The Russians and their Syrian allies have cut the main supply line of the rebels to the north of Aleppo, the Azaz corridor. In our last report, we wrote about the Azaz corridor, “a narrow strip of land connecting Turkey to the rebel forces in Aleppo. Though it has been narrowed down to four miles in some places, the Syrian [government] Army can’t take it, despite the Russian aerial support. For the success of the whole operation, it is paramount to seize the corridor and cut the supply lines, but there is a heavy political flak and military difficulties. At the last Lavrov-Kerry meeting, the American State Secretary six times implored his Russian counterpart to keep hands off the Azaz corridor. The Americans do not want to see Russian victory; besides, the Turks threaten to invade Syria if the corridor is blocked.”
Now the deed is done, the corridor is blocked. It was not a great battle that we would expect, instead a minor move towards a few Shia villages, but the corridor was so narrow that it was enough. My correspondents in the area tell of rebels running towards the Turkish border. They are followed by many civilians, afraid of the final battle for Aleppo which is probably coming – unless the rebels will vaporise and disappear. If and when Aleppo and the whole Aleppo district will be taken by the Syrian army, we would be able to congratulate Putin and Assad – and Syrian people – with a great victory.
Until now, despite a few months of fighting and bombing, the Russians and the Syrians had few few spectacular achievements to show for their efforts. The warfare has been anything but a blitzkrieg, instead house after a house; small villages changing hands. Now things began to move, with Syrian army coming to the Turkish and Jordanian borders and cutting off the supply routes of the diverse rebel groups. The surrounded Islamists in Aleppo pocket still can fight for a long time, but it seems they have lost much of their fighting spirit.
The Saudis unveiled their plans to send their crack troops to Syria, ostensibly “to fight terrorists”, but as a matter of fact, to prevent their defeat and to safeguard a part of Syrian territory under Salafist control. This could be a dangerous development, and President Assad promised that unbidden guests will go back home in coffins. However, the Saudis have no troops to send: their army is stuck in Yemen and has quite a hard time there fighting the indomitable Ansar Allah. Even there the Saudis have to rely upon Colombian mercenaries. If they will send the remainder of their forces to Syria, their homeland will remain exceedingly vulnerable for any unexpected development, be it an Ansar Allah counter-offensive, Iranian intervention or a large-scale Shi’a rising.
The Russians raise alarms that a Turkish invasion into Syria is imminent. Russian media is foaming at the mouth about the perfidious Turks; a veritable Two Minutes Hate ritual (vide Orwell) on the state-managed TV channels being repeated a few times a day. The idea is to scare Turks stiff so they will not move while the operation in the North lasts. On the other side, the Russian opposition draws frightful scenarios of Janissaries slaughtering the Russian boys on the Syrian terrain. The Turkish media also tries to instil fear in the Russkies by saying what they can do.
If you ever dived among the Red Sea coral, perhaps you encountered a peculiar fish called Abu Nafha in Arabic, a sort of blowfish. It turns into a balloon to scare off its potential enemies. This tactic is not limited to aqueous kingdom. The Brits are the best at it, and they unleashed a veritable panic campaign to undermine the Russian morale.
In a quick succession, they broadcasted a few films on the BBC. They began with Putin as mega-oligarch, the richest man on earth, with forty (or four hundred?) billion dollars in his pocket. This was a favourite topic of Stanislav Belkovsky, a corpulent Russian Jewish opposition writer, who produced a few books about Putin in the best tradition of gutter journalism. He described the Russian president as a super-rich latent homosexual who wants to escape from Kremlin and enjoy peaceful indolent life in the warm seas. Mind you, he wrote that before Putin’s comeback in 2011. If Putin was so keen on retiring, he had a good opportunity to do it, instead of running for a new term of presidency.
Now BBC blew the dust off this book and made a film about corrupt, rich and lazy Putin. The US Treasury acting undersecretary Adam Szubin immediately confirmed: yes, we know for sure that Putin is fabulously rich and exceedingly corrupt. Bill Browder, once Russia’s largest foreign investor, sentenced in absentia to a long jail term in Russia for his tax evasion and other tricks, said to CNN: Putin has US $200 billion. He keeps it on his offshore accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere, revealed Browder. As if it is possible to keep a large fortune hidden from the eyes of intelligence services! If Putin would have money hidden abroad, it would be confiscated or frozen by the US, years ago. You do not have to be a genius to know that: you can’t hide big money. A few million dollars, yes. Not even tens of millions.
Such allegations seem a necessary part of a black PR campaign. Whoever they dislike is always described as the richest man in the world. Even such modest man as the Belarusian president Lukashenko did not escape this fate, let alone Putin. They called Muammar Gaddafy “fabulously rich”, and Saddam Hussein, too, but somehow nothing was found after their death, ever. Once, a ruler could keep riches in his strong room, modern money is just a licence issued by the US, and this licence can be revoked anytime.
Putin’s friends and colleagues grew rich, true. There are many stories in Putin’s Russia that remind of the rise of Halliburton and Vice President Cheney, of Enron and Blair’s deals. Putin encouraged his supporters to build their own wealth in order to counteract the immense strength of the oligarchs. Russia is not cleaner than its Western “partners”. She is not a corruption-ridden mafia state she is depicted by her adversaries. Capitalism is capitalism, and it is ugly enough without exaggerations.
The British masters gave a voice to a Russian defector who said Putin is a homosexual and a paedophile. Who needs proofs for such allegations! Anyway, the Daily Mail illustrated this report with a picture of Putin kissing a small boy amid crowds, as the politicians are wont.
The most scary instalment in the British intimidation campaign was the mockumentary The Third World War: Inside the War Room. It appears like a real news report: Russian residents in Latvia demand autonomy, as they were disenfranchised by the nationalist authorities. The government sends troops against them. Russian humanitarian convoy brings them food and medical first help. NATO decides to send reinforcements. Very soon there are nuclear bomb exchanges, and the world goes down. I must admit this film can frighten anybody, worse than Freddie Kruger did.
It seems that much of this campaign of fear is connected with the ongoing battle for Aleppo. The US and its allies do not intend to enter the mettle, and it is a good news, but they try to scare the Russians so they will let the rebel enclave be. Meanwhile the Turks did not cross the border, though the reports say so, somewhat erroneously. A Turkish Islamic philanthropic body called IHH arranged for refugees a large camp near the border crossing, on the Syrian side. I know the IHH, and I have visited them a few years ago in connection with their humanitarian work in Gaza. This action does not amount to intervention, and hopefully it will not go any further. The Prime Minister of Turkey, Ahmed Davutoglu said that the Turks will fight for Aleppo, but probably they will not dare without Western support.
Turkey can open a new supply line to Aleppo, this is just a technical problem. From the west, Aleppo region borders with the former Syrian province of Antakya (Antioch of old), or Liwa Iskenderun, in Arabic. The French colonial masters passed the province to Turkey in 1939. Now it is called Hatay. The rebels recognise Hatay as a part of Turkey, while the Syrian government views it as an occupied territory, like the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Theoretically, the Turks could supply the rebels via Hatay, but there are no good roads, only old country roads unsuitable for large bulk transports. And probably there is not enough time left to build a new road. Still, keep this possibility in your mind.
A new campaign in the Western media speaks of – you guessed! – genocide the Russian bombings amount to. Cruise-missile liberals and their favourite newspaper, the Guardian, already published a few articles in the same weepy tone they used agitating for invasion of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.
I would like to call for ceasefire, but only after the rebels agree to lay down their arms and participate in elections. Otherwise, a ceasefire will just prolong suffering. As the first attempt to restart negotiations in Geneva ended before it actually began, the sides took a timeout until February 25. If by that time the Russian bombing and the Syrian army offensive will install some good sense into rebels’ heads, they still will be able to find a place in the parliament and in the government. And then a ceasefire will come in anyway.
Israel kept itself a very low profile regarding the Syrian war. They hoped, as the Jewish saying goes, that the work for the righteous Jews will be done by the evil-doers like Daesh. Now this hope is being severely tried by events on the ground. And Israeli politicians began to speak loudly of what a disaster the defeat of Daesh will be for the Jewish state. The first one was Yuval Steinitz who said that loud and clear, he was followed by others. However, this information (Israel supports Daesh) has been hidden from readers of the US – and Russian media. In both great states, people are made to believe that Israel is horrified by Daesh and prays for its annihilation.
The Russian success in Syrian war could not be achieved without President Obama’s cautious neutrality. Perhaps he deserved his Nobel Peace Prize, after all. An American president could turn this excellent Russian adventure into sheer hell, even without going to war. Let us give praise where it is due: Washington quietly allows the Russians to save Syria, despite Israeli wailing and Saudi shrieks.
Israel Shamir is based in Moscow and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published at The Unz Review.