Russia Muscles in on De-escalation Zones

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Russia Muscles in on De-escalation Zones

[original = by Asaad Hanna, October 2017]

Through imposing conditions on armed opposition groups, Russia is working to strengthen and transform its presence in Syria, moving from a military posture to that of a mediator driving towards a solution.

While this process of consolidation began with the Astana meetings between the military opposition and the Syrian regime, bilateral agreements are being reached separately in different parts of Syria, indicative of the Russians’ readiness to reverse any agreement that is signed in favour of an alternative that achieves their greater interests. But at the same time, the dynamics on the ground challenge the viability of any negotiated agreements.

The road from Astana

Almost a year after the start of the Astana talks, a ceasefire agreement was reached in four areas of Syria, backed by Russian, Turkish, and later Iranian guarantees. These areas, known as ‘de-escalation zones’, included the city of Idlib and the surrounding countryside, the northern Homs countryside, Eastern Ghouta, and parts of Deraa.

But since then, Russia has taken new steps to establish bilateral agreements directly with armed opposition groups on the ground in the same areas where the Astana agreements were announced. These agreements exclude any of the groups’ foreign-based leadership and are guaranteed by Russia alone.

These developments indicate that there is a Russian policy to become a unitary player on the Syrian issue, by excluding existing international actors such as Turkey and Iran. Events in southern Syria are an example of this, as Russia signed an agreement with the Southern Front to keep Iranian-backed militias away from Deraa. The Russians also made sure that the Iranians were not allowed to take control of eastern Aleppo or Hayy’ al-Waer in Homs and worked to replace them with Chechen police.

Through its statements and actions, Russia seems intent on suggesting that if it is not satisfied with the terms of the agreement established under the Astana framework, it will resort to outside agreements, thus ensuring Russia’s desired result is implemented in all cases. Take Eastern Ghouta’s inclusion in the Astana de-escalation agreement for example. Russian attacks continued on the areas until Jaish al-Islam signed an agreement directly with the Russians. Then attacks continued on areas where Failaq al-Rahman was present when the faction objected to several details of the agreement, including its listing of Cairo as the signing place, and refused to sign. But then it signed an agreement with Russia on 18 August in Geneva, after which Eastern Ghouta quietly entered into a truce, although the siege of Ghouta persists.

The same thing happened in the northern Homs countryside. After the de-escalation agreement was announced in Astana, it was revoked and a new agreement was established through a meeting between the Russians and Jaish al-Tawhid directly in Cairo. Similarly, in Idlib, which was also covered by the Astana agreements, the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, stated that they are seeking to bring the city into bilateral agreements for a ceasefire.

These agreements were established based on a unilateral guarantee – a Russian guarantee – without an international guarantor for the opposition, and without grounding them in international legal mechanisms such as the UN Security Council. Thus, the fate of these agreements will be determined by a Russian desire to implement them. Should Russia wish to annul them, it is unrestrained. Just as the de-escalation agreements have been ignored and replaced with local agreements, these bilateral agreements can also be revoked in favour of other agreements.

Although the Astana agreements initially garnered international support and were considered a step on the path to calm and an end to fighting in Syria, many violations were recorded in the early hours of implementation. Russia has ended up being the guarantor of ceasefire agreements while at the same time being the one violating them and bombing areas included in these agreements. These agreements should consequently be understood as temporary understandings that bring calm to the Syrian regime side allied with Russia in exchange for non-military gains for the opposition such as the release of detainees or a stop to shelling to allow aid to enter besieged areas.

Further problems

De-escalation zones are also confronted with competition and conflict between the military factions who are still looking for a foothold in any would-be international agreement, to ensure they are safe under the agreement and to guarantee their legitimacy through international dealings. Likewise, they will try to obstruct any agreement that takes place without their participation.

This is what happened after Jaish al-Tawhid (which does not have any leadership abroad) signed an agreement with the Russians in Cairo concerning de-escalation zones in the northern Homs countryside. Ahrar al-Sham and other factions denounced the agreement and tried to move it to Turkey so that they might play a role in it in lieu of Jaish al-Tawhid. According to one of the supervisors of the agreement with the Russians, Ahrar al-Sham allocated $200,000 to dismantle the Cairo agreement and move it to Turkey. While they did not succeed in doing so, they did manage to move the talks from Cairo to a popular committee inside Syria in order to meet with the Russians and renegotiate the terms of the Cairo agreement under different conditions.

There are also fears of Iranian meddling to dismantle agreements in order to preserve their positions and plans for an increased Iranian presence in Syria, guaranteeing access from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria and strengthening the arm of Iranian militias in the region. The Iranians will not accept Russia taking their place in Syria so easily. Should the Russians seriously begin efforts to stabilize the parties to the conflict in Syria, Iranian militias are expected to attack opposition areas, prompting the opposition to respond and destroying the ceasefire.

When the Russians blocked Shia militias from entering Hayy’ al-Waer, the militias began to threaten and intimidate the civilians and fighters leaving al-Waer. Later they planted mines on the road used by the sixth batch of civilians leaving al-Waer, delaying their arrival to Zogra camp in Jarablus and forcing Russian forces to dismantle the mines and secure the road. Similarly, when Russia consolidated a strip of Shia villages in northern Homs to prevent any attacks from being launched on the region, the action provoked Iranian militias, who fired rockets and mortars into nearby opposition controlled areas. This was because the inability to launch attacks to control opposition territory reduces the Iranian role within regime controlled areas.

Extremist organizations also play a negative role in the de-escalation zones because they are always referred to as parties that must be fought, or at least to be dissolved or transferred to other areas to remove their presence within de-escalation zones. One of the terms of the de-escalation agreement in Eastern Ghouta was for Failaq al-Rahman to distance itself from Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), with which it had a strong relationship. In the northern Homs countryside, the agreement required the removal of HTS without specifying a destination for relocation.

Therefore, the factions endorsing de-escalation agreements are stuck between two alternatives – either violate the agreement and don’t confront HTS, or adhere to it and expel them (because experience has proven that HTS will not withdraw from any region voluntarily). It is therefore seriously expected that HTS will open battles with the Russians and the regime to stop implementation of the agreement or use the agreement as an excuse to confront signatory opposition factions and streamline its control over larger areas.

Shaping the future

With this new wave of local agreements, the Russians are attempting to transform their role from that of an aggressor, threatening the opposition’s existence, to the main party capable of ensuring calm. Such a change would contribute to Turkish marginalization, overshadowing Turkey’s role as a guarantor of the opposition in the Astana agreements, and side-line Iran. If they succeed – and with the Americans moving away and changing their priorities in the region – the Russians would be alone to shape the solution in Syria.


Assad’s Democide Services

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Assad’s Democide Services

[Posted by Lara Keller 10/10/17]

Assad’s victory effect is not confined to Syria or even MENA Shia-Sunni regional tensions. Assad proved that you could mass impoverish, murder and torture your way to keeping your brutal kleptomaniac dictatorship in power.This must have an effect on other dictatorships around the world, facing the dilemma of reform or oppress. The Assad regime butchers will be able to sell advice on genocide of the people (“democide”). This is an angry mock advert for these disgusting consultancy services. It is meant as a warning allow Assad to get away with it, and the so called “international community” will be faced with many more so called “Syrian Crises”, which will become more urgent and harder to respond to.

Assad’s War On Syrians Collection

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Assad’s War On Syrians Collection

[Posted By Lara Keller 8/10/17]

Articles about the war the Assad Regime has been conducting on the Syrian people since 1970, and more vigorously since 2011. [or see whole category Assad’s War On Syrians Collection]

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Russia Muscles in on De-escalation Zones

Assad Wins: Beyond Humanity

Syrian Revolution’s Military Delegation Statement on Astana Negotiations, 4th May 2017.

Memorandum On the Creation Of De-escalation areas in the Syrian Arab Republic, 4-May-2017

Syrian Revolution’s Military Delegation Statement on Astana Negotiations, 3rd May 2017.

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Stop Assad, Continuing Massive Fraudulent Scam.

Stop The Mass Scam by the Assad Regime

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Stop Assad, Using Hunger as a Weapon of War.

Stop Assad, The Mass Torturer

Stop Assad, The Mass Murderer

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Hafiz Assad and his mentor Ceausesco.

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Stop Assad Bombing Syria


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Solving The Syrian Crisis Collection

[Posted By Lara Keller 7/10/17]

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Washington Post article reveals pathetic myopia of Obama administration Syria decision making.

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Recent ideas for an itinerary of strong effective action to empower the Syrian people to end the crisis

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A Plan for Winding Down the Syrian Civil War: Surge, Freeze, and Enforce Charles Lister, 30 September 2016

Syria Needs You, You Need Syria

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Syria Needs Your Anger

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The defeat of the Syrian Revolution will create shocks in the West that dwarf extremist terrorism.

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Together for Syria: 5 Dec 2015, London

How can the bombing of Syria be stopped without a “no fly zone”?

How can Syrian civilians be protected without weapons?

How can diplomacy with dictators produce freedom in Syria?

Good information on good intervention in Syria produced by Syrians

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Good Intervention In Syria And MENA Generally Collection

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Good Intervention In Syria And MENA Generally Collection

[Posted By Lara Keller 4/10/17]

Articles about good intervention to empower people struggling with brutal dictatorships in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, following the Democratic Uprising of 2011. [or see whole category Good Intervention In Syria And MENA Generally Collection]

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Syria at our crossroads.

How to Stop Barrel Bombs in Syria. 4/5/16

How to Stop Airstrikes in Syria. 4/5/16

Big Holes Left by Bernard-Henri Levy, on IS,Syria,Libya,EU,Democracy…. BBC Newsnight 23 Mar 2016

French Philospher BH Levy on IS,Syria,Libya,EU,Democracy…. BBC Newsnight 23 Mar 2016

Stopping Assad in Syria, Where are the millions of Muslims and Progressives demanding action?

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London, UK 14th March 2015. Syrians Demand No Fly Zone.

Demand Good Intervention

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Assad’s Allies Collection

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Assad’s Allies Collection

[Posted By Lara Keller 3/10/17]

Articles about those who have aided the tragic victory of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The other fake-left dictators and their complacent fake-radical apologists in the West. [or see whole category Assad’s Allies Collection]

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Comment “Peace Action” Will Not Publish On Syria

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Rim Turkmani Fake Part 2

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re: George Galloway as Putin’s Third Man.

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Rim Turkmani and other fakes.

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Cartoon Satirising SNP and Syria

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Thanks Comrades: UK Stop The War Coalition. Assad Allies. (part 3)

Thanks Comrades: UK Stop The War Coalition. Assad Allies. (part 2)

Thanks Comrades: UK Stop The War Coalition. Assad Allies. (part 1)

Excellent Guardian Article On Not Trusting Putin’s Russia In Syria






ORB International Surveys in Syria are Probably Worthless.

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ORB International Surveys in Syria are Probably Worthless.

[ Posted by Lara Keller 2/10/17 ]

The UK public opinion survey company ORB International (Opinion Research Business) has conducted several polls inside Syria since 2013 (or is it 2014?). ORB International is owned by Gallup and is described as a “respectable” opinion poll company. They specialize in conducting public opinion polls in foreign conflict and other crisis zones. Their polls have been widely reported in the English speaking media as respectable realistic surveys of Syrian public opinion.

Criticism of ORB mainly relates to 2007 when it used surveys to estimate the number of people who died as a result of the Iraq War. There is little criticism of its surveys in Syria.

In 2015 UK BBC commissioned ORB to conduct a survey inside Syria. The part of the poll that covered Islamic State controlled Raqqa, was criticized in a “Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL)” article ( ) : “While most Syrians said IS had a somewhat negative or completely negative influence, a majority — some 70 percent — of the 53 people polled in IS-controlled Raqqa said IS had a somewhat positive or a completely positive influence on events in Syria.”

A Syrian activist Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi described these results as “crap”. ORB would not provide RFERL with information about the polling methodology used in Raqqa (being parsimonious about methodology information was also a complaint in the ORB Iraq deaths survey). Johnny Heald who runs ORB told the BBC that IS agreed to the poll because “as the data verifies, many of those living in Raqqa now are happier since IS took over.” This suggests ORB sought permission from IS to conduct the poll. Since Islamic State is also widely reported as ruthlessly suppressing free speech, it seems highly unlikely the people surveyed were chosen at random and allowed to freely express themselves.

As the Assad regime has also been widely reported for over forty years as ruthlessly suppressing free speech, it seems highly likely the same problem applies to ORB surveys in regime controlled areas. According to the 2015 survey 67% in regime controlled Damascus felt Bashar al-Assad had a completely positive influence, while 23% felt Assad had a “somewhat positive influence”. In Idlib the figures were 5% and 4%.

There is not much on the ORB International’s slick website about methodology. The BBC article on the ORB poll it commissioned contains more information ( ): “ More than 14 supervisors and 40 interviewers travelled throughout the country to collect data. ‘It starts with one week’s training in southern Turkey where the supervisors come to Gaziantep and we go through the methodology, the questionnaire and the quality control procedures,’ Mr Heald said. ‘We pilot the questionnaire before it is fielded. We then ensure we have the relative permits/permissions to operate and undertake a risk assessment.’ ”

It seems likely then that ORB conducted their surveys in regime areas with Assad Regime permission, and must assume with the regime’s supervision in some form. Therefore negative or even neutral attitudes to Bashar al-Assad could not have been freely expressed to the ORB survey, and so it is reasonable to question if these parts of the survey have any meaning.

It also reasonable to suggest that different standards apply to the expected reliability of public opinion polls conducted domestically as opposed to those conducted abroad. In the same way as they do to the reporting of domestic and foreign news. A news reporting organization in the UK like the BBC is held to higher standards of impartiality in domestic reporting than in foreign reporting. In practice it is not expected to always be journalistically objective, but only to balance differing popular domestic opinions. There is no large constituency of pro-Syrian Revolution opinion in the UK, which means the BBC can commission and report dubious surveys from ORB, and not get any backlash. Indeed ORB’s reputation has not suffered in the media market due to their probably highly inaccurate Iraqi death toll survey. As Johnny Heald blithely said it was only an estimate. These estimates influence popular support or opposition to foreign policies, and so potentially effects the lives of millions of people.

The effect of the ORB poll has been reflected in countless internet article like this: “Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that Bashar al-Assad has more support than the Western-backed opposition. Would that not be major news?” ( ). The impression of ORB’s Syria surveys is to reinforce the idea that Assad or Islamic Extremists are highly popular with ordinary Syrians, and so the West’s intervention should be avoided. This closes down the popular debate that is urgently needed on good and bad intervention, which should keep the brutal dictators and the Western vested interests happy.

New Dark Era Of Red-Brown Fascism Collection

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New Dark Era Of Red-Brown Fascism Collection

Collection of articles and illustrations about the rise of brutal non-ideological Russian-Chinese backed authoritarian regimes around the world. Stalinist was called “red-fascism” by its critics. Since the end of the Cold War we have once communist authoritarian governments openly embracing nationalism and racism. This malignant political hybrid is termed “red-brown fascism” by many. This political philosophy has an enhanced ability to be actively spread and is an acute threat. [or see whole category New Dark Era Of Red-Brown Fascism Collection]

[Posted By Lara Keller 21/9/17 Updated 4/10/17]

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Assad’s Democide Services

Fruits of appeasement, Future news: Venezuela threatens nuclear strike on US

Future News if Assad and Kim Jong-un get away with it

Assad getting away with Genocide will enable Unrestrained Oppression around the World

Appeasing North Korea is the sure road to Disaster

Extremist Politics New and Old

A history of democracy is no reason for complacency

What is wrong with West progressive politics, a 3D approach

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Stopping Rise Of Authoritarianism In The West

West’s Darkening Hour, Stop The Rout

West’s Darkening Hour

The Non-Interveners , Spain & Syria, Geoffrey Grigson.


Grenfell Fire Articles Collection:

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Grenfell Fire Articles Collection 

[or see whole category Grenfell Fire Articles Collection]

[Posted By Lara Keller 21/9/17]

Grenfell Fire Articles 2017:

Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno

Key Points to Creating Justice for Victims of Grenfell Tower Fire Slaughter

If regulations were followed, the Grenfell Tower inferno should have been impossible (Geoff Wilkinson)

Grenfell Tower – The KCTMO Culture Of Negligence (Grenfell Action Group)

Grenfell renovation proposed temporary removal of fire protections (Inside Housing)