could be deployed in the Mediterranean, if necessary.’
‘Russia is not planning to supply Syria with any weapons beyond the current contracts that are nearing completion, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The news comes amid speculations that Moscow might sell S-300 air defense systems to Damascus.
“Russia does not plan to sell,” Lavrov told reporters. He stressed that Russia has only been fulfilling contracts that have already been signed with Syria for defensive weapons.’
‘RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin yesterday dismissed his influential deputy prime minister Vladislav Surkov, credited with designing the country’s tightly controlled political system.
His departure comes amid what observers describe as signs of growing infighting among Kremlin elites during Mr Putin’s controversial third term and an ongoing probe of a high-tech fund backed by Mr Surkov.
[...] Mr Putin’s spokesman said Mr Surkov’s departure should not be seen in connection with the investigation at the Skolkovo fund. Instead, he suggested that the deputy prime minister quit because of the government’s poor implementation of Mr Putin’s election promises.’
Russians, U.S. agree to Syria talks, but anti-Assad opposition may refuse to participate ~ McClatchy
by Jonathan S. Landay and Hannah Allam
‘The United States and Russia agreed Tuesday to try to convene an international conference on ending Syria’s brutal civil war – possibly by the end of May – but the effort appeared to run into trouble within hours of its announcement with the key U.S.-backed opposition group reiterating that it won’t attend talks involving top Assad regime officials.
The bid to revive a long-stalled peace plan, unveiled in Moscow by Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, reflected both sides’ fears that worsening bloodshed, living conditions and waves of refugees are driving Syria to disintegration and threatening to plunge the region into sectarian mayhem.’
Obama Cites Moral Obligation to End Syrian Civil War, Agrees to Deal With Russia to Push ‘Political Solution’ ~ Antiwar
by Jason Ditz
‘Previous efforts at a negotiated settlement in Syria stalled over US (and by extension pro-US rebel) demands that President Assad unconditionally resign before the talks begin. President Obama is suggesting that the policy may be changing however.
‘International military action against Syria’s government over its alleged use of chemical weapons would run up against one of the Middle East’s most formidable air defenses, a system bolstered in recent years by top-of-the-line Russian hardware.
[...] Syria, experts say, possesses one of the most robust air defense networks in the region, with multiple surface-to-air missiles providing overlapping coverage of key areas in combination with thousands of anti-aircraft guns capable of engaging attacking aircraft at lower levels.
Six years ago, the system was showing signs of neglect.
In 2007, Syria’s aging Soviet-supplied air defense system received a shock when Israeli jets bombed a suspected nuclear reactor site along the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria. The attack proved deeply embarrassing and provided a jolt to the Assad regime, which responded by making a concerted push to upgrade its air defenses, and turned to the country’s traditional arms provider, Russia, for help.’
by Arthur Bright
Christian Science Monitor
‘Dagestan and the rest of the Caucasus republics of Russia have been the site of a long-running Islamic insurgency against Moscow and its local allies. In 1999, Russian forces invaded Chechnya, located just west of Dagestan, to squelch a regional separatist movement. Over the years, the movement has radicalized into an Islamist terrorist operation, which has launched repeated deadly attacks over the years both in the Caucasus and against the Russian homeland, including Moscow itself.
The Causasus have come under greater scrutiny from the West recently, due to the Boston Marathon bombers’ connections with the region. The parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev both live in Dagestan, and in 2012, Tamerlan reportedly visited relatives there. Neither brother registered on Dagestani security forces’ radar however’
by KIRIT RADIA, BRIAN ROSS, PIERRE THOMAS and RHONDA SCHWARTZ
‘Accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been in touch with suspected militants before and during his visit last year to southern Russia, according to a U.S. official and sources in the region.
American officials are investigating whether Tsarnaev had been in contact over the internet with a man named William Plotnikov, a Russian-Canadian and a fellow boxer, who had converted to Islam and joined the militant insurgency in the North Caucasus. Authorities also want to know what Tsarnaev was doing with a known militant recruiter in the region named Mansur Mukhamed Nidal with whom Tsarnaev was repeatedly seen leaving a controversial mosque in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.
The new leads come as the FBI’s investigation into the deadly April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon continues to expand and follows the discovery of female DNA on one of the bombs, according to government sources. The sources said it is unclear whether the DNA was from a victim of the attack, from someone who handled components of the bomb before it was assembled or from a possible co-conspirator of the suspected Tsarnaev brothers.
In addition to identifying the woman in question, people briefed on the case said the FBI reportedly is now seeking information on almost a dozen persons of interest.’
by Karen DeYoung
The Washington Post
‘President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S. leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, according to senior administration officials.
The officials emphasized that political negotiation remains the preferred option. To that end, the administration has launched a new effort to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that the probable use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government — and the more direct outside intervention that could provoke — should lead him to reconsider his support of Assad.
But Obama, who spoke by telephone with Putin on Monday and is sending Secretary of State John F. Kerry to Moscow in the coming days, is likely to make a final decision on the supply of arms within weeks, before a scheduled meeting with Putin in June, officials said.
Confirmation of the use of chemical weapons by the government, Obama said Tuesday, would mean “there are some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would strongly consider.”’
‘Two missiles were reportedly fired at a Russian plane with at least 159 passengers on board flying over Syrian territory. Russian officials admit the jet faced danger, but are not talking of a targeted attack.
On Monday Interfax cited “an informed source in Moscow,” which reported that a Russian passenger plane was attacked, while flying over a mountainous area of Syria.
“Syrian [officials] informed us that on Monday morning, unidentified forces launched two ground-to-air missiles which exploded in the air very close to a civilian aircraft belonging to a Russian airline,” the source told the Russian agency.
The pilots reportedly managed to maneuver the plane in time however, “saving the lives of passengers.”’
by OLGA KHAZAN
‘As Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny stands trial for allegedly embezzling money from a timber company — charges that many Russia watchers say are trumped up — the anti-government slogan he helped popularize is taking off among the general public.
Throughout Russia’s boisterous protests over the past year and a half, activists took to the streets chanting that the ruling United Russia party was “the party of crooks and thieves” — a moniker Navalny invented and spread through hisprolific LiveJournal blogging and social media following.
Now, for the first time in two years, the majority of Russians agree with that slogan, according to a new poll of 1,600 people by the Levada Center.’
by Dmitry Solovyov
‘NATO member Turkey signed up on Friday to became a “dialogue partner” of a security bloc dominated by China and Russia, and declared that its destiny is in Asia.
[...] China, Russia and four Central Asian nations – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – formed the SCO in 2001 as a regional security bloc to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.
Since then, Central Asia’s former imperial master Russia has watched with unease China’s economic expansion in the resource-rich region, with Beijing investing billions of dollars in oil and gas and issuing large loans to local governments.
Turkey has displayed interest in closer ties with the SCO at a time when it is upset by the slow progress of accession talks with the European Union.’
The initial questions about the Boston bombing are behind us, but former FBI employee Sibel Edmonds believes the pursuit of truth will eventually lead to a far more secret agenda by the US, which she reveals to RT.
The United States is having to quickly wake up to the possibility that Chechens are not the ‘freedom fighters’ Western media has been categorizing them as, especially when it came to the Republic’s relationship to Russia. But even the newly formed perceptions may not be enough when it comes to investigating the motives and planning behind the Boston bombing, according to Edmonds, who is also a founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.
With the dust somewhat settled after the capture of the younger suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Edmonds believes there will only be more unanswered questions in an investigation already plagued by obvious inconsistencies and falsities, which she recounts at length.
Russian authorities secretly recorded a telephone conversation in 2011 in which one of the Boston bombing suspects vaguely discussed jihad with his mother, officials said Saturday, days after the U.S. government finally received details about the call.
In another conversation, the mother of now-dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case, officials said.
The conversations are significant because, had they been revealed earlier, they might have been enough evidence for the FBI to initiate a more thorough investigation of the Tsarnaev family.
As it was, Russian authorities told the FBI only that they had concerns that Tamerlan and his mother were religious extremists. With no additional information, the FBI conducted a limited inquiry and closed the case in June 2011.
by Daria Solovieva
The Boston bombings have brought attention to the tumultuous Russian region of the North Caucasus, including Dagestan and Chechnya, which was a front line for international jihadists in the mid-1990s and which has seen a series of fierce and ultimately futile battles for independence from Russia.
In recent weeks, North Caucasus-based fighters became increasingly visible online, as well as on the ground in Syria. Along with a growing number of foreign fighters from the Arab world as well as Europe, they joined a legion of al-Qaeda offshoots and Syria-based movements to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Last week, an armed group of Chechen fighters was behind a kidnapping of two bishops in the Syrian province of Aleppo, according to their dioceses. Their driver was killed immediately, while Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim remain in captivity.
“We can say that they haven’t been freed,” a priest at Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox archdiocese, Ghassan Ward, told AFP on Wednesday [April 24].
The Chechen jihadists have been active near the Turkish border, according to activist reports, and the newly launched Russian-language jihadist website documents their operations in Syria.
The group, which identifies itself as Jaish Muhajirin Wa Anshar or Army of Emigrants and Helpers, is not limited to Chechen fighters, although most of the fighters on the website identify themselves as Chechen and speak a mixture of Russian and Arabic.
by Dmitry Zaks
A website used by Russia’s North Caucasus rebels denied Sunday any link to the deadly Boston Marathon bombings that have been blamed on two ethnic-Chechen suspects.
“The command of the Vilayat Dagestan mujahedeen… declares that the Caucasus fighters are not waging any military activities against the United States of America,” the Kavkazcenter.comwebsite said.
“We are only fighting Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for monstrous crimes against Muslims,” the rebel site said.
Media reports in the United States said the FBI was studying possible links between the two main suspects — brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev — and the Caucasus Emirate movement led by feared warlord Doku Umarov.
by Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball
Russia asked the FBI in early 2011 to investigate Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev out of concern he had embraced radical Islam and was going to travel to Russia to join underground groups, U.S. law enforcement sources said on Saturday.
Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, made a request for checks on Tsarnaev – who was killed after a shootout with police on Thursday – to help an investigation of its own, a U.S. government source said.
The Russians were not tipping off the FBI about a plot in the United States or any threat posed to U.S. interests, a law enforcement and national security source said on condition of anonymity.
The fact that there was no warning about an attack in the United States may help shield the Obama administration, spy agencies and law enforcement from criticism that they failed to see the danger from Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, who are suspected of carrying out the twin bombings that killed three people and injured over 170 on Monday at the Boston Marathon.
Russia is battling Islamist militants in the volatile North Caucasus where the Tsarnaev brothers – who are ethnic Chechens – have family ties. But the number of tips from Moscow on possible terrorism cases is “not that many,” a senior U.S. law enforcement source said.