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Interview with Anastasia Popova




Russia24-Pressenza has recently  re-launched an article written by Silvia Cattori, that reported the documentary made by Anastasia Popova and transmitted by the channel Russia 24. This publication has attracted praise and criticism for the point of view about what is happening in Syria that is very different from the one circulating in the European media.

For this reason we decided to pursue this issue by talking to the author of the report, a young journalist who covered the “Arab spring” in different countries and has spent some time in Syria, in contact with many people involved in the conflict.

Anastasia, first of all many thanks for your willingness. How long have you been in Syria with your crew?

We were there for 7 months in total, from August of 2011, when there was no war yet, until now when the war in full swing. So, you can say that all the events unfolded right in front of our eyes. On average we were on the ground in Syria for about a month at a time, from Deraa to Idleb and Aleppo and from Latakia along the Turkish border to al-Qamishli and down to Deir Ez Zour.

What is your general impression about the state of the conflict?

From the time when we arrived in August all the way until December, what struck us the most was the difference between what was being said about Syria from the outside and what was actually happening inside the country. Sometimes it would reach the point of absurdity, when we would get calls from our channel asking us about so-and-so square where an anti-government demonstration was being shot at by tanks or artillery. We would get to that square and there was literally nothing — a few pedestrians and a policeman directing traffic.

Despite all our attempts we didn’t manage to find the thousands-strong demonstrations against the government so often talked about by the Western media.  We spoke to the opposition, and even they told us that it was very difficult to gather people to protest. The only way to do this was through the mosques, and if they managed to get even 50 people to come out for fifteen minutes and film them, they considered it a victory. The vast majority of the population was just not interested.

Then provocations started, people were killed for belonging to the wrong religion, armed attacks on government buildings and employees, police stations and court houses began.

Nevertheless, the government responded to the peaceful demands. Laws were changed. A commission was created for a national dialogue that included almost all the opposition groups. Based on the work of this commission a new Constitution was adopted through a national referendum. Then, elections were held, and a lot of the political opposition inside Syria got seats in the Parliament. And so, the whole topic of mass protests became moot.

But as it turns out, for the key interested players this was not the end of the game. They put together what can be called “the foreign opposition”, composed mainly of people who had been living in Europe for over 40 years. Obviously, due to lack of support inside Syria, this opposition had no chance of coming to power via elections, so they turned to the only option available to them — overthrowing the current government with weapons.

They began pitting religious confessions against one another and at the same time sending in foreign insurgents. The proof of this can be found in the latest UN report, which lists armed people from 29 countries (!) fighting against the Syrian army.

They use foreign weapons that cannot be purchased in Syria, which we filmed, and which the Syrian army does not have, including M16 sniper rifles, European machine guns, various anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as advanced satellite communications equipment which is openly provided to them by certain Western states.

These weapons are first sent to Turkey (evidence of this was provided by an Egyptian businessman), then given to the FSA by Turkish officers on the border.  This was witnessed by a Lebanese journalist who tried to film it but was arrested in Turkey for three days and had her camera broken.

By the way, the border between Syria and Turkey is controlled by the Turkish army due to an agreement between the two countries signed in 1998. There is no Syrian border patrol. I have been there and I have seen it.

In addition Western states openly provide the opposition, which is composed largely of foreigners, with money. Because of all this, it is hard to call what is happening in Syria a civil war, although now they managed to divide the people and there are cases when half of a family is fighting for the government and the other half against it.

Do you think there could be a peaceful solution?

I think it is the only way to end this crisis. Most wars between countries at some point stopped by signing a peace agreement. The situation on the ground is this: all the major cities are still controlled by the government. After more than a year of fierce fighting armed groups still couldn’t create any strongholds or take the main part of the territory. They keep splitting up because some lose financial support, some end up looting, some already began battling foreign insurgents, some join al-Qaida, which is also fighting against Syria and which, if I may remind you, is officially named a terrorist group. So with whom should they negotiate? Even the UN monitors couldn’t find any single leader of these armed groups and another attempt to reach a ceasefire had failed. And yet, in his recent speech the president once again stressed his readiness to negotiate, but this time he openly referred to the foreign sponsors of the militants. Unfortunately, a peaceful solution does not seem to be on their agenda — they’ve already rejected his offer.

Why did you realize this documentary? Have you been asked by your superior or was it your initiative?

The original decision to send me to Syria was made by my superiors, but naturally, during the course of my work there I made friends, many of whom were subsequently killed. I went to Syria to report facts, but in time I realized that people are not facts — they are people, and I felt their pain in my own heart.

This movie was my personal initiative. It was an emotional response to the events which I was reporting. I made it to honour my fallen friends and the people of Syria, who don’t care about politics and who just want to live in peace.

Fortunately, my job provides me an outlet to get this point across to many people, and I used this opportunity, although getting my superiors to approve this film was not that easy.

We have received criticism that Russia 24 is a channel that only reflects the position of the Russian government: what can you reply?

It’s easy to attack the messenger when you don’t like the message. When people see reports done from comfortable hotel rooms in Lebanon, citing “unverified information” from activists about supposed government atrocities, they chant “Yes! Yes! Kill the evil dictator!”, but when someone actually spends considerable time in Syria trying to figure out what’s going on, then comes back and says, “Hey guys, that is not AT ALL what is happening…”, people brand it as government propaganda. So what can I reply? That a ticket to Syria is not that expensive and its borders are open. Over 300 foreign media outlets worked there and sent their reports via the Internet, freely and without any censorship from the Syrian government; 3G is available all over the country. If you do not trust me, “a young reporter from a state-owned Russian channel”, go and see for yourself. But don’t be surprised to end up in an alternate reality.

There is a good example from The Independent: “I have now been in Damascus for 10 days, and every day I am struck by the fact that the situation in areas of Syria I have visited is wholly different from the picture given to the world both by foreign leaders and by the foreign media.”

Another one from The Guardian:

FSA- “There has been no real progress on the fronts and that has affected our sponsors, who haven’t been sending us ammunition…Even the people are fed up with us. We were liberators, but now they denounce us and demonstrate against us. If you want to know the truth you can find it.

What do you think of the attitude of the Russian government regarding the situation in Syria?

I think they are perfectly aware of the situation on the ground and they constantly insist on peace — immediate ceasefire and all-inclusive dialogue. What more can you ask for?

You are going to leave for a well-deserved vacation. Will you return to Syria? What hope do you have about it?

It was not my decision to go there in the first place. I was sent to Syria as a special reporter and I was just doing my job. It’s up to my superiors to decide where I go next but if they say Syria – I guess I will agree.





Human Rights Group Charges U.S. Backs Terrorists in Syria




By Richard Walker

When the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC) says the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is nothing but a bunch of terrorists, one might expect the Obama White House to take note, but instead it has remained silent. The reality is that the United States and its allies, including Israel and major Arab states like Saudi Arabia, have continued to arm, train and fund Arab revolutionary terrorists trying to overthrow the secular Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad. At the same time, Washington has turned a blind eye when confronted with proof that the same revolutionaries have employed the kinds of terror tactics frequently used by our supposed enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The IHRC has not been alone in trying to encourage Washington to look more closely at the militias it has encouraged to lay waste to Syria. Christian churches for the past two years have warned that many of the Syrian opposition groups represent a dangerous mix of Islamists determined to transform Syria into a strict Islamic state. The condemnation of the FSA by Muhammad Shahid Amin Khan, head of the IHRC, has made people around the globe sit up and take notice. He pointed an accusing finger at Turkey, Qatar and the Saudis for arming and funding the Arab revolutionaries, claiming their strategy was having a destabilizing effect on other Muslim countries. In his opinion, Syria was being subjected to the same kind of terrorism one associated with Pakistan and Afghanistan. The countries he singled out for criticism, however, are merely a front for the bigger players in the mix, namely the U.S., Britain, France and Israel.

Khan also accused the Western media and Arab nations of deliberately distorting the truth about the Syrian conflict. There is clear evidence D.C. and its allies have deliberately obscured the horror inflicted by Arab revolutionaries operating under the FSA, which is now controlled by an umbrella group, the National Council for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. It received Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s blessing in December 2012.

The umbrella group is comprised of a motley bunch of organizations, the most powerful being the Muslim Brotherhood. There are also bodies like the Syrian Liberation Front representing numerous Islamist brigades and the Syrian Islamic Front that controls a variety of extreme, radical militias.

President Barack Obama has consistently refused to respond to legitimate concerns raised by a variety of organizations about the dangers of replacing the Assad regime with one led by sectarian extremists funded by the Saudis and Qataris. In September 2012, a Pew Research poll showed a majority of Americans were opposed to the policy of arming Syrian opposition groups. The Barnabus Fund has warned if Washington and its allies turn away from atrocities committed against Christians by elements of FSA, the Christian church in Syria, as happened in Iraq, could quickly decline and never recover.





The west's addiction to war is spreading terrorism, not reducing it




John Rees, a national officer of Stop the War Coalition, was interviewed on RT television about the French intervention in Mali, supported by the UK government.

RT: Paris says it's waging 'a war against terrorism' in Mali – So its goals seem noble at least …

John Rees: Well, we’ve heard this so many times. I’m surprised that they haven’t bored themselves by repeating this line.

We heard it over Afghanistan, we heard it over Iraq. We heard it over Libya and we should recall that more than a decade ago, at the beginning of this process, the head of the security service in Britain warned the then PM Tony Blair that the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq which spread the threat of terrorism, not reduce it.

That warning has proved sadly absolutely correct. There was no Al-Qaeda in Iraq before we invaded it- there is now. Al-Qaeda had not spread to Pakistan in the way that it has now since the invasion of Afghanistan. As we heard from your correspondent, the intervention in Libya has led directly to the spread of al- Qaeda in Mali now. We should at least have learned by now that this is not the way you reduce the threat of terrorism, this is actually the way in which you bolster it, in which you increase its attractiveness to young people in the region.

RT: Should France just sit back and let terrorism and extremism reign over Mali where it could perhaps become a haven for extremism and terrorism and just threaten regional stability but become a base for terrorist operation worldwide…

JR: If the French want to do something about reducing the antagonism between their state and the Muslim people both in France and abroad, they should start at home. They should start withdrawing the laws which make it illegal for women to wear Islamic hair dresses in France. They should withdraw the law that now makes it illegal for Muslims to pray in the streets in France. Perhaps if they want better relations with the Muslim world, they could start by bettering the relations with the Muslim community in France itself. That would be a far more significant step forward than bombing yet another Muslim country.

RT: When will African nations be left to solve their internal problems by themselves – without foreign interference?

JR: I think when they stand up to the imperial powers. I think it is a mistake on the part of the Mali government, no matter what its difficulties to call for help from the very who are people responsible since colonial times for so much of a disaster in that part of the world. Only a small look North and East would tell you that in the Middle East constant attention of the imperial powers have generation after generation worsened the problem not made it better.

RT: The dust has not yet settled since the Libyan military campaign spearheaded by France – and the country is at war once again – will the French public support it?

JR: They may well do. I think your correspondent was right when they said that there is very little difference in Sarkozy response over Libya and Hollande’s response over the Mali crisis. That is sad because Hollande promised so much. Its his inability to deliver on the domestic front, his inability to live up to the high hopes that many in France hoped that he would deal with austerity, which has driven him into incredibly reckless foreign policy in a hope that it would bolster his poll ratings.

These gambles sometimes turnout to be correct but in recent history in Europe they often turned out to be incorrect. It was the end of Blair the premiership- when he attacked Iraq. It took some years to work himself through but that is what happened. Hollande needs to look at that and wonder whether or not he wants to tread the same path.






Retired British spies recruited to hack into Syrian governments's communication network

British intelligence chiefs are recruiting retired spies to help terrorists in Syria beat the Syrian government forces by hacking into their communication systems.

Dozens of former ­technicians, expert signals analysts and code-breakers have been approached,according to Daily mail.

An intelligence source said: “Britain has had an arm’s-length policy towards helping the rebellion in Syria but aiding the rebellion in listening into regime force plans will be a huge help.

“The battles being fought in Syria are localised, therefore the communications between local commanders are fairly basic.”

The former spies will set up base in Turkey and teach Syrian rebels how to crack the systems, which the Russians helped to set up.


No one has the last word on Syria

By  M K Bhadrakumar

Asia  Times


Is the crunch time coming?

What is apparently on the cards is a process of formation of a transitional government in Syria.

To my mind, The Syrian president will remain where he is through this year and into the early part of next year when his presidential term ends.

The next big question will be : Will the Syrian opposition countenance the president’s continuance? The odds, again, are that they will.

Such an impression becomes unavoidable from the joint press conference by the Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers last week at Riyadh...What the Saudi FM Saud Al-Faisal didn’t say struck me as very meaningful : he didn’t repeat the Saudi demand that the president should forthwith step down.

On the other hand, what Faisal actually said was rather interesting; he said the way out of the crisis in Syria and “the conditions for a solution are the responsibility of the Syrian people.” 

Faisal’s remarks take added meaning when we factor in that in the ‘rare speech’ by the president later in the weekend in Damascus, he didn’t criticize Saudi Arabia for arming and funding the Syrian rebels although he said some very harsh things about the countries that are fueling the sectarianism in Syria.

(Interestingly, Faisal also hit out at the specter of the hydra-headed monster of sectarianism rearing its head in the region).

To be sure, the Saudis feel uneasy about the rise of Muslim Brotherhood....The UAE claims it just smashed up a clandestine MB cell.

On the contrary, Qatar has become the big-time patron of the MB...Qatar just announced that it is doubling the financial assistance to the MB-led government in Egypt to a princely sum of $5 billion.

Qatar is loosening the purse on the eve of the visit by the Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi to Cairo, the first ‘bilateral’ by an Iranian FM for decades...Syria is bound to figure at Salehi’s talks in Cairo.

Surely, from all accounts, Egypt’s MB has some big choices to make between Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia — and, vis-a-vis the situation in Syria or Jordan....Conceivably, Egypt’s MB leaders being master tacticians will make multiple choices.

Equally, the Saudi-Qatari divergence over Syria puts Turkey in some dilemma...This may partly explain why Turkish rhetoric against the president has lately diminished...Some rethinking on Syria is apparently going on...At any rate, Ankara is refocusing seriously on the Kurdish problem and may be approaching the threshold of a reopening of the peace track with the PKK...The developments in Syria would have a bearing on the peace track with PKK.

Thus, the short point becomes clear : Russian and American diplomats meeting in Geneva  cannot pretend that they own Syria....An Iranian expert recently noted, “It is true that Russia and the US are the two influential powers in Syria’s developments...But this does not mean that if they agree on an issue, it will be certainly implemented in Syria...Of course, both these powers play determining roles, but they do not control all developments in Syria....A general conclusion must be reached based on all the views within Syria and those of the countries which impact the trend of the crisis, including France, Iran, Turkey, Q

And I say Syrian people has the last word in Syria, we reject the foreign interference, and as our president said" that dialogue is the only solution", through dialogue we can achieve the supreme national interest.


A new scenario for undermining the resistance front

Faresnews-Spokesman for the national security and foreign policy committee of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) warned the Iraqi nation against the scenario to make the country insecure.

According to IRIB, commenting on the recent unrest in Iraq and the demonstration in Al-Anbar region, Seyyed Hussein Naqavi Husseini added that the west’s frustration of toppling Bashar Assad’s government has made enemies scheme a new scenario for undermining the resistance front.

Noting that the west and the reactionary regimes of the region try to put into action the Syrian model in Iraq, the Iranian legislator made it clear that creating sectarian war and putting different tribes against each other is an attempt started by the west after the stability has been set up in the country.

Stressing that the tensions in Iraq are indeed Western-Arab sedition, Naqavi Husseini went on to say, “The west and some of the reactionary Arab states of the region seek to pave the grounds of implementing their foiled scenario of Syria via creating crisis.”

The spokesman for the national security and foreign policy committee of the Iranian parliament elaborated that the western and Arab regimes are pursuing to put obstacles on the course of the Iraqi government adding that, through the movement of the Iraqi government and nation toward political, economic stability and finding a significant role in the regional and global developments, today Iraq has found a special status after Saddam’s ouster that is disliked by some countries.


occupation orders Palestinians out of 'tent city'

The Israeli Civil Administration has given Palestinian activists an ultimatum to quit a protest camp in part of the occupied West Bank where Israel has vowed to build new settler homes.

As Palestinian politicians and others visited the site on Saturday in a show of support, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement affirming his military's order and asking that the "High Court of Justice rescind the injunction that it had issued and which is delaying the evacuation".

The statement also declared the "closure of access roads to the area in order to prevent gatherings".

More than 200 activists erected the 20-tent "outpost" on Friday in the sensitive West Bank corridor east of Jerusalem where Palestinians say Israeli settlement construction would make the creation of a viable Palestinian state highly problematic.

The protesters modelled their action on the wildcat outposts set up by Israeli settler activists on Palestinian land in a bid to force the government's hand into authorising settlement activity.

"Members of the Israeli Civil Administration told us this morning that we have one hour to evacuate the site," one of the organisers, Abir Kopty, told the AFP news agency.

"We have no intention of leaving of our own accord," she said, adding that the Israeli authorities had declared the area a "closed military zone" and demanded that the activists leave, but had made no demand for the tents to be taken down.

'Highly creative' action

The Israeli military administration had issued previous expulsion orders against the activists but late on Friday they successfully petitioned the Israeli supreme court for the orders to be frozen.

Late on Saturday morning, Israeli security forces were deployed near the camp and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

More than 50 more activists managed to reach the camp from the West Bank city of Ramallah to join the activists and others were trying to do so from the city of Hebron, organisers said on Twitter.

Palestinian politicians, including member of parliament Mustafa Barghouti, also made solidarity visits to the protest camp, where activists were recovering from a freezing night under canvas amid the cold snap gripping the Middle East.

PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said soldiers prevented him from joining the protest on Saturday and told him to turn back to Ramallah, just down the hill from the camp.

The protest outpost, dubbed Bab al-Shams (Gate of the Sun in Arabic), was welcomed on Friday by a senior Palestinian official who described it as a "highly creative and legitimate non-violent" way of protecting Palestinian land from Israeli settlement activity.

The camp lies between annexed East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim.

The international community regards all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land as illegal.