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Analysis: West’s failure to hold Syria’s Assad accountable motivated Russia’s Putin

The international community’s failure to stop mass killings and tyranny in Syria paved the way for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to proceed with his invasion of parts of Ukraine in 2014 and then again this year.

This issue was thrust back into the limelight last week when Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the UN Security Council.

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Last week also marked five years since Syria’s air force dropped a Russian bomb with Sarin gas on Khan Sheikhoun, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians.

“The chain of mass killings from Syria to Somalia, from Afghanistan to Yemen and Libya should have been stopped a long time ago to be honest,” Zelenskyy said during a powerful speech to Security Council members, urging them not to allow Russia to continue to go unpunished for its war crimes.

“If tyranny had ever received such a response to the war it had unleashed that it would have ceased to exist and a fair peace would have been guaranteed after it, the world would have changed for sure,” Zelenskyy said.

Former US officials and analysts concur.

“This was our best shot to send Putin a strong deterrence message. Alas, the Obama administration was not interested in getting more involved in Syria,” said Randa Slim, a program director at the Middle East Institute. “Obama felt Putin would be stuck in a quagmire in Syria, which was good news for the US.”

Former US President Barack Obama notoriously warned the Assad regime in 2012 that if it used chemical weapons, it would cross a “red line” and be met with a response.

Chemical weapons were widely used, and the Obama administration failed to act.

“Some in the Obama [administration] thought the Russians [could] present a challenge to Iran’s game in Syria. Others were hoping that the Russian intervention [would] decelerate the momentum of ISIS military advances,” Slim told Al Arabiya English.

A similar warning was made by Obama when it came to Ukraine in 2014 as Russia annexed Crimea.

Former US Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said Russia was “overestimated” as a military superpower twice in less than 50 years.

“In overestimating Russian power, we failed to secure vital interests & let unnecessary disasters unfold in Syria & elsewhere. Time to learn,” Joel Rayburn tweeted.

But Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Syria was not a failure in standing up to the Russians.

“It was something worse. It was a deliberate two-step between Obama and Putin, in the service of Obama’s realignment strategy with Iran,” Badran said. “And it was paid for not only in Syria, but also, simultaneously, in Ukraine. And very specifically, at the expense of NATO.”

Since late last year, the US had warned that Russia was preparing for a military invasion of Ukraine while Moscow repeatedly denied what has now been proven as credible.

The Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and Putin’s monthslong isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic are believed to have factored into the Russian president’s decision to greenlight the invasion.

Jomana Qaddour, head of the Syria Portfolio at the Atlantic Council, said Putin made an “advanced audit” of US and European will and interest before proceeding in Ukraine.

“Time and time again in Syria, Putin saw the US willing to concede space for Russian presence and objectives, rather than respond in return and create more of a ‘deconfliction mechanism’ whereby some mutual interests might have been served, but Russian interests did not reign supreme,” Qaddour told Al Arabiya English.

Pointing to the “countless demons” in Syria, including Iranian and Russian-backed militias, ISIS, and the Assad regime, Qaddour said: “With results such as this, I’m not sure Putin would have expected significant Western pushback in Ukraine.”

For his part, Brian Katulis, the VP of policy at the Middle East Institute, said: “As you watch Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine unfold – don’t forget: This moment was brought to you in part by those who said they were “proud” America did not engage more deeply in Syria. And those who called for “restraint” or shrugged their shoulders.”

Read more: Russia using same tactics in Ukraine as in Syria: Ukraine FM Kuleba

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Ukraine army denies claims Lysychansk is ‘encircled’

The Ukrainian army on Saturday rejected claims that Moscow-backed separatists and Russian forces had surrounded the key eastern city of Lysychansk, but said heavy fighting was ongoing on its edges.
“Fighting rages around Lysychansk. (But) luckily the city has not been encircled and is under control of the Ukrainian army,” Ruslan Muzytchuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard, said on Ukrainian television, after a separatist spokesman made the allegations earlier in the day.
Capturing the city would allow the Russians to push deeper into the wider eastern region of the Donbas, which has become the focus of their offensive since failing to capture Kyiv after launching their military operation in Ukraine in late February.
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Across the Donets river from Lysychansk, the Russians seized the neighboring city Sievierodonetsk last week.
Andrei Marotchko, a spokesman for the separatist forces, earlier told the TASS news agency: “Today the Luhansk popular militia and Russian forces occupied the last strategic heights, which allows us to confirm that Lysychansk is completely encircled.”
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China adds $45 billion in stimulus to pay for infrastructure projects

China announced another stimulus measure to finance infrastructure projects, part of its push to drive investment and increase employment in the second half of this year as the economy starts to recover from the effects of Covid lockdowns.

The government will raise 300 billion yuan ($44.8 billion) to finance infrastructure projects by selling financial bonds and other methods, the State Council chaired by Premier Li Keqiang decided Wednesday, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.

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Those bonds are usually sold by policy banks. The money will be used to replenish the capital of major projects such as new types of infrastructure, the statement on Thursday said.

These types of financial tools can help expand effective investment, drive employment and facilitate consumption and allow China to stick to its stance of “not flooding the economy with stimulus or over-printing money,” the meeting concluded, adding that this will help banks achieve a better match between their loans and deposits and improve the transmission of monetary policy.

The People’s Bank of China will take the lead to support China Development Bank and Agricultural Development Bank of China to raise the funds via financial bonds, according to a late Friday report by Financial News, a newspaper published by the central bank.

The top economic planner will come up with a list of projects for the investment, in collaboration with other agencies and state-owned enterprises, it said.

Infrastructure projects are a key factor in determining how fast the economy can grow in the remaining six months of this year as other sources of growth such as housing and private consumption are still slowing.

President Xi Jinping pledged last month to strive to meet economic targets for the year, although Beijing’s Covid Zero strategy has caused analysts to cut their forecasts for annual growth to levels far below the official goal of around 5.5 percent.

The announcement lifted the share price of heavy equipment makers in the onshore market. SANY Heavy Industry Co. climbed 4.1 percent on Friday, Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. gained 4.9 percent and Jiangsu Hengli Hydraulic Co. rose 1.9 percent, while the benchmark CSI 300 Index dipped 0.4 percent.

New Stimulus

The new stimulus can in theory leverage as much as 1.2 trillion yuan in credit from the banking sector and capital markets, based on the government requirement that the money should be at least 20 percent of overall investment, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. economists including Lu Ting.

But its impact in reality could be much smaller, and won’t be enough to plug an estimated 6 trillion yuan funding gap that the government has to fill if it wants to carry out its proactive fiscal policy, they wrote in a note Friday.

Local authorities are under huge financial stress this year due to the cost of Covid controls and tax cuts, as well as a slump in land sales that reduced a key source of revenue.

The new money is in addition to the 800 billion yuan the three policy banks were told in June to lend for infrastructure projects. That loan quota has already been allocated to the policy banks, local newspaper the 21st Century Business Herald reported Friday, citing sources it didn’t identify.

China Development Bank was allowed to boost lending by 400 billion yuan, Agricultural Development Bank of China’s quota for new credit was 300 billion yuan and another 100 billion yuan was assigned to the Export-Import Bank of China, the newspaper reported.

The development banks’ main source of funds is issuing bonds or loans from China’s central bank, although it hasn’t been announced where the money to finance these new loans will come from.

The size of the additional bonds is only a fraction of what the policy banks normally issue in a year. The banks sold a gross amount of 5.5 trillion yuan bonds in the interbank market last year, with a monthly average of 460 billion yuan, according to Bloomberg calculation based on Chinabond and Shanghai Clearing House data. Between January and May this year, they issued 2.3 trillion yuan in bonds.

The State Council, which is China’s cabinet, also vowed to implement a batch of investment projects that are aimed at increasing workers’ income and boosting their consumption.

These projects will have to spend more than 30 percent of central government funding on paying workers, up from 15 percent previously.

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UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital Tripoli and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
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Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December following challenges including legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
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