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Turkey 'opens fire on Syrian regime forces' coming to the aid of Kurds in Afrin

Added: 21.02.2018 2:09 | 0 views | 0 comments


Turkish forces shelled a column of pro-Assad regime fighters as they tried to join with Kurdish forces resisting a Turkish incursion into northern Syria, Turkey’s resident Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. The regime has been saying for days that it would dispatch fighters to support the Kurds as they battle to keep Turkey from taking control of the Kurdish-held pocket of Afrin. The confrontation pits the Turkish army and allied Syrian rebel groups directly against the military alliance backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad, further scrambling northwest Syria's already messy battlefield. Mr Erdogan described the convoy as being made up of "terrorists" acting independently. He said Turkish artillery fire had forced it to turn back, although the Kurdish militia denied this. "Unfortunately, these kind of terror organisations take wrong steps with the decisions they take. It is not possible for us to allow this. They will pay a heavy price,” he said.  Syrian television had earlier shown the group of fighters passing through a checkpoint that bore the insignia of the Kurdish security force, some chanting "one Syria, one Syria", and driving further into Afrin. Pro-regime fighters drive past a banner of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan Credit: GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images Ankara's month-old offensive is aimed at driving the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as a big security threat on its border, from Afrin. The YPG hailed the arrival of the pro-government forces - which included militias allied to Assad but not the Syrian army itself - and said they were deploying along the front line facing the Turkish border. It made no mention of a deal that a Kurdish official said on Sunday had been struck with Assad's government for the Syrian army itself to enter Afrin. Erdogan said he had previously reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, Assad's main international backers, to block Syrian government support for the YPG fighters. He described the pro-government fighters coming to the YPG's aid as Shi'ite militias, and said they would pay a heavy price. YPG media adviser Rezan Hedo denied Erdogan's assertion that the convoy had turned back under Turkish artillery fire, but he gave no details on its size or composition. A Britain-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said one convoy had entered Afrin while another turned back. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his forces had driven back regime troops Credit: Pool Photo via AP Earlier on Tuesday, Erdogan said he had received Putin's agreement to block a Syrian government deployment in Afrin. Turkey and Russia have supported opposite sides throughout the war, with Moscow the closest ally of Assad and Ankara one of the principal supporters of rebels fighting to overthrow him. However, in recent months Turkey has lent support to a Russian-led effort to end the war with most population centres in the hands of Assad's government. Ankara said last month it sought Moscow's agreement before launching the Afrin assault. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday the Afrin crisis could be resolved through direct negotiations between Damascus and Ankara. Assad's other main ally, Iran, is more closely involved than Russia with the militias that back the Syrian government on the ground, such as those who entered Afrin on Tuesday. The Turkish offensive has made gains along almost all the border area with Afrin, pushing several km (miles) into Syria and seizing villages. But the YPG still holds most of the region including its main town, also called Afrin.

Putin’s shock troops - how Russia's secret mercenary army came up against the US in Syria

Added: 20.02.2018 10:34 | 0 views | 0 comments


It was one of Isil’s biggest cash cows, a strategic prize crucial to the Kremlin and Bashar Assad’s plans to re-establish his rule over Syria. But the assault on Conoco oilfield near Deir Ezzor earlier this month ended in disaster, sparking the first deadly combat between Americans and Russians since the Vietnam War and embarrassing Vladimir Putin just weeks before an election.  It also cast an unwelcome light on one of the worst kept secrets of Russia’s war in Syria - its increasing reliance on unacknowledged and illegal mercenaries. “These were shock troops, and they would take any position, fulfil any task,” said Alexander Averin, a veteran of the pro-Russian militias in east Ukraine and friend of one of the Russians who was killed. Mr Averin said Kirill Ananyev, 33, was a fellow member of the radical “national Bolshevik” political party Other Russia and had also fought in eastern Ukraine.  He said that Ananyev, whom he had known since 2001, had been working for a private military company when he was killed. He would not name the company, but other casualties have been linked to the secretive Wagner group. Kirill Ananyev, a Russian private military contractor in Syria who was killed in US airstrikes on 7 February Credit: Twitter Russian media have published the names of nine Russian fighters who were killed in the assault on February 7, and the foreign ministry finally admitted on Thursday that five Russian citizens had died.  Some media reports have put the number of Russian casualties in the hundreds, however, and relatives and a former member of parliament have called for answers.  “I want everyone to know about my husband, and not just about my husband, but about all the guys who died there so stupidly,” Yelena Matveyeva, whose husband Stanislav was killed, told the regional news site Znak.com. “They sent them like pigs to the slaughter!” The debacle unfolded on the evening of 7 February, when hundreds of mysterious fighters began charging toward a Syrian Democratic Forces position near the oilfield under cover of artillery, tank and rocket fire, according to the US military. In response, US special forces embedded with the mostly Kurdish SDF called in artillery fire and strikes from fighter jets and B-52 bombers that effectively destroyed the “battalion sized force” they were facing. Mr Averin told the Telegraph that 500 Russians were in Deir Ezzor at the time, and that many of them were now dead and wounded. After Stanislav Matveyev, who was believed to work for the Wagner group, was killed, his wife spoke out against the Kremlin denials of Russian casualties Credit: Twitter It is not entirely clear whether the Russian high command authorised the attack, and some believe that Wagner mercenaries were working for local pro-Assad businessman to take the lucrative site. According to a Syrian government contract seen by Fontanka and AP, a Russian company linked to the Wagner group was to receive 25 percent of profits from oil and gas fields its contractors could capture. Others have suggested the Kremlin allowed the preventable defeat, which also saw Syrian troops killed, to happen as a warning to an increasingly independent Mr Assad as well as Iran, his other major backer.  “You need to be in line with our policies in Syria or you'll get bombed,” was Moscow's message to them, said Yury Barmin of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank close to the Kremlin.  A US drone destroys a pro-regime tank near Deir Ezzor days after the airstrikes that killed numerous Russians Credit: CNN Ostensibly designed to support a long-time ally and defeat the Islamic State, Mr Putin's bombing campaign in Syria was supposed to be a television war, providing footage of impressive Russian airstrikes without any body bags to ruin the mood.  To assuage fears of a repeat of the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Mr Putin said it would be solely an air operation lasting no longer than Mr Assad's counter-offensive But Syrian forces reportedly proved ineffective even with the help of Russian advisors and special forces. Kremlin-linked contractors allowed Moscow to run a covert land operation while denying it had boots on the ground. “The big battles, the intense battles with casualties, that's all Russian mercenaries,” said Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, a research group who track Russian military activity abroad.  A Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombs targets in the Deir Ezzor region in November Credit: TASS via Getty Images Some 3,000 Russians have fought for the Wagner group, the biggest of the private military companies, in Syria since 2015, according to documents seen by the independent news outlet Fontanka.  It said 73 of them had died before 7 February, exceeding the 46 official Russian military casualties. The US airstrikes against the Russian contractors have raised an alarming risk of direct great-power confrontation in Syria as external players vie to consolidate their interests following the defeat of Islamic State.  Within the last two weeks, al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters have downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16. “Now that the fighting with ISIS is more or less over, every global player in the war is attempting to draw its own sphere of influence in Syria,” Sami Nadir, of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told the Telegraph. “They used to fight each other through their proxies, now they’re just going head-to-head.” Benjamin Netanyahu holds up what he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday Credit: AFP PHOTO / MSC Munich Security Conference / LENNART PREISS America wants to limit Iran and keep the Kurds - its greatest ally against Isil - on side, while not agitating its Nato ally Turkey. Russia has been trying to keep a balance between its allies Turkey, Israel and Iran, to little avail. “The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “This has the potential to turn into a regional war.” Yet news of the contractors' deaths has remained largely unknown in Russia under a state television blackout: The website of the main state news programme published a report, only to delete it the same day. A Syrian pro-regime fighter wounded in the 7 February battle in Deir Ezzor Credit: AFP Photo/Getty Images “It's like the story with the Pskov paratroopers who died in Ukraine,” said Lev Gudkov, head of the independent Levada survey centre. “The information was blocked for a long time, then denied, and it spread only in close-knit circles, it didn't become a fact of public opinion, and I fear it will be the same picture here.” Nonetheless, Mr Putin, whose withdrawal announcement was welcomed by most Russians, finds himself in a bind: The Syria peace talks he sponsored in Sochi last month devolved into infighting and the conflict is edging toward what Mr Nadir called a “full-blown international crisis”. “The era of cooperation is over,” he said. “It’s a Cold War scenario.” The Wagner group | Russia's secret mercenaries in Syria

Russia says 'no evidence' it meddled in US election

Added: 20.02.2018 9:19 | 0 views | 0 comments


Russia's government on Monday insisted there was no evidence that it meddled in the US elections, after Washington indicted 13 Russians for alleged covert efforts to sway voters. "There are no indications that the Russian government could be involved in this," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. It was the Kremlin's first comment since the indictments were filed on Friday by a US special prosecutor as part of a federal government probe.

Putin’s shock troops - how Russia's secret mercenary army came up against the US in Syria

Added: 20.02.2018 6:54 | 0 views | 0 comments


It was one of Isil’s biggest cash cows, a strategic prize crucial to the Kremlin and Bashar Assad’s plans to re-establish his rule over Syria. But the assault on Conoco oilfield near Deir Ezzor earlier this month ended in disaster, sparking the first deadly combat between Americans and Russians since the Vietnam War and embarrassing Vladimir Putin just weeks before an election.  It also cast an unwelcome light on one of the worst kept secrets of Russia’s war in Syria - its increasing reliance on unacknowledged and illegal mercenaries. “These were shock troops, and they would take any position, fulfil any task,” said Alexander Averin, a veteran of the pro-Russian militias in east Ukraine and friend of one of the Russians who was killed. Mr Averin said Kirill Ananyev, 33, was a fellow member of the radical “national Bolshevik” political party Other Russia and had also fought in eastern Ukraine.  He said that Ananyev, whom he had known since 2001, had been working for a private military company when he was killed. He would not name the company, but other casualties have been linked to the secretive Wagner group. Kirill Ananyev, a Russian private military contractor in Syria who was killed in US airstrikes on 7 February Credit: Twitter Russian media have published the names of nine Russian fighters who were killed in the assault on February 7, and the foreign ministry finally admitted on Thursday that five Russian citizens had died.  Some media reports have put the number of Russian casualties in the hundreds, however, and relatives and a former member of parliament have called for answers.  “I want everyone to know about my husband, and not just about my husband, but about all the guys who died there so stupidly,” Yelena Matveyeva, whose husband Stanislav was killed, told the regional news site Znak.com. “They sent them like pigs to the slaughter!” The debacle unfolded on the evening of 7 February, when hundreds of mysterious fighters began charging toward a Syrian Democratic Forces position near the oilfield under cover of artillery, tank and rocket fire, according to the US military. In response, US special forces embedded with the mostly Kurdish SDF called in artillery fire and strikes from fighter jets and B-52 bombers that effectively destroyed the “battalion sized force” they were facing. Mr Averin told the Telegraph that 500 Russians were in Deir Ezzor at the time, and that many of them were now dead and wounded. After Stanislav Matveyev, who was believed to work for the Wagner group, was killed, his wife spoke out against the Kremlin denials of Russian casualties Credit: Twitter It is not entirely clear whether the Russian high command authorised the attack, and some believe that Wagner mercenaries were working for local pro-Assad businessman to take the lucrative site. According to a Syrian government contract seen by Fontanka and AP, a Russian company linked to the Wagner group was to receive 25 percent of profits from oil and gas fields its contractors could capture. Others have suggested the Kremlin allowed the preventable defeat, which also saw Syrian troops killed, to happen as a warning to an increasingly independent Mr Assad as well as Iran, his other major backer.  “You need to be in line with our policies in Syria or you'll get bombed,” was Moscow's message to them, said Yury Barmin of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank close to the Kremlin.  A US drone destroys a pro-regime tank near Deir Ezzor days after the airstrikes that killed numerous Russians Credit: CNN Ostensibly designed to support a long-time ally and defeat the Islamic State, Mr Putin's bombing campaign in Syria was supposed to be a television war, providing footage of impressive Russian airstrikes without any body bags to ruin the mood.  To assuage fears of a repeat of the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Mr Putin said it would be solely an air operation lasting no longer than Mr Assad's counter-offensive But Syrian forces reportedly proved ineffective even with the help of Russian advisors and special forces. Kremlin-linked contractors allowed Moscow to run a covert land operation while denying it had boots on the ground. “The big battles, the intense battles with casualties, that's all Russian mercenaries,” said Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, a research group who track Russian military activity abroad.  A Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombs targets in the Deir Ezzor region in November Credit: TASS via Getty Images Some 3,000 Russians have fought for the Wagner group, the biggest of the private military companies, in Syria since 2015, according to documents seen by the independent news outlet Fontanka.  It said 73 of them had died before 7 February, exceeding the 46 official Russian military casualties. The US airstrikes against the Russian contractors have raised an alarming risk of direct great-power confrontation in Syria as external players vie to consolidate their interests following the defeat of Islamic State.  Within the last two weeks, al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters have downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16. “Now that the fighting with ISIS is more or less over, every global player in the war is attempting to draw its own sphere of influence in Syria,” Sami Nadir, of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told the Telegraph. “They used to fight each other through their proxies, now they’re just going head-to-head.” Benjamin Netanyahu holds up what he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday Credit: AFP PHOTO / MSC Munich Security Conference / LENNART PREISS America wants to limit Iran and keep the Kurds - its greatest ally against Isil - on side, while not agitating its Nato ally Turkey. Russia has been trying to keep a balance between its allies Turkey, Israel and Iran, to little avail. “The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “This has the potential to turn into a regional war.” Yet news of the contractors' deaths has remained largely unknown in Russia under a state television blackout: The website of the main state news programme published a report, only to delete it the same day. A Syrian pro-regime fighter wounded in the 7 February battle in Deir Ezzor Credit: AFP Photo/Getty Images “It's like the story with the Pskov paratroopers who died in Ukraine,” said Lev Gudkov, head of the independent Levada survey centre. “The information was blocked for a long time, then denied, and it spread only in close-knit circles, it didn't become a fact of public opinion, and I fear it will be the same picture here.” Nonetheless, Mr Putin, whose withdrawal announcement was welcomed by most Russians, finds himself in a bind: The Syria peace talks he sponsored in Sochi last month devolved into infighting and the conflict is edging toward what Mr Nadir called a “full-blown international crisis”. “The era of cooperation is over,” he said. “It’s a Cold War scenario.” The Wagner group | Russia's secret mercenaries in Syria

Putin’s shock troops - how Russia's secret mercenary army came up against the US in Syria

Added: 19.02.2018 23:29 | 0 views | 0 comments


It was one of Isil’s biggest cash cows, a strategic prize crucial to the Kremlin and Bashar Assad’s plans to re-establish his rule over Syria. But the assault on Conoco oilfield near Deir Ezzor earlier this month ended in disaster, sparking the first deadly combat between Americans and Russians since the Vietnam War and embarrassing Vladimir Putin just weeks before an election.  It also cast an unwelcome light on one of the worst kept secrets of Russia’s war in Syria - its increasing reliance on unacknowledged and illegal mercenaries. “These were shock troops, and they would take any position, fulfil any task,” said Alexander Averin, a veteran of the pro-Russian militias in east Ukraine and friend of one of the Russians who was killed. Mr Averin said Kirill Ananyev, 33, was a fellow member of the radical “national Bolshevik” political party Other Russia and had also fought in eastern Ukraine.  He said that Ananyev, whom he had known since 2001, had been working for a private military company when he was killed. He would not name the company, but other casualties have been linked to the secretive Wagner group. Kirill Ananyev, a Russian private military contractor in Syria who was killed in US airstrikes on 7 February Credit: Twitter Russian media have published the names of nine Russian fighters who were killed in the assault on February 7, and the foreign ministry finally admitted on Thursday that five Russian citizens had died.  Some media reports have put the number of Russian casualties in the hundreds, however, and relatives and a former member of parliament have called for answers.  “I want everyone to know about my husband, and not just about my husband, but about all the guys who died there so stupidly,” Yelena Matveyeva, whose husband Stanislav was killed, told the regional news site Znak.com. “They sent them like pigs to the slaughter!” The debacle unfolded on the evening of 7 February, when hundreds of mysterious fighters began charging toward a Syrian Democratic Forces position near the oilfield under cover of artillery, tank and rocket fire, according to the US military. In response, US special forces embedded with the mostly Kurdish SDF called in artillery fire and strikes from fighter jets and B-52 bombers that effectively destroyed the “battalion sized force” they were facing. Mr Averin told the Telegraph that 500 Russians were in Deir Ezzor at the time, and that many of them were now dead and wounded. After Stanislav Matveyev, who was believed to work for the Wagner group, was killed, his wife spoke out against the Kremlin denials of Russian casualties Credit: Twitter It is not entirely clear whether the Russian high command authorised the attack, and some believe that Wagner mercenaries were working for local pro-Assad businessman to take the lucrative site. According to a Syrian government contract seen by Fontanka and AP, a Russian company linked to the Wagner group was to receive 25 percent of profits from oil and gas fields its contractors could capture. Others have suggested the Kremlin allowed the preventable defeat, which also saw Syrian troops killed, to happen as a warning to an increasingly independent Mr Assad as well as Iran, his other major backer.  “You need to be in line with our policies in Syria or you'll get bombed,” was Moscow's message to them, said Yury Barmin of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank close to the Kremlin.  A US drone destroys a pro-regime tank near Deir Ezzor days after the airstrikes that killed numerous Russians Credit: CNN Ostensibly designed to support a long-time ally and defeat the Islamic State, Mr Putin's bombing campaign in Syria was supposed to be a television war, providing footage of impressive Russian airstrikes without any body bags to ruin the mood.  To assuage fears of a repeat of the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Mr Putin said it would be solely an air operation lasting no longer than Mr Assad's counter-offensive But Syrian forces reportedly proved ineffective even with the help of Russian advisors and special forces. Kremlin-linked contractors allowed Moscow to run a covert land operation while denying it had boots on the ground. “The big battles, the intense battles with casualties, that's all Russian mercenaries,” said Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, a research group who track Russian military activity abroad.  A Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombs targets in the Deir Ezzor region in November Credit: TASS via Getty Images Some 3,000 Russians have fought for the Wagner group, the biggest of the private military companies, in Syria since 2015, according to documents seen by the independent news outlet Fontanka.  It said 73 of them had died before 7 February, exceeding the 46 official Russian military casualties. The US airstrikes against the Russian contractors have raised an alarming risk of direct great-power confrontation in Syria as external players vie to consolidate their interests following the defeat of Islamic State.  Within the last two weeks, al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters have downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16. “Now that the fighting with ISIS is more or less over, every global player in the war is attempting to draw its own sphere of influence in Syria,” Sami Nadir, of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told the Telegraph. “They used to fight each other through their proxies, now they’re just going head-to-head.” Benjamin Netanyahu holds up what he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday Credit: AFP PHOTO / MSC Munich Security Conference / LENNART PREISS America wants to limit Iran and keep the Kurds - its greatest ally against Isil - on side, while not agitating its Nato ally Turkey. Russia has been trying to keep a balance between its allies Turkey, Israel and Iran, to little avail. “The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “This has the potential to turn into a regional war.” Yet news of the contractors' deaths has remained largely unknown in Russia under a state television blackout: The website of the main state news programme published a report, only to delete it the same day. A Syrian pro-regime fighter wounded in the 7 February battle in Deir Ezzor Credit: AFP Photo/Getty Images “It's like the story with the Pskov paratroopers who died in Ukraine,” said Lev Gudkov, head of the independent Levada survey centre. “The information was blocked for a long time, then denied, and it spread only in close-knit circles, it didn't become a fact of public opinion, and I fear it will be the same picture here.” Nonetheless, Mr Putin, whose withdrawal announcement was welcomed by most Russians, finds himself in a bind: The Syria peace talks he sponsored in Sochi last month devolved into infighting and the conflict is edging toward what Mr Nadir called a “full-blown international crisis”. “The era of cooperation is over,” he said. “It’s a Cold War scenario.” The Wagner group | Russia's secret mercenaries in Syria

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