south front for tuesday nov 24

Saudi Arabia Receives Dangerous Gifts From Houthi-Iranian Alliance
South Front, Nov 24 2020

The Yemeni Houthis have fired their new cruise missile, the Quds-2, at a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station in the kingdom’s city of Jeddah, the group’s media news wing announced early on Nov 23. A spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Houthi-led government, Yahya Sarea, said foreign companies and residents in Saudi Arabia should stay away from the military and oil infrastructure of Saudi Arabia as “operations will continue”. He emphasized that the missile precisely hit its target causing notable damage. The Houthis claim that the Quds-2 is a new generation “winged missile” produced by their Missile Forces. As always, the missile was likely assembled thanks to technical assistance from Iran or Iranian-supplied components. That facility is located southeast of Jeddah’s King Abd’ul-Aziz International Airport. Over the past years, the Houthis have repeatedly pounded the military section of the airport with missiles and drones. Therefore, it was just the question of time, when the nearby oil infrastructure would be hit. At the same time, the Saudi side remains silent regarding the impact of the Houthi missile strike. This is an ordinary posture of Saudi Arabia towards Houthi missile and drone strikes. The Kingdom censors social media, denies any damage and claims that all targets were intercepted, if it appears possible and that no visual evidence of destruction are leaked immediately. Also, the main oil production and export facilities of Aramco are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, more than 1000km across the country from Jeddah. Therefore, Riyadh likely believes that it can silence another setback in the ongoing war with the Yemeni movement.

In Sep 2019, when the Houthis, with probable help from Iran, put out of service almost a half of Saudi oil infrastructure by hitting targets in Abqaiq and Khurais, the Kingdom was vowing a powerful response and the full destruction of Houthi missile and drone capabilities. However, a year later, the situation on the ground in Yemen for Saudi-backed forces became even worse and the widely-promoted ‘great Saudi victory’ over the Houthis turned into ashes. In recent months, Saudi-led forces lost the battle for the Yemeni province of Bayda, and now they seem to be losing the battle for Marib. Recently they retreated from the key Maas Base and the route for the potential Houthi advance on the provincial capital is almost open. The denial of the facts on the ground and the air dominance of the Kingdom did not help it to achieve a victory in the war. In turn, it’s the Houthis who have put themselves in the position that allowed them to turn the tide of the conflict. With the current trend in the Yemeni conflict, Saudi Arabia will apparently have to pay an even bigger price for its intervention in the Arab country.

Saudi Arabia Admits That Houthi Missile Struck Its Oil Facility On Red Sea Coast
South Front, Nov 24 2020

Saudi Arabia has finally admitted that a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthis struck its oil facility located on the Red Sea coast, near the city of Jeddah. According to reports, the missile strike on Saudi Aramco oil facility caused an explosion and a fire in a fuel tank. The strike occurred on November 23, just after the kingdom hosted a virtual summit of G20 nations, and more than a year after a large–scale missile and drone strike of major Aramco sites that caused turmoil on global oil markets.

Military Situation In Nagorno-Karabakh
South Front, Nov 24 2020

A brief overview of the recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh region:

  • On Nov 23, a Russian peacekeeper, 4 employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic were wounded and an Azerbaijani soldier was killed in a mine explosion near Mataghis;
  • On Nov 23, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited the city of Agdam;
  • On Nov 24, Russian engineering units continue their work on engineering reconnaissance and mine clearance in the areas of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Karabakh;
  • On Nov 25, the district of Kalbajar is expected to be transfered to Azerbaijan.

Russian Peacekeepers Clear Out Mines, As Azerbaijan’s President Visits “Liberated Aghdam District”
South Front, Nov 24 2020

In Armenia, on Nov 24, ex-Constitutional Court judge Kim Balayan said that Pashinyan had violated the Constitution by signing the Karabakh War peace deal with Azerbaijan. According to him, Article 116 of the Constitution clearly establishes which issues should be regulated by international agreements. Pashinyan could have signed an agreement on a humanitarian truce, but the statement on Nov 9 is fundamentally different. Balayan’s claims were also addressed to Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan and the head of the Special Investigation Service Sasun Khachatryan, who have not yet initiated a criminal case on the fact of overthrowing the constitutional order. Balayan decided to hold a hunger strike with until his demands are met. Otherwise, he will “join the 5k soldiers who gave their lives.” Relatives of the missing and captured people met with Pashinyan, who said:

I want to apologize to all of you for the fact that so far our state agencies have not been able to answer your questions. There are objective and subjective reasons for this. These meetings will continue, and I shall meet with all relatives.

Nikol Pashinyan still refuses to resign, and protests are on-going in Armenia. As for the Russian peacekeeping contingent, it launched an operation South of Stepanakert. Russian military personnel continue to carry out tasks in the regions of Nagorno-Karabakh, where fierce fighting has recently taken place. Arrived specialists of engineering and sapper divisions began work in the dangerous zone of the stopped military operations. On Nov 23, the center for humanitarian demining from the center (interdepartmental, humanitarian response) conducted an engineering survey of the area on the southern outskirts of Stepanakert. In total, 1 hectare of territory was surveyed, 7 artillery shells, 2 RPG shots and one powder charge were found. So far, 23 observation posts have been set up in the Sothern and Northern zones of responsibility of Karabakh. Since Nov 14, over 11k Armenian refugees have returned. Between Nov 21-22 alone, 2,334 refugees returned from Armenia. The An-124, Il-76 and Tu-154 aircraft of the Military Transport Aviation of the Aerospace Forces of Russia from the Chkalovsky airfield near Moscow delivered specialists, equipment and hardware, as well as service dogs of the International Mine Action Centre of the Russian Ministry of Defense to perform tasks in the zone of the peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 100 servicemen of the centre, 13 pieces of military and special equipment, including multifunctional robotic demining complexes Uran 6, armored personnel carriers and armored vehicles were delivered to the airfields of the Yerevan city. The demining operations are on-going, one of the stages of work on the survey of the area for the presence of explosive objects is the study of the positions on which stationary posts will be built to serve the Russian peacekeepers. The servicemen participating in demining are equipped in modern protective suits of a sapper and are armed with modern means of searching for explosive objects: mine detectors IMP-S2 and searchers INVU-3M. Separately, a video was released showing the last battle of Shusha, when Azerbaijan entirely turned the tide of the war. The video is 18+ and as an age-restricted video cannot be embedded, it can be freely seen on YouTube. Aliyev visited the region of Aghdam, which was surrendered to Azerbaijan on Nov 20, and Azeri soldiers entered the area. He says in the video:

Look at the enemy’s line of defense! The enemy had several lines of defense all the way to the city of Aghdam. Look at that! Now we are driving into the liberated lands. The destination is the city of Aghdam. We have liberated the city of Aghdam and the occupied lands of Aghdam district without firing a single shot. We have defeated the enemy on the battlefield and forced them to withdraw from Aghdam district. Look, here is another line of defense! On the right are the houses of Azerbaijani citizens destroyed by the enemy. Let the whole world see what the savage enemy has done to our villages, what savages we were facing, what savages we have defeated! The whole world should see this! There is not a single safe building here! Everything is destroyed! They have destroyed our houses and villages. They exploited our lands. The enemy will be held accountable for all the war crimes. We will also invite journalists to Aghdam, including foreign journalists and representatives of the diplomatic corps. Let them come and see!

Aliyev continues presenting it as a great victory, even though Azerbaijan simply got what it was supposed to get under the previous Minsk agreements, and little more.

Armenian Ombudsman Investigates Azerbaijani War Crimes, Baku Plays Victim
South Front, Nov 24 2020

On Nov 22, the Office of the Ombudsman of Armenia Arman Tatoyan received a signal that a few days prior during the recent war the Azeri military beheaded an Armenian soldier. He urgently initiated an investigation into this report and published the results. In the course of the commenced production, it turned out that on Oct 16 at about 1 pm a serviceman of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces called the brother of the Armenian soldier and said that the latter was with them, they beheaded him and intend to post the corresponding photo on the Internet. Subsequently, a few hours later, the brother of the killed Armenian soldier found the deceased’s photo published on his page on the social network. Tatoyan said:

We are convinced that it was the servicemen of the Azerbaijani army who posted the picture of the Armenian soldier on his page on the social network. The brother of the deceased spoke twice on the phone with the Azerbaijani military, who mocked him, tried to humiliate him in every possible way, spoke the language of enmity and hatred. human rights brother of the deceased Armenian soldier, calls were made from the phone number of the deceased. These are cruel and barbaric, openly terrorist methods. We also recorded other cases of torture and barbarism by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, and work in this direction continues. All data are duly documented and will be submitted to the relevant international bodies. The perpetrators of such crimes must inevitably be punished to the fullest extent of international criminal law. We possess videos and photographs demonstrating the cruel, inhuman treatment of Armenian prisoners of war by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. These show how the Azerbaijani military humiliate people, and then kill them with special cynicism and cruelty. The speech of the representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces is filled with hatred of the Armenians. These videos were replicated on the Internet by Azerbaijani sources. Children and elderly people could see them. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry issued a denial, stating that the department had nothing to do with these videos. After that, these records began to be deleted from Azerbaijani sources. However, we recorded all sources in a timely manner. We have established the exact place and hour of the crimes committed by the Azerbaijani military. Video recordings and photographs are already considered incontrovertible legal evidence of a war crime. These will be sent with the necessary description to international structures.

Separately, to prove that the Armenian side was also cruel with the Azerbaijani soldiers, a video was released purportedly showing an Azerbaijani soldier being tortured.

The video shows a bloodied Azerbaijani soldier being slapped by medical personnel so as not to black out. The part of the video that’s shown makes it appear as if he is being treated roughly. The entire video, however, is a report by Anna News in which it is shown how the Azerbaijani soldier is provided with medical aid.

Purely due to coincidence, of course, Anna News is now entirely banned for access from Azerbaijan soil.

Lessons Learned From Second Nagorno-Karabakh War
Thurisaz Solutions, South Front, Nov 23 2020

On Nov 10 2020, the Republic of Armenia signed a ceasefire with Azerbaijan, agreeing to hand over nearly a fifth of the territory within its sphere of influence prior to the signing. While maintaining the Lachin corridor, as well as a passageway to Stepanakart, the former capital of the self proclaimed Artsakh Republic; the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, was forced to accept a peace agreement returning all surrounding territories to Azeribaijani control, as well as permitting Russian Peacekeepers to set up observation posts throughout the Lachin corridor and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Leading up to this historic agreement was a bloody, and largely one-sided conflict in which Azerbaijan proved once and for all that a new generation of warfare has arrived

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh as well as the surrounding territories have been fiercely contested between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Initially the undisputed territory of Azerbaijan, the regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh have been under the de-facto control of the Artsakh Republic, an autonomous region within the Armenian sphere of influence, since the brutal First Nagorno-Karabakh War ended in 1994. During this war more than 700k Azerbaijani civilians were displaced from the region, causing enormous friction in the years following the OSCE-brokered ceasefire, as they were not permitted to return to their homes after the territorial handover took place. While the territory surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh has remained de-jure Azerbaijani, internationally recognized to be so, the negotiations regarding their return remained fruitless for the 26 years they had been underway.

Baku, growing increasingly dissatisfied with this lack of progress, began to consider military options during the mid-2010s. Border skirmishes became a common occurrence, with hundreds of Azerbaijani and Armenian troops being killed and wounded in the years before the 2020 conflict. In 2016, a large scale flare-up in the fighting brought tensions to a fever-pitch, with more than 100 combatants being killed. This also served as confirmation for the Azeri military that they were truly a match for Armenia. While undesirably large casualties were suffered, the advance had been extremely rapid; in some cases with Armenian positions being overrun in a matter of hours from the beginning of operations. Taking note of these results, Azerbaijan’s government began to remedy them in the form of further military modernization and expansion. Large deals between Israel and Turkey provided Baku with loitering munitions such as the IAI Harop, developed by Israel, and the Bayraktar 2 reconnaissance drone, built by Turkey. The Azerbaijani military also began a general restructuring of their tactics, aiming for a truly multi-domain capability rather than the two-dimensional operational thinking common amongst second-rate powers. In order to make this happen, Baku increased their defense budget by more than 60% between 2016 and 2020.

Following further skirmishes in 2017 and 2018, the gloves finally came off on Sep 27 2020. Initial skirmishes along the line of contact led to the declaration of martial law in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the beginning stages of mobilization by the Armenian Military. The following day, Azerbaijan began its own mobilization efforts. Much to the consternation of the UN and the International Community at large, Azerbaijan did not relent and continued its offensive actions past the first skirmishes. Following initial moderately successful counter-attacks by Armenia in an effort to retake lost positions, the lines became relatively static for the following days despite intense clashes between the two forces. As early as the beginning of October, the Armenian lines began to crack. Intense usage of long-range artillery with observation drones in a forward observer role started to take their effect on Armenian manpower and morale. Azerbaijani forces were able to advance in both the Northern and Southern sectors of fighting throughout the beginning of the month; and following incremental Azerbaijani advances, on Oct 10 Russia brokered an initial Ceasefire between the two sides. However, within a matter of hours this ceasefire fell apart and hostilities resumed across the entire front.

Throughout mid-October the advantage shifted further and further towards Azerbaijan. The Republic of Artsakh began losing more and more territory, and the Armenian aligned military forces continued losing more and more men and equipment. It was at this point where Azerbaijan began exerting more operational dominance on the battlefield. By Oct 19, Azerbaijani forces had occupied a significant portion of southern Artsakh, and were successfully holding their gains in the north as well. Hundreds, if not thousands of Armenians had been killed by this point, and hundreds of trucks, tanks, and other pieces of military equipment had been destroyed by Azerbaijani drones and artillery. Following yet another unsuccessful Russia-brokered ceasefire, Azerbaijani offensives resumed in the South. Armenian and Artsakh forces were forced into a total retreat, being continuously targeted by unseen drones, loitering munitions, and shelling.

At this point the air defenses within Nagorno-Karabakh had been utterly dismantled by effective Azerbaijani use of air assets, such as the IAI Harop that Baku had previously acquired. A notable image encapsulates the conflict by showing the moment before a Harop impacts into an S-300PS Transporter Erector Launcher. By the beginning of November, the entire Artsakh-Iranian border had been occupied by Azerbaijani forces, and the Armenian aligned forces were on a distinct strategic backfoot. With morale at an all time high for Azerbaijan, their forces pivoted to the Northwest to begin an offensive targeting Stepanakart, the capital of The Republic of Artsakh. Within a matter of days, large scale breakthroughs had been made, as the shattered remnants of the Armenian aligned forces hastily attempted to halt the Azerbaijani advance. However, the Armenian forces were no longer capable of any significant impact on the battlefield, and the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, was forced to the negotiating table after the fall of Shusha, the second largest city in Nagorno Karabakh, and the last stronghold before Stepanakart.

It is essential to take lessons from this war, due to a number of key properties it displayed. The usage of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) is impossible for any nation not to take note of. Unlike in prior conflicts, aerial capabilities are no longer exclusive to large powers, and can be employed to enormous effect by any military regardless of size or funding. There is no longer an ability to fight a nation state without considering the aerial dimension of the conflict, and air defense capabilities must be high up on the priority list of any military planner. Had the Armenian air defenses been competent and extensive, the war may have turned out significantly differently. The employment of stand-off loitering munitions also holds with it enormous consequences for future conflicts. Relatively inexpensive precision guided munitions are proliferating massively, and as a result any concentrated military formation or emplacement is vulnerable from the air.

While in the past it may have sufficed to entrench military hardware to protect it, modern warfare now dictates that such two-dimensional thinking is a recipe for disaster. Even small, lightly-funded militaries are now capable of precision stand-off strikes without putting their forces at risk. The most important effect of these two new factors is that wars are likely to be more relegated to stand-off engagements, rather than troop-on-troop kinetic fights. If it is possible to dismantle a military without ever putting a soldier in harm’s way, a commander will undoubtedly choose that option. It is likely there will be a shift from typical “troop” movements towards an initial battle for aerial dominance, and an attempt to attrit (sic – RB) enemy air defenses and destroy enemy formations as quickly as possible with cheap stand-off munitions, followed by what is most aptly characterized as “mopping up” by ground formations.

While ground formations are by no means useless, their role has undergone a total change. In a conventional conflict, they no longer are most effective in their offensive capability and ability to destroy the enemy, but rather are now most useful solely to hold off an enemy ground force from being able to deny the use of a military’s aerial assets, and to secure territory following the dismantling of a nation’s military from the air. It is blindingly clear that as soon as Azerbaijani forces were capable of effectively utilizing the air to project power and destroy Armenian aligned formations, the war was as good as won. Nikol Pashinyan had in fact been warned of this eventuality by the fourth day of the conflict, however he had failed to react accordingly. Instead of ensuring a successful and timely mobilization of the nation, he instead issued orders to halt replacements to the front, and opted to send only volunteers to the front lines. Acquisition of new, effective Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) systems such as the Tor-M2KM were also neglected, and instead older 9K33 “Osa” Short Range Air Defense systems were procured.

While simple procurement and mobilization policies would likely not alone have resulted in a victory for Armenia, it would undoubtedly have made the conflict much more difficult for the Azerbaijani military, and a more favorable peace agreement could have been achieved. When one opts to ignore the reality of the modern battlefield in favor of political fantasy as Pashinyan has done, good men die. The Armenian military was not equipped with the necessary tools to wage a modern war, and the result was a crushing defeat, with thousands of unnecessary casualties. If any military seeks to win conflicts in the modern age, it must take these lessons from Nagorno-Karabkh, lest they suffer the same fate.

French police demolish protest camp, after 450 migrants pitch their tents in center of Paris
South Front, Nov 23 2020

Place de la Republique, Nov 23 2020. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

Police in Paris have cleared out a temporary migrant camp set up in the middle of the French capital, clashing with pro-migrant protesters. The demonstrators say the migrants set up the camp to demand accommodation. Rows of identical tents sprung up on the Place de la République in central Paris on Monday. The camp was organized by Utopia56, a migrant advocacy group, who say that the 450 or so migrants in the encampment were left homeless when police cleared 2,000 migrants from a shanty town in the suburb of Saint-Denis last week.

Riot police soon arrived on the scene and started dismantling the pop-up camp.

The sweep didn’t go completely smoothly. Those who refused to leave were muscled out by the riot cops, while pro-migrant protesters who came between the police and the tents were met with batons and shields. Actu reported that some members of the Council of Paris were present, and tried to stop the clearout.

Utopia56 has demanded that the French government provide “1k immediate accommodation places” for homeless migrants, and called on the state to set up a “permanent reception system” to house more entering the country. The total number of illegal migrants living in Paris is unknown. A migrant rights group last year estimated that 2k were sleeping on the streets of the French capital, while a 2018 government report claimed that between 150k and 400k were living either homeless or in accommodation in the suburban region of Seine-Saint-Denis alone.

France To Sacrifice Its Security Amid Growing Terrorist Threat
South Front, Nov 23 2020

Widespread protests are taking place in numerous world regions. The countries in Central and Latin America, such as Peru, Guatemala, Chile, and Brazil, face mass demonstrations against existing political regimes. Armenian defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh region resulted in violence in Yerevan. A wave of protests came in Georgia after the parliamentary elections. The protests do not subside in the European region. The situation in Belarus remains tense after the presidential elections in Aug 2020. The largest protests over the past decades took place in Poland after the introduction of a strict abortion ban. Violent demonstrations and clashes with police are reported in Germany, amid the introduction of new restrictive measures against the COVID pandemic. The entrepreneurs go out on the streets of Spain, Ukraine, Italy, England, where the demonstrations often lead to clashes with law enforcement officers. British police officers are detaining participants of protests against the government’s quarantine measures in Liverpool:

Police actively used water cannons to disperse protesters in Berlin:

Situation remains unstable in France, where, since mid-September, the “yellow jackets” and trade unions protested against job cuts in large employer companies. Mass protests once again flare up in Paris and other big cities. Surprisingly, they are not related to restrictive measures or the economic consequences of the pandemic. This time, the streets are flooded with those who disagreed with the introduction of a new draft law “On global security.” The new law prohibits the distribution on social networks and in the media of any images or videos of law enforcement officers at the time they perform their duties, according to which they can be identified. The purpose of the law project is to protect police officers from threats of persecution by Islamists, radical activists, criminals etc. Article 24 banning filming of law enforcement officials was approved by a large majority on Nov 20 in the first reading by the French National Assembly. This law project provides for a fine of €45k and a year in prison. The day after the adoption at first reading by the Assembly of a text penalizing the malicious dissemination of images of the police officers, demonstrations took place in the center of Paris, this Saturday, Nov 21. Under the knockdown, about 1k people attended the first protests in Paris, but even such a small rally turned into clashes with the police, who were forced to use water cannons and tear gas. Similar demonstrations were held in other cities: Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rennes, Lille. During the protests on Nov 22, at least 23 participants were arrested. Some people, including police officers, were injured. At the same time, some videos demonstrate police support for the protesters. The offiers take off their helmets and show their faces.

The demonstrators are unambiguous about the consequences of the adoption of such a law. The provisions of the draft law threaten the free information of the population and the freedom of press. Journalists do not support this law project because it prevents them from freely reporting on protests or other events where the police are involved. Discontent with journalists in France turned into an acute phase after several journalists were detained at a demonstration on Tuesday, one of them was detained for 12 hours.

The reaction of the Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanen, was not long in coming. The next day, he stated that media personnel must be accredited for each manifestation in order to be able to freely cover the event on the spot. Later, he said that anyone can film and take photos without an accreditation, only the publication of videos and photos of law enforcement officers with captions calling for violence and hatred will be punished. On Saturday, he wrote on his Twitter:

It is in no way intended to accredit or authorize a journalist to cover an event: each journalist is obviously free to do so or not.

As journalists complain about the threat to the principle of freedom of speech, then most of the protesters fear an increase in arbitrariness of law enforcement officials. At the same time, the threat of terrorist acts is growing, number of murders is increasing in the country, gangs and entire diasporas have got out of the control of law enforcement agencies. This was confirmed by the fierce clashes between the Chechen and Arab diasporas in the summer of 2020.

However, the very population of France is likely not to notice the existing threats and continues to persistently promote the neoliberal agenda, while sacrificing their own defenders. Already in the summer, after the Black Lives Matter movement began in the US, France rushed to take action to prevent any kind of racism and sacrificed the safety of its own police officers. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that a racist had no right to wear the uniform of a policeman or gendarme. The minister will not allow discrimination in the ranks of the law enforcement officers, any case will result in suspension from service, investigation and punishment. Policemen and gendarmes were prohibited from performing actions that are potentially life-threatening: no strangulation, pressure on the neck or the back of the head. The police officer, betrayed by her own leadership, managed to bring Castaner to the resignation.

Also today, liberal-minded activists do not think about ensuring the safety of police officers, who are increasingly risking their lives to protect citizens. The population unreasonably fears police brutality more than, for example, the growing terrorist threat. An illustrative example for French citizens could be the Belorussian opposition, who deliberately spreads personal information of the law enforcement officers to expose them and their families to the prosecution. Apparently, such a cruelty and impunity represent the unmitigated good of Western model for opposition activists. The ensuing discussion in the French political establishment confirms the deep contradictions both among the country’s political elites and in society itself. To all appearances, today’s obstacles are just another signal that France is not yet ready to blindly follow a neoliberal, individualistic agenda and remains  to some extent committed to right-wing conservative values.

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