Reuters & AntiWar.com – 2016-03-20 00:58:38
Risk of Nuclear War in Europe Growing, Warns Russian Ex-minister
Robin Emmott / Reuters
BRUSSELS (March 19, 2016) — The East-West standoff over the Ukraine crisis has brought the threat of nuclear war in Europe closer than at any time since the 1980s, a former Russian foreign minister warned on Saturday.
“The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s,” said Igor Ivanov, Russia’s foreign minister from 1998 to 2004 and now head of a Moscow-based think-tank founded by the Russian government.
While Russia and the United States have cut their nuclear arsenals, the pace is slowing. As of January 2015, they had just over 7,000 nuclear warheads each, about 90 percent of world stocks, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“We have less nuclear warheads, but the risk of them being used is growing,” Ivanov said at a Brussels event with the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Poland and a US lawmaker.
NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has warned Russia of intimidating its neighbors with talk about nuclear weapons, publicly voicing concerns among Western officials.
Ivanov blamed a missile defense shield that the United States is setting up in Europe for raising the stakes. Part of that shield involves a site in Poland that is due to be operational in 2018. This is particularly sensitive for Moscow because it brings US capabilities close to its border.
However, the United States and NATO say the shield is designed to protect Europe against Iranian ballistic missiles and is neither targeted at Russia nor capable of downing its missiles.
“It can be assured that once the US deploys its missile defense system in Poland, Russia would respond by deploying its own missile defense system in Kaliningrad,” Ivanov said, referring to Russia’s territory in the Baltics.
In remarks that are likely to alarm European and NATO diplomats seeking a political solution to the separatist conflict in Ukraine that has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014, Ivanov also said Europe and Russia have little chance of a broader reconciliation.
“The paths of Europe and Russia are seriously diverging and will remain so for a long time . . . probably for decades to come,” Ivanov said, adding that Russia could not be the eastern flank of a “failed greater Europe.”
“These beautiful plans, we have to forget,” he said, adding that Russia’s destiny was now as the leader of a greater Eurasia stretching from Belarus to the Chinese border.
Russia Says Syria Ceasefire Mostly Holding,
US Should Do More
Lidia Kelly and Jason Bush / Reuters
MOSCOW (March 19, 2016) — The ceasefire in Syria is broadly holding but the United States should be doing more to support it, Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on Saturday. The ministry said Russian monitors had registered no violations of the ceasefire involving the use of heavy weapons within the last 24 hours.
“On the whole the ceasefire regime between government troops and opposition forces on the territory of Syria is being observed,” the statement said. But it said that, within the last 24 hours, opposition fighters in the Homs region had opened fire on government posts, killing one soldier.
The ceasefire took effect three weeks ago, reducing violence but not halting the fighting as peace talks take place in Geneva. It does not al Qaeda or Islamic State militants.
Russia has been pulling out its attack aircraft after announcing a partial withdrawal from Syria, where its air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad has turned fighting in his favor. The Russian statement criticized the United States for what is said was Washington’s failure to restrain rebel fighters.
“In contrast to the American side, officers of the Russian (monitoring) Centre are in the provinces and on the ground to restrain potential violations of the ceasefire,” it said. Russia had yet to receive a reply from Washington to its proposals for organizing monitoring of the ceasefire, it added.
“We consider that this delay in accepting the document in question is unacceptable, because it leads to new civilian casualties,” the statement said.
US, Allies Conduct 26 Strikes against
Islamic State: US Military
Idrees Ali / Reuters
WASHINGTON (March 19, 2016) — The United States and its allies targeted Islamic State militants in Iraq with 25 strikes on Friday and one in Syria, the US military said on Saturday.
Seven of the strikes in Iraq were near Hit, striking an Islamic State training camp and an improvised explosive device factory. In Syria, the strike destroyed an Islamic State rocket position near Ayn Isa.
Backed by Russia, Syrian Forces Push Into ISIS-Held Palmyra
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(March 18, 2016) — While the ongoing Syrian ceasefire has stopped the fighting between the military and most rebel factions, the explicit exclusion of ISIS from the deal has allowed everyone to target ISIS territory with impunity. For the Syrian government, that attention has centered on Palmyra.
An ancient oasis town, Palmyra is itself largely unpopulated, but adjacent to a key, similarly ISIS-held city called Tadmur. The Syrian state media reports that the most recent offensive aimed at retaking the area has killed or wounded scores of ISIS fighters.
Russia took credit for the push against Palmyra, saying they laid the groundwork for the attack. US officials have reported Russian artillery and helicopter attacks against Palmyra.
Though there had been no reports of Russian troops on the ground in that battle, ISIS claimed to have killed five Russian soldiers, along with six Syrian soldiers, and several Hezbollah, in the fighting. The Russians may well have been the “mercenaries” the Assad government has been recruiting, retired Russian soldiers with no direct Russian government ties.
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