Animated Map of Russian Bombing Raids in Syria

Here's a very helpful animated map by Sputnik showing Russian airstrikes in Syria over time. Watch the infographics and notice how in Jan-Feb timeframe airstrikes begin to focus on a small number of the same targets: a tell-tale sign of a ground support operation.

As the Syrian Army pushed into several strategic regions in the west of the country, the Russian bombers begun concentrating their attacks on enemy forces along the routes of the ground offensive.

Not six months ago Assad's forces stood on the verge of losing the war. Nobody in the West even wanted to discuss peace talks: Assad's demise seemed a virtual certainty. Today John Kerry is all about talking peace, while accusing Russia of being this and that.




In reality, though, the White House is simply trying to stall Russia's progress in Syria, while it collects its thoughts and devises a new strategy. There's probably not enough time for that, as Kerry seems to understand.

So how is Russia helping Damascus restore control? The most visible component is, of course, the bombers, the cruise missiles, and the hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition and supplies. But there's a lot more to this than meets the eye. Helping restore the Syrian army's confidence was no small feat and was a key accomplishment.




Fixing that huge tank repair factory in Homs was crucial to keeping Syrian armor in service. Most tanks lost by the Syrian army were not destroyed by the rebels, but simply fell into disrepair.

Now they are back in service, supplemented by the new T-90s, offering enhanced protection against the US-made TOW missiles supplied to the "friendly" ISIS and Al Qaeda via Turkey and Saudi Arabia.




I don't think a handful of these new tanks really provide a significant tactical advantage, but the psychological impact seems substantial, as underscored by ISIS offering a handsome bounty for destroying a T-90.

Of key importance to the success of the Syrian ground offensive is real-time intelligence furnished by Russia and other allies. Since the start of Russian aerial campaign in Syria, Moscow launched a number of reconnaissance satellites now parked in geostationary orbits over Syria, providing uninterrupted round-the-clock surveillance. Currently, Russia has by far the most intelligence assets in Syria than any other party to this conflict.





US, Canada, Ukraine Cast UN Vote in Support of Neo-Nazis

Some 115 countries supported a UN resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism. Only three countries voted against the resolution: the US, Canada and Ukraine. This trio has a lot in common: majority of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators fled to Canada and the US after the Second World War to hide among the large Ukrainian Diasporas in these two countries. More recently, voting common sense in the UN would have undermined Washington's and Ottawa's support for the neo-Nazi junta in Kiev.


A neo-Nazi torchlight parade in Kiev, Ukraine

Russia Deploys Su-35S Fighters to Syria

In an apparent response to Turkey's latest allegation of airspace violation by Russian planes, Russia deployed four of its newest air-superiority fighters to Syria. The Sukhoi Su-35S is the latest variant of the venerable Su-27 offering improved flight characteristics, a new radar, upgraded avionics, and ability to use a wider array of latest air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. Russia's Aerospace Forces (VKS) currently operate forty such aircraft, with another fifty on order as of this year. China is expecting delivery of twenty four Su-35S aircraft.

A photo has surfaced on the Internet showing four Su-35S jets numbered 03, 04, 05 and, 06 presumably heading to Syria. The photo was taken from aboard the Ministry of Defense Tu-153M plane. This latest deployment brings to overt seventy the total number of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft deployed by the VKS in Syria. The four Su-35S fighters would supplement the four Su-30SM fighter-bombers deployed to Syria last year, greatly enhancing Russia's air-to-air capabilities in the region.


Turkey's newest allegation is unlikely to be grounded in fact. Generally, Turkish propaganda lacks the technical expertise to be convincing. Case in point, Turkish government claimed the Russian aircraft was tracked only by radar and yet somehow it was identified as Su-34. Erdogan is being very persistent in trying to convince Putin to agree to meet him, but I just don't see such a meeting happening any time soon.

In the past couple of months Turkey has been working diligently on securing more support from the EU and the NATO. Turkey uses its ability to control the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe to extract political favors from the EU. A show of NATO unity is still a long cry from actual military support. Nobody is going to war with Russia over Erdogan's ambitions.

Having said that, Russia's choices under the circumstances are not obvious. The Kremlin cannot back down without undermining its Syrian campaign and it doesn't want to escalate the conflict with Turkey unnecessarily. I think Erdogan is overestimating his value to the EU. He is quickly becoming less of an asset and more of a liability, a loose cannon threatening Europe's security. This standoff will end in Moscow's favor.




On the State of Ukraine's Currency

During the past twenty five days Ukraine's national currency - the hryvna - officially lost 10% of its value relative to the US dollar. During 2015 Ukraine's exports dropped at least 30.8% (the final official tally is yet to be released) to just 34.35 billion USD. Ukraine's ongoing conflict with the IMF is likely to bring further decline of hryvna, as the expected $7-billion IMF loan for 2016 seems to have been cut to just $1.7 billion, at least for now.

The hryvna exchange rate programmed into Ukraine's budget for 2016 was 24.1-to-one USD, but is already around 27. One the black market - the only realistic way to exchange hryvnas for dollars in Ukraine - the rate has reached 32 hryvnas to USD as of today. Popular mood in Kiev is pessimistic at best. People are dumping hryvnas as quickly as they can, which is not easy considering all the roadblocks set up by the authorities.

More significantly, Ukraine is losing its export positions where they matter the most: the hi-tech sector. Nobody really needs Ukrainian potatoes and sunflower seed oil in EU. Ukraine can be competitive in the aerospace and armaments sectors, but that's the last thing Airbus and DASA want. The EU wants some Ukrainian agricultural products, iron ore and certain types of steel - a lot less than what Russia used to buy. That's about it. This is likely to be a sad conclusion to Ukraine's quest for EU membership.



Antonov An-225 "Mrya" - the world's largest transport aircraft

Russia Not Accepting Norwegian Syrians

When a few days ago I first read about Norway's desire to expel the Syrian asylum seekers, I was not surprised. This has been coming for some time now. Germany would have done the same thing if it had to work with Norway's resources. What did surprise me, however, is Norway's apparent assumption that Russia would just let the refugees - invited and accepted by the EU and by Norway - back into the country. Rather predictably, Russia demonstrated a better grasp on the concept of national security than its northern neighbor.

It would seem Norway's efforts to expel the Syrians have ground to a halt. Back in 2012 (and every year since), Russia urged the West to exercise restrain when dealing with Syria and not let the insurgency led by local and foreign extremists grow into a civil war. The West has routinely written off these warnings as an awkward attempt on the part of Russia to safeguard Assad's regime. The insurgency did grow into a civil war with international involvement and global implications and, as a result, all of us are now more vulnerable.

Russia must do everything possible to let Norway deal with the Syrian refugee problem it deliberately brought upon itself. Otherwise, no lessons will be learned.


From Russia with Gas

Henichesk is a port town on the southern tip of Ukraine, just a few kilometers from the Crimean penninsula. The town's 25,000 residents have been freezing their asses off for the past couple of weeks after their fearless leaders in Kiev decided they don't want to buy any more gas from Russia. Henichesk Mayor Alexander Tulupov took the unusual step of appealing to Russia directly and received a positive response. Additional Russian gas is now flowing to Henichesk as humanitarian aid of sorts.

Not as huge of a deal as presented by the Russian media, still the situation is a massive embarrassment for the Ukrainian government. Henichesk is not a "pro-Russian" town and, so far, it has been spared the frontline excitement of Ukraine's civil war. Barely a week ago Ukraine's bombastic Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has been bragging about the 25-percent reduction in gas consumption in Ukraine. Higher "energy efficiency", the PM said, is the result of his wise and balanced policy.

By far, Ukraine's largest gas consumer is heavy industry. Yatsenyuk's 25% reduction in gas consumption is chiefly a result of the massive collapse in the country's industrial sector. Really, nothing to be particularly proud of. Ukrainian "government" says it stored enough gas to last the winter, but, as we see with Henichesk, this assertion may be more wishful thinking than fact.

Government bosses in Kiev know they don't have enough gas to last the heating season, but unlike previous years, now their reputations are on the line and they cannot resort to the usual siphoning of gas destined for the EU consumers. So their solution is to cut supplies to peripheral towns of little political significance - like
Henichesk, for example. This strategy may backfire.



So far, a firm handshake and a pat on the back has been the extent of Washington's support for Ukraine