Vladimir Putin takes personal charge of Syria ceasefire effort

Syrians hold posters of President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a pro-Syrian government protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Damascus, Syria. The Russian President spoke by phone to leaders in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria in an attempt to garner support for the ceasefire. File photo.  

The Russian president spoke by phone to leaders in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria in an attempt to garner support for the ceasefire, and explain its complex details.

He has also opened a coordination centre to which the warring parties can send complaints of specific breaches of the truce. Some armed groups in Syria have already signed up to the truce, according to Russia. Jihadi groups Islamic State and al—Nusra Front are excluded under the terms of the ceasefire, agreed between Washington and Moscow on Monday . It is not clear whether all Syrian opposition groups — some with indirect links to al—Nusra — will sign up to those terms, threatening the ceasefire’s credibility.

The opposition parties, gathered under the Saudi-sponsored negotiating committee, have not given a definitive endorsement of the truce. The opposition fears Syrian government forces, backed by the Russian air force, will continue to attack rebels under the pretext of targeting al—Nusra.

There is also scepticism in London about the Russian initiative being genuine, and not an effort to buy time and strengthen the Syrian army.

The UK has long been doubtful that Russia’s foreign secretary, Sergei Lavrov, is the decision—maker in Moscow’s Syrian policy, arguing that Putin calls the shots with a small coterie of national security advisers. That Putin is injecting political capital into the ceasefire process may therefore be encouraging.

In a space of three hours on Wednesday, he spoke on the phone to the Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, Syria’s president, Bashar al—Assad, and Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

It is possible Putin’s close involvement is a sign that he recognises the civil war, now entering its fifth year, will not end through military means, and that he gauges the geographical gains made by the Syrian government forces — particularly around Aleppo in the past three months — have sufficiently strengthened Assad’s hand at the negotiating table.

So far Russian casualties have been relatively slight. It was claimed but not confirmed or reported in Moscow that a group of generals were killed in an attack on a Russian airbase in eastern Syrian by rebel group Ahrar al—Sham, which has links to al—Qaeda but opposes Isis.

A ceasefire, before the start of political talks, would allow forces to be trained on Isis in northern and western Syria, Barack Obama said after agreeing to the truce initiative with Putin in a phone call on Monday.

In a further positive step the UN security council was told that the first UN air drop of 21 tonnes of aid to the besieged city of Deir ez—Zour has been successfully completed. The UN had always said it would use food drops as a last resort.

The UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said some 110,000 people living in besieged towns had received aid and that deliveries, including air drops, to a further 230,000 people in cutoff areas in Syria had been approved. But he also stressed the Syrian government were still blocking 40 inter—agency requests to deliver aid to hard to reach and besieged areas.

“Granting access should never be dependent on political negotiations or ad hoc deals on the ground,” O’Brien said. He added: “It is hard to believe that this conflict can be resolved as long as there continues to be a complete absence of protection for civilians.” © Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2016

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 4:38:47 PM |

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