Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced on May 21 that the United States would formally submit notice the following day of its intent to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure signed in 1992 by the US, Russia and 33 other countries. The treaty, which took effect in 2002, allows each state-party to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others' entire territories to collect intelligence on military forces and activities. In accordance with Article XV, the US withdrawal will take effect six months after formally submitting notice. In a letter addressed to Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump, Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Adam Smith (D-WA) protest that the withdrawal is in violation of Section 1234 of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the president to notify Congress at least 120 days before giving formal notice of intent to withdraw from the treaty. (Jurist)
A report published by Amnesty International on May 11 found that the Syrian government, supported by Russia, committed a series of war crimes in northwest Syria in late 2019 and 2020. The report found that "attacks from the air and the ground repeatedly struck residential areas and crucial infrastructure." The findings are based on interviews of Syrians on the ground and international aid workers, as well as videos, photographs, satellite imagery, logs of aircraft observations and intercepted aircraft radio communication. The attacks mainly occurred in opposition-held areas of Idlib province, western Aleppo province and northwestern Hama province. The report documents 18 attacks in these areas on schools and medical facilities. The report calls these attacks "serious violations" of international humanitarian law.
We at CounterVortex are not doubting (nor accepting) Tara Reade's claims of sexual assault by Joe Biden. But it is certainly instructive to note how they are being politically weaponized, and by whom. It is hardly surprising that her accusations are being widely touted by the Kremlin propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik, nor that RT and Fox News are offering nearly identical spin (the Dems and their "loyalist media" are giving Biden a free ride, despite the fact that the claims are all over the headlines). But things got considerably more interesting with the news that a prominent Trump donor has been named as Reade's attorney. This is Douglas Wigdor, who according to AP gave $55,000 in contributions to the Trump campaign in 2016. And of greater interest to followers of Russian propaganda efforts on behalf of Trump is a second attorney named in the story...
The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a diplomatic think-tank established by presidential decree, has issued a report predicting that Russia, Turkey and Iran will soon reach a joint agreement to remove Syrian dictator Bashar Assad from power, replacing him with a transitional government including members of both the regime and opposition, as well as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its coverage of the report, Russian news agency TASS suggested that Moscow fears a repeat of the "Afghan scenario" in Syria if it continues to back an unpopular regime. It also suggested that Assad is perceived by Moscow as too beholden to Tehran.
Despite last week's agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to end their price war, the oil market remains in free-fall amid the virtual shut-down of the world economy by the COVID-19 pandemic. The price of the main US oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, fell on April 20 to $30 below zero—the first time oil prices have ever turned negative. This means anyone trying to sell a barrel would have to actually pay a buyer. The global industry output of 100 million barrels a day would appear to be on borrowed time. (NYT)
A report by a special UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry ordered by the Secretary-General finds that it is "highly probable" that the Bashar Assad regime and allied forces have bombed hospitals and other civilian targets in Syria. The report, turned in April 6, cited air-strikes last year on a hospital, a clinic, and a childcare facility in opposition-held areas of Idlib and Hama provinces. All three were on a "deconfliction list" of protected sites that the UN had provided to Damascus. The Board of Inquiry also found it "plausible" the regime targeted another healthcare center. Yet the report failed to specifically mention Russia, which has also been engaged in the air-strikes, referring only to "the Government of Syria and/or its allies." The Assad regime has claimed that the targeted sites were being used by "terrorists."
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)
The Syrian regime has announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country after weeks of denial, and advocates in the diaspora believe the real number of cases is likely higher. The UK-based Syria Campaign writes that an outbreak in Syria could mean "horror beyond imagination." Thousands of displaced families living in overcrowded camps simply cannot self-isolate. Health infrastructures in the country have collapsed due to the systematic targeting of hospitals and medical workers by the regime and Russia. Especially vulnerable are the nearly 100,000 detainees and forcibly disappeared, many of whom are held in cramped underground centers where they are exposed to horrific conditions including torture and deprivation of proper food, water, hygiene, and medical care. These cells are already perfect breeding grounds for viruses and illnesses, and if coronavirus spreads containment will be impossible.