US climbs down on Syria
The Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interview with the French TV this week almost entirely dwelt on the Syrian situation – fighting in Aleppo, in particular. Putin was frank about the US’ doublespeak – especially, its covert dealings with Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and the calculated hour-long attack by US jets on a Syrian military base two weeks ago in tandem with ground operations by Islamic State fighters. The interview is an eye-opener. (Transcript)
Given the complete breakdown of trust in Russian-American dealings on Syria at the diplomatic and political level, it is hard to see what purpose would be served in the FM-level meeting being scheduled in Lausanne on Saturday, involving Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and the US. (Middle East Eye )
Perhaps, one ray of hope could be that the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura’s formula that the rebel fighters, including those belonging to Nusra, be allowed safe passage to evacuate from Aleppo with their weapons so that the fighting can somehow be brought to an early end. Russia favors the idea and it seems Turkey is on board, too. Moscow has taken Tehran’s okay as well. If Mistura’s formula takes wings, there could be ceasefire in Aleppo.
But the broad thrust of the Russian-Iranian-Syrian campaign cannot conceivably be anything short of taking control of Aleppo. The one factor that goes in favour of some positive tiding coming out of Saturday’s meeting is that the Obama administration has run out of options on Syria and Washington is under compulsion to be seen as ‘proactive’ on Syria. (Times )
The control of the Syrian air space by Russia means that any military intervention may risk confrontation with Russia. Besides, US-Turkey relations too are on a roller coaster and without Turkey’s cooperation, Americans can’t go very far on Syria. On Wednesday, President Recep Erdogan warned Washington that Turkey will “resort to very serious steps” if the Obama administration drags its feet on the extradition of the Islamic cleric Fetullah Gulen. (Sputnik )
The following excerpts of an Iranian commentary (Fars news agency) bring out the US’ predicament:
- US officials are terrified to see eastern Aleppo fall into the hands of Syrian armed forces. They are furious about the allied forces of Iran, Syria, Russia and Hezbollah hitting its so-called “moderate rebels,” who are heavily armed and backed by the Pentagon… who have long been working with Al-Nusra and ISIL, shared their western arms supplies with these two groups and staged joint military operations with them everywhere in Aleppo, and every day you see one of them declares formal allegiance to either Al-Nusra or ISIL; the last one was Jund Al-Aqsa half of whom joined Al-Nusra on Sunday and the rest arrived in Raqqa on Wednesday to join the ISIL. The only way to stop the crushing defeat of its terrorists at the hands of the Syrian army and its allies is for Washington to establish a no-fly zone, which they cannot.
Clearly, the threats by US Secretary of State John Kerry to put Russia and Syria on trial for ‘war crimes’ and to impose fresh sanctions against Moscow over the Aleppo fighting, etc. – and, least of all, the veiled threat that US may have a ‘Plan B’ – are turning out to be bluster. With Russia’s decision to establish a full-fledged naval base at Tartus and a “permanent deployment” of Russian air force in the Hmeimin air base, it becomes a high-risk venture for the US to challenge Russian supremacy in Syria. Moscow’s politico-military objective in the 2-3 months that lie ahead will be to forestall even an interventionist US president such as Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, the realignments in regional politics also strengthen Russia’s position. Egypt’s decision to join hands with China and Venezuela to support the Russian resolution on Aleppo at the UN Security Council in the weekend – and, more important, to oppose the French resolution demanding end to air attacks on Aleppo (which Moscow vetoed) – has strained Egypt-Saudi Arabia relations. Since the vote, the Aramco, government-owned Saudi oil company, suspended oil aid to Egypt. The Saudi ambassador to Egypt left Cairo on Wednesday for consultations in Riyadh, prompting speculation about chill in Saudi-Egyptian ties. Russia is due to hold its first-ever military exercise on Egyptian territory next week.