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Why has NATO Failed to Exploit Turk-Russia “Tensions” in Syria?

By Salman Rafi Sheikh – New Eastern Outlook – 17.03.2020

In any other sort of circumstances, the NATO countries from Europe and North America would have rushed to help Turkey fight the “Russian invaders” in Syria and accomplish their avowed mission. This, however, did not happen when Turkey and Russia came “eye ball to eye ball” in Syria over the question of the liberation and control of Syria’s Idlib province and the adjoining strategically important areas, including the M-4 highway. Tensions are already disappearing with a Turkey-Russia “deal”, paving the way for an eventual settlement of interests. The question, however, that begs attention here is: why could the NATO countries not change Turkey’s position in a way that would have re-established it as a NATO ally in Syria, pitched against the Russians, Syrians and the Iranians?

While the US did “offer” its support to Turkey, words could not be translated into action, even though a number of Western political pundits have been writing and speaking about the “fragility” of the Turkey-Russia alliance and the need for the West to win Turkey back. A number of reasons explain why this has not happened.

First of all, there is little doubt in that Turkey is an important regional player even for Russia. This explains why the Russians have, despite crisis after crisis, continued to manage their relations with Turkey through intensive diplomatic engagements, leaving no room for big and unbridgeable gaps to occur. The latest deal and the deals before the crisis reflect the strength of their diplomatic channels working at the highest possible levels.

However, notwithstanding the resilience of their bi-lateral ties, NATO’s lethargy is due largely to the crisis that NATO is itself facing from within.

On the one hand, the US and European members of the alliance are increasingly pushing for changes in different and opposing directions, and on the other hand, even Turkey itself is reluctant to project its policies in Syria as a NATO member. At the same time, the European members of the alliance are up in arms over Erdogan’s bold and cynical effort to pressure NATO to come to its aid by opening its border with Greece to Syrian refugees, thereby threatening a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis. NATO, therefore, has no interest in coming to Turkey’s aid and help start a war that would ultimately come to bite them hard.

NATO countries, therefore, continue to think that delivering more humanitarian aid and financial support via the European Union for Syrian refugees already in Turkey is a better option that militarily committing to a war between Turkey and Syria/Russia, which will inevitably involve a massive inflow of refugees, causing both political and economic problems for them to handle. This, for them, is unnecessary and needs to be avoided.

It was perhaps this very reason in the first place which led NATO to discourage Turkey from starting its military operations in Syria in 2019. In fact, NATO countries cannot militarily help Turkey inside Syria even if Turkey really wanted them to.

The Article 5 of the NATO charter cannot be applied to the Syrian scenario. Whereas any NATO country can invoke Article 5, the actual application of this article is limited by the Article 6 which defines the ‘territorial scope’ of the Article 5. Among other areas, Article 6 defines Article 5’s ambit as including the territory of Turkey and the forces, vessels and aircraft of NATO members located in the Mediterranean Sea. But it crucially doesn’t cover attacks on Turkish forces on Syrian territory.

NATO countries would be morally obliged to help Turkey if only Turkey’s territory comes under attack from an offensive originating from within Syria. For this support to come, however, relations between NATO and Turkey need to be perfect, which has not been the case since the 2016 failed coup attempt.

At the same time, there is a strong realisation in NATO that Turkey has increasingly been acting as an ‘independent player’ in the region since at least 2016. It explains why Turkey chose to buy Russia’s S-400 system despite opposition from the NATO alliance.

This brings us to another aspect of why NATO has not ‘intervened’ in Syria on behalf of Turkey. Whereas Article 5, as mentioned earlier, does not apply to this situation, NATO has not always acted in strict accordance with its charter. For instance, it intervened in Libya even though it had no mandate for such an intervention, and no attack or direct threat was originating from Libya against any NATO countries. However, NATO still decided to intervene in Libya to topple the Col. Muammar Gaddafi regime. Why has NATO not done a similar thing in Syria even though the increasing Turkey-Russia “tensions” provided just the context for such an intervention.

The Russian military presence is certainly a factor, but an equally important factor is the “tension” that exists between Turkey and the rest of the NATO allies specifically, and within the alliance more generally, giving the US and European members of the alliance no material reasons to exploit the Russo-Turk “tensions” to their advantage.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs.

March 17, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | 3 Comments

US Military Accuses North Korea of Lying About Coronavirus Infection Rate of Zero

Sputnik – March 17, 2020

North Korea, whose contacts with the outside world remain limited even in a normal situation, was one of the first countries to introduce tough inspection and quarantine measures, canceling tourist visits, cutting off flights and rail travel and quarantining all workers coming home from abroad.

Nearly three months into the COVID-19 outbreak, North Korean health officials maintain that the country has zero cases of the virus.

The Korean Central News Agency reported last week that it there were no cases of COVID-19 in the country, but urged the public to remain vigilant. The agency reported that the country has enforced “strict, top-class anti-epidemic measures,” to intensify its coronavirus response, including the tightening of inspection and quarantine of imports from abroad. The measures are said to include comprehensive “inspection and disinfection of vehicles, vessels and goods,” and a 10-day quarantine of imports.

The World Health Organization too has indicated that it’s not aware of any cases of the virus in the self-isolating country, although the organization does plan to send equipment and supplies to help Pyongyang battle COVID-19. North Korea had previously asked the WHO for material assistance including disposable gowns, gloves and hazmat suits.

The popular Coronavirus Resource Center map run by Johns Hopkins’ University School of Medicine, which depends on credible sources including the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also reports zero cases for North Korea thus far.

However, US officials believe Pyongyang, which is required to report on any outbreak of contagious viruses as part of its WHO membership obligations, is lying.

Speaking to reporters last week, US Forces Korea commander Gen. Robert Abrams said the Pentagon was “fairly certain” that the country had coronavirus cases given the lack of noticeable military activity. According to the US commander, the North Korean military only recently restarted training following a month-long lockdown.

Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, a Washington-based think tank, told Bloomberg that it “it’s hard to imagine that North Korea could dodge the COVID-19 bullet.”

Western media have similarly spread stories suggesting that the virus was quietly raging throughout the country, with one report by the US National Endowment for Democracy-sponsored Daily NK online newspaper claiming that as many as 200 soldiers had already died, and that another 4,000 people were in quarantine. These claims, citing anonymous sources, were never verified, but have been spread widely by English-language media.

North Korea, which is thought to have successfully weathered both the SARS and Ebola outbreaks in 2003 and 2014, became one of the first countries in the world to mount a nation-wide emergency response to COVID-19 amid rising infection rates in neighbouring China, South Korea and Japan.

These measures included a ban on all foreign tourists in late January, quarantine for travellers from China exhibiting potential symptoms of the virus in Sinuiju in the country’s west, and the declaration of a “state emergency” to deal with the epidemic on January 30, including the creation of a special ‘Central Emergency Anti-Epidemic Headquarters’.

North Korea’s presumed infection rate stands in sharp contrast to those of its neighbours, with China, where the virus originated, reporting over 81,000 cases, including some 218 cases in the North-Korea neighbouring regions of Liaoning and Jilin. South Korea has 8,320 confirmed cases. Japan has reported 833 cases. Russia, meanwhile, has 93 confirmed cases.

March 17, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

‘Reciprocal measures’: Beijing tells NYT, WSJ, WaPo journalists to hand in credentials as US-China media war rolls on

RT | March 17, 2020

China is pulling the press credentials of US journalists from outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post whose passes expire in 2020, in the latest move of an ongoing tit-for-tat with America over media access.

In a statement about China’s “countermeasures against US suppression of Chinese media organizations in the United States,” Beijing announced that American reporters working for the NYT, Wall Street Journal, Voice of America, Time and the Washington Post whose credentials are due to expire by the end of this year must hand them over within 10 days.

These reporters will also not be allowed to work in China – including Hong Kong and Macau – in the future, and other US journalists will face new visa restrictions similar to those Washington recently introduced for Chinese reporters.

“In view of the US’ discriminatory restrictions on visas, administrative review, and interviews of Chinese journalists, China will take reciprocal measures against US journalists,” it added.

The back-and-forth expulsions of journalists started in February, when Chinese authorities gave three Wall Street Journalists five days to leave the country after Beijing objected to an opinion piece in the outlet calling China the “real sick man of Asia.” The paper refused to apologize for the piece.

Shortly afterwards, the US dramatically reduced the number of journalists it would permit to work for four Chinese state-owned media companies inside the US, cutting the number allowed from 160 to 100. They also reduced the length of time those permitted entry could remain in the US.

Beijing condemned the move as reflecting a “Cold War mindset” and warned of retaliation.

March 17, 2020 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 1 Comment

Corporate Media Condone Destruction of Venezuela’s Voting Machines

By Lucas Koerner | FAIR | March 14, 2020

The vast majority of Venezuela’s voting machines were incinerated on March 7 in a fire that engulfed the main warehouse of the National Electoral Council, or CNE, outside Caracas.

An unknown militant group styling itself the “Venezuelan Patriotic Front” claimed responsibility for the arson attack, which comes as the Maduro government and moderate opposition factions continue high-level negotiations to hold parliamentary elections in a bid to overcome the country’s current standoff.

Given Western journalists’ moral outrage over the dubious allegations of widespread “meddling” in the 2016 US presidential election, consistency would have mandated a similar response to such a brazen attack on Venezuela’s democracy.

Instead, corporate outlets followed the familiar script of blaming the victim, repeating the US State Department talking point that the Venezuelan electoral system is “rigged” (FAIR.org5/23/18) and floating outlandish conspiracy theories.

The Fiction of ‘Fraud’

After running through some of the details of the incident, Reuters (3/8/20) stated:

The South American country’s elections have come under heavy criticism since President Nicolás Maduro’s 2018 re-election was widely dismissed as rigged in his favor, leading dozens of governments around the world to disavow his government in 2019.

The BBC (3/9/20) likewise emphasized that Venezuela’s elections have been “beset by allegations of  fraud… [and] vote-rigging.”

The not-so-subtle implication is that the burnt voting machines had previously served as an accessory to the “fraud” perpetrated by the Maduro government.

This is a particularly scandalous suggestion, given that Venezuela’s electoral system, unlike its US counterpart, is one of the most efficient and transparent in the world. Witnesses representing competing political parties—including the opposition—are present at polling stations and are required to sign off on the numerous, publicly available audits realized before, during and after the fully automated process. Indeed, Venezuela is the only country in the world that does an on-the-spot citizens’ audit after voting centers close, in which the electronic tallies of 53% of randomly selected voting machines are compared to the physical receipts printed by those machines and deposited by voters in a sealed box. In 2018, opposition parties representing Henri Falcon approved each and every one of the CNE’s 24 audits, even those carried out after their candidate cried fraud.

AFP (published in France243/9/20), for its part, was more honest. In lieu of repeating the baseless fraud narrative, the agency observed that the CNE “has been the target of opposition criticism in every election,” before going on to quote the council’s president, Tibisay Lucena, denouncing the opposition’s record of electoral violence.

However, like Reuters and the BBCAFP declined to inform readers that the opposition’s perennial fraud claims—in 2018 as well as in 201720132010 and on multiple other occasions —have been invariably bereft of substantive evidence.

Concealing Opposition Culpability 

Embarrassingly, with the exception of the Daily Mail (3/10/20), virtually no corporate outlets have reported the crucial plot detail that a hard-right opposition group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

After suppressing this inconvenient fact, AP (published in the Washington Post3/9/20) went so far as to promote the opposition’s bizarre conspiracy theory that the fire was a false flag by the Maduro government, quoting no less than two opposition sources: a London-based financial consultant and self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó.

Strangely, the reporter also repeats the narrative that the voting machines are an instrument in the Venezuelan government’s “quest to hold legislative elections this year that could help President Nicolás Maduro consolidate his power.”

It would seem that the reader is expected to believe that Maduro is attempting to convene constitutionally mandated legislative elections in order to “consolidate his power,” while at the same destroying the very means of holding those elections for some unknown reason.

Not only do AP and its counterparts omit anti-government militants’ self-declared responsibility for torching the machines, they also ignore the opposition’s very plausible motives for their destruction: The Venezuelan electoral system’s transparency has been an obstacle to the US-opposition strategy of delegitimizing all Chavista-won elections and paving the way for their coup efforts.

This would not be the first time that the Venezuelan right wing has attacked electoral infrastructure. During 2017 National Assembly elections, the opposition reportedly besieged 200 voting centers—a fact ignored by all corporate outlets, with the partial exception of AFP (3/9/20), which quoted a Venezuelan official’s denunciation of opposition electoral violence.

The hardline factions of Venezuela’s US-sponsored opposition have as recently as October (El Nacional10/22/19) called for an abandonment of the country’s state-of-the-art automated voting system—which combines rapid electronic transmission of results with the security of publicly audited physical receipts—in favor of more tamperable manual voting.

By omitting these crucial facts, corporate journalists slander Venezuela’s electoral system at the moment that it is under devastating assault. The pretense of earnest concern is easily pierced; their true function is to disseminate US imperial propaganda that Venezuela and its progressive regional allies are not democracies, and therefore legitimate targets for coups, economic warfare and/or military intervention (FAIR.org12/10/192/12/20).

March 17, 2020 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | Leave a comment

‘Russian troll firm’ says it has a $50bn grudge to settle with US after indictment dropped by DoJ

RT | March 17, 2020

A Russian firm that the DoJ failed to prosecute for “sowing discord” during the 2016 election aims to take its pound of flesh – or at least a hefty compensation for its tarnished reputation.

The February 2018 indictment of Concord Management & Consulting LLC, one of several issued by the team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was praised by the Russiagate crowds as a crucial step in uncovering the holy grail of Trump-Russia collusion. The case was dropped just weeks before going to trial, with prosecutors claiming that the firm’s defense strategy – demanding evidence that the company had waged ‘information warfare’ against America – posed a threat to US national security.

Concord had been “eager and aggressive in using the judicial system to gather information about how the United States detects and prevents foreign election interference,” the motion to dismiss said.

Protecting “sources and methods” is the cookie cutter explanation that the US intelligence community uses to justify evidence-free accusations. But it may not work this time; Concord CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin – dubbed ‘Putin’s chef’ by the Western media, says he didn’t consider the case closed with the charges dropped.

The DoJ’s decision proves that statements like “Prigozhin interfered in the US presidential election” were “lies and fiction,” he said in a statement. Concord will seek $50 billion in damages from the US government for “illegal persecution and sanctions,” he warned.

“I have found only two things positive in the biased US justice systems. One is attorney Eric Dubelier, who had the guts to fight against the American government and has secured a victory. The other is Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who had the courage to resign after realizing the kind of lawlessness he had been dragged into,” Prigozhin added.

Mueller resigned in May 2019 after his much-hyped probe ended with an anticlimactic report and criminal charges against 34 individuals and three entities, including Concord. The team that decided to call off the indictment against the company included two prosecutors who were part of Mueller’s investigation.

March 17, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment