Moscow slams ‘illegal’ US presence in Syria as Pentagon reserves right for ‘defensive’ attacks

Russia has reminded the US that its presence in Syria is illegal after the coalition struck pro-government militias. Washington however reserved the right for “defensive” attacks to achieve peace “from a position of strength.”

The US presence in Syria is “actually illegal,” the Russian Ambassador to the UN reminded his Western counterparts on Thursday at a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council. “Nobody invited them there,” Vasily Nebenzya stated, emphasizing that a hard fought for stability in Syria is being jeopardized by US actions.

On Wednesday, the US-led coalition said it carried out several “defensive” airstrikes on Syrian forces in Deir Ez-Zor province in retaliation for what they described as an “unprovoked” attack on the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and foreign military “advisers.”

 
FILE PHOTO. Oil well on the outskirts of the city of Deir ez-Zor. © Mikhail Voskresenskiy

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Syrian militia unit was advancing against a “sleeper cell” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists near the former oil processing plant of al-Isba, when it suddenly came under massive air strikes. At least 25 militiamen were injured in the attack, the Russian MoD noted, clarifying that pro-government troops targeted by the coalition did not coordinate their operation with the Russian command.

The US, however, maintains that the militia attacked the SDF. The Pentagon said Syrian forces moved “in a battalion-sized unit formation, supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars.” The battle which lasted over three hours, the US claims, began after 30 artillery tank rounds landed within 500 meters of the SDF unit’s location.

“At the start of the unprovoked attack on Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers, coalition aircraft, including F-22A Raptors and MQ-9B Reapers, were overhead providing protective overwatch, defensive counter air and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] support as they have 24/7 throughout the fight to defeat ISIS,” Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told Military.com.

“Following a call for support from Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, a variety of joint aircraft and ground-based artillery responded in defense of our SDF partners, including F-15E Strike Eagles,” he said in a statement Thursday. “These aircraft released multiple precision-fire munitions and conducted strafing runs against the advancing aggressor force, stopping their advance and destroying multiple artillery pieces and tanks.”

@RT_com 'Actions of the US coalition do not comply with legal norms. Beyond all doubt, it is aggression' https://on.rt.com/8yo4

Damascus called the attack a “war crime,” while the Russian military asserted that Washington’s true goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova affirmed that the US military presence in Syria poses a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country, while Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the strike another violation of Syria’s sovereignty by the US.

The US, however, remained unmoved, promising to continue to support the US-allied forces in Syria at any cost. “We continue to support SDF with respect to defeating ISIS... ISIS is still there, and our mission is still to defeat ISIS,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday. “We will continue to support them. Our goal is to ensure that our diplomats can negotiate from a position of strength, with respect to the Geneva process.”

@RT_com 'What right does the US have to defend illegal formations in Syria?' - former US diplomat @JimJatras https://on.rt.com/8yow

“They [US] constantly assert that they are fighting international terrorism there, but we see that they go beyond this framework,” Nebenzya told the UNSC. He warned the US-led coalition members that it is “criminal” to engage the only forces “who actually fight” international terrorism in Syria.

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Russian car industry develops cooperation with Cuba

The Russian automobile industry has many years of positive experience of cooperation with Cuba, said the Minister of Russian Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov. "Currently, the implementation of the contract for the supply of products of PJSC" KAMAZ "to Cuba has been successfully implemented, in the framework of which in September of 2017, there were delivered 2,425 vehicles. It is planned to ship the necessary service equipment for March-April of 2018, said the minister.

In 2017, 344 LADA cars were delivered to PJSC AVTOVAZ by the Cuban companies Taxis Cuba and Motor Centro, informed the press service of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. LADA Vesta and LADA Largus Cross cars will be used by local government taxi services, rental and travel companies.

Enterprises of GAZ Group signed contracts with the Cuban state-owned enterprise “Technoimport” to organize the production of GAZ and Ural vehicles in Cuba. In the plans for 2018 – there is an assembly 120 GAZ vehicles and 500 Ural trucks in one of the enterprises of the Republic of Cuba.

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US nuclear buildup shows new arms race has already begun – German FM

World safety requires more disarmament initiatives, not more nukes, says German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, accusing the new US Nuclear Posture Review of endangering Europe.

“The decision by the US government in favor of new tactical nuclear weapons shows that the spiral of a new nuclear arms race is already under way,” Gabriel said in a statement, noting that “like the Cold War times, we in Europe are in particular danger.”

The newly-released US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) refers to Russia’s nuclear modernization as one of the reasons to renovate and upgrade the US nuclear arsenals making them more mobile by developing new, low-yield nuclear weapons.

Gabriel also put part of the blame for the deterioration of international security on Moscow, mentioning its 2014 reunification with Crimea and a “dramatic loss of confidence” in Russia as a result. The instability in the countries along Europe’s southern borders is another challenge to the global order, which “is increasingly being called into question,” Gabriel said.

 
© Greg Baker

But building more nukes is not the answer, he added. Instead, they send the “wrong signal” and trigger a new upward spiral in the arms race.

“Instead of new weapon systems, we need new disarmament initiatives,” Gabriel said, noting that all existing arms control agreements should be “upheld unconditionally” in a concerted effort to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

While not having nuclear weapons of its own, Germany stores about 20 American B61-4 nuclear bombs which it keeps at the Luftwaffe’s Büchel Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany. The base hosts German Tornado aircraft that can carry the US bombs under a nuclear sharing deal. Starting from 2021, the aging bombs will be gradually replaced by a new variant of the B61, the B-12, which is expected to go into full-scale production in 2020. The new bombs are considered to be more accurate and are set to be stored at the same base which has been housing US nuclear weapons since 2007, despite vocal protests from the German opposition.

 
The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee © Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber/U.S. Navy/

Germany’s criticism comes after the US nuclear doctrine was denounced by Russia, China and Iran, all named in the document as potential nuclear threats to the US.

On Sunday the Chinese Foreign Ministry branded the report that accuses it of a major nuclear-build up “presumptuous speculation” calling on Washington to drop its “Cold-War mentality.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet that it violates international non-proliferation treaties and brings the world “closer to annihilation.” 

Decrying the US nuclear ambitions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that “Americans are shamelessly threatening Russia with a new nuclear weapon.”

Commenting on the document, Moscow said that the accusations against Russia in the review “have nothing to do with reality,” dismissing Washington’s “aggressive Russia” notion as a straw man, and a pretext for pumping more money into its military industry.

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‘US Stinger or Soviet Strela’: Heat-seeking missile that downed Su-25 jet probed by Moscow

A Russian Su-25 warplane was likely shot down by a heat-seeking missile, senior official Vladimir Shamanov said. As Syrian forces try to reach the crash site, Moscow has launched a probe into the origins of the fatal weapon.

The existing evidence clearly indicates that the Russian Su-25 plane, shot down over Syria on Saturday, was hit by a heat-seeking missile, the head of the Russian lower house Defense Committee and former chief of airborne troops said. The exact type of man-portable air-defense (MANPAD) system used, however, could be only determined upon examining the remains of the plane, which crashed in a militant-controlled area.

 

A still from a video uploaded to the YouTube channel

“It’s impossible to determine which MANPAD it was until the crash site is secured – an old ‘Strela’, a newer ‘Igla’, or an American ‘Stinger’,” Shamanov told reporters on Monday. “It’s only clear, looking at the trajectory of the plane’s fall, that its right engine was burning. It means that a heat-seeking missile hit the engine.”

The Syrian military has been trying to reach the crash site, according to Shamanov.

“Syrian special forces are trying to get there for the third day straight. Regular Syrian troops are also conducting their operation in the area,” the official said. Russia, meanwhile, has launched its own investigation into the incident.

The Su-25 was downed over a territory in Syria’s Idlib governorate, controlled by the terrorist group Tahrir al-Sham, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry. The pilot, Major Roman Filipov, managed to eject safely, but landed in the terrorist-controlled territory. The pilot engaged in a gun battle with the militants and detonated a grenade when surrounded.

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Russian motorcyclist travelling round the world visits Che Guevara Mausoleum in Cuba

Moscow resident Oleg Kharitonov who is travelling around the world on his motorbike has visited the sculptural complex in Cuba’s city of Santa Clara where legendary Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara is buried.

"Members of the local motorbike club, who accorded me a very warm welcome, visited the mausoleum with me. I also met with Russian compatriots living in Santa Clara and Cubans who studied in the Soviet Union," the 46-year-old traveler told TASS.

Che Guevara was Fidel Castro’s closest associate and one of the leaders of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. In 1967, he was captured and shot dead in Bolivia, where he was trying to organize a revolutionary movement with a group of guerrillas. Only 30 years later the remains of Che and his comrades-in-arms were uncovered near the community of Vallegrande. They were transported from Bolivia to Cuba and buried in Santa Clara on October 17, 1997.

"Here, in Santa Clara, it becomes clear why Cubans consider Che Guevara their national hero. He was a great romantic who fought for the freedom and justice," Kharitonov noted.
Almost like in the motherland

Kharitonov admitted that he feels "almost like in the motherland" in Cuba. "Cubans are very close to us in spirit and mentality. Everyone is very happy when they learn that I came from Russia," the motorcyclist said.

Before coming to Santa Clara, the Russian had spent several days in Havana. There he met with the Russian Ambassador to Cuba Mikhail Kamynin and the Russian diplomatic staff. The meeting that was held in the embassy was also attended by Ernesto Guevara, the younger son of Che Guevara who is a motorcyclist as well.

In the coming days, Kharitonov will be travelling through the island. From Santa Clara he will head to Camaguey and then to Santiago de Cuba where he will visit Fidel Castro’s grave. In late January, the traveler will return to Havana.

In early February the Russian will "rush" to Mexico, then to the United States and Canada, after which he will return to Russia through Alaska. Kharitonov says he has no clear route plan: he has to correct it all the time for various reasons.
Trip route

Kharitonov started off from Moscow on August 20, 2014. He crossed Russia from west to east, drove around Southeastern Asia and the Middle East, travelled the whole of Europe, then went down along the African west coast, starting from Morocco and reaching South Africa, and then moved to the New World.

Kharitonov has visited 70 countries so far. During his round-the-world trip, he ascended to an altitude of 5,360 meters in the Himalayan Mountains, travelled in 44-degree-Centigrade heat in Pakistan and covered more than 1,850 kilometers in 24 hours while travelling in Russia. The biker spends nights in his own tent, cheap hotels or at the homes of other Russians. He is supported, in particular, by the Russian Motorcycle Tourism Federation. The biker intends to return to Moscow in August 2018 in order to be able to accompany his daughter on her first day at school.

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Putin: New US national security strategy is offensive & aggressive, Russia must take note

Washington's new national security strategy is "aggressive," Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, adding that Moscow will take the US stance into consideration.

Both the US and NATO have been "accelerating build-up of infrastructure in Europe," the Russian leader said Friday. Referring to the "defense strategy recently put out" by Washington, Putin said it was "definitely offensive... speaking in diplomatic language."

 
US tanks arrive at an air base in Romania

"And if we switch to military language, then its character is definitely aggressive," the president added, speaking at a Russian Defense Ministry meeting.

With NATO's build-up in Europe, the US has violated the 1987 treaty on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, Putin pointed out.

"Formally," America's missile-defense launchers now based in Poland are meant to counter threats, he said. "The point is, and specialists know about it very well, those launchers are all-purpose. They can also be used with existing sea-launched cruise missiles with the flight range of up to 2,500 km [1,550 miles]. And in this case, these missiles are no longer sea-launched missiles, they can be easily moved to land," Putin added.

Russia's Defense Ministry "should take into account" Western military strategies, Putin said, adding that "Russia has a sovereign right and all possibilities to adequately and in due time react to such potential threats."

READ MORE: US to spend $214mn on Europe air bases on pretext of 'Russian aggression'

There are efforts to disrupt strategic parity through deployment of global anti-missile defense system and other strike systems "equatable to nuclear weapons," the Russian leader told military officials. At the moment, Russia's strategic nuclear forces are a reliable deterrent to such a military build-up, he added. However, it is necessary to develop them further, Putin said. "I'm talking about missile systems fit to steadily counter not only existing, but also future ABMs."

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Syria fully liberated from ISIS terrorists – Russian MoD

The Russian General Staff has declared the liberation of Syria from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), stating that all territories previously under terrorist control were liberated in the final push by the Syrian Army.

“All terrorist units of ISIS on Syrian soil have been destroyed, and the territory is liberated,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov said.

 

© YPG

“Therefore, as of today, there’s no territory controlled by ISIS in Syria,” he added. Gerasimov made the announcement during an annual briefing for foreign military attachés.

After being briefed on the successful military operation on both banks of the Euphrates River in Syria by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, President Vladimir Putin said that the political process and organization of the Syrian people’s congress in Sochi, agreed upon by Russia, Iran, and Turkey last month, must now become the focus. Among other goals, Putin named the drafting of a new constitution, and, eventually, parliamentary and presidential elections.

“Naturally, there might be some spots of resistance, but the military work has been largely completed in the area and at the time. Completed with a full victory, I repeat, with a victory and defeat of the terrorists,” Russian leader said.

The peace process, however, will be “a very big and lengthy job,” Putin cautioned. For this to happen though, the bloodshed in Syria must stop completely, he said. Securing the recent achievements and reinforcing the fragile de-escalation zones should be the first steps to that end, Russia’s president added.

Russia began providing support to Syria following an official request from Damascus in 2015 to prevent the terrorists from overrunning the country completely. Russia’s help allowed the Syrian Arab Army to turn the tide and liberate large areas of the country previously occupied by the jihadists. Smashing the blockade of Deir ez-Zor, an IS stronghold in eastern Syria, represented a turning point in this year’s campaign against the terrorists, ultimately leading to their demise.

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Reconciliation Process Instituted by Syrian Gov't Makes Progress

In the presence of the government authorities of the central province of Homs and the Russian Center for Reconciliation, about 27 cities and towns of that territory have joined to the reconciliation deal, media outlets from this country reported today.

After recognizing Russia's efforts to achieve peace in the areas in conflict, representatives of local organizations agreed that the momentum of the national reconciliation process contributes to the unity of the Syrian people.

It also enables the safe return home of thousands of displaced and Syrian refugees to this territory.


Tadmur, in Palmyra; al-Amriya, Jandar and USh al-Warwar are among the cities that took refuge in the occasion to the reconciliation deal.


As part of the reconciliation plan itself, more than 110 opposition elements laid down their weapons in front of the authorities in the city of Qamishli, Hassakeh province, about 710 kilometers north of Damascus.


The unarmed elements signed an official document in which they pledge not to commit illegal acts that disturb citizen security, Hassakeh governor, Jaez Al-Musa, said.

More than a hundred opponents received last weekend a pardon from the authorities in the southern province of Deraa, shortly after they vowed to comply with the laws of this Levant state.

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