Two Stealthy SU57s of Russia's Latest Frontline Fighter Type Confirmed in Syria
The SU57 deployment, even in the very limited number of four planes, comes as a surprise to American analysts. The Russian Air Force has been flight testing the stealthy fifth generation jets with a 2020 service entering date. Indeed, the SU57 only flew with a new production rather than the SU27-35 AL41 series engines in December 2017. Dave Majumdar notes the precedent set by the Soviets who combat tested new types of aircraft during the 1980s Afghan War. Majumdar also says the U.S. Air Force will be very keenly monitoring the SU57 flights. This will likely be done using ground sensors in Turkey, Jordan and Israel as well as potentially airborne radars on AWACS flying in Turkish air space or the F22s now flying over Syria (which the SU57 was developed to counter). Whether the 5th generation fighters will actually meet somewhere over the Euphrates, with Russian and American pilots warily eyeing each other, remains to be seen.
What Really Happened:
Were the Russian/Donbass PMCs Set Up for a U.S. Aerial Ambush?
Also on Thursday, The Washington (Langley/Bezos) Post, which is typically used as a mouthpiece for the CIA or in this case NSA, published an article supposedly citing signals intercepts of oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The story bolsters the narrative of Prigozhin as an extremely Kremlin connected powerbroker who simultaneously runs a restaurant and food service empire, St. Petersburg troll farms to meddle in American politics, and a mercenary army larger than Blackwater's personnel number at its Iraq War height.
In typical since November 2016 fashion the WaPost story not only compromises precious 'sources and methods' for monitoring high level Russians communications, but makes U.S. intelligence about Russian intentions (especially SIGINT) out to be far better than it actually is. In a key excerpt, the WaPost's Pentagon sources claim not only that American units weren't at fault, but that they warned the Russians in advance not to permit their Syrian partners to launch a reconnaissance in force across the Euphrates deconfliction line the U.S. imposed (though the Post uncharacteristically admits with Daesh defeated, the U.S lacks a legal basis for its occupation of eastern Syria):
An account published on Friday in Newsweek, a once proud publication rapidly spiraling downward into bankruptcy and irrelevance, slightly differs from the WaPost version, saying the Americans only raised the flag over their positions as their artillery opened up on an advancing convoy hundreds of yards from their position. Completing the media blitz on the story timed ahead of the March presidential elections in Russia, the U.S. government funded Voice of America (VOA) outlet Polygraph.info published what it claimed were authenticated audio clips of the survivors. Polygraph.info claimed to have obtained the recordings from sources close to the Kremlin, but they could not immediately be authenticated.
The Russian version of February 7-8 events, which has emerged in snippets and interviews with angry friends of the dead and survivors, is that the Americans engaged in a set up. That is, there were secret negotiations going on between the pro-Damascus Syrian tribes in the area and ex-ISIS aligned tribes plus Kurdish forces who controlled a large oil field. The 'Wagner' types were hired to take control of the hydrocarbons in return for a 25% cut of the oil field output. Either through deception or perhaps being tricked by the Americans, the Kurds feigned interest in handing the field over while putting up token resistance. Instead, when the day of transfer arrived and the Syrians advanced with their Russian partners in the open, not expecting to be bombed or even to face any mortar or artillery fire, we know what happened. The CIA or other intelligence agencies (British, Mossad?) who caught wind of the negotiations, arranged for the U.S. forces in the area to either overreact or in a premeditated action, drop massed fires on a battalion they knew included Russian contractors.
The Russian Analyst strongly leans toward a Deep State plan to 'kill Russians' (in ex-Deputy CIA Director Mike Morrell's words) in Deir Ez Zor province. If only because no group of Russian combat veterans whether from the Army or voluntary fighting against the far less competent Ukrainians in the Donbass would suicidally advance in the open on American troops, knowing the American m.o. is to instantly call for artillery or air support when threatened. The notion that the 'Wagner'ian Russian warriors were so cocky as to deliberately attack Americans with zero SAM or air support or even artillery is asinine. Nonetheless, we doubt Secretary of Defense Mattis -- who professed to be perplexed about the clash -- or anyone in the Trump White House personally planned the provocation. Although the loose rules of engagement and very broad definition of 'self defense' given to American commanders by the Trump White House made an altercation like this more likely.
The broad dirty deep state goal from this arranged clash, as the video below speculates, is to maintain mistrust if not provoke active hostilities between Russian and American forces in Syria (and perhaps to build up overconfidence among U.S. troops that they can shell Syrian, Iranian or even Russian forces with impunity, never getting shelled or more likely IED ambushed back). Preventing another staged 'incident' in which the Americans start bombing active duty and not just private military volunteer Russian units triggering a violent Russian response is paramount. In the meantime, any Anglo-American PMCs roaming separately from the protection of U.S. special operators presence could be hit with a tit for tat attack for which Moscow's Shi'a allies, rather than the Russians, could take credit. Thus the dirty Deep State puts targets on the backs of PMCs and servicemen on both sides of the Cold War 2 Euphrates line.
East Ghouta Battle:
Humanitarian Outcry That Spares Jihadists of Any Responsibility for Civilians
On Friday the United Nations Security Council, where Syria's ally Russia freely wields its veto, postponed a vote on a ceasefire resolution for Ghouta. The heavily urbanized region east of Damascus has been the scene of heavy bombing and rocket strikes taking a toll on the civilian population. Less reported by Western media have been the rockets fired from besieged Ghouta at areas of Damascus which have killed or wounded scores of civilians for many months. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley like her predecessor Samantha Power is loathe to admit that the territory is dominated by HTS, the Al-Qaeda loyalists in Syria. As experienced Mideast correspondent Robert Fisk writes in The Independent:
Negotiations continue with the Egyptians acting as intermediaries between Damascus and Moscow on one side and the 'moderate' representatives of the jihadists on the other to evacuate many militants and their families from the pocket. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has spoken of the Aleppo peace deal that ended fighting for that heavily built up urban battlefield, as a model for evacuating the rebels moderate or otherwise to Idlib. Others could also go to Turkey, with which the Russians are maintaining a wary series of discussions. The Turks for their part are placing troops and observation posts seemingly designed to check a Syrian Arab Army (SAA) advance further into Idlib province, while attacking pro-government forces which joined with the YPG Kurds in the defense of Afrin. The Turkish Army and their 'moderate' rebel as well as Al-Qaeda allies have yet to besiege Afrin, but several more villages fell to their advance closer to the city this weekend.
Writing earlier this week for his Turcopolier blog, retired DIA analyst and Army Col. Patrick Lang writes of the Turks gamesmanship and Damascus response, drawing closer to the YPG Kurds who'd previously imagined Uncle Sam would protect them from a NATO ally's wrath:
It's noteworthy that some of the leading pro-Syria jihadist neocons, like Michael D. Weiss, aren't particularly happy about Kurdish units ceding the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood of east Aleppo to the SAA, despite the Kurds needing more manpower to resist Turkish aggression.
With neither side eager to engage in all out war, the war of nerves between the Turkish Army and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its Shi'a militia allies now fighting alongside the YPG continued Friday. The Turks reportedly again shelled a convoy of National Defense Forces (NDF) headed toward Afrin, but this time the SAA returned artillery fire. There were no confirmed Turkish casualties but the risks to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of a shot down fighter jet or seriously bloody nose for his troops who have yet to face massed thermobaric rocket or artillery fire from heavy weaponry of the type the SAA can bring to the fight. Pro-Damascus sources on social media continue to insist that the Turks will settle for a face saving compromise whereby many YPG units simply lower their PKK linked flags and raise the Syrian government flag and that of the NDF over their positions. If that does happen, it may be possible for Erdogan to declare victory and partially pull back Turkish regulars while holding Syrian proxies in place along a ceasefire line that consolidates territorial gains around Afrin as leverage in talks.