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Ceasefire in Syria is a rare hopeful note at opening of year 2017

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The year 2016 closed on some very bad notes. It was another year of imperialist, regime-change war in Syria causing immense human suffering and physical destruction. Extreme civil war violence continues against the Kurdish people by NATO-member Turkey. A horrific, Western-backed war in Yemen is raging. A low-intensity war against the people of eastern Ukraine is ongoing, against a backdrop of a nuclear-armed NATO military buildup in eastern Europe against Russia.

The election of arch-imperialist Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency and the global warming emergency worsen the picture.

There was, despite it all, a positive note at year's end, which is the ceasefire and proposed political settlement process in Syria. A plan for peace, spearheaded by Russia, was announced on December 29 and endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council on December 31 (news and text of the Security Council resolution here). The agreement proposes an all-party conference to take place soon in Astana, Kazakhstan. The conference will be tasked with discussing and deciding a plan for a post-war Syria. According the text of the Security Council resolution, this must be a "Syrian-led political process."

There are many obstacles to achieving a lasting peace in Syria. Two previous ceasefire settlements in Syria -- February 2016 and September 2016 -- were sabotaged by the United States and its allies.

Notwithstanding the unanimous vote at the UN, the large imperialist countries have not renounced their goal of weakening and overthrowing the sovereign government of Syria. Western media gives voice to this in its treatment of the Syria settlement -- bemoaning it and predicting its imminent demise (see reports here and here). The economic sanctions by the European and North American powers against the Syrian people and government remain in place. And Turkey continues to attack Syrian Kurdish villages and military forces in northern Syria.

Despite the absence of sincere will to peace on the part of the NATO powers, as of January 5, the ceasefire in Syria is largely holding. Reconciliation agreements between the government and rebellious municipalities and regions continue to be signed (see latest news here).

Low-intensity war by Ukrainian regime

A glimmer of hope has emerged, even, in eastern Ukraine. One of the country's wealthiest businessmen published a commentary in the Wall Street Journal on December 29 calling for an end to the civil war being waged by the right-wing governing regime in Kyiv.

Although Victor Pinchuk's commentary voices all the tired, false accusations blaming Russia for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, he nonetheless says it is time to normalize relations with the population of Donbass (eastern Ukraine) and with the Russian government and people. He proposes that Ukraine slow its headlong rush to economic association with austerity Europe, including focusing on repairing damaged relations with Russia.

The Ukrainian government has formally rejected Pinchuk's remonstrances in a letter published in the WSJ on January 4 (2017). But opposition by the Ukrainian population to the government's austerity policies is a powerful factor limiting the Ukrainian elite's anti-Russia ambitions, including its war ambitions in the east. The country is in the grip of a deep economic crisis, including the zero return, or worse, from the abrupt turn to economic association with Europe (see, for example, 'Ukrainian farmers, poised for growth, stumble after EU deal', New York Times, Dec 23, 2016).

Notwithstanding the ongoing shellings and other military provocations by the U.S./UK/Canada-trained Ukrainian army and paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine, life goes on in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The Donetsk People's Republic has announced plans for 2017 to re-launch 20 industrial enterprises that were shuttered as a consequence of Ukraine's disastrous war launched in April 2014.

The conditions for a political settlement in eastern Ukraine were established long ago by the agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus in February 2015 (text here). Germany and France promised to act as guarantors of the agreement but have never lived up to it. Instead, they have continued along the path of confrontation with Russia, including renewing their economic sanctions.

NATO's cold war risks becoming a hot war

2017 is the year in which NATO fully establishes what it calls permanent 'combat brigades' in the countries bordering Russia in eastern Europe. The four brigades will be led by the U.S., Britain, Germany and Canada. In 2016, the U.S. constructed new missile batteries in Romania and Poland aimed at Russia.

So the danger is ongoing that NATO's new cold war against Russia could quickly escalate into a nuclear war threat. Contrary to the beliefs of some, the Donald Trump presidency adds to that threat, just as a Hillary Clinton presidency would have done. The U.S. ruling class remains united in its efforts to maintain its world domination, including threatening Russia and China with war and utterly ignoring the global warming emergency.

A new antiwar movement is needed to challenge the NATO countries' warmongering in eastern Europe and their regime-change chaos and bloodletting in the Middle East. This also happens to be a necessary task for the environmental movement if it is to become fully relevant. One of the obstacles to overcome in building a new antiwar movement is the deep legacy of anti-Russia prejudice and confusion among left-wing forces in the NATO countries. This is particularly acute in Canada, where the federal government benefits from weak political oversight and accountability for its foreign interventions.

The New Cold War.org website has served as one of the important information sources in countering the new cold war and the threats of further escalation. The site will shortly announce cessation of its daily publishing schedule, due to a decline in support and participation in its work. But it will remain online as an important resource, including with regular updating of its recommended list of news sources.

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