Russia begins largest ever military drills

Russia conducted a number of drills in August and early September in the build-up to Vostok 2018 [Russian MoD]

Russia today launched its larged military exercise in nearly four decades, involving hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of pieces of military hardware in all branches of its armed forces.

Chinese forces will also participate in the six-day exercise, titled Vostok 2018, contributing some 3,200 troops 900 pieces of military hardware and 30 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

The Russian military has deployed more than 300,000 troops – including 6,000 paratroopers, 36,000 military vehicles, and more than 1,000 aircraft from Russia’s Eastern and Central military districts, and the Northern Fleet, the Russian Ministry of Defence said.

The exercise will focus on Russia’s efficiency in rapidly moving and deploying large numbers of military forces over large distances.

New weapons systems will also be deployed and tested during the military exercise, the defense ministry said.

The exercises come as Russia and the US drift further apart, especially on resolution of the Syria war. On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov condemned US threats to use force in Syria if chemical weapons are used.

The Russian military has for weeks warned of a possible false flag operation to use chemical weapons by Islamist extremists and the White Helmets group in Idlib.

“We particularly name geographical points where preparations are made to carry out provocations and certain terrorist groups backed by the US and its allies,” Ryabkov said.

The Syrian government has been preparing to retake Idlib, in the northwest of the country, currently under control of Al-Qaeda affiliated groups such Tahrir Al Sham.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Putin in Tehran as Damascus prepares final offensive

Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan – who have met several times in the past year to discuss Middle East tensions – say the end of the war in Syria is at hand [PPIO]

Leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey are due to meet in Tehran today to discuss ways to bring the Syria war to an end without further bloodshed.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and upreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Syrian forces prepare to attack the northwestern province of Idlib in Syria, currently under Islamist extremist control.

Idlib is considered the last major territory under the control of a number of extremist groups, chiefly Tahrir Al Sham, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, estimated to be about 30,000.

But Idlib is also home to some three million civilians and the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if the Syrian government goes ahead with plans to retake the area.

They have warned of mass civilian casualties and a new refugee exodus of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.

On Thursday, the Russian and Syrian air forces launched a number of raids on Idlib.

Turkey says it wants to de-escalate from the war footing and has called on Russia and Syria to halt what it called “carpet bombing” of Idlib.

The Russians say that the offensive on the province would be planned with pinpoint accuracy to avoid civilian casualties.

Turkey says it will push during the Tehran talks for a coordinated strategy with Iran and Russia to remove the extremist groups from Idlib.

The US has warned it will take swift action if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons.

The US says it believes there is “lots of evidence” that the Syrian government is planning to use chemical weapons in Idlib, although most military experts see no military advantage in using these banned armaments.

“Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation,” Special Adviser to Syria Jim Jeffrey said. “There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared.”

But Russia maintains that the Syrian government has a right to forcefully remove the extremist groups in Idlib after efforts to garner their surrender failed.

Moscow has also been warning of a planned false flag operation in the besieged city of Idlib in northwestern Syria allegedly to be carried out by Islamist extremists.

The warning comes as Syrian Army forces reinforce their positions around the city.

Earlier in the week, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov, met with US State Department officials in Washington to share intelligence reports gathered by Russia of this imminent false flag operation. However, he said the US side rejected the intelligence.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Israel kills dozens of Palestinians, US embassy moves to Jerusalem

The UN Security Council is expected to meet to investigate the high number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza on Monday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Monday a historic great day of peace in acknowledgement of the US embassy formally opening in Jerusalem as scores of Palestinian protesters were killed and injured in Gaza.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that the Israeli military killed 52 Palestinians during demonstrations protesting the inauguration of the embassy in Jerusalem. Another 2,400 were injured it added.

Six children are among the dead, it said.

Israeli security officials estimated the number of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border at 35,000. Netanyahu said Israeli forces were protecting themselves from Hamas militants.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on the escalating deaths later today.

Egypt, Iran and Turkey immediately condemned the Israeli killing of Palestinian protesters and the embassy move to Jerusalem.

The embassy inauguration comes a week after Israelis celebrated 70 years since the founding of the state. On Tuesday May 15, Palestinians and Arabs commemorate the Nakba, also known as the 1948 Palestinian exodus when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled – or were expelled during – the war with Israel.

Trump’s decision has been condemned by major powers around the world.

A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Monsay said London is firmly committed to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.

“We are concerned by the reports of violence and loss of life in Gaza. We urge calm and restraint to avoid actions destructive to peace efforts,” the spokesperson said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow has a negative view of the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The Kremlin says regional tensions will escalate in the wake of the move.

In December, Netanyahu hailed US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but this runs contrary to the foreign policies of many on the Middle East.

At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Trump’s move on Jerusalem destabilized an already “difficult situation” in the Middle East.

“There needs to be a long-term and fair solution that fulfills the interests of both sides, and complies with previous stances of the international community,” Putin told reporters in December.

There are currently no embassies in Jerusalem as the international community considers it a disputed city with its final status only decided by agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

During a UN Security Council meeting in December, 14 of 15 members criticized Trump’s decision leaving US ambassador Nikki Haley having to defend her president’s position.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies