Russian Defense Minister in Tel Aviv, Dodges Commenting on Israeli Airstrike in Syria


Moscow – Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday for talks with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

During the meeting, Shoigu was said to have overlooked commenting on the recent Israeli airstrike against missile defense bases east of Damascus, Syria.

Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov did not elaborate on Moscow’s view on the attack.

Israeli jets bombed a Syrian anti-aircraft battery east of Damascus after it fired an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli spy aircraft overflying Lebanon, the Israeli military said earlier on Monday.

Russia’s news agency TASS reported that the Israeli forces notified Russia “in real time” about a strike on a target near Damascus.

Russia has been backing the Damascus-centered regime led by Bashar al-Assad against Syrian rebels and other groups since 2015.

“I would like to talk about the things related to Syria. The operation there is close to the end. There are several problems which require urgent solution and the prospects of further development of the situation in Syria require discussion,” Shoigu said.

More so, he dodged questions concerning the airstrikes before the press and reporters, focusing instead on the war against terror.

Addressing Lieberman, he stressed the need to “mobilize all forces” against terrorism in the region.

In an official statement, Konashenkov said that Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on a two-day visit, during which he will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss issues of technical – military cooperation between the two sides.

Konashenkov added that regional security and issues related to the Syrian settlement will be discussed.

Russia Dismantles ISIS Cell in Moscow, Makhachkala


Moscow- The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has uncovered a ‘sleeper cell’ linked to ISIS that was active both in Moscow and the North Caucasus region, the Russian National Anti-terrorist Committee said. Four members of the cell were detained.

In Makhachkala, the capital of Russia’s southern Republic of Dagestan, security forces also discovered two extremist hideouts, where they found three ready-to-use improvised explosive devices.

According to investigators, the members of the cell were plotting several potentially high-profile attacks in southern Russian regions, including explosions at public events as well as assaults on officials and the military.

“On October 13 and 14, four members of the so-called sleeping cell of ISIS organization (terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) were detained by the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow and Makhachkala, all of them are from Dagestan,” the statement issued by Russian National Anti-terrorist Committee said.

The statement added that the detainees are confessing and providing detailed information about their contacts with elements of the organization’s envoys, as well as the preparation of terrorist attacks using IEDs and knives in areas in Dagestan, where large crowds of people gather during large celebrations and social events.

Russian Security forces released video footage showing arrest operations and confessions of the detainees.

One of the videos showed security forces while they were arresting two terrorists in a car and confiscating cold weapons they had with them.

In another video, one of the detainees was shown confessing and admitting that he was planning to travel to one of Central Asia’s republics to buy weapons needed to carry out terrorist attacks and target security forces and headquarters in Dagestan.

Another detainee said that the IEDs they have made were stuffed with iron rollers, which terrorists usually do to maximize the number of injuries.

He explained that they were filled with a magnet to stick to the walls or metal screens, and he confirmed that the cell members had carried out the necessary tests before assembling the IEDs.

Notably, this is the second operation of its kind the Russian security forces have carried out within two weeks and ended up with thwarting the activity of terrorist sleeper cells in Moscow.

Russia’s FSB security service said on October 2 that it had detained members of what it said was ISIS sleeper cell in the Moscow region that had been planning to launch a series of high-profile attacks on the country’s transport system.

The FSB said in a statement on its website that the detentions had occurred on Sept. 30 and that the cell included Russian citizens from the North Caucasus region, who, it said, were committed to trying to set up a global Islamic caliphate and were directed by foreign militants.

It said the cell had been planning to set off explosives in crowded public places and target transport infrastructure.

The FSB said then that it had detained all of the cell’s members, but did not say how many people it had taken into custody. The question of opening criminal cases against them was being decided, it added.

Kremlin Says Implementation Talks of S400 Missile Deal with Saudi Arabia ‘Positive’


Moscow- Russia’s Kremlin stressed the positive nature of cooperation between Moscow and Riyadh concerning the implementation of military-technical agreements announced by the two sides at a press conference following talks between King Salman bin Abdulaziz during his historic visit to Moscow last week with President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin had announced early Monday that it is in the middle of serious talks with Saudi Arabia over Russia supplying Saudi Arabia with advanced S-400 air defense missile systems.

Russia and Saudi Arabia have agreed on supplies of S-400 missile systems, the press service of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation told the largest Russian news agency, and the fourth largest worldwide, TASS reported.

“We confirm that an agreement was reached with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the supplies of S-400 air defense systems, Kornet-EM anti-tank guided missiles, TOS-1A systems, AGS-30 automatic grenade launchers and AK-103 Kalashnikov rifles,” the press service said.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin earlier said commenting on the visit of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Russia that Riyadh was interested in buying Russia’s S-400 systems.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, on a conference call with reporters, was responding to a question about whether a decision by the US State Department to approve the possible sale of a THAAD anti-missile defense system to Saudi Arabia might affect the Russian deal.

Peskov said the Kremlin could only offer its own assessment of how talks were progressing but said preliminary negotiations on the deal had gone well.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for talks at the Kremlin last week, cementing a relationship that is pivotal for world oil prices and could decide the outcome of the conflict in Syria.

Peskov said Russia’s decision to offer the missiles to Riyadh was not aimed at any third party.

Putin Allows Foreigners to Join Army for International Missions


Moscow – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to the military service law that allows foreigners to serve in the Russian army.

The foreigners, serving on a contractual basis, would be allowed to take part in international security missions, said the RBK newspaper.

The daily said that the amendment does not indicate if the fighters would be engaged in missions on Russian territory, meaning that they would be contracted for foreign assignments.

Observers said that Putin’s decision primarily stemmed from the developments in Syria.

A source in Moscow said on condition of anonymity: “The current amendments are aimed at bolstering the Russian military presence in Syria and other regions in the future if the need arises.”

The measure also avoids the deployment of large numbers of Russian troops for fear of a large number of casualties in their ranks in combat missions, it explained.

RBK reported that Russian contractual military personnel are currently deployed in Russia, but the Defense Ministry did not reveal any information about the deployment of foreigners in the war-torn country.

In a related development, the Russian spy Yantar ship sailed to the eastern Mediterranean after crossing the Black Sea straits, reported Turkish sites that monitor the passage of vessels through the Bosphorus strait. It was said that the ship was headed to Victoria Port, but observers stated that that is just a ploy to cover its actual destination.

In 2015, US forces detected the Yantar while marines were carrying out drills at Kings Bay base. The Pentagon said at the time that the vessel was on a spying mission through the use of submersibles.

Russia has meanwhile not yet commented on the Turkish military operation in Syria’s Idlib province even though Turkish officials have stressed that Ankara is coordinating its operations with Moscow.

An informed source in Moscow described Russia’s silence over the issue as “strange.”

Anton Mardasov of the Russian International Affairs Council told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The official authorities do not know how to explain this issue to the public after they had previously said that Russia would counter any foreign force on Syrian territory.”

Russian Campaign Against US al-Tanf Base

Moscow — Moscow strongly escalated on Friday its campaign against the US-led al-Tanf military base in eastern Syria and near the Iraqi border at a time when Russian warplanes supported regime forces that infiltrated in the city of Mayadeen, one of the ISIS strongholds in the east of Deir Ezzor.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the US base in al-Tanf has turned into “a black hole” that generates the insurgency of terrorists into Syria.

Spokesperson of the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Friday: “In reality, al-Tanf has turned into a 100-kilometer ‘black hole’ on the Syrian-Jordanian state border. And, instead of the Free Syrian Army, it is spewing ISIS mobile groups who make inroads to launch subversive terrorist operations against Syrian troops and civilians.”

The spokesperson said that every time the Syrian regime forces, supported by Russian warplanes, advance towards the east of the ISIS stronghold in Deir Ezzor, the US presence in the background lines at al-Tanf base becomes a bigger problem.

In a surprising development that could further escalate tensions between US and Russian forces in Syria, coalition jets shelled on Friday a convoy of the Syrian regime and its allied foreign militias in the al-Tanf area.

Syrian opposition sources said that the attack killed seven regime forces and allied militias and injured more than 16 others.

For its part, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday that a series of explosions caused by the regime and Russian forces hit the city of Mayadeen at a time when fighting continued in the western part of the city where Assad forces were capable to arrive.

“With support from Russian aviation, regime forces entered Mayadeen and took control of several buildings in the west of the town,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

Moscow Warns of Next ISIS

Moscow- Head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov warned on Wednesday that ISIS will try to regroup and form a new “global terrorist network” after it is defeated in Syria and Iraq.

Speaking in the Russian city of Krasnodar at a summit of 74 law enforcement agencies, Bortnikov said that terrorists are “deliberately” going beyond the Middle East to establish “hotbeds of tension and armed conflict” in unstable areas.

His remarks came as Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed confidence in the ability to eliminate terrorist organizations in Syria.

“I am confident that we will finally complete joint work to defeat terrorist groups (ISIS and al-Nusra Front) in Syria,” Putin said at a plenary meeting of the Russian Energy Week forum held in Moscow.

Also Wednesday, Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces had killed 12 field commanders of al-Nusra Front in an air strike in Syria, adding the group’s top leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani had lost an arm and was in a “critical condition.’

As a result of the strike, “Jolani received multiple serious shrapnel wounds, lost an arm and is in a critical condition, according to several independent sources,” Konashenkov said in a statement.

He said 12 field commanders including al-Jolani’s security chief were also killed along with some 50 guards.

More than 10 militants received moderate and serious blast injuries, Konashenkov stated, adding that Su-34 and Su-35 jets were used to target the fighters.

The Moscow-led forces were able to hunt down the group using data obtained by Russian military intelligence on Tuesday and struck just when the militants convened for a meeting.

Since 2017, al-Nusra dominates a coalition of militant factions called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). 

Despite Moscow’s claims, HTS denied Jolani had been injured, saying he was carrying out his duties as normal, in a statement posted on Telegram.

Konashenkov said the strike on al-Nusra was the result of a special operation to avenge an attack on Russian military police in Syria on September 18.

In a related matter, the defense ministry spokesman accused the United States of hindering the elimination of ISIS.

“The main thing preventing the final defeat of (ISIS) in Syria is not the terrorists’ military capability but the support and pandering to them by our American colleagues,” he said.

He added that a series of attacks launched by ISIS militants on Syrian regime forces came from an area around al-Tanf near the border with Jordan where a US mission is located.

Wide-ranging Russian Preparations to Receive Saudi King Salman


Moscow – Preparations for the upcoming landmark visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Russia are ongoing in Moscow.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks on Thursday with King Salman, who will be on a state visit to Russia,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Kremlin is planning to discuss Russian-Saudi relations cooperation. Both Putin and King Salman will discuss joint steps to strengthen bilateral cooperation in trade-economic, investment, cultural and humanitarian fields.

Talks are expected to witness extensive exchange of views on international issues, the Kremlin added.
Specific attention will be given to issues evolving in the Middle East and North Africa, with a focus on settling regional conflicts.

Authorities in Russia and Saudi Arabia are showing political will to foster bilateral economic ties, and their potential is yet to be fulfilled, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.

The presidential spokesman stressed that Russia has long-running ties with Saudi Arabia, which Moscow values. “There are very broad prospects, and the potential is far from being fulfilled. Now both sides are showing political will to contribute to developing business contacts,” he said.

Peskov refused to link developing relations with Saudi Arabia to Russian-Iranian ties. “The relations between Moscow and Riyadh are absolutely self-sufficient and in this case there is no need to draw any parallels, this is a separate vector of our foreign policy, given the important role of Saudi Arabia in the region and in the Arab world in general,” he said.

Media and research circles in Russia have turned a great deal of attention to King Salman’s visit and anticipated talks with Putin, in view of the important position that Saudi Arabia occupies in the Arab world and among Islamic nations.

Speaking on issues of contrast, Deputy head of the North Africa department at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry Oleg Ozerov said that although the two states may differ on many topics in the Middle East, namely the Syrian crisis, Moscow and Riyadh are willing to work through matters of conflict.

When it comes to the larger picture, both Saudi Arabia and Russia are willing to set aside their differences for the greater good, said Ozerov.

Meanwhile, head of the media center for Arab-Russian studies Dr. Majed Al-Turki said that the Russians and Saudis both agree that a peaceful solution for the Syrian crisis is the only way to resolve the conflict.

The official hoped that the upcoming visit would focus on matters of common interest, adding that dwelling on problems without a clear solution would be counterproductive for both countries’ aims to boost relations.

On her part, Russian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) affairs expert Elena Melkumian said that issues pertaining to the Syrian and Yemeni crises, the future of the Iraq’s Kurdistan region, developments in the Gulf region and the Middle East peace process will be high on the list of discussions between King Salman and Putin.

Roscosmos, NASA to Build ‘Deep Space Gateway’ near Moon


Moscow – Humans are preparing for a new major step aiming at discovering more space-related secrets, and preparing to land on other planets in the solar system, along with building international space stations all around the globe.

In this context, both the US space agency NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos announced that they reached an agreement to implement another promising space project in order to conduct further studies on the moon and to establish farther stations, which will transport people deeper into space.

Astronauts from both agencies are currently working on establishing a lunar space station, which will house people and will be similar to the International Space Station built by Russia and the US where astronauts and experts from around the world would work.

Roscosmos and NASA signed the new station’s agreement on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress held in Australia on September 27.

The station will be known as the “Deep Space Gateway”.

According to Igor Komarov, Roscosmos’s general director, the first modules are projected to be completed between 2024 and 2026.

He noted that his agency would manufacture the parts and the vehicles that would form the station, suggesting that the techniques may be used later to create orbital stations around Mars.

The agreement signing came after over a year of talks between the two sides, during which they studied the details of the project, and shared the tasks during the implementation.

Given the importance of the project, the Russian space agency intends to adjust its financial plan until 2025 and will work with the government to secure the necessary funds for the project.

NASA confirmed the signing of the “Deep Space Gateway” agreement and said it reflects the common vision of space institutions in both countries to continue space exploration. It also described the lunar orbital station as a strategic step and a very important component of space exploration, which requires much study.

The agreement between the Russian and US agencies allows other countries to participate in the project, namely China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Scientists say the lunar orbital station will help humans build stations on the moon to study it more accurately. The station itself may be used as a platform to launch spacecraft to distant planets.

Saudi-Russian Summit Next Thursday


Moscow- The Kremlin said it hopes that the upcoming visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud to Moscow next week will give a new powerful impetus to the development of bilateral relations with Riyadh which is the leader of the Arab world.

“Russia is interested in maintaining a dialogue, including in the framework of the discussion of the situation in the Middle East and Syria,” the press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

King Salman is expected to arrive in Moscow next Wednesday on an official visit to Russia.

A summit between the Saudi King and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be held on Thursday to discuss enhancing and developing bilateral relations, and would also tackle a number of regional and international issues. The visit will last until Sunday.

“We hope that this visit will give a new powerful impetus to the development of bilateral relations, because the potential of our relations is much richer than the de facto situation, and we want to develop our dialogue in every possible way,” Peskov said.

Saudi King’s official visit will also witness the signing of Russia of a number of memorandums and agreements with 6 Saudi governmental bodies.

Two Saudi companies will also sign a number of deals with four Russian companies. The visit will also see the delivery of a number of investment permits.

Asked whether the visit of King Salman constitutes a sign of the rapprochement of positions between Moscow and Riyadh, particularly concerning the Syrian crisis, Peskov said: “Saudi Arabia is a state that plays an important role in Arab and inter-Arab affairs. It is the leader of the Arab world.”

He added that Russia is undoubtedly interested to keep its dialogue with the Kingdom.

Moscow Doubts SDF Role in Fighting ISIS

Moscow- Russia’s Defense Ministry denied on Sunday that its airforce launched a strike against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria’s eastern town of Deir Ezzor, and said it doubted the role of these forces in fighting ISIS.

The ministry’s denial came in response to SDF statements accusing the Syrian regime and the Russian forces of targeting their fighters in the industrial area near the eastern strip of the Euphrates River facing Deir Ezzor.

The ministry’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that in the past few days, “Russia’s means of control and reconnaissance did not find any clashes between ISIS terrorists and armed representatives of any third force.”

The spokesperson said that if any reports prove the presence of victims in the ranks of SDF forces, those would have occurred while fighters were present among ISIS militants.

“The representatives of the international coalition should explain how the opposition fighters and coalition advisers could infiltrate into the eastern parts of Deir Ezzor in the presence of ISIS military operations,” he added.

Konashenkov said: “In order to avoid unwanted escalation, the command of the Russian grouping in Syria using the existing communication channels notified in advance the US counterparts about borders of the military operation in Deir Ezzor.”

The spokesperson also said that during this operation, “the military destroyed manpower, armored vehicles and terrorists’ facilities both on the western and the eastern shores of Euphrates.”

On Saturday, the Pentagon released a statement saying the Russian Aerospace Force targeted the Syrian opposition.

“At approximately 12:30 a.m. GMT Sept. 16, Russian forces struck a target east of the Euphrates River in Syria near Deir Ezzor, causing injuries to Coalition partner forces,” said a news release published by Operation Inherent Resolve.

The news release also claimed that Russia knew there were Syrian opposition forces and coalition advisers in the area.