Russia: Finding The Way Out

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October 8, 2019: Popular protests against corruption and government mismanagement started up again this year and by June there have been over a hundred a week. At that point, nearly every province had experienced some of the protests. The government considers most of the protests “illegal” even if the grievances are real. The usual techniques for shutting down the protests are not working and it appears that by the end of the year the country will have experienced over 2,000 protests for 2019.

In most cities, especially Moscow, weekly protests against government corruption and manipulation of elections persist and grow larger. This has been going on since June and shows no sign of fading away. The government is unsure if more violent suppression of the protests will work, or increase the number of angry Russians joining the public demonstrations. So far the Moscow protests have continued to attract about 50,000 people each week. There have been smaller protests in other cities, encouraged by what is happening in the capital. The state-controlled media will not note the nationwide spread of the protests but such data, and personal experiences accounts are available on the Internet. The government has still not been able to “control” the Internet but continues working on that.

In Moscow, people are angry over the federal government’s blatant efforts to rig the recent Moscow city council election. There are similar problems throughout the country. The 45 member Moscow council has long been dominated by pro-Putin members but this time the polls show most voter support is going to opposition politicians. The current government, run by Vladimir Putin and his KGB cronies, is visibly losing popular support and the Moscow unrest is the latest manifestation of this. Despite the restoration of the many police state aspects of the old Soviet Union, and a constant diet of “we are at war with NATO” propaganda, a growing number of Russians are visibly blaming Putin and his policies for declining living standards, increasing unemployment and more bad things on the way. Worse are the Russians who are defying new laws against public demonstrations. The government thought it could identify and arrest protest leaders and that would halt the protests. That did not work, even though in July police arrested about 30 percent of the demonstrators as well as hunting down and arresting the anti-Putin politicians the government believed were encouraging the protestors. Police also raided a TV network that was live-broadcasting the protests. News of the protests gets out eventually but TV coverage makes it happen faster and more vividly. Police also shut down at least one Russian YouTube user uploading live coverage of the protests. The government has taken over most electronic media in the last decade and makes it difficult for any remaining independents to operate. Police continue to arrest people they believe are protest leaders. Those arrests are a futile gesture because the demonstrations are largely self-organized. The Russian government finds itself facing the same sort of public opposition that the Chinese are facing in Hong Kong.

Ukraine

A political newcomer, Volodymyr Zelensky, was recently elected president of Ukraine by a large margin. Since taking power at the end of May, Zelensky has quickly replaced many notoriously corrupt or incompetent government and military officials. Now he proposes new efforts to end the five year old war in two eastern provinces (the Donbas) by agreeing to hold elections in Russian occupied portions of Donbas to determine what happens. That means voters can choose to remain part of Ukraine or become an autonomous area. Either way, this would end the war. Zelensky insisted that all Russian troops or mercenaries be withdrawn before the vote is held. This is vital to avoid voter intimidation. Many Ukrainians believe you can’t trust the Russians and that the Russians will find a way to cheat. Based on past Russian performance that’s a reasonable criticism.

Meanwhile, Russian mercenaries and some pro-Russia Ukrainians continue to man the 400 kilometer front line going from the Russian border to the Sea of Azov. This force also polices the remaining civilians in the half of Donbas that Russia controls. Russian currency is used and most supplies are trucked in from Russia. The Russian Donbas economy is crippled and it is costing Russia a lot of money to keep their “occupation” going. In addition to the direct costs, there are even larger indirect costs associated with the international sanctions Russian has been under since 2014 when they seized the Crimean Peninsula and tried to grab all of the Donbas. Ukraine wants the Russians out of Donbas and Crimea as do the terms of the sanctions. Russian leaders have to justify all the costs of their Ukraine aggression and the current bargaining position is that Ukraine must give up Crimea and part of Donbas. Ukraine wants it all back but would like to get some serious negotiations underway and this voting agreement is the first mutual deal. Zelensky had proposed an improved ceasefire in Donbas with combat forces on both sides withdrawing troops back from the current front. No response from the Russians yet but the vote proposal was accepted.

Zelensky also created a Veterans Ministry, a service long sought because there are more than a million military veterans in Ukraine and many of them need help. In particular, there are the elderly World War II vets and the few remaining members of Ukrainian independence groups who fought on into the 1950s. Now there are a growing number of veterans of the fighting in Donbas. Previous presidents had not acted on the veterans issues because would have displeased Russia. Zelensky quickly appointed capable people to help him find qualified candidates to replace all the officials who were being fired. Zelensky feels that if the Russians are not angry with him he is not doing his job.

The new president is an ethnic Russian Jew from east Ukraine. Born in 1978 he got a law degree but rather than becoming a lawyer he got into the entertainment business as a writer, director, producer and performer. Even before he was elected Zelensky declared he was willing to negotiate an end to the Donbas war. He was also unabashedly pro-West and wary of Russia. He ignored the mass media during his short (he declared he was running on January 1, 2019) campaign, considering the mass media corrupt and basically serving as compliant PR for whoever (including the Russians) was willing to pay. He took power on May 28th. Zelensky understands that presidential power is limited and that parliament must cooperate to get a lot of important things done. There are parliamentary elections in October, which provides an opportunity to back authentic pro-reform candidates. Zelensky appears to understand that he could be part of the solution to a lot of problems but by himself cannot do it.

Zelensky has major problems with corruption associated with Ukrainian defense industries. Before 1991, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was also the home of many major Soviet defense manufacturing and research organizations. Once independent Ukraine owned all that stuff and began selling what those defense industries produced at bargain prices to keep the economy going. The Soviet defense industries were pretty corrupt before the Soviet Union fell apart and that did not change when many of these defense operations found themselves no longer under Russian control. Corruption then ran wild in these defense companies, which sped up the disappearance of many firms via fraud or inability to compete. Some major defense firms, like Motor Sich, remained in business and actually grew because this firm was a major producer of aircraft as well as ship and aircraft engines. After 1991 Motor Sich did a lot of business with the Chinese, who soon discovered that Ukraine was the easiest and cheapest way to obtain a lot of Russian military tech that China was still trying to acquire and master. Then came 2014 and Russian efforts to seize parts of Ukraine. That ended up hurting Russia in a big way as they discovered how dependent their own defense industries were on components only available from Ukraine. This was great news for China, which had already been buying a lot of Soviet era tech from Ukraine and even some of the same products that the Russians were still buying. With the Russian orders largely gone after 2014 China began buying more heavily from Ukrainian manufacturers, especially Motor Sich.

Recently China tried to buy Motor Sich and that caused problems because China was often taking advantage of the corrupt government and industry officials associated with firms like Motor Sich to get better deals. These were often at the expense of Ukraine but very lucrative for the corrupt Ukrainians involved. Many Ukrainians and Americans realized how China operated in deals like this. If China obtained a major, or majority, stake in Motor Sich they could, and probably would, steal all the technology and manufacturing secrets and move Motor Sich production to China. Initially they would hire some Ukrainian tech experts to help the Chinese manufacturing operation to get up to speed, but then Motor Sich in Ukraine would become a branch of the main operation in China. Eventually, the Ukrainian branch of the renamed Chinese “Motor Sich” would disappear. Zelensky wants to keep Motor Sich Ukrainian and not plundered of all its tech by the Chinese.

The Americans have been waging a trade war with China over similar issues since 2018. Zelensky sees the Americans as the ideal partner in the Ukrainian effort to fend off the Chinese. As if to confirm what China was doing Sohu.Com, a Chinese media outlet, recently published an article called “Thank you Ukraine.” This story literally thanked Ukraine for helping Chinese military technology to advance so quickly by making available much Soviet era military tech at low prices and with few restrictions. To its Chinese audience (the article was only published in Chinese) the article made a lot of sense. When Ukrainians got translations of the article the reaction was less complimentary. As the Americans are also interested in how China obtains military tech it is not surprising that Zelensky has found the Americans interested in assisting him in dealing with the Chinese threat as well as corruption facilitated by Americans.

Syria

As a self-defense measure, Israel is doing whatever it can to make Iran feel unwelcome in Syria and is currently trying to convince Russia to take this threat more seriously. The question is, how much is enough? The Syrian effort is costing Iran a lot of money (which they cannot afford), reputation (not much to lose) and lives (more affordable). So far Iran has tolerated the losses and continues to pour resources into permanently establishing itself in Syria. Iran cannot afford to contribute large sums for reconstruction in Syria but is allowing Iranian entrepreneurs to build factories and other commercial operations in Syria. Some of these commercial activities will be, as is the case inside Iran, partly owned, or controlled by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). These Iranian businesses will also end up on the Israeli target list, especially because of the IRGC connection. Iran is determined to finally achieve a victory over Israel using the growing presence it has in Syria but is encountering resistance from Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and most NATO nations, in addition to Israel.

Russia and the Assad government have declared the rebellion over and demand that attention must be turned towards reconstruction. The reality is that the fighting is far from over and the Assad government only controls about half the country. Everyone agrees that Islamic terrorist rebels still control most of Idlib province in the northwest and that the Kurdish led SDF separatists control Hasaka province in the northwest, as well as parts of Deir Ezzor and Aleppo provinces .

Many of the Idlib rebels are backed by Turkey while the SDF is backed by the United States, even if American troops are leaving soon. The Assads control the Mediterranean coast ( Latakia province), which is the homeland of the Syrian Shia and the Shia Assads but it is Russian troops and bases that guarantee the security of Latakia province. The Assads have a large payroll (the military and civil servants in areas they rule) and it is Iranian financial aid that enables the Assads to meet that payroll each month. In return the Assads cede control to Iran for areas along the Israeli, Iraq and Lebanon borders. In those areas Iranians or Iran backed Iraqi or Lebanese militias have the final say on who enters and who does not.

The only thing that keeps the Syrian Army capable of offensive operations is Russian, air, artillery, logistics, training and special operations support. Destroying the Idlib rebels and intimidating the separatist Kurds would not be possible without that Russian support. Turkey, Russia and Iran agree with the Assads that the Americans have to leave eastern Syria and cease carrying out airstrikes in Syria. The Americans refuse, as do the Israelis. While Israel has no troops in Syria it is Israeli warplanes and artillery that constantly attack Iranian backed forces in Syria. The Assads don’t like to discuss the fact that Iran is at war with Israel and getting Israel to stop defending itself is not going to happen. The Assads also prefer to not discuss the fact that they would like the Turks and Iranians to leave. That is not practical at the moment and is the cost of victory over the rebellion that almost drove the Assads out of power after 2011.

Venezuela

President Maduro remains in control because he still has the support of military commanders. The security forces are first in line for any economic benefits available. Maduro does listen to his foreign advisors from Cuba, Russia and China. All three told him to allow some free enterprise because in small doses it boosts the economy without threatening Maduro’s rule. Maduro was also advised to let anyone leave the country if they wanted to but to strictly control who could get back in. The basic advice was to remain in power because eventually the regional and international pressure would decline and ways around the sanctions would be found. Iran had nothing encouraging to say about that approach. This was what Russia was doing and while Russia said they were doing fine in the face of continued sanctions, the average Russian described a different and less encouraging reality.

The Maduro dictatorship has agreed to allow UN investigators into the country to determine if abuses have taken place and to what extent. This agreement did not state when more UN investigators would be allowed in but said sometime in the next two years. The few already in Venezuela cannot cover much of the country and must deal with dangerous paramilitaries who are used by the government for illegal (by international law) violence and general terror. While Venezuela stalls UN investigations more nations, including the EU (European Union) have imposed sanctions on Maduro officials accused of abusing Venezuelans in general as well as those openly opposing the Maduro government.

A growing number of individuals belonging to these paramilitary organizations and the regular security forces are being identified as outlaws and guilty of “crimes against humanity”. That includes many of the security personnel Maduro brought with him to the recent annual UN meeting. Maduro himself is untouchable at the UN because two members (Russia and China) with a permanent veto block any serious UN efforts to do anything about the mess in Venezuela. Other Maduro allies in the UN, like Iran, North Korea and Cuba, are much less useful.

Maduro admires what other Latin American leaders dislike about Cuba. The Cubans are experts at monitoring the loyalty of the army and police. This is one achievement of Russian communism; a police state operation that relies on informants and reliable secret police monitoring army units, down to the company level, at all times. Telephones and other communications of senior officers are constantly monitored. Any indication of disloyalty leads to arrest and horrific torture. The effects of that torture are not hidden and video of some victims has been allowed in the state-controlled media. This was meant to demonstrate to all others in the armed forces, and Venezuela, what they were up against. Russia is not as eager to support Maduro and is mainly interested in getting their billions in Venezuelan debt repaid one way or another. Cuba is getting some cash from Venezuela but most of its reward is in Venezuelan oil. American sanctions have made it more difficult to get that oil delivered and Cuba now has a worsening fuel shortage.

Maduro and his mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez, have paid well for these Cuban services. Since 2000 Venezuela has paid Cuba over $20 billion dollars in cash and oil. The Cubans quickly proved themselves by discovering and disrupting a 2002 coup attempt. In 2008 Chavez agreed to a Cuban proposal to introduce Cuban/Russian style surveillance to Venezuela in general and the security services in particular. This included sending key Venezuelan security officers to Cuba for evaluation (for loyalty and capability) and training. Some of these officers later fled Venezuela, appalled at what they had got themselves involved in. These officers provided details of the Cuban assistance. That assistance included thousands of Cuban security specialists, many of them working within the Venezuelan military to set up the informant system and detect untrustworthy Venezuelan officers. The “Cubans” soon became a feared presence in the Venezuelan military. By 2014, when oil prices collapsed (and have so far not recovered) the Venezuelan economy began to fall apart. That process had already started because Chavez, on the advice of his Cuban security experts, replaced key people in the state oil company. The replacements were Cuban-approved as far as loyalty went but failures when it came to managing the oil industry. The Cuban advisors also urged a crackdown on “disloyal” businesses and their managers. Thus began the destruction of the vibrant and productive free enterprise economy. Since then GDP has declined by over 60 percent, with the 2019 decline heading for another 35 percent decline in an already shriveled economy. Maduro still makes sure his foreign “security consultants” are treated well and paid on time.

October 6, 2019: The United States announced it was pulling its troops out of northwest Syria. This has been the plan since early 2019, but many American politicians thought the U.S. would never take the American troops out of Syria despite the fact that the announced intention to do just that. But first, a deal had to be reached with the Turks on how the Kurds would be treated in the 20 kilometers deep security zone the Turks had long planned to establish on the Syrian side of the entire border with Turkey. The Kurds were defiant about that as long as they had the thousand American troops with them. But with those U.S. troops leaving they were forced to fall back on discussions it had with the Assads and the Russians about post-war operations. The Turks and Russians have major potential problems with the remaining ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) forces in Syria and the Syrian Kurds are the most effective force to use against ISIL. So the Kurds have some leverage with the Assads, the Turks and Russia. Iran is another matter as everyone would rather see Iranian forces withdrawn from Syria.

In January the SDF (Syrian Kurd rebels) is shifting its forces to face the Turks who are, and always have been, their most formidable threat. Ominously the Turks also reinforced their forces facing the SDF. But figuring out who might attack, or support, the SDF was not easy. The Turks do not want to fight the SDF for the very simple reason that there is not much popular support in Turkey for any operation that would get a lot of Turkish troops killed in Syria. For that reason, since the Turks crossed the border into Syrian in 2016 they have used local FSA (secular Free Syrian Army rebels) forces to do most of the fighting. What the Turks do want is to get the Kurds, especially YPG (Syrian Kurdish separatist) forces, away from the Turkish border. Going much further than 20 kilometers south of the border (at least on a permanent basis) is not part of the Turkish strategy. Turkey expected to use over 10,000 FSA fighters against the Kurds, along with Turkish tanks, artillery and air power. That plan did not work out because the FSA was reluctant to fight the SDF. The key factor here was the presence of American troops. As long as the Americans were there the Kurds felt they could keep the Turks out and negotiate some sort of autonomy deal. The Americans felt the situation was different in Syria compared to Iraq, where U.S. and British troops helped the Iraqi Kurds achieve autonomy in the early 1990s.

Another complication was that the SDF was maintaining prison camps for captured ISIL fighters and their families. The SDF needs help in dealing with the growing number of these captives. SDF ended up with over 70,000 prisoners who are held in a large refugee/prison camp and various governments are being asked to verify who is a citizen of where. The UN has been asked to take custody of those found to be stateless. Iraq has agreed to take about 30 percent of the refugees and prosecute those who are suspected of ISIL crimes. That process was slower than expected. There are still over 50,000 of these prisoners at the al Hol camp. Many of the ISIL wives are obviously still active ISIL members and many were caught smuggling weapons into the camp when they were searched before entering. These ISIL women are terrorizing other camp residents and seeking to intimidate the camp guards. The Kurds need help paying for the camp and want the nations these people came from, including Syria, to claim and take custody of them. All of the camp residents claim to be non-Syrian but for many of them that is unclear. Recently the ISIL leader released an audio message in which he urged all ISIL members to assist in getting the ISIL men, wives and children out of the SDF camps.

Russia may be able to help with this. In early 2017 Russia announced plans to set up a base Kurdish territory to train members of the SDF Kurdish militia. This caused problems with Turkey and Russia backed off but maintained contact with the SDF. Since late 2016 Turkish troops in northern Syria have been seeking to avoid conflict with the Russians while attempting to intimidate some of the Kurds who have long controlled much of northeastern Syria. What complicates this is that the Syrian rebels and their Western allies (especially the United States) consider the Syrian Kurds the most effective rebel force and the key to driving ISIL out of Raqqa city and the rest of eastern Syria. The Turks are, on paper, the strongest military force in the area. But all Syrians, both the government and the rebels oppose the Turkish intervention. The Turks are mainly doing this because of domestic politics. The Kurdish separatists in Turkey (the PKK) are again openly fighting the government and often use bases in Syria. While the Kurds of northern Iraq will cooperate with the Turks in controlling the PKK, some of the Syrian Kurds (the YPG) have worked closely with the PKK before and the Turks do not trust them to behave like the Iraqi Kurds. Meanwhile, Turkey is willing to work with Kurdish militias not associated with the YPG.

October 5, 2019: A second Russian shipment of free weapons (assault and regular rifles) arrived in CAR (Central African Republic). Back in August 2018 CAR and Russia signed a military cooperation agreement. Russia described the agreement as a “framework” for improving defense ties. CAR army officers will be allowed to attend the Russian military institutes. Russia has a training cadre in the CAR, comprised of military and civilian contractors. Some of the Russian civilians are believed to be mercenaries working for the Russian Wagner mercenary organization. About 170 Russians have been sent to CAR to carry out this training. Earlier in 2019 CAR allowed the Russians to establish their own military base.

October 3, 2019: The government confirmed earlier reports that Russian commanders in Syria were operating as part of a clean-up operation because major military operations were no longer taking place. Russia believes it has reached agreements with its allies (Assad government, Iran and Turkey) over how to deal with the remaining problem areas (remaining rebels in Idlib province and Kurds in Hasaka province).

October 2, 2019: Since 2016 Russia has been trying to create an alternative to the Western SWIFT interbank payments system. Russian access to SWIFT was blocked by the sanctions. This alternative is SPFS (System for Transfer of Financial Messages) that so far only has three foreign banks as part of the new system and none of them are Western banks belonging to the SWIFT system. SPFS hoped to use Russian, Iranian and Chinese banks to provide a viable alternative to SWIFT but so far that has not worked. SPFS is working on has linking Iranian and Russian credit card and electronic banking systems. China has also working on developing an alternative to the “Western” financial system that has been dominant for several centuries. China is not a full member of SPFS but rather a cooperating one. SPFS has potential but so far is not a practical alternative to SWIFT.

October 1, 2019: Venezuela has made a $200 million interest payment on a Russian $3.15 billion loan using Russian rubles rather than dollars. Venezuela obtained the rubles by selling Russia gold, oil or some other asset. The loan in question was to pay for Russian weapons delivered since 2012. Russia accepted this ruble payment because both nations are under American financial sanctions and that makes it very difficult to carry out international financial transactions in dollars. Russia is going ahead with its plan to demand payment in Euros for its oil and gas exports, rather than dollars.

September 30, 2019: September was a busy month for Russians in Libya. Early in the moth a leaked (via the Internet) Russian document detailed the activities of 23 Russian technicians assigned to the LNA (Libyan National Army), apparently since late 2018. The document included a March 12 report detailing the operational LNA Russian equipment. This was just before the April 4 LNA advance on Tripoli with 145 tanks (100 T-55s, 35 T-62s, and 10 T-72s), 77 BMP-1 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicles), 201 BTR-60 wheeled armored vehicles, 21 BREM armored recovery vehicles, 41 BDRM-2 wheeled recon vehicles, 10 MTLB armored tractors (for pulling artillery or trailers), 20 2S1 self-propelled 122mm howitzers, one 2S3 self-propelled 152mm howitzer and six BM-21 122mm 40 barrel truck-mounted rocket launchers. The Russian techs indicated that their repair and refurbishment activities on these vehicles required $278,000 worth of spare parts, apparently supplied by Russia. The Russian techs were civilian contractors because the report was prepared by someone who identified themselves as working for the Wagner Group, a large Russian military contractor organization that is operating in several other African countries at the behest of the Russian government. Russia was known to be providing this sort of support for the LNA and this is the first detailed report of the extent of that effort. The LNA equipment listed is all of the types that Russia had supplied to the Libyan government before 2011. Later in the month, there were reports and 30 or so Wagner Group personnel were killed during an airstrike by GNA (the weaker UN backed Government of National Accord) warplanes or Turkish missile armed UAVs. While Russia has been backing the LNA for over three years the Turks only recently came to the rescue of the GNA, which is trying to defend the city of Tripoli, its last stronghold. The Turks favor he GNA because the GNA is largely a collection of militias, several of them described as “Islamic” although not Islamic terrorists.

September 28, 2019: In Syria, a Russian UAV operating near the Turkish border was shot down by a Turkish F-16 after the UAV wandered into Turkish air space. This had happened once before, in 2015. A similar UAV had been shot down in Ukraine during 2014-15.

September 27, 2019: In Syria, satellite photos show two Kilo-class subs and two surface warships docked at the Russian base at the port of Tartus. There are also several support ships. These warships come from Russia, stock up on supplies and train off the coast.

September 25, 2019: Uganda has signed an agreement with Russia to develop non-military (electrical generation) nuclear energy in the country.

September 21, 2019: In Venezuela, two Russian airliners arrived with an unspecified number of technicians who will apparently replace the 50-100 who arrived in July to help maintain Russian military and commercial equipment Venezuela had purchased. Russia appears t0 be rotating these technicians in every three months. The Russian technicians were also training Venezuelans to do the work but many of these newly trained locals flee Venezuela at the first opportunity because the socialist government of Venezuela has wrecked he economy and its once flourishing oil industry. There are other Russian “technicians” who are working to protect senior Venezuelan officials from attack by Venezuelans or foreigners. IN all there are apparently several hundred Russian “advisors” in Venezuela.

Russia and China are sending in technical teams and some equipment to revive the oil production and shipping facilities. Sanctions have halted nearly all Venezuelan oil exports. But by using older (and retired) Venezuelan tankers it is possible to still send some oil to Cuba, to pay for security and other services Cuban personnel are still providing. Despite the continued oil shipments, the Cuban economy is still suffering serious fuel shortages because this year they have been receiving less than half the oil they need. Russian has promised to help with that but no specifics have been revealed other than promises of Russian wheat to Cuba and help with refurbishing the dilapidated Cuban railroad system.

Russia is seeking ownership of some Venezuelan natural gas deposits to pay for current help and past loans. China has loaned Venezuela more than ten times as much as Russia and is seeking ownership of a large fraction of Venezuelan oil reserves. These deals are being opposed by most other South American nations and the United States. Cuba is also helping out with security and medical experts. So far this foreign support has kept the socialist government operational. Meanwhile, most Venezuelans have no electricity, running water, sanitation or food. The government is focusing on protecting the oil fields in the north, at the expense of everything else. Russia sees Venezuela as a great opportunity that has little real risk attached to it.

September 18, 2019: In the south (Kabardino-Balkaria), Russian troops killed two men suspected of Islamic terrorist activities. The two were confronted in a rural town and ordered to surrender. Instead, the two opened fire and were killed by return fire. None of the soldiers were injured. A search of the building the two men were using revealed explosives, weapons, ammo and one assembled bomb.

September 16, 2019: Leaders from Iran, Turkey, and Russia met in Turkey to work out details of defeating the last rebels in northwest Syria, dealing the Kurds in the northeast and getting about a thousand American troops out of Syria. Iran also discussed increased economic cooperation with Turkey, which has been unofficially assisting Iranians seeking to bet assets (like cash) past American sanctions and into Turkey where local assets (like real estate) are purchased. This makes the money legal for Iranians.

September 12, 2019: In northwest Syria (Idlib province), the Russian August 31 ceasefire ended as Russian airstrikes hit targets in the western portion of Idlib province. Syrian troops are assembling nearby to advance and drive rebels out of the bombed areas.

September 5, 2019: In northwest Syria (Idlib), a Russian vehicle hit an anti-vehicle mine. The explosion killed three Russian soldiers and wounded two others. Since Russian ground forces entered Syria in 2015, over 160 have been killed.

 

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