Monthly Archives: January 2012

Middle East File: Syrian civil war intensifies as army deploys forces to regain control of Damascus suburbs held by rebel troops, fighting spreads to within 3 miles of city center; Ba’athist regime brands Free Syrian Army “armed terrorist group” backed by foreign states

– Opposition Syrian National Council Rebuffs Russian Offer to Mediate Peace Talks with Assad

Over the weekend the Syrian civil war intensified as mutinous soldiers of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), determined to oust the Ba’athist regime of President Bashar al-Assad, took up positions in the Damascus suburbs of Kfar Batna, Saqba, Jisreen, and Arbeen, only to be repelled by tank units of the regular army.

Syrian oppositionists told BBC News that more than 2,000 regular troops and 50 tanks joined the government operation on Sunday, barely three miles from the city center. “It’s urban war. There are bodies in the street,” said one anti-Assad activist, speaking from Kfar Batna. Reports say that on Sunday troops loyal to Assad stormed the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where large anti-government protests have taken place.

Another activist, Kamal, told Reuters news agency the rebel FSA was not repelled but made a tactical withdrawal. “Regime forces have re-occupied the suburbs and started making house-to-house arrests,” he said.

Pictured above: Rebel soldiers of the Free Syrian Army hold up their rifles as they secure a street in Saqba, a suburb of Damascus, on January 27, 2012.

In neighboring Lebanon, BBC journalist Jim Muir contends government deployments have “failed to stem defiance” in other parts of Syria. About 60 people were killed across the country on Sunday, a day after the Arab League suspended its month-old monitoring mission. Overall, according to the United Nations, 5,400 people have died in the civilian uprising/military rebellion since the “Arab Spring” unrest spread to Syria last March. International reporters are severely restricted in Syria, making independent confirmation of any published body count difficult.

Syria’s state news agency reported that a gas pipeline that runs from the country’s Mediterranean coast to the heart of the country was blown up near Tal Kalakh, close to the Lebanese border. Predictably, the state news agency blamed “terrorists” for the attack, the latest of several in recent months. Over the weekend, more than 50 military funerals were held as armed attacks against Assad’s security forces spiked.

On Monday, reports emerged indicating that regular troops may have killed senior army defector Lieutenant-Colonel Hussein Harmoush, one of the first military officers to publicly declare his opposition to Assad last year. However, the FSA, which is based in NATO member state Turkey, could not confirm the death.

This week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that the Kremlin had invited Syrian officials and anti-Assad groups to meet for peace talks in Moscow and that, moreover, Syrian authorities had accepted. However, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Council told Reuters it had not received any such invitation and, in any case, would turn down the Russian offer. The Kremlin is opposed to any peace plan that requires Assad to resign, while NATO continues to mull over some form of intervention. The Assad dynasty, which included Bashar’s father Hafez until his death in 2000, has been in league with Moscow for four decades.

Latin America File: Russia hails formation of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, “anti-imperialist” regional bloc embraces Cuba, excludes USA and Canada, widely perceived as counterweight to OAS; Pravda praises “socialist tide sweeping” South America

– Nicaraguan Delegation Arrives in Moscow to Clinch Agreements Worth US$600 Million, Revive Historic Relationship between Soviets and Sandinistas

– Red Cocaine Update: Mexican Navy Intercepts 195 Tons of Crystal Meth Precursor Chemical, Shipment Originated from China, Port of Lazaro Cardenas Controlled by Beijing Buddy Li Ka-shing

On January 9, the foreign ministers of Chile, Cuba, and Venezuela met in Santiago, capital of the first country, to discuss the implementation of resolutions passed by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Spanish acronym CELAC). CELAC is an international body formally founded in Caracas at a two-day summit in early December. Notably, it excludes the USA and Canada. The ministers meeting in Santiago this month included Chile’s Alfredo Moreno, Cuba’s Bruno Rodríguez, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro (pictured above).

Chile, whose president is billionaire Sebastian Pinera, currently holds the rotating chair of CELAC. For their parts, Cuba is a single-party communist dictatorship while President Hugo Chavez has incrementally communized Venezuela since 1999. Some of the region’s Red Axis leaders have plainly declared that CELAC is an “anti-imperialist” and “anti-capitalist” counterweight to the US-dominated Organization of American States, headquartered in Washington DC. Together, the CELAC nations have nearly 600 million people and a gross domestic product of about $US6 trillion.

In Caracas, Nicaragua’s past/present president and veteran communist Daniel Ortega triumphed over CELAC’s formation. “It’s the death sentence for the Monroe Doctrine,” he said, referring to a 19th-century US policy that many Latin Americans regard as pretext for the USA’s “meddling” in their region. Western Hemisphere analysts observe that “the new body shows the region’s wish to move out of the shadow of Washington.” The inaugural session of CELAC, for example, ratified Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the British-ruled Falkland Islands–previously contested 30 years ago in a brief war provoked by the military junta then ruling in Buenos Aires–and condemned 50-year-old US sanctions against Cuba.

Not surprisingly, Russia, which is closely allied with the leftist-communist regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean Basin–especially Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua but also Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina–hailed the creation of CELAC. “The new structure, added to other regional and multilateral mechanisms, will contribute to increased cooperation among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a communique. “The new organization can be an important factor for the formation of a multipolar world order. Russia is ready to undertake cooperation and political dialogue with it to strengthen the equilibrium of international relations,” stated the Kremlin, ever eager to demote the USA.

Grappling with the internal crises resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia ignored Latin America throughout that decade. In 2000, however, newly minted Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare trip to Cuba and, eight years later, his successor, Dmitry Medvedev toured the region, visiting Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, and Cuba. For its part, Moscow has hosted Chavez, Ortega (both during and after the Cold War), Cuba’s Raul Castro (both during and after the Cold War), Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez Kirchner.

Russia has made no secret concerning its exportation of arms to the Western Hemisphere, continuing a long tradition extending back to the Cuban Missile Crisis; rebuilding old ideological and commercial alliances, such as with Nicaragua’s second Sandinista regime; and exploiting oil and gas reserves in joint ventures with Venezuela and Cuba.

On January 23, 2012, Russian communist organ Pravda enthusiastically endorsed the “Latin American power trio” consisting of Chavez, Morales, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, offering the following praise and worship: “As a socialist tide sweeps the Latin American continent, three outstanding leaders of the New Left have emerged, the power trio of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.”

Pravda pontificates: “Twenty-first century socialism in Latin America is founded on strong moral and ethical principles such as fraternity and solidarity.” The same source plays up the left-nationalist component of South America’s 13-year-old Bolivarian Revolution: “Socialism in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela features a strong patriotic component, inspired by the historical experience of fighting for liberty against the Spanish invaders. Simon Bolivar – El Libertador – has become a common national symbol.”

Finally, Pravda notes with satisfaction the devotion of Latin America’s Red Axis leaders to Russia, Cuba, China, and Iran, as well as regional integration:

Chavez, Morales and Correa are charismatic leaders who have gained global admiration and support. They favor a multi-polar world, anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism. They share strong ties to other Latin American countries, Cuba, China, Russia and Iran.

Latin American strength is founded on unification. Chavez, Morales and Correa are fiery champions of ALBA (Alliance for the Peoples of our America), UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and the newly created CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). Latin America has its own virtual currency, the SUCRE, and its own regional bank, BANCO DEL SUR.

Something tells me, though, that even if a Republican returns to the White House in 2013, Washington’s response to the “Red Spread” south of the border will be piecemeal at best. The Oval Office needs the robust ideological presence of another Ronald Reagan, in our opinion, America’s last great president.

Incidentally, Communist China, which had virtually no presence in Latin America and the Caribbean during the Cold War, has carved out new niches in this region, including one that suggests a “Red Cocaine” scenario.

Earlier this month, the Mexican navy reported the seizure of 195 tons of methylamine, a chemical used to make the synthetic drug methamphetamine, as well as synthetic cocaine. Mexican authorities found 12 shipping containers full of this precursor chemical at the Pacific coast port of Lazaro Cardenas. The shipment originated in Red China and was destined for Guatemala and Nicaragua. Mexican navy officials said the drug cartels terrorizing their country have expanded their methamphetamine operations to Guatemala. Not so coincidentally, the port facility at Lazaro Cardenas is operated by Hutchison-Whampoa, which is owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, who in turn is closely allied with the Communist Party of China.

According to a 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the world’s main producers of synthetic drugs remain the Netherlands and Myanmar (Burma), but manufacture has lately spread to Latin America.

Communism with Canadian Characteristics: Naval intelligence officer arrested in Halifax, charged with passing secrets to “foreign power,” Ottawa “fed” false information to Moscow after suspicions aroused; Delisle case related to expulsion of four Russian diplomats, including military attache

This week, the Canadian government expelled four Russian diplomats, including a military attaché and two technical staff, on allegations of passing secrets back to Moscow. Not so coincidentally, last weekend Canadian authorities arrested a naval intelligence officer in Halifax, Sub.-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle, on charges of passing secrets to a “foreign power.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation confirms that some of the Russian embassy expulsions are related to the Delisle arrest.

According to court documents, the 40-year-old Delisle faces two charges under Canada’s Security of Information Act that deal with communicating information that could harm the country’s interests. On Tuesday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay described the case as “a matter of national security” because of the charges involved, but he would not elaborate, including whether the “foreign power” in question was Russia.

“Given the early stages of the proceedings, there is really nothing more that can be said,” MacKay told a news conference in Ottawa. He endeavoured to reassure Canadians and other NATO governments that allegations surrounding Delisle would not affect Canada’s reputation among its allies. “Our allies have full confidence in Canada, full confidence in our information,” MacKay said.

On January 20, Canada’s National Post reported that after Delisle’s superiors suspected that he was passing classified information to Russia, they purposely “fed” false information through the Royal Canadian Navy officer. Journalist Ian MacLeod writes:

Authorities fed an alleged and unwitting Canadian naval spy fabricated information as part of a classic “sour milk” counter-intelligence ploy to taint the credibility of secrets the man is suspected of passing to Russia, Postmedia News has learned.

“This was done by the book — sour the milk so that you confuse the other side,” Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former spy service counter-intelligence officer with sources close to the Halifax case, revealed in an interview Friday.

Once naval officials suspected there was a spy in their midst, deliberately flawed information was baited and designed to eventually be discovered by its foreign recipients, casting doubt the usefulness of any other classified data related to the case.

The same story speculates that the Russians “turned” Delisle in 2007. Delisle started his military career as an intelligence operator reservist in 1996 with the Halifax-based 3 Intelligence Company. If the case goes to trial, it will be Canada’s first spy prosecution since the Cold War. If convicted, the junior naval intelligence officer faces life in prison.

Quoted above, Juneau-Katsuya believes the Russians were after NATO secrets, but the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to “minimize” the case. MacLeod quotes the former Canadian spy: “They hope, by not openly accusing the Russians, the Russians will not do a tit-for-tat and send four (Canadian) diplomats back home. They want to play nice, hoping that the Russians will play nice.”

Not surprisingly, the Canadian Left takes a dim view of the Harper government’s “Russophobic” stance. Professor Piotr Dutkiewicz, director of the Institute of European and Russian Studies at Carleton University, complained: “The Canadian government is stuck in a Cold-War mentality. We now have a Cold War lite.”

Presumably, the Russian attaché expelled from Canada was working for military intelligence (GRU), which proves yet again that the Kremlin is more than competent in penetrating and corrupting the armed forces of NATO member states including, in this case, the Royal Canadian Navy. Last year, Dutch authorities arrested a fighter pilot on charges of passing secrets to Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia.

In a somewhat related story, the British government admitted this week that its secret agents used fake rocks containing radio transmitters ala “James Bond” to eavesdrop on Russian government personnel in Moscow in 2006. At the time, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB) alleged that London was making covert payments to pro-democracy and human rights groups.

USSR2 File: Communist Party of the Russian Federation woos youth vote for March presidential election, unites with radical Left Front; besuited Zyuganov and jeans-wearing street scuffler Udaltsov strike hands, bridge generation gap within Russian Left

– Left Front Activist Warns of “Civil War” if Kremlin Authorities “Come Down Hard” on Protesters

In last December’s State Duma election, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation nearly doubled its representation by wooing middle-class and youthful voters ignorant of the organization’s ugly Soviet legacy. In the process, the potemkin “centrist” ruling party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, United Russia, received a “black eye,” losing a considerable number of seats.

Emboldened by the gravitation of young Russians to the party, Chairman Gennady Zyuganov has entered a pact with the 35-year-old leader of the Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov, clearly with the intent of attracting still more young Russians to the CPRF’s barely repackaged Soviet communism. Zyuganov founded the CPRF in 1990, when the Soviet Union was still without a specifically Russian branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and is thus well linked to the old Soviet regime.

“This is a historic and important moment,” Udaltsov crowed on Tuesday, as he signed an agreement that will see his movement support veteran communist Zyuganov’s bid to prevent Putin securing a third term as Russian Federation president. “We risk a split unless left forces rally around a single candidate. We are placing our stake on Gennady Zyuganov.”

In return, the 67-year-old Zyuganov pledged to implement the demands drawn up by the organizers of recent mass protests against alleged electoral fraud in the parliamentary polls if he becomes president. These demands include a new Duma election before the end of the year, the dismissal of unpopular election chief Vladimir Churov, and “fundamental” changes in electoral law.

For his part, Udaltsov, who was in and out of jail 14 times in 2011, pointed out that Zyuganov enjoys the support of 10 percent of Russians and is the opposition candidate “most likely” to defeat Putin at the polls. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the mis-named neo-fascist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, is Zyuganov’s closest opposition rival at nine percent. The same survey by state-run pollster VTSiOM indicated that 45 percent of voters backed Putin, a figure that would not be sufficient for a victory in the first round on March 4.

The two communists made for odd allies as they attended a news conference in downtown Moscow to conclude the deal, with Zyuganov’s suit, tie, and Communist Party pin in contrast to the young activist’s jeans and shaven head. Only a teenager when the Soviet Union “collapsed,” Udaltsov is a “rising star” of Russia’s revitalized Left. Last month, he went on a hunger strike while behind bars to draw attention to what he says is persecution by the authorities and still looked “gaunt” as he appeared at Tuesday’s news conference. Udaltsov is also leader of the Red Youth Vanguard and a disciple of Oleg Shenin, the deceased organizer of the fake 1991 anti-Gorbachevist coup.

“The alliance,” opines state-run Novosti, “is the first time that one of Russia’s long established opposition parties has openly cooperated with a radical movement such as Left Front, one of a number of confrontational groups outside of the political mainstream.” Political analysts were quick to describe the CPRF-Left Front alliance as a “marriage of convenience,” even though the Communist Party already has a youth wing.

“Zyuganov gets access to Sakharov Avenue,” commented Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies, referring to the venue for December’s 50,000-plus strong protest rally in Moscow, “while Udaltsov receives the support of a powerful organization.”

Sergei Mikheyev of the Center for Political Assessment observed that the deal was a sign that Zyuganov recognized the extent of popular discontent among Russia’s educated urban electorate. “He is seeking to attract new voters, as he has almost no way otherwise of reaching out to young people,” he said.

Traditionally, Zyuganov has enjoyed the support of older voters, who recall Russia’s Soviet heritage, and rural inhabitants in southern European Russia’s so-called “Red Belt,” rather than the “Internet-savvy urbanites” who have been the “driving force” behind the recent protests.

Left Front activist Alexei Sakhin warned that while his movement aspired for the “non-violent dismantling of Putin’s regime” Russia could find itself “engulfed in civil war” if Kremlin authorities “came down hard” on protesters.

There were indications of early disharmony between the CPRF and Left Front. On the eve of the meeting, the Left Front announced that Zyuganov or, possibly, Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov could agree to become president for a two-year “transitional period” in the event of either candidate’s victory in the polls. However, on Tuesday, Udaltsov said that negotiations would continue on this issue.

USSR2 File: Russian Communist Party boss believes “good chance” of victory in run-off vote against Putin, gloats over “ex”-red PM’s sagging popularity and refusal to join public debates; Just Russia leader urges alliance with Communists; Russia rejects request to interrogate Gorbachev over 1991 military assault on Lithuania

On January 11, Russia’s Communist Party boss, Gennady Zyuganov, who believes in restoring the Soviet Union and official socialism, predicted that he has a “good chance” of defeating Vladimir Putin, Russia’s “ex”-red prime minister in the March 4 presidential election. He also warned Kremlin authorities that rigging the election would amount to “raping” the country. The 67-year-old Zyuganov opined that Putin’s approval ratings would not allow him to receive the 50 percent plus one vote needed to secure an outright victory in the first round of voting.

“It would be impossible to push him through in the first round, even if votes were added in his favor. At best they have 30 percent,” Chairman Zyuganov told a news conference. “Sticking on another 20 percent would mean raping the whole country,” said Zyuganov, who will be standing in his fourth presidential election since 1996, when he was narrowly defeated by Boris Yeltsin. “An illegitimate president means complete destabilization and … distrust of the authorities,” said Zyuganov.

Putin is hoping to grab his old Kremlin job in a third non-consecutive term, straining most interpretations of the Russian Constitution, but his approval ratings have dived to record lows, following allegations that his United Russia party engaged in vote rigging in last December State Duma election.

According to a December 24-25 poll by the state-run VTsIOM pollster, 45 percent of the Russian electorate would vote for Putin and only 10 percent for the Communist leader in the first round of the election. Analysts also expect Putin to win any run-off, even though some liberals have called for a protest vote in favor of Zyuganov to stop Putin from returning to power. During the parliamentary polls last month, many Russians, including middle-class and young voters ignorant of the party’s ugly Soviet legacy, voted for the Communists in an attempt to thwart United Russia’s bid for another supermajority.

If the Soviet strategists believe that 2012 is a propitious year in which to return an open communist in the Kremlin, then they may resort to several tactics to bring this about.

First, Putin has again declined to participate in televised debates with his chief “opponent,” Zyuganov, a calculated move that will no doubt portray him as “out of touched” and “alienated” from “the people.” Taking time off for debates would “undoubtedly impede his ability to duly carry out his duties,” Kremlin spokesentity Dmitry Peskov haughtily told Russian media.

“Not only must [Vladimir Putin] go on leave, but also officially agree to take part in open political debates,” insisted Zyuganov in remarks broadcast on Russian news channel Rossiya 24. Communist Duma deputy Sergei Obukhov, moreover, accused Putin of “hogging” TV coverage in controlled political advertisements. “In the last 20 days, Putin dominated the television screens 70 to 100%,” he said, adding: “We believe this makes the election process illegal, as does Putin’s continuing status of presidential candidate and prime minister.”

Second, the Soviet strategists could merge the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the social democratic Just Russia into a single and larger left-wing party to challenge United Russia’s “conservativsm.” In past years and months and again just this week, Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov has urged Zyuganov to unite their parties, but the Communist leader has so far resisted all such overtures.

According to Mironov, who is also past speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper chamber, the Left Front recently presented him with a proposal in which either he or Zyuganov could become Russia’s next “transitional president.” The Left Front proposal involves the next president implementing a “comprehensive reform of election law,” making the necessary changes in the constitution, calling a rerun of parliamentary elections and then stepping down in March 2013.” 

The Just Russia leader, who is widely viewed as a Kremlin pawn, was recalled as chair of the Federation Council in May 2011 after criticizing former St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, who was elected in his place a few months later. Mironov’s party fared well in last month’s election, garnering 13.25 percent of the vote.

Mironov admits that he is prepared to act on the Left Front plan, but that he would need an additional year in office. “I would be ready to step down as president, but no earlier than in two years,” Mironov told reporters in Moscow. In recent weeks, Zyuganov has likewise promised to hold a new Duma election if elected to the presidency, as well as alter the constitution in order to reduce the total amount of time one man can spend in that office to 10 years.

A spokesman for the Communist Party has indicated that Zyuganov’s presidential program will be made public in near future. “After being elected as president, our candidate guarantees that he would form public trust government from among patriot-professionals,” said Dmitry Novikov, secretary of the CPRF Central Committee. He added that, among other things, Zyuganov’s program suggests ways of overcoming five main “threats” to Russia, including “huge social inequality, demographic catastrophe, economic disorder, lack of defense capability and moral degradation.”

Incidentally, the leader of the Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov, was in and out of jail 14 times in 2011, prompting 2,000 supporters to rally to his defense on December 29. The 35-year-old communist is presently under detention and on a hunger strike to protest his conditions. Udaltsov is also the founder of Red Youth Vanguard and a past disciple of Oleg Shenin, the Soviet Politburo member who masterminded the fake anti-Gorbachevist coup in August 1991 and who died in 2009.

Meanwhile, Russia’s potemkin politicians are falling over themselves to extend mercy to jailbird Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Komsomol activist-turned-billionaire in 2005 was convicted of fraud and sentenced to nine years in a labor camp, a sanitized “post”-communist term for Russia’s neo-gulag system. Zyuganov, whose party was financed by Khodorkovsky, is among the disgraced oligarch’s advocates. “I think humanity and mercy should be shown,” Zyuganov told journalists on January 11. “Khodorkovsky has already served quite a long sentence.”

Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center opined that such “populist” declarations were motivated by the intention of the candidates to demonstrate their “conditional independence” from the Kremlin, without risking “the benefits of cooperation.”

The installation of an open communist in the Russian presidency will probably indicate that the Soviet strategists also intend to re-communize Russian society, restore the Soviet Union under the guise of Putin’s proposed “Eurasian Union,” instigate a new Cold War or possibly hot war with NATO, overtly or covertly back the Democratic candidate in the November 2012 US presidential election, and aggressively and openly support the many leftist regimes in Latin America.

The installation of an open communist in the Kremlin for the first time in 20 years will also vindicate the published predictions of KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, who described the Soviet deception plan decades ago.

In somewhat related story, Russia has rejected Lithuania’s request to question former Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev over his role in the Kremlin’s deadly 1991 crackdown on Lithuania’s independence movement. Between January 11 and 13 of that year Soviet ground and airborne troops seized key government buildings in Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities, leading to the deaths of 14 civilians and the injuring of 700 others. The military assault against Lithuania was the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s response to the republic’s March 1990 declaration of secession.

In May 2011, Lithuania announced it had formally requested Russia to question the 80-year-old Gorbachev on its behalf as a witness in its probe.“We have received a negative response,” prosecutor Simonas Slapsinskas told reporters. Slapsinskas elaborated on Gorbachev’s immunity:

The prosecution service of the Russian Federation argued that complying with this request would prejudice public order, security and the interests of federation. There was not enough evidence to bring charges against former Soviet President Gorbachev. As a result, the request was sent to question him as a witness.

While several Soviet-era Lithuanian officials were convicted of conspiring with Moscow, 21 Russian and two Belarusian citizens linked to the crackdown are suspected by Lithuania of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Relations between Russia and Lithuania have been strained since independence, especially since the Baltic state joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

Lately, Gorbachev, who has urged President Barack Hussein Obama to implement “perestroika” (socialist restructuring) in the USA, has publicly withdrawn his support for Putin, urging the Russian PM to give up any ambition of once again running for president.

WW4 File: Syrian civil war portends superpower showdown as Russia and Iran arm Assad, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force shows up in Damascus, reconfirms support for mutual defense pact; Patrushev accuses NATO of prepping for military intervention against Syria

– Defecting Syrian General Flees to Turkey, Announces Formation of High Military Council to Coordinate Operations of 40,000-Man Free Syrian Army, Oust Assad

– US Official: Iran Shipping Munitions to Syria via Turkey; Russian-Operated Ship Sails from St. Petersburg, Briefly Detained in Cyprus, Unloads Cargo of Bullets at Syrian Port of Tartus

– The “Bear” Shows Its Fangs: Russia’s Outgoing NATO Envoy Rogozin Warns “Military Action” against Iran “Direct Threat” to Russia’s Security

This past week, Russia accused NATO of plotting military intervention against both Syria, where a civilian uprising and military rebellion is seeking to oust the Ba’athist regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and Iran, which has defied United Nations sanctions against its “made-in-Russia”  nuclear power program. Both Damascus and Tehran are long-time allies and clients of Moscow, while the two former states are also locked into a mutual defense pact, signed in 2006.

Last Thursday, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council and ex-boss of the Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB), said he had seen intelligence indicating that NATO’s plans for a military incursion into Syria were “well advanced.” Kommersant quoted him as saying:

We are getting information that NATO members and some Persian Gulf states, operating according to the Libya scenario, intend to move from indirect intervention in Syrian affairs to direct military intervention.

This time it is true that the main strikes forces will not be provided by France, the U.K. or Italy, but possibly by neighbouring Turkey, which was until recently on good terms with Syria and is a rival of Iran with immense ambitions.

America and Turkey were even now possibly already refining options for a no-fly zone that would allow armed Syrian opposition fighters to mass in the designated areas.

Russia’s outgoing NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, was more direct. “You shouldn’t interfere in Syrian affairs. This is very dangerous,” he told reporters in Brussels.

With an eye to protecting Russia’s periphery, the combative Rogozin also told reporters that an attack against Iran is the same as an attack against Russia. “Iran is our neighbor,” Rogozin rumbled, “And if Iran is involved in any military action, it’s a direct threat to our security. But at the same time, we believe that any country has the right to have what it needs to feel comfortable, including Iran.” Rogozin, referring to this past year’s Arab Spring coups across the Muslim world and the recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, warned that more attacks on Iran could cause “a scorching Arab Summer.” For his part, career Chekist Patrushev accused Israel of provoking the USA towards war against Iran, a warning that Interfax published on Friday.

Patrushev and Rogozin would no doubt also voice strong objections to a proposal advanced by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in which Arab troops would be interposed between Assad’s security forces and protesters. Last August, he described Assad’s heavy-handed use of force against protesters as “fruitless,” and withdrew Qatar’s ambassador to Syria. Qatar’s prime minister heads the Arab League committee on Syria and has said killings have not stopped despite the presence of Arab League monitors sent there last month. Qatar backed last year’s NATO campaign that helped Libyan rebels topple Muammar al-Qaddafi, another long-time Soviet/Russian ally and client.

Meanwhile, on Friday, a US official revealed that “Washington has reason to believe Iran is supplying security-related equipment ‘including munitions’ to Syria in its crackdown.” The Iranians are secretly trucking the munitions into Syria via NATO member Turkey, which intercepted four shipments last week, but Tehran professed innocence in the matter.

The accusation comes after the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Major-General Qasem Soleimani, visited Damascus earlier in January. However, reports the Jerusalem Post on January 16, “Iran would provide aid to Syria if it came under attack by external forces, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards official told pan-Arab Al Arabiya news channel Monday.”

In March 2011, the Turkish Foreign Ministry revealed that authorities had forced two Iranian planes with suspect cargo flying over Turkey to Syria to land at Turkish airports.

At the time, Turkish media reports said boxes on the Russian-built Ilyushin plane contained rocket launchers, mortars, Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition, although there was no official statement on the content of the cargo. Last November, the Turkish government formally announced it would block all weapons sales and shipments across Turkish land, sea, and airspace to Syria.

More troubling still, but hardly surprising, last week Cypriot authorities briefly detained the Russian-operated cargo ship Chariot, which originated in St. Petersburg on December 9 and arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus on January 11. The ship was carrying four shipping containers of bullets, while Tartus is the site of a Soviet/Russian naval maintenance facility.

After leaving Cyprus with written assurances of heading for Turkey, not Syria, the ship then vanished off radar screens after apparently switching off its Automatic Identification System, which enables the vessel to be tracked. “Since it had changed destination, and (if) we would not have allowed it to go, the company could cite illegal detention of a ship,” a Cypriot official said. Rosoboronexport spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko said the state arms exporter would neither confirm nor deny the report. “We do not comment on where our deliveries go, when they leave port or how,” he huffed.

Turkish Foreign Ministry official Selcuk Unal said the ship departed Tartus early Saturday and reached the Turkish port of Iskenderun later the same day. Unal said the ship’s captain confirmed that the ship had arrived from Syria, but would not confirm the type of cargo the St. Vincent and Grenadines-flagged ship may have offloaded at Tartus.

Arms trafficking expert Hugh Griffiths explains that the Chariot is “a purpose-built ship” that transports ammunition, explosives and missiles to “sensitive destinations” in the Middle East and Africa.

Incidentally, Cyprus boasts the European Union’s only communist government, the president of which is slavishly pro-Moscow, a fact that affords the Kremlin some strategic leverage in the eastern Mediterranean region. It may be for this reason that the Cypriots purposely violated the EU arms embargo against Syria.

Last summer, Cyprus experienced a disaster when 85 confiscated containers loaded with Iranian gunpowder exploded at a naval base, killing 13 people and knocking out the island’s main power station. The containers were seized in February 2009 from a Cypriot-flagged ship that was suspected of transporting them from Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza via Syria.

From the relative safety of his exile in Turkey, General Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, the most senior commander to defect from the Syrian army, has announced the formation of a “high military council” to coordinate the combat operations of the rebel Syrian Free Army. This move will create a serious wedge between Damascus and Ankara. Sheikh (pictured above) was in charge of security in northern Syria before defecting. In a media statement, he explained had deserted two weeks ago because he was sickened by the regime’s ruthlessness and the killings.

“This council, headed by Sheikh, will oversee military operations in conjunction with the Free Syrian Army (FSA),” Sheikh’s media advisor, Fahad Almasri, told AFP news agency. “It will also help organise defections within the army and will be in contact with officers in the regular army to encourage large-scale rather than individual defections.” Formed from deserters from the regular army, the FSA says it has some 40,000 fighters, possibly including hundreds of veterans of last year’s Libyan civil war.

Last Friday, thousands of Syrians rallied in Damascus to express solidarity with the rebel troops of the FSA (one of which is pictured above). Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group that initially opposed the use of force in the uprising but has now allied itself with the defecting soldiers, met last Thursday with rebel army chief Colonel Riad al-Asaad. According to the SNC, they agreed to “formulate a detailed plan, to include the reorganization of FSA units and brigades, and the creation of a format to accommodate within FSA ranks additional officers and soldiers, especially senior military officials, who side with the revolution.”

On Monday, random gunfire from pro-Assad militiamen killed five people, including a woman, and wounded nine in the restive city of Homs, while five soldiers were killed when they tried to defect during a clash with rebels in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The latest violence erupted a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Assad to “stop killing your people.” The Ba’athist regime’s harsh response to the 10-month-old uprising has killed more than 5,000 people, by a UN count. Syrian authorities retort by pointing out that 2,000 members of the security forces have also been killed. The deaths of 32 civilians and soldiers were reported on Sunday. Assad retains the support of core military units, his own Alawite minority, some minority Christians, and some majority Sunni Muslims.

The northern commercial city of Aleppo, like central parts of the country’s capital, has mostly escaped the turmoil, but this weekend security forces stormed Aleppo University campus in pursuit of students who staged an anti-Assad protest on Friday. Activists said dozens of students were beaten in the raid. Aleppo residents say Sunni merchants in the city still support the Syrian president and that authorities have recruited Sunni tribesmen from the countryside to patrol the streets.

Latin America File: Iran’s Jew-hating president pays state visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador; Ahmadinejad strokes leftist dictators by denouncing capitalism and “imperialism,” attends Ortega’s re-inauguration

– In Presence of Iranian Counterpart Ahmadinejad, Nicaraguan President Ortega Urges Israel to Destroy Its (Suspected) Nuclear Arsenal

– Zimbabwe’s Genocidal Marxist Dictator Mugabe Sends Representative to Attend Ortega Re-Inauguration, ZANU-PF Official Praises Sandinistas

Sounding more like a communist than a megalomaniac Islamist tyrant with a penchant for anti-Jewish Hitlerisms, this past Wednesday Iranian President Mahmoud (“Iwannajihad”) Ahmadinejad denounced capitalism during a speech at the University of Havana. This took place on the third pit stop of a four-nation trip designed to strengthen friendships with his Latin American and Caribbean allies.

At the University of Havana, the Iranian dictator, who in 2005 offered to “wipe Israel off the map,” excoriated the USA and its allies, asserting:

Heartless capitalism is the root cause of war. Thankfully, we are already witnessing that the capitalist system is in decay. On various stages it has come to a dead end — politically, economically and culturally. You see that when it lacks logic, they turn to weapons to kill and destroy.

Ahmadinejad did not field any questions or talk about a bombing earlier that day in Tehran that killed a nuclear scientist working at Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility. Iran’s theocratic regime blamed the bombing on the USA, United Kingdom and, of course, the “Zionist entity.” Washington denied involvement.

The Iranian dictator waxed eloquent concerning the relationship between his Islamic fundamentalist state and Communist Cuba, referring to the “solidarity between two revolutionary peoples.” Tehran and Havana have found common cause in spitting in the face of US foreign policy, while retired dictator Fidel Castro has repeatedly warned that a confrontation pitting the USA and Israel against Iran could result in a nuclear exchange.

For his labors, the Communist Party of Cuba, which controls the University of Havana, bestowed an honorary doctorate on Ahmadinejad. No doubt “Dr.” Ahmadinejad’s rant would be well received at many US universities too, and by the leadership of the US Democratic Party, where Marxism in various flavours is de rigueur.

Later, Ahmadinejad held a private meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro and was expected to meet with Raul’s elder brother, Fidel (pictured above). In all, he planned to spend less than 24 hours on the island before flying to Ecuador, his last stop.

Prior to swinging through Cuba, Ahmadinejad materialized in Managua, where he attended the inaugural ceremony of Daniel Ortega, who was beginning his third term as Nicaraguan president, the first having taken place at the end of the Cold War and the second beginning in 2007. No doubt with some urging from his Iranian guest, Ortega demanded that Israel eliminate its nuclear arms, an arsenal that Jerusalem has never formally admitted to owning. On Tuesday, Ortega ranted:

Simply by starting to push for talks in the region, in which the steps are laid down for Israel to give up and destroy these nuclear arms, I’m certain this would bring about great peace in the region.

Instead, Western powers are ignoring those with nuclear weapons and threatening a country which only wanted atomic energy for peaceful purposes. Christ never said: Israel arm yourself, arm yourself to the teeth.

Ortega, whose massive re-election last November is widely viewed as fraudulent, suspended diplomatic relations with Israel in 2010 in protest after Israeli commandos raided a flotilla trying to run a naval blockade of Gaza. He also attacked the US “occupation” of Afghanistan and Iraq, condemned NATO’s killing of former Libyan dictator and long-time bud Muammar al-Qaddafi, and offered a brief valediction to Saddam Hussein, who was executed by Iraqi authorities in 2006.

Incidentally, the eight-year US military occupation of Iraq came to an end several weeks ago, but “Comandante” conveniently overlooked this fact in order to shred America.

In attendance at Ortega’s (unconstitutional) re-swearing in was benefactor Hugo Chavez, who has poured at least US$1 billion into Nicaragua’s coffers through front companies set up by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). “This is part of a unified process that has been set in motion [in Latin America], because only by being united will we truly be free,” Chavez enthused over Ortega’s highly suspect re-election.

In attendance, too, was Simon Khaya Moyo, chairman of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, who hailed “Comrade” Ortega as a “living legend in the fight against neo-colonialism.” Moyo came to Managua as a representative of President Robert Mugabe, a brutal, racist Marxist who has led the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia for 32 years. Since 2000, ZANU-PF thugs and Bush War veterans have driven thousands of white farming families into exile, not to mention slaughtering many others in horrific murders.

According to Moyo: “To us in Zimbabwe, President Ortega is not only a revolutionary but a living legend.The Sandinista National Liberation Front and Zanu-PF enjoy excellent and fraternal relationship. We share the same values, principles, liberation war credentials and a common destiny.” Nicaraguans who survived the first Sandinista regime in the 1980s should worry when they hear comments like Moyo’s.

The president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, snubbed the ceremony since San Jose has a running border dispute with Managua, electing instead to attend the inauguration of Guatemala’s new president. A former general who waged war against that country’s communist insurgents in the 1980s, Otto Perez Molina vows to crack down on the region’s bloody drug cartels.

Ahmadinejad began his Western Hemisphere tour on Sunday when he stepped off a plane at Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas. There he was greeted by Vice President Elias Jaua and other Venezuelan officials. Several hours before his chum’s arrival, Chavez rebuked US officials for insisting that Iran stop defying international efforts to assess its nuclear program.

“What the empire [USA] does is make you laugh, in its desperation to do something they won’t be able to do: dominate this world,” Chavez said, adding: “We aren’t a threat to anyone. We just have rights and we’re sovereign.” Chavez and his allies in the ALBA bloc of socialist states have backed Iran in its dispute with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

With the obvious intent of sticking a finger in America’s eye, Ahmadinejad’s tour began shortly after Washington imposed tougher sanctions on Iran over its “civilian” nuclear program. These were his first official visits to Cuba and Ecuador, second to Nicaragua, and fifth to Venezuela.

Red Terror File: Norwegian police investigating self-admitted mass murderer’s links to Belarus, possible paramilitary training, mystery girlfriend; Breivik spoke to government switchboard operator, threatened attacks months before rampage

– Breivik’s Manifesto Contemplates Attacking Nuclear Power Plant in the European Union

– Team of Experts Refutes Killer’s “Psycho” Tag, Norwegian Court to Order New Diagnosis ahead of April 16 Trial

Six months after Norwegian neo-fascist Anders Breivik, by his own admission, killed nearly 80 countrymen, including passersby near the prime minister’s office (pictured above) and teenagers at a ruling party camp, police in that country acknowledge that they are investigating the killer’s links to the “former” Soviet republic of Belarus. In a January 9 interview with the independent BelaPAN, Oslo police spokesman Roar Hansen said: “He admits to have been to Belarus, but he is not clear to the point if he has participated in military training in Belarus.”

Bomber-gunman Breivik visited Belarus three times, Mikhail Rashetnikaw, leader of the unregistered Party of Patriots of Belarus, told Russia’s news website on July 28, 2011, with reference to sources in “national state security and law-enforcement agencies,” meaning the Belarusian KGB. “In the spring of this year, during the active stage of preparations for the double terrorist attack, he visited Minsk and also trained in a closed military field camp,” Rashetnikaw told Breivik is rumored to have a girlfriend in Belarus, Rashetnikaw added.

In his interview with BelaPAN, Hansen confirmed that Breivik, who is still awaiting trial on April 16, had been in a relationship with a Belarusian woman. “We know who she is,” he said. “We can not say more regarding that question.” Rashetnikaw told BelaPAN that a Norwegian prosecutor phoned him two weeks before and asked him about Breivik’s last trip to Belarus.

Days after the July 22 bombing in Oslo and shooting spree on a nearby island, the Belarusian State Border Committee admitted that the Norwegian had stayed in Belarus for a week in March 2005 on a valid tourist visa. He arrived at the Minsk National Airport by a Vienna-Minsk plane on March 4 and left for the Austrian capital on March 11.

Norway’s television channel NRK has recently confirmed that Breivik traveled to Belarus in 2005 to visit a woman whom he had met online. In Internet messages that she exchanged with Breivik, the Belarusian woman identified herself as “Natasha” or “Nadzya.”

The Belarusian woman apparently visited Breivik in his homeland because a friend said that he had dined with Breivik and his Belarusian “girlfriend” in restaurants in Oslo several times. However, the couple’s relationship did not last long, with Breivik later telling friends that the woman had only wanted his money. According to NRK, the Belarusian now lives in the USA with her European husband.

In view of the Soviet KGB’s historic and Russian SVR’s present use of female agents to entrap and manipulate foreigners, it is very possible that Breivik’s Belarusian girlfriend was in the employ of President Alexander Lukashenko’s secret police.

In his 1,500-page manifesto, which outlined his preparations for the horrific attacks, Breivik mentioned his visit to Belarus, which he described as “a country under a dictatorial regime.” Breivik was interested in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which he believed to have played a part in the collapse of the Soviet Union. After talking to dozens of Belarusians who were allegedly forced to consume contaminated food from Chernobyl-affected areas, he implied that he was considering an attack on a nuclear plant in the European Union.

The BBC News reports that some time in March 2011 a government switchboard operator had a conversation with an anonymous caller who spoke of shooting youth members of the ruling Labour Party. The caller, whose voice resembled that of Breivik, also talked of a manifesto. “The call was never considered as a real threat but more like a vague and incoherent conversation,” said Margot Vaagdal, communications chief at Norway’s government services center.

According to the Bulgarian media, police are investigating Breivik’s links to individuals in 16 countries, including former Soviet republics and Soviet Bloc countries like Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and Serbia, as well as Antigua and Barbuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the same source reveals that, even though two court-appointed psychiatrists determined Breivik was psychotic and delusional, a team of experts who have since monitored Breivik’s behavior in prison reached the opposite conclusion. If found guilty on terrorism charges, then he would be placed in a psychiatric ward rather than prison. Norway’s judicial system, which has never before dealt with a case of this magnitude, is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether or not to order a new psychiatric evaluation.

Communist Bloc Military Updates: Russia responds to US-led NATO missile defense in Europe, modernizes radar network in Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, Black Sea regions, Siberia; Voronezh-class radar can track 500 objects within 6,000-km radius

This past Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry indicated that a new radar of the Voronezh class will be put on combat duty near the Siberian city of Irkutsk by the end of this year as part of Russia’s revamped early warning system. The current overhaul of Russia’s radar network is due to the “new strategic challenges” presented by the US-led  NATO missile shield plans in Europe.

“This year a new generation radar will be put on combat duty. It is not complete but it is already working in the test regime,” said Colonel Alexei Zolotukhin, spokesman for the missile defense troops. Three other Voronezh-class radars are already operating in Lekhtusi near St. Petersburg, in Armavir in the Black Sea area, and in Pionersky near Kaliningrad.

The Voronezh-class radars are a major breakthrough in radar technology compared to the previous generation radars of the Dnepr and Daryal classes. The radar in Pionersky (pictured above) has a range of 6,000 kilometers and can simultaneously track about 500 objects. Under the national defense program, the Russian Defense Ministry will replace all Soviet-era long-range radars by 2020, closing all gaps in radar coverage along Russia’s periphery.

The inauguration of Russia’s Irkutsk radar base follows pointed statements from President Dmitry Medvedev, to the effect that Russia is capable of monitoring NATO missile launches from the North Atlantic Ocean. On November 29, following the inauguration of the Pionersky radar, Medvedev declared that Russia intends to demonstrate its “readiness for an adequate response to the threats posed by [NATO’s] European missile defense system to our strategic nuclear forces. If our signal is not heard, as I said on November 23, we will continue deploying other defense means.”

Russia is demanding written, legally binding guarantees that the NATO missile shield will not be directed against it. However, Washington has refused to provide those guarantees and said it will not alter its missile defense plans despite increasingly bellicose rhetoric from Moscow. “We can no longer be satisfied with a common statement that the phased and adaptive [missile defense] system that is being created is not directed against Russia,” Medvedev protested on November 23. “Those are empty words, which unfortunately do not guarantee the protection of our interests.”

Taking advantage of its political and military integration with Belarus, the Russian leadership is even using perceived threats against the smaller former Soviet republic as a pretext for fanning the flames of war against NATO. The independent Belarus Digest comments:

If one listens to the Belarusian and Russian leadership, a war with the West is imminent. This weekend, the Belarusian internet was filled with stories about Moscow being ready to defend Belarus from Warsaw’s claims to the Grodno and Minsk regions in Poland. In November 2011, Head of the Russian General Staff General Nikolai Makarov presented an alarmist map that showed Russia and Belarus surrounded by hostile nations plotting to occupy them.

Over the past few years, the Belarusian KGB has cracked down on ethnic Polish activists, as well as Polish journalists operating in Belarus, alleging a hostile conspiracy originating from the Warsaw Pact-turned-NATO state. On January 10, the opposition Charter 97 news site announced that the Polish minister of justice will meet with democratic activists from Belarus.

WW4 File: Russian naval flotilla with aircraft carrier and subs makes port of call at Tartus, Syria in show of force for embattled Assad regime; car bomb rips through Damascus on Jan. 6, second in as many weeks; Syrian Free Army clashes with regular troops, 11 soldiers killed in Daraa province

– “Thousands” of US Troops Deploy to Israel to Help Ally Test “Arrow” Air Defense System, Thwart Iranian Ballistic Missile Attack

According to the Syrian state media, the arrival of a Russian naval flotilla to that country’s port of Tartus, promised by Moscow last November, finally occurred this past Sunday. Under the command of the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, a number of warships, including, significantly, submarines, will make a six-day port of call at the insurgency-wracked Middle East country. The Syrian Arab News Agency quoted Commodore Yakushin Vladimir Anatolievich, chief of the Russian military delegation, as saying “The port call is aimed at bringing the two countries closer together and strengthening their ties of friendship.”

The Syrian Ba’athist regime’s propaganda machine added: “The commanders of the Russian naval vessels docked in Tartus took turns to express their solidarity with the Syrian people.” The governor of Tartus province, Atef al-Nadaf, paid tribute to the “honorable position adopted by Russia which has stood by the Syrian people.” The Israeli media describes the strong, decades-old political ties between Moscow and Damascus:

Despite strong Western criticism, Russia has stood by its Cold War ally in the face of a mounting international outcry over the death toll from security force efforts to crush nearly 10 months of anti-government protests. In October, Moscow joined Beijing in vetoing a Western-drafted UN Security Council resolution that would have threatened Damascus with “targeted measures” if it failed to rein in its security forces.

As it turned out, the Russian flotilla departed Tartus after three days, after replenishing food and water supplies, and plans to carry out training exercises in the Mediterranean Sea. Somehow, we expect the Russian Navy will remain in the region until both Moscow and Damascus are satisfied that Syria’s civilian uprising and military rebellion–the latest episode of this past year’s Arab Spring revolutions across the Muslim world–are crushed. Commenting on last Friday’s car bombing in Damascus, the second in as many weeks, Vyacheslav Matuzov, Chairman of the Russian Association for Friendship and Cooperation with the Arab Countries, opined:

The Syrian opposition have failed morally and politically to sabotage Syria or undermine the national unity of the Syrian people, therefore they turned to a more violent and brutal ways to achieve their goals, thinking that such ways would affect the internal political and economic stability. The unity of the Syrian people will thwart all these attempts, calling on the Arab people to support Syria in the face of the foreign conspiracies.

The suicide bombing ripped through a Damascus intersection on January 6, killing 26 people and wounding 63. President Bashar al-Assad alleged the attacks were proof that foreign-sponsored terrorists are operating in Syria, but the country’s beleaguered opposition demanded an independent investigation, accusing regime loyalists of orchestrating the bombing to tarnish the 10-month-old uprising against Assad. The Syrian dictator has touted the attacks as proof that it is being targeted by “terrorists.” A previous, lethal car bombing took place in the Syrian capital on December 23. The bombings have coincided with a mission by Arab League observers investigating Syria’s crackdown on the protest.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, 20 soldiers were wounded and 11 killed when the Syrian military clashed with rebel troops of the Free Syrian Army. The fighting occurred in Daraa province, south of the capital, while nine more soldiers defected to join the rebels. In addition to the clashes in the village of Basr al-Harir, there were reports of heavy machinegun fire between the army and deserters in the Daraa town of Dael. There was no word on any casualties. Cradle of the protests against President Assad that erupted in March, Daraa has been one of the provinces hardest hit by the deadly crackdown unleashed by his regime.

Amateur video apparently recorded on January 9, reports The Telegraph, shows army tanks repeatedly firing in the Jeb Jandali neighborhood of Homs. Another clip supposedly shows sniper fire dispersing a crowd on a street. The footage cannot be independently confirmed because foreign media is heavily controlled in Syria. “There is no cover for anyone. There are no orders for anyone to open fire on any citizen,” Mr Assad said, restating his innocence amidst the carnage.

Some weeks ago, the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, en route to its home base in Norfolk, Virginia, from the Persian Gulf, briefly parked outside of Syrian territorial waters in a show of force. As a result, there was some speculation among Middle East watchers that a superpower showdown would take place over Syria, since the Russian Navy was also expected to put in an appearance. However, it seems US President Barack Hussein Obama is content to hand Syria, like he did Egypt and Libya, over to the opposition coalition consisting of Islamists and Marxists.

Meanwhile, following the Iranian navy’s 10-day exercise near the Strait of Hormuz, thousands of US troops are deploying to Israel, where they will help the Israeli Defense Forces test that country’s air defenses. This year’s drill is called “Austere Challenge 12” and is billed as the allies’ largest ever. Thousands of US and Israeli soldiers held a similar exercise in 2009, code-named Juniper Cobra 10.

“The U.S. European Command and the Israel Defense Forces periodically conduct routine exercises in Israel,” the IDF said in a statement. “U.S. European Command routinely works with partner nations to ensure their capacity to provide for their own security and, in the case of Israel, their qualitative military edge.”

Israel has deployed the “Arrow” air defense system, jointly developed and funded with the USA, and designed to intercept Iranian ballistic missiles in the stratosphere, far from Israeli airspace.

USSR2 File: Gorbachev ahead of presidential vote: “Putin must leave”; “ex”-red PM surveys Communist gains in Duma, tells Zyuganov: “Let’s talk”; Belarus restricts access to foreign websites, shuts down Euronews TV broadcasts, Charter 97 news site hacked, owner in exile in Lithuania

– Red Terror Promised: Russian Communist Party Boss Threatens “Punishment” for “Government Criminals” Who Stole Votes

– Belarusians Suspect KGB behind April 2011 Minsk Metro Bombing as Two Young “Terrorists” Await Firing Squad and Lukashenko Mulls Pardon Request

Former Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev has been generally supportive of Vladimir Putin for most of the latter’s two terms as president and his current post as prime minister, although Gorbachev notably co-owns Russia’s main opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

In a December 2001 interview with BBC News, Gorbachev expressed his opinion about then President Putin, saying that the former KGB agent has “helped to restore stability in Russia.” He also praised Putin for “his bold advance in friendship with the USA.” Intriguingly, from the point of view of the Soviet strategic deception plan, Gorbachev reveals that a hot line was installed for him to communicate with the Kremlin. By contrast, Gorbachev had an adversarial relationship with Boris Yeltsin, complaining that Russia’s first “post”-communist president had ordered the tapping of his telephones and prevented him from meeting regional governors. In the BBC interview, Gorbachev called Yeltsin, who died in 2007, a “liar.”

In the wake of last month’s hotly contested State Duma election, which saw Putin’s potemkin United Russia lose significant support and the Communist Party double its representation in the Russian parliament, Gorbachev has urged Putin to “leave” Russian politics and forsake all ambition of seeking a third presidential term in March.

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of his own resignation as Soviet president, Gorbachev was interviewed by Moscow Echo radio, at which time he stated:

I would advise Vladimir Putin to leave now. He has had three terms: two as president and one as prime minister. Three terms — that is enough. He should do the same thing I did. That is what I would do. That way, he would be able to preserve all the positive things he did. I extended a lot of support to Vladimir Vladimirovich here and abroad and he deserved that then. But now there is such a situation that we can’t do anything.

Gorbachev, 80, lauded the original anti-Kremlin protests that appear to have caught the Putinist regime off guard: “I am happy that I have lived to see this awakening. There were two generations at the protest. This creates great hope and I don’t think it will just end in talk.” He described the mass rally that occurred on December 10 as “historic moments in our modern life. It shows the ideas and beliefs in which our people have believed.” Gorbachev predicted: “These are going to be the hardest years, the next 6-12 years will decide what is going to happen to us.”

Kremlin spokesentity Dmitry Peskov brushed off Gorbachev’s call for Putin to resign: “We, and I personally, respect him [Gorbachev] very much. But I was born in 1967 in the Soviet Union. And this country ceased to exist when he was its leader,” Peskov told the AFP news agency.

In the West, Gorbachev has always been praised for allowing the Soviet Bloc states in Eastern Europe break away from Moscow’s influence without armed intervention. He compares Russia’s current situation to that of Communist Poland in the late 1980s when strikes and protests led by the (communist-controlled) Solidarity movement were shaking the rule of General Wojciech Jaruzelski.

“General Jaruzelski, my friend, phoned me,” he recounts, “and said ‘Mikhail Sergeyevich, we have Solidarity, it looks like society (is behind it) and we cannot pretend that this simply does not mean anything. We have to change. We need to open a roundtable and start talks. What do you think?’” “And I said, ‘I support this,’” relates Gorbachev, rather disingenuously, to Moscow Echo. Incidentally, last month the 87-year-old Jaruzelski issued an apology to Poles for imposing martial law in 1981.

Between the lines of this interview, Gorbachev has provided the world with a goal and a timeframe for the current political drama in Russia: The next six to 12 years will decide the fate of Russia and that fate will be more than “talk.” According to Forbes, citing Novosti, this is exactly what Putin wants from the Communist Party to which he once openly belonged.

“Dialogue should be held, but in which form I will think about,” the local press quoted the Russian PM as saying on December 28. Putin specifically indicated that he was willing to “talk” with the Communist Party, but he did not specify if he would take part in televised debates ahead of the March presidential race. “It has nothing to do with fear…The opposition is not overloaded with any particular work, it is always demanding the impossible and then, as a rule, does nothing to fulfill it,” Putin complained.

United Russia’s failure to secure another supermajority in December’s poll is widely viewed as a representing a popular loss of support for Putin. The Communist Party staged its own rally in Moscow on December 18, following the nomination of their party chief, Gennady Zyuganov, as their perennial presidential candidate.

With stormy rhetoric Zyuganov riled the crowd: “All those who stole votes, they didn’t just steal votes. They took power. And so this means they are government criminals with no immunity. Everything will be examined and the criminals will be punished. They will be punished.” Communist placards mocked the ruling tandem of Prime Minister Putin and President Dimitry Medvedev, both themselves “ex”-communists.

The Communist Party joined other parties in another major Moscow rally on Christmas Eve.

Theoretically, if Putin bowed out of the presidential race, it is very likely that Zyuganov would emerge as the top candidate and, thus, an open communist would be at the helm of the Russian state for the first time in 20 years. Many political analysts believe that, at the very least, Putin will face off with Zyuganov in a second round of balloting.

Elsewhere in the Not-So-Former Soviet Union, Belarus’ “ex”-communist president, Alexander Lukashenko, is heading off domestic opposition by restricting access to foreign websites and suspending broadcasts of television programming from the European Union.

A new Belarusian law promulgated on December 21 requires all companies and individuals registered as entrepreneurs in Belarus to use only domestic Internet domains for providing online services, conducting sales, or exchanging email messages. The legislation implements Decree 60, signed by President Lukashenko in February 2010, and titled “Improvements to the Usage of the National Segment of the Internet.”

According to Peter Roudik of the Global Legal Monitor, “it appears that business requests from Belarus cannot be served over the Internet if the service provider is using online services located outside the country.” He added: “The tax authorities, together with the police and secret police [KGB], are authorized to initiate, investigate and prosecute such violations.”

Decree 60 requires Internet service providers to register with the government, provide technical details on the country’s online networks, systems and information resources, and also identify all the devices, including computers and mobile phones, used to connect to the Internet. According to Reporters Without Borders, Lukashenko’s decree also requires Internet surfers going online in a cybercafe or using a shared connection, to identify themselves, and a record of all online connections to be kept for one year.

Incidentally, the Russian Federal Security Service which, like the Belarusian KGB, is descended from the Soviet KGB, has proposed similar laws in Russia but, thus far, President Medvedev has been seemingly reluctant to ratify these requests.

In a related story, the owners of Charter 97 maintain that computer hackers in the employ of the Belarusian KGB forced their website offline for several days after Christmas, although this is not the first such episode of cyberwarfare against the Belarusian opposition. The website editor-in-chief, Natalya Radina, who fled Belarus in April 2011 and is currently in exile in Lithuania, told the Committee to Protect Journalists: “Anonymous individuals used a password that they got from malware used on an editor’s personal computer. The saboteurs then logged on to the site’s administrative section, deleted archives, and created a false news story.”

Charter 97 managed to restore most of the deleted archives when a DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack followed. “It was an unprecedented attack. The website is hacked, archives are deleted, false materials are posted. Obviously it was carried out by ‘specialists’ from the KGB,” Radina told BBC Russian.

In yet another Soviet-style attempt to restrict the origin and amount of information available to Belarusians, the Lukashenko regime has ordered the Minsk-based television channel MTIS to suspend Euronews broadcasts as of January 1, 2012, replacing them with programming from the Russian movie channel NTV-Plus Kino+. The pan-European channel Euronews was the only independent international news source available on state-controlled Belarusian TV.

Independent Belarusian television expert Leonid Mindlin told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Belarusians can still access the channel and other independent TV stations via satellite or Internet. Mindlin does not know if Euronews was dropped for political or financial reasons.

The conviction of Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalyov on terrorism charges is the latest apparent travesty of justice in Belarus. On November 30, the Supreme Court of Belarus sentenced the two 25-year-old men to death by firing squad following their conviction as the parties responsible for bombing a Minsk subway station on April 11, 2011, killing 15 people and injuring more than 300.

Judge Alexander Fedorzow declared Konovalov and Kovalyov to be “an extreme danger to society” and the court accepted every point advanced by the prosecution. Konovalov was convicted of terrorism, while Kovalyov was deemed his accessory and accomplice. The defense team called for acquittal on the basis of inconclusive evidence.

As the judge’s four-hour reading of the verdict drew to a close, some of the roughly 500 spectators shouted “Shame!” According to Ljubow Kovalyov, mother of Vladislav, this was simply a show trial. She believes the pair’s confessions were submitted under torture and duress.

Human rights advocate and former parliamentarian Ludmila Gryaznova, who was present as an observer of the trial in Minsk, has a similar impression. Gryaznova says the prosecution did not demonstrate a link between the defendants and the explosives, adding that a CCTV video submitted for evidence was clearly edited. Futhermore, no motive for the crimes was adequately established.

“From my perspective, even after this trial, the cause, motive and perpetrators remain in the dark,” said Rainer Lindner, chairman of the Germany-Belarus Society. He also criticized the lack of transparency of the trial, saying international observers should have been welcome. “Relative to the expectations held in Europe and at the European Council, this verdict is not acceptable.”

Regular visitors to our blog over the past six years will know that, when provocations like the Minsk bombing occur in the “Former” Soviet Union, we typically suspect the various branches of the former Soviet KGB as the truly responsible parties. Along that theme, the German media comments:

. . . [A]lternative theories and rumors persist in Belarus, with some saying that the secret police, the KGB, or other parts of the [Lukashenko] administration might have been behind the deadly rush hour attack. Several citizens have written on Internet blogs that they think the regime – following the example of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin – wanted to distract citizens from the country’s other [serious economic] problems with a terrorist attack.

Human rights groups estimate that roughly 400 people have been sentenced to death in Belarus since the country seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991. Typically, Belarusian authorities only inform relatives of death row inmates after the sentence has been carried out and the body has been buried at a secret location.

In mid-December, Belarus’ deputy prosecutor-general revealed that accomplice Kovalyov had requested a pardon for his conviction, a decision that only President Lukashenko can take. The Belarusian dictator has scoffed at allegations of state involvement in the Minsk blasts.

Communist Bloc Military Updates: Lukashenko enlarges Belarusian army under guise of Internal Troops, Interior Ministry inducts thousands of recruits to repel NATO; Belarusian air defense troops take delivery of Russian-made Tor-M2 anti-missile system

In “Europe’s last dictatorship,” “ex”-communist President Alexander Lukashenko is making sure that Belarus is a reliable ally for Russia by taking delivery of air defense systems from Moscow and augmenting the number of Belarusians in uniform.

According to the Belarusian Defense Mnistry, the 120th Air Defense Missile Brigade of the Western Operational Tactical Command has received a Tor-M2 air defense missile system. In a statement, the ministry explained that relevant personnel were trained in Russia to use the new weaponry, which will “greatly improve the combat capability” of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defense troops. A battery of Tor-M2 air defense missile vehicles is capable of intercepting simultaneously 16 targets flying from any direction at speeds under 700 meters per second, within a 12-kilometer range, at an altitude of up to 10 kilometers, at any time of day, and in any weather condition.

Russia and Belarus share an integrated air defense system and regularly hold joint military drills, with the stated object of repelling a NATO attack, especially via former Warsaw Pact state Poland. For its part, Poland, which is wary of its old Soviet overlord, has approved a contract with Norway’s Kongsberg Defense Systems for the purchase of additional Naval Strike Missiles (NSM). The NSM is an anti-ship and land attack weapon that uses composite materials for stealth characteristics. In 2009, the Russian and Belarusian armed forces simulated a nuclear attack against “post”-communist Poland, as well as an amphibious assault via the country’s Baltic shore.

Pursuant to President Lukashenko’s recent declaration that his country will organize “territorial defense troops” to augment the armed forces and head off a NATO invasion, the Belarusian Interior Ministry has inducted a new batch of “Internal Troops.” On December 24, the Belarusian media reported that Valery Gaidukevich, Deputy Interior Minister and Commander of Internal Troops of Belarus, attended the oath-taking ceremony of thousands of recruits into the Internal Troops, at which time they became “fully legitimate servicemen.” Active personnel in the Armed Forces of Belarus amount to roughly 80,000, while reserves total 289,500. Ally Russia maintains over one million men in uniform across six branches.

Incidentally, Gaidukevich’s predecessor, Yauhen Poludzen, who took a leading role in the post-election crackdown on the opposition, beginning in December 2010, was arrested last month. Interior Ministry officials told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Poludzen was arrested by KGB officers. Alexander Antanovich, chief of the Belarusian KGB’s Information and Public Affairs Center, declined to comment on Poludzen’s arrest. A brief statement on the Prosecutor-General Office’s website says Poludzen is being investigated for possible abuse of office.

Poludzen had been working as deputy interior minister since August 2009. He is on a list of some 200 Belarusian individuals barred from entry to the European Union.