US-Russia cooperation could benefit Syria & wider world – Assad

Cooperation between Moscow and the new administration in Washington could be positive not just for Syria but also the wider world, Syrian President Bashar Assad said, adding that the EU has merely supported terrorists since the start of the country’s civil war.

When asked by Belgian media about the Trump administration and the possibility of working with it, Assad said that statements by the Republican both during his election campaign and after are “promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS [IS, Islamic State],” SANA news agency reported

READ MORE: ‘Focus on ISIS, not starting WWIII’: Trump blasts Senators McCain & Graham 

“That’s what we’ve been asking for during the last six years,” he added. “So, I think this is promising, we have to wait, it’s still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria.”

‘EU supporting terrorists in Syria from very beginning’

Assad blasted the European Union for supporting extremists in Syria “since the very beginning,” saying that it can’t “destroy and build at the same time” in the war-torn country.

“The EU is supporting the terrorists in Syria from the very beginning under different titles: humanitarians, moderate, and so on.”

Communiqué of President Assad statement to Belgian media

He provided the examples of the terrorist groups Al-Nusra Front (now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and Islamic State, which have always been extremist but still were supported by the EU “from the very beginning.”

“If you ask any Syrian the same question, he will tell you, ‘No, we don’t accept [EU involvement], those countries supported the people who destroyed our country, we don’t want them to be here.’ That’s what I think.”

According to Assad, many in Syria believe that “the Europeans don’t exist politically, they only follow the master, which is the Americans.”

“So, the question should be about the Americans, and the Europeans will follow and will implement what the Americans want. They don’t exist as independent states…,” he said.

‘UN biased because of American, French & British influence’

The Syrian leader also criticized United Nations institutions, which he said are far from being unbiased “because of the American influence and the French and British, mainly.”

“Most of those institutions …don’t work to bring the stability to the world or to look for the truth; they are only politicized to implement the agenda of those countries.”

@RT_com Safe zones in Syria are waste of time as they ‘won’t be safe enough’, UN refugee chief says https://on.rt.com/82co

Assad stated that most of the positions the UN takes are “biased,” “regarding every organization, regarding every sector, regarding most of the resolutions against Syria.”

READ MORE: Russia, China veto ‘counterproductive’ UNSC resolution on Aleppo ceasefire

“That’s why it was for the first time maybe for Russia and China to take so many vetoes in few years, because they know this reality,” he added.

 

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Kiev’s ‘barbaric’ attack on Donetsk in E. Ukraine violates Geneva convention – Russia

There is no excuse for the recent “barbaric attack on Donetsk,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, adding that Kiev broke “all moral norms” in attacking civilians during the night with Grad missiles.

In the early hours of February 3, Donetsk was “heavily bombarded by the Ukrainian military,” Zakharova said.

“The city’s residential areas were shelled dozens of times with heavy guns, including ‘Uragan’ and ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launchers. As a result, several civilians were killed and many – children among them – suffered wounds,” the Russian diplomat stated Friday during a press briefing, as quoted by Interfax.

Donetsk shelling aftermath: Residential building, kindergarten bombed

“This barbaric attack cannot be justified. By its actions, Kiev has violated not only the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, dated August 12, 1949, but has also broken all moral norms,” the Russian diplomat said.

“Only barbarians can bombard a sleeping city and kill innocent people. We have no other name for those who carried out this attack,” she added

Zakharova also pointed out the Ukrainian government’s inappropriate response to the shelling, saying Kiev is “not only unwilling to accept responsibility for what happened but is bragging about its military’s actions in Donbass.”

“The delivery of strikes by heavy artillery – is this how Kiev shows off the unity of its country and the people? Kiev is not only expressing no concern over the escalation of the crisis, but without any compunction shows off its actions in Donbass, using the UN Security Council venue for this,” Zakharova said.

She said that Moscow is also highly concerned about the shelling of journalists in the Donbass region by Ukrainian units. This is a gross violation of norms and standards of international law, Zakharova emphasized.

“We are profoundly concerned about the safety of journalists in the region. On January 31, reporters of the NTV network, RT stringers and a cameraman of the Life! broadcaster came under artillery fire from the Ukrainian armed forces in Donetsk’s Kiev district.” 

“We regard this incident as a gross violation of norms and standards of international humanitarian law,” the diplomat said.

Russia’s top federal investigative agency launched a criminal case into the deaths of civilians in Donetsk as a result of shelling by Ukrainian government forces on February 1-3, Investigative Committee acting chief spokesman Svetlana Petrenko said on Friday. 

@MuradGazdiev : vulnerable civilians - pensioners, disabled - being evac'd from areas targeted by Ukrainian artillery.

According to investigators, the Ukrainian military, acting on the orders of senior commanders and officials from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, conducted heavy artillery attacks on several residential areas of the city of Donetsk and the suburban towns of Yasinovataya and Makeyevka on February 1, 2, and 3 this year.

Three civilians died and 15 were wounded as a result of the shelling. The attacks also damaged at least 60 residential buildings and civilian infrastructure facilities.

@MuradGazdiev Entire neighborhoods in being evacuated due to shelling. Hundreds & hundreds left district alone. Ongoing.

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Syrian Army Takes Control of Large Area East of Aleppo

Damascus, Feb 2 (Prensa Latina) The Syrian army and allied militias control more than 30 villages and several strategic heights in the eastern Aleppo countryside following fierce battles with members of the Islamic State, Daesh, for its acronym in Arabic, according to military sources.

Army troops advanced 16 kilometers and extended a front of up to 25 kilometers wide, which means an area of more than 250 kilometers in about 20 days of combat, the reports confirmed.

According to reports, dozens of kilometers of fortifications, tunnels and trenches along the front were destroyed, as well as four thousand explosive devices were neutralized after controlling Aleppo-Al Bab road.

This last city, of about 150 thousand inhabitants, is located 40 km northeast of Aleppo, and belongs to that province bordering Turkey, whose troops are located in the northern region after breaking into Syrian territory since August 2016.

Syria has repeatedly denounced the incursion and retention of Turkish troops in that area under the pretext of attacking the Daesh, whose troops even retreated from the city of Jarablus 'ceded' by Ankara regime to opposition groups of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces.

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Ukraine plans NATO referendum… but alliance reportedly shuns missile shield talks with Kiev

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko says he intends to hold a referendum on NATO membership, while the alliance is said to have shelved planned talks on Ukraine’s missile defense over fears these could worsen relations with Russia.

“Four years ago, just 16 percent [of Ukrainians] advocated NATO membership for Ukraine. Now it is 54 percent,” Poroshenko said in an interview with German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, on Thursday.

“As president, I will act in accordance with the opinion of my people – and will hold a popular vote on the issue of NATO membership. And if Ukrainians vote for it, I will do everything to secure our membership in the alliance,” Poroshenko said, adding that in his opinion the alliance “is indispensable” and “the only functioning organization of collective security” in the world to date.

Meanwhile, NATO itself might not be so keen on strengthening ties with Ukraine. According to a new  by the Wall Street Journal, the alliance has recently postponed a planned meeting with Ukrainian officials regarding , allegedly to avoid provoking Russia.

“There is some political sensitivity in the engagement of Ukraine because obviously that could fuel an overreaction by the Russians,” an unnamed NATO diplomat told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

NATO was considering meeting with Ukraine – as it has done in the past with Japan and European partners – to discuss the possibility of debris or an errant interceptor falling on the country’s territory, were the alliance to use its missile defense system stationed in nearby Romania.

According to NATO officials, the bloc intends to use the system only to defend the allied nations and does not plan to intercept missiles headed to Ukraine. The NATO diplomat cited by the Wall Street Journal said the decision to put off talks does not preclude future discussions on the issue with Ukraine, although the bloc intends to move cautiously to avoid irking Russia. 

NATO’s missile defense system in Romania consists of a radar and a number of interceptors on land and at sea. It came under NATO full control last year, with officials repeatedly stressing that the system is solely designed for defense, mostly to intercept any ballistic missiles potentially fired from Iran.

However, Moscow has viewed statements of this kind with suspicion, urging NATO to agree on limits to its missile shield, which set up dangerously close to Russia’s borders.

According to the WSJ, officials familiar with internal NATO discussions claimed that as relations with Moscow were already tense, the move to discuss missile defense with Ukraine – Russia’s immediate neighbor – could be misunderstood.


Reports contradicting the WSJ’s claims have also emerged.

We did not cancel any negotiations with any country whatsoever,” an anonymous alliance official told RIA Novosti.

We will continue to exchange information, consult and cooperate with our neighbors and partners, as and when necessary, doing it gradually and in stages.”

According to the official, “with regard to NATO missile defense, [we] recognize and respect the interests of other countries. […] In recent years we have been discussing missile defense with our partners, and we continue to work with them on this issue.”

Apart from NATO broadening its missile defense, the alliance and Russia have been increasingly at odds over the bloc’s general military buildup in Europe. In the latest move, US troops and heavy weapons began arriving last month in Europe as part of ‘Operation Atlantic Resolve’, a mission designed to curtail a perceived ‘Russian threat’ to Europe. Eighty-seven US battle tanks, 144 Bradley fighting vehicles, and 3,500 soldiers arrived near Russia’s borders as part of the buildup agreed upon at the alliance’s summit in Warsaw last July. NATO has also been holding military drills ever closer to Russian territory, most recently in Poland and Lithuania.

This policy towards Moscow, repeatedly slammed by Russia as a threat to the country’s national security, has been growing in scale since Crimea voted to split from Ukraine and rejoin Russia in a referendum in the wake of the Ukrainian coup in 2014. NATO supported Ukraine's coup-instated government over the issue, and still considers the Crimea transition an annexation. Furthermore, NATO and EU countries also imposed an array of economic sanctions on Russia’s banking, energy and defense sectors, to punish Moscow for the Crimea transition and its alleged, but never proven, support of the anti-government rebels in east Ukraine. These were recently extended for another six months, despite negative reactions from Italy and France. 

In his interview with Berliner Morgenpost, Ukraine’s President Poroshenko urged for sanctions to remain in place, as they are allegedly the only thing keeping “Russian aggression” at bay.

Do you know who wants the lifting of the sanctions most? President Poroshenko. But before that, Russia must withdraw all its troops from our territory so that Ukraine can restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty. A premature loosening of the sanctions would strengthen the Russian aggression against Ukraine – putting Europe at risk. Who knows where Putin would next want to help a Russian minority? In the Baltics? In Bulgaria? Or maybe in Germany?

@RT_com Anti-Russian sanctions cost Western countries over $60bn - research http://on.rt.com/7hry


Photo published for Anti-Russian sanctions cost Western countries over $60bn - research — RT Business

Anti-Russian sanctions cost Western countries over $60bn - research — RT Business

Countries that backed sanctions against Russia have suffered significant export losses with products targeted by the Russian embargo accounting for only a small fraction of the loss, according to the...rt.com

“The sanctions work. Russia pays a high price for its aggression. The standard of living has fallen considerably, the Russian currency is losing its value. It is the sanctions that will keep Putin at the negotiating table and will force him to fully implement the Minsk Accords,” Poroshenko said. 

Recent studies show however that sanctions against Russia have backfired, affecting instead the countries that supported them. In addition, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the rift created by anti-Russian sanctions has severely affected cooperation in battling other crucial crises, including international terrorism – “driv[ing] apart states” and preventing international partners “from joining forces in combating a common evil.

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Lavrov: Syria ‘safe zones’ possible if Damascus agrees

Russia may support the US initiative to establish so-called ‘safe zones’ for refugees in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The plan would require close cooperation with the UN and approval from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, he added.

Lavrov said the American proposal to create secure areas for refugees within Syria was put forward in the context of migrant flows to the neighboring countries, the Middle East, as well as Europe, and “at the end of the day, the US."

If this is about the people who were forced to leave their homes by the conflict, […] getting their basic needs covered, […] then I think that the idea to create areas within Syria for those internally displaced could be discussed with the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations,” he said.

Though promising, the proposal would require negotiations with Damascus to agree on the principles of creating such safe zones on Syrian territory, Lavrov added.

Hours after his interview, the state-run Sana news agency published a statement from the government saying that any attempt to install safe zones without its consent would constitute a "violation of Syria's sovereignity."

He noted that the US initiative is completely different from what Western countries proposed at various stages of the Syrian war.

"There have been ideas of creating some areas where an alternative Syrian government could sit, and use those areas for regime change."

Such a scheme was seen in Libya, where the establishment of an alternative government in Benghazi was used as a pretext for the Western-led invasion to topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, Lavrov explained, adding that the Libyan intervention went ahead despite no green light from the UN Security Council.

READ MORE: Trump says he’ll order ‘safe zones’ for Syria, regrets not ‘taking’ oil out of Iraq

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump said on ABC that he will “absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people.”

He did not elaborate, but did say that Europe has been profoundly wrong to allow "these millions of people to go into Germany and various other countries."

Commenting on the statement, the Kremlin said that the White House did not consult Russian authorities on the initiative. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “important to make sure that this does not further aggravate the situation with refugees."

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‘UN’s inactivity is unacceptable’: Lavrov speaks out on Syrian opposition talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has slammed the UN’s “inactivity” regarding Syrian peace talks, and urged them not to postpone the reconciliation process further.

“We’re convinced that the inactivity of our colleagues at the UN, who haven’t conducted a single round of talks since last April, is unacceptable,” Lavrov said during a meeting with the Syrian opposition in Moscow.

“We hope that the UN will not put off calling the next round of Syrian talks anymore. At the same time, we’re sure that it’s time to stop beating about the bush during these negotiations, and to focus on reviewing concrete issues in accordance with the agenda indicated in resolution 2254 – including work on the [Syrian] constitution,” he added.

Lavrov went on to say that it would be “wrong” to compare the Iraqi constitution with the Syrian, because “in Iraq, it was about invaders who wrote the constitution and imposed it on the Iraqi people as an uncompromising text.”

In the constitution, “an attempt to put together and find common ground in the approaches voiced by both representatives of the [Syrian] government and the opposition over the past few years – all the time we’re in touch, aiming to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.”

The Syrian opposition has confirmed receiving “Russia’s suggestions regarding the Syrian constitution” from the Russian foreign minister, as cited by RIA Novosti.

On Thursday, RT obtained the draft of the constitution from a Syrian opposition source, with the bullet points of the documents being territorial integrity of the country, separation of political powers, and respect for minority rights as well as international treaties.

Negotiations in Astana took place on January 23-24, with official representatives from Damascus, Russia, Iran, and Turkey participating, as well as a delegation from the Syrian opposition.

After the talks, Russia, Turkey, and Iran said that the Syrian opposition had agreed to take part in further meetings, with the next one scheduled to take place in Geneva at the end of February.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope that the Astana negotiations could become “a good basis” for the reconciliation efforts in Geneva.

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Russia Calls on the USA to Avoid Aerial Ban Areas in Syria

Moscow, Jan 26 (Prensa Latina) Russia today called on the United States to weigh the possible consequences of the creation of aerial ban areas in Syria, especially for the lives of refugees.

'It is a matter of utmost importance to avoid a worsening of the refugee situation,' Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said while commenting on a decision by US President Donald Trump.

The new US head of state signed yesterday another controversial provision, this time for the Pentagon to present within 90 days a plan to create the so-called humanitarian security areas.

Peskov acknowledged that Washington never consulted Moscow about that measure, even though Russian combat aviation has been operating in Syrian airspace since late 2015.

Trump considered the day before that Europe made a huge mistake in allowing the entry of thousands of refugees to Germany and other nations of that region and affirmed that he did not want that for the United States.

More than five million Syrians were displaced from their homes because of a conflict that in barely six years left more than 200 000 dead people, many of them civilians.

Damascus accuses Washington of artificially promoting chaos and destabilization in the Levantine country that led to an armed confrontation in which violent groups received material and financial aid from abroad.

Press media here recall the disastrous experience of creating flight ban areas in Libya when North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) aviation bombarded that country from March to October 2011.

The country suffered hundreds of civilian's fatalities because of NATO attacks, which interpreted a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Libyan population according to its whim.

Moscow repeatedly called on the West to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, especially after the liberation of the eastern part of Aleppo last December.

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‘Dealing with enemies to save Syria’: Astana process paves way for Geneva talks

The talks on the Syrian peace process concluded in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, with the three guarantor countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran – issuing a joint statement establishing trilateral support for the Syrian ceasefire and paving the way for the Geneva talks due February 8.

Russia, Iran and Turkey have announced they will establish a trilateral mechanism to support the ceasefire in Syria. In a joint statement issued at the end of talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, they said the Syrian opposition had agreed to take part in peace talks on the issue set for Geneva, Switzerland.

“The delegations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey …support launching the talks between the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition in Astana on January 23-24, 2017,” said a joint statement on Tuesday.

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara “express their conviction that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and that it can only be solved though a political process.

Kazakhstan: Russia, Turkey and Iran create mechanism to observe Syria ceasefire

The sides also agreed to jointly fight terrorists from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), which alongside Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front) was not included in the negotiations. The trio suggested separating terrorists from Syrian armed opposition groups, and welcomed the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the Syrian crisis, which was adopted in December 2015.

Russia, Iran and Turkey said that they support the willingness of the armed opposition groups to take part in the next round of talks, which are scheduled for February 8 in Geneva.

‘Extremely painful’ to be in same room as Syrian armed rebels who committed terrorist acts – Damascus rep

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari told reporters it was “extremely painful” for the Damascus delegation to sit in the same room as Syrian armed groups “who committed terrorist acts.” He added that it was not the first time they had met, and that the government had to take the step for the sake of the Syrian people.

Al-Jaafari: meeting succeed in consolidating cessation of hostilities for a specific period of time

Jaafari said that he viewed the role of Turkey in the Syrian ceasefire as negative, but had to agree to cooperate to facilitate the peace process.
In politics sometimes we have to deal with enemies to save your country, and this is what we do,” he said.

Jaafari called the negotiations “a success” and expressed support for the joint statement earlier issued by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara.

"Finally we have a consensual paper [the joint statement] agreed upon by everybody," he said.

Answering a reporter’s question, he said that the Syrian government would continue its operation in the Wadi Barada area in the Damascus Countryside Province, as long as the people in the capital remain deprived of water.

Water from the pumping station at Ain al-Fijah in the Wadi Barada area was cut by the Damascus Water Authority in late December, after it said militants had contaminated the source, the Barada River, with diesel fuel. As a result, more than 5 million people have been without water for over two weeks.

Syrian armed opposition supports ceasefire, demands Assad step down 

Mohammed Alloush, leader of the Jaysh al-Islam militants, who headed the delegation of the Syrian armed opposition at the Astana talks, said the rebels support a political solution based on UN auspices, while demanding the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Alloush added, however, that the Syrian opposition would not engage in any talks with Iran and would not accept any statement by Tehran on Syria’s future. He said that he had given a proposal to Russia on the ceasefire, and expects an answer within a week.

 ‘Probably first time armed groups sat in the same room with govt since Syria conflict began’ – Mistura on Astana process

Staffan de Mistura, the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria, told reporters that the UN commends Russia, Iran and Turkey for deciding to establish a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire in Syria.

He underlined the uniqueness of the talks, saying that it was “probably the first time” since the start of the civil war that Syrian armed opposition groups had sat in the same room as the government.

Syrian ppl are desperate for an end to the ongoing brutal & bloody conflict - de Mistura on

 

“It has required political courage from them to sit in the same room and listen to their respective demands,” he said.

The envoy said he hopes that the political process will continue in Geneva. The only way for peace to come to Syria is through a political solution brought about through intra-Syrian negotiations under the aegis of the UN, he concluded.

“We cannot allow another ceasefire to dissolve because of a lack of a political process. Now is the time for the international community in all its dimensions to come together and support one integrated political negotiating process, as provided for in [UN Security Council Resolution] SCR 2254.”

 

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