Russian ruler Vladimir Putin’s current special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, spoke to Sputnik’s Tajik service on 17 February, and a translation of the interview is published below with some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Kabulov was the KGB resident in Kabul in the 1980s and early 1990s, and later in the 1990s, during the Taliban’s reign over Kabul and much of the rest of the country, he was an adviser to the United Nations peace envoy. Continue reading
In July 2019, I co-wrote an article for Haaretz about the Russian legal case relating to the alleged suicide bombing of the St. Petersburg metro on 3 April 2017 as it then stood. To make a long story short: none of the “facts” derived from the Federal Security Service (FSB) investigation could be taken at face value—literally none. A key assertion from the Kremlin was that the Petersburg attack was directed from outside by an Al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria, for which no evidence was provided, but the issues with the case went much deeper. As fundamental a fact as the identity of the alleged suicide bomber was in question. Indeed, it was worse than that: the Russian state refused, when questioned, to say whether this “suicide bomber” was dead, raising a question about whether the Petersburg atrocity was a suicide-attack at all. Last month, the Russian government in effect closed the book on this case by sentencing eleven people it claims were implicated in it; none of the questions raised during the trial have been answered, and nor are they ever likely to be now. Continue reading
By Oved Lobel on 18 November 2019My friend Oved Lobel, a researcher focused on Russia’s role in the Middle East (among other things), found several interviews the Russian media did with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leaders, one with the leader himself Abdullah Ocalan, talking about, inter alia, the group’s relationship with Moscow. He very helpfully translated them and with his permission they are published below.
The broad outline of the PKK’s relationship with the Soviet Union—and then the Russian Federation—is fairly clear. After the PKK was founded in Turkey in the late 1970s by Ocalan, it was evicted from the country during the 1980 military coup. The PKK moved to Syria, where Ocalan was already based, having fled Turkey in June 1979. From there, the PKK moved into the Bekaa area of Lebanon, at that time controlled by the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Asad, and the Soviets acted through Asad, as they so often did in dealing with terrorist groups, to build the PKK into a fighting force that was then unleashed in 1984 on Turkey, a frontline NATO state in the Cold War. Continue reading
A version of this article was published at The Arab Weekly
Bashar al-Assad’s regime, supported by Russia and (in a more deniable form) Iran, began an offensive against the last insurgent-held enclave in Syria, Idlib, in the last days of April. Up until a month ago, this looked like an embarrassing fiasco: with a minimal increase in Turkish support to its rebel proxies, the pro-Assad forces had been able to gain about one-percent of the territory in the southern part of “Greater Idlib”. In the last fortnight, however, the pro-Assad coalition has made important breakthroughs that could prove decisive. Continue reading
As the regime of Bashar Assad appears to be consolidating in Syria, many Israelis have concluded that their government’s handling of the crisis was generally laudable.
The most comprehensive statement of this view was given recently in Haaretz by Anshel Pfeffer (Netanyahu Outfoxed Russia, Iran and ISIS With His Cynical, Ruthless Syria Policy.) Every aspect of this is open to question. Continue reading
U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria came with many visible costs. The benefits the anti-Islamic State (ISIS) campaign has delivered to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran, and Russia were made permanent. There is also more space for ISIS and greater instability in northeast Syria as Turkey confronts Syrian Kurdish forces. And there is the political cost to the United States of leaving its Kurdish anti-ISIS partner to face Turkey and the pro-Assad coalition alone. Continue reading
A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly
Israel has been conflicted on the Syrian rebellion: some saw Bashar al-Assad’s reliance on Iran and thus favoured his departure; some, especially once the uprising militarized and jihadi-Salafists made their appearance among the insurgents, favoured a let-them-both-lose policy; and some saw the risk of chaos and jihadists and preferred to stick with what they knew.
The official Israeli policy, stated in the early months of the protests, was to side with the people “demonstrating for freedoms” since “the devil we know in Syria [i.e. Assad] is worse than the devil we don’t”. Continue reading
There have been renewed claims that Russia and Iran, while both supporting Bashar Assad’s regime, have such differences in vision and interest in Syria that there is a schism Western policymakers can take advantage of.
The basic notion is to work with Moscow, which has a less maximalist position, to limit the influence of Iran, a more disruptive power that could draw in worried regional countries to a wider war. This idea is not new and remains illusory. Russia is powerless—even if it were willing—to restrain Iran, the dominant force driving the regime coalition’s war. Continue reading