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Saturday, January 30

"Schizophrenia does not apply here" Pepe Escobar's dead-on Syria sitrep

This map, published January 12 by IHS Jane's 360, is a little dated and misleading in that it doesn't show Salma and doesn't make clear how much the Syrian army has boxed in the enemy in several key places. But it's helpful for orientation. And it's the first (and still only) war map I've seen that shows how much unpopulated desert there is in Syria -- all the pale gray areas on the map. That's why so much of the war is about control of roads; often there are reports about a contested "key" or "imperative" village or group of villages. Those are the pit stops on the roads, many of which are now back under Syrian military control.    


"The [Kurdish] YPG and its allies are planning a major attack to finally seize the 100-kilometer stretch of the Syria-Turkey border still controlled by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh – thus reuniting their three cantons. Erdogan was blunt: if the YPG pushes west of the Euphrates, it’s war. Well, looks like war then. The YPG is getting ready to attack the crucial towns of Jarabulus and Manbij. Russia most certainly will aid the YPG to reconquer Jarabulus. And that will directly pit – once again - Turkey against Russia on the ground."

Breaking News: Pepe tops himself, which isn't easy, in a biting, crystal-clear analysis of what the heck is actually going on with the Syrian war. Sorry, RT, I'm republishing the whole thing here, but first there has been a development since RT published Pepe's discussion:
Official Syrian opposition to join Geneva 3 peace talks after about-face: UN mediatorPublished time: 29 Jan, 2016 22:27 - Edited time: 30 Jan, 2016 02:12
RT
The long-delayed Syria peace talks, which are expected to last six months, have opened in Geneva without representatives from the leading opposition group or the Kurdish faction, but the UN promises more parties will be joining the negotiating process.
A senior Western diplomat briefing the media proclaimed that the talks organized to end the five-year conflict in Syria were “a complete failure” before they had even begun.
However, after the first day, which wasn’t expected to produce any positive results, a UN mediator brought a piece of good news.
“The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) [aka Riyadh faction] decided to participate in the Geneva talks after receiving American and United Nations guarantees,” said UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura.
“I have good reasons to believe that they are actually considering that very seriously. And therefore [I hope] to be in a position probably Sunday to actually start the discussions with them in order to be able to proceed with intra-Syrian talks.”
HNC represents a coalition of 15 leading, and mostly “moderate” opposition factions that were put together in Saudi Arabia last month. The group said earlier that it would not join the negotiations unless Bashar Assad’s government abandoned sieges of settlements, put a stop to air strikes, and released numerous captives. It remains unclear what kind of humanitarian intervention the UN was able to guarantee.
[Pundita note: Nothing is what the UN could guarantee] 
Conflicting information has emerged about who will represent the HNC during Geneva-III negotiations, which are designed as “proximity” talks in which the adversaries do not sit face-to-face, but speak indirectly through de Mistura as he moves between several rooms. 
AFP reported that “about 30, 35” HNC members would go to Geneva following internal opposition debates held in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, after claiming earlier that a low-status three-man team was en-route to the Swiss city.
The official HNC Twitter feed confirmed that its members would be present, but only “for discussions with the UN, not negotiations.”
[...]
To be exact, all the participants will be divided into four rooms. For details see the rest of the RT report, which includes excellent analysis of the talks by Joshua Landis, Director of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma. 

I note with an attempt at humor that the Riyadh faction's about-face might have occurred when they read Pepe's analysis. If I were a moderate Salafist jihadi I would have decided to get my butt to Geneva after I saw things spelled out this clearly:     

You have now landed in Geneva, Syria
Published time: 29 Jan, 2016 - 15:32 GMT
Pepe Escobar
RT

The alleged Syrian peace process now enters its Geneva charade stage. This could last months; get ready for lavish doses of posturing and bluster capable of stunning even Donald Trump.

The notion that Geneva may be able to impersonate Damascus in a suit-and-tie pantomime is ludicrous to begin with. Even the UN envoy, the sartorially superb Staffan de Mistura, admits the Sisyphean task ahead - even if all relevant players were at the table.

Then we have Syrian “opposition figure” George Sabra announcing that no delegation from the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee will be at the table in Geneva. As if Syrians needed an “opposition” instrumentalized by Saudi Arabia.

So in the interest of providing context, here’s an extremely concise recap of recent, crucial facts on the Syrian ground which the “new capital” Geneva may ignore at its own peril.

Let’s start with last summer, when Iranian Quds Force superstar commander Qasem Soleimani laid down the law, in person, in Moscow, establishing without a doubt the grim situation across the Syrian theater of war.

Essentially Soleimani told the Kremlin and Russian intelligence that Aleppo might be about to fall; that Jabhat al-Nusra was at the doors of southern Damascus; that Idlib had fallen; and Latakia – home to Russia’s naval base at Tartus – would be next.

One can imagine the effect of this jolt of realpolitik on President Putin’s mind. That clinched his resolution to stop the fall of Syria, and prevent it from becoming a Libyan remix.

The Russian Air Force campaign turned out to be the ultimate game-changer. It is in the process of securing the Damascus-Homs-Latakia-Hama-Aleppo network – the urban, developed Western Syria that holds 70 percent of the country’s population. ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and/or Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria, have zero chances of taking over this territory. The rest is mostly desert.

Jaysh al-Islam – a motley crew weaponized by Saudi Arabia – still holds a few positions north of Damascus. That’s containable. The country bumpkins in Daraa province, south of Damascus, could only make a push towards the capital in an impossible 1991 Desert Storm context.

“Moderate rebels” – that Beltway concoction – did try to hold Homs and Al-Qusayr, cutting off the resupply of Damascus. They were repelled. As for the gaggle of “moderate rebels” who took all of Idlib province, they are being pounded mercilessly for four months now by the Russian Air Force. Aleppo’s southern front is also being secured.

Don’t bomb “our” rebels

It’s easy to pinpoint who’s livid with all the Russian action: Saudi Arabia, Turkey and – last but not least – the ‘Empire of Chaos’, all at the table in Geneva.

Jabhat al-Nusra - remote-controlled by Ayman al-Zawahiri - is intimately linked to a gaggle of Salafi-jihadists in the Saudi-sponsored Army of Conquest, as well as tactically allied with myriad outfits nominally grouped in the nearly extinct Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The CIA, using the Saudis for plausible deniability, fully weaponized “vetted” FSA outfits, which received, among other things, TOW anti-tank missiles. Guess who “intercepted” virtually all the weapons: Jabhat al-Nusra.

The follow-up was nothing short of hilarious: Washington, Ankara and Riyadh furiously denouncing Moscow for bombing their “moderate rebels” and not ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

Slowly but surely, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), parallel to the Russian offensive, retook the initiative. The “4+1” – Russia, Syria, Iran (Special Forces, many of them from Afghanistan), Iraq, plus Hezbollah – started coordinating their efforts. Latakia Province – which hosts not only Tartus but the Khmeimim Russian airbase – is now under total control by Damascus.

And that brings us to Ankara’s nightmares. Russian Air Force smashed most of Ankara’s Turkmen proxies - heavily infiltrated by Turkish fascists - in northwest Syria. That was the key reason for Sultan Erdogan’s desperate move of shooting down the Su-24.

It’s by now clear that the winners, as it stands, on the ground, are the “4+1”, and the losers are Saudi Arabia and Turkey. So no wonder the Saudis want at least some of their proxies at the negotiating table in Geneva, while Turkey tries to change the subject by barring the Syrian Kurds: these are accused of being terrorists, much more than ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

Exit Geneva, enter Jarabulus


As if this was not messy enough, US ‘Think Tankland’ is now spinning there is an “understanding” between Washington and Ankara for what will be, for all practical purposes, a Turkish invasion of northern Syria, under the pretext of Ankara smashing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in northern Aleppo.

This is utter nonsense. Ankara’s game is three-pronged; prop up their heavily battered Turkmen proxies; keep very much alive the corridor to Aleppo – a corridor that crucially includes the Jihadi Highway between Turkey and Syria; and most of all prevent by all means necessary that YPG Kurds bridge the gap from Afrin to Kobani and unite all three Syrian Kurd cantons near the Turkish border.

None of this has anything to do with fighting ISISL/ISIL/Daesh. And the nuttiest part is that Washington is actually assisting the Syrian Kurds with air support. Either the Pentagon supports the Syrian Kurds or Erdogan’s invasion of northern Syria; schizophrenia does not apply here.

A desperate Erdogan may be foolish enough to confront the Russian Air Force during his purported “invasion”. Putin is on the record saying response to any provocation will be immediate, and lethal. To top it off, the Russians and Americans are actually coordinating airspace action in northern Syria.

This is bound to be the next big thing, fully eclipsing the Geneva pantomime. The YPG and its allies are planning a major attack to finally seize the 100-kilometer stretch of the Syria-Turkey border still controlled by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh – thus reuniting their three cantons.

Erdogan was blunt; if the YPG pushes west of the Euphrates, it’s war. Well, looks like war then. The YPG is getting ready to attack the crucial towns of Jarabulus and Manbij. Russia most certainly will aid the YPG to reconquer Jarabulus. And that will directly pit – once again - Turkey against Russia on the ground.

Geneva? That’s for tourists; the capital of the Syrian horror show is now Jarabulus.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) and "Empire of Chaos" (2014), all published by Nimble Books. His latest book is "2030", also by Nimble Books, out in December 2015.

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