Syria
Kurdish refugees

‘Ceasefire’ or ethnic cleansing in northeast Syria?

After meeting in Ankara, US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to suspend Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated area along the border. This is being widely reported as a “ceasefire.” However, Ankara is insisting the deal is not a “ceasefire” but a halt in the offensive to give Kurdish forces time to retreat from zone. Far from being a peace move, the pact amounts to an ultimatum to the Kurds to quit their territory. Some 160,000 Kurds have already fled the Turkish offensive—some to a refugee camp that has been established across the border in Iraq. (Photo: UNHCR via Twitter)

Syria
SDF

Syrian Kurds forge military pact with Assad regime

In a deal brokered by Russia, the leadership of the Rojava Kurds have agreed to cooperate with the Assad regime in resisting the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria. With Assadist forces already mobilizing to the region from the south and Turkish-backed forces advancing from the north, the Kurds have been left with little other choice. Accepting a separate peace with Assad is now their only hope to avoid outright extermination, or, at the very least, being cleansed entirely from their territory. But the sticking point in previous peace feelers between the Kurds and Assad has been the latter’s refusal to recognize the Rojava autonomous zone*—so its survival now is gravely in doubt, even in the improbable event that the Turkish advance is repulsed. Worse still, with the Kurds now open allies of the brutal regime that Syria’s Arab opposition has been fighting for nearly eight years, a general Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria appears terrifyingly imminent. (Photo: SOHR)

Syria
Rojava

Kurds iced from Syria constitution talks

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced formation of a constitutional committee on Syria that will include members of the Assad regime and opposition representatives. Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the  Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), protested that no representatives from the organization have been invited to join the committee. UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen said that although the main Kurdish militia in Syria was not represented, “it is important for me to emphasize that of course also we have Kurdish representatives on the committee.” Bali responded on Twitter that Pedersen “must know that having a couple of Kurds…who [are] allied with the Syrian government or the opposition doesn’t mean Kurds [are] represented in the committee.” Representatives of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria had been iced from the summit in Sochi, Russia, in January 2018, where the decision was taken to draft a new constitution. (Photo: ANF)

Syria
Russian missile

Russia admits: Syria is test war for weaponry

Russia has effectively used the Syrian war to perfect weaponry, Moscow’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu boasted. Russia intervened in support of the Bashar Assad regime in 2015 and has since been held responsible for some of the most devastating aerial bombings experienced by civilians since the onset of the conflict more than eight years ago. Shoigu said around 300 weapons had been “fine-tuned” through the Syria intervention, including the Kalibr cruise missile, generally launched from Russia’s war fleet off Syria’s coast. Previous to use in Syria, Shoigu said, technical difficulties meant the Kalibr missile often missed targets, but that is no longer the case. (Photo of Vityaz missile launcher via Wikipedia)

Europe
Ukraine

Trump’s phone call: the view from Ukraine

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has finally announced an official impeachment inquiry after reports surfaced that Donald Trump called on a foreign power to intervene in the upcoming election. Trump placed a hold on $391 million in aid to Ukraine just over a week before a July phone call in which he apparently urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden—the son of former US Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s likely opponent in next year’s race. This pretty clearly constitutes use of military aid to Ukraine as a bargaining chip—or an outright bribe. This is not the first time Ukraine’s internal war has become a football in American politics. (Map via Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

Central Asia
Aleksandr Gabyshev

Siberian shaman’s anti-Putin protest trek cut short

A traditional shaman of Siberia’s indigenous Yakut people, who had been walking cross-country for months toward Moscow “to drive Putin out of the Kremlin,” was arrested in Russia’s far eastern republic of Buryatia. The region’s Interior Ministry said that Aleksandr Gabyshev was detained on a highway near Lake Baikal, and that he will be transferred to his native Yakutia to await trial on unspecified crimes. Gabyshev’s supporters said their camp was raided in the night by “special service units.” The uniformed men did not identify themselves, and gave no reason for Gabyshev’s arrest. (Photo via RFE/RL)

Syria

Erdogan exploits refugees in Syria land-grab

A meeting in Ankara between the Turkish, Russian, and Iranian presidents failed to reach a breakthrough on what is obviously a planned carve-up of Syria. But a consensus does appear to be emerging on betrayal of the Syria Kurds. Ankara is promoting a plan to resettle displaced Syrians in a Turkish-controlled “safe zone” stretching across Syria’s north. While the US wants the width of the “safe zone” confined to 10 kilometers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the zone could be expanded to Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor—respectively some 100 and 200 kilometers from the Turkish border. Significantly, the city of Raqqa and much of Deir ez-Zor province are controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan has named a figure of 3 million refugees and displaced persons to be settled within the “safe zone.” (Photo via Ahval)

Iran
Iran

Oil shock, wider war after Saudi refinery attack?

With some some 5% of the daily global supply wiped out by the drone attack on Saudi facilities, a new oil shock now appears imminent—putting paid to the conventional wisdom that such spikes are a thing of the past due to increased US domestic production. The Persian Gulf reserves remain determinant in global political power. How realistic is the fear of a new shock—or Western military confrontation with Iran? (Map: myket)

Europe

Scores of Ukrainian detainees remain in Russia

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was among 70 detainees from Russia and Ukraine released in a prisoner swap—35 from each side. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges. Human Rights in Ukraine decried the fact that, despite the swap, at least 87 Ukrainian political prisoners remain imprisoned in Russia or occupied Crimea, in addition to at least 225 hostages held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. In light of this reality, the group called the “upbeat noises” in Western media about a “normalization” in Ukrainian-Russian relations “at very least premature.” (Photo via Kyiv Post)

Syria

Trump joins Putin in bombardment of Idlib

US warplanes struck a position outside the capital of Syria’s northern Idlib province, targeting a faction named as Huras al-Din and reportedly killing some 40 militants. Huras al-Din split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the leading insurgent front in much of Idlib, after HTS broke ties with al-Qaeda in 2016. The US air-strikes come amid an ongoing massive aerial assault on Idlib by Russia and the Assad regime. Two days earlier, at least 13 civilians were killed in Russian and regime air-strikes on the town of Marat al-Numan. Hundreds of Syrians meanwhile attempted to storm a border crossing with Turkey in Idlib, demanding refuge from the relentless bombardment. (Photo via EA Worldview)

Syria

Did Assad sign off on Israeli air-raid in Syria?

After years of presumed Israeli air-strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, the IDF finally carried out air-strikes that were publicly acknowledged, hitting a compound near Damascus supposedly shared by the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force and Hezbollah militants. The strikes follow reports in the Israeli press that there is an “undeclared pact” between Assad and Netanyahu allowing Israel to strike Iranian targets in Syria in exchange for diplomatic assistance in regional “normalization” of the Assad regime. (Photo: Israel Aerospace Industries via Jerusalem Post)

Africa
Africa fires

Central African forests burning faster than Amazon

Central Africa’s rainforests are currently being consumed by a vast system of forest fires dwarfing even those that are ravaging the Amazon. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been engulfed by flames over the past weeks—to comparatively little notice in the world media. French newspaper La Voix du Nord states, “In Angola, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, thousands of fires consume phenomenal amounts of vegetation.” Since the beginning of 2019, it is the DRC that has recorded the most fires, far ahead of Brazil. NASA attributes the fires to “widespread agricultural burning,” as farmers employ slash-and-burn methods to clear land for crops. (Photo: FIRMS)