Note by The Saker: as has been the case so many times in the past, I am posting an article with which I disagree, rather strongly, in fact, but which I find nevertheless worth posting precisely because it represents a point of view different from mine and because it asks some interesting questions.  My own two cents about all this is that the Russians are seeking opportunities to appear to be compromising with the Trump Administration and that by appearing to yield to US pressures about the Astana Conference they are thereby giving in to the “negotiable  minimum” to preempt US pressure where it really matters: China and Iran.  As for Palmyra and Jaish al-Islam (JAI), I will say the following: in the first case, Palmyra is militarily irrelevant and, besides, that is a Syrian, not Russian, decision to be made.  As for JAI, this is an old Russian trick: the Russians always talk to everybody, no exceptions ever.  In the western mentality, the mere fact of sitting down with somebody sends a powerful message, in the Russian mentality, it means nothing.  In this case, the JAI representatives will be sitting across the table from Russians and Iranians who will be looking at them and asking “so what are you willing to offer us?  Give us a reason to be interested in talking to you”.  This would be a clear case of divide et impera and not a case of abandonment of strategic objectives. Anyway, rather than writing a full-length response/rebuttal here I just want to remind possible newcomers that posting an article on this blog does not constitute an endorsement of its contents or conclusions.

The Saker
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Is Russia’s Deep State In Civil War Just Like America’s

by Brainstorm

During the American elections and particularly in the post-election period, we were witnesses to the deep internal struggle of the American political structures to prevent the “undesirable“ candidate, Donald Trump, from winning the elections and becoming the 45th President of the United States.

As is usual in America, there was a lot of noise and public spectacles, and the entire establishment regardless of their colors and political dispositions were on one side. The entire mainstream media, Hollywood stars, Liberal America, the richest parts of the country along the East and West Coasts, the state-sponsored and controlled fake left and fake “progressive” movements such as “Black Lives Matter”, the LGBT militarized agenda, and the military industrial complex have interests which are far apart from those of the American Midwest, the Rust Belt, and the millions of impoverished average Americans which dream of a better future but fear raising their voices in the face of the militarized police of state terror.

After the elections, the new President-elect, Mr. Donald Trump, faced unprecedented resistance from the aforementioned establishment forces, while certain circles and some of the media – which the President-elect didn’t hesitate to label as terrible and fake media – openly promoted his assassination or a coup against him in order to prevent his inauguration on January 20th, 2017.

Some strange things were happening at the same time on the other side of the world, but mostly in silence and without pompous headlines or events which would expose the turmoil below the surface.

Russia was spiraling out of control in the 1990s after the collapse of the USSR and only later exponentially reacquired its old strength, glory, and influence under the exceptional leadership of Mr. Vladimir Putin. Its great return to the geopolitical scene was followed by the successful reunification of Crimea to the Motherland and the extraordinary geopolitical results of their powerful comeback in the Middle East.

Russia’s legitimate engagement in the Syrian Crisis came in response to an official request from the Syrian government and President Bashar al Assad and has been a game-changer following 5 years of bloody proxy war waged by US/NATO forces and their allies among the Arab monarchies, first among them Saudi Arabia, through the organized dispatching of foreign mercenaries, fanatical Islamic jihadists, and a small amount of local fundamentalists, many of which eventually joined together under the banner of the so-called “Islamic State” or ISIS.

With the Russian Aerospace Forces hitting thousands of fixed and mobile terrorist targets, training and supporting the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), and providing logistics, intelligence data and organization, the SAA managed to decisively flip the tables and beat back ISIS, numerous mercenary terrorist groups, and the hypocritically Western-labeled “moderate rebels” on many fronts. The ancient city of Palmyra was liberated; Deir ez Zor survived and was defended from total encirclement through an air bridge, and the final gem in the liberation war was when the SAA, supported by Russian forces, Iran, and Hezbollah fighters, finally freed the largest and most important city in northern Syria, Aleppo.

After nearly being on the brink of conflict with Turkey, Russian diplomatic and military moves carefully reversed the situation and at the end brought about a complete about-face from Ankara whereby it ultimately decided to embrace the multipolar world by joining Iranian and Russian efforts to bring an end to the Syrian Crisis.

Everything looks fine but…. is it so?

Faced with an embarrassing defeat and the loss of its influence as well as leading position in the Middle East, the administration of what is now already former President Barak Obama was infuriated. As presidential candidate Donald Trump’s influence continued to rise all during the election campaign and afterwards, Obama took to accusing Moscow of every problem and issue in the world as well as within the US, never minding how ridiculous and improbable this looked to the public. “Blame Russia” became the slogan of the outgoing Obama Administration, according to which Putin was personally guilty for everything, whether it was the “annexation of Crimea” (as the US tried to present it), the war in Donbas, the war in Syria and the supposedly “inhumane indiscriminate bombing of hospitals and civilians” by the Russian Aerospace Forces, or the hacking of the Democrats and Podesta in order to influence the US electoral process.

Obama personally promised retaliatory moves against Russia for its alleged election hacking which would be in the “manner, scope, time, and discreteness” of his choosing.

The Cold War rhetoric spiked to epic proportions and the Mainstream Media went crazy, but the most concerning of Obama’s orders were when he sent NATO troops and machinery to the Eastern European countries bordering Russia. All of that was concurrent with the long-term economic sanctions issued by the US administration and imposed as a compulsory obligation on its European vassals.

Russia successfully passed through the period of sanctions, and while some measures definitely impacted on the Russian economy, they didn’t hurt the giant bear in the manner or to the extent that the West expected.

Instead, the US sought to “wound the bear” by exploiting the local and inner circles of the Russian neoliberal elite, oligarchs, and high-level business people. This “fifth column” on whom the US and Western powers have always counted when destabilizing targeted countries was expected to exert significant influence on the Russian government in order to divide the so-called “hardliners” – the more conservative and patriotic forces which have historically functioned as the impenetrable dam protecting Russian sovereignty and interests from Western influence and domination – and create opportunities for the liberal club of oligarchs, political elites, and the more pro-Western-oriented circles who are disproportionately impacted by the Western-imposed sanctions and are ready to offer up concessions and compromises in order to acquire sanctions relief for their private business interests.

With the help of insiders, this category of forces is silently but continuously advancing Western interests, and as a visible result, we can observe certain confusing oscillations in Russian foreign policies and military actions, particularly those related to the “Russian war on terror” in Syria.

At the peak of Russian power and the Syrian Arab Army’s successes in its war against terrorist groups and ISIS (Daesh, as they are called in the Arabic world), when the whole world was breathing a heavy sigh of relief and expected that the terrorists would be given a final death blow, the Russian forces made a sudden decision to scale down their military activity and instead pushed for peace negotiations and reconciliation in Syria..

The first partial Russian withdrawal which confused the West and probably shocked others happened on March 14, 2016.

There were many more or less similar analyses why that sudden and unexpected move happened but most of them simply stated that it was the great Russian move to give peace and reconciliation a chance.

In an article published in Sputnik on March 19th, these views were formulated as:

The politician expressed hopes that now the West would understand the necessity to cooperate with Russia to fight terrorism as well as other issues.

“The actions of Russia in Syria and it’s now pulling its troops out after the job has been done, I very much hope this is the catalyst for reassessment of how NATO and the West can effectively engage with Russia,” Kawczynski pointed out.

So, the message was really all about being a symbolic outreach which would inspire NATO and the West to more efficiently reengage with Russia!

Standing out against many analyses which praised the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria as being some sort of a “Mission Accomplished” statement, I offered my own take on these events in my article for The Saker titled The Clock is ticking: Russia’s partial military withdrawal from Syriawhich underlined the possible military aspect of the Russian withdrawal. By the time of Moscow’s first decision to draw down its military presence in Syria, the relationship between NATO-member Turkey and Russia was on a steep slope and rushing towards the possibility of the type of widespread conflict which I described in my article. I assumed that Russia was not ready for a larger conflict, or that there was a lack of political will for it, so by this wise move, the Kremlin freed up space for taking various other decisions in the following period.

As expected, the ceasefire and peace talks didn’t hold water and Russian jets soon gradually returned to Syria, keeping the terrorists occupied 24 hours a day with ensuring their own survival.

Yet the short-lived ceasefire and Russian-brokered peace talks didn’t lead to any results, and on the contrary they allowed the US and NATO to refit their pet ISIS warriors with supplies, ammo, and weapons in order to prolong the war. By the end of March 2016, the SAA, supported by Iranian and Hezbollah forces as well as the Russian Aerospace Forces and special ground troops, liberated the ancient city of Palmyra from the hands of Daesh. It was an unprecedented success and seemed to be the turning point of the entire war. The SAA and Russia sent a strong message, and the liberation improved the morale of the Syrian Arab Army as well as that of all patriotic Syrians. The eyes of the whole world were on Palmyra.

After the liberation of Palmyra, the SAA got a chance to reassign a significant amount of troops towards Aleppo, and after lengthy preparations and utilizing maximum caution in order to minimize the suffering and casualties of the civilians still held hostage in the terrorist-occupied areas of Aleppo, the SAA, supported by Iranian and Hezbollah troops with strong air support from the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Russian fleet led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which was at that time stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean, liberated the ancient pearl of Syria and the Middle East.

The Liberation of Aleppo was another nail in the coffin as Professor Tim Anderson nicely analyzed in his article Liberation of Aleppo is the most serious setback for the US in 15 years“, and while the whole peace- and freedom-loving world celebrated the liberation, the Mainstream Media and Western governments followed the lead of the US in crying over the “lost civilian lives and indiscriminate ruthless Russian bombing”.

The Liberation of Aleppo, which was formally announced by the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Reconciliation on December 16th 2016 was, or should have been, the turning point of the overall war. Analysts were predicting that soon after the liberation of Aleppo, the SAA and its allies would move to clear Idlib Province from the “rebels”, which mostly consist of numerous groups of Islamic fundamentalists, jihadists, and mercenaries backed by the US/NATO. Other analysts pointed to the heart of ISIS-held territory in Raqqa, where the US-led coalition launched an offensive. It is worth mentioning that the Syrian Kurds, as represented by the military wing of the YPG, also look at Raqqa as their ultimate goal, having in mind their long-planned and recently openly declared separatist federalization declaration. Whoever gets to Raqqa first will have the keys to the future of Syria and an eventual blank check for partitioning the country into zones of influence if they wanted to.

The importance of Raqqa was brilliantly analyzed in the article “The Race For Raqqa And America’s Geopolitical Revenge In “Syria  by Andrew Korybko, a political analyst, journalist, and a regular contributor to several online journals, as well as a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia.

Yet while the eyes of the whole world were on Aleppo anxiously expecting a quick end to the war and the defeat of terrorist groups and ISIS in Syria, another Russian military drawdown was suddenly announced by Moscow yet again. In parallel with the Russian-Turkish-Iranian-brokered peace and reconciliation talks to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan, Russia once more decided to scale down its military presence in Syria instead, despite everyone expecting them to intensify their efforts together with the SAA, Iran, Hezbollah, and their new Turkish partners to make a final collective blow to Daesh and the remaining terrorists and al Qaeda-related groups, particularly in Idlib Province and to the west of Aleppo.

Many members of the social networks where pro-Syrian and pro-Russian supporters gather to carefully follow the developing situation and offer great support in spreading the truth about the dirty war on Syria experienced sudden confusion and even shock, questioning why peace talks and a ceasefire would once again be on the table at this decisive and potentially game-changing moment which could finally end the war once and for all.

At the dawn of the Astana talks and before the peace conference, it is normal to expect the SAA to gain the best possible negotiating position seeing as how it’s the winning side in the war, and it’s the last force in need of halting operations and freezing its gains against all militant groups except for those which are still recognized as “terrorists”.

Such questionable Russian diplomatic moves followed one by one, and each following step was harder to explain or understand.

When the Astana conference was initially announced, it was declared that it would be brokered by the Russian-Turkish-Iranian tripartite and Syria on one side, and “moderate rebel groups” not “officially” listed as “terrorists” on the other.

The US was not to be involved in the process, nor was the Kurdish YPG. Such a platform was satisfactory for all the organizing sides and promised that the Astana talks could bring about fruitful results.

As the opening of the Astana conference date approached, Moscow unilaterally started inviting other parties to it and such moves defied the expectation of its other allies. Sputnik reported on January 19th, 2017 that the “US Ambassador to Russia Receives Invitation for Washington to Join Astana Talks” .

It seems that Moscow prefers to invite Washington to the peace deal by any means, and its efforts became particularly bold in the run-up to Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States.

It looks that Moscow sees the chance for a rapprochement with Washington and that it’s taking all diplomatic steps and efforts to open up doors to the new US administration and an easy path to Trump, hoping that this will enable it to reach the detente which they’ve been seeking for a long time already. Earlier in the same day, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov formally invited the US to the Astana talks:
“During his annual press conference on Wednesday, Lavrov pointed out that Moscow considers it appropriate to invite representatives of the new US administration and UN to Syria talks in Astana. Moscow hopes that the Trump administration will accept this invitation, Lavrov said adding that Syria talks in Astana could serve as first official contacts between Russia and Trump administration.” (Sputnik, January 19th 2017)

This initiative from Moscow displeased its strategic partner Tehran, which publicly displayed reluctance to the move. Moscow’s outreaches to Washington and attempt to offer Trump’s Administration a “face-saving” hand might unwittingly give the US the chance to create further problems and dissonance in the tripartite alliance.

Iran openly says it does not want the US at the Syria talks in Astana, so why would Moscow bring this to the table, displease its strategic regional partner, and risk endangering the positive outcome of its own initiatives? What recently changed so much that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) took such a risky step?

Just a few days prior to inviting the US to the Astana conference, Sputnik published disturbing information that Russia will be acting as Guarantor of Syrian-Kurdish Talks on Federalization .

This is another painful topic, not only for Syria itself but also Turkey, which are Russia’s two other strategic regional partners. It is well known that President Assad and the Syrian government strongly oppose the federalization process that is being pushed by the YPG Kurdish military faction in northern Syria. The Syrian position is clear: the federalization attempt is against the constitution and would require referendum by all Syrians in order to change the law. The self-proclaimed Kurdish federal entity in northern Syria is illegal and therefore only has temporary status. (Syria rejects Russian proposal for Kurdish federation)

On the other side, Turkey is totally against the Kurdish federal unit in northern Syria because they see it as an imminent danger for themselves. Turkey has been confronted with the Kurdish question on its territory for a long time already, and according to Ankara, granting any special rights to the Kurds in Syria directly threatens Turkish interests.

So what happened now and why is Moscow changing its position at such a key moment and in such dangerous ways? What made the Russian MID take such surprising steps which threaten to reverse all of the soft power gains in the region that it’s achieved thus far?

Washington’s response to the Russian invitation is that the US won’t send a delegation to Syria talks in Kazakhstan and will be represented only by its ambassador.

Tehran is obviously pretty upset with the recent roll-out and openly opposes Moscow’s invitation of the US. The situation before the Astana conference became very tense and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the statement that Iran’s Position Is Complicating The Astana Talks on Syria. That was expected from the Iranian side because of what happened but the real question is why did Moscow put their long-time partner into such a position in the very first place and jeopardize the outcome of the Astana talks?

Trump’s Administration did indeed accept Russia’s hand, and while they scaled down the importance of Moscow’s outreach by not sending a delegation to Astana, they will still send the US Ambassador to Kazakhstan to the peace talks. Is a kind of detente on the horizon? Moscow seems to be making progress in its goal, but one must ask at what costs?

The answer could be found between the lines of the most recent statements from MID.

What could be perceived as the climax leading up to the Astana drama is the recent statement of Mr. Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, which was published by Sputnik on January 18th, 2017:

Syria Talks in Astana Could Include US, Jaysh Islam Leader – Lavrov :

 “Speaking alongside Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Lavrov noted that the leader of the Jaysh Islam UN-designated terrorist group could also take part in the Astana talks on Monday, January 23.

“Given the fact that, along with other opposition groups, Jaysh al-Islam has expressed readiness to sign a ceasefire agreement and to enter into negotiations with the Syrian government, of course we support this approach,” Lavrov said.

This is a complete reversal of Moscow’s stance towards an organization which is legally considered by the UN to be a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda and as such should be unacceptable as a partner in peace talks.

Let me highlight that even Sputnik couldn’t clear up this mess, which is why we find the name of Sergei Lavrov in the same sentence as the words Astana talks and terrorist group.

This couldn’t pass unnoticed and it creates the dangerous precedent that a UN-designated terrorist group is about to be an official partner in international peace talks. The very fact that the Russian MID supported the participation of an internationally recognized terrorist group discredits the peace talks before they even begin.

Let’s carefully review everything that’s happened in the recent past. The peace talks are beset with drama, Russia decided to draw down its military presence in Syria, Iran is loudly protesting against the US’ Russian-invited participation in Astana, and Russia invited a terrorist group to the peace talks while at the same time Palmyra was just recaptured by ISIS/Daesh and thereby annulled the Syrian efforts and Russian soft power gains from liberating this ancient town. As all of this is happening, Daesh terrorists were strengthened and replenished by fresh forces arriving from Mosul, and this empowered them to gain strategic positions on the encircled Syrian town of Deir ez Zor. Having in mind that Al Qaeda-related terrorist groups from Aleppo were evacuated to Idlib Province and are regrouping in preparation of another attack on western Aleppo, it seems like the avalanche of recent Russian diplomatic and military moves reversed most of their acquired positions and successes, which in turn reversed Russia’s soft power gains in the region. The latest Russian military drawdown in Syria occurred while the historical treasure of the Middle East, Palmyra, is once again under ISIS occupation, which is without a doubt pursuing its bloody work of destroying ancient monuments and selling priceless and irreplaceable artifacts on the black market.

Why is this happening? What is driving Moscow to take such controversial steps which are hard to understand and even give goosebumps to those who are watching in horror at the unfolding situation in the region?

The answer to all of these confusing questions can be found if we go back and analyze some recent information.

On the 16th of January, 2017, MID spokesperson Maria Zakharova told the Russian TV station Channel One a story about US attempts to recruit a Russian diplomat (US Intelligence Made ‘Attempt to Recruit’ Russian Diplomat)

She said that it happened several years ago, but the timing of the story’s announcement to the public is curious.

A day later, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov made a statement accusing the US of stepping up “recruitment attempts” against Russian diplomats:

“MOSCOW, January 17. /TASS/. The United States stepped up its recruitment activity against Russian diplomats during Barack Obama’s second presidential term, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during his annual news conference.

“As far as recruitment attempts are concerned, this sort of unfriendly activity grew over the past several years, in particular, Barack Obama’s second presidency,” Lavrov said”.  http://tass.com/politics/925394

Russian politicians and diplomats are very reserved and don’t carelessly reveal important information like this unless it serves a particular purpose.

Why would two similar stories appear in the span of just two days? It’s obvious that this is a message to the US administration:“We know what you are doing and we are ready to take countermeasures and protect our interests”.

Let’s go back to Peskov’s recent words from the article that I cited earlier:

“Moscow welcomes US participation in Astana talks on Syrian crisis, but Iran’s position is complicating the issue,” according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

This reveals that the Kremlin is aware of the imminent threat to the Astana talks because of Iran’s position, which itself is due to Russia’s invitation that the Trump Administration participate in the conference.

“We will welcome that [US participation in Astana talks]. The situation is very complicated. You know that there is also Iran like a very important player in the Syrian issue. Iranians are not welcoming this. So it is a very complicated issue for a very careful play,” Peskov said.”

So Moscow is ready to play on the edge of the knife, carefully balancing to please Iran, but their desire to reconcile with the new Trump Administration is too big of a prize to be neglected.

“This is probably the cause of some disagreement between Moscow and Tehran… It is obvious that without the United States it is impossible to resolve the Syrian issue,”  Peskov said.

Peskov’s last sentence in the Sputnik article captured my attention:

The abundance of parties involved in the upcoming talks in Astana, to take place on January 23, may jeopardize the harmony of negotiations, the spokesman added.”

Exactly! The Kremlin is fully aware that the peace talks which they’ve been working on and preparing for a long time already are jeopardized, and this is because MID “diplomats” and “experts” convinced Lavrov that it was a “good idea” to invite so many new players such as the US and its terrorist pet Jaysh Islam. I would dare say that the Astana talks are probably doomed to fail before they even begin.

Having in mind everything mentioned above and the Russian role in “guaranteeing” talks about Kurdish federalization (which is deeply against the publicly stated interests and positions of both Syria and Turkey), inviting a UN-designated terrorist group to the talks (which would for sure displease Damascus), inviting US representatives to the talks which are bound to greatly displease another strategic partner (Tehran), and the lack of political will to continuously perform airstrikes and increase (not drawdown) its military presence in Syria until the final victory is won over the terrorist groups and ISIS, it can be argued that Russia in a very short period of time measured by just days or at most a few weeks reversed all of the soft power gains and influence which it had managed to achieve so far.

It’s almost like Russian interests in the region have been sabotaged, but the question is, by whom? Does the answer to this question lay in the two subsequent stories about US intelligence aggressively attempting to recruit Russian diplomats?

Has a silent coup by the neoliberal circles against the “hardliners” and patriots been underway in Russia over the past couple of weeks? Has US intelligence managed to recruit and infiltrate certain ranks of the Russian MID and Ministry of Defense, thus using its newfound covert influence to change the course and scope of Russian activities and decisions in Syria?

Peskov’s last statement from the Sputnik article indicates that the Kremlin might be aware of the situation. While there were previously many suggestions that a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin could be held sometime soon in the immediate days or weeks following the inauguration, the latest information is that it’ll take place in months and that no time frame has been set.

Just as Donald Trump is discretely purging his Washington administration of Obama’s sleeper cells, is Vladimir Putin doing the same thing in the Kremlin, MID, and the Ministry of Defense right now?

Is Russia’s Deep State in civil war just like America’s?

Do both leaders of the mighty superpowers first wish to “clean house” before they meet each other and talk about a new dawn of cooperation and detente with one another?

Only time will tell, but by all indications, it convincingly looks like Russia’s confusing and counterproductive decisions over the past week or so aren’t the result of a “clever” Russian plan, but are a clumsy series of mistakes which at best are due to incompetence and short-sightedness, and at worst are the result of a silent deep state civil war triggered by American infiltration.

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world