G-2/WC/BC

Russia’s corruption
Corruption continues to be a major problem for Russia and years of well-publicized efforts to deal with it have failed. Russia is stuck near the bottom of the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index when it comes to clean government, ranking 137th out of 180 nations in 2019, dropping a couple of notches from the 2017 rankings.

Demotion
Prime Minister Medvedev, a longtime Putin henchman, resigned in January, agreeing to take a lesser post in the Defense Ministry. Medvedev has been identified in too many corruption investigations and is considered a political liability for Putin.

Power indefinitely
Russia’s government is going to allow President Putin to carry out his constitutional reforms. Putin won’t be able to run again for president after 2024 and, since he has made a lot of enemies during his 21 years in power, he doesn’t see peaceful retirement as an option. His plan is to to reorganize the government, via constitutional changes, that give him options to disperse power away from the presidency to posts that can be held indefinitely, like parliament leader or head of the State Council. With tighter control, elections are easier to manipulate.

Off limits to Russians
A Russian convoy transporting a Russian general to the Turkish border in eastern Syria was stopped and rerouted when the convoy sought to drive near Kurdish-controlled oil fields. This was poor planning on the Russian’s part because those oilfields have been off-limits to Russia since 2018 when their military contractors tried, and failed, to take control of oilfields in Syria’s neighboring Deir ez-Zor province.

Blinked
Russia ordered hundreds of Wagner Group military contractors out of Libya at the end of February because the Turkish-backed GNA Libyan government agreed to a ceasefire with a more powerful Russian-backed government. The Turkish troops were to have left as well, but they didn’t, and once more, Russia blinked in the face of Turkish resistance.

War hurts
The low-level war in eastern Ukraine continues and, in February, Pro-Russian forces suffered 38 dead and 44 wounded. The rebels are more aggressive and frequently violate the ceasefire using machine-guns and mortars against Ukrainian troops, who suffered somewhat lower casualties. Ukraine’s new president made several attempts to discuss peace with his Russian counterpart to no avail, so now Ukraine is paying more attention to their economy and the continuing corruption problems. Meanwhile, Donbass will fester, costing Russia billions a year to support and given Russia’s current poor economic condition that will hurt.

No matter the cost
Russia sympathizes with Turkey on the issues of Islamic terrorists and illegal migrants. Russia has to choose between Iran, which wants the Assad rule in Syria no matter the cost, and Turkey, which wants its security zone no matter the cost. Russian and Turkish leaders have agreed to meet to discuss possible solutions. The key problem is that Russia wants a unified Syria under a Russia-friendly government and, at the moment, that means the Assads and Iran. The only compromise is a suitable deal on Turkish border security, and the only positive factor is that neither Turkey nor Russia want to keep fighting each other.

Refugee numbers grow
In northwest Syria, the Turks complain that Syrian attacks in the province have caused nearly a million Syrian civilians to head for the closed Turkish border where the refugees are camping out on the Syrian side. They join over million refugees who have been there for a while, hoping to get into Turkey.

Turkey pleads for help
The U.S. responded to pleas from Turkey for military assistance to halt Russian attacks on their troops in Syria. The U.S. refused to send troops or a Patriot air defense battery to Turkey, but said they would do everything they could, short of direct military intervention, and made it clear that they believed Russia was the guilty party. The situation does not meet the criteria to trigger the NATO mutual-defense clause, which would happen if Russia attacked inside Turkey itself.

War crimes
In early March, the UN released a report that detailed Russian attacks on civilians in Syria. This is no secret, but now the UN has documented the practice in great detail and called for prosecution of Russia and the Asssads for war crimes. The Assads have long used starvation, as well as artillery fire and air strikes, against civilians, by cutting road access to pro-rebel areas and preventing food and other aid from getting through.

Not welcome
Turkey demanded that Russian forces cease supporting the Syrian offensive against rebels in Idlib province. Both Russia and Iran insist they are the only legitimate foreign force allowed in Syria and were invited by the Assad government. The Syrian rebels, who invited the Turks, have been trying to oust the Assads since 2011. The problem lies in the fact that Turkey has backed Islamic terror groups who are at war with the world as well as the Assads.

Business prospects
Russia hopes to do business with Libya after the war, but they are also financially dependent on Turkey, which has become one of Russia’s major customers for weapons. Russia, under heavy sanctions for invading Ukraine, needs the money. At the same time, Russia recognizes that General Hiftar and his Libyan National Army are the most effective military force in Libya and also the most effective at dealing with Islamic radical groups.

Video evidence
In January, a Russian electronic intelligence ship came dangerously close to an American destroyer in the Persian Gulf. The Russians denied that the incident occurred, but the Americans captured it all on video.

Unofficial civil war
Iraq has slipped into an unofficial civil war between pro- and anti-Iran factions. Iran has used force against anti-Iran protesters, and is responsible for most of the 700 protesters who were killed since the protests began in October 2019. Of these deaths, which exceed casualties caused by Islamic terrorists, half have been in Baghdad and Iraqis know that Iran is a big fan of shooting protesters. In the same time period, over 1,000 protesters in Iran were killed.

Ukrainian TV
Ukraine is broadcasting a new TV channel with programming suited to those in Crimea and the half of Donbass controlled by Russia. Broadcast towers were built close to the areas occupied by Russia and, as expected, the Russians proceeded to jam the broadcasts most of the time.

NATO not happy
Although Turkish presence in Syria is technically illegal, as was past and current Turkish support for Islamic terrorist groups, other NATO members are offering Turkey military support inside Turkey, but not Patriot batteries on the borders. There are still some foreign Patriot batteries guarding airbases in eastern Turkey that are heavily used by NATO aircraft. NATO members are not happy that Turkey let Syrian refugees enter Europe and they resent the Turks demanding more cash from the EU if the Turk border with the EU is to be closed tight once more.

Keep it up
The Syrian economy is a mess and good jobs are hard to come by. While being an Iranian mercenary can be dangerous, the Iranians tell new Syrian recruits that they want them to keep doing what they have always been doing: protecting their own town or neighborhood.

A bitter fight
Turkey claims its troops, armed with tanks and artillery, are inflicting massive casualties on the Syrian troops who already control half of Idlib and want to continue advancing. The Syrians have suffered losses from Turkish troops, but they continue to hold territory. Until now, the Turkish troops and their FSA mercenaries weren’t numerous enough to halt all the Syrian advances in Idlib and neighboring Aleppo province. The Syrians deny they have taken heavy losses or halted their advance.

Quid pro quo
Russia sent two more frigates to Syria from the Black Sea via the Turkish-controlled Bosporus/Dardanelles channel. By international agreement, Turkey must allow passage of all warships through the channel unless it puts Turkey at risk. Turkey told Russia that they would use this clause to block all Russian shipping if Russia opposed Turkish forces in Syria, which apparently played a part in Russia’s decision to stand aside and let Turkish troops inflict major damage on Syrian forces in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

No diplomatic support
The Turkish offensive has cost it the diplomatic support of Arab nations that had tolerated their support for Syrian rebels. The recent fighting between Russian and Turkish forces persuaded Arab states to seek accommodation with the Assad government, which is now seen likely to eventually regain control of the entire country. This sudden switch is also another example of how much Arab states distrust and dislike the Turks. The Arabs made no secret that they feared the Turks were seeking better ties with their former imperial provinces and would go after actual control of more Arab territory.

No peace in Libya
The Russian-backed Libyan National Army (LNA) repeated its demand that the Turks leave the country, stating that as long as the Turks are in Libya, there can be no peace. The LNA also pointed out that the Turks are not the invincible imperial conquerors of old, and claim to have killed at least 17 Turks and nearly 100 of their Syrian Arab (FSA) mercenaries. Turkey’s government is doing its best to suppress the news of these deaths and subsequent burials in Turkey without any admission of where or how they died.

Not our drones
The Libyan National Army (LNA) claims to have shot down and photographed several Turkish UAVs, which the Turks deny.

Ceasefire violated
Turkey has accused Russia of violating an Idlib ceasefire agreement both countries had signed in late 2018. The Assads were no party to that deal and continued to prepare for the current offensive to regain control of Idlib province even though it has caused many civilians to head for the Turkish border. Syria claims and the Russians concur, that Turkey failed to keep its end of the deal by allowing rebels to continue firing on Syrian and Russian forces. Technically, the Turks and Russians are allies, but neither could agree on how to handle these ceasefire violations as a result of Turkish inaction.

Agreed to coordinate
In early February, the U.S. confirmed rumors of a formal agreement with Israel to coordinate anti-Iran efforts. Israel is concentrating on Lebanon and Syria, while the U.S. concentrates on Iraq in addition to maintaining a presence in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria. It had been pretty obvious that the U.S. and Israel were cooperating.

Terror attacks return
There is growing concern in Damascus that Islamic terror attacks may be returning, as there have been six roadside bombs used against security forces outside the city. So far five people have died and 15 have been wounded. No one has taken responsibility for the bombs.

Iranian threats
Israel has established a separate command to deal with operations against Iran in Syria. As part of that, Israel is reorganizing an existing infantry brigade to one trained and equipped to operate deep inside Syria, as needed, to deal with new Iranian threats and so far Israel is winning.

Threat from Turkey
In January the Turks were claiming control of waters off the Greek coast that are recognized as Greek and many control large natural gas deposits. Turkey, Greece and the U.S. are all NATO members but the U.S. and other NATO members all oppose Turkish threats against fellow NATO member Greece as well as the Turkish troops in Libya.

Ethnic cleansing
Forensic investigators in Burundi found the remains of 6,032 people killed in 1972 during Hutu-Tutsi ethnic fighting. The investigators have examined six mass graves, most of the dead are believed to be Hutus.

Show me the money
Iran’s efforts to expand their control in Iraq and Syria are not producing desired results. Despite the much-reduced budget for operations in Syria, Iranian Quds Force officers in charge convinced their bosses in Iran that more cash was needed in Syria to prevent their efforts from collapsing. Apparently the cash came though because the Iranians have increased the pay and benefits for many of the mercenaries, including the local Syrian Sunni militias it has been recruiting.

Stalemate influence
The Iraqi government is in chaos because their parliament contains a mix of pro and anti-Iran members plus a lot of members who are pro-Iran only because they are being bribed or intimidated by Iran. The parliament has called for the departure of all American troops, but only the prime minister can approve that and make it law and, at the moment, there is an interim prime minister because parliament has deadlocked on their selection of a new prime minister. The stalemate is influenced by Iranian pressure but the major disputes are about corruption and who gets to control the most lucrative — for thieves — ministries.

Targeted airstrikes
The U.S. is still carrying out airstrikes in Syria against IS targets, and those are sometimes misinterpreted as an Israeli airstrike because the U.S. and Israel use the same type of warplanes. The U.S. and Israel state that if the target was IS, then it was probably a U.S. airstrike as IS targets tend to be in remote areas or in unexpected places because IS tries to maintain a very low profile to avoid detection and attack. Israelis, on the other hand, are more concerned with Iranian activities and that will be reflected in where their airstrikes occur.

China lends credit
Uganda has reached an agreement with China to borrow around $118 million to construct three roads that will provide transportation in Uganda’s oil- producing Lake Albert region. As these oil field holds an estimated six billion barrels, they are referred to as “oil roads.” The financing is part of China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative.

Israeli airstrikes
In February, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a Palestinian Islamic jihad facility outside of Damascus. Most Islamic jihad personnel were in Gaza at the time, where they were trying to carry out attacks inside Israel. The Israelis believe the Syrian facility supports the Gaza efforts.

Turned to rubble
Another February airstrike in Syria destroyed an Iranian facility, in which four Iranians and three Syrians were killed. Satellite photos released several days later showed that five warehouses and a nearby Quds HQ building had all been turned into rubble and a bomb shelter had suffered partial destruction. Israel would not confirm that they were responsible for the airstrike.

Ambassador to Israel
After 20 years without a Congolese ambassador to Israel, the Congo government is appointing one and reviving relationships. Israeli businessmen operated in Congo during the three decades that Mobotu ran the place, and continued to do so after Mobutu was overthrown in 1997. Many of those Israeli deals were of questionable legality, as were most of the foreign investments in Congo, and as Israel pointed out, it would be easier to identify and prosecute Israelis guilty of these activities if diplomatic relations were restored.

Patriot batteries
Greece is sending one of its six Patriot Air Defense batteries to Saudi Arabia, as is the United States, which is also sending four Sentinel radar systems that can detect low flying cruise missiles and UAVs. While the Saudis already have 24 Patriot batteries, they have proved insufficient to protect them from the growing number of Iranian attacks. Greece has been using the Patriot since 2003, about as long as the Saudis. Most of the Saudi batteries are used in the south, along the Yemen border.

Congo’s civil disorder
Efforts to deal with the Ebola virus epidemic in eastern Congo are being disrupted by continuing civil disorder and various armed groups blocking medical aid efforts. The major impediment is the persistent anarchy and warfare in Ituri and North Kivu provinces where 100 to 120 militias and rebel groups continue to operate. In positive news, though, the number of new cases per day has dropped.

Iran’s efforts thwarted
Israel and the U.S. are blocking Iranian efforts to build a “land bridge” from Iran to Lebanon, which requires Iran to get past American efforts in Iraq and, in eastern Syria, blocking Iranian road access to Syria and Lebanon.

Plague of Biblical proportions
The Ugandan government authorized the deployment of 2,000 soldiers to help combat a desert locust swarm. The locusts have landed in Uganda’s Amudat District near the Kenyan border, and Kenya reports swarms of 60 km by 40 km (37 miles by 24 miles) in diameter, or 888 square miles. The outbreak in east Africa is the most serious in decades and has already devastated crops across a swath of Kenya and Somalia.

Many news items courtesy of strategypage.com & James Dunnigan. All material ©2019, StrategyWorld, Inc.