Syria ceasefire: USA, Russia do not intent to end terror wars!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
For quite some years since the Cold war, USA and Russia, the former super power adversaries and now the UNSC veto members, have been pursuing a collaborative policy in world affairs, ably hidden by their openly confrontational tactics.
It appears, the USA and Russia are currently engaged in deciding the issue of a possible early ceasefire in Syria. The five year old conflict has killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the ISIS to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. Turkey and Saudi Arabia fear sooner or later the ISIS would establish itself in their countries as well.
Russia has proposed a March 1 ceasefire in Syria, US officials say, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups. Peace talks are supposed to resume by February 25. Russia has not so far officially given a date for a ceasefire to begin, but the Washington Post reported that Moscow had sent a letter to the USA proposing to stop bombing on 1 March. The US counterproposal to Russia is a ceasefire effective immediately, accompanied by full humanitarian access to Syria’s besieged civilian centres. The USA would not accept Russia’s offer because opposition forces could suffer irreversible losses in northern and southern Syria in the meantime.
The talk of new ceasefire plans comes as the USA, Russia and more than a dozen other countries meet in Munich, Germany, for a security conference from 12-14 February to try to halt five years of civil war in the Arab country. No details about private diplomatic discussions in the run-up to the Munich conference are available as high level tight secrecy has been maintained by all concerned. Possibly, the USA can’t accept Russia’s offer because opposition forces could suffer irreversible losses in northern and southern Syria before the ceasefire ever takes hold. The debating officials said the US counterproposal is simple: A ceasefire that is effective immediately and is accompanied by full humanitarian access to Syria’s besieged civilian centers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Germany February 10, had talks planned late in the evening with UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura and Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, a key backer of Syria’s rebel groups. Kerry emphasized that US officials “are not blind to what is happening.” He said the Aleppo battle makes it “much more difficult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a serious conversation.” But the USA has staked its hopes for an end to the five-year civil war in Syria on the peace talks and Assad’s eventual departure, saying the American public has no appetite for a military solution.
Russia says it is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government as part of a counterterrorism campaign. But the West says the majority of its strikes are targeting moderate groups that are opposed to Assad and the Islamic State. The most recent Russian-backed offensive, near Aleppo, prompted opposition groups to walk out of peace talks last month in Geneva, while forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee toward the Turkish border.
The Obama government has been trying for months to clinch a ceasefire and pave the way for a transition government in Syria that would allow parties to the conflict to concentrate on defeating the threat posed by ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
But after having long demanded Assad’s ouster, the shift in the US focus to combating terrorism has resulted in a confusing mix of priorities and a layered strategy in Syria that few understand, and even fewer see working. Beyond Russia, the administration has often struggled to keep its own allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia in line. “We will approach this meeting in Munich with great hopes that this will be a telling moment,” Kerry said Tuesday in Washington. His peace push coincides with Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s attendance at a gathering in Brussels to hash out military options with NATO partners.
Brett McGurk, the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington panel’s top Democrat the White House’s point-man for defeating the Islamic State, said Russia’s Aleppo offensive was having the perverse effect of helping the extremists by drawing local fighters away from the battle against ISIS and to the war against Syria’s government. But Republican Eliot Engel urged a “robust campaign, not a tentative one, not one that seems like we’re dragging ourselves in .to destroy ISIS and get rid of Assad.”
To that end, Washington has tempered its calls dating back to August 2011 for Assad to immediately leave power. And to get Russia on board, it now won’t even say that Assad should be barred from running for re-election if and when a new Syrian constitution is drafted.
The ambiguity has emboldened Assad’s supporters, Russia and Iran, while upsetting American allies in the Middle East, who are frustrated by a process that appears to lock the Syrian leader in place well into 2017 – and perhaps beyond.
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition is deeply embittered as they feel the USA and its allies, after giving them hopes, have thrown them under the bus, unwilling to give them the firepower or protection necessary to resist a resurgent Russian-backed Assad regime now pushing into Aleppo. Aleppo city once counted 2 million people and has been an opposition stronghold for much of Syria’s five-year civil war.
The capture of Aleppo would surely represent a major victory for the Syrian regime and significantly strengthen its control over the most densely populated parts of the country. Rebels in northern Aleppo Province are under massive pressure from regime forces in the south, Kurdish-led factions in the west, and the Islamic State in the east.
The Russian-backed offensive in and around Aleppo has killed more than 500 people this month, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization. Since 2012, the city has been divided into a government-controlled section in the west and rebel-held areas in the east. Up to 400,000 residents in the east – equivalent to the population of New Orleans – risk being trapped without access to food. After three years of bombing, much of the city is already rubble; now it’s being described as Syria’s Stalingrad.
The Russian defence ministry said on Thursday it had carried out 510 military sorties in Syria from 4-11 February. A statement listed the targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa, Homs, Hasakah and Raqqa.
The most recent Russian-backed offensive, near Aleppo, has prompted opposition groups to walk out of peace talks in Geneva, while forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee toward the Turkish border.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in a nationally-broadcast speech on Thursday that the country will be patient up to a point over the crisis and will then be forced to take action. He said Iran-backed forces were carrying out “merciless massacres” and that the UN needed to do more to prevent “ethnic cleansing”.
Russian airstrikes and regime troops have cut off rebel supply lines from the Turkish border to Aleppo. Tens of thousands of city residents have fled towards the border in fear of a protracted siege, raising tensions with Turkey, a key backer of Syria’s opposition. The rebels’ battlefield setbacks have shown a spotlight on an apparent pullback by their international supporters ahead of failed UN-led peace talks last month to resolve Syria’s conflict.
Conventional wisdom holds that Russia’s goal in Syria is to force the United States, regional powers and Syrians into accepting President Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus regime as the only reality. Russia’s aim perhaps is to change rebel groups’ cost-benefit analysis to encourage them to participate in talks on something closer to the Assad regime’s terms. Although Moscow does not seem to be seeking a military victory, Russia’s policy could still encourage Syrian leaders to want one.
The USA is not about to do anything that would involve going up against Russia and risk a direct confrontation in Syria. US support for Russian onslaught in Syria is seen as the effort to degrade the so-called Islamic State. But the key reason appears to be that no one in the West has the appetite to confront Russia as it pursues its interests in the Middle East. It is a US determination not to end up in a conflict with Russia in a region that the USA, under President Obama, is trying to play down.
Veto members do not wage wars directly. The Russians are using a full array of military tools in Syria, as they have been in Ukraine, while the US and the Europeans, the West, are using the soft tools of humanitarian aid.
The USA says it is preventing everyone from supplying the opposition with weapons out of fear they will fall in the hands of Islamic State. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is “horrified” by the impact that Russia’s relentless airstrikes on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, are having on civilians. US Secretary of State John Kerry has exhorted Russia to heed a United Nations Security Council resolution from December, calling on combatants in Syria to spare civilian populations.
USA plays essentially a Zionist role in Middle East. Russia has very clear intentions in Syria and is using military means to accomplish them. Russian President Vladimir Putin “has a plan” for rescuing Assad and reinvigorating Russia’s role in the Middle East. Putin knows the USA has no intention of going up against Russia militarily in Syria any more than it did over Ukraine and so it is left to try to pressure Russia to curtail its indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas through diplomatic channels.
The USA continues to insist that the Syria conflict will not be decided on the battlefield but will only be resolved through a political settlement encompassing all Syria’s political factions and religious and ethnic communities. That approach, at least officially backed by Russia, was at the heart of peace talks.
As President Assad is adamant and refuses to quite presidency or leave Syria to let peace return to save the remaining Syrians, Saudi officials have said they could send ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State – a move that could also allow it to prop up its allies. But few see this happening anytime soon since Saudi forces are already overstretched in Yemen.
In the past, Turkey has called for the creation of a buffer zone along the border on humanitarian grounds. But any such intervention by Turkish forces would probably lead to rapid escalation with Russia. The two countries are already at odds over the downing last November by Turkey of a Russian warplane that entered its airspace.
Following the deal with Iran last year on its nuclear program, the USA is determined to be less confrontational with Iran and is considering the involvement of Iran in the resolution in Syrian conflict. Iran has ground forces and advisers aiding government forces in the Aleppo battle, and Iran is seen as more intent on keeping Assad in power than is Russia, which above all wants to prevent a regime collapse.
US partners in the region are increasingly questioning their ability to rely on a strong US presence. Russia’s unchecked intervention in Syria is a further destabilizing of Europe by another unstoppable wave of refugees that would cause further fragmenting of Europe over the migration issue.
If Putin tells Assad Russia’s military will not continue operations at their current intensity for much longer and, accordingly, Assad would be wise to make the best deal he can, such an approach could facilitate a political settlement while also earning Moscow some credit with US and Western diplomats. It would likely do more for Russia’s reputation and influence in the Middle East than long-term support for Assad’s unpopular regime.
Neither USA nor Russia seeks peace in West Asia, although President Obama says his government has been trying for months to clinch a ceasefire and pave the way for a transitional government in Syria. The great tragedy of Syria’s civil war is that even after five years, there is no critical mass among the parties seeking peace. Now USA and Russia is waging a proxy war in Syria while Turkey and Russia try to compete for future influence in the West Asia region.
What is going on in Syria and Mideast at large is a joint terror war on Muslims! And there is no real possibility for peace in the region even after the US presidency poll.